Silent Night

by Sixes_And_Sevens

WHERE Caramel Corn is Used to Ends of Convincing a Reluctant Hero, and a Heart-to-Heart is Conducted

“Chess-nuts! Gitcher roast chestnuts ‘ere!”
“Po-TAY-toes! Po-TAH-toes! Get ‘em fresh off the griddle!”
“Finest veg’table sausages! Best in Law-nun, bar nun! Five bucks apiece, an’ tha’s cuttin’ me ane throat!”
The food sellers bustled and clustered along the way, shouting and hollering up the skies. The smells of fresh food mingled together into a beautiful mixture. Rumble almost smiled. Combined with the warmth coming off the grills and food and the cheerful florid faces of the vendors, it all felt oddly homey. As soon as that thought struck him, any trace of a smile was wiped from his face.
“Well?” the Doctor asked. “What’ll it be?”
Rumble glanced around. “What’s ‘scumble’?” he asked.
“Apples,” the Doctor replied promptly. “Well. Mostly apples. Probably not great for you.”
“How about some caramel corn, then?” Rumble asked, gesturing to a different cart.
The Doctor beamed. “Brilliant! Oh, I love caramel corn. Lovely and sweet and salty all at once.”
There was no line for the treat, so the two hurried over to the cart. They weren’t quick enough, however, and a cream-colored pegasus with a short brown mane caught the seller’s attention first. Rumble and the Doctor hung back. The pegasus’s mane was frazzled and her brow was damp with sweat. She leaned over the counter. “Hey, Pops. Got a spare bag?”
The elderly vendor looked at the mare sympathetically. “Boss gotcha running fool’s errands again?” he asked in a scratchy voice.
“Yeah, something like that. I gotta find the Doctor so they can have a, ah, ‘talk’.”
The Doctor leaned forward. “The Doctor, you say?”
The mare leaned away from the Time Lord. “Yes? Why, do you know where he is?”
“Well, I should hope so, seeing as I am, in fact, the Doctor.” He held out a hoof. “How do you do?”
The mare stared a moment longer in confusion, then broke into an understanding grin. “Oh, I see. I’m sorry, but I’m looking for a specific doctor. Dr. Mountain Climber? Grey unicorn, white mane, green eyes, cutie mark of a snowflake?”
“I’ve not seen him, no,” the Doctor said, shaking his head. “We could help you look, though.”
“Wait, what?” Rumble asked.
The mare smiled. “That’s very kind of you, sir, but I wouldn’t like to impose.”
“Nonsense! We’d be glad to help, wouldn’t we, Rumble?”
The colt sighed deeply. He glared flatly at the Doctor. “Fine. But buy me my caramel corn first.”


“So, Miss…” the Doctor trailed off, idly fishing his hoof around in his bag of sweets.
“Leaf. Maple Leaf.”
“Who exactly is this Dr. Climber?”
“He’s… an employee. He’s in charge of the freak show.”
The Doctor looked at Rumble, who was trailing some steps behind, and raised an eyebrow significantly. Rumble stared back, his eyes flat and cold. The Doctor quickly turned back to Maple. “That’s been closed, hasn’t it?”
“Yes. We’ve had to let Dr. Climber go for… various reasons.”
“So why are you looking for him now? Something wrong with the tent?”
“No, no. We just need to find him so we can actually tell him that he’s been fired.”
The Doctor’s face fell. “Ah.”
A smirk played across Rumble’s face, but it disappeared as quickly as it had come when the Doctor shot him a look.
“I’ve checked almost everywhere for him,” she continued. “Nopony’s seen him at all today. I’m starting to doubt that he even came to the fair today.”
“The writing was on the wall, perhaps?” the Doctor suggested.
Maple snorted. “Oh, yeah. He went through wages like water, always trying to work on his ‘expeditions’ and ‘experiments’. They were always impressive, though, I’ll say that much for him. You’d almost think they were real.”
Over the years, the Doctor had managed to make a sort of mental directory of significant words and phrases that might suggest something fishy was afoot. This list was not, perhaps, very organized; the approach it took toward investigation might be described as ‘holistic’, a word which here means ‘vague, random, and based largely on bias’. However, another thing the Doctor had developed over the years was a very well-tuned sense of ‘people’, a word which here means ‘all sentient beings’. This was why, when Maple Leaf said “You’d almost think they were real,” the Doctor ‘took note’, a word which here means ‘the mane all along the back of his neck stood on end, his eyes widened, and he choked slightly on a kernel of caramel corn’.
Maple Leaf pounded the Time Lord on the back. “Are you alright?” she asked, eyes wide.
The Doctor waved her back. “Yes, fine, fine,” he said. “Just went down the wrong pipe. Tell me more about his exhibits.”
“What?” Rumble asked, frowning. “I thought we just wanted to find the guy.”
“Well,” the Doctor shrugged. “You never know. Are you sure he isn’t hiding in his tent?”
Maple frowned slightly. Then, slowly, her eyes went wide. “I never checked there,” she said. “But that’s a good idea.”
She turned and galloped off. The Doctor made to follow her, but a glance back showed that Rumble had stopped dead in his tracks. Slowly, the Doctor walked back toward the colt. “What’s wrong?” he asked quietly. “You don’t have to tell me the whole story if you don’t want to, but I really do want to help.”
Rumble didn’t reply. The Doctor sighed and sat down next to him. “Did I ever tell you about my friend Jack?”
“No,” Rumble said flatly. “Go on.”
“Brilliant guy, he was. A bit rough ‘round the edges, to be sure, but incredibly brave. He gave his life for me’n Rose. I mean, he got it back eventually, but it’s the thought that counts.”
Rumble wrinkled up his nose. “Huh?”
“Not important. Anyway, quite brave, really very funny, rather clever. Saved my life a few times. ‘Course, I saved his pretty often, too.”
Rumble waited. “And you’re telling me this because…”
“Well, no one’s perfect,” the Doctor said. “Jack was a good friend, but he just wouldn’t stop flirting with Rose. And me. And basically everyone else we ever met.”
Rumble’s brain heard two and two and returned five. “Uh? Wait— what? How did you—”
“Educated guess. I wouldn't hazard a guess on the specifics, of course. But I’ve been around the block a few times, and I've never been anything but queer by the standards of my own people and those of my traveling companions. Besides, your poker face is nearly as rubbish as Applejack's.” The Doctor smiled. “What I’m saying is, I’m not going to judge you, no matter how you identify, and nopony else in Ponyville will either.”
“How do you know?” Rumble asked bitterly. “I didn’t think my parents would—” he broke off abruptly and shot a look at the Doctor.
The Time Lord’s brow had gone dark and heavy as a stormcloud. “Yes,” he said. “I had wondered why your brother was minding you.”
Then, glancing at the grey pegasus, his face lightened. “Just remember. If they matter, they won’t mind.”
The image of Granny Smith’s concerned face flashed through the colt’s mind. “What about my parents?” Rumble asked again. “They minded.”
“Then they don’t matter,” the Doctor replied. “Simple as that. If they don’t want you in their life, well, that’s altogether their loss.”
He rose. “Rumble, you are cleverer than you know, braver than you believe, and more sensible than just about any other pony in your town. Not that the last one’s any great feat, but still. It’s a good quality. Lots of words can describe you, but let me tell you, ‘freak’ is not among them.”
"How did you--"
"Again, you've got an absolutely rubbish poker face." The Doctor hesitated. "So... are you feeling up for going on?"
Rumble was quiet for a moment. Then he rose to his hooves. “Let’s go check out that tent,” he said, nodding firmly.
The Doctor smiled. “Allons-y,” he agreed.