• Published 29th Nov 2011
  • 36,715 Views, 1,455 Comments

Keeping It Simple - Ivory Piano



Big Mac suddenly finds himself on the business end of friendship.

  • ...
41
 1,455
 36,715

3. In the Right Light

In the Right Light

Over the next couple of days Big Macintosh found his time heavily occupied by the productive act of hitting the flat of his head on one of the barn’s support columns. It was really all he could think of to occupy the obnoxious amount of free time he had on his hooves. It had only been a couple of weeks but already he could feel his body softening, his strength decreasing, and not to mention the quickly deteriorating state of his own mind. Though that last one might just be a result of all the head hitting.

It wasn’t as if he hadn’t tried finding something to do, but only that there was nothing left for him to do. He had already counted every single blossom on every single apple tree in Sweet Apple Acres in order to calculate how many needed to be pollinated for a full harvest without burdening the boughs. He had already taken note of which trees had died over the past winter and could be chopped, stored to dry, and be sold next year. And he had already marked the spots where the new saplings could be planted to ensure future harvests. It was really the lightest work that could be done during the spring and the only work his sister would allow him.

“You keep doing that and ponies are gonna think yer crazy.” Applejack said as she entered the barn. Big Macintosh could only look at her while she hitched herself to a pull reel mower.

“Ah’m pretty sure Ah can mow the grass, AJ,” he said, almost pleadingly.

“Nope, Ah a’ready told ya not until Nurse Redheart takes a final look-see.”

“But that ain’t fer a couple of weeks. An’ Ah’m healed enough to do some actual work ‘round here.”

“That’s final, Big Macintosh,” Applejack sighed before her expression softened. “And anyway, Ah was s’possed ta tell ya that Rarity wants to see ya.”

Big Macintosh narrowed an eye at Applejack. Something smelled funny and it sure wasn’t the barn. Applejack noticed his suspicious gazed and took a sudden interest in the building’s support beams.

“AJ,” he said, approaching her. The honest mare could only give him a nervous smile as her eyes darted back and forth as if looking for an escape route.

“What ain’t ya tellin’ me?”

Applejack sighed. “Aw heck, big brother, Ah can’t tell ya. Rarity made me…” she hesitated, "Pinkie promise.”

The siblings took a moment to look around the barn. When nothing appeared out of the ordinary they returned their attention to each other.

“Well, Ah wouldn’t want ta make ya break a promise,” Big Mac sighed. “Still, Ah don’t much like the idea of a pony like Miss Rarity wantin’ ta see me.”

“Now wait a minute there, what do ya got against Rarity?” Applejack asked.

“Nothin’,” Big Mac said as he went towards the back of the barn to the icebox. “But ya gotta admit, ain’t like we got any history together that don’t involve you.” He came back towards his sister with the handle of a jug of cider hooked around one of his harness’ pegs.

“Well she might be a bit snooty, kind of loony when it comes ta bein’ clean, not ta mention all those compliments that’re really insults…” she paused for a moment as she tried to remember her point, “but she’s pretty nice once ya get ta really, really, really know ‘er.” She looked over at her brother and noticed the cider hanging from his harness. “Jeez Mac, you hittin’ the bottle a’ready?”

The farmpony rolled his eyes. “It’s fer Miss Rarity.”

Applejack stifled a giggle, “Yer gonna give Rarity a jug of cider from yer own private stash? That’s some mighty fine woo yer pitchin, big brother.”

“That ain’t it at all,” Big Macintosh quickly said, “it’s just that a stallion’s s’possed ta bring something when visiting a high class mare.”

The orange pony broke into laughter, unable to hold it for any longer. Big Mac only stared at her as he waited for the racket to subside. After a few minutes, Applejack finally wiped a tear from her eye as she looked at her brother.

“Rarity? A high class mare? Oh Mac if ya could only have seen what Ah've seen.”

Big Macintosh shook his head with a sigh before walking past his little sister, the sound of thick glass clunking against wood following him out.

“Make sure ya behave yerself.” Applejack taunted after him, but he paid no attention.

He made his way towards Ponyville, the midday sun hanging high above him. If only it was a little earlier in the morning, for at least then he’d have the luxury of wandering the empty streets in the comforting blue-orange cream of the sun rising above the horizon. But for now, he supposed that the noon’s shadow-destroying incandescence would have to do.

Rarity’s boutique soon came into view, though two things forced him to build up the nerve to actually approach.
The first was the actual design of the building. Carousel Boutique with its flamboyant display of bright pinks, blues, yellows, hearts and flowery designs girlishly squealed that this place was simply not for him.

The second was actually talking to Rarity herself. Whatever Applejack might say, whenever he saw her around Ponyville or with his sister he couldn’t help notice just how different she was from him. Heck, even Applejack hardly spent time with her without the company of her other friends. Without that buffer what chance would he have?

He hoofed the ground a bit before forcing the thoughts away. A timid stallion never did anyone any good. With no further hesitation he walked up to the door and gave three soft and firm knocks upon the wood. Not a moment passed before the door opened so fast it caused a breeze.

Pretty wasn’t exactly the word to describe her. She was a looker that much was certain. But she had a quality of elegance that even Big Macintosh could appreciate, though he had no idea what it was about her. Perhaps it was that lovely curled purple mane that fell to her face so nicely, or maybe the large sapphires she had for eyes that provided a remarkable contrast to her immaculate white coat. Whatever it was, Big Macintosh had to cough and compose himself before starting to speak. Though the effort proved unnecessary.

“Big Macintosh, what a pleasure to see you. Come in, come in, Applejack told me you would be dropping by,” Rarity said as she returned inside. Big Mac had to think for a moment before he followed her.

The smell of perfume hung heavy in the air and its sickingly sweet scent threatened to give him a headache. All around the room were several dress forms, some clothed some not, and fabric of all colors and textures imaginable draped chaotically about. Big Mac had a tough time trying to think through all the stimuli overwhelming his senses. A much different world than his usual browns and greens that was for sure.

“Ah brought some cider fer ya,” Big Mac managed to say, leaning his head to the side to give her a better view of the bottle on his harness.

“Oh thank you,” Rarity said as she approached him and took the bottle with a glow of light blue magic, “but may I ask why?”

As Rarity placed the cider on a nearby table, Big Mac’s mind raced as his expectations were thrown out the window. He mentally cursed himself for following some stupid rigmarole when he had no idea of its inner workings.

“Uh, Ah just thought it’d be- Well Ah thought ya might like some,” he said, rubbing his neck without really thinking about it.

Rarity smiled, “How thoughtful of you. Would you like to drink some with me?”

The stallion only nodded, deciding to just be quiet and avoid any more social faux pas. He didn’t really understand why he was having such a difficult time. It would be so much easier if she were the snobby sort. At least then he wouldn’t have to care so much of what she thought of him. But Rarity, while a bit prissy judging from what little he had to go on, had a good heart to her. He couldn’t count how many times she helped her sister and for that, well, he just hoped he didn’t make a fool of himself.

The distinct scent of cider wafted into his nose and brought him out of his thoughts. He blinked once before looking at the glass floating beneath his nose in a glow of magic and the unicorn smiling in front of him. Silently, he bit the brim of the glass and took a sip.

“Delicious as always,” Rarity said after taking her own sip. She placed the glass on a table and Big Macintosh did the same as he wondered when the unicorn would get to why she called him here in the first place.

