• Published 5th Sep 2017
  • 1,247 Views, 21 Comments

Five First Dates - Sixcardroulette

So, Applejack is in a relationship now... with a human. Hilarity ensues. Sort of.

  • ...

A Third First Date, or, The Luck of the Shirish

NEITHER Applejack nor Matt had ever really been big on the slushy romantic stuff. (Although both of them had a real talent for it, according to the friends who'd been around whenever one of them said something particularly cheesy.) Both of them were pretty no-nonsense when it came down to it. Clichés weren't for them... and in any case, based on their experiences, they didn't seem to apply.

They say when you find The One, it should be obvious straight away, and everything should just click.

Click, my ass, thinks Matt.

That theory had already been put to the test pretty strongly during the course of their getting to know one another. There'd been no end of hurdles before Matt or Applejack had finally admitted their feelings, including (in no particular order) a press scandal, run-ins with conceited Wonderbolts, a fake affair for PR purposes, copious amounts of vomit, several injuries, a near-death drowning experience, some farcical scenes of trying to keep things secret, and an abduction by a shapeshifting queen which had introduced the term "sexy kidnapping" to Matt's vocabulary.

Score zero for the "instant click" theory.

The idea that a couple who are truly in sync with one another will start to develop an almost telepathic relationship, each being able to read the other's moods and thoughts unspoken, should probably have gone in that pile too... but, as Matt and Applejack cautiously trotted up the dusty road towards the, ahem, "restaurant", they really were both thinking the exact same thing. As a half-full whiskey bottle sailed through the air and smashed into pieces on the ground in front of them, they looked at each other in alarm, and as their eyes met, they each knew what the other was thinking at that moment, with no need to say it out loud; their frowns and raised eyebrows said it all.

...I am going to kill Big Macintosh.

Matt had been uneasy from the start. Allowing Big Mac to set them up with a low-key, out-of-town date for his first time out in public with Applejack had seemed like a good idea at the time. Or, OK, maybe not "good", but definitely "not terrible". Or was it terrible? AJ had agreed to it quickly enough, he reasoned, so it was her fault too.

Still, as the week went on and Big Mac had refused to give him any more information beyond "Friday at seven", Matt's initial sort-of-confidence in the plan had begun to trickle away.

When Big Mac stopped talking to him altogether, instead responding to any of Matt's questions by getting a weird look on his face - part sinister, part goofy - and giving a secretive chuckle, that trickle of doubt became a stream.

When Friday afternoon came around and Big Mac still hadn't told him anything further, the stream of doubt was a river.

And when AJ had brought him an envelope she'd found somehow pinned inside her hat as she changed after work, and they opened it up to find two train tickets to a town Matt had never heard of, and some scribbled directions to a place called the Golden Shamrock where they apparently had a reservation for two, the river of doubt had burst its banks and become a mighty flood, sweeping away everything in its path.

Now, sitting on the train as it hurtled through what looked like a desert landscape, across the table from his marefriend, Matt could only tread water and wonder what the hell he was letting himself in for.

AJ knew Dodge Junction better than she would have liked. In one of her less proud moments - although, a moment largely caused by pride in the first place, so, go figure - she'd run away here, far from her family and friends, her shame at not being able to bring home any rodeo prize money leading her to try and leave her entire life behind while she tried to piece herself together again. Only an intervention from her friends helped her snap out of it and come back home to Ponyville, stronger and wiser for the experience...

...kind of.

Stronger and wiser, sure, but also rather sheepish: for having fallen apart so easily, for putting her friends through the trouble of tracking her down and bringing her back... for letting her friends see her acting so weak.

If Matt had been there, she thinks to herself, watching his nervous face as he stares out of the train window, I'd have been just fine. He'd have known what to say.

Now, here she was, heading back to a place that still held some uncomfortable memories, alongside the happier ones. Why would Big Mac send them here?

She tries to focus on the happy memories instead. Blue ribbons, big prizes, hoedowns, old friends, new friends, friendly ponies getting drunk, AJ getting drunk... There had been some good times. Though, as far as she can remember, none of them took place in a restaurant. Definitely not this "Golden Shamrock", which she can't actually recall ever having seen.

Come to think of it, Applejack realises, she can't recall ever actually seeing a restaurant in Dodge Junction at all.

Lost in her thoughts, she realises Matt is now looking at her with a quizzical expression.

"Everything OK, AJ?", he asks, concerned.

"Fine an' dandy," she replies. Her incredibly unconvincing delivery is not helped by the shifty expression she suddenly adopts, scrunching up her face, eyes darting from side to side.

For Applejack to lie, she must be pretty worried for him. Matt knows better than to call her out on it. Instead, he tries to lift her spirits a bit. "So... looking forward to our date?", he asks, breezy as he can.

It does the trick. "Sure am," she smiles, and the gleam returns to her beautiful green eyes. Or it could just be the sun getting lower in the sky. Either way, Matt thinks, it's pretty.

"I guess," she says, putting her hoof to her chin in thought, "this is really our first date, in a manner of speakin'. Ah mean... we already don't count the hoedown..." - she looks at him with a huge smile - "or, y'know, what came after..."

Matt grins back at her.

"...and then, in the barn, the picnic, the candles, our first real date... that's always gonna be a special one for me," she says, dreamily. "But nopony knows about that, 'cept for the Princesses. An' just between you an' me, although ah reckon you already know how much ah love mah family, there ain't no way in Tartarus ah'm gonna consider sittin' down to table with Granny and mah brother as a proper date. So... ah guess, in a way..."

Matt laughs. "How many 'first dates' do you think we can get through before we finally close that book?", he asks, not really looking for an answer. Applejack, giggling, fixes him with a sultry look.

"As many as we can handle," she smirks, raising an eyebrow.

The reason Applejack couldn't remember ever seeing a restaurant in Dodge Junction was simple enough. There weren't any.

Big Mac had promised to set things up for her and Matt, and the reasoning had been sound enough. In the wake of Princess Celestia's grand proclamation, every pony in Equestria had to have figured out that Matt was in a relationship with a pony; even though the new law was worded as though it applied to any and every human in Equestria, since there was actually only one of those, it had to be him, and it had to mean he'd at least spoken to Celestia about dating a pony. There was just one question on everypony's lips: so, who is it?

