• Published 28th Jun 2012
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A New Hero - Alex The Lone Wolf

What if there was another pony who joined the pony gang? (Look at longer description...)

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The Gift of the Maud Pie

I wasn't exactly sure what to feel when I first found out that Rarity would be opening another boutique in Manehattan. Of course, I was extremely exhilarated for her, but at the same time, I was still trying to get over her recent success in Canterlot. I couldn't understand why I still felt a little off after I had heard the news.

"Are you coming along, darling?" Rarity asked as she stood in the middle of the walkway inside the train cart.

I realized I had been staring at the seat in front of me and shook my head to make sure I could piece myself back together with reality. "Oh, yeah. Sorry about that." I apologized and joined her on the walkway.

It appeared Pinkie Pie had already hopped off and was anxiously waiting for us outside of the train. Despite that, Rarity seemed to slow down her walking pace in order to stick with me.

"Something on your mind?"

"I-I just can't believe you're already setting up another shop in Manehattan." I replied. "It feels like it was just yesterday when you were getting your things together over at Canterlot. You're moving at a ridiculously fast pace."

"It's amazing, isn't it?" Rarity returned a high-pitched giggle as we left the train. "It's only a matter of time before all of Equestria experiences the magic of yours truly." She ended with a light whip of her hair.

"I'm really happy for you Rarity, but that also makes me feel kind of sad too." I admitted with a slowly sulking frown.

"Whatever do you mean?" Rarity stopped in her tracks to turn and face directly towards me.

"I don't know." I merely answered while shrugging my shoulders. "I guess it feels like all of you are achieving your dreams and moving on ahead. I don't think I've really had a dream to look forward to, especially when all I did was sulk around back then. In a way, I guess what I'm trying to say is that it feels like you all are moving forward in life while I still feel like I'm in the same place."

"How could you think of such a thing, darling?" Rarity questioned, raising up a smile in an attempt to cheer me up. "Have you looked in the mirror lately? You started off as a 'simple' Earth Pony, but now look at you! You're a grand Alicorn Prince in Equestria! If you ask me, I think you've accomplished a lot in the time we've spent together!"

Despite her words of encouragement, they didn't seem enough to get me out of my somewhat sulky mood. "I know. I know. Being a Prince, much less an Alicorn, is a prestigious title to hold in Equestria. Anyone would probably think that I'm proud of 'accomplishing' so much, but the thing is, I never really wanted to be a prince or an Alicorn. It was never my dream or passion to become either one of those things. Even so, to this day, I don't exactly have a dream like the rest of you do. Maybe I've become so busy with this royal business and the like that I've never really had time to think about what I would've wanted had I stayed your average ordinary Earth Pony. I guess what I'm trying to say is that, while you're off taking charge and making your dream happen, I'm just in the passenger seat of my life and just going along with whatever happens, you know?"

"I suppose I see your point." Rarity's smile flipped around as she turned away and hovered a hoof over her lips.

I felt like I was taking more of her time than I originally wanted or needed to, so I shook my head in an attempt to persuade her to focus more on her big day instead. "It's okay, Rarity. I just needed to get that off my chest. I don't want this to be on your mind while you're out working on a dream of your own." I chuckled at the sly irony that centered on my lack of a dream intercepting hers.

"What are you guys doing?!" We heard Pinkie's voice scream out from the front doors of the station. "Come on! Come on! Maud's here already!"

"We'll talk about this later if you feel you still need the subject to be discussed, okay?" Rarity promised.

I only nodded and watched as she grinned delightfully before turning around and heading towards the direction of the jumpy Pie. I was tempted to stay there and dwell on my thoughts once more, but knowing Rarity would be troubled by that, I forced my thoughts into the mental closet and walked on after her.

Besides Rarity finding a place for her boutique here, there was another reason why I came along with the excited duo. Pinkie Pie was going to have some sort of sister gift exchange with the one and only Maud. It had been a while since I last saw her, and considering Maud had this kind of "charm" that I've seen from no pony else, I didn't want to miss the opportunity to see her again. Just the fact that she could be so sarcastic, whether intentionally or not, while keeping a straight face the entire time made me want to crack up. There was also the idea of visiting Coco while being in Manehattan, but I wasn't sure if she was busy or not. I didn't want to drop in while she was working, after all.

"Come say hi to Maud, you guys!" Pinkie waved frantically as we appeared at the top of the steps outside of the station.

"Hello, Maud." Rarity seemed to cautiously greet. Based on Maud's history of taking several of Rarity's phrases quite literally, I assumed that Rarity wanted to avoid another situation like that.

I, on the other hoof, felt differently.

"Hey, Maud. What's up?" I intentionally asked, waiting for Maud's response.

She lifted up her head and stared directly at the sky with almost lifeless eyes before bringing her head back down to respond in a deadpan voice. "Clouds."

I laughed out loud. It wasn't exactly her response that was hilarious, it was just her entire act in general. Rarity only appeared to uncomfortably grin widely while Pinkie shared a genuine warm smile towards our interaction.

"You should do stand up, Maud. You'd wipe the floor with all the other comedians." I stated.

"Why would I wipe floors with other ponies when I can just use a mop?" She expressed yet again when no emotion to her face.

I laughed heartily once more and found myself wiping a tear from the corner of my eye. "You're killing me, Maud."

"I'm not even touching you. You should probably see a doctor."

I was on the verge of taking a page from her book and literally roll on the floor laughing. We were already receiving glances and stares from nearby ponies, and Rarity looked like she grew more uncomfortable the more ponies gathered around. For everypony's sake, I decided to stop intentionally setting up Maud's comedy routine.

"Come on, everypony!" Pinkie encouraged, pushing us on ahead. "Let's get going! Time's a-wasting!"

Just as I was about to join them on their walk, I felt a sudden tap on my shoulder from behind. As I turned around, I noticed Athena working her element of surprise as she excitedly grinned towards me. "Seeing as you stopped by Manehattan and all, I was thinking I could go and totally spend some time with Coco?"

"I don't know if she's free right now, Athena." I brought up.

"I'll stop by her apartment and see if she's busy. If she is, I'll come back." She closed her eyes with a small amount of pride and easily brushed off any worries with her hoof. "Not that hard."

"Do you even remember the way to her apartment?" I asked, cocking my eyebrow.

"Of course, I do!" She tried to confidently claim, but there was a small hint of tension in her voice as she said that. "I just have to walk around a bit and get my photographic memory working, that's all."

"Okay then." I decided to trust the integrity of her independence. "Just don't push yourself if you get lost, and remember you can't stray too far alright? Manehattan is a big city, after all."

"I got it, bro." She acknowledged with a jubilant giggle. "I'll be fine! Love, you!" She placed a peck on my cheek, kind of like a little girl, and began skipping off in the other direction.

I continued watching her leave, unable to fully come to terms with the idea of letting her go off like that.

"Alex, are you coming with us?" I heard Rarity's voice in the distance.

Turning towards her and finding the three of them looking back my way, I quickly trotted back in order to catch up to them. "My bad. Thanks for waiting up."

"Naturally." Rarity lifted a grin before Maud spoke up once again.

"We can't wait up. We don't have wings." She said.

Taking a moment to realize what she was getting at, I ultimately laughed yet again as Rarity uneasily chuckled.

"Oh, Maud! The day's only just started, but I can't wait until I give you my absolutely-tootly-luutly amazing gift!" Pinkie Pie looked like she could literally jump out of her skin as we walked along the sidewalk.

"Aww." Rarity observed the same excitement that Pinkie had trouble keeping in. "You Pie sisters have just about the sweetest family traditions! Every year, you set aside a special day to spend with each of your sisters?"

"Yep!" Pinkie responded proudly. "I do separate trips with each one, and we make it super fun by picking a different location every year! We see the sights all day and then swap gifts at sunset! And since Maud's getting her rocktorate nearby, we figured this would be the perfect spot for PSSSD!"

