The CMC think they might get their cutie marks by playing Cupid.
When the Crusaders feel like they've tried just about everything to get their cutie marks, Apple Bloom has the idea that maybe they're meant to be matchmakers for all of Ponyville! But before they turn their skills on just anypony they decide to test their plan out on Big Macintosh first. (Just a note, this was started before the plot of Hearts and Hooves was even released. >_< )
There were only so many things three little fillies could do in Equestria to try and get their cutie marks. From aerobics to zip lining it seemed like they'd tried everything. Their latest endeavor, paper making, left them frustrated and covered in gooey slops of paper grossness. Apple Bloom, Scootaloo, and Sweetie Belle all either sat or slumped in the grass under the warmth of the sun drying their matted coats. "We're never going to get our cutie marks," grumbled Scootaloo. She was trying to get paper mixture out of her nose with a stiff blade of grass.
"Everypony keeps tellin' us to be patient," huffed Apple Bloom, kicking slop from her back hoof. "I'm tired of bein' patient!"
Sweetie Belle looked down at the mess stuck to her front. It was already halfway dry and made her make a face. "Maybe we'll get our cutie marks for being pinatas." Apple Bloom trotted over and gripped the mass in her teeth, yanking. Sweetie Belle's eyes popped wide open as small bits of fur were pulled with it. She bit down on her lip, managing a tiny, "Thank you."
"Come on, Crusaders!" the little yellow earth pony encouraged. "There's still tons of stuff we can try!"
Scootaloo lifted a hoof to cover one nostril and blew out hard from her other. The paper goo shot out and landed on the ground. As she rubbed her nose she looked at her friends. "Like what? I already told you there was no way I was going to try glass blowing again."
"Or fencing," Sweetie Belle added meekly.
Sitting back on her haunches, Apple Bloom sighed quietly in thought. All around Ponyville was the bustle of activity. It was a nice end of summer day and ponies were happy to be out in the warmth. Some had bags from shopping, some sat across a table at the cafe from one another, sharing in conversation. As she pony watched, Apple Bloom also saw a quick and shy nuzzle pass between Sour Grapes and Daisy. If Scootaloo had been the one to see it she'd have made a gagging sound or made some kind of comment about the interaction. But it made Apple Bloom happy to see. It was no secret that she was a romantic at heart and seeing ponies happy together made her look forward to the day she would be old enough to be in love. Until then she'd have to live through her siblings.
Red eyes narrowed as she watched the couple but no longer really saw them. An idea was sprouting in her head and when it came into full bloom she practically jumped with excitement. "I got it!" Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo exchanged looks but Apple Bloom hardly noticed. "We could be matchmakers!"
Scootaloo's tongue stuck out and she grimaced. "Matchmakers?"
"You know, match ponies with other ponies to make perfect couples. It could be our special talent!"
"Ew! Why would we want to do that?"
"Why wouldn't we want to do that?" asked Sweetie Belle, trotting over to stand beside Apple Bloom. "I think it's a great idea, Apple Bloom! Aw, I love seeing ponies in love. Cutie Mark Crusader Matchmakers!"
"No way!" Scootaloo shook her head and crossed her forelegs over her chest. "What would you get for a cutie mark from that? Hearts? Ponies kissing? I do not want ponies kissing on my flank!"
"Why do you hate love so much, Scootaloo?" asked Apple Bloom.
"Because love is gross."
"Who were you thinking about matching up first, Apple Bloom?" Sweetie Belle ignored the faces Scootaloo was pulling and bounced with excitement.
"I don't know. Let's think about it a second. There are more mares than stallions here in Ponyville so we should probably find our stallion first. So let's see. There's Caramel..."
"Or, I don't know," muttered Scootaloo. "Your brother maybe?" The other two fillies looked at her sharply and she blinked. "What?"
"Scootaloo!" Apple Bloom exclaimed. "You're a genius!"
"I am? I mean...yeah, of course I am! All you had to do was ask. Um...why am I a genius?"
"Oooh, Big Macintosh would be a catch for anypony!" crooned Sweetie Belle. "He's big and strong, he loves animals and his family. He's a good cook and he can protect anypony smaller than him. Which is pretty much the rest of Ponyville, actually."
