• Published 29th Nov 2011
  • 36,727 Views, 1,455 Comments

Keeping It Simple - Ivory Piano



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

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4. Numbskulls

Numbskulls

The two eldest of the Apple siblings stood at attention in the farmhouse’s kitchen, the smallest rays of morning light sneaking in through the windows. Granny Smith, in the middle of a lecture, paced back and forth in front of the siblings. The speech consisted of the usual things that preceded any of the elder pony’s trips to family that lasted more than a day. Things like what chores needed to be done in her absence and what preserves needed to be moved from the barn to the cellar, namely all of them.

These things were so usual, in fact, that Big Macintosh had a hard time keeping his eyes open throughout. It didn’t help that he had stayed up the night before reading up on his farmer’s almanac.

But his eyes shot open as he felt a sharp jab at his side. He looked over to Applejack, busy trying not to look at him, as he smiled. He made sure Granny’s focus was elsewhere when he brought a hoof to push Applejack back, causing her to lose balance for a moment before finding her footing. She stifled a chuckle as she pushed him back, though it wasn’t even enough to sway him.

“Do Ah make myself clear?” Granny Smith barked at them like a drill sergeant.

“Yes Granny,” the Apple siblings monotoned.

The matriarch smiled. “Good. Now Ah’ll only be gone fer ‘bout a week. You two take care each other and Applebloom, ya hear?”

“Yes Granny.”

Satisfied, Granny Smith beckoned for Applejack to come with her, and the two left for the train station together. Which left Big Macintosh to himself for the next half hour or so before Applebloom woke up. With a small sigh he brought out a few pots and pans to get breakfast ready.

-*-

After breakfast and after Big Macintosh dropped Applebloom off at school with a hug, the farmpony made his way back home. Having arrived, he spotted Applejack already entering the barn, no doubt ready to move the preserves. With a small sigh he wondered what he could do today that would kill a few hours. That’s when he saw a familiar sight.

The dead tree by the farmhouse stood out in stark contrast to the vibrant green leaves and pink-white blossoms of the apple orchard. Its branches remained barren of both, and its trunk had already begun to rot and soften. Its roots were the worst, tangled and twisted above the surface of the earth like a mass of pythons fighting for a meal. Not a day passed without someone tripping over one of the gnarled monstrosities.

As Big Macintosh looked up at the lifeless husk he couldn’t help but think of what a shame it was. This was one of the first trees Granny Smith had planted when she first settled to what would become Ponyville and its size showed its age. The tree dwarfed Big Mac and even the other trees in the orchard. There was a time when he couldn’t even imagine an apple tree growing to this size, but there it stood at least ten ponies high and three ponies across.

Grand or not, this tree had to come down. But Big Mac wouldn’t be in any condition to do anything about it for another week. At least, that’s what Applejack told him. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t prepare for that day. And if he needed to make sure that the rope could properly wrap around the tree while still giving him enough slack to tie it to his yolk, well that couldn’t be helped. And if he just so happened to want to test his strength, just the tiniest bit, then that couldn’t be helped either. And if, in some strange circumstance, that little bit of strength was enough to bring down the whole tree, well, that couldn’t be called his fault. So with a self assured nod he made his way to the barn to fetch some rope.

Then his chin hit the ground with earth-shattering force.

-*-

“Oh jeez, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I was trying out my suicide dive and- Are you okay? Please tell me your okay.”

When the blackness receded and Big Mac felt some sense return to him, he saw a sky blue mare with a rainbow colored mane restlessly circle above him. He felt a small draft brush against his coat with every flap of her wings. He groaned, but not from the pain he felt.

He got up slowly, even though he couldn’t remember ever lying down. His backside rose with ease though his chest required much more effort. Finally he tried to raise his head, but it stuck firmly into the earth. He narrowed his eyes and with a great pull finally untrapped his muzzle, revealing a small crater from where his chin kissed the ground. He carefully tested his jaw, rolling it around like a cow chewing cud. It was sore, that was to be expected, but it didn’t feel broken. The rest of his head felt like someone had knocked him silly with a two by four, especially a rather tender spot between his ears. Carefully, he twisted his head and didn’t stop until he felt and heard the satisfying cracks of his cervical vertebrae run up his neck.

He looked at the mare now hovering at his eye level, her forehead covered in a purple bruise visible even through her coat. He could see the worry in her eyes even though by all accounts she should have been in as much pain as he was, if not even more.

“You okay Miss Dash? Ya don’t look too good.”

The pegasus grinned. “You don’t look too hot yourself, big guy.”

Big Mac only shrugged a shoulder. “Ah’m fine. The Apple family’s always been known fer two things, apples and thick skulls. But are ya sure yer feelin’ a’right?”

She laughed as she glided over to him and, for some reason Big Mac could simply not fathom, landed to sit on his muzzle. His head sunk a bit at her weight though her flapping wings ensured that she wasn’t too heavy. Still, all he could see were bright blue legs in front of his eyes. Not to mention a certain aspect of this position that made him very uncomfortable.

“I told ya, I’m fine. I am, after all, the toughest,”

“Miss Dash.”

“fastest,”

“Miss Dash.”

“most amazing,”

“Miss Dash.”

“What?” She finally stopped stroking her ego and brought her eyes level to his, which required quite a bit of flexibility and balance on her part.

“Yer backside’s on my nose.”

“What?”

He rolled his eyes before sharply blowing air out of his snout, sending Rainbow Dash’s colorful tail waving in its wake. She leapt off of him with all the speed she was famous for, a sheepish grin decorating her face as she brought her front hooves behind her.

Big Mac nodded his thanks and continued towards the barn, hoping to finish his plans before he got wrapped up in any more distractions. Rainbow Dash, however, didn’t seem ready to allow him that privilege.

“So what’re you up to?” she asked as she followed him while keeping to the air. Big Mac looked at her for a moment, wondering if she might have hit her head harder than she thought. Usually she’d be off getting into an argument with his sister right about now and not trying to strike a conversation with him.

“Gettin’ ready ta take down that dead tree.” He tilted his head towards what might as well just have been an upright log before continuing on his way.

“That sucks. What was its name?”

Big Mac stopped in his tracks so suddenly he almost fell over himself. He turned around and stared at the pegasus, his eyes immediately drawn to her injured head. “Let’s go to the hospital,” he said as he started walking in the opposite direction and towards Ponyville.