I noticed Maud seemed to stop in her tracks as the other two girls continued walking on. It appeared that they had been too distracted with their lively conversation, so they didn't notice Maud slightly fall out of the group. Deciding to balance the number of separated ponies, I joined up with Maud and found her shifting her gaze through a large number of postcards nearby.

However, it turned out I was wrong. It wasn't her that was looking through these postcards. She had actually been holding out her pet rock as if he was looking through them instead. Nevertheless, once I was by her side, I decided to spark up a casual conversation that didn't wind up being a comedy routine this time.

"So, what's this I hear about a 'rocktorate'?" I asked.

"I'm going to be graduating as a doctor in rock science." She returned, continuing to guide Boulder through the circular stand of postcards.

I had never heard of any higher education program like that. I would've figured that rock science would just fall under regular geology or something, but I could only assume that rock science was a much thorough and investigative branch.

"That's great!" I congratulated, but at the same time, I felt a little worse than when I first got here, seeing as Maud was achieving success with her long-planned dreams. "You've got any plans afterward? Like what you want to do and stuff?"

"I want to keep researching rocks." She turned her head to me as she kept her hoof with Boulder extended out. "Maybe I'll be able to find many new rocks that haven't been found yet."

"Maud!" We heard Rarity call out, finding us lagging behind.

"Boulder promised his cousin a postcard." Maud explained her reason for the uninformed stop.

"Well, I'm really sure you'll be great." I continued. "I can't imagine how excited you must be in making that giant step towards what you've been dreaming of accomplishing in your life."

After a moment or two, she finally retracted her hoof and turned towards me. "If you're not busy, you should really come to the graduation ceremony."

"Oh, sure!" I replied. "Just let me know when and where it is, and I'll see if I can make it."

"I'll be sending out invitations before the actual date. I'll make sure to send Pinkie Pie an extra one for you."

"Sounds good." I settled and soon found ourselves in an unexpected silence. "So, did Boulder find any postcards he liked?"

Maud turned her eyes towards the hoof that was holding up Boulder. She stared emotionless at him for a moment before she turned her eyes back towards me. "He said nothing moved him."

"That's fine." I acknowledged, taking a look at our surroundings. "They were just some postcards on the side of the street. You might find better ones at a shop."

"Do you know anything that might be perfect for Boulder to send to his cousin?"

"That depends…" I stated, even though I honestly felt that I would be the worst pony to help find something for a rock. "Who exactly is Boulder's cousin?"

"His name is Pebble." Maud responded, "He and boulder are really close, so Boulder is looking for a postcard that really stands out."

Pebble, huh? Considering the irony behind Boulder's name, I wouldn't be surprised if Pebble was actually the size of a boulder this time around. Either way, I didn't have any personal plans of my own like the others did, so I figured I could offer Maud some help.

"If you want, I can help you help Boulder find some postcards that might catch his attention."

"You don't have to. I'm sure you have important things of your own to do here in Manehattan."

"Not really. I'm kind of just tagging along. Besides, I've been meaning to spend a little time with you. When was the last time we saw each other? The Grand Galloping Gala, right? And even then, we didn't really talk much."

"What about your friend Rarity?" Maud eyes darted past me and faced a couple of ponies beyond us. "Isn't she opening a new shop in Manehattan?"

Considering her experience with her shop back in Ponyville and Canterlot, I didn't think she'd have much trouble with setting it up in the first place. Of course, that didn't mean that I didn't want to check up on her sometime in the day.

"She'll be fine." I assured. "She's used to stuff like this. I didn't come to Manehattan just for her, after all. Like I said, we haven't really talked in a while, and I thought it'd be great to meet with you, especially since I didn't get to see you this past Hearth's Warming Eve when Applejack and her family visited."

"Well…" Maud took a moment to look aside at the ground for a short while. "If it's really okay with you, then I guess I don't mind." Afterwards, she lifted up Boulder to her eyes and spoke with him. "Don't worry, Boulder. We'll find you a postcard real soon." She turned back to me and began walking ahead. "Let's keep going."

"Right behind you." I acknowledged before I felt another unexpected tap on my shoulder. As I turned my head around, I was fairly surprised to see that Athena was back for some odd reason. However, after taking a look at the sheepish grin on her face, I soon had a good guess why she was back.

"Can you, um, remind me where to go again? I kind of got lost…"

Even if I were to give her specific directions on what turns to take and the like, I still had a feeling she'd have a hard time following them without me there to guide her. As far as I was concerned, I don't believe she ever really spent time wandering on her own that much. If there was any place that'd she be able to navigate without me, it'd probably be Ponyville and maybe even Fillydelphia. However, this was Manehattan, and it was obviously a huge city.

"How about I just take you there?" I offered her with a light sigh.

"Sorry!" Athena immediately apologized for the unintended intrusion.

"Don't worry about it." I brushed it off with my hoof. "It won't take that long anyway. It'd be nice to stop by and chat with her for a bit anyway." I turned in the other direction and found the others just looking my way to see that I was still lagging behind. "Let me just let them know what's going on."

As I walked back towards them, Rarity was the first to say something regarding the sight with Athena and me. "Is everything alright?"

"Yeah. Everything's fine." I assured. "Athena wanted to go see Coco Pommel, but she got a little lost. I decided I was going to go take over to her place really quick and see if she's not busy."

"Oh, going to see Coco, are you? Well, please do say hi for me!"

I nodded. "It won't take me long. Where are you guys going to be at? You go on ahead and I'll catch up."

Rarity lifted her eyes up in thought for a moment before she responded. "I believe we were going to stop by the Statue and have a good look up over the city. However, I don't think we'll be staying there for long."

"Oh! Oh! Oh!" Pinkie chirped, waving her hoof frantically in the air. "I think they have a sweet ice rink here! I wanna go ice skating!"

"Ice skating sounds fun." Maud shared with her tone greatly contrasting Pinkie Pie's.

"I see." Rarity noted both of their expressions and turned back to me. "We'll go ice skating after visiting the Statue then. How about you meet us there? We'll wait for you while we enjoy ourselves on the ice."

If something turned out differently, such as Coco being busy or not being in her apartment at all, then I'd probably end up being the one waiting for the three to come to the ice rink. Nevertheless, it wasn't a bad plan. Meeting back at the ice rink would give me enough time to chat with Coco a bit and not keep the others from doing anything and waiting too long.

"Yeah, that sounds fine. I'll see you all back at the ice rink, okay?"

We shared our temporary goodbyes before I began escorting Athena in the other direction. It was at that time when I noticed an extremely apologetic look on her face.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to keep you from being with the others. Maybe I shouldn't have asked."

"Hey, don't worry about it." I assured. "I'd rather stop and spend a little time making sure you get to the place alright than stay back and wonder if you're doing alright on your own. I know you're not exactly a little foal anymore, but that doesn't stop me from worrying, you know?"

"I know." She looked back with a small appreciative smile. "I could have tried a little harder to find Coco's place on my own, but this huge city was a little intimidating to walk around in, especially when it felt like everypony was giving me weird stares."

"I've got your back." I promised as I simultaneously patted her. "Let's go and see if Coco is at her apartment, to begin with."

After walking through a few blocks and stopping to get something sweet for Athena to munch on, we stopped in front of Coco's apartment building. I had been hoping that Coco had currently been in her room, but there was a possibility that she could have also been somewhere else in regards to her work. The more I thought about it, the more I began to regret not sending Coco a letter beforehoof. At the time, I wasn't sure if there was enough time for Coco to receive that letter and send a response afterward. I can only wonder if somepony in the future will invent some kind of means of instant messaging that anypony can conveniently use…

"Wow. So, all I had to do was take that way and I'd end up right here?" Athena mentioned as she chomped on the rest of her cotton candy. "Haha, I'm so dumb!"