Since that kind of pressure isn't exactly romantic, Big Mac had come up with a plan. Have a date away from Ponyville, in public and yet out of the public eye, someplace where nopony knows your name, or cares if your date is a human... have a grand old time, and then let the news filter back until everypony can deal with it.

Sound enough, except Applejack wasn't just any pony.

Six heroes who'd saved Equestria multiple times, reunited Princess Celestia with her long-lost sister, defeated Discord and Queen Chrysalis, restored the Crystal Empire, but still lived (relatively) normal lives in Ponyville. None of them courted fame or fortune, and the Princess herself had done a lot - at their request - to damp down their celebrity status a little, but even so, word gets around, and ponies read the papers. Just ask Lyra.

Still, this looks like the kind of place where ponies keep themselves to themselves. Turns out, the Golden Shamrock isn't a restaurant at all. It's a bar.

"Shirish?" says Matt, brow furrowed in confusion. "You mean Irish?"

"Huh?" says Applejack, confused in turn. "Ah don't know what that is. You never heard of Shireland? Where shire horses come from?"

Matt is starting to understand. Manehattan, Fillydelphia, Las Pegasus, Prance... Shireland. The shamrock thing suddenly makes more sense.

"We Apples got a little Shirish blood in us, goin' way back somewhere in the bloodline," AJ continues. "You can tell with Big Mac. What with his build, and his name, and the fact he don't talk too much, he gets taken for Shirish quite a bit. So ah guess it kinda figures he'd be comfortable in a Shirish bar. Ah'm guessin' he thought we'd feel the same way. The big galoot. He still has a fair bit to learn about romance, ah guess."

Matt says nothing. He assumes that, with him and AJ out of town, and Twilight alone in the library, Big Mac is likely right now spending some quality time with the marefriend Applejack doesn't know he has. But that's a problem for another day. Right now, he's walking up a dusty street that looks for all the world like a Hollywood backlot dressed as a Wild West set. It should be a quiet evening, but it's not. He can make out some of the sounds from among the din; raised voices, laughter, glasses clinking, glasses breaking, loud thuds as though someone has dropped a huge sack of potatoes on the floor... and what sounds like a game of pool.

And they're heading towards a bar at the end of the street, and the noise is getting louder, and that faint hope Matt nurtured - that maybe all that noise wasn't coming from the same place they were heading - finally gives up and goes home. He'd be tempted to join it, except for the lovely earth pony by his side. They agreed they wouldn't dress up for this, having been assured by Big Mac it wouldn't be a problem - no shit, he thinks - but she's pulled out her ponytail and brushed out her hair, and now her mane and tail both hang loose, and it's adorable.

Applejack hides her trepidation well, much better than on the train, even though she knows the telltale sound of a pony falling from a bar chair (or being pushed), and it seems to be happening a lot up ahead. But, screw it, she's with Matt now. And he looks great. She'd done her best to urge him not to dress up too much, and he's pretty much just wearing his normal work clothes, but Rarity had done a great job on them, tailoring his shirt and pants to fit his changing body. And show it off, she thinks with a quiet inward smirk. Too late, Rare, he's taken. He's polished his boots. And he's wearing his hat. Applejack always liked it when he wore his hat.

Both of them steal glances at each other. Both of them are thinking the same thing: Maybe this won't be so bad after all.

At which point, that whiskey bottle came flying out from behind the saloon door, smashing on the ground right in front of them.

Applejack and Matt have only a moment to look at each other and silently curse Big Mac's name before the doors swing open again, and an enormous unicorn pony comes flying out, landing in a heap on the path next to the shards from the broken bottle.

"I don't suppose unicorns can levitate themselves like that...?", Matt asks, already knowing the answer.

"Some of 'em can, ah think," answers Applejack. "But this guy just got himself tossed out by security, ah reckon." She canters over to inspect the massive gray unicorn. he's snoring, out cold on the dirt. Luckily, he didn't cut himself on the broken glass.

"Looks like one of the Royal Guard. Must be on furlough," says Applejack. "A lot o' the Royal Guard are from shire horse stock, if you go back far enough," she explains, to nopony in particular. Matt just shrugs. This guy looks about the same size as Big Mac.

Somewhere in the little frontier town, a clock strikes seven. Applejack looks at Matt with a half-smile and a resigned shrug. "Guess we should go find our table," she says, sounding none too sure of herself.

Matt takes her hoof in his hand, and together they push the saloon doors open and step inside the bar.

Despite being a movie fan, Matt hadn't watched too many old Westerns. Still, the scene playing out in front of his eyes was very familiar, and he'd seen Star Wars enough times to recognise what kind of scene he was in. As soon as he and AJ strode through the doors, all the cacophonous sounds of the saloon had stopped, and thirty pairs of eyes turned their way to see if there was going to be some trouble. Almost a cliché... except it was happening in real life, in real time, right now.

One of the pairs of eyes belong to an older earth pony, with a dark coat and silvery mustache; he squints, and then smiles, and trots over to the new arrivals.

"Burnt Oak?" says Applejack, with a quizzical look on her face. The pony tips his hat with a grin, and just like that, the noise of the bar starts up again, as if someone pressed some magical "Play" button somewhere; as Applejack and Burnt Oak share some words he can't quite make out, all across the bar conversations strike up again mid-sentence, glasses clink, somepony belches, a log crackles in the fireplace... and... music?

At the back of the bar, as Matt's eyes adjust to the light, he sees there's a battered old upright piano. Then, he sees the pianist, a unicorn with a dark blue coat and visible stubble, using his magic to turn the pages and chain-smoke cigarettes without missing a note. It's impressive to see; while most of the bar patrons, including Applejack, probably find this about as mundane as he'd feel watching someone use a vending machine back home, Matt is transfixed, as the dark blue unicorn lights his horn, levitates a lighter and a cigarette, floats the spent butt from his mouth and replaces it with the new one, all while intently reading the music from the grimy, nicotine-stained songbook propped in front of him, flipping the pages and flicking cigarette butts away, all in one continuous movement.

"Ah, play somethin' more lively, Max, would ya?" comes a voice with a strong Irish accent, strong enough to take Matt by surprise; the unicorn acknowledges the request by just barely tilting his head, and all of a sudden the music changes, and Matt realises he's staring, probably not a great career move as an obvious stranger in a strange town, in a bar full of strange ponies.

"Matt," says Applejack, tugging his shirt sleeve to get his attention. "I'd like for you to meet Burnt Oak. He's from back home in Ponyville, but ah don't recall the two of you havin' met 'afore now."

