• 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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Buckball Season

The sounds of our battle cries and grunts nearly resonated in an open field surrounded by acres of apple trees. It was almost a toned-down game of chicken; the ball that was nearly swung violently between each of us was the determining point of who was the best. Normally, I never really considered myself one for competition, but for some reason, I wanted to give it my all at this point.

"Take that!" She cried out as she slammed the ball with a mighty hind leg.

"Right back at ya!" I followed the ball upwards with the use of my wings and slammed it back down with a spirited forehoof.

"Hah!" She swung her body all-around and returned a horizontal kick.

"Huh!" I returned the manner with a reverse somersault.

"How's this?!" She smacked the ball loudly with both her forehooves.

"Checkmate!" I swiped at it with my left hind leg.

This continued on like an intense game of ping pong. It was only a matter of time before Rainbow Dash decided to step it up.

"You haven't seen anything yet! Ultra-Rainbow Blast!" In a literal flash, Rainbow flew some distance behind her and zapped back over to the playing field, striking the ball strongly. It appeared the momentum of the ball matched Rainbow's speed, practically teleporting to an area past me. Even if I was able to make contact with it, I was afraid that I'd end up in the hospital. She ultimately settled the score with that ultimate move, and I suppose it didn't help that I had also been distracted with the streak of rainbow she left behind as she moved in to deal the finishing blow. That's how fast she was.

At either point, I had run out of stamina. I had no expectations of beating Rainbow Dash when it came to a game like this, and I would have been left laughing on the ground had I not been so breathless from how much energy I had exerted.

"Ah, yeah! I win!" Rainbow Dash cheered.

"Like it would have been anyway else." I managed to scrape out once I had enough circulation of air going inside me.

Rainbow landed her hooves by me and placed a hoof on my back. "Think of it this way: You lasted way longer than I thought. That's something to be proud of."

Taking one last deep breath, I finally felt my respiratory system was stable enough to talk smoothly. "Well, I don't know about you, but I didn't really care about winning. Just playing with you was fun enough."

"I'm with you there." She returned, her voice losing its competitive and boasting edge to a more friendly and heartfelt one. "I'm glad we could play ball together. I thought it was a lot of fun too. It feels totally amazing to just get all that energy out." Her hoof on my back suddenly enveloped into a tight squeeze around my neck. I wasn't sure if that was done to emphasize her point on "getting energy out", but it was welcomed nonetheless. I personally found it nice to see Rainbow in a kinder state than she usually was in.

However, we had been surprised with the sound of light applause coming from a short distance away from us. Rainbow hastily removed her hooves, and we both looked in the direction of this sound. Sitting on the grass nearby, we found Applejack, Pinkie Pie, and Fluttershy happily bringing their hooves together.

"Whoa! How long have you guys been there?!" Rainbow Dash asked in a slightly startled state.

"We came sometime you two started really getting at it. It looked like a whole lot of fun!" Pinkie cheerfully answered.

"How come you didn't tell me you were gonna use the farm for a little ball game?" Applejack inquired, raising a friendly eyebrow.

"Normally, I wouldn't mind an audience to cheer me on, and that wasn't exactly what I was going for this time around." Rainbow admitted. "Alex and I thought we'd play a little ball with each other to, you know, grow our friendship and all that stuff."

"You two do hardly spend time with each other." Fluttershy noticed. "It's nice to see you getting along."

Rainbow hovered a hoof around me and straightened herself proudly. "Yeah. We're pretty much best buds now. Did any of you want to tag in?"

"No, thanks." Fluttershy answered politely, moving a strand of her hair towards the back of her ear. "That last match looked a little…intense."

"We were just tossing the ball around at first." I mentioned, remembering what happened when we first arrived here. "At some point, things just got heated." I laughed a little at the thought of it.

"Yeah, if you wanna play, we could totally take it down a notch." Rainbow offered.

"Sounds like super-duper fun!" Pinkie bounced energetically.

"Hey, I've got an idea." Applejack pointed out. "How about we play some Buckball?"

"…Buckball?" Fluttershy questioned, appearing to clearly have no clue in regards to the name of the game, much less the actual mechanics behind it.

"Oh, I dominate in that game!" Rainbow stated boldly.

"Great! You can help me teach the other ponies how to play." Applejack said.

"Yeah, totally." Rainbow responded before raising up something else. "Just one thing. Uh, what exactly is Buckball?"

"Wh-What? You just said you knew how to play." Applejack stammered a bit from confusion.

"I said I dominate in that game. I didn't say I even knew what the game was." Rainbow corrected.

"But how can you be so good at a game that you don't even know anythin' about?" Applejack argued.

"Cause I'm the best at every game, that's why!"

Applejack lowered her eyelids halfway before she released an exasperated sigh.

"Here's how it works." Applejack moved on towards the field and set up a post with a bucket on top at one end. "First, we have two Earth Ponies up front on offense. That'd be me and Pinkie. Over here, Pinkie." She directed her over to the center of the field.

"One second!" Pinkie grabbed a couple of hair bands and tied them around the left and right side of her mane, making it look like she had a couple of puffy pompoms for hair. Lastly, she tagged on a similar headband and slipped into a matching shirt. "Ready!" She hopped on forward before she joined Applejack and faced her with a bright smile.

Deciding to completely ignore Pinkie's spontaneous wardrobe, she continued her explanation over the game. "Next, we have the Pegasus ponies. They stand by the goals on defensive. Their job is to keep any ball from going into the bucket. So, Rainbow, you're over here." She gestured her towards her side. "Fluttershy, you're on the other side with Pinkie."

"Cool. Doesn't seem hard." Rainbow casually flew over as Fluttershy moved towards the opposite way, stationing herself in front of the designated area. Rainbow's eyes roamed around for a bit before she turned over to Applejack in question. "Um, Applejack, where is the goal?"

"That's where Alex comes in." Applejack mentioned. "Normally, we have two Unicorns for this part of the team, but all we've got is an Alicorn, so that will have to do." Applejack lifted up a bucket and kicked it over to me. I had no choice but to catch it with my magic. "Usually, what the unicorns do is float this here basket around the outside of the field and catch as many balls as possible for their team. There's supposed to be two baskets like this, but since we only have one pony that uses magic here, we've got to make do with a stationary basket that Fluttershy is guarding. It's a handicap for us, but considering the way I arranged our teams, I figured it's as balanced as I could make it."

"Just wondering. Are Alicorns even allowed to play Buckball?" Rainbow asked. "You know, seeing as they're like the jack of all trades?"

"That's the thing." Applejack wondered herself. "I don't think there's ever really been an Alicorn that's played Buckball, much less competed in a competition. So, there aren't exactly any 'official' rules for an Alicorn playing. I'd think as long as they stick to one position and play it as a pony would normally play it, they'd be fine. Either way, this is just a friendly game, so there's no worrying about the rules for now."

"So…where do I go?" I asked.