"Well, try to remember the way the next time you want to come here on your own, okay?" I encouraged as I opened the front door and escorted her in.

Having set hoof inside here a few times already, reaching Coco's room was a breeze. However, I took a short moment to compose myself and hope that she wouldn't find our surprise visit unwanted. And that's if she was there. Just as I was about to raise my hoof, Athena knocked in my place instead. She glanced towards me before returning her attention to the door with a jubilant cat-like expression.

In a matter of seconds, the door was pulled inwards, and a friendly face appeared within the space that opened up.

"H-Hi!" She opened up the door a little more once she realized it was just us. "I'm sorry. I wasn't expecting you two be at my door. I almost thought it was the landlord…"

"Sorry for coming over again without notice." I apologized firsthoof. "I wasn't sure if you were going to be here or super busy, and I wasn't really sure if I should have written to you earlier. It's just, I'm here in Manehattan with a few friends and thought I could at least say hi, or something—" I felt a soft nudge against my body, causing me to turn my head to my left. Athena was looking directly at me, and it seemed she wanted "in" on the conversation. "Oh, right. Athena also really wanted to see you."

"H-huh?" Coco's face almost immediately twisted in confusion. "Athena? Who's that?"

"O-oh, right!" I had completely forgotten that Coco was one of the few ponies that didn't know Athena, A.K.A Spirit, by her real name. "Athena. She's, uh, Spirit."

"Wait. Spirit is Athena? Huh? What?" Coco still appeared to be extremely confused.

"Long story short, you can just call me Athena! Hehe…" Athena spoke up in an attempt to divert the confusion.

Once Coco had a few seconds to herself, she shook her head and apologized. "I'm sorry. Please come in."

When Coco closed the door after us, I remembered the interesting topic she brought up just a while ago. "You said you almost thought the landlord was at your door instead of us. Everything alright?" Athena and I took a seat on Coco's couch.

"Oh, no!" Coco shook her head and waved her hoof. "It's nothing you need to worry yourselves with. It's just sometimes my place might get a little…well…messy, and the landlord doesn't particularly like that. It's only really during times where I'm overbooked with work and I end up leaving all my supplies hanging around. I mean, I like to be organized, but why spend the extra time in cleaning your area only to have to bring out everything again the next day?" Coco joined us at the seat across us.

"I know, right?" Athena unexpectedly found Coco's views relative to hers. "There have been a few times where I've left out my pencils and stuff, and Alex gets mad because he trips over them."

"I think anyone would agree that the floor isn't the best place to leave your work out on." I defended. "If you're going to leave stuff out, at least leave it someplace that no pony walks on. Someplace like a table?" Despite my suggestion, Athena only returned a rather playful slip of her tongue out at me. Despite going slightly off-topic, I suddenly remembered something else I needed to address. "Oh, yeah! I almost completely forgot to ask you something, Coco. You aren't busy right now, are you? Like you're not in the middle of working on some major project?"

"I was working on a few designs." Coco mentioned, "But, it isn't anything particularly urgent. I guess you could say I was getting ahead of my work. Why? Did you two want to spend some time together?"

"I'm actually in the middle of something with a couple of other ponies right now." I informed. "Although, Athena here has been dying to hang out with you, right?" I turned towards the subject for confirmation.

"Totally!" Athena brightly exclaimed. "In fact, there's so much I want to talk to you about!"

"Is that so? Maybe you can start with the, um, name change?" Coco returned a sheepish grin.

"Oh, right." Athena placed a hoof to her lips as she looked back in embarrassment. A momentarily blush appeared on her cheeks before it disappeared a few seconds later. "Yeah, I can kind of explain that."

"Are you going to want to tell Coco the whole story?" I asked Athena a little softly.

"I'll see how much of it I tell her as I go on." Athena nearly whispered back.

I nodded and proceeded to get up. "I better get going. I don't want to keep the others waiting. Oh, and Rarity says hi."

"Rarity's here?" Coco's eyes lit up.

"Yep. She's scouting out a place for her boutique here in Manehattan. Amazing, right?"

"How does she do it?!" Coco nearly raised her voice significantly. "To think that somepony like her has actually spent the time to help me so much? It's incredible…"

I chuckled lightly at how much Coco respected Rarity. "Is there anything you want me to tell her?"

"Tell her I said hi back, and that if she's free, she can come over if she wants to!"

"Got it." I acknowledged and approached Coco to express my farewell. "Have fun hanging with Athena. Sorry if it seems like I'm dropping her off here like this is some kind of daycare."

"It's completely fine! We'll have a blast together."

"You know it!" Athena shouted in the background.

Coco and I embraced shortly before I started heading for the door. "I'll swing by later. Thanks again, Coco!"

"No problem! Have a wonderful day!"

As I exited both her room and her apartment, I couldn't help but keep a smile stretched out in my face.

To think I had a crush on her in my "past life". It was a little uncanny, but I suppose I could understand why.

It took me some time to find that ice rink Pinkie had brought up with the use of signs and directions from ponies every now and then. At the place where we were supposed to rendezvous with each other, I looked among the crowd skating in the rink to see if they were already here. There were several common everyday ponies inside, along with a hockey team that was apparently practicing. However, it wasn't a moment longer until I saw an extremely flashy and glittery outfit out of the entire bunch.

As if the choice of apparel wasn't enough, I confirmed my assumption by having a glimpse of the pony wearing that outfit. I raced on over to the side of the rink where she had been at and hung my hooves over the railing. Seeing as I didn't know anything about skating in the first place, I had no intention of joining them inside.

"I see you've packed for such an occasion?" I asked, catching her attention.

"You're here!" She exclaimed with glee and proceeded to flip the back of her mane. "You know I never come unprepared when it comes to fashion."

I don't know how you do it, but you always make it seem to conveniently work somehow.

"Coco says hi back." I recalled. "And she wanted to let you know that if you wanted to visit her, you can."

"In that case, we must make time after I finish my business with the boutique." She tapped her chin in thought. "Perhaps we can fit in a visit before our scheduled train."

Just as Rarity finished her last sentence, Maud swooped in and gave a graceful twirl in midair, landing perfectly on all four hooves after. Yet, she continued to keep a straight face. I sincerely did not have a clue on how she did it, and I was actually kind of eager to know. Maud would make a killing at poker for sure.

Rarity decided it was best to leave the rink a little earlier in hopes to make time for Coco later on in the day. Pinkie wanted to stay a little longer, but once Rarity brought up the subject of food, Pinkie was quick to change her mind.

We stopped by some restaurant called the Cantering Cook. It was somewhat fancy, but it definitely didn't seem to be as stuck-up as one you'd find in Canterlot.

"Pinkie, put down that crayon! The Cantering Cook isn't that kind of restaurant!" Rarity scolded Pinkie, who had been drawing on an apparent map of Manehattan with crayon. Once Pinkie removed the crayon from her sight through unconventional means, Rarity released a sigh of relief and adored the scenery around her. "Oh... A pony could get used to eating at places like this!"

"I know." Maud responded. "It's the only restaurant in the city with nepheline syenite in their bathroom tiles."

Stuttering nervously for a bit, Rarity seemed to practically spit out whatever general response she could come up with. "...Well, isn't that something!" She turned over to the pink pony at her side and began speaking loudly for some odd reason. "You know what, Pinkie Pie? Uh, maybe you could help me figure out what to order!" As she picked up one of the large menus nearby, she turned towards me and whispered briefly before vertically positioning the menu on the table and hiding behind it. "Keep her busy!"

I wasn't sure what Rarity's intentions were, and I had actually been meaning to bring something up to Maud in the first place, so it wasn't hard to agree to her request.

"Hey, Maud. While I was gone, did Boulder see any postcards that he liked?" I asked.

