Whitetail Wood was always lovely this time of year. The leaves were starting to turn and the still-warm breezes that chased each other through the trees made the foliage move in a whispering dance. In another few weeks it would be Apple Buck season and soon to follow was the Running of The Leaves. It was this transitional time beforehand that Big Macintosh liked taking walks through the wood. For a time he could almost imagine he was completely alone since it was always quiet and peaceful. Well, almost always.
Beside him walked a lavender unicorn who couldn't seem to keep herself from talking. More accurately, explaining. Twilight had read about this particular tree, written a paper in primary school about the germination period of this plant, once attended a lecture about that kind of bird and their migration paths. Inwardly the big red stallion chuckled. Her constant chatter didn't bother him much. After all, he'd been living with only females since he was a colt. He was nothing if not an expert at tuning voices out. Some of the things she mentioned were interesting, even relevant to his work on the farm. But for the most part, it was just words to fill what would be empty air. After awhile. Big Mac cleared his throat and looked down at her. "You sure do know a lot about a lot."
This was enough to stop Twilight from talking for a second and even drew a blush from her cheeks. "Sorry. Was I rambling again?"
"A little bit."
"It's just that there are so many interesting things that I know and that I want to know. Spike usually humors me for awhile but then just ignores me. Talking to you, I felt like you were really lis..." She looked up at him, seeing the corners of his lips twitch into a smirk. "You were just humoring me too, weren't you?"
"A little bit."
Twilight laughed quietly. "Well you're certainly a lot better at making it look like you're interested than Spike is."
"All due respect, he's still just a baby dragon. Still got a lot to learn."
She laughed again and then fell silent. They walked along in peace for a few minutes but Twilight didn't stay mute for long "Big Macintosh, why did you ask me to go on a walk with you?"
"Don't know if you'd believe me if I told you."
He shrugged his brows. "Doin' it for my little sister." His head turned so he could glance behind them. One of his conditions for doing this whole dating thing was that the Crusaders not follow along to any other the places he went. One of Applejack's conditions for keeping an eye on them and making sure they didn't follow him was that he spare no detail when he got home. Though he knew he'd left them on the farm it was still hard not to double check to make sure.
"You're doing this for Applejack? I don't follow."
Big Mac returned his attention to the path they walked. "Not AJ, Apple Bloom. An' her friends. They got it in their heads that their special talent is couplin' ponies up." This time when Twilight blushed it wasn't because she was embarrassed. Big Mac pretended not to notice. "They tried to set me an' Rainbow Dash up the other night. At a bowling alley."
"You don't even have to tell me how that one ended." Twilight glanced up at him. "But now I have a ton of questions."
"Wouldn't have expected less."
Now it was her turn to ignore him. "Did you know before you and Dash went on a..." She trailed off, giggling. "I can't even say it. Not with a straight face, anyway. A date." Her giggle turned into a laugh that Big Mac couldn't help but join in on.
"Nope. They tried to be real sneaky, like. 'Cept you know just about how subtle they can be."
"About as subtle as a bunch of musa acuminata in a bed of agaricus bisporus." She laughed but stopped quickly when it was obvious Big Macintosh didn't get what she meant. "Bananas and mushrooms?"
"Oh, right. Yeah, about as subtle as that." He told her about the cards, the crazy disguises, the very tedious string he'd endured playing with Dash, and the talk he'd had with Apple Bloom afterward. "I know she means well, they all do. But still."
"The girls just care about you and want to see you happy."
"They just want their cutie marks."
Twilight smirked. "Well, that too. I think it's really sweet that you're going along with it, though. It shows how much you care about Apple Bloom. And who knows? You just might find true love in this whole silly quest of theirs!"
With a side look, Big Macintosh raised a brow. "That so? Well, if that happens I'll be sure to send 'em your way next."
"Oh no, no, no. I'm perfectly happy being single, thank you very much. Besides, I have so much on my plate right now I don't think I could even think about adding a coltfriend to the mix. Between running the library, taking care of Spike, keeping up with my letters to the princess..." Her violet eyes focused on her hooves for a moment. "I really just don't have time or room in my life for any romance."
Big Macintosh plodded on, quietly watching Twilight. There was a soft sadness in her expression that spoke volumes over her words. He wanted to ask but the two of them weren't particularly close. She was one of Applejack's best friends and, just like the other five, he knew Twilight about as well as anyone could know another pony from casual visits. Intruding was not a thing he wanted to do, especially since they were finally striking a nice balance between quiet and actual conversation. Still, he couldn't help but wonder. "You know," he said after a minute, "I been told I'm a real good listener."