He didn’t have to wait long. “You have no idea how much I’ve wanted to speak to you ever since that horrible accident with the floating applecart.” Big Mac opened his mouth to protest, but Rarity stopped him with a raise of her hoof. “Now let me finish. I know you don’t wish to talk about it, but I just wanted to say I’d like to make it up to you.” Her horn glowed with light and soon a sheet of parchment floated between them as Big Mac finished the rest of his cider in one great gulp. “I’ve been invited to an art viewing in Canterlot tomorrow and I was hoping you would like to be my plus one.”

Big Macintosh placed the glass back on the table and looked at Rarity as he answered her. “Ah appreciate the offer Miss Rarity but Ah ain’t to comfortable at parties, ‘specially ones with, uh, in Canterlot.”

“Oh nonsense,” she declared as she stepped towards him. “With me by your side you’ll take to it like a pegasus takes to the sky. We’ll make a day of it. Have brunch in the morning, do a bit of shopping, see a show, take in the wonderful scenery, and finish the day with a bit of artistic splendor. Lovely, wouldn’t you say?”

His mind was reeling as it tried to think of a proper excuse. Without thinking, he took a step back. “Ah’m sorry Miss Rarity but Ah wouldn’t want ta embarrass ya, what with me being just a farmpony and all.”

“Perish the thought,” she said while taking a step forward, her nose coming very close to his, “I could never be embarrassed by such a polite stallion.”

“Well uh,” he rummaged for another excuse as he took another step back, “Ah don’t have anythin’ fancy ta wear.”

“Then I’ll make you the most dashing suit, free of charge,” she said while taking another step forward.

“Ah don’t think Ah have the time, what with the farm an' all.” Another step back.

“Not to worry, I’ve already sorted out the details with Applejack.” Another step forward.

“Ah really can’t afford ta go ta Canterlot.” Back.

“It’ll be my treat.” Forward.

Soon Big Mac found himself out of room and out of excuses. Worst yet, he had managed to make Rarity offer to make him a suit and pay for him in Canterlot. Something that he could just not have. So as he turned his head to the side to avoid gazing at those big sapphires, he sighed with the knowledge that he had been beat.

“A’right Ah’ll go.”

“Wonderful,” she said. Her horn glowed a light blue as a tailor’s tape hovered towards them. “I’ll start on your suit immediately. We only have a day, after all. I just need to take your measurements.”

Big Macintosh shook his head. “Now hold on, if yer gonna make me a suit Ah want ta pay for it. Same with goin’ ta Canterlot. Ain’t no way Ah’m gonna let somepony else pay for me. If anythin’ Ah’d like to pay for you, seems like the right thing ta do.”

Rarity’s expression changed into a soft smile and gentle eyes. “Big Macintosh that’s very sweet of you. But I insist on making this suit for free just as I insist on paying any expenses we incur in Canterlot. I am, after all, repaying you for everything you’ve done.”

“But Ah-“

“I will not hear of it!” Rarity said in a much firmer voice than Big Mac thought possible of her. As if noticing her outburst she placed a hoof daintily in front of her mouth. “Please excuse me, but,” she moved her hoof from her lips to his cheek and Big Mac had to suppress the small shiver going down his back, “I want to make this up to you. Pinkie Pie’s party is all well and good but for me it’s simply not enough. So please, allow me to do this not only to thank you but to also make me feel a bit better about my…part in the incident.”

Big Mac sighed at how sweetly her voice sounded in his ears. He knew she was playing him like a fiddle, but for now he forced himself to be content with submitting to Rarity’s wishes. She directed him to the center of the room and without a moment’s hesitation magically took off his harness and wrapped and stretched the measuring tape around and across various parts of his body. All the while Rarity mumbled her thoughts aloud as she brought various fabrics and accessories to him, jotting down a few notes as she did.

“Now lets see. A shirt, vest, jacket combination ought to look quite elegant. But would it be best finished with a tie or bowtie? Oh hush Rarity, just look at the size of his chest. Ah! A formal ascot should do just the trick, folded and puffed a bit from the collar. Silk of course, it needs to be silk. No not silk, at least partially silk. Perhaps duchess satin? The dress shirt can be linen. Now let’s see about the vest. That can be cotton or perhaps fine wool. Oh, but what should the jacket be? Tweed? Oh don’t be silly, this is Canterlot, it’s not as if he’ll be teaching at Manehatten University giving young co-eds heart-flutters. No no no no no. Cashmere then? That won’t do. Think, Rarity, think. Maybe flannel or seersucker. Oh and I haven’t even begun to think of colors.”

By the time Rarity finally took a break from her stylistic rant at least a dozen sheets of fabric were draped across Big Mac’s body, mostly blacks and blues with a few lighter shades of grays and whites. Around his neck were a few undone black, navy, and purple ties of varying thickness.

“Well, uh,” he said beneath the mound of fabric, “Ah s’ppose Ah should be leaving ya to yer work. So Ah’ll just be-“

“Oh Big Macintosh, you can’t leave now.”

“Ah can’t?”

“No, I still need you here. Measurements are only the beginning. I still need to do fittings for the muslin and color checks and oh so much more.”

“But, can’t ya just use one of them mannaq-“ he stopped when he realized her predicament. All around the room were statues that Rarity used to fit dresses and, consequently, they were all in the shape of mares. Nowhere in the room was a form of a colt, let alone one as big as him.

“How long will it take?” he asked.

“Just a few hours, and believe me it’ll be worth it,” she said as she levitated yet more colors of fabric onto Big Mac’s body.

He silently took the weight and let her get back to her vocal thoughts. Every so often she would use a hoof to lift one of his forelegs without asking him, or just stare intently at a seemingly random curve of his body. But the worst was when she would turn his head, her hoof stroking his cheek a bit more softly and slowly than what he was comfortable with. She was silent then.

It was during one of those times that the two actually began a conversation. “Have you ever been to Canterlot?” Rarity asked, her face so close that he could feel the breath of the question graze his ear.

“Nnope,” he said. He wanted nothing more than to take a step back from her and regain some comfortable distance. But the situation prevented him from relying on physical distance to detach himself, instead he hoped that short answers might bring the two back into the silence he was more comfortable with.

“Have you…ever traveled at all?” she asked and he could swear there was just a touch of pity in her voice.

“Have you, Miss Rarity?”

“A few times,” she said with a flourish of her mane. “I’ve been to Canterlot, of course, Manehattan, Appleoosa, and Cloudsdale. All with their own charm, to be sure, but Ponyville will always be my favorite. Though I may be a bit biased.”

Big Mac smiled despite himself. “Ah hear ya, ain’t no place like home after all.” Rarity returned his smile and the two fell back into silence. Finally she placed the tape measure in a small drawer in a nearby dresser before turning to Big Macintosh. In a glow of magic he found the sheets of fabric lifted off his back.

“Well the measurements are done and I’ve picked a few sample textures and colors. Do you have any particular preferences?” she asked as she levitated the different fabrics in front of him. He wasn’t exactly sure what would look good or not. Heck, he could have sworn two different samples were exactly the same shade of blue.

“Ah don’t know a lick about this stuff, Miss Rarity. Ah’ll trust yer judgment on this.”

Rarity smiled and the fabrics fluttered back into their places about the room. “Your trust is well placed, I assure you.” She stepped towards him and once again turned his head to the side. She held it for what seemed like an eternity.

“Miss Rarity?”