Maud brought Boulder to her face and seemed to "listen" for a bit before she answered back. "We saw a few postcards, but none of them had the 'deposition' he's looking for."

"So, is he looking for something more… 'rocky'?" I guessed.

"I guess you could say that."

"Something 'rocky', huh…?" I repeated to myself as I rubbed my hoof against my chin.

"Oh, why, thank you for the kind assistance, Pinkie Pie. And now I know exactly what to order." Rarity threw down her menu all of a sudden and voiced loudly.

"You are very welcome, Rarity!" Pinkie replied in the same manner. "Now, we better go wash our hooves, so you can enjoy the order I helped you pick!"

After nodding her head a little stiffly, Rarity released a wider than usual grin and tacked on something extra to Pinkie's suggestion. "You are absolutely right! Please pardon us!"

I noticed Rarity eyed me especially before she left, but she didn't say anything after that. Was there something that was going on that I didn't know about? Nevertheless, I turned to Maud and noticed her usual expression. It was hard to tell what she thought of the situation based on her lack of a reaction.

"Any idea what's going on with those two?" I picked her brain.

"They really needed to wash their hooves." Maud merely returned.

Despite the odd behavior of the two, I shook it off and returned to the topic on hoof. "Anyways, if you want, we can go look for some postcards after lunch. I'm pretty sure there's a shop dedicated to postcards around here."

"Sure. I'd really like that."

Even though I seemed to understand Maud more than the other girls did, I still wished that I was able to realize how Maud truly felt at times. I had no idea how Pinkie did it, but I suppose being sisters was a major factor.

"Are you ready to order?" The waiter dropped by and asked.

Seeing as the other two had left without even telling us what they wanted to eat, we had no choice but to ask for more time until they'd come back.

"We're waiting for a couple of ponies to come back." I informed.

He only nodded and continued on his way.

"So, Alex, there's something I want to know about you." I heard from Maud unexpectedly, causing me to quickly look her way. "When I first met all of your friends, I noticed that each and every one of them had a pet except you. Do you not like pets?"

"Huh?" I wasn't expecting such a question from her at the time, but seeing as we had been talking about Boulder, I supposed it was relevant. "I don't not like them. I just feel like I don't have the means to take care of one." Feeling myself sink into more depressive thoughts, I rested my cheek on my hoof and played with the utensils on the table with the other. "Don't get me wrong, the idea of having a pet sounds nice and all, but it's something you have to dedicate yourself to. It's not something you can exactly just 'try out'. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I feel like there's too many things going on for me that wouldn't make having a pet the smartest decision right now." I began having flashbacks of Fluttershy and my reasons for not spending as much time as I'd like to with her. Sure, if I really wanted to, I could drop spending time with all my other friends to solely spend time with her, but how horrible would that really be? I'm pretty sure Fluttershy would be against that kind of idea as well. As much as I hated to say this, I suppose I am sort of grateful for Discord giving her company every now and then.

"It's okay." Maud mentioned afterward. "If it makes you feel any better, I don't really have any friends like you all do."

"'Friends'?" I repeated in a manner of confusion. "What about Rarity and the others?"

"They're nice…" She turned her head away. "…but none of them really get me." She then shifted her eyes towards me and said, "Except you."

"Me? You really think so?" I was thrown back by that last remark. Sure, I liked her for who she was, and I didn't really get uncomfortable like other ponies tended to feel around Maud. But, I didn't think I was exactly like best friend material. After all, I knew little to nothing about rocks besides what was taught to me at a younger age.

"I know it's hard for you to tell what I'm feeling." She cited, "You told me that when we were painting with my sister. Even so, I feel like you know where I'm coming from. Even though we're from two different worlds, you don't seem to mind me being in yours. If that makes sense."

"No, I think I know what you're getting at." I replied. "It's just, I would think you'd get along with someone who's passionate about rocks. Obviously, I'm not that kind of pony." I chuckled a little.

"It's not about liking the same thing. It's about understanding each other."

Despite those words sounding extremely bland, I felt that I was able to get some kind emotion out of them. At that point, I think I started really getting what Maud was trying to say. To some other ponies, they'd only see Maud as "bland" as her words, but with Pinkie or me, we see the way she conveys her thoughts and feelings. They aren't as lifeless as her words seem to sound, they're just her own emotions that come out in a rather "different" way.

"Yeah, you're right." I agreed. "I'm glad you see me as someone who gets you then. I try my best to get along with everypony who's not bent on destroying Equestria, heh heh."

She only stared emotionlessly at me as a response, but taking her words into account, I pictured her smiling instead.

Eventually, Rarity and Pinkie Pie returned back. They had taken so long that I actually almost forgot that we had been waiting for them. Rarity was the first one back in her seat, but Pinkie apparently seemed to lag a little behind. When she finally sat down, she released a hefty sigh for all to hear.

"I'm afraid they had run out of soap, so Pinkie couldn't get her hooves extra squeaky clean." Rarity explained the apparent distress Pinkie had slipped out.

"Huh? Oh, right." She answered without a sign of excitement, unlike previously.

I didn't think she'd be that bummed out by soap. Then again, maybe she would be. After all, she's crazy about the smallest things like bubbles.

"Hey, I was thinking…" I decided to bring up something in particular, seeing as they were finally here to hear it. "I wanted to go help Maud look for a store that hopefully sells a bunch of postcards for Boulder. If you want, we can split up so you can keep looking for a spot for your bouti—"

"That's perfect!" Rarity nearly shouted out loud, catching the attention of the majority of ponies eating nearby. Rarity immediately covered her lips with her hooves before lowering the volume of her voice. "I mean, by all means, darling! I still need to scout a place for my new boutique. The earlier I can find the perfect area, the more likely we'd be able to visit Coco, correct?" She faced Pinkie and nudged her lightly. "Pinkie was just telling me that she'd love to help me."

"I was?" Pinkie poked her head up in confusion.

"Yes. Remember? Help find the perfect…?" She muttered the last bit through her teeth.

"Oh, right! Yeah, yeah! I totally want to do that!" Pinkie pointed out and turned towards Maud. "Maud, you don't mind meeting up again at sunset to swap gifts, do you?"

"No." She briefly responded.

"Great!" Pinkie reached over the table to stretch out and hug her sister. "I knew you'd understand!"

"Garçon! One super-deluxe two-mile-high hot fudge sundae, stat!" Rarity excitedly called out, almost as if we were celebrating a milestone achievement.

"But, we didn't even—"

Just as I was about to finish pointing out our skipped lunch, a gigantic bowl filled with different scoops of ice cream, along with whipped cream, sprinkles, and cherries, was placed onto the table between us. I believed the height of ice cream surpassed even us, and this caused Maud and me to be separated from Pinkie and Rarity both visually and audibly. At most, we only heard muffled voices and very soft whispers.

"So…" I turned to Maud, seeing as she was pretty much the only pony I could talk to at this point. "Guess we'll start looking for a place that sells postcards right after lunch then, considering that they weren't actually kidding about skipping straight to dessert…" I glanced in the direction of the two behaving oddly, but all I was able to see was a mountain of ice cream.

After waiting for a few minutes, we eventually saw Pinkie opening her mouth widely and chomping down the ice cream on her own. I reminded Rarity of our actual lunch once Pinkie cleaned out the huge plate of dessert. Despite acting strangely earlier, she acknowledged my point, and we were able to get back on track soon enough.

Their eagerness grew tenfold once we had finished with lunch, seeing as they nearly disappeared on us when the bill was paid. Ignoring the strange activity for now, I proceeded to walk Maud outside the restaurant so we could get started on finding a postcard for Boulder.

Outside on the sidewalk, Maud and I began our brief search in regards to an appropriate store. At first, we somewhat aimlessly walked around for a bit, but once we were able to grab ahold of a map with locations around us from a kiosk, we spent a few minutes looking it over. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough room on the map itself to list out the details of each store, but judging from the names, we both decided to stop by a store that apparently sold stationary items.

