Tux yawned and opened his eyes. It was already morning, and the sunlight was knocking gently at his balcony door, bringing with it the crisp early autumn air. Levi was asleep on the bed next to him, a placid look on his face. Tux tried unsuccessfully to get up without disturbing the sleeping cat, who stirred and stretched with a cavernous yawn. "Good morning, Levi," he greeted as his hooves hit the floor. He winced at their soreness; he was outgrowing his shoes, and he desperately needed to make a trip to the farrier for a trim and a reshoe.
"Murr," Levi mumbled in his signature fashion, rubbing against Tux's legs. Wrangler joined him, mewing loudly for her food, her voice colored by her constant purring.
"No, not yet, kitties," he replied. "Give me a minute, and I'll feed you."
"In a minute." He walked down the stairs and poured himself a bowl of Oateys and made an alfalfa and barley smoothie. Then he went to fetch the cats' bowl. He was almost there when he heard a knock on the door. He quickly poured a scoop of kibble into the bowl and slid it along the floor. "Coming!" he called, loping toward the door as tenderly as he could.
He opened it to the smiling face of Pinkie Pie, who was bouncing up and down. "Good morning, Tux!" she beamed. "Are you going to be busy today?"
"I have to stop by the Boutique, get reshod, and then I'm pretty free."
"Good, because I'm going to throw you a little pet-warming party at Sugarcube Corner! Bring Levi and Wrangler, and we'll have a super fantabulous time!"
"Okay, what time is it?"
She stopped bouncing. "Eight oh-seven. But you didn't need to ask me about that."
"No, what time's the party?"
"Oh, that. Let's do it at five."
"I'll see you there, then," he said. He was about to close the door when Pinkie suddenly jumped forward and planted a kiss on his cheek. "What was that for?" he asked.
"What was what for?"
"You just kissed me."
"Oh, I guess I did." She laughed as if it was just a simple happenstance. "Well, I'll see you later. Gummy is looking forward to meeting Levi and Wrangler for the first time." She bounced off down the road, singing a simple, wordless tune.
"Weird," he thought aloud, closing the door and walking back to the kitchen. Wrangler had run off, but Levi was still there, playing with his food as he ate it one kibble at a time. "Murr," he mumbled as Tux entered the room.
"Did you see what happened?" Tux asked.
"I guess not." He started munching on his cereal. Twilight had suggested it, and it was much better than the swill he had eaten in Hoofton. Rolled oats and beardless barley glazed with molasses, which, coupled with his sweet alfalfa smoothie, made for a great breakfast.
He gathered his saddlebags and walked out the door, deciding to rely on his wings for the trip to work so that he wouldn't have to use his sore hooves. As he started the journey, everything seemed normal, but once he got closer to downtown Ponyville, he saw that the streets were virtually deserted. What ponies he did see were couples gazing longingly into each other's eyes, giving each other sundry kisses from short pecks on the cheek to long, passionate embraces of the lips.
He would have figured that this kind of thing was normal for Hearts and Hooves Day, but this was a nondescript weekday in late September. On top of it, several of the couples seemed wrong. Not unexpectedly, Big Macinotsh and Miss Cheerilee were nuzzling each other, but sitting on the adjacent bench were Thunderlane and Rose, locked in an embrace, contented looks on their faces. Likewise, Lyra was snuggling with Caramel, Bonbon and Noteworthy were locked together at the lips.
Even a couple of strange love triangles could be seen: Berry Punch was staring longingly at Time Turner, who was occupied with Derpy, who was rocking happily back and forth, grinning broadly and holding a small filly. This was contrasted with Daisy and Lily Valley both fighting over Shortround, who seemed to be torn between the two of them, himself.
"What the hay is going on?" he thought aloud.
"Nothing, silly!" Pinkie said, kissing him again on the cheek. "Nothing weird, at least. Hey, did I tell you about the time that I walked in on Spike kissing a picture of Rarity? Oops, did I actually tell you that? He made me swear never to tell anypony. I even Pinkie Promised, too. Oh my gosh, I just broke a Pinkie Promise. Now I'm going to have to stick a cupcake in my eye. That's gonna hurt like the dickens." She groaned, kissed him again, and bounced away.
Something was definitely wrong.
He kept going until he got to the Boutique. Rarity wasn't readily found, so he dropped his saddlebags and called after her. Soon, he heard her voice coming from a back room. "Oh Tux, I was beginning to worry that you weren't going to show up." Something about her tone was different. Scary, even. She appeared moments later, clad in a crimson cloak and black lace stockings, wearing midnight eyeshadow and burgundy lipstick. She approached him seductively. "Tux, I came to a realization this morning that you were so much more than a mere employee. You are tall, dark and handsome. You have a brilliant mind. You write to me in a journal every night. How much more romantic could a stallion get?"
He backed away from her. "Rarity, you and I both know that journal is not about you. I would never have told you about it if it were."
"Don't be silly, Tux." A sinister grin split her face. "It couldn't possibly be about anypony else."
"Rarity, you look, uh, fetching in that outfit, but you're making me really uncomfortable right now." He hit the wall.
"Fetching? You insult me! I am beautiful, more so than even the goddess Houphrodite!"
"What has gotten into you?" he cried in fear as she approached.
"Oh, nothing, my long...oh, so long-winged friend." She giggled maniacally. "I ask for a simple favor: a deep, ravenous kiss that leaves me gasping for air. And then, when you realize your destiny..." She had reached him by now, and she whispered something incredibly unladylike in his ear.
"No!" he shrieked, ducking past her.
"Come here!" she roared. "Sire my foals!"
"Not if you were the last mare in Equestria." He kept trying to dodge her. She was surprisingly quick and agile.
"You and I both know that isn't true," she pleaded. "You want me. You dream about me! Nasty, rotten dreams that would make even Princess Celestia blush."
"I dream about aliens and music and missing tests!" he defended. "I have never had an impure dream in my life!" He made for the door, but she blocked him.