She smiled, lowered her hoof, and walked towards a drafting table. “Your eyes are a tad shade darker than Applejack’s. I can’t believe I didn’t notice it before. I’m thinking cool colors to subdue the bright red of your coat. A black jacket and shirt with a dark purple ascot, handkerchief and vest. A simple two color suit that subdues your presence a bit, which I think you’ll appreciate.” As she spoke she levitated a quill and hurriedly etched a few lines of ink on a piece of parchment.

“That all sounds mighty fine, Miss Rarity. Ah gotta admit Ah thought ya would put me in some sorta bright rainbow of an outfit.” Big Macintosh said with a smile.

“Oh nonsense. A designer always keeps a client’s own stylistic personality in mind when creating. I know how quiet and reserved you are so I chose colors to match,” Rarity said before giving him a smirk. “But if you’d like to be more daring I have just the design.”

Big Mac forced a nervous laugh. “That’s okay, Miss Rarity. Might just go with yer first instinct.”

Rarity only chuckled as she approached the table and refilled her glass. “Would you like some more cider?”

“Eeyup.”

-*-

“Have you thought about growing out your tail?”

“Nnope and Ah don’t feel too comfortable with ya looking at my backside, Miss Rarity.”

“Really? Why not?”

“Well how would ya like it if Ah stared at yer flank?”

“I would be flattered.”

“…”

“Big Macintosh?”

“Are ya flattered yet, Miss Rarity?”

“Oh stop that.”

Rarity fixed another pin, one of hundreds lining the muslin, to the white jacket’s back seam. The jacket was the last piece of clothing to be pinned around Big Mac’s body. At first he contemplated the logic behind making a second complete suit, albeit with a cheaper fabric. But once he really thought about it he supposed it all led back to that old saying of measuring twice and cutting once. Besides, it wasn’t as if he was an expert on tailoring.

“You know you never answered my question,” Rarity said as she fine-tuned the length of the sleeves.

“Ah a’ready said Ah’d like more cider.”

She chuckled. “You know full well I mean my other question. The one about traveling.”

“Aw well, truth be told Ah never traveled outside the farm much.”

“Really? What about those Apple family reunions Applejack talks about? Surely they aren’t always held at your farm.”

“Nnope, but the family reunion’s always been for the youngest and oldest ponies in the family. Ponies that a farm can spare ta be without for a while. Take my cousin Braeburn, Ah know ya met him when y’all went ta Appleloosa. He didn’t come to the reunion we had at our farm ‘cause he was too busy workin’.”

“Oh,” Rarity said as she moved on to the jacket’s front. She examined Big Mac’s chest so closely he could feel the point of her horn pressing against his neck. He was glad that it wasn’t as sharp as it appeared.

“Would you like to travel?” she asked as her horn glowed to adjust a few buttons and Big Mac could feel it warm slightly against his skin.

“When Ah was a colt, about a bit younger than AJ, Ah thought about it. Thought it could be somethin’ Ah’d like ta do. Ah grew out of it though.”

“So Canterlot will be your first big trip?” she asked as she took a step back from Big Macintosh, much to his relief. Though the relief didn’t stay for long as her eyes trailed along his body. She examined every fine line and minute curve like a jeweler inspecting a rock for its worth. He would actually be impressed if he weren’t the one being scrutinized.

“Eeyup,” he managed to say underneath the weight of her gaze.

“Then all the more reason to make this trip stunning,” she said, waving her hoof in the air with all the flourish of a thespian.

Big Mac could only roll his eyes with a smile at the display. “Ya got a flair fer the dramatic, Miss Rarity.”

Rarity broke her pose and took away the pins from the jacket, letting the fabric fall apart before magically setting it on a nearby table. “I try,” she smiled. "I have all the alterations recorded so you can go if you want. I’ll work on the actual suit over the next couple of hours. Just come by tomorrow morning and you can try it on, I can make any necessary changes, we’ll get ready, and then be off.”

Big Macintosh nodded. “How early do ya want me here?”

“As early as you can, and don’t worry about waking me. I usually wake up at least an hour before sunrise on big trips like this. It takes a while to dress to perfection, after all.”

“If ya say so, Miss Rarity.” He looked around the room for a moment before turning back to her, “Have ya seen my harness?”

“Oh that’s right, I put it in the back room for safe keeping.” Her horn shined blue and a second later Big Mac’s harness floated between them. Rarity took a moment to examine it before placing it around his neck.

“Thank ya, Miss Rarity. Ah’ll see ya tomorrow then.”

“Likewise,” she said with a smile.

Big Mac smiled back before quickly making his way out the door into the early night. Once he walked some feet away from the boutique he sighed deeply. Spending time with the designer drained his social reserves completely, and tonight wasn’t going as well as he would have hoped.

All that aside, he focused on the actual events that he would have to traverse through in Canterlot. An art viewing didn’t seem like his cup of tea, heck, a cup of tea didn’t even sound like his cup of tea. But there wasn’t any backing out of it now and the only thing he could do was make his way to the library.

As he approached the library, he made a promise to himself that he wouldn’t talk excessively to Twilight Sparkle. Not that he hated talking to her, only that whenever he did he always managed to talk about things he felt unqualified to talk about. He sighed, something he found himself doing a lot lately, and walked up to the door.

Despite his countless visits throughout the time of his recovery, Big Mac still insisted on knocking on the door. Though instead of waiting for someone to open it he let himself in. He knew the oddity of the habit, but honestly he just didn’t feel comfortable barging in unannounced.

“Hi Big Macintosh,” Twilight Sparkle greeted him from behind a bookstand while reading a book thicker than any book had any business being, “can I help you with anything?”

“As a matter of fact, Ah was wonderin’ whether ya have any books on,” he paused for a moment, “art.”

“Art?” she repeated as she strode towards him. “Sure, we have plenty of books on art. Let’s see,” a few glowing books levitated towards them, seemingly picked at random from the shelves, “critiques, histories, biographies, surveys, studies…” she trailed off as she saw Big Macintosh’s half-lidded stare.

“Got any picture books?” he asked.

“Uh, okay. Picture books, let’s see.” Several of the books flew back to their place leaving only one in the air. “This one’s a little outdated, published around twenty years ago, but it has a good range of famous paintings throughout history. Plus this edition has an added analysis of every painting by several well-respected scholars of art and art history.” She placed the book on the front desk, and Big Macintosh eyed the hefty tome warily.

“Do ya got any with just the pictures?”

“Just the paintings? Well okay…” Twilight said before another book, this one with the same black cover and a bit thinner, floated towards them and onto the desk. “Here you go. It’s the same book but an earlier edition with just a bit of background on each painting to provide context. But are you sure you don’t want the other one? It sure could teach you a lot.”

“Aw heck, Miss Sparkle, Ah don’t need any puffed up ponies tellin’ me how ta look at a painting,” Big Mac said. He grabbed the thinner book and wedged it beneath his harness as Twilight brought a quill and notebook to her.

“I don’t know, Big Macintosh. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know much about art, but if I were trying to learn about it I’d start reading books by ponies that do,” she said as she recorded his name and the book he was checking out.

Big Mac was silent for a few seconds before responding, “Well Ah s’ppose that’d be true if Ah was learnin’ how ta build a house or lay down road. But ya can’t teach someone how ta see somethin’ or how ta hear somethin’. Just ‘cause Ah know apples ain’t gonna mean Ah’m gonna tell ya how ta taste one.”