"But who to match him with." Apple Bloom got to her hooves and paced the ground slowly. "Well they say opposites attract, right? So let's list the opposite of what you said, Sweetie Belle. Someone small an' weak, hates animals an' her family who can't cook an' can't protect nopony." She stopped pacing and blinked. "That doesn't sound like a good match for anypony."
"You know who's a good match for anypony?" Scootaloo offered. "Rainbow Dash!" Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom looked at her blankly. "What? I'm serious! She's awesome! She's the fastest and best flier in all of Ponyville! She's kinda strong like Big Mac. She likes to eat so that matches his liking to cook. She's got Tank and he's a tortoise and that's close to an animal."
"I don't know," said Sweetie Belle. She looked at Apple Bloom. "I kind of thought Rainbow Dash was..."
"Yeah," drawled Apple Bloom. "Me, too."
"What? Too awesome to be with somepony like Big Macintosh?" Scootaloo shrugged. "You may be right, but I think we should try it."
"So you're saying you'll help us if we try Rainbow Dash first?"
The little orange pegasus snorted. "Sure. Because after Rainbow Dash there won't be anypony else."
Apple Bloom threw her hooves around Scootaloo's neck, Sweetie Belle not far behind. "Okay! Let's go be Cutie Mark Crusader Matchmakers!" From the middle of the pile came a mumbled, "Yay...." from Scootaloo.
Applejack wouldn't stop laughing. She'd try, maybe pause to take a breath and venture a word or two but it kept ending with her rolling on the floor, holding her sides with tears streaming from her eyes. "It ain't that funny," Apple Bloom insisted with impatience.
"Oh, Apple Bloom..." Applejack rolled to her stomach and wiped her eyes. She looked at her little sister and shook her head, still snickering. "You have no idea how funny it is. An' what makes it better is that Big Macintosh has no idea you're doin' this. Does Rainbow know?"
"Nope. Scootaloo is bringing Rainbow Dash her invitation and Sweetie Belle went off to give Big Mac his. All it says is, 'Meet me at the bowling alley at six for a string,' and it's not signed or nothin'. We figured Rainbow Dash likes games and stuff like that, plus she's kinda sporty an' bowlin' is a sport. I think."
Applejack raised a brow. "An' when was the last time you saw our big brother set hoof in a bowlin' alley?"
"Well...never. But there's a first time for everythin', right?"
"Well we better get movin' if we want to make it there in time."
Applejack got to her hooves and started for the door but her little sister quickly blocked her way. "Just where do you think you're goin'?"
"I thought we were goin' to the bowlin' alley."
"I am. And Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle are but you're not."
"And why not?"
"Because." Apple Bloom looked up at her with a frown. "How would you feel if you were bein' spied on while you were on a date?" Her last word threatened to throw Applejack back into a fit of laughter but Apple Bloom glared with extra intensity. The giggles didn't come back but it was clear Applejack was fighting to keep herself composed. "Come on, Applejack. It's not like she won't tell you all about it after anyway, right? I mean, she is your best friend an' all."
"It ain't the same as bein' there to see it all fall apart myself. Besides, if you three are gonna be there then they already have ponies spyin' on 'em. What's one more gonna hurt?"
Apple Bloom stamped a hoof. "We have to be there in case bringin' them together gets us our cutie marks! An' why do you think it's all gonna fall apart? I think Rainbow Dash an' Big Mac make a good...well...you just stay here. Please, Applejack? If you bust out laughin' an' they see you..."
"Okay, okay. Don't get your tail in a twist. I'll stay here."
"Great. I'll see you later!"
She ran out the door to head into town but Applejack's voice was clear as it called after her, "But I want details!"
"Here, put this on!" Scootaloo shoved a purple helmet over Apple Bloom's head. She herself wore a long white wig while Sweetie Belle had her hooves in boots that made her about a foot taller and big red sunglasses over her eyes. They were at a booth in the food court at the back of the bowling alley, watching and waiting. "Okay," Scootaloo said quietly, "I told Dash that she was playing with a pro tonight so she's totally gonna be here."
