A/N: Going to be out of town and away from my computer for a few days, so no more updates till I get back. Until then, please read and review! Enjoy!
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Back at the campsite Big Macintosh and his helpers had finished setting up camp while Rainbow Dash had returned with the water gatherers. Since Archer had taken her time in returning, Rainbow had gotten impatient and used her speed to gather enough pieces of wood to get a campfire going. Now they were all sitting around a blazing campfire on some logs Big Mac had dragged over to use as seats. They were all helping themselves to a big pot of beans and apple slices.
“Archer and Silver Spoon sure have been gone awhile.” Big Mac drawled as he helped himself to another spoonful.
Rainbow Dash shrugged her wings as she simply stuck her muzzle into her bowl. “Eh, I guess the Silver priss is dragging her hooves digging.”
“Hmm, think you were too hard on ‘er?”
“Nah. She’s been spoiled enough.” Rainbow slurped noisily. “Why, do you think I was?” Macintosh shrugged. “What? No eeyup or eenope?” She teased.
“Ah suppose not.” He returned evenly. “Never had a problem like that with Apple Bloom.”
Rainbow Dash nodded. “Yeah, Apple Bloom’s pretty cool. She must take after Granny Smith.”
That earned a startled snort from the large stallion. “Yer something else Miss Dash.”
“I try.” She batted her eyes in a totally un-Rainbow manner. “And what’s with the Miss stuff? I’m not a miss!”
“So AJ says.” He drawled, deadpan.
“Yeah, I—HEY!” She protested angrily. Big Mac chuckled. Rainbow punched him in the shoulder. Hard.
Macintosh raised one eyebrow. “Ow.” He said conversationally. Rainbow pulled her hoof back and winced.
“Geeze, what are they feeding you on that farm?!”
“A diet of hard work and apples.” Big Macintosh replied. Rainbow Dash took another look at her bowl full of beans and apples and scarfed it down in one gulp. “Landsakes.” He said in no small amazement. “You sure can pack them vittles away. How is it yer so skinny?”
Rainbow looked annoyed. “I’m not skinny—I’m a lean, mean flying machine! I’ve always had a fast metabo-whatsit and I’m always working out! Aw yeah!” She flexed her right foreleg. “Feel that!”
“A beg yer pardon?” Big Macintosh looked at her sidewise. “Ah wasn’t raised to be inappropriate with a lady…” Rainbow brought her face up close until she was staring him eye to eye. Narrow, fierce looking magenta colored orbs against wide, surprised green ones.
“I said, feel that!” Rainbow Dash ground out between clenched teeth.
Surprised and not *quite* intimidated, Big Mac did what he was told. He brought one hoof under her leg as he gently pressed down with another. The red stallion quirked a brow in surprise at the wiry, sinewy firmness he felt. He knew that she was athletic, but always thought of her as being more like a hummingbird than a pony: very fast and very agile, but didn’t have a whole lot of muscle on the bone. Even her competition against his sister in the Iron Pony didn’t change that view of her. Actually, given the fact that she used her wings to cheat her way to victory for the latter half of the competition gave Big Mac the impression that she was just a loud pegasus whose mouth made promises her body couldn’t keep.
“Um helloooo? Anypony home?” Big Macintosh shook his head, realizing that he’d been holding her leg for a while. He flushed and quickly let go.
He coughed. “Yes, erm, mighty impressive ma’am.”
The pegasus rolled her eyes. “Again with the ma’am stuff? You’re hopeless. But yeah, I am something, aren’t I?” She preened. Then her face turned serious and she looked almost…sheepish? “I guess I never said thank you for agreeing to help me with this camping trip. Er, not that I needed the help!” She waved her hooves hurriedly. “I mean, I’m sure I could’ve done this on my own.” She added quickly. “But it’s going much better with you. So, um, yeah thanks.”
“Ah shucks, t’aint nothin’. Yer welcome anyway Miss Dash.” Big Mac nodded. “Might appreciative of this. Feels nice to go out campin’ again.”
“What, did you used to be a Colt Scout or something?”
Big Macintosh grinned. “Eeyup.”