Twilight only nodded slowly, though her eyes were narrowed in thought. “That’s…true. But I think there’s a difference between being taught how to see and being taught what to see. Those scholars aren’t telling you how to see the painting. They’re only pointing out what you should be aware of. You know, things like…” she took a moment to bring a book towards her. Her eyes quickly scanned the inner pages within seconds, “line width, negative space, value, color, and form just to name a few.”

“Miss Sparkle,” he said, “does all that really matter? Ain’t like Ah’m gonna hate a painting ‘cause its lines are a bit thick.”

“Well sure, but…”

The conversation went on for a couple of hours after that. And like most of their talks the target of argument seemed to shift and move as related topics were brought up. It wasn’t until the pair found themselves debating whether ice cream flavors could be categorized as art that Big Macintosh noticed how late it had become. With a quick goodbye and a promise to continue the conversation, he left for home with Twilight closing the library for the day soon after.

As he walked the long path back home, Big Macintosh couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed at how the day went. Not only had he gotten himself roped up in a trip to Canterlot of all places but somehow, by some massive blunder, also managed to get a pretty mare to pay for the whole thing. He sighed as that one fact washed over him like an ice bath. The only thing that brought him comfort was that letting Rarity take him would allow her to forget about this whole thing.

To add insult to injury he also got tangled up in another conversation with Twilight Sparkle. As much as he liked talking to the studious unicorn, he couldn’t help but feel a bit…dull when he talked to her. Whenever they had a friendly debate it always felt as if his thoughts were too rudimentary, too basic and unrefined. He enjoyed learning from their conversations but feared that Twilight might see them as a nuisance, as if she were explaining to a foal why the sky was blue.

There was, however, really no point in dwelling on any of that now. Big Macintosh finally arrived at Sweet Apple Acres and into the Apple family house only to find it darkened and silent. No doubt everyone was already asleep at this hour.

He climbed up the steps towards his room and placed his borrowed book on his bookstand. He contemplated opening it and taking a peek at what sort of pictures awaited him in Canterlot, but his bed was calling to him. After an overwhelming day, he was just about ready to answer it.

He took one last look at the black book before he plopped himself on his mattress, not even bothering to remove his harness.

-*-

Big Mac woke up earlier than his usual hour to finally look inside his borrowed book. Though he could have easily told himself that he just didn’t have the time, the truth of the matter was that he was dreading looking at it. He rolled his eyes as he realized the ridiculousness of the whole thing and, with a bit more force than he intended to, opened the tome.

He recognized the more famous paintings. The ones whose reproductions could be seen in restaurants, classrooms, and the occasional yard sale. Course he didn’t have much experience with any of those places. The book covered most art from ancient cave paintings to more recent works, but Big Mac found that he highly favored the art of Cloud Monet. He noted his favorite paintings before closing it up an hour later.

Big Mac just sat in his room for a bit, his sight catching the hook on his wall where he would usually hang his harness. With a wistful sigh, he removed the collar and placed it on its hook before leaving his room.

A shower later and the red stallion passed the kitchen where Granny Smith was already working on breakfast.

“Mornin’ Granny,” he said to the aged pony. He didn’t wait for her to start a story about meeting his grandfather in an art museum. Instead he hurried out of the house and into the predawn day, the eastern sky just a tad shade lighter than the sky to the west.

The world was silent, not even the birds could be heard. But, like always, the closer he came to the town the louder things became. Though nobody but him would really consider Ponyville at this early hour loud. But very few really listened to the muffled sounds of the Cakes shuffling pans to get ready for the coming day of baking, the soft beating of wings as the mailmare made her rounds, or the steady hoofclops of teachers on their way to their classrooms.

After exploring the town to admire the silhouetted houses, Big Macintosh made his way to the Carousel Boutique. Its bright colors were much subdued without the light of the sun and muted into mere shades of gray. He couldn’t help but prefer it that way, if only because the lack of color made its unique shape all the more apparent.

He hesitated at the door for a second, taking time to take a few breaths. Finally he knocked on the door and, in an instant, it swung open. Rarity stood at the other side wrapped in two towels, one for her mane and the other for her body.

“Ah’m sorry, Miss Rarity. Ah must’ve come too early.”

Rarity shook her head so hard her towel threatened to fall off, “Oh no it’s fine. As a matter of fact I was expecting you to come earlier. Come in, come in, we have lots to do.”

With a quick nod of his head he hurried inside. His hindlegs barely touched the floor when he was attacked by a brigade of combs, an army of brushes, a bucket of water, and some goop that smelled better than it felt glopped into his mane. He took a step back in surprise, but once he saw Rarity brushing and teasing her own mane he calmed down a bit. Though he couldn’t help being jealous of both her magic and her ability to multitask.

Rarity, her mane now perfectly primed and curled as usual, approached him with a sly smile. “You don’t know how long I’ve waited for a chance to straighten that mess of a mane. Have a look.” With a glow of magic she brought a full size mirror in front of him.

He had to admit, he looked pretty good with his mane slicked up a bit. It didn’t look as gelled as he had expected it too given the amount of stuff Rarity had used. It still retained some of its usual poof, but just a bit more relaxed with not a strand out of place.

“Like it?” Rarity asked as if it were a rhetorical question.

Big Macintosh could only nod, still getting used to his new style. Rarity chuckled as she used her magic to bring him a finished black suit. Before he could even start to admire it, Rarity already had the white dress shirt wrapped around his shoulders. With a roll of his eyes and a bit of a smile at her forward nature he lifted his forelegs one by one and allowed her to slip them through the sleeves. Then came the vest and ascot, the latter of which she tied and twisted with such speed that his eyes couldn’t keep up. By the end of it all, the necktie came neatly tucked into his vest. Last came the jacket, and the suit was complete.

“Perfect, I don't even have to make any adjustments. Now stay right there while I get ready. Feel free to make yourself at home.” She walked towards what Big Mac had previously thought was simply a curtain until she passed through it. He supposed it was some sort of private changing room.

He took the moment of privacy to look at himself in the mirror again. He had to make sure it was actually a mirror, for the colt standing within its borders was almost unrecognizable. His neat hair and fetching suit went a long way in making him look like he belonged on the streets of Canterlot and Manehattan.

But that’s what disturbed him the most. He didn’t belong on the same streets as the rich and powerful and, frankly, he didn’t much want to. The colt in the mirror was just a lie, an illusion that allowed Rarity to bring him into that world for only a day. He was happy to play along if only for her sake, but he worried about what would happen if that lie were found out.

“What do you think?” Rarity’s voice snatched his thoughts and gaze away from the mirror. He focused both on the dressed unicorn that just walked into the room. Though it was hard to tell she was a unicorn with the bright yellow wide-brimmed hat she was wearing. It matched the hue of the dress she wore, a light sundress with a deeper gold trim on the hem. Big Mac didn’t know much about fashion, but he had no doubt that she would be comfortable in the warm air of spring.

“Mighty pretty, Miss Rarity,” he said with a small smile.

“You’re too sweet, even if it is true.” She giggled at what apparently was a joke and Big Mac could only give a weak chuckle, “Which reminds me, I have something for you.” Big Mac would never have thought a mare’s smile could ever fill him with as much dread as Rarity’s did at that moment.

“Ah,” he was about to object and tell her to stop this onslaught of giving that made him feel so damn uncomfortable, but one look at those eyes of hers forced him to shut up and just say, “can’t wait.”

Rarity’s smile grew as her horn glowed and from behind the curtain came his harness. Well, not really his harness but a very close replica. The most discernible difference was its color. The pitch black of ebony replaced the usual warm brown of applewood, and the silver pegs now shone gold. While the shape remained the same, it was much thinner than the original.