"Why would you say that?" Apple Bloom hissed. "I don't know if Big Macintosh has even picked up a bowling ball before!"
"Then why would you set them up on a date in a bowling alley?" Scootaoo demanded.
"Because I thought they would have a good time just playin' a game together."
"Have you even met Rainbow Dash?"
"Um, you guys?" Sweetie Belle peered over the top of her sunglasses toward the entrance. "I think they're here." The other two followed her gaze and saw she was in fact correct. Dash was at the counter and Big Macintosh was in line right behind her. "Come on," Sweetie Belle whispered. "Let's get closer."
"I'm supposed to be playing some pro tonight," Rainbow Dash told the pony behind the counter. "Whoever they are, they haven't learned the true definition of pro until they've gone up against me. Chec this baby out." She put the card Scootaloo had given her earlier on the counter and smirked. "Personal invitation right there" She glanced over her shoulder to the various open lanes, looking for whoever her opponent might be. With Big Macintosh standing right behind her he was impossible to miss. "Oh, hey Big Mac! How's it going?"
"Howdy, Rainbow. Goin' just fine, thanks. Didn't peg you as a bowler."
She shrugged. "I'm not, really. But I got an invitation to be here and challenge a pro. How can I turn that down? Check out my personal invitation."
Big Macintosh blinked slowly and stepped up to look at the card on the counter. "An invitation, huh? On a card just like this." He craned his neck to pull a white card out from under his harness.
Rainbow Dash took a step closer to read, then looked up at Big Macintosh with question. "You sent it? You're the pro?"
He slid the card back out of sight and shook his head. "Nope."
"I don't get it."
With a deep breath in and a slow exhale, Big Macintosh wasn't quite sure what to say. He had some ideas, most of them involving his youngest sister and her friends. He may not have been be a pony who said much, but he wasn't stupid or slow by any means. And if the Crusaders were somehow involved in this, that could only mean they were there somewhere. While Rainbow Dash tried to figure things out on her own he gave the bowling alley a careful once over. When he found them all at a lane down a ways he looked away quickly. It was hard to pinpoint which one of them looked more ridiculous and he had to cough to disguise a laugh.
"Tell you what," he said after a minute. "Since we're both here, why don't we play a string?"
Dash narrowed one eye. "Seriously?"
Bowling was not his idea of fun. Neither was spending a lot of time with Rainbow Dash if he was being honest, but something inside of him wanted to at least humor Apple Bloom. He'd just have to talk to her later at home and find out what she was up to. After all, what harm could one game do?
"That's not how you throw the ball! No, you don't actually <i>throw</i> the ball! That's not our lane! You're supposed to aim for the pins, not the gutter! That's too slow! That's too fast! <i>Way</i> too fast! Oh, for the love of Celestia, is it my turn yet?"
Big Macintosh grunted when it was Dash's turn. So much for just one simple game.
"Let's get out of here," Apple Bloom whispered fervently. Rainbow Dash was busy schooling her brother on the proper way to grab the ball and spin techniques when she realized this was not going to end well.. "I knew we shouldn't have started with Rainbow Dash." They were outside shedding their disguises and Apple Bloom hung her head. "Maybe this wasn't a good idea after all."
"It would have been fine if your brother had just listened to the awesome instructions Rainbow Dash was giving him!"
Apple Bloom glowered at Scootaloo. "Maybe if Rainbow Dash wasn't so full of herself she might have stopped talkiin' about how cool she is long enough for Big Mac to get a word or two in!"
"A word or two is all he'd say all night!"
"I have an idea!" Once again Sweetie Belle spoke up in time to stop the other two from jumping at each other. They looked at her now with heated gazes but if she noticed it didn't effect her. "We should try Twilight next!"
"Twilight?" Scootaloo made a face. "What kind of a date could anypony have with a pony who just reads books all the time?"
"A quiet one."
Apple Bloom thought about it and nodded slowly, the idea becoming more and more appealing. "A quiet one! Sweetie Belle, that's a great idea!"
Suddenly Scootaloo's eyes went wide and she looked up. "Um...I just remembered I have to...um...feed the dog." With nothing else to offer she took off in a run.