"With us." Applejack pointed out. "You'll be trying to catch any balls Pinkie kicks on over to us. All you simply do is move the bucket wherever the ball goes. You're essentially playing catch with a bucket instead of your hooves."

"Oh, I see." I swung the bucket around a little bit as I aligned myself on the opposite side of the field. "In that case, you're right. It is a handicap for you because you have no one to help you shoot into the goal on the other side."

"But, it's Applejack and us, so it's like she said: It balances out." Rainbow Dash smirked lightly.

"So, all I have to do is just make sure the ball doesn't go into the bucket, right?" Fluttershy asked with a slightly raised voice, having been on the other side of the field.

"You got it, Fluttershy!" Applejack confirmed. "Everypony ready to give it a test run?"

"Ready!" Pinkie sang jubilantly.

Applejack retrieved the ball and positioned herself backward, holding the ball on top of her back hoof. "Okay, just try your best, Pinkie. I have been doin' this a lot longer than you." She encouraged before tossing the ball upwards.

As soon as it bounced once off the ground, Pinkie immediately flung her hind legs backward, kicking the ball straight towards Rainbow Dash. Rainbow appeared to be just as surprised as Applejack was, so it took her a second before she tried to toss the ball backward. However, it just missed her hoof, and I needed to jerk the bucket upwards in order to catch it in time.

"Whoa. I was not expectin' that." Applejack commented. "Nice kick, Pinkie."

"Hehe, thanks!" She elatedly appreciated.

Rainbow Dash swung her head around before cracking a few bones. "Alright. I wasn't ready that time, but now I am!"

I tossed the ball in the bucket over to Applejack, who played around with it for a short time before preparing another check with Pinkie. "Here we go." She tossed it up into the air, and the two of them waited until it bounced once before they had at it. Pinkie managed to get the first hit again, and it was sent flying over to Rainbow Dash.

However, this time, Rainbow Dash licked her lips and proceeded to pound the ball back, passing it over to Applejack. "Coming your way, Applejack!"

"Nice save, Rainbow!" Applejack locked eyes onto the ball and slammed it over to Fluttershy's direction. At the sight of this, Fluttershy's eyes widened, and it seemed she panicked at the moment. All she could do was drift out of the way, allowing the ball to land perfectly inside the goal.

"I think you're supposed to hit it back." Pinkie Pie mentioned.

"I'm sorry." Fluttershy apologized. "I just got scared. It was moving really fast…"

"You'll get it next time," Rainbow Dash encouraged, "You don't need to slam it with your hooves or anything. As long as you block it, you're pretty much doing your job."

"Toss it over here, Fluttershy." Applejack requested. "We'll give it another go."

Fluttershy pulled it out from within the bucket and lightly chucked it over to Applejack. Catching it with her hind legs once more, she went on to hurl it upwards. Pinkie had been a little too busy staring at something on the ground, so she was caught off guard when the ball bounced on top of the area in front of her.


Applejack gained the first kick this time, and it headed straight towards Fluttershy. Fluttershy immediately closed her eyes and rolled over mid-air. However, surprisingly, the ball didn't go straight in the goal this time. In actuality, it almost looked like it had completely disappeared into thin air. It wasn't until Fluttershy stopped vertically twirling when a ball flung out from her tail. "Whee!" She giggled heartily, seeming to enjoy the moment of throwing the ball back with success.

"Aww!" I couldn't help but find her reaction absolutely adorable.

"Somersault kick!" Pinkie flipped forward and kicked it over to my basket.

It looked like Rainbow had been surprised by Fluttershy's move this time, so she had a hard time sending the ball back. I, myself, hadn't been paying too much attention in moving the bucket, but, luckily, the ball had been heading straight towards where I had been hovering the goal. We had earned another point on our behalf.

"Hey, this game is pretty easy!" Pinkie stated after witnessing our accomplishment.

"Ooh!" Fluttershy giggled as she joined in with Pinkie's excitement. "It actually is kinda fun!"

"Where in Equestria did you learn to buck like that, Pinkie?" Applejack asked.

"I donnu!" She happily shrugged. "I did have to use my legs a lot back when I still worked at the rock farm."

"Fluttershy, that spinning tail catch was pretty awesome…!" Rainbow Dash recognized.

"Hehe, you really think so?" Fluttershy returned with a touch a bashfulness.

"I never thought I'd say this…but you two might actually give Ponyville a winning chance against Appleloosa!" Applejack announced.

"Huh?" Rainbow closed in, inquiring about what Applejack had just said. "What's this about Ponyville and Appleloosa?"

"Oh, right…" Applejack replied, seeming to find Rainbow's confusion understandable. "You see, normally, I play Buckball competitively with only Earth ponies. In this case, I'd play for Ponyville, and my cousin, Braeburn, would play for the Appleloosa team. All's fair, right? Well, up until this one day, Braeburn somehow convinced a Pegasus and a unicorn to come play with him on the Appleloosa team, and he can't stop braggin' about how his team is gonna beat ours! So, I've been looking to match him on even grounds, and I was actually going to ask you if you wanted to join, Rainbow, but looking at Fluttershy and Pinkie play, I'm actually thinkin' they might prove a better challenge against Braeburn and his buddies. You and Fluttershy are both new, but for some reason, she's…kinda better than you. Pinkie, on the other hoof, has a solid kick, and Braeburn already knows how I play when it comes to Buckball. Pinkie loves giving out surprises, and I'm more than sure she'll definitely surprise him with a game of Buckball."

"And what about the unicorn?" Rainbow Dash brought up. "Are you gonna give it to Alex?"

Applejack rubbed her chin as she seemed to look me over. "Well…he could definitely use some practice, but seeing as we don't have any other unicorns willing to play, I suppose he'll have to do. No offense." She made sure to clear up before finishing her assessment."

"None taken." I casually responded as I finally placed the bucket I had been carrying down onto the grass.

"What are we waiting for?!" Pinkie excitedly juggled several balls that seemed to have come from nowhere with her legs. "This game is fun! I want to keep playing!"

"It is a whole lot more fun than I thought it would be." Fluttershy lightly brushed her tail.

"It's exactly as much fun as I thought it would be! A whole bunch!" Pinkie screamed, ultimately kicking every ball she juggled towards a certain field within a short distance.

"Carryin' my water

My water, my water

Carryin' my water

On my shoulder pole"

We heard a faint lazy-sounding voice chant on a dirt path nearby.

"SNAILS! LOOK OUT!" Pinkie Pie flailed her hooves about as she shrieked and looked in the direction she kicked the ball towards.

"Hmm?" He lazily looked back, finding a hail of balls raining down upon him. He didn't even try to move out of the way. I, for one, was afraid he was just going to stand there and let himself be hit, but each of us was surprised when the buckets of water that he had been carrying levitated off his shoulders and caught every single loose ball in a whirl-like motion. Honestly, he looked like he didn't even try.