Twilight didn't reply for a few minutes but she did look up at him once, clearly appraising whether or not to open up to the stallion. At length she simply sighed and shook her head. "There is somepony. Please don't ask me who because I don't think I can even say his name right now without turning as pink as Pinkie Pie. But I do like him. A lot."
"Okay." This was her cue to continued and she seemed to know it. Still she hesitated. "You don't have to tell me nothin' you don't want to, Twilight. You can go back to tellin' me about the trees if you want."
"No." There was agony on her face. "I've just... I haven't told anyone else about this. Not any of the girls or even Spike."
"I won't breathe a word."
"I know you won't." She sighed through her nose. "I don't really think he knows I exist."
"I can't believe that's true," Big Mac replied kindly. "You're Twilight Sparkle, prized student of Princess Celestia and one of the bearers of the Elements of Harmony."
She winced. "Gee, when you say it like that..." Twilight shook her head. "Okay, I'm sure he knows I exist but... I don't know. I've seen some of the mares he works with on a daily basis and compared to them I feel so plain."
His mind started to race, trying to figure out which stallion he knew that worked with a bunch of mares. But he chided himself and gave a small shake of his head. If Twilight wanted him to know she'd tell him. It would be impolite to try and guess when his assumption could be way off. "You ain't plain," he finally said, slowing to a stop before her. "You tell anypony I said this an' I'll deny it to the grave, but my sister is friends with some of the best lookin' mares in all of Ponyville. If this stallion is actin' like he don't notice you it's probably because you intimidate him. You gotta be the one to step up an' say somethin'. Ain't nothin' wrong with a mare takin' charge like that, least not in my book."
He wasn't usually a stallion of many words and Twilight looked up at him like he had three heads. It made him uncomfortable. "Um, I mean..." He didn't get to finish because she launched herself at him, her hooves wrapping around his neck in a tight embrace. Now it was Big Macintosh who blushed.
"Thank you, Big Mac."
"Don't mention it." Nopony outside his immediate family had ever given him a hug before. Well, there was Pinkie Pie but she hugged everyone. And it hadn't been an embrace like this.
As Twilight let him go she gave him a watery smile. "I don't know who you're meant to be with, and maybe you won't even know for awhile, but whoever she ends up being she's going to be one lucky mare."
"Aw, c'mon now."
"No, I mean it." Twilight tilted her head. "There really isn't anypony you're interested in at all?"
His answer was a shrug. It really wasn't anything he thought about. If Twilight said her plate was full, his was overflowing. Running a farm was no easy task on its own, but add into it taking care of Granny Smith and Apple Bloom, plus Apple Buck season, plus making cider for all of Ponyville? What mare would want to put up with a schedule like his? Though he would admit, it would be nice to have someone to cuddle up with on cold nights or after a long, hard day. Someone he could talk with or, sometimes more importantly, not talk with. "I told you, my sister has the best lookin' mares as her friends an' that's just not a place I'm willin' to go."
"I don't think Applejack would mind. Not if it meant you being happy."
He nodded his head back in the direction they'd come and they fell into step together once more. "Me findin' somepony special would complicate things as it is. If I figured that somepony was one of her friends?"
"Why would it complicate things?"
"Just would, is all." They'd had a discussion about it before, him and Applejack. When and if he ever did find a mare he could love then he'd want to start a family. And they both agreed that he'd help Applejack build her own place on the farm, a place where she and Apple Bloom could live so they could still be together but not in each others way all the time as the family grew. That was a change he wasn't sure he was ready for. "I'm all right where I am, honest. I got my farm an' my family. That's all I need."
"You have your friends, too."
He turned to see her smiling up at him and found it impossible not to smile back. This date may not have been what the Crusaders were hoping for, and it certainly wasn't the disaster his so called date with Rainbow Dash had been. But for the first time, Big Macintosh felt like he'd made a genuine friend. If that was all that came out of everything it would be worth it.
"So," Twilight asked as they neared the edge of the woods. "Since this wasn't a love connection, who do you think they'll pair you up with next?"
"Ugh." He hadn't even thought about a possible "next" until then. "I don't even know."
"Well," Twilight laughed, "whoever it is and whatever ends up happening, you can talk to me about it." She winked up at him. "You're not the only good listener."
Big Macintosh chuckled. "Careful, I might take you up on that offer."
They reached the main path and the split that would either take them to the farm or back into town and Twilight stopped there. "Thank you for the walk. And the talk. I think I really needed both."
"My pleasure," he said genuinely. "Want me to walk you home?"
She waved a hoof. "Oh no, I'll be fine. Good luck with whatever comes next."
"Thanks, Twilight. See you later." As the two parted ways, Big Macintosh smiled to himself. She was all right, that Twilight. If only he could be so confident that his next date was going to go as smoothly as this one had.