Rainbow Dash quickly landed in his path. “I’m fine, seriously. I just asked ‘cause Applejack named that one tree we brought to Appleoosa. Bloomberg, I think. So, you know, I was wondering if you did that too.”

The farmpony looked at the pegasus, then to the apple orchard, and finally back to Rainbow. “They’re jus’ trees, Miss Dash,” he said as he turned around and continued towards the barn. He didn’t get far, however, as the mare again landed in front of him.

“Uh…huh,” she said slowly, “I thought you woulda been more, I don’t know, sentimental?”

Big Macintosh sighed. “Miss Dash, can Ah help ya with somethin’?”

“Jeez, testy much?” She lifted off and hovered in the air, a hoof in her chin as she thought. “Oh I know what’ll cheer ya up. How about I show you some of my sweet moves? I don’t think you’ve ever seen me perform.”

“Ah think Ah’ve seen plenty,” he said as he lightly rubbed the lump on his head.

“Come on, I was practicing a new move, besides the sun was in my eyes and there was this weird updraft and plus there were these flock of geese that got in my way. But I would have done it perfectly if it wasn't for those things.” She gave him a grin wider than her mouth and did a small loop-the-loop in the air. When Big Mac’s expression remained unchanged she continued, “How about I show you how I can clear the sky in-“

“Ten seconds flat.” Big Mac said dryly, trying once again to reach the barn. But Rainbow Dash stopped him.

“Yeah that’s it. It’s a classic, believe me.”

The red stallion sighed in defeat as he finally sat on his haunches and looked at her. “Eeyup, that’s mighty impressive.”

“Sure is. And that’s not even my best trick. Heck, I was doing that since I was a filly.” Rainbow Dash said, proudly rubbing her hoof on her chest.

Big Macintosh looked up at her for a moment. “Wait, ya been able ta do it since you were little?”

“Yup, since I was just a tiny foal.”

“But Miss Dash,” the red stallion said slowly while trying to keep the smile out of his voice, “if ya could clear the sky in ten seconds since you were a filly, don’t that mean ya haven’t gotten any faster since then?”

“Uh…well…I,” she stuttered but quickly recovered, “of course not. I could do it in five seconds. I mean, if there were clouds in the sky I’d show you. But that’s an old trick anyway. How about I show you,” she stretched out her forelegs above her in a display of grandeur and in a resounding voice said, “a Sonic Rainboom!”

Big Mac remained less than impressed. “That’s okay Miss Dash.”

“You…you don’t want to see a Sonic Rainboom?” she said, her limbs falling limply in the air. “Have you ever even seen one before? Don’t you know how amazing they are?”

“Eeyup, both of them.”

“Wait, both? You saw the one I did when I was a filly.”

“Eeyup, everypony in Ponyville saw that one.”

“And the one in Cloudsdale?”

“Eeyup, hard ta miss even from over here.”

“And you don’t want to see another one?”

“Nnope.”

Rainbow Dash looked at him, as if waiting for him to go on. But Big Macintosh really had nothing more to say. Both of them waited the other out, he waiting patiently while she just hovered in front of him. He couldn’t help but enjoy annoying her, if only because he found it delightfully distracting from his inability to do any work. But after a while Big Mac returned his sight to the discoloration on her head. He got up and, instead of walking towards the barn, made his way to the farmhouse. The pegasus followed him silently, not willing to lose the quiet game.

It wasn’t until the pair entered the empty house that finally Rainbow Dash sighed.

“Because…?” she said, starting the sentence for him.

Big Macintosh only smiled as he went to the kitchen and rummaged around one of the drawers for a clean rag. He finally found one big enough and laid it flat on the table.

“Ah got my reasons,” he said as he opened the fridge.

She groaned and slapped her hoof on her forehead, accidentally touching her bruise and yelping in so much pain that her wings froze in place. She hit the floor with a thump.

“Stay still.” Big Mac said before grabbing the now knotted and ice-filled rag within his teeth and gently bringing it to rest on her head. Rainbow Dash winced as she felt the sudden chill.

“Thanks but,” she said, getting the bag of ice off of her once Big Mac let it go, “I’m tough enough not to need it.”

“Ah believe ya, but that don’t mean ya can’t try ta make it feel better.”

“I don’t see you with one,” she said, gesturing a hoof towards his own bruised cranium.

He shrugged. “It don’t hurt too much.”

“Well mine doesn’t hurt either.”

Big Mac looked at the dark purple bruise on the mare’s head once again. “Ah really doubt that, Miss Dash.”

Rainbow’s eyes narrowed, her sudden focused glare directed straight at the red pony in front of her. Too late did Big Macintosh realize how his innocent statement of genuine concern could be taken as a taunt. He mentally sighed as he prepared himself for whatever brazenness soon to follow.

“Hey, I’m just as tough as you, maybe even tougher,” she said as she moved towards the kitchen table. “And if you don’t believe me then let’s hoof wrassle, right here right now.” She placed a foreleg on the table, bent and ready for the ultimate competition of strength.

Big Mac could only sigh. “Aw heck, Miss Dash, Ah didn’t mean nothing by it,” he said gently.

“How about we make it interesting, then? Thirty bits says that I can beat you,” she said, remaining unmoved from the table.

He rolled his eyes, knowing full well that she wasn’t going to give up any time soon. Slowly he made his way to the other side and raised a hoof to meet hers. If she wanted to humiliate herself there was really nothing he could do about it, except end it as soon as possible.

There wasn’t a count to three or anything of the sort. The moment their hooves touched Rainbow Dash exerted as much force as she could against him. But, just as he expected, it wasn’t close to enough to move him. He was about ready to finish the game and collect his bits when something in her expression made him pause.

Her eyes were strained in concentration, fixated on their locked hooves, and her teeth were gritted in a determined snarl. It was a much different face than his own bored features, but it proved very familiar to the eldest Apple sibling. He smiled for a quick second. Slowly, their hooves moved until they finally rested on the flat surface, blue above red.

“Hah!” Rainbow Dash raised her hooves in triumph. “I told ya I was tough,” she said with a smug grin.

“Eeyup, ya got me. Ah’ll go get those bits.” Big Mac said as he moved away from the table.

“Nah don’t worry about it. It must’ve been bad enough to lose,” she laughed. “Heck, I’ll even keep it a secret. Wouldn’t want to ruin your reputation, right?”