"Amazing…!" Applejack noticed with widened eyes as he began making his way over to us.

"You should be more careful with these. You could lose them." He offered a friendly warning as he returned the balls he had caught with his buckets.

Applejack and Rainbow Dash looked at each other for a second before Rainbow Dash glanced at me. "Alex, give him your bucket really quick."

"Okay?" I lightly tossed over the bucket, and Snails stared at it with a hard-to-read expression on his face. I couldn't even tell if there was an expression to read in the first place.

"You mind holdin' that, Snails?" Applejack asked.

"Hmm? Sure." He obliged as he picked up the basket with his magic. "What do you want me to do with it?"

"Catch!" Applejack lifted up the balls that had been returned and kicked them straight back to Snails.

In a singular second, every ball smacked against the back end of the bucket, and Snails had remained standing there with no falter or hint of weakness coming from him. It was uncanny. With the kind of name of Snails, one would think he'd be slow all around.

"Anything else?" He asked.

"Wow, Snails. You're a natural at buckball." Fluttershy complimented.

"It's a good thing, too." Pinkie agreed. "I would've freaked out if you had been hurt by those balls I kicked."

"Well then, AJ." Rainbow faced Applejack, nudging her lightly. "Looks like you got your unicorn for the Ponyville team."

"Are you talking about Snails?" Fluttershy questioned. "I thought we had settled on Alex being our unicorn."

"I don't mind giving up my spot." I forfeited easily. "The game's pretty fun, but I hardly know anything about it, and it seems you and Pinkie are naturals at it. If Snails ran as the unicorn, you guys would be like the perfect team."

"Oh…" Fluttershy seemed rather disappointed as she lightly brushed her mane with her hoof. "I was just hoping we could be together like in the Equestria Games…"


"Things are kind of different when it comes to buckball, Fluttershy." Rainbow Dash pointed out. "Even if Alex stayed in your team, he's gonna be spending the entire game on the other side of the field with the other team, remember?"

"Besides, I'll still be there to cheer you on, you know?" I mentioned in an effort to cheer her up.

"I suppose that's fine…" She raised a small smile as a result.

"What do you say, Snails?" Applejack turned to him. "Wanna join the Ponyville team and help us beat Appleloosa?"

"Sure." He responded with a short shrug. "After I deliver this water, I don't really have anything else to do."

"Well, Snails, with you on the team, Ponyville is one step closer to crushing Appleloosa!" Rainbow Dash believed.

"Plus, our Pegasus and Earth Pony are sure to knock the competition out faster than Granny Smith can core an apple." Applejack stated, facing Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy.

"Are you really serious about having us play for you, Applejack?" Fluttershy asked with uncertainty lingering in her voice. "It's just, you and Rainbow Dash are the most athletic out of all of us. I would think you two would be easily better than us when it comes to this."

"I can't put my hoof on it, but, like I said, you two are absolutely incredible at this game! Almost like you were meant to play."

"Normally, I'd be so pumped to know that all of Ponyville was counting on me to win." Rainbow Dash added. "I give it my all when it comes to sports, but you still flew rings around me. That tail, Fluttershy. You really got something there. I've never seen a pony use their tail to throw a ball in a game before."

"Oh, I'm sorry." Fluttershy apologized. "I was just having fun."

"Well, you can have all the fun you want as long as it's while you're beatin' the hide off of Braeburn's team." Applejack suggested.

"I do like fun!" Pinkie emphasized.

"Honestly, the game was a little scary at first, but once I got the hang of it, I had a pretty good time. I guess playing wouldn't hurt." Fluttershy decided.

"Let's get this party started!" Pinkie danced and swung her hooves around in excitement.

"All right. But if we really wanna beat Appleloosa, we're gonna have to get serious."

The mood seemed to shift once Applejack said that. To be honest, I couldn't help but reflect over the course of actions that led us to where we were now. It all started with a friendly game of ball between Rainbow Dash and me, and now Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, and Snails were somehow roped into a competition between Ponyville and Appleloosa. It didn't seem exactly like a bad thing at first, but the look on Applejack's face gave me doubts.

"Serious?" Fluttershy inquired about.

"Serious how?" Pinkie clarified.

Applejack began walking off and motioned her hoof over. "Follow me."

"Um, can I finish delivering this water I have?" Snails brought something up that a lot of us seemed to have forgotten about.

"Of course! But come straight back here when you're finished, kay?" Rainbow Dash responded.

"Yes, ma'am!" Snails returned a salute before heading on off with his delivery.

Applejack began leading us through rows of seemingly endless apple trees. However, it somewhat felt like my time here was over. In other words, it appeared that Applejack had something in store for Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, and even Snails, yet I was just tagging along mostly because of Fluttershy.

"Is it just me, or did anypony else get a weird feeling when Applejack said that we'd have to get 'serious'?" Pinkie Pie whispered between Fluttershy and me.

"I'm sure she just wants us to be focused when we're playing against Appleloosa." Fluttershy responded positively. "It kind of reminds me how Rainbow Dash led us when it came to the Equestria Games. Although…" She glanced over at me with saddened eyes. "You won't be on the team with us this time."

"You can bet I'll be there to cheer you on." I promised. "Besides, it sounds like Applejack just wants to get back at her cousin, and for this time, she wants the best players she can get. If you ask me, I think you two should feel pretty proud of yourselves."

"I can totally do a 'Hooray! We beat Appleloosa!' party after the game! What better way to end a fun game with an amazingly fun party?" Pinkie added.

"What if we don't win?" Fluttershy questioned.

"We can still have the party. Just need to mess with the name a bit, that's all."

"We're here, y'all!" Applejack announced a short distance from us and stretched out her hoof towards a clearing just past a couple of apple trees. "You wanted to know how serious I was, well here it is!"

The three of us caught up with her and took a look at what exactly she had been pointing at. In another field clearing, there had been, what looked like, a huge obstacle course set up. Judging from the baskets on top of the grounded poles, it was a course meant specifically for buckball.

"With serious power comes with serious practice!" Applejack included.

"How long have you had this?!" I couldn't help but ask, never once coming across an intricate playfield like this on her farm.

"How else do you think I get ready for some fierce buckball matches?" Applejack answered my question with one of her own. "Anypony who wants to be in tiptop shape needs to run through this course a few times."

"Wow." Fluttershy responded with a nervous gulp. "This looks pretty intense."

"You're telling me!" Rainbow Dash squeezed in between Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy. "I'm so jealous! You two get to run this course! It looks so fun!"

"Nothin's stopping you from running through it too, Rainbow Dash." Applejack mentioned.

"Yeah, I know. But, who else is gonna help you shape up these two to be the best buckball players ever? You want them to win against Appleloosa? I can definitely help with that! After all, they're not only going to be representing all of Ponyville, they're also going to be representing us, considering I was your first choice anyhow."