Rainbow blinked. Then she facehooved. “Walked into that one.” She chuckled. “Never knew you had a sense of humor big guy. Actually, now that I think about it I knew almost nothing about you. You were always just the big quiet guy behind Applejack.”
He shrugged his massive shoulders. “Not much to tell really. I’m just a simple apple farmer.” Big Macintosh wasn’t being modest or self-effacing or self-pitying. He was just speaking the plain simple truth as he saw it, as was his wont.
Rainbow Dash scrunched her muzzle. “I don’t buy that.” Big Mac blinked. “Not for a second.”
Frowning, Big Macintosh snorted. “I ain’t a liar, Miss Dash.”
“I didn’t say you were!” She said angrily. “Don’t you go accusing me of something I didn’t even do!”
Feeling himself get het up Big Mac took a deep breath and slowly released it. “…Yer right. Mah apologies, Rainbow.”
“Yeah and a good thing—wait. You called me Rainbow.” She noticed.
Pause. “Suppose ah did.” Big Mac admitted, staring into the warmth of the campfire’s glow.
“Oh.” Was all Rainbow Dash said, looking down. Then she scuffed her hoof in the dirt and raised her head back up. “Look, Mac…”
The big stallion raised his head back to face hers, his face warm. The effect of the fire, surely. “What’s that Rainbow?”
“I just….” The normally loud and brash pegasus was being unwontedly quiet and unassuming. “Well, I wanted to say…that…” She exhaled softly. Then her face contorted as she took a sniff of the air. Rainbow snorted and pawed at her nostrils with her hoof. “Eeeeeeeewww!” she coughed. “Oh geeze, Big Mac! Was that you? I think you’ve had enough beans!”
“Excuse me?” Big Macintosh looked at her crossly.
“Dude, you’re excused just don’t do that again. I’m sitting right next to you!”
“That tweren’t me Miss Dash.” Big Mac said in a flat, annoyed tone.
“Then who—ack, oh Celestia!” Rainbow Dash started to gag. Then Big Macintosh started to cough as the other campers starting waving their hooves in front of their faces and squealing in disgust.
They turned to see Archer and Silver Spoon walking out of the trees, both wearing hangdog expressions and looking sheepish. “We, um, had a run in with a skunk…” Archer rubbed the back of her head with her hoof, looking down as she blushed.
“Smells like you ran into a skunk convention.” Rainbow tried holding her nose. “Ugh, you two need to take a bath. Head down to the river and rinse off. Downstream.”
“W-will that get rid of the smell?” Silver Spoon asked her face red as she heard snickers and giggles.
“I dunno…I think we need grape juice or something.” Rainbow tapped her muzzle.
“That’s tomato soup.” Big Mac corrected. “But ah got something better than that.” He reached around and took something out of his saddlebags. “Miss Zecora made these after Winona got too curious about a family of skunks living neat Miss Fluttershy’s cottage.” He pulled out two bars of soap, each with a rope embedded inside it for easy holding. “She said t’work in into a lather and it’ll get rid of the smell faster than AJ can corral a hog.”
Rainbow looked incredulous. “Zecora said THAT?”
“Okay, maybe not but you git the idea.” He gave Rainbow the soap bars. “Why don’t you take one of the fillies down to help you out? It’d get it done faster.”
“But I—oh, fine.” Dash groaned. “Sweetie Belle, come with me. The faster we get this done, the faster I can stop breathing through my mouth.”
Sweetie Belle stood up and followed Rainbow Dash, the two of them making sure to walk in front of Archer and Silver Spoon.
Silver Spoon bowed her head as she hoped that if she didn’t pay attention to anything, nopony would pay attention to her.
“Heh, so I guess you’re the one that smells now, huh?” Sweetie Belle snickered. Silver Spoon sighed. So much for THAT hope. She looked up to see that Sweetie Belle had dropped back a bit behind Rainbow Dash so they could talk. “What was it you were calling me and Dinky earlier? Sweaty Smell and Stinky?”
“Just go away.” The morose silver filly muttered.
Archer approached the two of them. “C’mon you two, please don’t start that again.”
