“A drink? With Rarity?” Applejack looked at her big brother with narrowed eyes. “You do remember which one of my friends is Rarity, don't you? The unicorn who runs the frou-frou boutique in town and has the most expensive taste outta anypony I've ever known in my entire life, includin' Aunt and Uncle Orange?”
“You realize 'just a drink' with her means more than a couple of cheap beers an' a bowl of pretzels and peanuts, right?”
“Constarn it, Big Macintosh! Don't you have anything else to say?”
Movie night had gone very well, all things considered. It had been very generous of Pinkie Pie to invite all of their friends to join them, and though Big Mac knew it would have been enjoyable with just Pinkie, they'd all had a fun time with one another, laughing and talking and just enjoying each other's company. Before the group split it was Rarity who sidled over to him, batting her eyes sweetly, suggesting they have a drink together that night. It was still fairly early so he agreed he'd meet her at Minty's Candy Bar, a sweets shop by day and a hot spot pub at night, after he walked his family home. Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo were spending the night again, as they did almost every weekend, and the three of them trotted somewhat ahead of the two older ponies.
“I don't know, girls,” Apple Bloom said quietly. “If my brother hasn't found love yet I don't think he ever will.”
“I thought out of anypony it would be Twilight,” Sweetie Belle admitted.
Scootaloo looked at her askance. “You don't think he'll hit it off with your sister?”
“Not really. Big Macintosh is a big, sometimes dirty, sweaty, muddy stallion, no offense. And the only mud she likes is the kind she puts on her face.”
“Which just leaves Fluttershy,” sighed Apple Bloom.
“Oh, that'll be great,” said Scootaloo with a roll of her eyes. “Excuse me,” she said, trying to mimic the soft way Fluttershy spoke. “Could you give my birds some of these worms. If it's no trouble, I mean. If you want to, that is.” She even finished with a quiet squeak.
The other two laughed and Sweetie Belle dropped her voice to answer, “Eeeyup.”
“Well,” giggled Apple Bloom, “At least it'll be a quiet date.”
“Who knows,” Scootaloo added. “After tonight, he may just want some peace and quiet.”
To say half of Ponyville was at Minty's was probably an understatement. On the weekend her business was always steady and alongside the minty green pony behind the bar was her fillyfriend, an orange earth pony with tri-colored hair. Big Macintosh nodded to them as he approached. “Minty, Honeybuzz. Looks like ya'll are real busy tonight.”
“We are,” said Minty happily. “What are ya drinking?”
He looked around for his date and gave a thoughtful shrug. “Not sure yet. You seen Rarity?”
Honeybuzz pushed a tall glass of frothy alcohol across the bar to a waiting pony before giving Big Mac a questioning look. “You're looking for Rarity? Here?”
“Eeeyup, we're meetin' up for a drink.”
The two mares looked at each other, then burst out laughing. Minty actually fell on the floor, she was giggling so hard. Honeybuzz wiped her own eyes before helping Minty up. “I'm sorry, Big Mac. Just...you and Rarity? Here? Together?” She covered her mouth with a hoof, trying to keep herself from losing it again. “You can see why it's a little...odd.”
“I get it,” he said good naturedly. “You'd have told me last week this was gonna happen I'dve asked how much of your own stock you'd been samplin'. Anyway, it's kind of a long story.”
Honeybuzz gave him a winning smile. “We love long stories.”
“We do!” Minty eagerly agreed. “But not tonight, Honey. We're too busy.” The orange pony pouted and got back to work, but Minty nodded toward the door. “Looks like your date has arrived.”
Big Mac swiveled his head to see the pale gray unicorn coming into the bar. She looked around curiously as she made her way through the crowds, weaving between tables and chairs to join Big Macintosh at the counter. “I hope I haven't kept you waiting long,” she said sweetly, looking up at him.
“Nope. Just got here m'self.”
“Fabulous.” She turned, her blue eyes sweeping over the bottles on display on the other side of the bar.
“Minty, darling! How are you?”
“Busy as all get out, but I can't complain. What can I get for you?”