"I like your attitude, Rainbow Dash." Applejack nodded her head in approval as she tipped her hat. "You're definitely amazin' at risin' up some spirits. Glad to have you on board." Next, she turned towards their players. "Giddy up, ponies. Before we leave for Appleloosa tomorrow, you two are gonna be practicing as hard as we would."

"Wait. We're leaving tomorrow?!" Pinkie nearly screamed out from surprise.

"Yep." Applejack easily responded as if she didn't have an issue with the lack of time in between. "The pressure really gets you fired up, know what I'm saying?"

"No!" Pinkie and Fluttershy answered simultaneously, but it didn't seem like it was taken seriously.

"I know it seems like a bad thing, but, trust me, when you're racing against the clock, you get heaps better!" Rainbow advised. "Now, hop to it! Fluttershy, you're with me!"

"And, Pinkie, you're training with me." Applejack directed.

"Hold on a second." I spoke in the middle of trying to wrap my head around our current fast-paced situation. "Don't you think this is a little too much? They just started playing the game."

"Nah. This is easy." Rainbow answered boldly. "Fluttershy and I used to do this sort of stuff back at Flight Camp. Besides, I didn't know about this game until a little while ago, and I can do this easy-peasy."

"But, you're used to this kind of stuff, Rainbow." I argued.

"Here." Rainbow turned to Fluttershy and carried a ball within her hooves. "Let me show you how it's done, and since you're crazy good, it's only a matter of time before you reach my level." She formed a tightened grip on her ball and proceeded to dash through a certain section of the course.

First, she juggled the ball around effortlessly across a path of rings. Next, she swerved left and right, easily passing through a row of blue and red colored sticks without clipping a hoof or a wing. Then, she dribbled the ball up a flight of platforms all while somersaulting at the same time. Finally, she carried the ball through several airborne rings and came down a swirling tube to the finish. Throughout this eye-drawing show, Fluttershy gasped and whimpered at each and every sight.

"If you wanna guaranteed win, you should totally get this drill down. It's all about ball control." Rainbow Dash skidded to a stop, tossing Fluttershy the ball and causing her to fumble with it due to surprise.

"I don't think she needs to go to that extreme…" I shared.

"If Applejack thinks they need practice, then I say they could definitely use the practice." Rainbow replied. "Applejack's the only one who's seen Appleloosa's team in action, so it's good to be ready for anything."

"And you think they're going to nail what you just did down in a single day?"

"It's okay." I suddenly felt Fluttershy press a comforting hoof against me. I turned to find a warm smile lighting her face. "I don't want to take the easy way out. If Rainbow Dash and Applejack think I can use this training, then I don't think it can hurt to try."

"That's the spirit, Fluttershy!" Rainbow Dash cheered.

I had no place to tell Fluttershy what she could or couldn't do, so I felt that I needed to let her give this extreme obstacle course a whirl, despite how dangerous it may have seemed.

"Ready?" Rainbow Dash asked, earning a confident nod from Fluttershy. "Go!" Fluttershy proceeded to take the first step, mimicking Rainbow Dash when it came to balancing the ball on her hind legs. However, while Fluttershy was making good progress, she was taking her time, and this incited some shouting to bellow out of her coach. "Come on! Faster! You don't want Ponyville to lose because you can't get into high gear, do you?!" Fluttershy lost her balance at the sound of Rainbow Dash screaming into her ear, and she fell over, losing the ball that she had been keeping balanced upon her head. I tried to step in, but Rainbow immediately held a hoof in front of me. "No helping! She's gotta rely on herself first if she wants to be the best!"

"Since when did she want to be the best?" I almost angrily barked out.

Nevertheless, despite my clear and nearly open objections, this 'training' continued to go on. At first, Pinkie appeared to have better luck with Applejack, but it was only a matter of time before she started struggling as much as Fluttershy was. Both Applejack and Rainbow Dash were barking orders towards their respective trainees, and it started giving me glimpses of what it had been like in Wonderbolt Academy.

I remember Rainbow Dash being somewhat strict and bold with us when it came to our Equestria Games training, but something was definitely different at this point. Our Equestria Games training felt more like a team project, with each of us helping each other to the top. The training now felt more like an obsessed parent trying to force victory and success upon their child. I believed it was safe to say that Pinkie and Fluttershy no longer appeared to be having the same kind of fun that they were having earlier today. On the other hoof, Snails had, at some point, returned and had been meditating with a circle of buckets spinning around him. He caught any stray ball without opening his eyes, and he proved to be having a much easier time than the others were. Just what kind of situation has every one of us gotten into?

As much as I wanted to speak for the both of them, I instead felt pretty conflicted. Especially when it came to Fluttershy, I almost felt as if I'd be going against her wishes, should I try to intervene. For a while now, she's been looking to march past her weak self and be a bolder pony. It was clear that she didn't want to always rely on me the majority of the time like she used to, and as much as I supported her decision to improve herself, I couldn't help but feel this was unnecessary or too much.

Besides, even if I tried to step in to help either of them, I'd always get interrupted by their coach. If it had been Applejack coaching Rainbow Dash or vice versa, things would be different. I'd know that they'd be able to handle these harsh training tactics because that's what they were clearly used to. In the end, all I could really do is briefly look away and flinch at the sight of any one of them failing.

Applejack and Rainbow gathered together to speak with one another as each of us watched the two trainees struggle with grabbing a simple ball. I think it was clear enough that they didn't have anything more left in them.

"All right! That's it for today, y'all!" Applejack finally called out, allowing each of us to release a breath of relief.

For Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy, it was due to physical exertion. For me, it was mental exhaustion.

"I thought practice was supposed to make us better." Pinkie pointed out.

"Maybe we just need a little rest." Fluttershy suggested.

"Or a whole lot of it." Rainbow Dash corrected after witnessing the performance that they had given.

"Just be sure to get your heads in the game before tomorrow. All of Ponyville is countin' on a win." Applejack stated before leaving the field with Rainbow Dash. Behind them, Snails walked with an absentminded grin. It was almost like this session was just another ordinary day in his life.

"How are you guys doing?" I approached the two as Pinkie slowly slid the bands affixed to her hair and head off with a confused frown.

"I'm not so sure I want to play anymore…" Pinkie responded as she stuffed the bands into her mane.

"We already said we'd play. We don't want to disappoint them." Fluttershy brought up.

"I guess you're right, Fluttershy." Pinkie agreed. "I know we didn't Pinkie promise, but I still wouldn't want to break any kind of promise in the first place."

Fluttershy sighed heavily and began to scratch the surface of the dirt beneath her with her hoof. "I really don't want to let Applejack and Rainbow Dash down, or anypony else, but after that practice, I'm not feeling very confident."

"Well, maybe we weren't that bad!" Pinkie attempted to pull up a hopeful grin as she glanced over to Fluttershy, but Fluttershy returned no sign of agreement. "I guess I was hoping you saw something I didn't."