Sweetie Belle pointed a hoof accusingly at Silver Spoon. “She’s the one that started it!” Silver Spoon looked away.
Archer sighed. “I know but…look, she’s had a long day and it’s been kinda rough. Just give her a little room okay?”
“Well…” Sweetie looked confused to seeing somepony standing up for Silver Spoon and sounding so reasonable about it. “Do you promise to stop making fun of me?” She demanded of her.
Silver Spoon nodded and said quietly. “I promise.”
Not expecting an answer, and one that sounded remarkably sincere and non-sarcastic or nasty, Sweetie Belle just blinked. “Well, um, okay!” While not quite falling into step with the two skunk-sprayed fillies, she did walk close enough so they could talk. “So Archer…”
“Yeah?” The blue filly returned.
“You’re um, good at archery?” Sweetie asked with a little squeak in her voice.
“Yeah, it is my cutie mark after all.” She nodded. “Why?”
Sweetie bit her lip. “Well, how did you know it would be your special talent?” She looked at her own bare flank sadly.
“I really didn’t.” Archer admitted. “It’s not like I woke up one day and just KNEW that it was my special talent.”
Sweetie hopped in place. “So how *did* you get your cutie mark?”
Archer scuffed the ground. “There isn’t really much to tell…”
“Pleeeease?” Sweetie Belle entreated.
Archer made the mistake of looking over at Sweetie Belle and her big wavering light green eyes and full-lipped pout. She groaned and looked to Silver Spoon for support, only to find that she was looking at her curiously too.
“Oh, all right!” She gave up with a sigh. “Well, my dad’s really into those fairs and carnivals where you dress up like ponies did a long time ago? You know, the kind with knights and all that stuff? He started bringing me when I was young and watched him joust against other ponies. It looked like fun, so I decided I’d try to get into the fair stuff too. There was this place that taught archery and I tried out.” She looked at her audience to find them staring enrapt at her. Archer, flushed, unused to the attention and hurried on.
“A-anyway, I was pretty good so I started practicing at the fairs and after school. Then for my birthday my dad got me my very own bow and arrows and signed me up for a contest at the next festival. I was really nervous but then I got a perfect bullseye in the final round and won the contest!” She smiled, remembering back. “Dad was sooo proud of me! Then I felt really good and well, that’s when my cutie mark showed up.”
“Whoa…” Sweetie Belle said in awe as Silver Spoon stopped and clapped her hooves softly. Archer blushed.
“Aww, c’mon you guys…it’s nothing that special.”
“Are you kidding?” Sweetie’s voice cracked. “That was so cool!”
“I-I like those festivals too.” Silver Spoon admitted hesitantly. “I like dressing up as a princess.”
“HEY!” The three fillies turned to see Rainbow Dash with her forelegs crossed and tapping her hoof impatiently, despite hovering over the ground. “We’re here.”
Sure enough, they were in sight of the river. Rainbow and Big Mac made sure to make camp close enough to one so they’d always have a fresh supply of water. It was growing dark as night started to fall.
Rainbow tossed one bar of soap to Sweetie Belle. “Okay squirts, into the river.”
Silver Spoon dipped her hoof into the river and shivered. “It’s cold.”
“Well, better get a move on then. Since we don’t have hot and cold running rivers, we take what we can get.” Rainbow said unsympathetically. “Besides, it’s only gonna get colder the longer we wait and it gets darker and colder out.”
Sweetie Belle nudged Silver Spoon gently with her horn. “It’s okay, see?” She waded into the water. A shiver ran up her spine and made her coat start to stand on end but she kept her smile plastered on, despite the shiver in her voice. “N-not that cold.”
Silver Spoon looked over at Archer, who only nodded encouragingly. Taking a deep breath, Silver removed her glasses and unfastened her necklace, leaving them on a flat rock by the river. Squinting, she made her way over to the white blur that used to be Sweetie Belle.
Archer climbed into the river and sat down. Rainbow Dash abruptly stopped flapping and let herself flop into the river, dowsing all three fillies at once. High pitched shrieks rang in Rainbow’s ears as she surfaced, shivering slightly. “Better to get it over with at once than to inch your way into it.” She said brazenly, despite the cold tremor that ran through her wings. “I’ll help Archer. Sweetie Belle, you’re with Silver Spoon. And I don’t want to hear any complaining.”