Big Mac smiled. “That’s mighty kind of ya, Miss Dash.”

“Woah, you’re not getting off that easy,” she said, beating her wings a couple of times to take to the air. “First you have to say ‘Miss Dash is the most amazing, toughest, strongest pony in all of Equestria and I can never, ever, hope to reach the sheer levels of mind-blowing awesomeness extruding from her every pore.”

“Nnope.”

She slumped to the floor, “Alright, how about just ‘Miss Dash is super awesome.’”

“Nnope.”

“Oh come on, at least give me something.”

Big Mac rubbed his chin for a moment before looking at the cyan pegasus with a smile. “How ‘bout, ‘Miss Dash is one heck of a pony.’”

“That’ll work,” she said with a smirk.

He nodded. “Now will ya humor me and put some ice on that bruise?” he asked before grabbing the knotted handkerchief in his teeth and holding it out towards her.

Rainbow looked at it for a moment before turning her eyes towards the pony holding the knotted handkerchief. Finally she gave a sigh, took the ice, and placed it on her head.

“Fine,” she said, “but only because you asked. I told you I don’t really need it.”

Big Mac gave her an affirmative grunt as he made his way towards the living room, but before he could get past the doorway the sound of an opening door stopped him.

“Hey, Mac, ya in here?” Applejack’s voice resonated through the house.

“Eeyup,” he called out. A moment later his sister entered the kitchen with a saddlebag overstuffed with mason jars of apple preserves. She was so busy making sure they didn’t fall out that she didn't notice the condition of her brother or her friend, or that Rainbow Dash was even there. It didn’t last long, however, as once she made sure every jar was safely secured she turned her focus to the red colt in front of her.

“Land sakes, what in the heck happened to yer head?” she asked before she finally noticed Rainbow Dash, who gave her a nervous grin as the ice pack sat on her like a crown.

Applejack brought a hoof to her forehead. “Nevermind. So what was it this time, Rainbow? Sun in yer eyes? Updraft? Geese?”

“Nnope, she used all three.” Big Macintosh answered.

“All three? Must’ve been one heck of a crash.”

“You have no idea,” he said with a smile.

“Alright, alright we get it, thanks.” Rainbow Dash said as she moved between the two, as if hoping to physically interrupt their conversation.

Applejack chuckled. “Good thing ya got that hard head of yers, right Rainbow? Must’ve been pretty painful knockin’ into Big Mac,” she said as she absently adjusted the strap on her saddlebag.

Big Mac quietly took the saddlebag strap in his mouth and lifted the pack onto the table, making sure none of the jars could roll off. He lingered for a bit, hoping to stay out of the mares’ conversation. Mostly because their talks always got pretty heated no matter what they were talking about.

“It doesn’t hurt at all,” Rainbow Dash said. “In fact, I bet Big Mac’s in more pain right now than me.”

The red pony stifled a laugh. The two friends looked at him and he, in turn, brought his gaze back to the jars before taking the saddlebag onto his back.

“Ah’ll jus’ put these in the cellar,” he said quickly. He didn’t even give Applejack any time to tell him to be careful before he was out of the kitchen, leaving the two to continue their conversation in private. He left the house, circled around to the cellar’s entrance, and descended into the dark room.

As he took his time sorting the jars of preserves onto one of the many wooden shelves, Big Mac let his mind wander to the rainbow pegasus. He wondered how long she could keep their ‘secret’. Not that he questioned her ability to keep one, but everyone knew how much that filly liked to brag. However, while Rainbow Dash remained a wild card, he knew exactly what his little sister would do if her friend let that secret slip.

So he wasn’t at all surprised when he heard his sister’s laughter loud and clear even from the cellar. He smiled as he began to ascend the stairs only to find the cyan pegasus atop the last step, blocking the exit. Once again, Big Mac found that reports of her speed were greatly on the nose. She stood at a partial silhouette, her usually colorful mane subdued by shadows. Her furrowed eyes stood out the most, the dark pink irises standing out amongst everything else.

She’d actually look threatening if she wasn’t still wearing a leaky ice pack.

Big Mac couldn’t help but lightly chuckle from the bottom of the stairs. “So much fer keepin’ it a secret.”

“I want a rematch, and don’t even think about holding back this time.”

He sighed and remained silent. He climbed the stairs and stopped a few steps below Rainbow Dash. The two locked eyes, her intense glare against his half-lidded stare. They stayed there for a few moments before Big Mac finally spoke.

“ ’scuse me, Miss Dash, Ah’d like ta continue this conversation in the fresh air.”

Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes as she stepped aside. He nodded his thanks as he walked past her and inhaled deeply. “Now what were ya sayin’?” he idly asked in order to pass the weight of the conversation back to the pegasus.

“I want a rematch,” she said, a bit louder.

“Ya know, it’s usually the loser that asks fer a rematch,” he said. Honestly, this wasn’t the first time he ever had this conversation. Of course, the last time was a few years ago when he was a young colt.

“Yeah, well, usually the winner wins fair and square.” Rainbow Dash said as she approached him.

“An’ ya didn’t?”

“Of course I didn’t. I mean, for Celestia’s sake, a competition is supposed to be two ponies giving everything to win. If you’re the best, you win. If you’re not, you lose. Simple as that.” Rainbow Dash gave a frustrated groan. “This is worse than when you threw that poker game.”

Big Mac had to think about that for a moment. “If Ah remember right, you and AJ were telling us ta just split the pot.”

“At least then it would’ve just been a tie. And even a tie would be better than just winning ‘cause of dumb luck, or ‘cause the pony you’re up against didn’t even try. When you win you’re supposed to feel like you beat the toughest, strongest, fastest, and most awesome and because of that you become the toughest, strongest, fastest, and most awesome.” Her voice became louder and louder the more she spoke, until finally she was practically yelling at him. Big Mac, all the while, just looked calmly at her.

“Sorry, Miss Dash, but ya won fair and square. There ain’t no way Ah can beat you.”

Rainbow looked at him with narrowed eyes before approaching him. The two locked sights once again.

“Well how the heck do you know if you’ve never really tried?” she poked his chest. “Are you scared or something?” Poke. “Afraid that I’ll beat you?” Poke. “Afraid you’re not strong enough?” Poke.