"Road apples," she scoffed. "Everypony has a naughty dream now and then. Why, just last night I dreamed that you and I were walking on the beach and you--"
He couldn't take it anymore, and he flew through one of the upper windows, destroying it in the process. He knew the damage would probably come out of his paycheck, but it was worth it if it meant getting away from Rabid Rarity.
But Rabid Rarity was the least of his concerns.
"Hey, handsome." It was Rainbow Dash's voice, and it was very close behind him. He felt the wash from her wings as she wrapped her forelegs around him. "What do you say to a little getaway? Maybe to Cloud Nine?"
"That club in Los Pegasus?"
"We could fly off into the sunset. Just the two of us."
"But what about Soarin'?"
"Forget Soarin'. He's nowhere near as good as you are. Besides, I hear that hot-for-teacher is the new trend." She licked his neck, and shivers ran down his spine, his pupils constricting to pinpoints.
"Hold it!" he shouted, trying to pull away from her. When he was finally successful, he demanded, "What the hoof are you trying to do, Rainbow?"
"Just shut up and kiss me, will ya?" She shot forward and took hold of him, placing her lips against his.
"Wuf are ou doing?!" he cried, smothered by her affection. He placed his hooves on her shoulders and pushed as hard as he could, somehow managing to break the two of them apart. "Rainbow, control yourself!"
"Pshh, I'm always in control." She lifted her chin smugly.
"Not this time." He pulled his wings in and pointed his nose at the ground below, making a beeline for Sweet Apple Acres. He knew that she wouldn't be able to find him if he got to the barn and buried himself in hay. He flew through the open window of the haymow, but he couldn't slow himself down quickly enough, and he landed hard, causing quite a racket.
"What's all that noise?" said a creaky voice. "Rainbow Dash, is that you?"
"No, Granny Smith," Tux replied, gliding down to the floor. "I'm trying to hide from her, actually. Something is...wrong. She's flirting. Aggressively. And she won't take no for an answer."
"A filly chasing after a colt?" she scoffed. "It's just improper. You should be the one chasing her."
"But she has a coltfriend! Granny Smith, I just need a place to hide."
"Well, why didn't you say so? I'm sure Big Macintosh wouldn't mind you hiding in his r--" He didn't give her the opportunity to finish her sentence. He leaped past her, flying for the front door as quickly as he could. He didn't see Rainbow anywhere, so he took a second to breathe a sigh of relief once he crossed the threshold.
He clambered up the stairs, looking at the doors. "Which one is Mac's?" he thought aloud. The door decorated with childlike drawings was obviously Apple Bloom's. The other three rooms were completely nondescript, so he entered the first one. The walls were orange, and a photo of the four Apple family members adorned the nightstand. There was no way to tell whose room it was, but it probably wasn't Granny Smith's.
He turned and closed the door, then closed the shades and slumped against the bed. "What's wrong with everypony?" he sighed, burying his head in his hooves. While Pinkie's behavior was at worst awkward, there was no excuse for how amorous, if not downright indecent both Rarity and Rainbow had been. If anypony else came after him, he'd have to hide in the Everfree Forest until whatever it was passed.
Or maybe this was a nightmare. He bit himself on the withers to rule out that possibility, and, sadly, his situation didn't change. "It's not a dream," he sighed plaintively.
"Tux, is that you?" It was Applejack's voice coming from the other side of the door. "What're you doin' in my room?"
"Road apples," he muttered as the door swung open. "Sorry, AJ. I was looking for Big Mac's room. Granny Smith said I could hide there."
"Mac's room is next door. Who you hidin' from?"
"Rainbow Dash," he replied as she came over and sat down next to him. "She tried to steal me away, to fly off into the sunset with me, to take me clubbing in Los Pegasus. Then she kissed me, without warning and totally unwelcome."
"That little trollop," Applejack huffed. "Always tryin' to beat me at every cotton pickin' thing." Tux realized that she was leaning on his shoulder, her foreleg wrapped around him. He swallowed hard. "Nah, that's too harsh. But she don't know how to act ladylike. I, on the other hoof, will win my kiss fair and square." She turned his head in her direction. "And I will win my kiss."
She hovered there, no more than two inches separating them. He pulled back slightly and said, "Applejack, what's going on?"
"Did I ever tell you how handsome you are?" she swooned. "Oh, you're no draft, but you still have that husky look." She rumpled his mane.
"AJ, please, not now."
"If not now, when?" she sighed, trotting her hoof up his chest. "When'll you ask me out? When'll you whisper in my ear and say you love me? When'll we walk down the aisle together?"
"Something's wrong with you, AJ."
"Nothin's wrong with me," she said quietly. She put her hoof behind his head and brought him closer. He planted a hoof in the center of her chest and pushed away. She squinted at him. "If you ask me, somethin's wrong with you."
"I'm sorry, AJ, but I can't stay here." He stood and left the room. He turned around in the doorway and said, "Maybe sometime we will go out. But you're not right in the head. Something's wrong with just about everypony I've met today. And I need to find out what it is."
"Don't go, Tux," she begged. She trotted over to him. "I need you."
"I promise I'll take you to dinner. But only if you let me go."
She looked confused, disappointed, and hopeful all at the same time. She didn't say a word, but after several moments, she nodded. "All right. But if you break your promise...."
"Big Mac will break my spine. You tell him I promised you."
A look of acceptance came over her face, and she let him go. He was glad that she hadn't been as rabid as the last two that he'd encountered. He gave her a kiss on the cheek before he left, though she voiced her dissatisfaction with the gesture.
If he were to find out what the hay was wrong with everypony, he would need to dig through encyclopedias and medical reference books. Those were sure to be found at the Library. He cautiously left the orchard for Ponyville, making sure to fly through the trees in effort to avoid the hawk-eyes of Rainbow Dash. He quickly ran through every possible psychosis he could think of, but none of them would be this widespread and exhibit the same symptoms. It was evident that everypony was desperately in love with somepony, though he still couldn't see why Pinkie, Rarity, Rainbow and Applejack were all attracted uniquely to him.