"From Ponyville?", repeats Matt, as AJ gives him a look, and his brain slowly fires up again. If they didn't know the news was going to travel before, they did now. "From Ponyville, right. A pleasure to meet you, Burnt Oak. I'm Matthew Williams."

"I know who you are," smiles Burnt Oak. "I was just on my way out, but seeing a familiar face... I've known Applejack by sight for a while. She never needs to buy anything, though!"

"Burnt Oak sells firewood in the market," Applejack explains. "But seein' as how we have the orchard..."

"As for you, Matthew Williams, I've seen you around town..." - he pauses for a moment - "...and, uh, in the newspaper..."

Matt is suddenly blushing furiously. "That story, with the picture? It wasn't what it looked like, or what the paper said it was, or, uh, anything, really. It was nothing. Literally nothing."

Hearing himself say it out loud doesn't help Matt's denial feel any more convincing, even if it's absolutely true. Burnt Oak raises an eyebrow, and looks as though he's about to say something, but thinks better of it.

"Well," says Burnt Oak, composure restored, "I best be on my way. Applejack, you give my regards to Granny Smith, you hear?"

Before AJ can answer, they're interrupted by the Irish voice Matt heard earlier, the music critic.

"Well, now," says the voice, and Matt sees its speaker for the first time. Another gigantic earth pony, the same build as Big Macintosh but somehow even bigger, with an off-white coat, his cutie mark covered over with a greasy-looking travel cloak or something. "What do we have here, then?"

"No trouble, Sgian Dubh," says Burnt Oak, tipping his hat. "These two are guests. They're here for some food." He turns to Applejack. "This is Sgian Dubh", he says. "He owns the place."

Matt hesitates for a second, but Applejack steps forward, bright and bold. "Well, howdy, Mr Dubh. A pleasure to make yer acquaintance," she says, doffing her hat.

"Mh," grunts Sgian Dubh, a deep frown on his face. He barely looks at her. He's still inspecting Matt.

"We, uh, have a reservation for seven o'clock?", continues Applejack, trying to break the ice. "Ah'm Applejack, and this here is Matthew Williams..."

"Uh-huh", comes the grunt in reply. This time, Sgian Dubh hasn't even bothered to pretend he's looking at Applejack; instead, he's taking in every detail of the weird creature standing in his bar.

"...but you can call him Matt, on account of that's what everypony does. Matt... is... my coltfriend," she finishes, pushing the last words out as if against some kind of invisible resistance.

They have an effect, if not necessarily the desired one. Sgian Dubh looks at her, then back at Matt, then her, then Matt again. Then, he turns round and gestures to a table in the far corner, next to what Matt thinks definitely must be a pool table.

As he turns, his cloak moves in the light, and Matt realises it's some sort of tartan cape - maybe the pony equivalent of a kilt? He looks away quickly; the last thing he needs is to spend all night explaining to some crazy giant pony why he was staring at his rump.

Sgian Dubh leads the couple over to the table. He slams down an ashtray, and walks off again without a single look back, muttering something under his breath. Matt can'tcatch any of the words, but he doubts they're anything complimentary. As Applejack seats herself on one of the chairs by the table, Matt tries to sit down on the other, but the sizing is slightly awkward and he finds himself sitting slightly too low, his knees facing upwards with his boots on the floor. He smiles at Applejack with a shrug, and she smiles back, noting his predicament. A glint of amusement passes across her eyes, and then her lips, and she gives a little chuckle, and Matt can't help but join in... he knows she's not laughing at him, but rather at the absurdity of this whole situation, and he definitely agrees.

"This is crazy," she whispers to him with a smile. "Are you doin' OK?"

"I'm fine," says Matt, and he's surprised to realise it's true.

A menu skitters across the table. Matt looks up to see it was thrown there by Sgian Dubh, who is openly scowling now. "Food's on there," he grunts.

"Thank you," says Matt, automatically. A couple of the drinkers at the bar look around to see who spoke. Sgian Dubh doesn't move; he stares at Matt for a good five seconds, looks him up and down again, and then turns and walks behind the bar without a single word.

"Friendly guy, isn't he?" says Matt, under his breath. "Never mind me, are you alright?"

"Ah'm fine," smiles Applejack. "Fair warnin', ah'm about to say somethin' cheesy."

"Shoot," grins Matt.

"As long as we're together, ah ain't bothered none by what anypony else thinks. And, hey, look at this menu - some of these don't sound half bad at all. In point of fact, ah think ah know what ah'm gonna choose."

"Let me see if I can guess," grins Matt. He leans forward to take the menu, but bangs his knee on the underside of the table. "How come the furniture is smaller here?", he asks. "I haven't had much problem back at Sweet Apple Acres."

"Look around you, you big goof," she says, rolling her eyes. "Most everypony in here is from shire stock. Sgian Dubh knows his customers, ah'm guessin'. If'n the chairs were a good size for regular ponies, these guys would be towerin' over the tables."

"I have so much still to learn about ponies," says Matt, with an amused shrug. The amusement vanishes from his face a second later, as he feels a hoof clamped on his shoulder.

"That ye do," came another Irish-sounding voice. "And I'd tell ye, the first thing ye need to be learnin', when ye walk into a Shirish bar with a pony on yer arm, ye'd be well advised to just sit yourself down and listen, before ye get too loud. If ye catch my meanin'," the stranger says.

Matt looks up to see where this voice is coming from. Yet another enormous earth pony, this one with an emerald green coat and vivid red mane. "Name's Shillelagh," he says. "Noticed the two of ye straight away. A word of advice: not every pony in here knows who ye are. Either of ye's," he clarifies.

"Well, howdy-do, Mr Shillelagh," says AJ, in the exact same tone she'd used with Sgian Dubh a couple of minutes ago. "It's a pleasure to make..."

"...My acquaintance, yeah, I heard it the first time, miss. I'm trying to help the two of ye's here. Like I was sayin'... not every pony here knows who ye are. And some o' the ones that do, may not be wholly approvin' of what they see. D'you follow me, friends?"

Matt eases up at that last word; up until now, he'd been having some trouble reading the situation, but Applejack had apparently remained calm the whole time, and on hearing Shillelagh call them "friends", he reasons they aren't in immediate trouble. He smiles, and Applejack shoots him a quick smile back.