He smiled at her taunting and simply shrugged. “Oh Ah know Ah’m strong enough, and please don’t take that as a boast. Ah’m just statin’ a simple fact. But Ah could be the strongest pony in the world and Ah still wouldn’t be able ta beat ya, Miss Dash.”

“Why?”

“Ah got my reasons.”

Rainbow Dash groaned. “I just don’t get you. I thought you’d be as competitive as Applejack, but you’re totally the opposite. And do you know how many pegasi would give up their left wing to see me perform a Sonic Rainboom? It’s not even like you’ve never even seen one, either. At least then I can kinda get why you wouldn’t be so excited about it. But you have! And you still don’t want to see one much cooler than either one I’ve done before.”

Big Mac could only smile at her quick judgment. “Miss Dash, no offense, but Ah don’t think anythin’ you can do will be as good as the first one Ah ever saw.”

Rainbow Dash just narrowed her eyes at him. With a whirlwind flap of her wings she ascended while Big Mac shielded his eyes from the blustered dust. She soared higher and higher, and as she did Big Mac’s interest plummeted lower and lower. With a bored grunt he continued his long forgotten mission of grabbing some damn rope from the barn. Though he had to take a second to remember what he needed it for.

He barely entered the barn when he spotted Applejack idly twirling about a lasso above her head. Big Mac watched her for a moment before spotting a coiled piece of rope hanging at eye-level on a nail nearby. He maneuvered himself to catch the wound rope on one his harness’ pegs and turned to leave. But before he could get out of the door a small tug around his neck made him turn his head back. Applejack’s lasso was wrapped around his collar’s free peg, its other end clenched in her teeth.

She dropped her end. “Where ya going with that rope?” she asked, as if she had caught Applebloom sneaking a cookie before dinner.

“Ah’m taking it to that giant dead tree out front,” he said simply, turning to continue his walk out the barn. A quick stomp of Applejack’s hoof on his impromptu leash, however, stopped him in his tracks. He sighed and turned to face her again.

“Oh no,” Applejack said, “Ah know that trick. You bring that rope over and ya won’t stop ‘til that tree’s on the ground.”

“Aw AJ, Ah would never do that while injured and all.”

Applejack didn’t say anything and only gave her big brother a suspicious glare.

Big Mac smiled softly. “If ya can’t trust yer older brother then who can ya trust?”

“Nice try. Now put that rope back.”

A disappointed grunt escaped him as he returned the coil of rope to its nail. He turned his head and bit Applejack’s lasso to pull, loosen and free himself of it.

“Ah can’t believe ya went easy on Rainbow Dash,” Applejack said as Big Macintosh headed for the exit, “if ya ask me she coulda used a slice of humble pie.”

He only stopped long enough to give his sister an idle shrug before taking his exit.

-*-

He tried to ignore her. Dear, sweet Celestia he tried to ignore her. It wouldn’t even be such an annoyance if she were any good at snooping or if he knew why she decided to bother him for the second day in a row. But there was no mistaking her dark pink eyes peeking out from a cloud above. Even as Big Mac looked directly at her and sat directly below her, right in front of the farmhouse.

The two were in another stalemate of silence. He could see the logic behind it, how it might be construed by the pegasus as just another game to be won. He played along if only because he found it the most effective method of keeping her from talking. Not that he really minded someone talking to him, only that he really didn’t define needless boasting as talking. Still, he wondered how long she would keep her silence before her usual defeat.

It took two hours.

“How early are ya waking up tomorrow?” she asked, finally gliding down without so much as a flap of her wings. She landed in front of him with more grace than Big Mac would ever expect from the same pegasus that caused the nasty lump on his head yesterday.

“Evenin’ Miss Dash, it’s a pleasure ta see ya too,” he said, unmoved.

She glared at him, he stared back and just like that the two fought another round of silence. Thankfully, the duel only lasted a few minutes this time.

“Answer the question.” Rainbow Dash said.

He hummed in thought for a moment. “Ah s’pose ‘round four in the mornin’.”

“Make it three.”

“ ‘scuse me, Miss Dash?”

She paused to look around the farm and, once she ensured their privacy, crept up closer to Big Mac. She took one last look around before finally speaking.

“There’s gonna be a huge rainstorm tonight and it’s supposed to end at around three in the morning.”

Big Macintosh looked at her, waiting for her to go on. But all he got in return was a smug smirk. He rolled his eyes and decided to concede this round.

“And?”

Rainbow Dash’s smirk turned into a full-fledged grin as she leaned in closer. Though Big Mac took the opportunity to lean farther away from her.

“Don’t you know what happens after a rainstorm?”

Big Macintosh just stared at her for a moment before faking a yawn. “Ah’m gonna go an’ be bored somewhere else, Miss Dash.” He moved to get up, but Rainbow Dash quickly responded to his reverse psychology.

“A rainbow, alright? And when a rainbow happens at night then it’s called a moonbow. It’s pretty much the same thing only the colors are so faint it looks white.” She laughed proudly, “But that’s only because the fastest pony in Equestria never made one.”

The red stallion kept his bored expression though secretly his interest was genuinely, if minimally, piqued. “Yer point, Miss Dash?”

She rolled her eyes. “Look, you think you’ll never see anything as good as my first Sonic Rainboom, right? Well then how about a,” she paused for dramatic effect, “Sonic Moonboom!” She grinned at him, waiting for the farmpony to react. But he didn’t.

Instead he simply kept his blank stare. “Sounds nice.”

“Nice? It’ll blow your mind. Especially since I figured out a way to use the weather factory’s rainbow pools to make it a hundred times more awesome.”

Big Mac nodded absently, keeping up his bored act if only to annoy Rainbow Dash. “Well, that all sounds mighty fine, Miss Dash.”

“Yeah, yeah. Just make sure you’re up by three in the morning and you’re standin’ by the path to Ponyville, alright?”

He nodded and, with the conversation at a lull, walked away towards the orchard. He looked back to find Rainbow Dash flying away. A small frown formed on his lips, a part of him hoped she would call his bluff and annoy him for a bit longer. But he shrugged the feeling away and got back to his now normal routine of doing absolutely nothing by lying in the shade of a nearby tree.

Rainbow Dash’s weather forecast came true not long after. The sky darkened as a blanket of dark clouds covered the sky. Bit by bit water began to fall, a drizzle at first but soon it turned into a downpour. With a small sigh Big Macintosh got up and walked through the rain back to his home. As he wiped his muddy hooves on the welcome mat he decided to go up to his room and continue reading his almanac. It seemed to be all he was good for nowadays.

