As Hearts and Hooves Day approached, Big McIntosh felt his dread grow: only the previous year Apple Bloom and her friends Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo had thought it would be a good idea to meddle in his affairs by tricking him and Cheerilee into drinking a love poison. The poison had reduced the two normally-responsible friends to fools who spewed so much sweet-talk that when it was all over, Mac was surprised the whole town did not have cavities. It was not as if Mac did not like Cheerilee, but neither liked the other in that way: they were both professionals, and getting married while under the influence had not been on either's To-Do list.
And try to understand: the Crusaders had only done all that because they wanted to show their teacher how much she meant to them. Big McIntosh? He was just collateral. But he could not stay angry with his little sister and her friends, because they had not meant any harm, had undone the poison without any lasting effects (although some of the townsponies looked at Mac and Cheerilee funny sometimes), and they had done Mac's chores at the farm for a week. He could forgive them.
Mac liked hanging out with Cheerilee on occasion, there was nothing wrong with that, but he was mostly focused on his chores at home. He knew that if he was going to court a mare, he wanted to do it properly, as a sign of respect. Unfortunately he seemed to attract all kinds of attention even when he was trying to complete a simple errand, such as buying some nails. Mac did not understand where the trouble came form, but suddenly found himself having to fend off the advances of a top Wonderbolt, among others.
Mac enjoyed quiet, calm, and routine. He liked working outdoors, and he liked feeling like he earned the food on the table and the bits in his pouch. Loud was pretty far from his scene, so he was more amenable to Fluttershy's company when they encountered each other -- ironically she seemed like one of the more grounded mares around, despite being a Pegasus. Only earlier that day, Mac had enjoyed a stroll around town with her -- well, the 'stroll' had been an ancillary effect of Mac's efforts to do some repairs around Ponyville. He just 'happened' to find Fluttershy along the way, and they just 'happened' to go around the same way. Repairing houses and bridges, and helping animals -- that's what they had been doing.
So why did Mac go away feeling like he'd been on a date?
And then there was the other mare. This was one who had popped up during the Summer Wrap-Up Festival that had been so frustrating for Big Mac, but this was one filly you did not ignore if you knew what was good for you! Even thinking about her now, Mac wondered if he had accidentally summoned her. She was, after all, the Guardian of Dreams.
"Greetings and good after noon, Big McIntosh. Did your date with Fluttershy go well?" Princess Luna had appeared, a grin on her face. Today, as during the festival, she had chosen to leave her regalia behind, and was instead wearing a plain pair of horseshoes and a simple pale blue skirt.
How do I keep a telepath out of my head? Mac thought, but instead of asking her that, just in case she wasn't listening, he said, "Yup,"
"Are you ready for some fun?"
Somewhere in the universe, a set or several of pink ears just perked up. "Yup," he said guardedly.
"Then let us be off," Luna said grandly, circling around behind him and ushering him away from the farm, one hoof pointing down the road.
"To where?" Mac wanted to know what the Princess of the Night had planned.
"But isn't it more fun when it's a surprise?"
"Usually it's the stallion's job to come up with a plan,"
"Yes, but I love a good twist. Also, I know all the good places." For some reason, Mac didn't doubt that. And this was not the first time Mac had not been in charge: Applejack ran Sweet Apple Acres, even though Mac was older and Granny was still kicking.
It seemed to Mac like Luna had games on the brain. Ponyville had a modest arcade, and she just had to try all the two-player games that were there, paying for Mac's way as well. He saw how focused she was on the objective, no matter what the game was, and that it let her win, although she could never beat the player who went by 'BIO.'
After the arcade, they found a small court for ball games, where some colts were playing. Mac recognized Featherweight, Pipsqueak, Snips, and Snails. "You there," Luna called, "do any of you want to play some two-against-two?"
"I'm not exactly sure that'd be fair," Pipsqueak said.
"Hmm, perhaps you are correct, little pirate. Four-against-two, then?"
"You're on!" Mac put a hoof to his face: even with twice the numbers, Luna and Mac were bigger, stronger, and faster than their proposed opponents. Even without Luna's magic or wings, they would dominate the game completely. This prediction was no less true against Caramel, Time Turner, Roseluck, and Fiddlesticks. And Luna did not so much as flex her wings the whole time.
"I am feeling peckish," Luna said after four games left Mac huffing and puffing. "I would not be against getting a snack at this time... your treat?"