“Okay.” The two fillies chorused, one more sullenly than the other. Rainbow blinked, not expecting such easy compliance.
“…Good!” She started lathering up Zecora’s special soap as she started scrubbing Archer’s back.
“It’s okay,” Sweetie assured Silver Spoon. “I’ve got lots of practice of washing stuff out of your coat. Mostly tree sap. Don’t ask.” Silver Spoon looked at her curiously then started to rub some water out of her eyes. Then she started to undo her already frayed and sopping wet braid. She tossed her hair back, shaking her unleashed mane free. “Wow…” Sweetie said.
“What?” Silver frowned. “What is it?
“You’re really pretty!” Sweetie blurted out, before slapping her hoof over her mouth and flushing. “I mean, you have really nice hair…and your eyes are a nice color too.”
Silver Spoon, caught off guard, flushed also. “R-really?” She wasn’t unused to hearing such things from her parents, their friends or from Diamond Tiara or ponies trying to get invitations to her parties, but this was the first time somepony like Sweetie Belle had given her a real compliment. And Silver Spoon wasn’t even wearing fancy clothes or her necklace or anything!
“Yeah!” Sweetie nodded. “I mean, you’re so nice looking…but then you act so mean.” She gave a small pout. “Why do you hate me and my friends?”
“I—I don’t HATE you…” Silver said softly.
“But you’re always making fun of us!” Sweetie Belle pointed out. “It’s not nice, and it’s not right!”
Silver Spoon tried to sink beneath the water, but being in the shallows, that was impossible. “I’m…I…I dunno. I’m sorry.” She said shamefully, her face tilted down. A small tear ran its way down her cheek and off the tip of her snout, landing in the river with a faint drop.
Sweetie patted her back. “It’s…it’s okay. Just try to be nicer, all right?” When she didn’t get a reply, she started gently rubbing the special soap on Silver Spoon’s back. The silver filly didn’t react. “Hey Silver Spoon?”
“…What?” She mumbled quietly.
“Can…can you tell me how you got YOUR cutie mark?” Sweetie asked softly.
“I don’t think so…”
“Please?” Sweetie asked gently. “I won’t tell nopony if you don’t want me to. I’ll even Pinkie Promise!”
“Come on!” The white unicorn entreated as she brushed the soap along Silver Spoon’s sides. Silver let out a startled squeak. Sweetie Belle’s eyes lit up. “Oh, are you ticklish?” She brushed the lathery soap along Silver’s ribs. She shuddered, sitting down in the river and shook her head.
“You’re lying!” Sweetie grinned as she started rubbing the soap across Silver Spoon’s belly, making her giggle.
“Q-quit it!” Silver giggled.
“Tell me about your cutie mark and I will!” Sweetie smiled.
Silver whined. “N-no fahahair!”
“Well, if that’s the way you feel….” Sweetie Belle started scrubbing faster against Silver Spoon’s belly until she was let out peals of squealing laughter.
“Hahahaeheheek! Stahahappit!” Heeheeek! Okahay! I’ll tell, I’ll tell!” Silver pleaded.
“I thought so!” Sweetie giggled as she stopped, letting Silver Spoon catch her breath. “So go on! Tell me!”
“A-all right already!” Silver hugged her belly. “Just, promise you won’t do anymore of that.”
“I promise.” Sweetie made the sign of the Pinkie Pie promise as she started scrubbing Silver Spoon’s neck. “Come on now, quit stalling.”
The rich filly sighed. “Fine…I was at home. My parents were away on some business trip and I was left home with a nanny. Then one night after the nanny fell asleep I got bored and started wandering through the house, even into my father’s study where I wasn’t allowed to go.” She shut her eyes, as much to avoid the sting of soap as she washed her face as much as to relive the memories. “Inside was this big painting. It was my family tree.”
“Your family has its own tree?” Sweetie asked, confused. “Like an apple tree or something?”
Silver Spoon explained. “No, it’s like that project Miss Cheerilee made us do when she made us draw that chart of our family? That’s a family tree.”