As soon as we arrived in the store, I immediately began looking around in hopes to see a section dedicated to postcards, rather than just a simple stand near the cashier.

"Look, Maud." I grabbed her attention once I spotted a wall of postcards. "Let's see what they have there." She silently followed as I already began having brief glances at several different postcards. A lot of them had to deal with landmarks and main attractions in regards to Manehattan, but just as she had told me, Maud was looking for something that was a little more…"rocky". I found the "comedic" section of the postcards, and, to my surprise, I noticed a few postcards with a focus of rocks on them. "Check this out. 'Yo, Adrian!'" I read out the caption of one that depicted a rock wearing what appeared to be boxing gloves. I pulled up another one with two rocks talking to each other. " 'Why are you so gee-neiss?'" I tried to pronounce the word Gneiss from the first rock and moved on. " 'Because I'm not full of Schist!'" The other said. I didn't quite get it, but Maud appeared to be having a fun time behind me.

"Haha. Ha. Ha." She laughed, but it sounded more like sarcasm. "That's funny."

"I don't get it." I admitted, showing her the postcard.

"Gneiss is pronounced like the word 'nice', and Schist is supposed to sound like—"

"Okay, I get it now." I stopped her before she could finish that sentence. "Anyway, see anything Boulder might like?"

Maud pulled out Boulder and brought him up so he could have a view of the vast majority of postcards. "What do you think, Boulder? I particularly like this one." She pointed towards the postcard we had just gone over. "It reminds me of you and Pebble." After, she brought Boulder to her ear and listened quietly for a moment before she pulled her rock away and nodded. "Good choice."

"What did he pick?" I asked out of curiosity.

"The funny one." Maud responded, once again pointing to the one we just went over.

"Oh, really?" I was quite surprised at the fast decision. "Did Boulder like any of the other ones that might be here?"

"Boulder feels that this one brings out the intergrowth between him and his cousin." Maud explained.

Having no grasp of Maud's "rock" talk, I decided to only nod and leave it at that. "Oh. Uh, okay."

I honestly didn't expect to be in and out of that shop so quick. I thought we'd maybe take at least half an hour to an hour looking for the perfect postcard, but that wasn't the case at all. Either way, Maud seemed satisfied, so I guess that meant Boulder was too.

"Thanks, Alex." Maud expressed outside as we were back walking on the sidewalk. "Boulder loves his postcard. It also reminds him of his friend in the park nearby."

"Friend?" I asked about.

"Mm-hm. You should see him. He's really impressive."

Seeing as we had already finished our main task and really had nothing to do until sunset, I had no objection. "Sure. If you say he's impressive, then he's gotta be impressive, right?"

In that park, there was an insanely huge rock that was quite a frightening sight. Making an estimated guess, it looked like it was more than a hundred times our size, and standing near it made me afraid of the idea of it tipping over and ultimately squishing me flat as a pancake. Maud appeared to be unfazed, and, knowing that she could literally smash a gigantic boulder to bits, I wasn't surprised.

"Play nice." She said as she placed Boulder before his mighty "friend".

"So…those two get along?" I asked, standing a few steps behind Maud.

"Like an aggregate." Maud stated as she turned over to me. "What do you want to do now?"

I turned towards the sky and found the bright color to be diminishing. It wasn't sunset yet, but it'd definitely be that time soon. "What can we do?" I tapped a hoof on my chin and thought mainly to myself. "We're supposed to meet Pinkie at sunset, so what's something that…" My thoughts began to trail off as I soon came to a sudden realization. Pinkie had told us that we'd meet at sunset, but she didn't tell us where. "Wait a minute. Where are we supposed to meet Pinkie and Rarity when sunset comes?" I asked with a slightly panicked tone.

Giving me a straight look, Maud's eyes blinked emotionlessly before she responded in an indifferent manner. "She's coming here."

"Huh? Did you she already tell you before?" I wondered, figuring that I possibly might have missed something around the time I left to stop by Coco's.

"Maud Sense." She briefly explained.

However, just like with Pinkie, Maud's "sense" didn't make any actual logical sense. Having experience with Pinkie, I just decided to accept that with no questions asked. "Ah. If you say so." Since Pinkie Pie would apparently be coming to us, I took a quick look around us for something that would keep us busy. I noticed several swan boats roaming around with ponies of all ages riding in them. Maud and I didn't really have anything else, such as a kite to fly, so I figured riding the boats was a suggestion worth making. "You wanna ride the swan boats?"

Maud took a quick glance at the boats I had been talking about and turned back to me. "Sure."

Once we were on the boats, I began remembering the times that Maud would make me laugh even when she wasn't trying to be funny. She sat beside me as we slowly drifted along the calm current, and I couldn't stop snickering at the same expression on her face.

Taking Fluttershy as an example, I knew she would have been completely amazed by the scenery around us, along with the calm and soothing motion of our moving boat. Her face would definitely be filled with a tender yet excited expression. Yet, here Maud sat with a kind of look that would make you think that she was screaming internally. In other words, taking her natural lack of excitement out of context would possibly make one think that she was on the verge of falling into the water around us from boredom.

"Hey, Maud," I asked, igniting some conversation during our slow ride. "I was wondering. If you don't mind telling me, what exactly did you get Pinkie Pie for your exchange today?"

"Confetti." She answered as shifted her eyes towards me. "You won't believe how much she goes through that in a day. I know she likes cupcakes, so I made sure to get her cupcake-scented confetti."

"Oh, really? Well, I'm sure she'll love it. I know that pony practically loves any kind of gift she gets, even if she doesn't know what it is." I told Maud, laughing lightly afterward.

"Can I ask you something?" She surprised me with another question.

"Yeah, go ahead." I returned.

"If you were in my place, what would you get for Pinkie Pie?"

Maud had definitely caught me off guard with that. Personally, I always found the idea of giving gifts fascinating as it was a good way of expressing different kinds of feelings towards another pony. However, I could never master the art of getting/making the perfect gift when it came to thoughtful exchanges. In a way, I'd rather leave out the exchanging of gifts in all and instead spend time with the pony in particular.

"Ah. You got me there." I faced the water as I tried to think of a good answer to her question. "Um. I'm horrible at these things, but I would probably get her, I don't know…" I spent another minute thinking. "I'd try to find something to give her that could probably only come from me. Maybe try to make her a cupcake of my own even though I hardly bake. Giving gifts is always a hard thing for me since I find myself worrying too much about what the other pony will think."

"Well, the only thing that matters is that you give your gift with love. That's what I learned with Pinkie Pie." Maud expressed, appearing to neutrally take in the scenery around her. "There's a reason why she'll love any kind of gift she gets, and that's because she sees the love behind it."

"You're absolutely right about that, Maud." I strongly agreed. "And, I'm guessing that she's never failed to amaze you with her gifts, right?"

"Mm-hm." She replied with a slow nod. "Remember the rock candy we make for each other? I don't like candy, but I cherish every necklace she gives me. It's a reminder of the occasion."

"I know exactly what you mean." I responded as several items came to mind. In a way, every kind of special occasion was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing. Sure, you could have similar occasions, but you could never truly replicate the original. That's why memories were such a big deal, and sometimes you need tangible objects to make sure those memories don't fade out to the dark depths of the mind. And if they do, things like gifts help bring those memories back.

We decided to step off the boats when the sun was officially starting to set in. As we did, we heard ourselves being called out to a particular area of the park.

"Hey, you guys! Over here!"

We found Pinkie waving her hooves frantically as Rarity unfolded a blanket and carefully spread it out on the grass she stood on. I was about to head straight over to them, but then I noticed Maud taking a slight detour. I couldn't figure out why, but once I realized that she was heading for that humungous rock in the park, I remembered about Boulder. This led me to seriously wondering about something between Maud and her pet rock.