"I know our friends want us to win, but how can the whole town be counting on us if most ponies have never even heard of buckball?"

"I know! How can we disappoint a pony who doesn't even know we have a team?"

"Or that we're gonna play Appleloosa?"

"Pfft. Yeah. I don't think we need to worry. I'd be surprised if anypony in this town cares about this game at all."

After witnessing their short and oddly uplifting conversation, I joined the two as they began making their way out of the farm.

"I guess that's one way to put it…" I took an uncomplacent stance on their thoughts. "I kind of wish the game with Appleloosa wasn't brought up, to begin with. No offense, but you two are better off just having a casual game instead of participating in a competition."

"No, I agree one hundred percent." Pinkie replied. "I don't want to have ponies judging my every move when all I'm doing is just trying to have fun."

"Ponies judge you in a game of buckball?" Fluttershy worriedly began to ask.

"Ponies always—"

"No." I returned Pinkie a stern and miniature scold, lowering my eyelids half-way towards her.

"Let's just do our best, kay?" Pinkie revised her last remark and shared a bright and shiny grin.

Later on, during the evening, it seemed Fluttershy was beginning to succumb to the effects of soreness from her earlier workout with Rainbow Dash. I helped her to bed and proceeded to stretch her blanket over her and tuck her as comfortably and neatly as I could into her bed.

"I feel so much better now that I'm lying in bed." Fluttershy mentioned as she sweetly gazed at me. "You know, I have a good feeling I'll be so much better tomorrow. Today was just a little rough because neither of us had expected we'd end up playing a game we hardly know about against an experienced team. Tomorrow's a new day, and I'm feeling good about it already."

"You sure worked up a sweat today." I said as I brushed my hoof against her mane. "When you wake up tomorrow, try taking a bath. That might help calm any nerves you might have."

She silently nodded and stretched her loving smile at me. "I'm glad to have you here with me, sweetie."

"I've gotta look after my girl, you know?" I tried to mimic her brother's voice, but I seemed to fail horribly. "Ugh. Yeah, that doesn't exactly work well with me." I admitted, finding relief since failing at his voice was more of a good thing for me.

Nevertheless, Fluttershy giggled at my attempt. "Hey, Alex…?"

"Mm-hm?" I leaned in closer to her.

"If we win, will you take me out on a date?"

"Are you kidding?" I instantly returned. "I'll take you out whether you win or lose. That's a promise."

Her eyes closed as her lips spread outwards to reveal a cheery yet soft grin. "That makes me really happy. I'll make sure to do my very best for you out there."

I chuckled. "Heh heh, this is kind of weird."

"Hm? Why?" She inquired.

"It's just, it feels like it should be the other way around. I should probably be the one who needs to prove himself in some kind of aggressive sport and you're the one who motivates me by promising me a date no matter what happens afterwards."

"Oh, you think?" Fluttershy thought for a bit and giggled once more. "I guess that makes sense."

"You better get some sleep now." I turned out her lights. "After today, you could definitely use as much rest as you can get."

"I just hope Pinkie is doing better. I feel bad that I'm the one you're taking care of." Fluttershy expressed with her expression shifting to worry for a moment.

"Come on. She's Pinkie." I reassured. "Considering she's always bouncing around everywhere she is, I'm sure some hardcore exercise is hardly anything for her. She's probably having her milk and cookies right about now."

Fluttershy nodded and began to slip underneath the sheets. "Goodnight, Alex."

"Goodnight, Fluttershy." I returned with an open heart before preparing to step out.

"Could I have one more second with you?" She suddenly requested, causing me to turn around and approach her bed once again.

"Yeah, of course. What is it?" I asked at her bedside.

"Come closer." She mentioned innocently, poking her head from underneath her sheets as she gave a childlike smile.

I did so, and she immediately surprised me with a sweet kiss on the lips. Afterwards, she turned on her side and closed her eyes, saying no more. I continued watching her for a little while longer as the smile on my face stretched. I had to sort out what had happened within my mind a little, but, ultimately, I left her to sleep in peace.

At the castle, I made my way over to my room with a fairly loud yawn, but just as I passed by the library, I caught a glimpse of somepony inside. I turned and walked past the doorway, almost immediately spotting Athena's resting body on top of the sofa chair.

Her foreleg hung over the hoofrest as her right cheek pressed against the area near it. Her eyes had been closed, and she silently breathed in and out. However, I noticed something below her on the floor that appeared to have fallen not too long ago. It was her sketchbook, and it seemed like she didn't get to finish whatever she was drawing before she dozed off and passed out. I carefully picked it up, along with the pencil that was hiding underneath it, and placed on the table nearby. Just as I was going to pick her up and put her to bed, I spotted another pony quietly reading across from her.

"Watcha reading?" I asked, approaching her in her seat.

"Huh?" She seemed fairly surprised at my presence. "Oh, I'm not reading. I'm looking through some old pictures." She smiled as she turned over the front of the book towards me. It was actually a scrapbook instead of the lengthy books she usually read.

"Feeling a little nostalgic or something?" I wondered, taking a seat next to her.

"I don't know. Maybe." She began shifting through the scrapbook, her eyes scanning every page carefully. "I saw this on the bookshelf and decided I would take a short peak. Before I knew it, I was going through the entire thing. It's so weird looking back now." She giggled at a particular page and angled it to where I had a better look. "Hehe, remember this?" She pointed out a photo of us right after we had solved the mystery of the MMM cake. "Back when you were just an Earth Pony and I was still a plain and simple unicorn. Now the two of us are Alicorns. Who would've guessed?"

"For you, Celestia, maybe." I intentionally took her question a little too literally. However, I began wondering something a little more deep and serious. "Hey. I don't know if this is a dumb question, but have you ever thought about going back to being a 'simple unicorn'? I mean, back then, all you had to worry about were your studies and learning about friendship. Now, well, you know, you got princess stuff to do."

"I don't think I can 'go back' to being a unicorn, but if you're asking if I miss not being a princess and having wings, well…hm…" She thought to herself for a moment. "That's actually a hard question to answer. I guess the best way I could describe it is…I've got a lot of good memories from back then, and while it'd be nice to sort of experience them again, I wouldn't exactly give up what I have right now to go back to those 'simple times'. That make sense?"

"Yeah, I think I get it."

"What about you?" She now turned my question around to me. "Do you miss being an Earth Pony? After all, you became an Alicorn way before I did."