Something is off, though. Matt is becoming a connoisseur of Applejack's facial expressions, and right now, the smile on her lips doesn't match the look in her eyes. It's only the merest hint of a clue, something nobody - or nopony - who didn't know Applejack intimately would pick up on, and certainly AJ hasn't given him any kind of overt signal at all. Could this just be Matt's overactive mind, seeing threats where there were none...?

He thinks to himself for a moment, and looks at his marefriend some more. No. This is definitely... Something is wrong. She's telling him to be alert.

Some fucking date this is, Big Macintosh.

"So, Mr Shillelagh," continues Applejack, sounding almost Pinkie-esque in her cheerful demeanor. "Ah do appreciate you givin' us this friendly heads-up. Were you lookin' to, uh..." - she drops her voice and continues in a much lower whisper - "...were you lookin' to warn us about somethin' in particular?"

Shillelagh smiles, and Matt notices one of his teeth is broken and hasn't been capped. It's the first time he's seen such a thing in Equestria; Twilight informed him not long after he arrived that Equestrian dentistry was both excellent and largely reliant on magic. There's no reason for Shillelagh's tooth to be left like that, unless it's to appear intimidating, and oh fucking hell.

"Ye're quite the sharp one, miss," says Shillelagh, in a quiet drawl. "The last thing I want to see is some kind of violence, all because some ponies just can't deal with the way things are. I shouldn't be sayin' this to ye, but I can tell ye must be a trustworthy sort, and I'd hate to see any... harm come to the two of ye."

"So, uh... what do you know?", whispers AJ. She's still smiling. Something is definitely up.

Shillelagh looks from side to side, making sure nopony is watching. It looks like they're all too busy drinking. Matt is on full alert now; he's seen enough gangster movies to know when trouble is brewing. The big green pony leans in confidentially.

"Some ponies - ponies who frequent this very bar - are of the mind that a creature such as yourself..." - he looks straight at Matt - "...no offence meant, Mister Williams."

"None taken," says Matt, smiling. He's not sure he's as convincing as Applejack.

"These ponies are of a mind that a creature such as Mister Williams here should not be indulgin' in whatever sort of behaviours with a pony. None of my business, as far as I'm concerned, I'm just lettin' ye know where the land lies. These same ponies... I have to tell ye this, don't be offended... have a pretty low opinion of anypony who might, um, how do ye say... reciprocate the advances of such a creature. They feel... well, ye don't need me to say..."

"Go on," says Applejack, quietly.

"...They feel that, regardless of what... you-know-who said in her proclamation, it's not proper and fitting for anypony to be encouragin' some creature to..." - he looks away for a moment - "...to breed wit' ye." He looks up at Applejack again. "No offence meant at all here, ma'am, but they have some very strong opinions about the moral character of a pony such as yourself who might walk into a bar hangin' off the arm o' one of them creatures."

Matt is already feeling his blood rise, hearing Applejack being trash-talked by some asshole pony nationalists, even hearing about it second-hand. Applejack, though, has remained placid; she only visibly tightens up when Sgian Dubh stomps back over to the table. Seeing Shillelagh with them, his frown deepens.

"What are you talkin' about with our... guests" - he practically spits the word - "here, then, Shillelagh?" he growls.

"Oh, ye know, the usual... the weather, the greyhounds, that sort o' stuff. Things bein' different here than in Ponyville, an' all o'that." Shillelagh gives Matt and Applejack a look, warning them to play along.

"Well," says Sgian Dubh after a long pause, his voice so low and oily now that it almost sounds more like a gurgle than actual words, "you take care now."

Shillelagh waits until Sgian Dubh has stomped back behind the bar. "Ye ain't safe here, so ye aren't," he whispers. "I don't know fer sure, but just to be safe, I'd get meself out of here if I were ye. I don't know just how many of 'em there are who agree with... that." He nods, meaningfully.

Applejack leans closer to him. "Ya think we oughta... leave? Like, just make our excuses and say our goodbyes, and get on out of Dodge?"

Shillelagh nods earnestly. "Like I said, I'd hate fer ye's to have any trouble, just on account of how some ponies can't get with the program, sure they can't," he says, shaking his head sadly. "Look, I think some o' the ponies I've made mention of are watchin'. I know Sgian is for sure. I'm goin' back to the bar, so I am. Give it two minutes, an' then make yerselves scarce."

"Are you gonna get yerself in trouble, just for talkin' to us?", says Applejack, her voice tinged with concern for the first time.

"Don't you worry about me, miss, I can take care of myself, sure I can," says Shillelagh. "I wouldn't be much of a pony if I didn't stand up for what I believe to be the right thing. Just be sure and not get drawn in yerselves," he adds, before standing up to his full height. He really is huge, thinks Matt.

"The very best o' luck to ye both," Shillelagh says loudly, drawing the attention of several drinkers, before heading back over to the bar. Sgian Dubh looks up, and scowls at him.

"He knows Shillelagh warned us," whispers Matt.

Applejack looks back at Matt, still smiling that weird fake smile, and then half-whispers under her breath. "Somethin' ain't right about that Shillelagh fella. He wants us to leave... but ah'm not convinced it's because he's concerned."

"What do you mean?"

Applejack narrows her eyes for a second, before her expression goes back to the fake smile again. "Let's just sit here, and order some food, an' act normal," she whispers. "Ah think we're bein' watched..."

"I don't know how many of these guys are in on this, but I think you're right," says Matt, scanning the various ponies at the bar, glad for once that he doesn't have AJ's big, expressive eyes, hoping the ponies will find him harder to read. "I don't want to just bail, but there's no point us getting cornered for no good reason." He looks into Applejack's eyes. "I'm just sorry our date's getting cut short."

Yet another huge pony pushes past their table, deliberately bumping Applejack and Matt as he passes. "I'm not sorry," he mutters, just loud enough for them to hear. "You shouldn't be here."

Matt is ready to stand up and yell at this pony, but AJ puts her hoof on his hand, stopping him.

There's a long pause, and then Applejack does the last thing Matt ever expected.

She jumps up on the table, a huge smile on her face, and shouts at the top of her voice.

"Howdy, everypony! Ah'm pretty sure most of y'all know who ah am already, but for those who might not, well, time to put that right," she calls out. "My name's Applejack. Ah'm an apple farmer and rodeo pro, and ah also happen to represent the Element of Honesty." The pianist stops playing. The pool players stop playing. The drinkers at the bar stop drinking. Well, most of them. And Sgian Dubh's eyes widen in surprise.