I wonder if she's ever, at one time, actually forgotten about leaving Boulder?

Nevertheless, I accompanied Maud until we reconvened back with the other two. From there on, I sat by Rarity as Maud and Pinkie prepared the gifts that they were to swap.

"After the day we've had, I'm probably looking forward to the swap part of the Pie Sisters' Surprise Swap Day even more than the two of you!" Rarity shared with a jubilant giggle. "And I'm not even a Pie sister!"

"About that." I cut in. "How'd the search go?"

"Search?! What search, darling?!" Rarity uneasily and quickly answered.

"For the boutique…?" I clarified with a cocked eyebrow. "You know? The whole reason you came to Manehattan?"

"O-o-oh yes! That! Of course! That's what you meant!" She returned an anxious grin before she noticed every one of us continuously staring at her for her response. "That can wait until later! Right now, I'm so excited for this swap to take place!" She changed the subject back to Pinkie and Maud. "I can't wait one more second to see the wonderful gifts you've gotten each other!"

"Well, you're going to have to." Pinkie replied. "We don't just swap, silly. We always sing the Pie Sisters' Surprise Swap Day Song first! Ready, Maud?"

"As I'll ever be." Maud responded.

Pinkie jumped up on her hooves and began to sidestep, sing, and dance behind her sister.

"It's the Pie Sisters' Swap Day Sooooooong!" She sang out loud before giving the rest over to Maud.

"Hey." Maud simply voiced.

"Okay, time to swap presents!" Pinkie immediately turned over a wrapped box. It took a minute to realize that the wrapping paper that Pinkie had used actually had Maud's face on it. Nevertheless, Maud stretched out her plainly wrapped gift and placed it in the center of the blanket before accepting Pinkie's box. Once Pinkie nearly snatched Maud's gift, she immediately began inspecting its tubular shape. "Hmmmm."

I turned to Maud to find her looking over her unopened gift in an unhurried manner. That was expected of Maud. However, when I turned my head towards Pinkie, I was surprised to see her taking her time as well. I would have expected that she had already torn through that thing, but she actually spent her time licking the box like ice cream.

It was a while before Rarity nearly shrieked out to get things moving along. "Just open them already!"

Maud tore off the wrapping paper, searched through the box with her hoof, and ultimately pulled out what looked like some kind of pouch. "Thanks." She shared as she held it up for everyone to see.

"I knew you'd love it!" Pinkie cheered with tears welling in her eyes. "It was all worth it! Look how happy she is!" She pointed out as Maud placed Boulder inside the pouch. A rock pouch? "And I couldn't have done it without you. Thank you, Rarity." Pinkie exchanged a heartwarming hug with Rarity before pushing her away a few seconds later. "Okay! Time to open your present to me!" She pulled on the string holding the paper together and popped off the lid from the cylindrical container. Closing one eye, she took a look inside and nearly burst into tears. "Oh! You did it again! You got me the best present in the history of PSSSD! This is perfect! This is amazing! This is incredible! I love it, I love it, I love it!" Pinkie jumped for joy before she stopped and tilted her head in confusion. "What is it?"

Just like we talked about back in the swan boats.

"It's little pieces of cupcake-scented paper." Maud explained. "You know, confetti. For your cannon."

"Maud!" Pinkie sniffled as she wiped a tear from her eye. "You know me so well. You really are the most thoughtful gift-giver in the world!" She threw herself at Maud and wrapped her hooves around her. "I'm gonna love it five-ever! That's even longer than for-ever." She ended with an extremely pleased and happy sigh.

I found Rarity looking extremely touched by the sight Pinkie and Maud had produced. I decided I would get back to asking about her boutique, seeing as I was sincerely curious about the news. "So, now that the swap is done, what's the news on your new boutique?"

"Oh… About that…" Rarity's tone unexpectedly dropped. She cleared her throat before she continued speaking. "Could I, uhm, have a word with you…over there?" She asked, pointing to a location near the rock that Maud had picked up Boulder from.

"…uh, sure?" Her behavior continued to grow odd, but that made me even more wanting to know what had been going on. I followed her to her proposed location and awaited her answer. "What's going on?"

"You see…uh." She twirled her hooves around as if she was trying to find a way to explain something to me. "After we left the restaurant, Pinkie and I didn't go out and scout for possible boutique locations…"

"Huh?" I inquired in confusion before she continued her explanation.

"Pinkie didn't have her gift beforehoof, as she had been planning to purchase a rock pouch in a store here at Manehattan. We visited the store when we had left to 'wash our hooves' and found out that it had been closed. This led us to hoping we'd be able to find something else for Maud, but we wound up finding a pony with the exact rock pouch Pinkie had been wanting to buy. Had she let me take the matter into my own hooves, I'm almost certain I would have been able to convince the pony to sell the pouch at a reasonable price. But, Pinkie, she was too excited! She went and told the pony how much she really needed that pouch! If I had been quick enough and stopped her from confronting the pony so recklessly, I'm more than sure she would still have her party cannon!"

"What?" An unexpected voice jumped in.

We both turned to see that Maud had been staring at the two of us, but mostly at Rarity.

"Oh, Maud!" Rarity chuckled in an extremely nervous manner. "How long have you been there? I was only telling Alex how, um…" She took a swift glance at the fields around us. "…the, uh, barley was fanning in, heh heh. Isn't that right?" She nudged me with her leg.

That made no sense…

"Uh, sure…" I replied regardless.

To make things worse on our case, Pinkie skipped along nearby, literally throwing the confetti she had in the air instead of blasting it out from the cannon I now knew she was missing.

"Hee-hee, yay! I love my sister and my new confetti!"

Maud observed her sister for a moment before she turned back in our direction.

"Why isn't she using her party cannon?" She asked, and I couldn't help but sense that she had seen right through Rarity's gimmick.

"Gahhhh..." Rarity slipped anxiously before purposely digging her hooves against the dirt. This move on her part nearly shocked me. In any other situation, Rarity would never ever dirty her hoof like that on purpose, but it only proved to both of us how insanely panicky she had been. "Ooh! Wow, look how filthy my hooves are! I really should go wash them!" Rarity began to excuse herself just like back at the restaurant.

What I saw next was nearly mind-blowing. Maud had been near my side and simply watched as Rarity galloped on. However, right after I had blinked my eyes, she had suddenly appeared in front of Rarity, who had already been a short distance away. I had a feeling that Maud was absolutely serious in hearing what Rarity had been hiding behind her lips if she was now moving as fast as Pinkie!

"Where's her cannon?" Maud asked again as she stared into Rarity's eyes with her usual look.

"No, no, stop, stop giving me that look! I can't take it!" Rarity pleaded as she tried to look away from Maud's gaze. Maud's expression hadn't been any different, but something about it led me to feel uncomfortable with it. It may have been just the tense situation, but I definitely couldn't fault Rarity for wanting Maud to stop with the look. It wasn't long before Rarity looked like she couldn't hold out any longer. "Nnnnn... Pinkie Pie feels bad that the gifts that she always gives you are never as good as the ones that you give her!" She flapped out quickly.

"What?" Maud returned.

"That's why she was willing to give up the party cannon for the pouch!" Rarity pointed a hoof towards the pouch Maud had just received.

"She gave up her party cannon?" She asked before turning in the other direction. The three of us saw Pinkie gloomily sitting on the field we had previously been at and watched her blow out what appeared to be the last of the confetti she had received.

"Pinkie Pie! You might want to come over here for a second!" Rarity called over, hesitantly waving a hoof.

Pinkie regained a smile as she walked over to us and shifted glances side-to-side in a mischievous kind of way. "I think I know what this is about. You guys wanna ride the swans. Well, there are swan boats, but there are real swans here we can ri—"

Maud immediately interrupted Pinkie's questionable recommendation by pressing her nose against hers. "You gave away your party cannon?"