Rarity's lips puckered as she thought, lifting a hoof to tap her chin. “I'll take a Black Bullet if you please.”
Both Minty and Big Mac looked at her, but it was Minty to question the order. “You know that's fifteen percent alcohol by volume, right?” Rarity's returning smile said she was well aware. With an impressed smirk, Minty turned to the speechless stallion beside Rarity. “What about you? Absinthe, maybe?”
He cleared his throat. “Ah, no, nothin' that strong for me, thanks. I'll just take whatever ya got on tap.”
“He'll take a Black Bullet, too.” Rarity looked up at him and winked. “Trust me, you'll love it.”
It was very clear that Minty was having a hard time keeping herself from laughing, but she nodded and said, “Two Black Bullets, coming right up.”
“Um, Rarity, you should know I'm not that big of a drinker, an'...”
“Don't worry, Big Macintosh. I'm not trying to get you drunk so I can take advantage of you. Look, the pool table is free!” With excitement on her face, Rarity trotted away from the bar with a slightly perplexed Big Mac following behind. Her horn glowed softly as she used her magic to rack the balls in a diamond shape. “Nine ball?” she asked.
“Sounds good to me.” All he could do was stand back and look at the unicorn as she worked, arranging the balls carefully. Either he'd somehow slipped into some sort of alternate dimension or he'd actually fallen asleep during the movie and this was all a really bad, strange dream. “Didn't take you for the pool playin' type.”
She stood up straight and gave a small sigh, looking the stallion directly in the eye. “I would have thought you of all ponies would know not to judge someone based just on what you see.” He opened his moth to reply but Rarity held up a hoof and closed her eyes, a somewhat tortured expression on her face. “Please, Big Macintosh. Before we go any further you must make me a promise, a solemn vow that you simply must adhere to or I will have to end this evening prematurely.”
He blinked, not really knowing what to say. “Uh...okay.”
Her eyes opened and her features smoothed into one of complete seriousness. “You must not fall in love with me tonight.”
It was that exact moment that Honeybuzz came over with a tray in her mouth that held the two dark bottles of beer. She set the tray on the table beside the pool table and hurried away, lip between her teeth to keep herself from exploding with laughter. Big Macintosh just stood there, dumbfounded.
“Can you do it, Big Macintosh? Can you promise me that?”
She let out a sigh of relief and finally smiled. “Thank you. I know we are here as friends and all to help out the girls in their latest crusading mission, but I didn't want there to be any confusion.” She stepped away from the table to levitate her beer over to her. Taking the bottle between her teeth, she tilted her head back just enough to get a good sip. Once the bottle was set down, she smirked at her date. “Go on, try it. I really think you'll love it.”
There was no way he was going to get out of it. Knowing this, Big Mac took his own bottle in his mouth and tipped his head back for a swallow. He barely had time to set the bottle down before he sputtered and coughed. “Good,” said Rarity. “You got the first sip out of the way. Try again, now that you know what to expect.”
He eyed her warily, sniffling and wiping the tears from his eyes. But he listened and went in for another sip. This time it went down a bit easier and he could really get a sense of the flavors. It was more like an old port with hints of plum and raisin. Setting the bottle down, he looked at Rarity with surprise. “Not bad,” he said. “Sweeter than I was expectin' but not bad at all.”
“See?” She took a sip from her own bottle with a victorious smile on her lips. “I knew you'd like it. Now, are you shooting first or shall I?”
“How kind of you.” Horn glowing softly, Rarity levitated a cue stick to her, lowering her head as she got into position. With a quick shot the stick jumped forward, sending the cue ball into the diamond of multi-colored balls and scattering them across the table. The yellow one ball fell into the left corner pocket and she smirked.
“Thank you, darling.” She circled the table to find the best position, then went through the same process of setting her stick correctly, adjusting the angle of her hit, a quick release and the blue two ball went rolling across the table to the right middle pocket.
Big Macintosh watched, a slow smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. “Somethin' tells me you've played this game before.”
“Are we talking about pool,” she asked, sinking the red three, “or this entire evening?”
He chuckled. “Both.”