“Ohhh.” The unicorn nodded. “Gotcha.”
“Anyway, this wasn’t like our little charts. This was big! And beautiful! It had all my relatives and ancestors and their relatives going back like, forever! And then I looked down at the bottom and I saw my name…and I realized that I was part of his big, important grand old family. And even if my parents weren’t always around, I knew I had this great big family that cared about me.” Silver smiled weakly. “It—it made me happy to think that somewhere in some other part of Equestria, one of my cousins or second-cousins might be looking at this same family tree and would see my name there, and know I exist.”
“Wow.” Sweetie Belle’s eyes were wide with unabashed amazement as she dropped the soap in the river. “And here I thought you were just good at eating!” She started to fish around for the soap.
“Well, my mom says I have a very advanced palate and…hey! Are you calling me fat?!” Silver Spoon demanded, whirling around.
Sweetie Belle shook her head. “No.”
Silver looked abashed. “Oh…good.”
“Are you sensitive about your weight, Spoony?” Sweetie teased gently.
“You take that back!” Silver Spoon shot back.
“What? The part about your weight or calling you Spoony?” Sweetie giggled. Then she let out a shriek when Silver splashed her. “Oh, it IS on!” She splashed back.
Half-turning away from the splash, Silver giggled and retaliated, escalating it into a splash war.
Silver Spoon smacked down both her front hooves at once. Sweetie ducked. Rainbow Dash bolted up in the air as icy cold water suddenly splattered on her back. “HEY!” Her voice cracked as she flapped her wings to keep herself airborne, shaking herself off.
“Oops. Sorry Rainbow Dash.” Sweetie Belle shrunk down sheepishly.
“Yeah, sorry.” Silver Spoon echoed.
Rainbow cleared her throat. “Well, good.” She said, glad to hear her voice was even and cool. Archer giggled, though at whom she didn’t quite know. “You two finished?”
“Yup!” Sweetie Belle beamed. “All clean! And she doesn’t stink anymore!”
“Heeey…” came the weak, inevitable protest.
Rainbow Dash ignored it. She looked around. “Looks like we’re done here then. Grab your stuff and let’s head back to camp.”
Silver Spoon fumbled putting her glasses back on and had started to reach for her necklace when she saw that Sweetie Belle had already picked it up and was holding it out. “Here, let me help.” After a moment, Silver nodded and turned around. She raised her mane out of the way so Sweetie Belle could slip the necklace around her neck and fasten it without getting her hair caught in it. “There, done!” Sweetie announced.
“Thanks.” Silver said softly as she turned around. “For everything, I mean.”
“It’s okay!” Sweetie smiled, living up to her name. “Come on, I bet they’ll let us roast marshmallows when we get back!”
“That sounds good. But where would we get a twig big enough to stick you on?”
“Huh?” Sweetie Belle blinked then frowned as it sunk in. “Heeey, are you calling me a marshmallow?
“Maaaybe.” Silver Spoon smirked as she galloped ahead.
“Get back here!” Sweetie laughed as she chased after her.
Archer grinned. “Wait for me!”
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Meanwhile, back at the campsite, the other three campers and Big Mac were just finishing up their dinner. The stars had come out in radiant clarity, the only light for miles being the small campfire.
Dinky, Snails, Pip and Big Mac were all lying on their backs as they stared up at the crystal studded sky. “Oh wow…” Dinky said in amazement. “I’ve never seen so many stars before in my life!”
“That’s on account of all the lights in Ponyville.” Big Macintosh explained. “Even at night there are enough lights for a pony to see where they’re going that it blots out the stars. But when you git out away from all that, the stars seem to shine a little brighter.”
“Whoa…” Snails eyes were wide. “There’s like, a million billion stars!”
“Maybe pardner.” Macintosh agreed. “One time I went stargazing with mah cousin Braeburn out in Appleloosa…seein’ the stars out on the plains was one of the most amazing things ah ever did see.”
Then Pip started pointing out the constellations. “That one there is Taurus the bull! And over there is the Great Dragon, Draco!”