Understandably, she tilted her head past Maud and worriedly turned to Rarity in search of an answer.

"She broke me…" Rarity admitted with a sheepish grin.

"Nnngh, it's just... It's just... It's just..." Pinkie stammered reluctantly, "You always give better gifts than me! That's why I had to get you the perfect gift!"

After breaking Pinkie Pie too and hearing her confession, Maud spent a second to close her eyes and lower her head. Soon after, she turned her body in the opposite direction and began walking without a word. I was afraid that this day may have turned out for the worse, and I was sure that all of us could tell she was upset, despite her lack of emotion.

"Are your hooves dirty? Where're you going?!" Pinkie asked.

"To get your cannon back." Maud looked back and answered before she continued on.

The three of them exchanged glances with one another before we silently followed after her.

We had exited the park and sort of walked aimlessly in the city for a while. There was an uncomfortable still silence between all of us. Rarity and Pinkie Pie looked as if they wanted to say something, even between us and not Maud, but I felt as if they didn't want to make the situation worse. All we could do was follow Maud before she stopped and pointed at the corner of the next block.

"There." She singled out a particular pony that looked rather sketchy, and it didn't help that his cutie mark was a pile of bits. I wouldn't do any business with a pony like that in my book.

"Yep! That sure is the pony I got the pouch from!" Pinkie confirmed.

"That's amazing! How did you know where he'd be?" Rarity asked.

"Maud Sense." Maud briefly answered before walking on.

"Runs in the family!" Pinkie added before joining her sister.

If I remembered correctly, Pinkie's sense had to do with predicting certain things happening, right? So, in this case, did Maud's sense tell her where certain ponies would be?

Pushing that question aside for now, I quickly caught up with the others to accompany them in their confrontation with this shady character. I was more than sure that they'd be able to handle the situation just fine, but I still decided to keep close.

The pony had been proudly polishing Pinkie's obvious party cannon, but Maud stepped up and interrupted him by tapping him a few times. "I'd like to return this pouch for my sister's party cannon, please." She requested as she held the pouch out in front of him.

"Sorry, missy, all sales are final." He simply stated with a noticeable local accent before moving on with the cannon.

However, just like with Rarity, Maud literally disappeared and reappeared in a blink of an eye, cutting off the pony with the cannon as she continued to hold out her pouch. "I'd like to return this pouch for my sister's party cannon, please." I noticed she took on a slightly forceful tone.

No way. Was Maud actually getting mad? Am I seeing her actually get mad right now?!

Rarity had been tapping her hoof against her chin as she observed the interaction. Then, she gasped and dashed into the conversation. "Ooh, I've never seen her like this!" Rarity told him, pointing her hoof directly at Maud's eyes. "Look at the fire in her eyes! You'd better do what she says!"

"Fire in her eyes?" The pony questioned, appearing to grow uncertain.

"Oh! Did she just clench her jaw?! I think she clenched her jaw!" Rarity slapped on.

"I didn't see."

As I listened to Rarity enact her witty plan, I turned over to Maud and began feeling a laugh rise up inside of me. As much as I wanted to laugh out loud, I had to keep it in so the guy couldn't sense any "funny business". Still, seeing no change in Maud's expression, it was just too funny when paired up with Rarity's exaggerated warnings.

"Oh, no! When she clenches her jaw... you know what that means?!"

"What? What's it mean?"

"Trust me, you do not want to know!"

"I'd like to return this pouch." Maud swooped in for the killing blow.

"Here! Take it, take it, please!" He finally caved in with a loud whimper, pushing the cannon towards Maud and grabbed the pouch in return. "Just relax that jaw of yours and turn down that fire in your eyes!"

Honestly, I almost felt a little bad when all we did was just leave him whimpering to himself when we left with the cannon. But, maybe he'll think twice next time before he decides to take advantage of a pony's need for a particular item.

Rarity had excused herself yet again, and I could only wonder why since the gift-giving shenanigan had already blown over. I tried to accompany her to wherever she was going, but she insisted I stay with Pinkie and Maud. I ended up walking with Maud and Pinkie for a while in the streets.

"Maud! I'm so happy you got me my party cannon back! Yay!" Pinkie cheered, riding her cannon past Maud and blasting it off in a satisfactory manner. "Uh-oh." She slipped out, dropping the tone of her voice. "I just realized something. 'Cause you gave back the pouch for my cannon, this is now the second gift you've gotten me today! And it's something I really, really wanted! You did it again! Your gifts are always better than mine! Next year, I'm gonna have to really step it up and—"

Maud pressed a hoof against Pinkie's lips, stopping her from saying any more. "Pinkie, gift-giving isn't a competition. It's an expression of love, and you always make sure to give your gifts with lots of love. That's why I'll always love them, and you, five-ever. That's even longer than for-ever."

Unveiling yet another surprise, Maud flashed one of her extremely small and rare smiles. If I had never met Maud, I wouldn't have realized how amazing it was to see a pony like her actually smile for once. I believe I even started seeing why Pinkie worked so hard to see other ponies smile.

"Awwww!" Pinkie wrapped her hooves lovingly around Maud again before she pulled away seconds after. "But, you still don't have a gift, Maud. I already used my first gift, and right now I have my second, but you don't have anything now."

"Pinkie. You're the only gift I'll ever want and need."

Wiping a tear away from her eye, Pinkie embraced her caring sister yet again.

Is there really not another way to get Maud a rock pouch…?

Pinkie's voice poked me out of my short thoughts when I heard Rarity's name.

"There you are! You've sure been washing your hooves for a long time! We've got a train to catch here!"

"I know, but there is one more sight you all simply must see before we leave." Rarity mentioned, reminding me of one particular thing we had never actually cleared up.

"Voila!" Rarity revealed a boarded and locked up place a few blocks away. Unlike Ponyville and Canterlot, Rarity's boutique wouldn't be a standalone building. Due to the Manehattan atmosphere, she'd have to be within close quarters of other businesses. In this case, she'd be sandwiched between two other businesses. Nevertheless, the building she pointed out was fairly large, but I wasn't sure how much of that building she'd actually be allowed to use. "Welcome to the future home of 'Rarity For You'! What do you think of the place? Is this the right location? Did I pick a good spot?"

"No." Maud returned bluntly for a moment. "You picked the perfect spot."

"I haven't seen the inside of the building, but if you think it's where your boutique should be, then I think you made the right choice, Rarity." I shared honestly.

She grinned brightly at our accepting feedback before Pinkie Pie unloaded a bundle of excitement.

"You know, I think this might be my favorite PSSSD ever! But I can't wait 'til next year's PSSS-D-W-RAA!"

"Wait." Rarity paused with a puzzled look on her face. "PSSS-D-W-RAA? What's that?"

"P-S-S-S-D-W-R-A-A!" Pinkie began to explain. It's a new tradition that Maud and I came up with! Pie Sisters' Surprise Swap Day..."

"With Rarity And Alex." Maud finished.

"Oh! Ohhh! Why, that's the sweetest..." Rarity appeared to be astonished and touched as tears began to well up in her eyes, but all that disappeared in an instant when some kind of reality hit her hard. "Oh, no. Oh, no-no-no-no-no-no. I know how good you two are at giving gifts! I'm going to have to get you both something amazing, and I only have a year to do it!"

"Oh, Rarity! It doesn't matter what you get us! As long as you give your gift with love, it'll be perfect!" Pinkie embraced Rarity, exchanging a wink with Maud, who slowly winked back.

Rarity returned a sigh of relief. "Why, thank you, Pinkie."

"Buuuut now that you mention it..." Pinkie dashed out of our sight for a second to bring in her party cannon. "I could use more confetti for my party cannon. You wouldn't believe how much of that stuff I go through in a day!" She suggested, all while firing another huge ball of confetti.