Applejack is still grinning. "Ah understand there's some ponies in here who don't approve of mah choice of companion today. That's a shame, on account of ah happen to be awful fond of him. Again, ah'm sure y'all don't need introductions, but just in case anypony's been livin' under a rock these past few months, the, uh, 'creature' sittin' opposite me here is mah coltfriend, Matthew Williams. He's from another world, and we're in love."

Matt's eyes are just about bulging out of his head by now, only matched by the incredulous expression on Sgian Dubh's face. He looks like he's about to explode in rage. Literally explode.

"So, ah apologise for interruptin' your evenin', but ah just wanted to say," continues AJ, still standing on the table; "if'n anypony does want to come over and meet us, an' if'n you're wantin' to exchange views on mah personal life, the two of us are more'n happy to... how do I say this... hear you out. Well, that's about it," she concludes. "Enjoy the rest of your night, everypony!"

Applejack sits back down and grins at Matt, who is still speechless, and almost catatonic. She raises an eyebrow, and whispers under her breath. "Still with me there, partner?"

Matt snaps himself out of it. "I'm with you. But what..."

AJ holds up a hoof, and stops him talking. She's still smiling as she pretends to read the menu again. "Five o'clock behind you. Don't turn around."

Matt looks up in confusion. Sgian Dubh, looking furious, his red face visible through his coat, has gathered two equally enormous ponies around him, muttering to them and repeatedly looking up towards Applejack and Matt's table. No doubt he's getting ready to do something stupid. But he'll be approaching in front of Matt, not behind. Does AJ mean her five o'clock? No, she definitely said behind him, right?

What the fuck is hap...

"Be ready", spits AJ under her breath, without looking up. "Five, four, three..."

And then the world slips into slow motion for a moment.

Matt sees Sgian Dubh and his two goons stomping towards their table.

Matt sees Applejack climb off her chair and rear up on her hind legs.

Matt sees Applejack make eye contact with him, and mouth silently: "Now".

Matt jumps to his left, just in time to avoid the pool cue that comes crashing down on his chair a moment later.

Matt grabs the broken shaft of the pool cue, and turns to face his assailant. The pony behind him is tugging at the broken cue, surprised by the tight grip Matt's hands have managed.

Matt sees who tried to hit him.

It's Shillelagh.

Matt gasps. "You fucker", he spits.

Matt's surprise has given Shillelagh the advantage, as the green pony wrests the pool cue back from him.

Matt sees Shillelagh lunge at him, and this time he can't quite get out of the way. The sharp end of the broken cue drags across his chest, ripping a gash in his shirt and scratching his skin.

Pain, followed by another surge of anger.

From the corner of his eye, Matt sees two more ponies converging on Applejack. They've both grabbed pool cues too.

He sees Applejack throw something up in the air with her forehooves.

He sees Applejack flip forward onto her forehooves.

He sees Applejack kick her back legs out.

(She looks incredible, he thinks to himself. What the fuck, brain, I'm in the middle of a fight here. Stop that.)

He hears a crack.

He sees one of the ponies who'd been cornering Applejack crash to the floor, clutching his face, clawing bits of crockery and lumps of mustard out of his mane.

My marefriend is so fucking awesome.

He sees Shillelagh, holding the broken cue, coming in again to attack him, and he rolls to the ground.

He sees the other pony who'd been cornering Applejack crash to the ground under the table, apparently unconscious, his skull hitting the floor with a sickening crunch. He can just about see AJ's four orange hooves all safely planted on the ground.

He looks up, and sees Shillelagh rearing back, cue in hoof. That asshole is going to try and stab him with the broken cue, isn't he? Think again.

Matt reaches out and grabs the nearest thing to him, which turns out to be a chair leg, and rolls out of the way again.

Matt pulls on the chair leg to haul himself to his feet.

Matt looks at the chair for a moment.

Matt smiles.

Matt lifts the chair up by its leg and swings it around his head.

Everypony in the bar stares at Matt. Even Applejack has stopped to look at what he's doing.

How can these guys hold pool cues, and yet they've never seen anyone pick up a chair before?

No time for that now. The fight is going on around him again, and Shillelagh has snapped out of it and is preparing to lunge yet again with what's left of the pool cue.

Matt swings the chair around again, and brings it crashing with full force into the side of Shillelagh's head. There's another sickening crunch, and the green pony collapses to the floor without a word.

Applejack is staring up at Matt in surprise and admiration.

The pony who bumped their table is approaching her. Has she seen him?

Matt hears the whooshing of air, and the sounds of the fight, and time returns to normal.

Matt clambers over the table and joins Applejack, who gives him a nod. He points her towards the big pony approaching them, and together they back away, flank to flank, across the floor, now sticky with spilled beer.

They look around to see if there are any further threats. Ponies are hitting each other all over the bar, but it doesn't look like there's any order to it; nopony is looking at Matt or Applejack now, and even the ones who were paying attention when Matt first raised the chair have gone back to pummelling one another, apparently just for the sake of a good fight. No sign of Sgian Dubh or his goons; maybe AJ took them out while Matt was fighting Shillelagh.

The only pony left who seems to bear Applejack and Matt any malice is the guy who bumped their table. He's holding another pool cue. The rack must be empty by now.

No worries, thinks Matt. Nopony seems to be sure what to do when faced with a six-foot biped armed with a chair. They don't seem to be sure which part to avoid, as Matt alternates between holding the back and jabbing the legs towards his attacker, lion-tamer style, and holding the legs and smashing the rest over his attacker's head. An earth pony couldn't do this, no matter how dextrous they were, no matter how their hooves manage to hold things; their hooves would simply be too big to be able to whirl the chair around like this. It gives him a definite advantage in a one-on-one fight. He'll have to remember this.

But then Matt notices something he'd missed before. The pony attacking them, trying to back them into the corner of the room, is a unicorn.

Matt notices this, because the unicorn's horn glows. Seconds later, several beer glasses are flying towards the couple. Matt instinctively crouches down and lifts the chair as a makeshift shelter, pulling Applejack under as the glasses smash on the chair and the walls behind them. Applejack grabs Matt by the sleeve with her mouth, and drags him behind an upturned table. Their attacker tries to advance on them, but is momentarily held up by two more huge earth ponies whaling on each other right in front of him.

"Ah do believe ah will be having words with Big Mac when we get outta here," says Applejack.