Dinky listened on intently in silence as he pointed out all the stars to her. She couldn’t contain her excitement as her tail swished from side to side. “I made a friend!” The young filly squealed in her mind, barely repressing a giggle. And it was only her first day! Pip was so much fun to be around. “You must know about every star in the sky!” She gushed.
Pip was glad for the reddish glow of the fire, for it masked the blush that crossed his face. “Aww, I don’t really…” He said modestly, rubbing his neck. “I just read a lot of Miss Twilight’s books.” Pipsqueak gave a small grin. “Sailors can navigate their ships and always know where they are just by knowing the location of the stars.”
“Wow.” Dinky said, impressed. She looked to the pony lying to her left. “…What do you think Snails?”
Snails looked at them, idly munching on a last apple slice. He swallowed then opened his mouth to say, “…urrrp! Pardon me.” Snails drawled. Pip laughed.
“Boys.” Dinky thought to herself, but she giggled too.
“This is great!” Pip said as he wiggled to get more comfortable, drawing closer to Dinky. “I haven’t had so much fun since Nightmare Night!”
“That was a lot of fun!” Dinky giggled, remembering Pip in his cute little pirate costume…wait, cute? She blushed.
Pip leaned up and looked over at Snails. “What do you like to do?” He asked him.
Snails lifted his head up without having to adjust his body much, which put Dinky and Pip in the mind of a giraffe. “I like snails.” He said simply.
Dinky made a face. “Ewww! Gross!” She said without thinking. Snails looked like a kicked puppy.
“But I like snails…” He said sadly, his ears flattened against his head.
Dinky shrunk down, feeling awful. Snails sounded just like her mom did whenever someone made fun of her for liking muffins so much. She felt herself flush in shame. “I’m sorry.” She apologized. “C-could you tell me why you like snails?”
Snails scrunched up his face. Dinky expected him to say something about Snails being his name or his cutie mark. Instead he seemed to chew on his thoughts, as if struggling with his words. “Snails don’t go fast.” He said, groping for the right words. “But they always get where their going. It’s like nothing can stop them!” Snails gave a goofy grin. “They make me feel happy.”
Dinky patted his shoulder. “I understand.” She said. “I think that’s really neat.”
“Me too! I think snails are cool!” Pip agreed.
“Aww, thanks.” Snails gave his famous grin. He looked around. “I wonder when Rainbow Dash is coming back. She’s awesome!”
Pip and Dinky nodded in agreement. “She sure is!” Pip said. “She was almost as scary as Princess Luna on Nightmare Night!”
“And she’s friends with my mom!” Dinky smiled. “She tries to help mom fly better so she won’t have anymore accidents.”
Snails beamed adoringly. “I like Rainbow Dash cuz she’s the awesomest and the coolest and the fastest!”
Dinky giggled at Snail’s rather obvious crush. It was cute. Just then Rainbow Dash turned up with Archer, Silver Spoon and Sweetie Belle in tow. “Okay time for marshmallows!”
“Yay!” Everypony cheered as they held out sticks with delicious gooey goodness on the end. Rainbow Dash smirked as she used a branch with a half dozen smaller twigs to roast six marshmallows at once. Big Macintosh, by contrast, looked almost comical holding a tiny little twig with a single marshmallow on it.
The young ponies laughed and told jokes. Even Silver Spoon cracked the occasional smile as she sat surrounded by Sweetie Belle and Archer. Rainbow Dash led them all in a sing-along of a song she wrote extolling her own (numerous) virtues. It was a lot of fun for the fillies and colts since Rainbow kept changing the chorus.
Finally, exhausted after their long day, the six ponies and their two counselors retired to their tents. Big Macintosh climbed into his massive tent, tastefully decorated with an apple motif. Rainbow’s tent by contrast was bright blue and adorned with a giant picture of her cutie mark on either side, complete with a rainbow colored pennant at the top. There were three tents for the campers, one for Pipsqueak and Snails, one for Sweetie Belle and Dinky, and one for Silver Spoon and Archer.
As the final wisps of smoke faded away from the doused campfire, eight tired ponies quickly fell into pleasant dreams, exhausted from their long day.
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