He arrived at the Golden Oak Library and peered through the window. Twilight was nowhere to be found, so he pushed on the door, and it swung open. "Is anypony here?" he asked. "Spike? Owlowiscious?"
"Tux, what are you doing here?" Spike asked. He was hiding out in a closet under the stairs. "You've gotta get out of here."
"Twilight has gone crazy. She's obsessed with you. If she knows you're here, she'll come after you. I've read stories about this kind of thing. It always ends up with you pushing up daisies."
"She's not that kind of stalker," Tux explained in hushed tones. "She wants to kiss me, not kill me."
"Coming from Twilight, what's the difference?"
"Do you have any idea what this is?"
"No. I tried finding it somewhere in the reference section, but I can't find anything in the books. Go to Zecora's hut. Follow the path into the Everfree Forest. And avoid the Poison Joke."
"Thanks," he said. He started for the door, but something stopped him. He turned slowly and saw Twilight peering down from her bedroom, euphoria on her face. "I've been discovered," he whispered.
"Get out of here!" Spike shouted.
"No, I can use this to my advantage," he realized. "Spike, I have a massive crush on Twilight, and maybe this can help me break the ice."
"Tux, don't do it!"
Twilight trotted eagerly down the stairs toward him, and he prepared to receive whatever she was going to give him. But he never got the chance. Ever-rabid Rainbow Dash burst through the door and roared, "I've found you!"
"Holy shoes!" Tux gasped, frantically searching for somewhere to go. But Rainbow didn't fly for him. Instead, she flew straight for Twilight and began shouting in her face.
"What makes you think you have a chance with him?" she growled. "I saw him first! He's mine!"
"No way, Rainbow," Twilight replied. "I met him long before you did. He's mine."
"But you're no better than an earth pony," Rainbow insulted. "You can't fly!"
"Oh yeah? I can do this!" Twilight's eyes began to glow, and she lifted off the floor, a blinding spark on the tip of her horn.
Tux took the opportunity to slip out the door before something exploded and somepony got hurt. And he ran right into Rabid Rarity. Her face was streaked black with mascara, and she was still trying to sniff back the tears he had caused in his rejection. Upon seeing him, immediately seized him with a powerful spell, walking toward him with mischief in her eyes. "There you are, Tux," she scolded. "How could you go running off like that? Don't you know it's not safe?"
"I'm just trying to get to Zecora's hut," he said, trying to wriggle out of the grip of her magic. It was useless.
"Zecora?" she gasped. "Whyever would you want such a short-maned, striped, foreign, downright strange mare as her?"
"No, I want to go there to find out what's wrong with you?"
"I've already told you, there's nothing wrong with me." She reached him and rubbed her head against his neck. "I've just realized how much I've always loved you."
"What about Spike?" he asked. "He would be very upset if you were to choose me over him."
"Spike is a child," she scoffed. "Besides, he knows very well that I would never think of him as more than just a friend."
Out of the corner of his eye, Tux noticed the purple dragon peering out from behind the door, and he regretted opening his mouth. With a moment of intense concentration, he somehow broke free of the spell, unfurling his wings and trying to take off. But Rarity was quicker. Seizing the opportunity, she brought her hooves down on his wing shoulders, effectively and painfully removing potential flight from the equation.
"You will be mine, or you will be nopony's," she threatened before pressing her lips to his. He tried to move, but she sparked up another spell, holding him firmly in place.
"Ftof it!" he said, his words muffled.
"I'll never stop," she replied, gazing longingly into his eyes.
"Oh yeah?" shouted Rainbow Dash.
"You're not going to make it out of here alive," added Twilight.
"What about me?" Tux asked. "Spare me, please!"
The three mares exchanged glances, shook their heads, and said in unison, "You will be mine, or you will be nopony's."
"Buck this apple tree," he said, sprinting past them and around the library. They followed him for a short distance, but before long they went back to fighting amongst themselves, becoming an amorphous mass of dust, flying hooves, and sundry curses.
As he ran down the road, he heard hoofbeats coming up beside him, and he saw Applejack out of the corner of his eye. "I just can't stop thinkin' about ya, Tux!" she called over the sound of her hoofbeats. "I tried doin' my chores, I tried goin' for a walk, but it just didn't work. Please, Tux, all I want is a kiss!"
"You aren't getting anything until I can figure out what's going on. Twilight, Rarity and Rainbow were just fighting over me like a bunch of bridesmaids fighting over a bouquet."
"Nuh-uh," she laughed. "I ain't that whacked out! If somepony were to challenge me, I'd do things the civilized way. I'd go for the battle of wits."
"And if that didn't work?"
"I'd buck her in the face, tie you up, and whisk you away while she was unconscious."
"You're certifiable, Applejack!" he tried galloping faster, but she had no problems matching his pace.
"You're not makin' things any easier!" she shouted, lunging for him. She missed, nearly taking out his legs. "Get back here!"
"You're not sober, Applejack!"
"Of course I am!" she retorded, lunging at him again. He jumped to avoid her, nearly losing his footing. "Don't you know that Ponyville is in a dry county? The only cider we brew is fresh!"
"No, I'm not making accusations; I'm saying that something is causing you to obsess over me. You and everypony else!"
"Hogwash!" She put on one last burst of speed and launched herself at his front legs, and they both went sprawling on the ground, tumbling and finally skidding to a stop. She rolled him onto his back and moved in to kiss him, but she stopped inches from his face. "What am I doing?" she thought aloud.
"Trying to steal your kiss," he said, wincing in pain from his bruised face. "Well?"
"This ain't right," she said sadly. "You're my friend, Tux, and now I gone and done you harm just to get my way."
He closed his eyes and let out a sigh of relief. Soon, he felt Applejack's lips press tenderly against the bruise on his cheek. He didn't have the energy to resist, so he relaxed and braced for the worst. But instead of trying again, she rolled off of him. "What are you doing?" he asked.
"Tryin' hard to think of somepony besides you. Are you goin' anywhere in particular?"
"I was going to check with Fluttershy. And if she isn't affected like you and everypony else, I plan on having her take me to Zecora's hut. That's where Spike told me to go."