"That settles it." Rarity stomped her hoof with determination. "I'll be making you my own kind of—"

"Don't ruin the surprise!" Pinkie almost desperately placed a hoof on Rarity's mouth. "I mean, I kind of already know what it's going to be, but I'm just going to pretend that you weren't just telling me what you were going to give me at our next swap!"

"You three can have a swap, but I think I'll stay out of the gift-giving business." I mentioned.

"Why?!" Pinkie Pie approached me in less than a second, squishing my cheeks with her hooves and her eyes nearly touching mine. "Don't you love gifts?!"

"Sure, I do." I responded as I calmly pulled her hooves away from my cheeks. "I know you guys said that all that matters is that you give your gifts with love, and I agree, but I think I'm good without gifts. This is going to be cheesy, but having you all around is enough for me."

"But cheese is the best!" Pinkie exclaimed, fastening her hooves around my neck and tightening her grip to the point where she was about to cut off my circulation.

"And there's nothing wrong with that." Rarity respected my choice as she managed to pull Pinkie away from me with her magic.

"Hey, how much time before our train is supposed to leave?" I asked.

"Around an hour." Rarity replied. "Perhaps we could stop by Miss Pommel's?"

"Yeah." I nodded. "I sort of have to pick up Athena anyway."

"Wonderful!" Rarity began the trek towards Coco's apartment. "I've been meaning to know how well she's been working with the fabric I had suggested for her to use. She needed a few tips on how to properly sew pockets to certain designs and I—"

"Wait a minute!" I suddenly shouted out, stopping in my tracks.

"W-what?!" Rarity cried out, most likely due to my sudden outburst.

"I think I just got an idea!" I turned towards Pinkie, making sure to keep a mental bookmark of what I had just thought up all of a sudden. "Pinkie, I think you might still be able to give Maud your best gift ever!"

"What?! What?!" Pinkie excitedly hopped up and down. "Tell me! Tell me!"

Wanting to keep this a secret between the two of us, I leaned over to her ear and whispered about the details.

"You really think so?!" She eagerly asked, earning a curious glance from Rarity.

I nodded and turned back towards the others of our group. "Come on. Let's get going to Coco's."

"Welcome back!" She greeted me at her door and seemed to notice another pony past me. "Oh, and Rarity! It's so good to see you!" Then, she seemed to finally notice the two other ponies behind us. "Oh, and, um…" She appeared to be confused for a moment. "Sorry, I didn't know you had company."

"We won't be long, darling!" Rarity assured. "We just thought we'd stop by before we'd head back to the train station."

"Plus, I was wondering if you could do me a favor." I brought up.

"Sure, anything!"

It was a little cramped inside, considering there were now six ponies inside her rather small apartment room. Athena noticed the company and came to my side to ask about it.

"Is there a party going on or something?"

"Nope." I briefly responded with and turned over to Pinkie. "Pinkie. Come with Coco and me for a bit."

"Ooh! I'm so excited!" She expressed with shaking hooves.

As Athena and Rarity hopefully kept Maud distracted, I began to let Coco in on the idea I had suggested to Pinkie Pie. Pinkie had wanted to buy a rock pouch for Maud, but there was something else I had come up with that I found was better than buying a rock pouch. The short answer was, well, making a rock pouch.

We didn't have much time, so I already knew it wasn't going to be as perfectly stitched as the one Pinkie wanted to buy. Nevertheless, Coco was on our side, and she was thankfully able to provide tips on how Pinkie could make a good pouch in little time. Coco wanted to let Pinkie do most of the work, but considering our limit on time, she had to step in every once in a while.

Despite everything, Pinkie nearly screeched out in joy when she believed she had finished making the pouch. "Maud! Maud! Maud!" Each one of Pinkie's hooves remained on the floor for only a second at different times. "I've got it! I've got the perfect gift for you! I didn't get to wrap it, but I'm just so excited that I want to give it to you right now! So, here!" She held out the hoof-made pouch using the tip of her mane.

The pouch was definitely not as flashy as the one Pinkie had intended to give. Instead, she had used a somewhat plain brownish fabric. Coco had cut a certain sized portion of this fabric, and all Pinkie really did was bring up the corners of the piece and draw them together with a piece of string. However, the most eye-drawing part of the pouch was a literal drawing on the center of it.

It was more of a painting, but Pinkie had drawn both her and her sister's face onto the center of the pouch. Around their faces were a bunch of pink hearts. Despite their faces being simplistic figures, Pinkie's attention to detail was still praiseworthy. Pinkie's face was, of course, her usual cheerful self. Maud, on the other hoof, wore her usual neutral look. In general, the pouch wasn't something you'd sell in a store, but that was the entire point. And I knew that Pinkie would be able to express her love a whole more if she made the pouch instead.

"You made this for me, Pinkie?" Maud asked, the pitch of her voice actually making a slight raise.

"Mm-hm!" Pinkie fervently shook her head.

"Thank you." Maud gently accepted it and pulled out Boulder from her pocket. She placed Boulder into the nifty pouch and attached it to her body. She continued staring at the pouch for some time before returning her gaze at Pinkie. "I love it." This time, Maud took the initiative and hugged Pinkie first, causing Pinkie's eyes to well up with tears for around the third time today. "I knew you'd love it! I didn't want you to go empty-hooved, after all! Thanks so much, you guys!" Pinkie directed mainly towards Coco and me.

Coco and I could only react with modest and slightly embarrassed expressions, but I personally thought Coco did more than me. She provided the tools necessary to make the pouch after all.

I was the last one to hug Coco goodbye before the rest of us began making our way out of the apartment and towards the direction of the train station. Right before Coco left our sight, Athena made sure to wave her hoof as uncontrollably as she could while promising that we, or at the very least she, would be back soon.

At the station, Maud backed away since she would have to take another train back home. Pinkie continued to nearly hug her sister to death, but because our train was leaving really soon, she eventually decided she was satisfied with the number of hugs she had given and boarded the train. As the others joined Pinkie, I was the only one left standing in front of Maud.

Before I could begin sending her my farewells, Maud spoke first.

"Thanks for today, Alex. It was the schist." She stated with a straight face.

Remembering the "rock joke" earlier, I couldn't help but laugh out loud. "No problem, Maud. I had a great time too."

"I'll see you at my graduation ceremony, maybe?"

"Send me an invitation as soon as you can. I'll try to leave that day and time open. If something else comes up, I'll let you know. Hopefully, it won't come to that."

"Okay. See you around." She said before drawing close for a warm embrace. After a brief moment of silence, she pulled away and began walking in the other direction.

I watched her walk away and began thinking about her for a while.

I already knew that there was so much more to her than what met the eye, but what I didn't know was what exactly lived inside her head. In example, what kind of thoughts did she have when Pinkie gave her the pouch? What kind of thoughts did she have now talking about her graduation? Sometimes, I kind of wanted to pick her brain out of sheer curiosity.

I noticed her stop for a second and give me a profile view of her face. She had turned and looked back at me. The moment was unexpected, but it didn't last long. Athena had been calling me from the train doors as steam puffed and sizzled behind me. "Come on, Alex! You don't want to get left behind, do you?!"

"Coming!" I called out before joining her on the train.

I took my seat beside Athena as the doors closed, and the train began to slowly move. I sighed in relief, just realizing that I almost missed the train back home to Ponyville. "Thanks for reminding me, Athena." I expressed with a slightly embarrassed smile.

"Somepony's gotta watch over you, you know?" She joked, sharing a soft giggle.

"Right back at you." I replied and then caught something past the window. Outside, if I wasn't mistaken, I noticed Maud's rock-solid expression. She appeared to have been looking at our window, but that's all she did.

To anyone else, her expression had undergone no change whatsoever, but there was just something about that look that was different. Honestly, whatever it was, it had some kind of weird effect on me. But, I couldn't pinpoint what exactly…

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