-*-

Big Macintosh awoke with a yawn around five minutes to three. He lifted himself up from his bed with a bit of effort, as if his body had become twice as heavy overnight. The throbbing on his head had calmed to a dull pressure and it no longer exploded in pain with his touch.

With another yawn escaping his lips, Big Mac exited his room and headed downstairs. No one in the Apple family woke up this early during the spring, and so the house was filled with the softened whispers of his little sisters’ light breathing. With practiced steps and a vivid memory of every creaky part of the floor, he made his way outside into the cold night. He took an energizing breath of fresh air and walked to the Ponyville path, now muddied by the rain.

He looked down it both ways, but saw nothing. But that changed a couple of minutes later.

It began as just a speck in the horizon but as it got closer and closer at an impossible speed, Big Mac could see it more clearly. The white glowing stream of light illuminated the night as if the sun had risen early. It was a strange amalgamation of light and liquid almost as if fire had turned to water. It raced down towards Big Mac, hovering inches above the path, and he could swear there was some sort of tidal wave of the same substance following close behind like a train on its tracks. It was several hundred feet tall and completely enveloped the land it traveled through within its bright depths.

The streak of liquid light rushed past him and sent a billowing tempest of air his way, causing him to look away to avoid the dust. Even through his closed eyes he could see the ever-increasing brightness and could hear the deafening rumble of rushing water. He cautioned a look upward, only to see the wall of white sea barrel towards him and sweep him away in its pure nothingness before he could even think of running. He tried to swim to its surface but the blinding light disoriented him. His breath ran out quickly and he desperately opened his mouth to breathe in anything at all.

The color came soon after.

It happened all at once. A simple, single, rainbow colored drop danced in front of his eyes for a brief second before expanding at a tremendous speed and giving the white light its every color. Reds and yellows and blues and greens and every color of the rainbow and every color in between and every shade one could ever imagine swirled in front of him. He had to close his eyes, the brilliance threatening to burn his retinas. But closing his eyes did nothing, and colors danced within his eyelids as if they weren’t there at all.

But this bath of hues and shades couldn’t last forever. As the last of his breath left him and as he felt the strange liquid fill his lungs and as his sight turned to black, a single thought ran through his mind.

This was one hell of a way to die.

-*-

Big Mac jarred awake in a cold sweat around five minutes to three from the most vivid and disturbing dream he ever had. He took a few deep breaths to calm his pounding heart, but to no avail. Only the soft breathing of his sleeping sisters finally calmed him down as the comforting thought of knowing they were safe entered his mind. He shook his head to try to get his senses back to normal before finally getting up from his bed.

With practiced steps he quietly exited the farmhouse, but not without a strong sense of déjà vu. For what felt like the second time he waited patiently by the path to Ponyville. All the while he thought back to his dream. It had felt so real, as if he had really died within that rushing rapid of light. He chuckled at his own ridiculousness; it was only a dream after all.

Then why did he see such a familiar sight barreling down on him from the horizon?

Though he didn’t believe in premonitions in the form of dreams coming to a farmpony, obviously he was going to make an exception this time. He didn’t even wait for the streak of light to reach him before sprinting back inside the house, hollering all the way. He yelled out to his family at the top of his lungs as he bolted upstairs.

Stirred from their sleep by the stallion’s yells, the Apple sisters were already out of their rooms with wide-open eyes staring at their older brother. Applejack confronted him before he could say anything.

“What in tarnation are ya hollerin’ about so dang early in the morning?”

“We gotta get outta here. Now.” He didn’t wait for her to respond before he lifted Applebloom on his back and started running for the exit.

“What’s wrong, Big Mac?” the little filly asked as her big brother practically leapt down the stairs with Applejack following close behind.

“No time, sugarcube.” Big Macintosh grunted as he bolted out the door. Applejack took the opportunity to run alongside him.

“What in the heck are we runnin’ from?” the orange pony yelled at him. Not a moment later did the thundering sound of rushing water wash over them. Applejack’s pupils dilated as she saw the torrential wave of light tower above them. She picked up speed and Big Mac followed suit as Applebloom hung on tight to his yoke.

“What is that thing?” Applejack yelled.

Big Macintosh could feel the sprays of liquid hit his back. He sped up his pace as he mentally cursed himself. He thought he had more time but somehow it had come even sooner. He tried to answer his sister, but the deluge proved too quick. The Apple siblings were swept away into and under the white radiance.

He opened his eyes to see his sisters several feet away from him, struggling to reach the surface. Big Mac tried to reach them, tried to reach out and grab hold of them. But as the white turned chromatic and hundreds of colors surrounded them, he saw them each take an airless breath and close their eyes. He followed them soon after.

-*-

Big Macintosh didn’t even wait to calm down. He raced out of bed and hurried to Applebloom’s room. He opened the door to find her safely asleep, though stirring a bit from his careless hoofsteps. He heaved a sigh and closed the bedroom door before making his way to Applejack’s room. She was safe as well, her eyes closed in peaceful sleep instead of…

He cleared the thought from his mind before wondering for a moment whether to wake his sister or not. But he decided against it, not wanting to put her through that again. Though, if he were honest, he didn’t want to put himself through that again. A selfish thought but one truer to his heart.

He crept his way down the stairs and outside for the third time. The cold air greeted him as he sat down just outside the farmhouse and, once his breathing returned to normal and once the adrenaline had worn off, hung his head. He felt a few streams of water run down his cheeks but did nothing to stop them. He stayed there for a moment to let the feeling of loss wash over him.

Big Mac composed himself with a self-deprecating growl and a shake of his head. That was enough of that, his sisters were alright and now was a time of action. His mind raced as he tried to figure out just what was going on. He had thought at first that he had seen a premonition, a vision of the future. But now, for the third time, he found himself waking up in the same morning.

Obviously that streak of light had to do something with the whole affair. But what? And for that matter, what was that thing in the first place? Getting up, Big Macintosh walked to the edge of the mudded path once again.

As if on cue, Big Mac saw the beam of light make its way from the horizon. But something seemed a bit different this time. It was almost as if it was…faster. As the ray of light finally passed him, Big Macintosh could swear he saw the faint silhouette of a pegasus at the forefront.

As the tsunami of white engulfed him yet again, the gears in his mind caught each other and he knew what he had to do.