"She's sure is a knowledgeable pony when it comes to stuff like this," she commented. "You'd best be gettin' out of here before I relapse."
"Well, you banged me up pretty good with that tackle."
"Sorry 'bout that."
He rolled away from her onto his hooves and tried to stand. It was hard and very painful, but he managed to become ambulatory once again. "I'll see you later, AJ," he said as he began walking away. "Hopefully once I figure out what's wrong with all of you."
"Y'all come back now, ya hear?"
"I promise. After all, we have a dinner date to do at some point."
Applejack started galloping off toward town, and Tux continued west along the road to Fluttershy's cottage. He was glad that he wasn't accosted anymore by any of the five ponies whom he knew were after a kiss. But when he arrived, Angel stood outside with a sign that read, "Tux, please stay away."
"I need to see Fluttershy," he said. Angel just shook his head. He put the sign down and began speaking rapidly in some kind of sign language. "I don't understand, Angel." Angel slapped his forehead and pointed to Tux, then to the cottage, and then he brought his hands together in a sign that Tux did understand. "I need to get to Zecora's hut. I need to figure out what's wrong with Fluttershy and try to find a cure."
Angel pointed at the immense Everfree Forest. "I know," Tux said. "A map would be nice, if you have one." Angel shook his head sadly. "Okay. Even the Four Horses of the Apocalypse couldn't stop me from getting there. I'll be back."
He made his way toward what appeared to be a path into the forest. He was hesitant to continue; he didn't know the way. But it's funny how fate works. "Are you going to Zecora's hut?" asked a voice behind him.
He started at the sound, then turned around. There stood a beige unicorn mare with a cinnamon-roll brown mane and tail. "Yeah," he replied. "Trying to find some cure for whatever's wrong with Ponyville."
"I'm headed a bit further inward," she said. "Something tells me you're lost."
"Am I that obvious?"
"I know the way. And see those blue leaves? Avoid them like the plague."
"I'm Tux, by the way," he introduced as they began walking.
"I'm Simple Song," she replied.
"Are you musical?"
"Have a look." He peered back at her flank, and her cutie mark was a series of musical notes. "I have a degree in music performance from RCC Manehattan."
"The Royal Canterlot Conservatory? What are you doing down here?"
"I work at the post office. I'm too shy to audition for the Met. Or any opera company for that matter. So I got a job where I could."
"You never get a part you don't go for," he advised. "To be honest, I've never been rejected, but I've only auditioned for one part before."
"I landed a bunch of parts in school. Once I graduated, I had a chance to play a role that I'd wanted since I was a filly, but I didn't get it. It went to some other mare."
"I'm sorry," he said. "Have you had an opportunity since then?"
"No," she replied. "Ponyville doesn't have an opera company, and I can't afford to live anyplace that does."
"Hey, I'm trying to start up a pony choir. You could join that."
"I'd love to."
They chewed the fat for a while, until finally Simple Song led him to a cozy-looking hut ornamented with charms from a far-off land. "Thanks again for showing me the way," he said as they parted ways.
"It was great to meet you, Tux. I'll probably see you around."
"Take care," he said as she walked off, and he waved with his wing.
"Who has come upon my door? A pony I haven't seen before." He turned around when he heard the mare's low, contralto voice.
"My name is Tux n Tails," he introduced, looking around. "Are you Zecora?"
"Apparently you have heard of me. Come right in. I'll make you some tea."
"Thank you." The zebra opened the door, and he entered the hut, still somewhat cautious.
"Now, what would your purpose with me be? Tell me, so that perhaps I may see."
"Well, everypony in Ponyville has been affected by some sort of lovesickness," he started, continuing to relate all the troubles that had befallen him thus far. "...and so, I'm wondering if you know what's wrong and how to fix it."
After a moment of thought, Zecora nodded. "I'm glad that you came through my door; this sickness, I have seen before. I've had it, yes, I must confess. It causes ponies to obsess upon the first pony to enter their mind, a strong desire to go and find that pony and to give them a kiss."
"I really wasn't prepared for this."
"You have just completed my rhyme. That happens almost none of the time."
"So is there a way to fix it?"
Zecora nodded. She fetched an ancient book from her bookcase. After a minute, she found the correct page. "You will not like this cure, I think; it can't be put into a drink, for in the book it tells me this: it must be given via kiss."
"You're pulling my leg," he scoffed. She tapped the page emphatically with her hoof, and he came over. After skimming the page, he admitted that she was right.
"On the lips or on the cheek: it doesn't matter which they seek, so kiss them once and kiss them well. It's the only way to break the spell."
He read the ingredient list and found it deceptively simple. "So let me get this straight: I smear this gak made with wild strawberry juice on my lips, and kissing everypony will make them normal again?"
"I wish it not for you to be daunted, but you must give them what they've wanted."
His hopes immediately sank. "Surely there's another way."
"If you wait, it will be gone in seven days."
"But before that week is up, they'll all have figured out that I'm here. You won't have a hut left standing."
"This I know, yes, very well. So get your plot out there and break that spell."
"You're kicking me out?" She nodded. "Can't I have my tea first?"
About an hour and a half later, having particularly enjoyed talking with Zecora about her native language, Zebrili, he walked out the door, admittedly unprepared for what was to come. Before he stepped off the porch, Zecora said, "This sickness has a price to pay; tomorrow, they won't remember today."
"So unless I tell them what happened, it'll be just like it never did?"
She nodded. "I sense in you some mischief, Tails. I sense, at love, you've always failed."
"Well, would it be wrong to use this to break the ice, even if only on my end?"
"Remember, Tux, it is your choice, but also, this adoration has no real voice. It is an illusion, a falsehood, a trick. So finish the task, and finish it quick."
"The sooner I get it over with, the sooner I can get over it. Yeah, I get it." He set off down the poorly marked trail through the forest, wishing he had Simple Song by his side to pass the time. But soon enough, he was back in the open.
It wasn't surprising when he heard Rainbow Dash shout off in the distance, and he saw her dive for him. He got out of her way, and she touched down with a long slide. She began walking toward him, mischief in her eyes. The idea of having to kiss her was daunting enough to cause him to involuntarily back away.