"That's funny actually." I mentioned. "Apparently, if I remember correctly, I had the ability to change forms whenever I wanted, but I stupidly never practiced with it. I just stayed one for the entire time unless I spontaneously lost it. Even then…" I took some time to gather what I wanted to say. "I think I sort of feel the same way as you, Twilight. There are memories back then that I'd like to experience again, but I don't want to give up what I have now to go back to those times. After all, being an Alicorn, I feel like I can help everypony else so much more, you know?" Thinking about how I had just met Fluttershy's parents for the first time not too long ago, I immediately turned over to Twilight in emphasis. "It's like this. If I hadn't had any wings, I'm not sure I would've been able to properly meet Fluttershy's parents! If I didn't have wings, she'd had to stay on the ground for my sake. If I wanted to so much go to her old home in Cloudsdale, I'd need to rely on your magic every time. I didn't realize having something like wings was such an important privilege back then, mostly because I never had them to begin with. If they were to just disappear into thin air, I don't know what I'd do. There'd be no more 'fly dates' with Fluttershy. Heck, I'd even miss your lessons on making better use of my magic."

"Are my lessons that bad?" Twilight asked, fortunately finding my comment a little humorously.

"Well, they aren't bad." I replied honestly. "They're just a little…boring. But, even so, the most important thing I find with those lessons aren't exactly what I learn from you. It's the time we spend together practicing those lessons. It's because of my horn that we're able to have a closer bond between each other, and it's the same way with everyone else. To lose both my horn and wings, it'd feel like those extra special moments between us, made possible by my Alicorn status, would just snap off."

Twilight closed the scrapbook and faced directly at me. "I understand why you think being an Alicorn lets you be closer to us, but you know we wouldn't think any less of you if you didn't have your wings or horn, right?"

I nodded. "Yeah, I know. It's more like…you'd have to cater to my disadvantage if I couldn't fly or use magic. In other words, we couldn't do anymore of the fun things that would need at least either one of those things."

"Hey. If that ever happened, we'd find a way to keep things fun." She concluded with a soft embrace. "No matter what, we're always a royal duo, got it?"

"Yeah, yeah…" I smiled lightly in response. Once, she pulled away, I turned over to where I had first spotted Athena and began standing up. "I better get her to bed. Are you going to be up late?"

"Nah. I think I might just head to bed myself." She answered as she lifted the scrapbook off the floor and slid it in its proper place on the bookshelf.

"Got it." I returned, lightly picking up Athena with my magic. "See you tomorrow, then?"

"Like always."

"Goodnight, Twilight." I wished as I made my way out of the library.

"Night!" She shared happily as she waved me off.

The day after, I couldn't help but think a little about what Twilight and I had talked about the night before. In fact, it was a little eerie in wondering how things would be if I were to lose my wings and horn, but I was eventually able to brush them off, figuring that such a loss would most likely never happen to me. At either point, I needed to stay focused on Fluttershy's game today. I was sure she was counting on me to be there to support her all the way.

"I feel so good about today!" Fluttershy shared as we, along with Pinkie Pie, made our way to the train station to rendezvous with Rainbow, Applejack, and Snails. "Actually, I feel like a new pony! I don't know what I was worrying about yesterday."

"Me too!" Pinkie agreed as she happily bounced alongside us. "I had a bunch of cupcakes after I woke up today. I'm ready for action!"

Gleefully sending an appreciative grin at Pinkie Pie's excitement, Fluttershy lifted her head to get a good view of the sky. "It's such a nice day outside. A perfect day for a nice and friendly game. Oh, I can't wait. It's going to be so much fun."

"I know, right? Imagine if there was going to be a crowd screaming at every second for us to win?" She mentioned as we approached the train station. "That would be so distracting."

"Go, Ponyville! Go, Ponyville! Win, win, win!"

A crowd of ponies wearing particular colors chanted in front of our designated stationed train. Confetti magically fell from the ceiling above and swayed past the frozen faces Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie held. I think it was safe to say that they were in a state beyond surprise.

"Whoa." Snails appeared out of nowhere, witnessing the overwhelming sight for himself. "The whole town really seems to care about this game a lot." He proceeded to walk on forward, appearing completely unfazed, unlike his other two teammates.

"What are you waiting for?!" Rainbow Dash squeezed in between and began nudging them towards the open door of the train. "Train's going to leave any minute! You wouldn't want to disappoint your fans now, would you?"

Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie had to nearly be pushed and stuffed into the train due to their stiff and unmoving legs. Inside, they remained glued behind a window, continuously observing the crowd in still silence as they roared loudly in support of their town's team. Eventually, the train began moving, and it was clear that the two players didn't look as confident as they did just a little while ago.

Catching Rainbow Dash nearby, I poked her side and yearned for an answer to the unexpected send-off. "I thought nopony in Ponyville knew about this game. What was with the crowd?"

"Heh. We kinda went around town and talked up the team a little." She spoke as if she had been doing them a favor.

"Yup!" Applejack strongly agreed by her side. "We wanted to make sure our amazing players knew that all of Ponyville was behind them!"

"Greaaaaat..." Pinkie nervously shared.

"I hear the whole town's already plannin' a parade for when you get back after whuppin' Appleloosa! That should feel pretty good!" Applejack mentioned.

"It should...?" Fluttershy worriedly asked, the idea of everypony counting on her clearly troubling her.

"Totally!" Rainbow Dash excitedly exclaimed. "Just spend the whole ride to Appleloosa thinking about everypony cheering for the victorious Ponyville buckball team!" Gasping shortly, her motivational speech did not falter in the slightest. "I bet Princess Celestia even comes to congratulate you! If that doesn't get you in 'the zone', I don't know what will!"

"Princess Celestia?" I cut in. "I don't even think she knows about the game."

"I'm just trying to raise everyone's' spirits, that's all." She excused.

I heard Fluttershy sighing loudly before she managed to speak in a calm tone. "Listen, Rainbow Dash, I appreciate that you're trying to get us 'in the zone', but I'm afraid neither of us has any means to play anymore."

"What?!" Rainbow Dash and Applejack reacted in unison.

"Why?! You two wanted to play for Ponyville against Appleloosa!" Rainbow pursued the reason for Fluttershy announcing their dismissal. "You two loved the game! Why are you quitting on us now?! Don't tell me you two are getting stage fright! I mean, I expect it from you, Fluttershy, but Pinkie?! You're always the center of attention when it comes to everypony around you!"

"Uh…well…" Pinkie Pie tapped her hooves together and began rubbing the back of her head uncomfortably. "How exactly do I say this? You see, when it comes to making parades and celebratory parties, I'm totally the pony for that, but I'm not so sure I'm the right pony for the job when everypony is counting on me to win a game that I've hardly even played."

"What Pinkie is trying to say is that we're not comfortable being in charge of winning a game we still don't really know much about." Fluttershy explained. "Maybe you and Applejack should step in for us. After all, you still have Snails, and with him on your team, I'm sure you two will win!" She even offered a cheery beam, but it didn't seem that her motivators were too fond of her decision.

"That's just the thing." Applejack responded seriously. "You two are better at this game than us whether you believe it or not. It's just plain outrageous to miss out on an opportunity like this."

"Yeah!" Rainbow agreed. "Like, seriously?! How could you ignore talent like that? No offense, but you'd have to be dumb as a bag of rocks to let that kind of talent go to waste."