-*-

Big Mac awoke with a large gulp of air. He thought he would be used to it by now. But drowning really wasn’t something anyone could get used to. He wiped the sweat off his forehead and got up to make his way out of the farmhouse.

Thoughts passed through his mind at a speed rivaling the anomaly of light as he descended the steps. Everything had clicked. Somehow Rainbow Dash was the cause of all this, and now it seemed that the only answer was to stop her. She didn’t look like she was stopping by herself anytime soon, after all.

But if stopping her would only stop time from repeating, what would stop the flood that followed?

He stopped as his hooves felt the grass outside and as the implications of the thought hit him. Without time going back that would mean that there were no second chances, and anyone caught within its depths would…stay there.

Big Mac stood there frozen. Not daring to make another move. He couldn’t stop Rainbow Dash, he just couldn't. Doing so would be sentencing his sisters to—he didn’t even want to think about it.

But was that any better than sleeping through the same few minutes for possibly the rest of eternity?

Big Mac inched a hoof up and brought it down with the same trepidation. Slowly his other legs followed suit and soon he was running towards the path. He wished he had more time, but there was no doubt in his mind that Rainbow Dash was getting faster and faster with each pass. Soon five minutes would be three minutes. Three minutes would turn to one minute. One minute would turn to one second. And it wouldn’t be long before the entire span of time between the streak of light and waking up would turn into some sort of singularity.

He stepped not to the side of the path, but directly on it. He took a few deep breaths to brace himself for what was to come. As he saw the ray of light coming at him at dizzying speeds, he closed his eyes and prayed. He had only one regret.

That his best plan was so damn stupid.

An explosion of pain hit his head and in an instant he felt himself slide backwards on the slick mud. He strained to keep himself upright and to keep the force pushing against him from lifting him up and away. He stuck to his footing, even when the mud gave way to dirt and the dirt gave way to cobblestone. Even when he could feel his hooves being practically ground down to the flesh.

He cautioned a look at the pegasus pushing against him. She was looking at him, and Big Mac could swear he saw a tint of fear mixed in with the dark pink.

“Mac, I can’t stop,” she said. Though he could barely hear her over the sound of air rushing past his ears.

“It’ll be okay, sugarcube,” he lied. He didn’t know what would happen. The two were going so fast that the world passing them seemed to blur and merge into nothing but shades of blacks. It was a wonder they hadn’t run into anything.

“Dash, can ya turn at all?” he asked, an idea forming in his mind.

“I don’t know, but why the heck would I want to? We’re lucky we haven’t crashed.”

Big Mac lifted his front legs slowly, careful to keep his footing, and wrapped them around Rainbow Dash’s neck. He pushed away from her with all his strength and freed his skull from hers before arranging her head to push against the crook of his neck, his chin resting on top of her head.

“Turn.”

“That’s crazy.”

“Scared?”

Rainbow Dash only gave him a low growl. He could see her right wing edge a bit higher. It only raised a hair’s length before Big Mac felt the earth shift from underneath him. He leaned to keep his balance, but the effort proved meaningless as mere seconds later his body crashed against something solid. Very solid.

A roaring crack and boom thundered out from behind him as dust and wooden splinters showered him from above causing his eyes to shut tight. He gritted his teeth against the pain of a broken body as he slid down to the ground. His forelegs fell limply to his sides and away from an unconscious Rainbow Dash. After recovering a bit from the pain, Big Mac opened his eyes just in time to see the rushing tidal wave coming towards them as it followed the still vivid beam of light.

He tried desperately to get up and to take the pegasus and run, no matter how futile. But his body wouldn’t move. If only sheer will could be enough.

So he only sighed and waited and looked at his watery doom with open eyes unblinking.

But it never came. Soon the trail of light faded away like a mirage and with it all the momentum behind the wave. It stopped as if frozen in time before all at once spilling flat onto the ground. He felt the small splash of liquid light wet his hooves as the remnant tide of the tsunami gently flowed towards him.

Big Macintosh just sat there, taking shallow breathes since his chest refused to expand all the way. His pain grew unbearable as the adrenaline wore off and he felt his eyelids go heavy. Soon the pain became so great that it engulfed his eyesight in black.

-*-

When he finally woke up, it was with the great reluctance and stubbornness all too characteristic of the Apple family. Though waking up in a lumpy hospital bed—

Big Mac’s mind screeched to a halt as he recognized the familiarity of everything around him. The hospital bed, the thin white sheets, the pulled back curtain, and the smell of sterilized everything. Bandages covered his chest, head, and barrel as well as all four of his hooves. He touched his front hooves together only to quickly pull them away and hiss in pain.

“Hey you’re awake.”

He turned to look at the bed beside him to find Rainbow Dash grinning at him, her head bandaged much like his own. He shifted his weight and with a grimace sat up.

“You okay?” he asked.

“Me? Jeez you’re some piece of work. Have you seen yourself lately?”

Big Macintosh only grunted neutrally before his eyes caught the view of night outside a nearby window.

“What happened?” he asked.

Rainbow Dash remained silent in thought for a few moments. “Well I was about to ask you the same thing. The last thing I remember was taking off from the weather factory. But for some reason I kept going faster and faster and I couldn’t stop. I ended up going so fast that I couldn’t even see right anymore. It’s weird, though. I would’ve thought I’d be way past Ponyville by the time you stopped me, but we crashed at Sweet Apple Acres so…” she trailed off with a shrug.

“You,” he chose his words carefully, “don’t remember anything else?”

“Nope. Sucks too, I didn’t even get to see my own Sonic Moonboom. How lame is that?”

Big Mac nodded his head weakly. “What happened after we crashed?”

“Don’t really know. All I remember is that I blacked out when we hit and when I woke up you were out cold. So I went to your house, got Applejack and- oh crud, Applejack!” Rainbow Dash exclaimed as she sat straight up. “I was supposed to get a nurse to tell her when you woke up.” She brought her hooves up to her mouth and let loose a shrill whistle. An annoyed nurse with a pink coat and a lavender and striped-white mane entered the room soon after.

“Can you tell my friend her brother’s up?” Rainbow Dash asked. With a roll of her eyes the nurse left. It didn’t take long before the sound of hurrying hoofsteps got louder and louder as it came closer towards them.

An orange blur rushed past the doorway and leapt towards Big Macintosh to embrace and nuzzle him. Pain lashed out at the injured pony but he smiled anyway and managed to return the hug.