"Eiyup," Mac sputtered, still regaining his breath.
Big Mac had been worried about what venue Luna would choose, but it turned out he did not need to worry at all: she chose a simple restaurant where the menu was completely reasonable. In fact, the portions they served could even be accused of being too generous, and the quality of the food was great too. Luna had obviously done her research.
But Mac had not done his: Luna ordered two courses and a dessert. "It takes more energy to control the moon than you think," she said by way of explanation. Still, the meal did not run more expensive than if they had eaten at a fancy Canterlot restaurant, which they could have done. At least the servings were much better here. They both even ended up with leftovers.
"And now," Luna said, "a light adventure to work off the meal." Mac wondered what she meant, until she game him a long, stout staff and led the way into the Everfree Forest. "This will double as work," she said to Mac as they walked. "Some miscreant monsters have been wandering closer to Ponyville lately. If we show them that the town is guarded, they will leave off."
"If large predators from the Everfree are gonna come threatenin' my friends and family in Ponyville, there's no way I'm lettin' 'em though!" Mac charged ahead, and Luna gamely paced him, smiling the whole way.
Soon they ran into a monstrous face-off: a group of twelve Timberwolves against a group of seven Cragodiles. "Cease at once, and return to your homes, or we will teach you what happens when you stray so far," Luna proclaimed. Even at a lower volume, her Traditional Royal Canterlot Voice pushed the beats back, and threatened to blow the Timberwolves away altogether. Still, they did not seem convinced. In fact, they were growling. "Ah, a warm-up," Luna said, levitating the sticks and stones around her to use as projectiles.
Perhaps solely because of that threat, the creatures started to charge. Mac let loose his own roar as he met them, while Luna unleashed a full barrage, knocking most of the Timberwolves and Cragodiles back, but one of each still made it through. Mac came back around with the staff, and gave the Timberwolf a wicked uppercut under the jaw, and followed through into a sideswipe to the Cragodile's head. Normally even the stoutest oak would shatter against stone when swung that hard, but Mac remembered Granny saying that Crags had a weakness if you hit them in the right spot on their heads. You just had to be able to reach it, and the staff did that. The Cragodile tumbled away, stunned.
"Well done," Luna said, hugging him in congratulations. "And now, onward!"
"You mean that wasn't them?"
"How is it you usually put it?"
"Yes, exactly that. 'Nope!'"
As it turned out, the animals that seemed to be on a rampage were running from a rogue Cockatrice. The half-avian, half-lizard was going around, chasing whatever it encountered, and turning any that did not run to stone. Watching from a distance so they could properly understand the situation, Luna made a disappointed 'tsk' in her throat. "Games are all well and good," she said quietly, "but this one is just being a bully for the fun of it."
"Agreed. But what can we do?"
Luna looked at Mac's staff, and the other objects they had. "Throw that at it," she said, nodding to Mac's yoke.
"It was a gift from my mother," he protested quietly.
"We will get it back. We just need to knock it off balance, and it should not know what to make of this right away, even if you do not manage to knock it unconscious. Then we move in while it's distracted."
"Got it," Mac said. He took his yoke off and aimed, moving just to test that he had every motion right. Although the yoke was solid wood, he could throw it accurately over a fair distance. When he did make the throw, neither pony expected it to knock the Cockatrice out cold, but the knock to the head probably should not have made it stumble sideways, stiff as a board. Wary that they might have to deal with a creature clever enough that it not only knew they were there, it was trying to draw them out, even Luna hesitated at first. Then the Cockatrice leaned a little left before straightening back out. It ruffled its feathers, at which point Luna decided to charge in. Just as it was staring down at the yoke on the ground, Luna wrapped a large, thick cloth around the Cockatrice's head, and then used her magic to tie it secure.
"We can release it a ways from here," Luna said. So she would not do anything overly cruel to the creature, even though it was being a bully.
After the Everfree Forest, Mac was content just to watch Luna raise the moon. After her earlier comment about the effort to do exactly this, he appreciated it a little more.
"Thank you, Mac, for putting up with me tonight, and also for protecting me," Luna said.
"You don't need me to protect you,"
"I appreciate the sentiment all the same, especially as most stallions I have met seem to refuse to acknowledge my abilities. You are different, so I think you."
Mac had been about to demur that praise by insisting that it was the way Granny had raised him, but Luna silenced him with a kiss, and left him with his thoughts -- some of which she would no doubt read when she walked ponies dreams that night.