Fluttershy sighed heavily once more, the bright grin she once wore now quickly dissipating into thin air. "I see what you're trying to say, but our decision is final. As I've mentioned before, we just don't feel comfortable playing anymore, considering the expectations all of Ponyville has of us now."

"No, no!" Rainbow Dash now planted her hooves firmly on the floor. "I know you, Fluttershy! You're not slipping your way out of this one! Here, let me help you. I've got an exercise that is sure to whip those butterflies in your stomach into shape. Repeat after me!"

"Rainbow Dash…" Fluttershy tried to intervene, but Rainbow Dash continued with her 'motivational efforts' as if cotton balls had been squeezed into her ears.

"'I, Fluttershy, am in it to win it! I will destroy anypony who gets in my way! To be the very best like no one ever was—!"

"Stop! Okay?! Stop!" To my surprise, I heard Fluttershy cry out from a severe state of agitation. "I already told you how Pinkie and I feel about playing! If you think what you're doing is going to change our minds, spoiler alert, it isn't! Now, if you don't mind, take a short moment to get it through your thick skull that maybe, justmaybe, WE DON'T WANT TO PLAY ANYMORE!" Fluttershy nearly shrieked out the end of her irritated rant before storming out of the train cart.

"Fluttershy's angry!" Pinkie began to emotionally express sadly. "Playing buckball was the worst mistake I ever made!" She began to sob uncontrollably before running in the same linear direction Fluttershy took.

I had been in the same boat as Rainbow Dash and Applejack had been in after witnessing the sudden explosion of emotions. The only difference was that I didn't exactly feel any kind of guilt that the other two very likely did. They stood there just as frozen as Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy had been when they found a plethora of Ponyville ponies egging on them to win the game against Appleloosa. With awkwardness only being the icing on the cake, I decided to leave the two to themselves as I began trotting on after the emotionally distraught former buckball players.

I moved my head around the cabins as I walked through each of them. Fortunately, like any train car, they were fairly small and narrow, so I didn't need to do any kind of extensive searching. Ultimately, I came into the last car where all the luggage was stored. It looked too full, causing me to ponder whether they would really be in here. I almost started worrying that they might have jumped out of the moving train to head back home, but Pinkie was no flyer, so that was unlikely.

"Fluttershy? Pinkie?" I called after closing the door behind me.

There was silence for several seconds until a delicate pink mane poked out from behind a pile of luggage. Fluttershy soon revealed the dejected expression on her face briefly before crawling back behind the luggage. Using my wings to make easier in skipping all over the luggage, I carefully looked around until I came across of duo of ponies comforting each other.

Pinkie Pie was no longer sobbing like she was when she ran out after Fluttershy, and Fluttershy was no longer enraged like a bull when Rainbow Dash wouldn't stop for one second to listen to her. However, they both seemed to be in an equal state of disappointment and sorrow.

"You two alright?" I asked cautiously.

"Nothing's worse than having the fun sucked out of something you loved doing." Pinkie responded despondently as she eyes stared gloomily at the floor.

"Tell me about it." I repeated and joined them in their comforting bubble. "Sorry. Maybe I should have been a little more outspoken about your feelings. I kind of just stood there and watched everything happen."

Fluttershy shook her head nearby. "I'm sorry you had to see that side of me. I feel so…disgusted with myself. Getting so angry like that." She paused to sigh heavily. "I'm sure that's not the pony you fell in love with."

"You're still the pony I fell in love with." I corrected. "But, everyone has a side to them that they don't like, and sometimes that's just a part of life. I mean, I've got my own raging emotions, and I've also got times where I just cry. You've seen that before, right? Sometimes you can't just keep those emotions in check, and they just come out on a whim."

In response, Fluttershy merely rested her head against me. Seeing this, Pinkie Pie proceeded to squeeze me, most likely looking for a hug of her own. I was a little conflicted on how I was supposed to act, seeing as my partner in love was on one side and a thoughtful friend was on the other. In the end, I allowed myself to become a temporary pillow or stuffed animal for them to settle their emotions out on.

Nevertheless, a storm of knocks banged against the car door, sounding as if the conductor knew ponies were somewhere they weren't supposed to be. But, the door open and a couple of familiar voices called out.

"You guys in here?"

"We've looked in every other car on the train! Just let us see y'all, so we know you didn't jump off a moving train."

Pinkie and Fluttershy turned towards each other, but they did not whisper a word. If I had to guess, they were uncertain of whether they should show themselves or not.

"We're sorry, you know?" Applejack apologized, her voice sounding a little closer.

"Yeah." Rainbow agreed. "We're also sorry that it took us forever to realize how playing against Appleloosa must have felt for you two. All this time, we were giving you the kind of treatment we were used to, but now we know that that was the wrong move."

"So, if y'all can just come out, that'd be great. After all, you won't have to worry about playing Appleloosa. We'll take your spots. No sweat. We just don't like the idea of you hidin' from us."

The two exchanged looks with each other once more before the finally stood up and began to reveal where they had been hiding at.

"You really mean it?" Pinkie asked, confronting Rainbow and Applejack outside.

"We don't wanna make you do something you don't wanna do, so yeah." Applejack assured.

"I'm sorry for yelling at you." Fluttershy apologized, bowing her head sadly in front of Rainbow Dash.

"Are you kidding?" Rainbow returned. "You told me what I needed to hear. Why else do you think Spitfire yells at me all the time? Compared to her, you're like, papitas."

" 'papitas'…?" Applejack gave a questioning look over to Rainbow Dash.

Rainbow simply shrugged. "I don't know. I heard it from Alex."

"Where is he anyway?" Applejack inquired.

I flew into their line of sight. "Right here."

"Great." Rainbow Dash smiled at the sight of me. "With all three of you here, we wanted to ask you for one small favor."

"Seeing as we're going to take your spots in the game against Appleloosa, mind playing a short game of buckball with us?" Applejack asked. "We could really use the warmup."

"I don't know if we can play buckball anymore after today." Fluttershy sadly stated. "It's just…it really stressed us out."

"That's true." Pinkie agreed. "But, we're not playing against Appleloosa anymore. Remember when we were playing on Applejack's farm and how much fun it was?"

"I do." Fluttershy appeared to think to herself for a moment and then turned to notice me by her side. "Well… as long as we're all together, I suppose it doesn't hurt. After all, seeing as we decided to stop playing right before your game with Appleloosa, it's only fair."

Arriving at Appleloosa, every one of us gathered together at a dusty barren field outside. It was different seeing a land practically deprived of any life compared to Applejack's farm, which was full of it.

"Now, just like back at the farm, we'll be playing against the three of you. Alex, you come over here with the bucket while Snails gets settled over there." Applejack instructed.

"I know you wanted to practice before playing Appleloosa, but I'm not so sure we'll be able to give you a challenge like they will at the game." Fluttershy brought up.

"Don't worry about it, alright?" Rainbow Dash assured. "We don't need an exact mockup of the game. Applejack and I just need a little workout. You know, just a short warmup. That's all."