"What have you done with the others?" he asked.
"Taken care of," she replied. "Don't worry about it. I'm the only girl you need to be worrying about."
"Because I always get what I want."
"And what do you want from me?"
"A kiss, dummy. Deep. Passionate. Real. And I'll know if you're fakin' it."
"If you get your kiss, will you leave me alone?"
She burst out laughing, her hooves lifting off the ground. She continued flapping toward him after a brief moment. "You can't be serious. I'm going to have you all to myself! We'll go to Canterlot and get married. Spitfire will be the Best Mare, and Soarin' will be the Stallion of Honor. Princess Celestia will preside over the ceremony. We'll start churning out foals right away, of course."
"Whoa, Nellie," he said, backing away quicker. "I'm not ready for any kind of commitment. And doesn't the groom choose the Stallion of Honor?"
"Pshh, normally. But what's normal about this?"
He gritted his teeth and stood his ground. The sooner he kissed her, the sooner she would stop with these delusions of grandeur. "Enough talk, Rainbow. Get your plot over here."
She shot to his side, coming to a dead stop in a move that simply defied the laws of physics; her momentum should have bowled him over. "I love it when you call me Rainbow," she whispered in his ear. Her breath tickled, and he had to stifle a giggle.
"Well, Rainbow, you wanted a kiss. So here you go." He took her face with his wing and brought their lips together.
The first thought that ran through his mind was, "How long do I have to hold this?" But the experience was a bit less unpleasant as soon as the awkwardness went away. But as soon as the awkwardness went away, something like a static spark sent a jolt of pain to his lips, separating him from his adoring friend. "Did it work?" he thought aloud.
Rainbow sat there with a blank look on her face. She began looking around confusedly. "Where am I?" she asked.
"Just outside Ponyville," he replied. "Do you remember anything from this morning?"
"It's probably better that way."
"Why were you...kissing me?" she grimaced.
"I guess I have to tell you," he sighed. "All day long, you and four other ponies have been chasing after me, fighting over me, obsessed with kissing me."
"Hey!" he protested.
"Well, it's not like kissing you is grody. It's just that me kissing other ponies is...so uncool!"
"You've never kissed Soarin'?"
"But isn't that something that you...normally do when you're dating somepony?"
"I'm just not the touchy-feely, kissyface type of pony, okay. He's doesn't seem too happy about it, but we make it work."
"Are you really sure it's working?" he asked. "You sound awfully defensive."
"I'm totally sure. I got this."
"Doesn't sound like it. In order for a relationship to work, it has to be a hundred percent. And if you aren't giving a hundred percent, you should reconsider."
"I didn't ask for your advice."
"You'll forget it in the morning anyway," he shrugged.
"I'll forget it in five minutes," she retorted, flapping away angrily.
As much as he wanted to go after her and apologize, he had work to do, and he just didn't want to deal with an argument. So after she was far enough away, he started off toward Sweet Apple Acres. Even though Fluttershy was closer, he wanted to save the last of his energy for the only pony of the six obsessed with him who didn't want to indulge her desires.
By the time he arrived, his hooves were killing him. He wasn't used to this much walking, much less on shoes that were too small. "Applejack?" he called as he searched the barn. Next, he tried the house, but she didn't seem to be there, either.
He went out to the garden and found Granny Smith working on pulling weeds. "Granny Smith, have you seen Applejack?" he asked. "I need to lend a hoof and help her out of a jam."
"Jam? We don't make jam until the end of the season."
"No, Granny. She has the Kissing Sickness, and I need to help her get rid of it."
"Oh, she has mono? You don't want to kiss her, or you'll get it, too."
"No, not mononucleosis. It's an altered mental state caused by the spores of a certain mold that makes you obsess over the first pony who comes into your mind."
"Oh, the Kissing Curse. Yeah, I had that once. Is that why Applejack and Big Macintosh are so twitterpated with their special someponies?"
"Yes. I can cure Applejack, but first I need to find her."
"Well, why didn't you say so in the first place? She went to Stargazing Hill. Wait...she said not to tell you that."
"Thank you," he said, taking off. His wings weren't in as much pain as they had been when Rarity had disabled them. He surveyed the landscape as he flew, trying to find the hill in question. He'd never been there, but Twilight had told him about it.
Finally, when his wings were just about to call it quits, he saw a small, orange blob sitting at the top of a hill. He glided down toward Applejack and landed gently, but not so gently that she didn't know he was there. She was lying down, resting her head on her forelegs, her hat sitting at her side. "Well?" she asked.
"I have a cure."
"What if I don't want to be cured?"
"Either I cure you now, or you wait seven days. I'd prefer it sooner than later."
She looked up at him briefly, then sighed and put her head back down. "Tux, this is the best I've felt in a good, long time. I woke up yesterday with a ragin' crush and no hope. Now I have a ragin' crush and the drive to do somethin' about it."
"But I promised to take you out to dinner, didn't I?"
"Yeah. But not as a special somepony. Let's face it, you goin' out with me is like you takin' your sister to lunch."
"What do you want, Applejack?"
"You, Tux," she replied. "I wanna have you all to myself for the rest of forever. I wanna get hitched. I want a son and a daughter."
"So does everypony else, I bet."
"Forget them!" she grumbled.
"I can't give you a wedding, Applejack, but I can give you a kiss." He walked over and lay down next to her, moving her hat with his wing. "Don't you want one of those?"
"Course I do," she blushed. "But I know that if I get one, it'll mean curing this thing that I got."
"What if I told you that I wanted to kiss you, too?"
"You're just sayin' that."
He scooted closer. "Do my eyes lie?"
She looked at him, her eyes moist, large as dinner plates. "No."
"Then kiss me, Applejack."
She hesitated for a moment, then moved forward. It took much longer for the spark to happen, but they finally separated. "What just happened?" she asked, dazed.
"You had the Kissing Sickness, and I was the first one to pop into your head. I cured you."