Without asking, Rarity slipped his head through the harness and around his neck. She twisted it left and right to get it exactly centered before taking a step back to admire her work. She sighed deeply.

“Big Macintosh you look absolutely…” she trailed off and for a moment their eyes met only to hastily be torn away from each other. He kept his gaze on his hooves and she kept it everywhere except directly at him. He knew what she was feeling because he felt it as well, and that just made it infinitely worse.

Big Mac cleared his throat to relieve the tension in the air, “Thank ya, Miss Rarity. This is the nicest thing anypony’s ever done fer me.”

“Think,” she coughed meekly, “think nothing of it. I had a feeling you wouldn’t want to bring your usual collar. Shame really, I always thought it a rather nice accessory on you. So I managed to make another one that would be a bit more suited for Canterlot.”

“It musta been a lot of work. If there’s anythin’ Ah could ever do for ya-“

The unicorn laughed, “Big Macintosh, I’m doing all this to thank you. So please don’t fret over it.” She smiled and the farmpony could only nod.

The next couple of hours Rarity spent going over herself and Big Mac with a meticulous gaze. The conscientious unicorn quickly remedied any hair out of place, any thread out of form, and anything and everything that ruined her goal of absolute perfection.

Big Macintosh, meanwhile, just stood still and allowed her to pick, sew, comb, and examine him. He didn’t mind much since it allowed him to do what he did best: being quiet. Finally Rarity nodded, her work done.

“We should really get going if we’re to arrive by brunch,” she said, heading for the door.

He didn’t have any idea what brunch was, all he knew was that soon he would be beneath the heavy scrutiny of Canterlot ponies. He followed Rarity into the morning outside, the sun hanging above the horizon. Ponyville, thankfully, remained almost as empty as when he first walked inside.

“So how long of a walk is it?” Big Macintosh asked.

“Oh sweetie,” Rarity chuckled, “one does not simply walk into Canterlot. We’ll be taking the train.”

He could only sigh as the ethereal sound of clinking bits echoed in his ears.

-*-

Big Macintosh looked down at the menu of the bistro that Rarity decided to stop by for brunch. Even though the rays of the noonday sun, bathing the pair on the outdoor patio, hinted at lunch. Rarity’s menu remained on the table, her choice already made, while Big Mac was having trouble with the strange names fancily written on the card stock. He was about to ask Rarity when a well-dressed waiter with a gray coat and silver mane approached them. Floating in front of him was a small pad of paper and a pencil.

“Good day. My name is Silver Platter and I will be your waiter.”

“Hello.” Rarity said.

“Howdy,” the farmpony said without really thinking.

Silver Platter quirked an eyebrow, “Yes…how-dee.” Rarity shot him a glare and the waiter quickly cleared his throat, “May I take your orders?”

“I’ll have the carrot and ginger cream soup. Thank you.” The waiter nodded and wrote down the order before turning to Big Macintosh.

The red pony took a one last look at the menu, “So what’s polenta?” he asked.

The waiter sighed. “Boiled cornmeal with cheese, butter, and seasonings.”

“Well what about risotto?”

“Rice cooked in vegetable stock to a creamy consistency.”

“Uh-huh. Ah’ll just have water, if ya don’t mind.”

“Very well. Your food will be ready shortly,” the waiter said before taking the menus and leaving the two.

“I can’t believe how rude he was,” Rarity said with a huff.

“Really?” Big Mac said, honestly surprised, “Ah didn’t notice.”

“You didn’t notice how his expression changed when you spoke? As if something revolting crawled out of your mouth. Not to mention how disinterested he was when answering your questions.”

Big Mac only shrugged, “Ah guess Ah’m used ta it.”

Rarity sighed and opened her mouth to speak but stopped when she saw the waiter coming towards them. He placed a bowl of creamy orange soup in front of Rarity and a glass of water in front of Big Macintosh, who muttered his thanks. With a nod the waiter left the two alone again as quickly as he had come.

“How is it?” Big Mac asked as Rarity sipped her soup from her spoon.

“Very good,” she said, “but you really should have gotten something for yourself. Don’t let it bother you that I’m paying.”

“It ain’t that,” he said, though it was only half true, “it’s just that the only thing Ah thought looked good was the Waldorf salad. But apples are outta season, so they’d probably been imported from somewhere south. By the time those apples got ta me they’d be bland and mushy.”

Rarity pursed her lips in thought. “But not three days ago Applejack gave me some apples and they were perfectly crisp.”

He gave her a small smile. “Apple family secret, Miss Rarity. We store ‘em a special way that keeps ‘em fresh longer.”

"Oh really? I can keep a secret." Rarity said, her eyelashes fluttering so fast he was sure she would fly away.

Big Mac had to look away. "Sorry Miss Rarity, Ah can't tell ya."

"Pleeease." Her eyes seemed to get bigger and she puckered her slightly quivering lips. Big Mac made the mistake of looking and quickly turned back away, his eyes shut tighter than a safe.

"Now that ain't even fair," he said with a bit of a chuckle.

Rarity smiled. "Your will is strong, but no stallion has ever managed to resist," she taunted.

But Big Mac absolutely refused to open his eyes again until, finally, Rarity admitted defeat with a laugh, "Alright, I'll stop...for now."

He smiled as he opened his eyes. "Thank ya."

The two continued their meal in easy silence, Big Mac content with just sipping his water though a bit disappointed that it was sparkling. About an hour later, Rarity left the amount of their bill on the table plus tip and, after Big Mac looked at the bits in thought, the pair continued along the streets of Canterlot.

The farmpony found himself looking up at the impressive buildings, fountains, and monuments that composed the city. It’s architecture was nothing like that of Ponyville, not to mention the simple farm buildings of Sweet Apple Acres.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Rarity said as she noticed his gaze.

“Eeyup,” he said before absently adding, “Ah wish Ah could see it before the sun rose.”

“Really? Why?”

Big Macintosh bit his loose tongue. “Just ta,” he thought quickly, “enjoy it longer.”

Thankfully, Rarity only nodded as she led him towards a building with a giant marquee over its entrance. A line of ponies in fashionable dress waited outside its doors, chatting excitedly amongst themselves.

“We’re just in time for the matinee.” Rarity exclaimed as she led him to the end of the line, “I’ve heard wonderful things about this play, everyone I’ve talked to told me it’s all the rage.”

Big Macintosh leaned over to get a better look at the marquee, written in bold black lettering were the words The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. He hummed in thought for a moment before turning to Rarity.

“What’s it about?” he asked.

“I’m not really sure of the details. But I assume it’s about a stylist who purposefully ruins his clients’ manes. How dastardly, wouldn’t you agree?”

-*-

“Pretty fillies…fascinating…sipping coffee…dancing. Pretty fillies…” Big Mac half sang his favorite song of the performance as he exited the theater, the sun now hanging low in the sky, “Ah gotta tell ya, Miss Rarity, Ah ain’t one for plays but that was really somethin’.”

Big Macintosh looked back only to find Rarity a few feet behind him, looking a bit frazzled. She held his handkerchief, which he had given her midway through the play, up to her mouth. Her mane was an untidy mess caused by the various times she buried her face in his jacket during the performance.

“You okay Miss Rarity?” he asked, stopping to let her catch up to him.