Rarity's only answer was a smug half-smile as she went for the next ball. When it was finally Big Mac's turn he was going for the burgundy seven ball. There was a thin line of concentration between his brows as he surveyed the table. “Never been much of a pool player,” he admitted pensively.
“You're not much of a drinker, you're not much of a pool player.” Rarity finished off her beer. “What do you do, Big Mac?”
She was teasing with her tone and he just shrugged. “I like to read, go for walks in the orchard, spend time with my family.”
Just as he was appraising the table, Rarity was sizing him up. She tilted her head and said, “Try from over here. You'll have a much better angle.” She even used her magic to help him line up his stick for a better shot. “Most ponies don't realize how much elegance it takes to play this game.” With the end of the stick in his teeth, Big Mac drew his head back, then lunged forward for a powerful shot that sank his targeted ball. Rarity blinked, impressed. “Well what you lack in elegance you certainly make up for in brute strength.” As he lined himself up to go after the next ball, she smiled softly. “You're a good stallion, you know that? I don't know many who would be able to care for your family the way you have.”
He missed his shot and stepped back with a shrug. “Didn't really have a choice.”
“Of course you did. You could have walked away, simply left to find you own path in life.”
He shook his head. “I couldn't do that to Granny Smith. To any of 'em really.”
“Which is what makes you a good stallion. You chose your family over yourself. You do yourself a disservice by saying you didn't have a choice.” She picked up her cue stick. “Tell you what. How about I stop playing nice, finish this game up, and we got for a walk?'
Big Macintosh laughed. “You were playin' nice?”
“Your naivete is adorable, darling. Never lose that.”
Sure enough, in one play Rarity had cleared the table. She hung the sticks back on the wall and finished what was left of Big Mac's beer before heading for the door. He chuckled to himself and followed her out, knowing the drinks would be put on his tab.
The moon was high above them, full and shining so much light that it almost looked like it was closer to morning than it really was. The two ponies walked along together at a slow and quiet pace, passing shops long closed for the night. There were other couples out for a stroll as well, lovers walking close together, friends sharing deep conversations. As they turned down the path that would lead them to the park, Big Macintosh looked down at Rarity. “Mind if I ask you a question?”
“Of course not.”
“Why did you make me promise not to fall in love with you?”
She smiled, something sweet and soft in her expression when she looked up at him. “My heart already belongs to another.”
Big Mac's brows rose in surprise. “No kiddin'.”
“No kiddin',” she replied with a quiet laugh. “I haven't told anypony yet. Not because I'm embarrassed or shy, Celestia knows I'm not shy. But it's still new and things are a little complicated, and we both agreed we want to keep it to ourselves for now. We don't want to share it with anypony just yet.”
“Nothin' wrong with that.” Funny. Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Twilight, and now Rarity all had secret feelings for another, yet none of them was willing to share. And here Big Macintosh was, the secret keeper of the group. “I gotta say, none of these dates are turnin' out the way I thought they would. I've really enjoyed getting' to know of of ya'll the way I have.”
Rarity giggled. “Really? I assumed your date with Pinkie Pie did not go as well as hoped when we were all invited to join you for the movie.”
“Nah, it went just fine. It was real nice to be able to just sit down an' talk with her for awhile. 'Sides it was her idea for all of us to watch together.”
“Did you tell you about <i>her</i> special somepony?”
Not for the first time tonight, Big Mac's brows lifted in shock. “She's got a special somepony, too?”
“You musn't say anything to her. I only know because I caught her reading one of his letters and looking all silly and sweet as we mares do when reading a love note. So of course I asked her about it and begged her to tell me.”
Big Mac looked down at her, expectant. “Well? Do I get to know?”
“You know him,” Rarity said coyly. “Rather well, actually.”
“No no, darling, think bigger. Think away from Ponyville.”
They crossed into the park and Rarity sat on one of the swings, wrapping her hooves around the chains holding it up and swinging her back legs. Big Macintosh just sat on the grass in front of her and shook his head. “Only ponies I know real well outside of Ponyville are my family in Appleloosa.”