"That explains it," she sighed. "Anypony else thinkin' of you?"
"Yeah. All six of you."
"You certainly have your hooves full. Lookin' forward to tomorrow, when all of us forget?"
"In some ways, yes." He chuckled. "I even promised to take you out on a date. I didn't know at the time that you'd forget about it, though."
"I can," she replied.
"My word is bond," he said, clearing his throat. "Write it down when you get home."
"Will do, Tux." She kissed him on the cheek, got up, and walked off.
He sighed in relief and got up himself. "Who's next?" he thought aloud. He still had Twilight, Rarity, and Pinkie Pie before he went to cure Fluttershy, and of those three, Pinkie Pie appealed to him the most. She'd been kissing him on the cheek all day long, and so that was probably what it would take to cure her. No problem. What would be a problem, though, was getting to her without attracting the attention of the most rabid of the three.
He was probably going to have to cure Rarity first.
Walking due to tired wings, he grudgingly made his way back toward Ponyville, each step more painful than the last. He wished he had the tools needed to remove the steel shoes, but it would have to wait, especially if the farrier was suffering as well. He eventually got to the point where he couldn't go any farther without using his wings, which didn't get him more than fifty yards. He groaned and dropped to his belly, lying there, waiting for the pain to subside. Off in the distance, he heard the clock tower strike three. "The farrier closes at four," he thought aloud. "One more night."
"Oh no," said Applejack's voice from behind him. "I may not be a pro, but I saw you walkin' on eggshells, so I went and grabbed my tools. I'll get those shoes off and get you trimmed up."
He turned toward her. "Are you sure?"
"I've been doin' Mac's shoes even since I could swing a hammer," she replied. "Plus, you won't have to shell out four bits for this job." She shrugged off the bag of tools she was carrying. "Though, I've said time and time again that he don't need no dang shoes. I never used 'em. Hay, you don't need shoes unless you're walkin' on pavement all day. And even then, I prefer bein' barefoot better."
She encouraged him to his feet and went to work, deftly cutting the clinches and prying off the shoes. As soon as they were gone, his feet felt infinitely better, and as she trimmed his hooves, he relaxed almost to the point of falling over. Before long, she was done. "Thanks," he smiled.
"No problem. Hey, next time you need a trim, go ahead and come to the barn and give me a hollar. I'd be happy to do it for you."
"You've made me a very happy stallion," he chuckled as they parted ways. His hooves were still sore as he continued the trek to Ponyville, but they were much happier.
As he neared Ponyville, he kept noticing a bush that should have left his field of view. But every time he looked back at it, it seemed to be in the same spot. Just to make sure nothing else strange was going on, he looked at the ground and took a step forward. Sure enough, the ground was moving. He checked the bush again and saw that it was closer. "Uh-oh," he muttered, realizing he was being followed. But it was too late to do anything about it; the bush pounced, and a white hoof pressed a cloth to his nose. Whatever the cloth was soaked with smelled sweet, and by the time he realized that it was chloroform, it was far too late.
He awoke lying on somepony's bed, his head aching and dizziness clouding his vision. The room was painted with pastel colors, with a distinct chic. There was a framed photo of Sweetie Belle sitting on the nightstand, as well as a portrait of Rarity and Spike. "Oh, road apples," he moaned.
"Oh good, you're awake." Rarity's voice came from his right, and he turned to see her lying next to him, staring unblinkingly, a rather unsettling grin spread across her face. "I was beginning to worry about you."
"Rarity!" He tried to wriggle away, but she held him in place with a spark of magic. "Do you have any idea how dangerous chloroform can be?"
"Desperate times call for desperate measures," she replied. "One way or another, I will have you."
"Why are you doing this?"
She sighed, supporting her head with a hoof. "Because you made the mistake of choosing somepony else. Especially that tramp, that...rube. I had to force myself not to retch when I heard you voicing your satisfaction."
"Because she trimmed my hooves!" he defended.
"Oh, pish posh. I saw the whole thing. Why you would deign to kiss such a filthy mouth is beyond knowledge. But there is nothing between us now." Without expending any effort, she sprung to her feet, scooting him into the middle of the bed and straddling him. He felt his legs being pulled to the corners of the four-poster bed, and they were suddenly secured with four sturdy straps. His eyes widened in fear.
"What are you doing?" he stammered.
"Taking advantage of you, of course," she giggled. She put on a fresh coat of lipstick, which he hoped wouldn't hinder the curative powers of his own. "You're going to love me. Whether you like it or not."
Chills raced down his spine as she bent down, licking his neck. He pulled hard on the straps, but they didn't even creak. "Gah!" he croaked as she started nibbling on his ear. "Rarity!"
"Oh, be quiet," she commanded. "Unless you want to cooperate...."
"Yes!" he blurted out. "Anything if it gets you to leave me the hoof alone!"
"That's not very sportscoltlike," she scolded.
"What do you want, Rarity?" he asked, trying to sound as enthralled as she was.
"Everything," she whispered in his ear. "I want your last name next to my first name. I want little foals running around the Boutique. I want raw, unbridled passion, passion that I know you have buried deep inside!"
"You want to see how passionate I can be?"
"Yes!" she screamed in ecstasy at the thought of his cooperation.
"Well, then, shouldn't we start with a kiss?"
"Oh, of course," she chuckled. "I want to show you something I learned when I went to Paris for a month when I was a fledgling fashionista." She closed the gap between them, pressing her lips to his. The kiss was the longest of all of them. And it was indeed very French. But finally the static spark gapped between them, the most painful one thus far. Rarity's dilated pupils shrunk, and she paused in mid-kiss. She pulled away in horror.
"What is going on?" she asked.
"You had a case of the Kissing Sickness, and I was the first pony you thought of today."
"Is that why you're..." She grimaced. "...tied to my bed?" He nodded. "Nothing...happened between us?"
"Besides curing you with a kiss, no."
"Let us never speak of this again," she said, clearing her throat and untying him.
"No problem," he said, shuddering one last time.
"Who else has been affected?" she wondered.