She nodded weakly. “Yes I’m fine. It’s just, well, I didn’t expect it to be so…violent. Just give me a moment and I’ll be as right as rain.” She managed a small smile before neatly folding Big Mac’s handkerchief and returning it to his chest pocket. Then, with a bit of magic, she fixed her hair like new. “Now let’s hurry along, or we’ll be late for the viewing.”

“Are ya sure? You don’t want me ta fetch ya some water or anything?” he asked her, but she quickly shook her head.

“It’s sweet of you to ask, but I’ll be fine.” Rarity said and the subject was dropped.

As the two made their way down the street, Big Macintosh couldn’t help but notice how incredible the buildings looked in the late afternoon light. All of Canterlot seemed bathed in golds, oranges, and blues. The black-cloaked monoliths of masonry and carpentry seemed less like buildings and more like parts of the actual mountain on which they stood. The sun ahead of them caused the ponies on the street to be shaded in inky black silhouettes and, just as the buildings themselves, appeared to be a fixture of architecture.

Rarity chuckled, “It’s the same Canterlot as earlier, Big Macintosh.”

It wasn’t. But before he could say anything to that effect Rarity stopped at one of the grander buildings lining the street. Big Mac could only squint as the glare from its surface assaulted him, the massive structure seemed to be made of nothing but glass and steel. But once his eyes became accustomed he found that the building wasn’t all glass but rather highly polished white and gray stone.

He whistled, despite himself, earning a smug smile from Rarity. She gave him a sideways glance and he just rolled his eyes as he stepped towards the great wooden door. He stopped only briefly to admire the craftsmanship of the darkened oak before opening it, the sounds of a string quartet and piano emanating from inside. He stepped aside, holding the door for Rarity. She entered and he followed.

Whoever designed and built the art museum didn’t care much for subtlety. The stone floor shared the same high gloss as the outside of the building, so much so that he could swear it glittered. In the center of the room stood a stone sculpture of a stallion rearing up as a mare painted him. A few ponies surrounded it as they talked amongst themselves. Others, meanwhile, gathered around the various artworks lining the walls, each painting perfectly illuminated by the immense crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. Each one composed of hundreds of thousands of tiny prisms of glass.

“Rarity! What a pleasure to see you again.”

Big Mac brought his eyes back to level to see a suited white unicorn stallion approach them. His blue mane was combed and parted towards the front while the back was neatly and lightly gelled. He wore a monocle over his left eye and had, Big Macintosh had to admit, a pretty nice moustache.

“Fancy Pants! The pleasure is all mine.” Rarity said before raising a hoof towards her plus one, “I’d like to introduce you to Big Macintosh Apple, a dear friend of mine.”

The workpony briefly wondered how he managed to become a ‘dear friend’ of hers after only spending less than a day together.

“So nice to meet you, Mr. Apple. Any friend of Rarity’s is a friend of mine. I absolutely cannot wait to show you two the museum's latest exhibit. It’s on loan from Manehattan.”

The pair said their agreement and Fancy Pants led the way towards the other end of the spacious room and towards an archway that signaled a partition in the exhibits. Rarity followed him while Big Mac made sure to keep close to his only guiding light in such strange waters.

Honestly, he had expected a bit more ceremony before being swept about. But soon the trio entered the room crowded with ponies gathered in half-circles around each installation.

The white stallion led them towards the painting on the furthest wall and surrounded by the most admirers. As the gathered ponies saw Fancy Pants coming their way they quickly parted, allowing space for all three of them to comfortably stand at the best vantage point in front of the painting.

The canvas itself stood at about the height of the average apple tree. The actual painting, however, consisted of only a small black square in the middle of the canvas. A single diagonal line of mixed yellows, oranges and reds streaked across the black. Fancy Pants looked at the pair with a smile, waiting to hear their thoughts.

Thankfully, Rarity spoke first, “A rather…interesting piece.”

“Yes, very interesting indeed,” a new voice responded.

Big Macintosh looked over at the newcomer to see yet another white unicorn standing amongst them. The stallion showed a blonde mane that seemed to start out straight but became wavier the further down one looked.

“Why if it isn’t Prince Blueblood himself,” Fancy Pants exclaimed. “I’m delighted that you’ve decided to come after all.”

The prince gave a small chuckle. “I wouldn’t dare miss it.” He turned to the mare amongst the group, “And a good evening to you Rarity.”

“Good evening, Blueblood. I haven’t seen you since I christened your yacht.” Rarity said with a smile. Big Macintosh couldn’t help but find it similar to the kinds of smiles friendly enemies would give each other. The kind of smile the Apples and the Cakes would give each other before Applejack and Pinkie Pie became friends. A kind of forced smile that was only half there. He didn’t think of it much more after that, it wasn’t any of his business anyway.

“By the way,” Rarity continued, “I’d like you to meet-“

“As I was saying,” Blueblood interrupted her as he gestured towards the painting, “Notice how the artist used negative space to draw the eye directly to the center of the canvas. And the high contrasting diagonal of warm colors serves to partition the space equally, giving the overall work not only a sense of tension but a sense of constancy as well. Don’t you agree, Fancy Pants?”

Fancy Pants looked at the painting for a moment before slowly nodding his head. “Very astute observations, prince.” Then, much to everyone’s surprise, he turned towards Big Mac, “You’ve been awfully quiet, Mr. Apple. What do you think?”

And just like that the three white unicorns all gazed at the red farmpony along with the several other ponies gathered around. Big Mac contemplated a moment. Sure, he didn’t want to make a fool of himself, but with his accent it already seemed a forgone conclusion. Finally he decided to just tell the truth and get the humiliation over with.

“Well it looks mighty pretty, but Ah gotta wonder if it’s even finished yet.”

Silence filled the room like an airborne disease, which allowed Big Macintosh plenty of time to brace himself for the laughter that would soon replace it.

And it did.

Fancy Pants was the first and then Prince Blueblood, his even louder. Soon everyone else followed suit, as if their own personal echo. It came to the point where the only two who didn’t share in the laughter were Big Macintosh, who simply kept his usual stoic expression, and Rarity, who had her hoof to her forehead.

Finally the uproar died down. Fancy Pants approached Big Macintosh with a smile before placing a hoof on his shoulder. “Rarity you never said your friend had such a sharp wit.”

“Excuse me?” both Rarity and Blueblood said in unison.

Fancy Pants didn’t seem to hear them. “I agree, it’s much too minimalistic for my tastes as well." The surrounding ponies, who just seconds before had been laughing at Big Mac, now all murmured their agreement. "Let me show you the next one.” He led Big Macintosh to another painting, “I should introduce you to Black Gold one of these days, you two would get along splendidly.”

From then on Rarity, Prince Blueblood, and a throng of other ponies followed Fancy Pants and Big Macintosh as they made their way around the room to look at the other pieces of art.

It didn’t take long to figure out the dynamic the mustachioed unicorn had with the rest of the ponies. While he and Big Macintosh conversed of the various paintings and sculptures, the other ponies would always agree with Fancy Pants. It was, to Big Mac, a degree of agreement usually unobtainable by the average pony.

The two arrived at the last painting, a large abstract of clouded shapes of various shades of blues and purples. Hidden amongst the darks, towards the upper left of the canvas, was a tiny uneven touch of orange.

“How curious,” Fancy Pants said as he examined the artwork, “it’s as if there is a hopeful touch of color amongst all the depressing shades.”

“Seems pretty lonely ta me.” Big Macintosh said.