Rarity blinked innocently. “You're getting warmer. When we went to Appleoosa to deliver that tree your sister cuddled like a child, there was one pony in particular that we spent quite some time with.”
Big Mac blinked. “Well I'll be.”
“They've been sending letters back and forth ever since. It's really the most adorable thing. Actually it was what inspired me to start sending letters to my beau. It's such a romantic way to get to know one another better when you can't see each other face to face as often as you'd like to. Or in Pinkie's case, at all.”
With a shake of his head, Big Macintosh took up the swing beside her and sat with a slightly dumbfounded look on his face. “The things I'm learnin' about on these dates...”
“Isn't it just so thrilling?”
They talked for a little while about small, casual things. The late hour crept up on them easily and when Rarity was silent for awhile Big Mac wondered if she was ready to call it a night. He looked over at her to see her staring off in the distance, not completely zoned out but not entirely there, either. “Penny for your thoughts?”
She blinked and gave him a small smile. “Oh, it's nothing.” When he just looked at her she shook her head. “You're going to think me such a silly mare.”
Rarity chuckled softly. “Sometimes I just get so transfixed by the colors and textures around me that I forget my surroundings. When you're in my line of business you notice these things a lot more than most ponies.”
“I don't follow.”
“Take those trees over there, for instance. Describe them to me.”
He felt a little awkward describing trees and lifted a hoof to scratch the back of his head. “Well they're...trees. Brown rough trunk, green leaves.”
“Yes, but what shade of green? That tree over there has more of a sage color to it while the tree next to it looks almost lime in the moonlight. Alongside of that, those lime leaves have a rich olive undertone where the light doesn't quite hit. See how they compliment each other? I am constantly captivated by the way light changes colors and shapes, even the visual texture of something. As though light by itself were magical.”
Taking her words into consideration, Big Mac looked at the slide close to where they sat. He never took the time to notice light and shadow, if only because it never crossed his mind. But now that it had been pointed out he could see that yes, there was light and dark to everything. One side of a tree looked rough and almost silver in the cool light of the moon where the other side was smooth, dark, rich chocolate. It was actually quite beautiful. “I never noticed before,” he said softly.
Rarity's smile was small. “Not many do. Only those who make it their business to know notice. Artists, whether by painting, drawing, or creating fine garments, we take these things into consideration. We see light, dark, appeal in everything, every shape and every movement. There is beauty to be found in everything when you know what to look for.”
Big Mac looked over at her and noticed the way the moonlight shone on her coat. There was love in the way she spoke of her surroundings and she practically glowed. “I reckon I should confess that, out of all of AJ's friends, you always intimidated me the most.”
She blinked, truly shocked. “Little old me? Whatever for?”
“You're just differnt'n what I'm used to is all. I took you for an all out high class kinda mare.”
“Not the kind to drink beer and play pool?” She giggled. “You see? There is so much you miss when you don't know what you're looking for.”
“I'm beginnin' to understand that.” He smiled at her. “Can I walk you home?”
“I would like nothing better.” Side by side once again, they set out through the park to make their way back to the boutique. The silence between them was quite comfortable for a time, but when the boutique came into view Rarity cleared her throat daintily. “Only Fluttershy is left.”
“Big Macintosh, I do believe this goes without saying, but be gentle with her. As her best friend it is my solemn duty to come after you with a spiked metal bat if somehow she ends up hurt.”
“You got nothin' to worry about, Rarity. This was never really about findin' love. Not for me, anyhow. I think I'm just getting' a better understandin' of ponies I can legitimately call friends now.” He winked. “But it's good Fluttershy has such a carin' pony lookin' after her.”
At the door, Rarity stepped inside to flick on the lights, then turned back to smile up at Big Macintosh from the open doorway. “I had a lovely evening.”
“I had a pretty good time, too.”
Leaning up, she placed a gentle kiss on his cheek. “Good night.”
“Night.” He waited for her door to close before turning to head for home. Four down, one to go. He wasn't looking forward to the disappointment of the Crusaders, but he would certainly be glad when all of this was over.