"Meh, it's not so bad," grins Matt. "I didn't get a chance to look at the menu. What were you thinking of having?"

AJ rolls her eyes. "Ah was thinkin' the tomato salad, but ah ain't so sure now. Depends if ah hafta spend the evening pickin' bits of glass out of it, ah guess."

They burst out laughing.

"Suppose we should deal with Chuckles up there," says Matt.

"You got a plan?" asks AJ.

"Not really," says Matt. "You?"

"Ah ain't sure if you've noticed, but ah have this tendency to kinda rush into danger without thinkin' on it too much," she smiles.

"Nopony's perfect," grins Matt. "Shall we, then?"


Together, they stand up from behind their table, just in time to see the unicorn finally shove the grappling ponies out of his way. His horn lights up; Matt grabs his chair, ready to try and bat away whatever it is that's about to be launched at them.

Nothing is launched. The unicorn's horn fizzles out, and he collapses to the ground. Behind him, Sgian Dubh is grinning like a maniac, holding a broken bar stool above his head.

"Sure I don't know why I never thought of this before," he smiles, before turning to ring the last orders bell. As if he'd just blown some kind of drunk bar fighter dog-whistle, everypony in the bar stops what they're doing and turns to look at him.

"Alright, lads, fun's over. Anypony still got scores to settle, do me a favour and take it on outside, would you? Now, I'll be needin' the help of a few lads to get rid of these arseholes who tried to spoil Applejack's big date. Any volunteers?"

Matt watches in astonishment, as almost everypony in the bar raises a hoof to volunteer. Applejack gives his arm a squeeze as Sgian Dubh trots over.

"That Shillelagh always was a feckin' arsehole. Oops, please forgive my language, Applejack." (She smiles. He looks relieved.) "I just knew he was lookin' to cause trouble tonight, so I did. Never thought he'd be thick enough to try it on with a bar full of Royal Guards, mind."

"Ah don't rightly believe he meant to, Mister," says Applejack, as she picks up Matt's fallen hat and hands it back to him. "He wanted us to leave quietly. Ah just didn't trust him. Especially when he mentioned Ponyville, after neither me nor Matt had said that was where we were from."

Matt is still kind of stunned by everything that has happened. A large part of him is expecting to wake up on the train and discover he'd dozed off for a few minutes. A smaller part of him is expecting to wake up in New York City, having apparently been dreaming about colorful ponies who somehow get him into bar fights.

"So," says Applejack, easing out a crick in her neck. "Nice place you got here, huh?"

"They ain't so bad really," smiles Sgian. "Half o' the ponies here had some things they were wantin' to, uh, discuss with each other. Ye saw the results..."

He straightens himself up, and then bows to both Applejack and Matt. "On behalf of the Golden Shamrock, I would like to formally apologise for the ruckus tonight. I knew something was brewing, but I didn't think it'd kick off quite like that, or I'd have tossed Shillelagh and his eejits out on the street."

"It ain't no trouble," says Applejack, nonchalantly. "No harm, no foul."

Matt stares at her. No trouble? Their date just turned into a mass bar brawl. But sure enough, she doesn't seem fazed by it in the slightest.

"I'm glad to hear it, so I am," says Sgian Dubh, looking relieved. "I'll have the lads clean this mess up, and then, well, if you're still hungry, it's on the house."

"Aw, ain't no need for that," smiles Applejack. "But ah do appreciate the offer."

"It'd be my honour, miss," says Sgian Dubh with a smile. "Any friend of Big Macintosh is a friend of mine. As for family? You might not know this, but Big Mac is a hero round here, after he pitched in to help save our cat - after that, he's an honorary shire horse."

As if to prove his point, a picture frame floats up behind him, attaching itself neatly to the wall behind the bar. It's a photo of Big Mac and Sgian Dubh, hooves around each other's shoulders, and a cat perched next to them.

Matt's brain is still shutting down for essential maintenance. He looks around as broken furniture starts to reassemble itself, and sees another huge unicorn - another Royal Guard, he guesses, looking at the uniform - repairing the mess.

"I think," says Sgian Dubh, "that might be the last group of eejits you find yourselves runnin' into. I know the big lad there, and I know Shillelagh, but those others..." - he gestures at one of the prostrate ponies on the ground, being dragged roughly into the street by an angry-looking shire horse while bits of porcelain float out of his mane and reattach themselves into an unbroken mustard pot - "...I think they came from out of town. The only few ponies left in Equestria dumb enough to go against a direct order from the Princess just to cause you two some grief."

He looks down at another of the ponies, the one Applejack had bucked in the face. He's regained consciousness, though not his teeth, as he groggily looks up at Sgian, looking like he's not sure what day it is. Sgian gives him a contemptuous scowl.

"...And to judge by the way they fought, I don't think we're exactly dealin' with Equestria's best and brightest."

He spits on the ground.

"Feckin' eejits."

Matt finally finds his voice. "So... let me get this straight. Those guys didn't want me and Applejack dating... while you, and all of these guys -"

Every pony in the bar lets out a loud, gruff cheer. Most of them are massively drunk. It doesn't even seem to matter that they were all beating the crap out of each other not ten minutes ago.

"...you guys don't have a problem with it?"

"More than that, even," says Sgian Dubh, with a smile. "Far as we're concerned, if you work hard, if you respect ponies and our ways, you're one of us."

Another huge roar of approval.

"And it goes further still. We respect hard work, and that includes those who work hard for the ones they love. Everypony deserves happiness. Some of these lads here fought the same fight we just had, twenty years ago, for me and my husband. We didn't let some arsehole tell us who we can and can't see back then. We're not gonna let 'em tell us now."

Another deafening roar. Their throats must be getting sore by now.

"You're Big Mac's kin," comes a shout from the back of the crowd. "We wouldn't let you down."

"...And we've all heard tell of you savin' the world," pipes up one of the patrons.

"...And can I just say, bollocks to all of them who's got a problem with you two, 'cos the way you fought, you're both fine in my book," says somepony else.

"YEAHHH!!!!" comes a familiar shout from somewhere at the back of the crowd.

Matt smiles. This evening has taken another unexpected turn. He feels AJ squeeze his arm again. "Do you know," says Matt, "I am feeling really hungry all of a sudden."

With a start, he realises the bar has been completely repaired while they were speaking, right down to their table with the menu on it.

"But please don't be picking the chairs up again," says Sgian Dubh with a smile, as Matt and Applejack sit back down.