"All six of you, actually. I still have Pinkie, Fluttershy, and Twilight to cure."
"Pinkie will be the easiest. She'd sooner be seen eating a rock than fawning over any stallion."
"Yeah, the only thing she's tried to do to me was peck me on the cheek. I hope that's what'll cure her."
"Now, Twilight won't be hard. Especially for you. Fluttershy, on the other hand...."
"Yeah, I already tried to stop by her cottage. Angel warded me off."
"That's what I feared. Listen, when you're ready, come get me, and I'll go with you. I can keep Angel occupied while you do your business."
"You make it sound like I'm going to be...." He trailed off before he said something unfortunate, but she nodded in agreement.
"You never know."
He gulped at the lump of uncertainty that formed in his throat. Hopefully things wouldn't get too out of hoof. "I'll cross that bridge when I come to it," he said in self-assurance. "I'll see you later, I guess."
"Yes," she urged. "Kindly leave my bedroom and never return."
Finding Pinkie Pie was not as easy as he would have liked. She wasn't at Sugar Cube Corner, and she wasn't loitering near his cottage. He checked the market, the schoolhouse, the train station, and even Town Hall. But his efforts were in vain. "Pinkie, where the hay are you?" he asked aloud as he stood in the town square. The clock struck five.
From out of nowhere, he felt something on his cheek, accompanied by the sound of a kiss. But there was nopony around. He felt another kiss on his other cheek. "Pinkie, what are you doing?"
"Nothing." Another kiss, on his other cheek.
"Please, Pinkie, I want to get this over with as soon as possible."
"Not yet." He looked toward her voice, and he felt a kiss on his opposite cheek, and when he looked that direction, she kissed him again, switching sides.
"Now!" she shouted, appearing less than a foot in front of him. He reared up in surprise, lost his footing, and fell backward. She stood over him, giggling happily. "Wow, I sure scared you."
"Not really," he replied.
"You turned white for a second!"
"Why did you keep hiding from me?"
"I have to give you one kiss for each hour on the clock. Well, not really. But it's a game I came up with while I was waiting for you to come back from Zecora's. Hey, did you know that we could cure this entire town if we sprinkled them with wild strawberry juice? It would make the town super sticky, but everypony would kiss everypony else and kill the mold that causes it."
"How do you know?"
"I hung out at the library with Spike, and he finally found the right encyclopedia and researched the cure."
"Did you know that I'm wearing wild strawberry lip balm?"
"So...you could cure me?"
"Yeah. All I need to do is give you what you want."
"Oh, that's no problem. And it is kind of annoying to have this compulsion." She kissed him on the cheek again. "I don't know what I want from you. But I seem to remember that you have to reciprocate on the other pony's compulsion in order to fix the problem. So if you kissed me on the cheek, it should work."
He wormed his way out from under her and stood back up. Almost as soon as his lips touched her cheek, the spark snapped, and she jumped back with a surprised look on her face. "Ouch, I didn't think that would hurt so much," she grumbled.
"Do you remember anything?"
"Yeah," she said, as if it was common knowledge.
"But nopony else did."
"I'm not a regular pony," she shrugged. "I have a memory like an elephant. Wait, did I have the memory of an elephant, or an elephant's fear of mice?" She suddenly gasped, standing there petrified.
"Cake!" she replied. "Mr. Cake was going to teach me how to make fondant today!"
"I'm pretty sure Mr. and Mrs. Cake are...ocupado."
"What does that mean?" she asked, tilting her head to the side.
"Busy. Doing other things. They probably have the Kissing Sickness, too."
"Oh, I see. Maybe I can figure it out myself. I mean, it can't be too hard to make fondant."
"Don't bakeries usually order it pre-made?"
"Not Sugarcube Corner. We make everything from scratch. Hey! Speaking of making cakes from scratch, I've already got ideas for your birthday cake. I'm gonna make the whole thing myself. You should come and watch me work sometime."
"Sure thing," he promised. She grinned and bounced away. "Four down, two to go." He made his way to the library, only to find Spike standing in front of the door, arms crossed in front of his chest. "What's going on?"
"I'm making sure you don't do something wrong. I ain't letting you in if you have ulterior motives."
"Would you rather have her stew for seven days and forget the whole week, or let me do what needs to be done? I have the cure, and I know how to administer it."
He sighed and stepped aside. "All right. But you have to be honest when she asks you why you're kissing her."
Tux opened the door and walked cautiously into the main room of the library. "Twilight, are you around?"
She appeared in front of him in a blinding flash of magic, a look of adoration in her eyes. "Tux, I'm so glad you're here! I've been hoping to see you all day long."
"Last time, things didn't turn out so well," he recalled.
"Whatever you did to the others, I'm glad they're going to be out of our manes."
"How did you know I cured them?"
"You cured them?" She sighed. "Actually, I guess I can live with that. You did what you had to do to keep them from getting between us. Besides, there was nothing real there. You kissed them because you had to. I, on the other hand.... You actually want this as much as I do."
"How do you know?"
She laid her head on his withers. "You've had a crush on me since the day you set hoof in Ponyville," she replied. "You wear your heart right here."
Hot blood rushed to his face as he asked, "Was it ever mutual?"
"Not until today, when I realized how much I loved you."
His heart sank. The answer he'd been expecting, had been desiring, was, "Always." But this was a disappointment to end all disappointments. "So...you just had an epiphany and realized that you wanted me?"
"Yup," she swooned. "But this isn't the sickness talking. I've got that completely under control."
"What is it that you want, Twilight?" he asked feebly, trying to choke back the lump in his throat. He knew what she would say, and when the deed was done, it would be the end of it.
"More than anything in the entire, vast universe, a kiss from the one who stole my heart."
With a wing, he brought her face to his. Ever so tenderly, he touched her lips to his, expecting the cururative spark to occur instantaneously. But it took what seemed like minutes of being lost in Twilight's entrancing embrace before the tiniest indication was felt that she was indeed cured.
She pulled away slowly. Deliberately. When he opened his eyes, he found her wearing an expression less of horror than extreme confusion. "Wh-- What happened?" she asked, oblivious of the day's events, just like most of the others.