"Yup." Applejack settled with a hearty nod. "You all just do your best. Don't fret about a single thing. Just do whatever you want to do."

"I can do that!" Pinkie decided as Fluttershy flew into position.

"Here we go." Applejack warned before bouncing the ball onto the ground. However, just as she was about to get an eye on the ball, it had already been sent flying towards her side of the field straight towards me. As I attempted to aim the bucket onto the ball's path, Rainbow stretched her hoof out to block it. Despite her attempt, the ball fell into the bucket, just like when we had first started playing this. In response to this, Applejack exchanged a smirk over to Rainbow Dash before beginning her next serve.

Being the one responsible for catching the balls, I spent the majority of the time observing the game unfold. To sum up the constant exchanges between each team, it was like déjà vu. Pinkie and Fluttershy appeared to treat this just like a friendly game back home, and without any worries lingering in them, they were seriously creaming Applejack and Rainbow Dash. In fact, they were playing so well, Snails hardly had any time to play his part, so he ended up falling asleep.

At the end of the practice match, Applejack and Rainbow approached their two opponents in a battered state. On the contrary, Pinkie and Fluttershy were happily tossing the ball around between them. It looked like as if they still had a lot left in them.

"If you need more practice, we can keep going." Fluttershy offered, following a hearty giggle.

"Yeah! I could do this all day!" Pinkie proved their seemingly endless endurance by precisely bouncing the ball with the tip of her mane.

"No, thanks." Rainbow declined through a series of heavy pants. "Playing against you two is just as humiliating now as it was when we weren't trying to show you how awesome you are."

"Wait... what?" Pinkie dropped the ball and let it roll away as she looked back with confusion.

"You must've noticed how you much fun you were clearly havin'. Not only that, but you were clearly wiping the field with us." Applejack shared.

"I don't know how but having fun is what makes you really, really, really good!" Rainbow Dash pointed out. "So, we were just wondering…" She began rubbing the back of her head uneasily. "We don't want to force you or anything…"

"Would you consider taking our spots in our game with Appleloosa again?" Applejack asked.

Fluttershy and Pinkie exchanged uncomfortable looks with each other.

"Oh…" Fluttershy sadly averted her eyes and moaned. "I know you two think we're really amazing, but I just don't think we can focus on the game with a whole bunch of ponies counting on us to win."

"I'm sure folks want you to win, but not if worryin' about it makes you miserable." Applejack answered. "Winnin's never worth that. Personally, we don't want you to worry about winnin' either. All we want you to do is have fun."

"Oh, Applejack. You know we'd really love to help you, but I just don't know how we can ignore everypony watching us and play the game like we did just now."

"You could do what I do and not think about it." Snails voice suddenly sounded, causing everypony to look towards him. He sat on his side of the field with a blank expression on his face. "Seriously. I don't think about anything. Ever."

"In other words," I decided to finally speak up. "Forget about this game being a part of a competition and more about just being a friendly game of buckball. Kind of like the game Rainbow and me were having back on Applejack's farm."

After looking at me for some time, Fluttershy turned away and thought to herself for a moment. "…you'll stay take me out whether we lose or win the game, right…?" She timidly asked.

"Of course, I will!" I enthusiastically answered.

"Well, Pinkie?" Fluttershy turned to her teammate. "Do you want to give buckball once last try?"

"I can't pass on something amazingly fun! If that's the way it stays, then I'm all in!"

With the former stand-ins back on their team, it was only a matter of giving them an applauding encouragement before we'd see the results of their game against Appleloosa.

"And with another bouncing goal from Pinkie Pie, the score is tied!" The announcer informed everyone in the audience.

"Whoa. What the heck is going on here?" I heard a new voice ask.

I turned and found Athena sitting by me, observing the state of the game with intrigued eyes.

"Just where have you been?" I returned, seeing as I hadn't seen her since the morning.

"Well, after you woke me up earlier than usual because you were going to Appleloosa, I ended up sleeping in!"

"Well, you just got up in time to help me support our favorite team." I turned back to the field and found Fluttershy glancing towards me during their brief break. Taking a quick look around me, I decided to kiss my hoof and send it off towards her as quickly as I could. Noticing this, Fluttershy blushed in embarrassment before returning her attention back into the game.

It appeared Rainbow and Applejack gave them a different kind of pep talk just before the referee blew his whistle. For some reason, as the referee held the ball up to serve, Pinkie Pie turned her body completely upright with her hind legs facing upwards and her mane serving as a cushion for her head. As soon as the ball was thrown into the ring, Pinkie kicked the ball first with those same hind legs.

"And Pinkie wins the buckoff!" The announcer began to detail the events of the match. "But her shot's rejected! Back to Braeburn, whose kick's stopped by another Fluttershy save!" I happily clapped my hooves at Fluttershy's quick reaction to their attempt at a shot. The ponies within the field continued to fire the ball back and forth in any manner possible with all their might. "Next point wins. Lots of tense back and forth here. Fluttershy unleashes her patented spin move, but Braeburn's there to— No! It's Pinkie with a somersault kick! What a move!" With some last synergy from our team's duo, the ball hammered straight into their basket, ultimately ending the game. "And that's the game! Ponyville wins!"

"Ponyville! Ponyville! Ponyville!" The spectators from our team continuously chanted.

As Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie shared a celebratory hug, the rest of us joined them on the field to congratulate them.

"Huh. Looks like you three made quite an impression!" Applejack informed.

"Well, cousin, I have to admit…" Braeburn and his team approached us. "Your Ponyville team played a pretty good game."

"Hah! Good game? We bucked the hooves right off of you!" Rainbow couldn't seem to keep herself from boasting a little.

"Yup, you sure as shootin' did." Braeburn surprisingly calmly agreed. "I'm gonna have to get real serious about a strategy for our rematch."

"Well, I wouldn't get too serious." Fluttershy offered.

"Yeah! Everypony knows the secret to good buckball is just having fun!" Pinkie Pie exclaimed with glee.

This sparked laughter amongst them, causing for the rivalry team to react with confusion.

Getting ready to head back home, I approached Fluttershy.

"So, Fluttershy…" I spoke, ready to begin planning out the details of our congratulatory date. "Now that the game is over, what do you want to do for our time out? Name it. Anything at all."

Fluttershy giggled lightly. "What I want to do? You know, when it comes to buckball, I feel the same way when it comes to our date. I don't care what we do as long as we have fun." She smiled brightly. "It doesn't have to be anything 'fancy' or 'special' because anytime with you is always special to me."

"Even so…" I replied, feeling a little winded from being emotionally touched by her response. "You deserve something a little more special."

"Surprise me then." She countered. "I want you to escort me somewhere like a fair maiden."

I couldn't tell if she was joking or actually serious, but at either point, I was willing to do whatever she wished, just like a "fair knight" would do.

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