"Ah hafta ask, though," says AJ, as Matt scans the menu. "How come you were so cold and unfriendly-like when we first came in here? Ah would probably have figured it all out sooner if ah hadn't first suspected you to be one of... them."

"Oh, right," says Sgian Dubh, with another smirk. "Now, I find... If you're gonna have an eejit like Shillelagh in your bar, it never hurts to have them be a little bit scared of you. I'm sorry you didn't exactly get the best hospitality the Golden Shamrock has to offer. But now that they're gone... what do you say, lads? Shall we give Applejack and Matt a proper Shamrock welcome?"

As the loudest roar yet echoes out along the street, and into the barbershop, Burnt Oak looks up from his newspaper. The bigots are done for, the kid can handle himself, and AJ is in safe hands... or, rather, the kid is in safe hooves, he thinks. Granny Smith needn't have worried, but she'll appreciate the letter all the same.

The actual date itself had passed in a kind of blur, at least for Matt. AJ was chatting with Sgian Dubh as though she'd accidentally knocked over somepony's drink, rather than taking part in a saloon-trashing brawl... not that you'd know it, since the place looked exactly the same as it had when they arrived, minus Shillelagh and the other morons, who'd been carted off to jail. Amazingly, not a single pony in the bar seemed to have seen either Matt or Applejack doing any of the fighting. The sheriff didn't seem surprised by this optical miracle.

After checking Applejack wasn't hurt - and making sure he hadn't managed to get himself injured again - the food arrived, followed by some cider, followed by some dandelion wine, followed by some beer. Quite a lot of beer.

Matt was no abstainer back on Earth, and he knew there was alcohol in Equestria, but he'd long since made a conscious decision not to start drinking the alcoholic stuff here until he knew what effect it was going to have - and that he wasn't going to make a drunken fool of himself in front of Applejack.

...Who has made no such decision, and - to judge by the number of empty beer glasses and cider mugs racking up around their table - really should be drunk by now. Instead, she's still laughing along with Sgian and his husband, and she's drunk some of the bigger ponies under the table. Every time she finishes a drink, the impressed crowd gives another cheer, and more jokes and laughs and ciders flow back and forth.

She pauses mid-laugh to glance up at Matt, with a smile. He smiles back.

Quite a night.

As that night goes on, although he's not drinking the hard stuff, Matt shares some jokes of his own, and it seems like the crowd of ponies have accepted him. At some point, he and Applejack end up squeezed next to each other in the middle of the crowd, none of whom seem to remember he's not a pony.

When it's finally time to go, with many hugs and hoofbumps exchanged, Sgian recommends they stop off at the livery down the road.

"To, uh, clean yourselves up a little, you know? Before heading to the train station. We can fix the furniture well enough, but your clothes, and your bruises, if you got 'em...? Not so much. But the livery's perfect. It's nice and quiet there. Nopony's likely to come by and see you... cleaning up."

The way he said those last words, Matt is sure he saw a twinkle in Sgian Dubh's eye, but Applejack is already pushing him out through the doors, accompanied by a roar of approval.



Neither of them has said anything for almost five minutes now, as they reach the livery. Applejack sits down on the dried hay and stretches out her hooves, gingerly feeling around for any injuries. She doesn't have any noticeable bruises, but her neck is stiff, her barrel is sore, and she wants to rest for a moment. She looks up at Matt, who's going through much the same process; apart from a nasty-looking welt visible through the tear in his shirt, and - from the way he's rotating his arm and wincing as he holds his shoulder - some general aches and pains, they both seem to be mostly fine.

"So," says Matt, cautiously, rubbing his sore shoulder as his marefriend ties her mane back into its signature ponytail and straightens her hat. "That... was a thing that happened."

"Yeah," says AJ, just as tentatively. "Ah, uh, never expected our first date to go like that."

She looks up at him. "Actually, to hell with it," she says. "Ah kinda did expect that to happen. Some ponies, huh?"

Matt looks back down at her. "You expected a bar fight?" he asks, sounding confused.

"Ah wouldn't say ah expected a bar fight as such, but so far as some ponies bein' too blinkered to get on board with our bein' an item, an' so far as some of them ponies wantin' to, uh, discuss matters in private? Yeah, ah figured somethin' like that might lie up ahead someplace. When ah heard the music stop after we opened the door, that's when ah thought maybe 'further down the road' was actually in the here and now."

She looks up, and for the first time tonight, there's sadness in her eyes.

"Ah'm sorry our date wasn't what you were hopin' for," she says, softly. "Ah'll try an' be a bit more... civilized the next time."

"You?!" Matt almost yelps. "I was just going to apologise to you for acting like that! I ruined the date!"

"Whaddaya mean, ruined the date?" retorts Applejack, her face frowning with confusion. "Ah was the one that ruined it. Ah shoulda just trotted away, not run mah mouth."

"I was so proud of you for standing up to that jerk," smiles Matt. "But I was the one who broke a chair over somepony's head. Even though a lot of things are different here than on Earth, I'm pretty sure this one's kind of the same. If some guy charges at your girlfriend with a pool cue and you can't stop him in time, the date probably isn't going all that well," he says, with a shrug.

"You'd think, huh?", laughs Applejack, taking Matt by surprise. "And yet, you don't seem to be complainin' all that much."

"No, I guess... I mean, I won't say it wasn't cool seeing you take out a pony twice your size like that. And while it was scary as hell to start with, once I saw you were in control, that was such a good feeling. After that, you turned into an action movie star, even if I couldn't really enjoy the show..." his voice tails off. "Not that I'd have just left you there to fend for yourself!", he quickly adds. "I mean..."

Applejack chuckles again, and puts her hoof to his lips, gently shushing him. "Ah ain't never been the damsel in distress type," she smiles. "And for what it's worth... and ah think it's worth quite a bit more'n you give it credit... ah didn't exactly mind too badly, watchin' you swing that chair around..."

Her eyes are misting over as she gets lost in her thoughts, as Matt gawps at her.

"...with your shirt ripped like that... and you were, y'know, flexing... and then we ended up flank to flank... all sweaty and hot and fired up..."

Matt's jaw is hanging open now. "You were turned on by that?", he blurts.

Applejack snaps back to attention, and laughs again. "Don't act like you weren't thinkin' the same thoughts, mister," she snorts, with a huge grin. "Ah saw where you was lookin' when ah bucked that guy offa me. It weren't mah face."