“I see your point, Mr. Apple,” the unicorn said, “it could very well create a feeling of isolation as well as hope.” The two looked at the painting for a moment longer before Fancy Pants ceased the silence, “Which exhibit would you like to see next? Seems only fitting that you choose, you obviously have an expertise in art.”

Big Macintosh had to bite his tongue lest he start laughing. He composed himself and answered, “Ah sorta wanna see Haystacks if that’s a’right with ya. Last Ah checked they were here, right?”

“Haystacks?” Prince Blueblood said from behind Fancy Pants. “You mean those paintings of nothing but…haystacks?”

“That’d be the one.”

“Hmm,” Fancy Pants hummed, “interesting choice. Let’s be off then, that exhibit is on the other side of the museum on the second floor.” He stepped to lead the way when a brown suited unicorn carrying a plate of what looked like berry tarts approached Fancy Pants and whispered something in his ear.

“Oh, she’s here already?” he said, and the waiter nodded in response.

Fancy Pants turned towards the group. “I’m sorry to leave you, but there is a very special guest I must attend to. I’m sure Prince Blueblood would be happy to escort you to the exhibit, right Blueblood?”

“Delighted,” The prince said, a bit of sarcasm leaking through. Fancy Pants didn’t seem to notice and only smiled his thanks before leaving. The popular unicorn’s absence had a particular effect on the crowd. Each pony took their leave one by one, as if Fancy Pants had been the glue holding them together. Soon the only ones remaining were Big Macintosh, Rarity, and Prince Blueblood.

“You know,” the prince said to the other two, “I’d be happy to guide you but I’m feeling a might parched. Would you mind fetching me some wine, Apple?” he chuckled, though Big Mac kept his usual expression.

Rarity, however, was not so passive. She cleared her throat with a regal air before turning to Big Macintosh, “Mr. Apple, I would be very grateful if you would be so kind as to bring me something to drink while I have a few choice words with the prince.” She smiled and the farmpony couldn’t help smiling back.

“Ah would love ta Miss Rarity.” He silently thanked her for giving him the chance to wander alone for a bit. As he left, the last thing he saw of the two was Rarity giving the prince a look so ridden with anger Big Mac would have preferred taking another trip into the Everfree Forest than be on the receiving end of that gaze. By the look on his face, the prince thought the same.

Big Mac smiled and started walking around the museum, idly looking for a waiter, bar, or table where he could find some refreshments. He took his time, however, sure that Rarity wasn’t really thirsty.

As he passed a few rooms holding more exhibits, he spotted a couple of glass doors leading out to what seemed like a courtyard. Fresh air never sounded as good as the moment Big Mac headed for those doors. Once outside he breathed in deeply, enjoying the earthy scent of dirt and grass.

Around the courtyard were several hedges bent into curves reminiscent of a maze one might find on a children’s menu at a restaurant. Several stone benches and fluffed pillows dotted the landscape, mostly arranged around topiaries or sculptures. The light chatter of conversing ponies buzzed through the air as Big Mac explored a bit, a satisfied sigh escaping him as he felt the grass beneath his hooves.

He had to admit this wasn’t all that bad. Sure there were a few hiccups along the way, but all in all he felt that nothing had gone as bad as it could have been. He even dared to say that the whole experience had actually been worthwhile. He got to see a few interesting buildings, not to mention a play that wasn’t boring at all. Stranger still, he and Rarity were actually getting along with each other and that was a miracle in and of itself.

“Well that paintin’ sure be perty.”

Big Mac ears twitched as he heard the sound of a pony speaking in an unnaturally low voice followed by a cacophony of laughter. He looked around to see no one in his secluded part of the courtyard. It took him a second to realize that the voices came from the other side of a hedge to his right.

“Spot on, spot on,” another voice chimed in. “To think a pony like Rarity would bring him here.”

“Agreed,” another said, “does she honestly think she could dress up a country bumpkin in a fine suit and pass him off as a sophisticated member of society? She really should know better than that.”

“Fancy Pants seems to be rather taken with him, though,” the second voice said.

“True,” the first voice said, “but the simpleton won’t be in his good graces for long. Give it time and we can just forget about him.” The others muttered their agreement.

Big Mac gritted his teeth, their words burning a hole in him. But it wasn’t because of what they said about him. Heck, he had been called everything from laid-back, boring, slow –in all its meanings- and even stiff. They even got his accent wrong, sure he was a bit country but it wasn’t as if he was ‘ahyuckin’ and ‘garshin’ his way down Mane Street.

No, what really took a toll on him was what they said about Rarity. Suddenly a kind gesture to a farmpony seemed like a self-destructive act that risked her reputation and social standing in Canterlot, a place she admired like no other. He couldn’t stand it, couldn’t stand what effect his presence had, couldn’t stand that he had actually felt like he was…he shook his head, that didn’t really matter now.

He plodded away, suddenly feeling much heavier. Without really thinking he stepped through those glass double doors and back inside the museum. He passed waiters serving tiny snacks he couldn’t pronounce, guests admiring famous pictures he would never understand, and archways of stone he had no business being under. Until finally he reached the solid wood door he had entered from. He barely touched a hoof to the door when someone interrupted him.

“Mr. Apple? Where are you off to?” Fancy Pants asked, his eyes darting from the hoof on the door to Big Mac.

The red pony couldn’t look him in the eye, “Ah’m leavin’.”

“Without Rarity? That’s rather rude of you.”

“Ah know but,” he thought back to the voices in the courtyard, “Ah don’t belong here and Ah can live with that. But Ah can’t stay when it’ll only hurt Miss Rarity’s reputation here. No point in her being dragged down just ‘cause she feels she’s got ta make something up to me.”

Fancy Pants only sighed before gesturing towards the inner space of the building. Big Mac turned around to see the same thing he saw all evening: a bunch of ponies walking about and looking at art. He looked over at Fancy Pants, waiting for him to explain.

“Most of these ponies, not all mind you but most, care nothing but of things like reputation, rank, and connections.” The unicorn looked at Big Mac, “Miss Rarity is not one of those ponies and I had thought you didn’t hold such things in high regard either.”

Big Macintosh stayed silent for a few minutes, letting Fancy Pant's words and his own thoughts percolate, “Ah don’t.”

“Then come, I take it you still haven’t seen your paintings of choice. Otherwise you wouldn’t be here right now. Let’s rejoin Rarity and the prince and see them together, yes?”

“But what about yer special guest?” Big Mac asked.

Fancy Pants chuckled. “She could only stay for a few moments, such is the busy life of a fashion model.”

Big Macintosh nodded before a thought came to him, “Say, ya know where Ah can get some wine?”

Fancy Pants smiled at him. “Sorry, Mr. Apple. But the museum stopped serving wine at these functions quite some time ago. Some of the guest get rather rowdy.”

Big Mac smiled back before leading Fancy Pants back to where he left Rarity and Prince Blueblood, which didn't take long at all. Rarity had on a smug grin while the prince looked a bit worse for wear.

As the earth pony and unicorn approached the waiting pair, Prince Blueblood took a step towards Big Macintosh. He cleared his throat weakly before speaking, “Mr. Apple, Rarity explained to me, rather clearly, how boorish my words were earlier. I hope you can…forgive me.” He said those last words as if getting an awful taste out of his mouth.

Big Mac looked over to Rarity, who gave him a knowing nod. He turned back to the prince and chose his words very carefully, “T’weren’t nothin’.”

The prince only forced a smile and, before things could get awkward, Fancy Pants stepped into the conversation.