“Ah’m glad yer okay, sugarcube,” he said, honestly relieved that she was safe.

Applejack released him and took a step back, a look of pure disbelief on her face. “Yer glad that Ah’m okay? Yer some piece of work, ya know that?”

“That’s what I said.” Rainbow Dash piped up.

“You’re one ta talk, you’re the reason he’s in here in the first place.” Applejack said as she turned to glare at the pegasus.

“Hey why are you getting mad at me?”

“Well Ah’m sorry, Rainbow,” Applejack said, struggling to keep her voice steady, “but Ah gotta be mad at somepony and you ain’t as hurt as Big Macintosh so Ah won’t feel as bad at bein’ angry with ya and…and…” her voice cracked just the slightest bit, just enough reason for Big Mac to bring her in for another hug.

She buried her face in his chest and, despite the shooting pain coursing through his body, Big Mac smiled softly. “C’mon now, sugarcube,” he said, “ain’t nothing for ya to worry about. Ah’m just fine.”

“Ah know,” she said without moving, “but when Rainbow went ta fetch me and Ah saw ya lying on the ground barely breathin’ it reminded me of when that applecart fell on-“

Big Mac gently shushed her to silence. “That’s enough of that.”

Applejack nodded, though she still stayed within her brother’s embrace. After a few seconds she composed herself and took a step back, taking a moment to wipe her eyes with a foreleg.

“Sorry Ah snapped at ya, Rainbow,” she whispered.

“Hey, no problem,” the pegasus responded with a smile.

Applejack nodded her thanks. “Ah'm just glad you two are a'right. But would y'all care ta explain just what in the heck happened?"

Rainbow Dash grinned. "You should've seen it. We-"

"Bumped inta each other." Big Mac interrupted. Rainbow Dash looked at him in disbelief, only to meet with Big Mac's narrowed eyes.

"Yup, we bumped into each other," the pegasus repeated.

"Uh-huh," Applejack said slowly. "Well Ah better get on home, then. Applebloom’s still sleeping at the farm.” She turned to leave, but at the last moment turned her head towards her brother, “You gonna be okay?”

He smiled. “Ah’ll be fine.”

She gave him a final nod before taking her leave, which left Big Mac alone with the pegasus that caused his injuries. The two sat in silence for a while until Rainbow Dash broke it with a simple question.

"Why didn't you want me to tell her?"

He shrugged. "Ah didn't wanna worry her. Matter of fact, Ah'd really appreciate it if we could keep the whole thing between just us."

"What? Why?" Rainbow Dash exclaimed. "I've gone faster than I ever have before. And I'm sure I did a Sonic Moonboom, did you happen to see it?"

“Eeyup.”

“Really? Was it the most awesome thing you’ve ever seen?”

“Nnope.”

Rainbow Dash groaned with a flail of her legs. “Why? For the love of Celestia, why wasn’t it?”

Big Mac couldn’t help but chuckle as he leaned back to lie on the hospital bed. He looked up at the ceiling and idly imagined the starred sky beyond it.

“Ya wanna hear a story, Dash?”

The mare sighed. “Sure, why not.”

He took a deep breath and a few moments to compose his thoughts. “Once, a few years ago, there was a little colt. And, to this colt, nothin’ was more important to him than the happiness and safety of his family.

“But one day one of his sisters decided ta leave and head off ta the big city. He didn’t know why she wanted ta go, but he saw how much it meant ta her and with a couple of watery eyes he saw her go.

“With his sister gone, the colt found himself in a bit of a sad slump. He got lonelier and lonelier each day his sister was gone. There were some days he couldn’t even move at all, his heart was so dang heavy even though it felt real empty.

“But then, one day, he saw something that made him feel a bit lighter and a bit fuller. He saw what looked like a little filly flyin’ through the sky, with a full range of colors behind her. It filled the sky like it filled his heart, and he knew, right then and there, that everythin’ was gonna be okay. He couldn’t explain how he knew, he just knew.

“Not long after that his sister came back. Ya wouldn’t have believed how happy he was to see her. And imagine his surprise when she told him the story of how a rainbow pointed her towards home. He was sure that his sister had seen the same rainbow he had. And so he promised himself that one day he would thank that little filly that flew across the sky that day.”

Big Macintosh turned his head towards Rainbow Dash’s bed only to see the rainbow-maned pegasus looking back at him. “Thank ya, Dash, for bringin’ my sister back.”

She smiled at him for a moment. “What took so long,” she said playfully.

He smiled back. “Once Applejack made friends with ya Ah wanted ta say thanks, but then ya started helpin’ her out more and more. The ‘thank ya’s’ just started pilin’ up. Pretty soon Ah felt that sayin’ thanks just wasn’t enough anymore.”

Rainbow Dash giggled. “Well how about the rest of those ‘thank you’s’? I’d sure like to hear them.”

“Sorry Dash, one ‘thank ya’ per Element of Harmony. Else my voice might start ta get a little hoarse.”

She laughed, though soon had to fight back a yawn. It proved contagious and soon Big Mac yawned as well.

“We should probably get some shuteye,” he said.

“Yeah, you’re right. It’s already about four in the morning. But I hate sleeping in a hospital bed.”

“Ah hear ya.”

The two took to silence once again, trying their best to fall asleep. Big Mac just lied there on the bed feeling wide awake. It didn’t help that he was usually up by this hour. He inhaled deeply a few times to build up a rhythm, but even that didn’t help much.

It wasn’t until after a few minutes of deep breathing that he heard the quiet breaths of a sleeping Rainbow Dash on the bed next to his. He focused on it, letting its serenity reach out to him. It felt good, it reminded him of home. Slowly, his eyes closed of his own volition.

-*-

A few hours later the morning sun shone in through the window to gently coax Big Mac’s eyes open. A soft groan escaped his lips as he shifted awake and raised himself to a sitting position. He looked over to the bed next to him and, much as he expected, found Rainbow Dash still sleeping soundly. He smiled at her bird-like tendency of burying her muzzle under her wing. Pegasi sure were something else. Now if he could only figure out why he always seemed to get into life-threatening situations when around them.

Soon a sandy brown unicorn stallion in a white lab coat entered the room. He gave a nod to Big Macintosh, who returned it, before going to Rainbow Dash’s bedside.