"You were sick with something called the Kissing Sickness," he explained.
"And you had the cure?"
He nodded slowly, deigning to mention neither what she had said, nor his own ulterior motives. At least, at first. But after brief consideration, he sighed and bared his soul. "I thought for a moment I might have a shot with you, that this sickness, even if it lasted just for a week, would give me a chance to fulfill my greatest fantasy: walking side by side in the cool of evening through a tranquil garden, wrapping my wing around somepony who loved me." He hung his head. "But it's never going to be anything more than a fantasy."
"Don't lie to yourself," she said softly, lifting his head up with her own. And she left it at that. "Is there anypony else that needs curing?"
"The entire town, but I still have to cure Fluttershy. I'm going to need some help getting past Angel. Rarity has already promised to help, but I think I'll need more than that."
"I can help, too. I also think I have a way to cure the rest of the town."
It was dusk by the time the three of them reached Fluttershy's cottage. Angel was still standing outside with the vigilance of a Royal Guard. When he saw them coming, he waved his arms about wildly, making several warning gestures.
"No, Angel," Tux asserted. "I have to go in there." He explained the illness and the cure, but Angel still refused. The bunny balled a tiny fist and pounded it into his open palm. "I'm sorry it had to come to this."
On his cue, Rarity and Twilight both reached out with their magic to restrain the bunny's arms, lifting him off the ground, while his tiny feet kicked helplessly. Tux pushed the door open and entered the cottage.
It was lit dimly with candles, but apart from that, it was dark. The atmosphere was nothing short of unsettling. He went through each room in turn, starting at nearly every creak of the floorboards, expecting the normally soft spoken pony to leap out of the shadows and pounce on him at any moment, ravaging him, or as the case would be, ravishing him with her unbridled desires.
Instead, he found her nearly catatonic, lying on her bed, a dark stain on the pillow beneath her head. "Fluttershy?" he said quietly.
"Get away," she replied hoarsely, eyes red from crying.
"I'm here to help you," he consoled.
"Get away from me!" she snapped, causing him to back up a step. "I can't control myself."
"You won't have to," he replied. "One kiss, and you'll be cured. Come tomorrow, you'll forget everything."
"You don't understand!" she growled, floating down from the bed and walking toward him, wings extended, a scowl on her face. "I can't just forget. This will always be here, gnawing at the back of my mind, driving me crazy!"
"Fluttershy, please! I don't want to see you like this."
"Get out of my cottage and leave me to my misery!"
"I can either leave you here, and you'll be like this for a week, or I can end it tonight and you can go back to how it was. Which do you want?"
"I would rather die than l--"
He didn't let her finish her thought. He jumped forward and planted a kiss square on her lips, lucky enough to have the spark--exceptionally painful, this time--happen before his momentum carried the two of them off balance and into the ground.
Angel came hopping into the room as fast as he could, and he started shaking Fluttershy's shoulder vigorously, despite the fact that his tiny hands couldn't do much to move her. She slowly opened her eyes and asked, "What happened?"
"You hit your head," he replied, twisting the truth. "I wanted to see whether you were all right."
Her eyes flitted back and forth for a few moments, and then she shook her head. "I remember everything."
He sighed. "Can you forgive me for trying to cover it up?"
"I know why you did," she replied. "Yes, I forgive you."
Soon, Twilight and Rarity came loping into the room. "We couldn't hold him for long," Rarity apologized. "Is everything back to normal?"
"Yes, it is," Fluttershy replied. She was still hoarse, and she sniffed back a tear. "I'm looking forward to getting some rest."
"We'll let you get to it," Tux promised. He placed a brief kiss on her forehead and stood up. "I think we could all use some rest."
The next morning, it rained in Ponyville. But this rain was sweet and sticky, tasting like wild strawberries. With a little help from Zecora and Cloudsdale, Tux and Rainbow Dash worked to position the custom made clouds to cure the entire town. Twilight and Pinkie Pie had volunteered to go around with spray bottles, spritzing ponies who dast not come outside. But when the very moisture in the air became tainted with the strawberry rain, no spritzing was needed.
After Rainbow had cleared the second round of clouds, having replaced the strawberry ones with normal rainclouds to wash away the sticky strawberry juice, Tux had Mayor Mare gather everypony in the town square. When the crowd had assembled, she stepped aside, and Tux stepped up to the podium.
He gulped hard at a lump that had formed in his throat. Public speaking wasn't his forte, but this speech had to be made, lest an entire town start jumping to conclusions as to why they had forgotten the events of the day before.
"Citizens of Ponyville," he started, knees shaking. "You have no cause for fear. Alarm, yes, but fear, no. Since yesterday morning, the entire town, with a couple of exceptions, was affected by something called the Kissing Sickness. It's an acute mental illness caused by psychotropic compounds found in the airborne spores of a certain kind of mold. In short, it made you all crazy in love with the first pony to enter your mind.
"Now, I have good news and...actually, more good news. All of you are now immune to the Kissing Sickness, and you'll never have to suffer through it again. The other good news is that you'll forget everything that happened yesterday and today. I guess you could call that bad news if you actually want to remember something that happened, so if that's the case, write it down before you go to sleep.
"None of this would have been possible without the herbalism of Zecora the zebra, as well as Twilight Sparkle, Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash, who helped distribute the cure."
"And especially Tux n Tails," interrupted Rainbow, shoving him aside. "He never got sick, so he was able to cure my friends and me, who in turn were able to cure all of you. So let's hear it for Tux n Tails!"
Tux turned white as Ponyville began to applaud him, stamping their hooves and roaring out cheers. A smile crossed his face, and he blushed, grateful that it was hidden by his dark coat. "Uh, thank you," he said into the microphone before backing away.
Something warmed inside of him as he stepped off the stage. Everywhere he looked, ponies were chanting his name, cheering for him. The times, they were a-changing; from this point on, he would no longer be a nobody. Though he would never remember why everypony now knew his name, for the next day, he forgot the whole incident.