“If that’s all settled then I believe we have an exhibit to view.” He wasted no time in leading the other three through the museum. They passed several other rooms and ponies until finally they arrived at an empty room that dwarfed all the others Big Mac had ever been in, large enough to comfortably enclose both his home and barn all at once.

Archways lined the walls of the room, revealing even more halls and chambers beyond their curves. Stacked upon these arches was another floor of still more catenaries linked by a lavish staircase almost as wide as the room itself. It rose from the opposite side of the room before stopping at a landing where it split to continue towards both sides.

A sky motif decorated the ceiling. At its very center were half a moon and half a sun joined together to form a perfect sphere. On each ones respective side was a painting of their sky. Stars glittered the moon’s while clouds decorated the sun’s.

While the two unicorns from Canterlot continued on their way, Rarity and Big Macintosh stayed behind a moment to admire the grand architecture. It didn’t take long for Rarity to get her fill and catch up to the unicorn stallions while Big Macintosh stayed for just a few seconds longer, absently spinning in place to capture a full view. But soon he joined the other three and the group made their way up the staircase without many words between them.

Once on the second floor, Fancy Pants led them through one of the archways and into a circular room much smaller than the one they had entered from. It was well lit, allowing a clear view of the twenty-something paintings arranged about eye level.

Each one was remarkably unique in its similarity to all the others, and each one featured a haystack or two amongst a field. But each one had a slight change that made all the difference.

Big Macintosh nodded as he saw those paintings. Slowly he made his way to the first of them and gazed at the blurred snow-covered mounds amongst a field of white, the faint outline of buildings hazed in the distance.

“So this is Haystacks?” Rarity asked as she stood next to the red stallion and looked at the same painting.

“Yes, by Cloud Monet. One of the Impressionists, I believe.” Fancy Pants said, joining the two in front of the painting.

“But what’s the point?” Prince Blueblood also took a place amongst the rest, “Why nothing but stacks of hay? And why paint them over and over again?”

Big Mac silently moved to the next painting of a single haystack mostly silhouetted in deep reds and blacks, the murky sunrise behind it filling the sky in orange and slight grays. He looked at it for a moment before smiling.

“Ah don’t know.” He moved on to the next painting, this one featuring shades of gold as the light from the low sun entered from the right.

“You don’t know?” the prince said, utterly exasperated, “Of all the ignorant, senseless-“ he stopped mid-tirade when both Rarity and Fancy Pants gave him a not so gentle nudge to the side.

“Well then, Mr. Apple. Care to give us a guess? Surely you must have given it some thought if you were so eager to see these paintings.” Fancy Pants lightly nudged.

Big Macintosh thought for a moment as he tried to find the right words to explain why paintings with such simple subject matter and with such blurred execution caught his interest on such a basic level. He regretted his less than stellar skills of elocution as he took a look around, as if the art might provide the answer for him. It didn’t.

“It’s…” he shook his head with a sigh of defeat, “A’right, when y’all see a haystack whaddya see?”

“Well I for one have never seen an actual haystack,” Prince Blueblood said with a hint of pride.

Big Mac rolled his eyes before turning to look at Rarity.

“I suppose,” she said slowly, “I see a stack of hay, redundant as that sounds. I have to admit, I really don’t give it much thought.”

The farmpony nodded his head towards the canvas-filled walls. “Ah like ta think that the painter saw a haystack one day an’ decided he wanted ta see more. Like he wanted ta see it in ev’ry light, in ev’ry season, in ev’ry angle. When everypony saw just a borin’ ol’ haystack, he wanted ta see…ev’rything it actually was.”

“Not many ponies will do that,” Fancy Pants said as he looked at the paintings a bit more closely.

“Nnope.”

-*-

Big Macintosh and Rarity left shortly after that, in part because of the quickly aging night and also because of the resemblance of one artistic fixture to one of a more porcelain and private nature. They bid their goodbyes to Prince Blueblood and Fancy Pants, the latter more pleasantly so, and left the museum in silence.

The streets of Canterlot remained well lit as squares of light cast from the building's windows created a distorted checker pattern on the ground. The streets themselves were as bare as the inky black of the night sky, allowing the two some semblance of privacy.

Big Mac looked over at the unicorn mare and saw a slight shiver, the light fabric of her sundress doing little to ward off the chill of the early spring night. Without a word, he slipped off his jacket and draped it over her shoulders. Rarity smiled as she pulled its collar further up her neck.

“I should paint you,” she said out of the blue.

“ ’scuse me, Miss Rarity?”

“I should paint you,” she repeated with a small smile, “in ev’ry light, in ev’ry season, in ev’ry angle.”

He couldn’t help but softly smile as he thought of a change of subject.

“If ya don’t mind me askin’, seems ta be a story between you and the prince.”

“Well it’s not much of a story. Our first meeting ended horribly on account of his less than civilized behavior. Though ever since I’ve become friends with Fancy Pants he seems to act much nicer, if only to me.”

Big Mac nodded, sensing Rarity’s reluctance on delving too deeply into the story. It wasn’t any of his business, after all.

“I’m sorry if he offended you,” she added and Big Mac couldn’t help but give a light-hearted laugh.

“Don’t worry ‘bout it Miss Rarity. Like Ah said earlier, Ah’m used to it.” He smiled, hoping to reassure her. It didn’t have the effect he had expected and instead she glared at him.

“Big Macintosh, this is not something one should be used to. There is an expected level of decency all ponies should have when interacting with other ponies, no matter how lowly they may seem. Whether it’s a waiter or a prince, nopony should ever talk down to you.”

The stallion was quiet for a moment before smiling. “Yer one heck of a friend,” he whispered.

Rarity smiled back and stepped a bit closer to him.

The two continued on down the street and towards the train station. Neither of them said a word and chose instead to simply enjoy the other’s company. Big Macintosh honestly liked walking with her, a great change from working alone on the farm. He couldn’t help but wonder if he might be going soft. But then again, maybe going soft wasn’t all that bad.

The train ride back home was uneventful. Save for the gentle rocking of the train lulling Rarity to sleep, causing Big Mac to tense a bit when she rested her head against him. He didn’t dare move, not even when a stream of dribble started moistening his sleeve.

Finally the train stopped and jerked Rarity awake. She blushed when she saw the mess she made of his shirt. Big Macintosh, however, didn’t give her a chance to apologize before he helped her up and headed for the exit.

They continued their silence as the pair walked down the streets of Ponyville, the city much darker than Canterlot had been. So dark, in fact, that Big Mac could actually see a few stars dotting the sky above.

Soon the Carousel Boutique came into view and as they made it to its front door the silence ended.

“Thank you for escorting me home, Big Macintosh,” the unicorn said.

“Yer welcome,” he said and after a moment added, “Ya know Ah actually had fun today. Ah admit, Ah didn’t think Ah would but…” he trailed off.

Rarity smiled. “I had fun too. We should definitely do this again sometime.” Her horn glowed with magic as she lifted the stallion’s jacket and gave it back to him.

He didn’t say a word as he slung the coat across his back, only nodding his agreement. With a final goodnight Rarity slipped inside, leaving Big Macintosh to turn around and head for Sweet Apple Acres.

This was his favorite time to be in Ponyville, if only because he could see the stars most clearly. But as he noticed how far away the stars seemed and how empty the streets were, a new feeling began to creep its way into his mind.

He chuckled the thought away and attributed it to the late hour. Slowly, he continued his way back home.