“Miss Rainbow Dash,” the doctor said, trying to wake the sleeping pegasus.

She mumbled something incoherent before rolling over with a wave of her hoof as if swatting an annoying fly.

“Miss Rainbow Dash,” the doctor repeated, “you’ve been discharged from the hospital. You’re free to go.”

That got her up. In an instant she was off the bed and on her hooves. “Finally, I couldn’t stand another night,” she said with a grin.

“Uh-huh,” the doctor mumbled before speaking a bit louder, “now Rainbow Dash, please make sure you keep that head of yours from crashing into anything. And you should stay grounded for a few days, you’ve really overexerted those wings.”

“Yeah, sure, whatever you say,” she said, not really paying attention. Instead, her focus was on her wings as she slowly raised and lowered them. The doctor, meanwhile, could only shake his head.

“C’mon, Mac, let’s go. I bet I could beat you at hoof wrasslin’ fair and square now,” she laughed as she stood next to his bed.

Big Mac smiled. “Ah’d like ta see ya try, Dash.” He moved to get up, but the doctor quickly stopped him.

“Now hold on Mr. Apple. You’re far from being released. You can’t even walk on those hooves.”

“Oh,” Big Mac said as he returned to a sitting position, “so how long do ya think, doc?”

“I’d say no less than three days. Don’t worry, I’m sure they’ll fly by.” The doctor smiled, though it didn’t do much to comfort Big Macintosh. With a final nod, the doctor excused himself from the room.

The red stallion sighed and leaned back on his bed to stare at the ceiling with a half-lidded gaze. Three days. That was three times longer than his last visit to the hospital, and he almost went insane cooped up for that long. How in the heck would he survive three days of nothing but lying on a hospital bed gathering bedsores.

“Say Mac,” Rainbow Dash’s voice shook him from his thoughts. “I don’t have anything to do. Want me to stick around and keep you company?”

He smiled. “That’s sweet of ya, but don’t ya worry about me. Ah’ll be just fine.”

“If you say so,” she said as she stepped towards the doorway. She hesitated and looked back at Big Macintosh, silently asking if he was sure. He nodded and she left soon after.

The next hour or so Big Macintosh spent lying on his bed, his thoughts wondering about as they were opt to do in times of boredom and uselessness. He wondered if he would be well enough to help in the coming applebuck season. He wondered if Applejack and Applebloom were doing alright. He wondered why that same feeling from the night back from Canterlot kept trying to nag its way back into his mind. And he wondered what in the heck Rainbow Dash was doing back in the hospital with a book in her mouth.

The pegasus smiled at him through the book before setting it down at the nightstand by his bed. “Hey,” she greeted him. “I just thought you might want something to read while your stuck in here. Sorry it took so long.”

Big Mac smiled at her, though it quickly vanished as he looked at the book. “That’s mighty kind of ya, Dash. But Ah’m not really one fer readin’ fiction.”

“Oh,” she said simply, her eyes downcast and her ears drooping.

“But uh,” he quickly added, “you must have some stories to tell.”

She perked up instantly. “Hah, you bet. I could definitely tell you some stories.”

It became routine. Everyday Rainbow Dash would come by the hospital whenever she could and entertain him with stories of her amazing feats as well as those of some of her friends. She was one heck of a storyteller too. She would emphasis the most heart-pounding dangers with impassioned swings of her forelegs. The stories came to life with sound effects, different voices, and even the scarce scribble of various locales. What she lacked in artistic skill she more than made up for in her vision.

As good a storyteller as Rainbow Dash was, Big Macintosh made sure to be just as good a listener. His eyes would widen just a bit at the most suspenseful parts. He would close his eyes to properly envision her descriptions, and chuckle at the gentle humor of a situation. Heck, he would even give a tiny gasp at the various twist endings no matter how trite and predictable.

Soon three days flew by. Big Mac’s hooves were no longer in bandages, though the rest on his chest and head remained. It was during one of their story sessions that the doctor interrupted them.

“Mr. Apple, you’ll be glad to know you’re free to go,” the doctor said.

Big Macintosh smiled before practically leaping off his bed. “Thanks, doc,” he said as he walked towards the doorway.

“Now hold on,” the doctor quickly stopped him, “you have to remember to get plenty of bed rest and you should try to keep off your hooves as much as possible. Just because they’re not in pain doesn’t mean they’re fully healed. If you overexert yourself you may unwittingly do some extreme and permanent damage.”

Big Mac looked at him for a moment. “How do ya mean.”

“I mean that if you so much as run you’ll risk breaking your fetlocks and that could take weeks to heal as well as extensive physical therapy. For the next couple of months I want you to just take it easy. Do you understand?”

The farmpony sighed before giving the doctor a slow nod. Satisfied, the doctor left and soon after Big Macintosh and Rainbow Dash exited the hospital.

Big Mac took a moment to take in the fresh, clean air. It was like being born for a second time after being cooped up in that small room. He tested his body to see his limits. His head still had a pretty acute pain to it, though it took the form of a constant throb. His chest, meanwhile, greatly limited his ability to twist his body. All in all, he had about the same range of motion as a cheap two-bit puppet. Well, at least he could be with his family.

“How’re you feeling?” Rainbow Dash asked as she walked alongside him.

“Never better,” he said with a smile, one that she returned.

The two walked the rest of the way in silence, both heading for Sweet Apple Acres. For him it was to get back home, for her it was to see Applejack. That’s what she told him, anyway.

Soon the two arrived on the farm, and Big Macintosh’s eyes were instantly drawn to the old, dead tree at the front of the house. It looked mostly the same, except for the fact that it was now leaning at around a forty-five degree angle. Not to mention the large crack running up its trunk. He let out an impressed whistle.

“What in the heck happened to it?” he asked no one in particular.

“Didn’t you know? That’s where we crashed.” Rainbow Dash answered him.

The two approached the tree and Big Mac got a closer look at it. The crack up its trunk ran deep, at least halfway through the whole thing. A tangled mass of roots was splayed about the ground in the opposite direction of the lean. While on the other side the roots were forced deeper in. He looked at it in silence for a few moments before finally speaking.

“Woody,” he said.

“What?”

“Ah’m gonna call him Woody.”

“That’s a dumb name for a tree. I bet I could think of something better.”

“Ah’d like ta see ya try, Dash.”

The two continued their playful argument even as they entered the farmhouse, the Apple sisters already waiting for them.