"I, uh... Wha...?" says Matt, feigning ignorance. AJ doesn't call him out, but the look on her face tells him she's not buying it.


"So... let me try and process all of this," he says.

"Do we have to?", whines Applejack in mock irritation, before bursting out with another giggle. "Ah can sum it up real quick. Ah like that you can handle yourself, without always needin' me to come runnin' to fix your messes, even though you know ah'd fight a hydra to get to you, if'n you ever found yourself in real need of mah help."

Matt briefly wonders whether any of these experiences are drawn from AJ's life - either hydra attacks, or boyfriends who need saving - but doesn't interrupt.

"You like that ah can do the same for mah own self, even after savin' mah life. An' apparently, there's more'n one way for the two of us to work up a head o' steam. And it ain't too hard on the eyes, one of us seein' the other, uh, workin' out. That just about cover it?"

Matt nods, mutely.

"Plus, we make a pretty good team," she smirks.

"Yeah, we do," he smiles back.

And then, kissing happens.

"Oh mah gosh, you should see the look on your face right now," giggles Applejack, as Matt stares at her in astonishment.

She's definitely not 100% sober, but she can handle her liquor alright; she's walking in a straight line, standing up straight, and if you didn't know her, you could easily chalk the slightly slurred words up to her accent. Even back at the family hoedown, where Matt had seen her totally out of control, she'd knocked back enough booze to leave most ponies out cold... and then carried on for several hours before finally reaching Full Drunk status and tossing her cookies in celebration.

"Ah know we've kinda done the whole 'Oh mah gosh, datin' a human!' thing pretty much to death by now," she smirks, "but this is one ah don't think we've said yet."

She leans in close. She smells like beer and hay.

"Think about it, Matt," she says. "Ah'm the em-bod-i-ment of one of the Elements of Harmony. Ah have been known to throw down, 'pon occasion, in the course of savin' the world," she giggles. "Once or twice."

She whispers, very loudly, in his ear, like she's pretending to reveal a secret or something.

"Thiiiiink about it," she drawls, before giggling again.

"You had fun back there, right?" says Matt, trying to piece it all together. "You saw through Shillelagh, you stood up for us in public. And... you liked it when we were fighting side by side?"

She gives him a huge, wicked smile.

"You could say that," she whispers. "There's a lot of things ah love about you, Matthew Williams. An' ah reckon you don't even know the half of 'em all yet," she smirks. "So ah'm givin' you this one for free. Ah ain't lookin' for a big strong stallion to protect me, on account of ah can handle myself just fine... but that don't mean it ain't a real nice bonus, all the same."

She's giggling again, while she nuzzles her head against his arm.

"This is all new for me, you know. Not just the pony stuff," says Matt with a smile. "I've never dated a girl who can totally kick someone's ass when the situation calls for it. Including mine. But, uh, I mean... let's not start doing that all the time, huh?" He looks down at her, past her huge grin and straight into her eyes, and they sparkle with life as she laughs again.

"What, gettin' into bar fights on our dates? Nope. It could get a little old," she chuckles. "Ah'm a farmer, not a fighter. Ah don't go lookin' for trouble, ah just don't run if'n it happens to find me. You ain't datin' Rainbow Dash," she chuckles. "...Not like that would work anyhow," she mutters, losing her train of thought for a moment before finding it again.

She looks up at him again, grin as huge as ever. "But this was fun. Ah'm glad you ain't boring. If ah wanted that - if ah hadn't already had mah fill of boring, an' then some - ah hardly think ah woulda chosen mah'self a special somepony who's not even a pony. There's easier ways to a quiet life. You get me?"

"We get each other," smirks Matt, and AJ rolls her eyes in mock irritation. Secretly, they both love it when the other gets cheesy on them.

As they embrace, Matt relishes the feeling that he can truly be himself when he's in her presence. Not that he had any doubts before, or anything, and it's hardly as if they had any secrets from each other... but somehow, tonight pushes his thoughts and feelings into place, like something got jumbled up and then finally set back in the right order; he already knew what it said, more or less, but now he can read it for the first time.

He’s finally found the perfect woman.

Even if, as fate would have it, she turns out to actually be a horse.

"You wanna know somethin', Matt?", grins Applejack. "Ah think I got it figured out."

"Got what figured out, AJ?", asks Matt, doing his best to ignore his marefriend's slightly slurred voice.

"Why Big Mac was bein' so secretive-like. Why he sent us all the way out here, an' why he wouldn't tell either of us about what was goin' on."

"I think I'd like to hear that explanation", says Matt, deadpan. In her slightly tipsy state, either AJ doesn't pick up on his sarcasm, or she doesn't care.

"Mister Williams," she says, putting on her formal voice. "The one and only human in all of Equestria. I do believe you have been worrying about what might happen when we went out in public. Right?"

"Sure, but-"

"...And, jes' to make things even harder, the very attractive - and humble - mare you're steppin' out with, is none other than the Bearer of the Element of Honesty, no less. And you didn't know if ponies would take too kindly to that combination o' stuff. Right?"

"Right...?" says Matt, confused.

"But how much of all that stuff were you thinkin' about on the train ride, huh? How much of all that stuff was botherin' you when you were cornered an' lookin' to smash a chair over somepony's head?"

The penny starts to drop for Matt, as Applejack finishes her increasingly giggly and rambling explanation with a triumphant grin.

"Ah'll tell ya, Mister Human. None at all. You weren't troubled none by all the questions an' whatever. You were busy worryin' about what kind of place Big Mac had set you up for your date. With me. An' then, you were busy worryin' one of them ponies was gonna break a pool cue over you. Or me. But what you was never busy worryin' about, was all this Human and Applejack nonsense."

She gives him a smile, and his heart melts.

"Am ah right, or am ah right?", she says, breathing on her forehoof and polishing it on her coat.

"...I'll be damned," says Matt, eventually. "You think he planned it this way on purpose? Not the whole bar fight thing, but... sending us to face up to things head-on?"

"If ah know mah brother. An' ah know mah brother," smirks Applejack, as she leans in close to him, both of them enjoying feeling the closeness as they wander along.

"Also, ah know what you've been thinkin' tonight, on account of ah was thinkin' the same things," she giggles, and Matt blinks in surprise.


Author's Note:

What? No, you pressed "Publish" too early and left a half-finished draft version of this chapter up for an entire day. I'm a professional.