"But you don't have a dog," said Sweetie Belle. But she looked up as well and gulped. "Oh yeah! And I have to...uh...clean the rain gutters!"
Apple Bloom looked after the retreating forms of her friends in utter confusion. "Clean the rain gutters?"
"Maybe that's what I outta have you doin' when we get home."
Apple Bloom sucked in a breath. She knew that voice. As she slowly turned around, she looked up to see Big Macintosh looming over her. "Oh. H-hi big brother. Fancy meetin' you here. Uh...I was just about to head home so I guess I'll see you later!"
She made to make a dash for it but her brother stepped easily in front of her. "Not so fast. You wanna tell me somethin'?"
She thought fast. "Yes! I think it's gonna be real hot tonight. Bye!"
She'd only gotten a few feet when he rumbled her name. It made her stop and look down at her hooves. "I'm in a lot of trouble, ain't I?"
"If I hadn't'a gotten out of there when I did you probably would be. What in the hay was that all about?"
Apple Bloom thought about coming up with another lie but knew she needed to tell the truth. So, with a big breath in she explained. "We've tried everythin' we can think of to get our cutie marks an' none of us knows what our special talent is after snowboardin' an' blacksmithi'g and stamp lickin' and I saw two ponies kanoodling in town yesterday an' remembered how much I love love an' thought maybe my special talent was to help ponies find that special somepony an' when we thought of you I realized you'd be perfect because you're always stuck on the farm with us an' I want you to be happy an' since you already know Applejack's friends we figured we would start with them an' it was all Scootaloo's idea to start with Rainbow Dash a'd I'm sorry!" She sank to the ground in tears, burying her face in her hooves.
"Apple Bloom..." Big Macintosh lowered his great head and gave his baby sister a gentle nuzzle. "You think I'm not happy on the farm?"
"All you have to talk to is me an' Applejack and Granny. I've got my friends, Applejack's got her friends, Granny Smith has lots of naps. What do you have?"
He nudged her with his nose. "I've got my family. All I need."
Apple Bloom sniffled and looked up. "But don't you get lonely when we're all so busy an' it's just you?"
He thought a minute and shrugged. "Sometimes. But that don't mean you gotta go settin' me up with anypony."
"I'm sorry, Big Mac. I just thought it would help both of us out. A'd now I'll never know if I'm meant to be a matchmaker."
With a small smile he crouched down to let Apple Bloom climb on his back. As they started for home he let go of a quiet sigh. "This is really important to you, huh?"
With her rear on his harness, she wrapped her hooves as tightly around his neck as she could. "It's all right. I don't wanna make you go through anythin' like that again."
Big Macintosh laughed. "I think that was probably the worst of it." They were quiet for a few minutes as Big Macintosh walked along. Finally his curiosity got the better of him. "Who would you try next?"
"Sweetie Belle thought Twilight. She talks a lot less than Dash does."
"At least less about herself, anyway." They both laughed. "Tell you what. I get a say on what we do an' I'll let you girls keep on with it."
Apple Bloom sat up, incredulous. "Really? You mean it, Big Macintosh?"
"Eeeyup. But only with AJ's friends. It'll be less embarrisin' that way."
"Okay! An' if none of them work out I'll move on to maybe getting Caramel a fillyfriend!"
"If it comes to that..." He grinned in the failing light, "...I've got a few ideas of my own."
Whitetail Wood was always lovely this time of year. The leaves were starting to turn and the still-warm breezes that chased each other through the trees made the foliage move in a whispering dance. In another few weeks it would be Apple Buck season and soon to follow was the Running of The Leaves. It was this transitional time beforehand that Big Macintosh liked taking walks through the wood. For a time he could almost imagine he was completely alone since it was always quiet and peaceful. Well, almost always.
Beside him walked a lavender unicorn who couldn't seem to keep herself from talking. More accurately, explaining. Twilight had read about this particular tree, written a paper in primary school about the germination period of this plant, once attended a lecture about that kind of bird and their migration paths. Inwardly the big red stallion chuckled. Her constant chatter didn't bother him much. After all, he'd been living with only females since he was a colt. He was nothing if not an expert at tuning voices out. Some of the things she mentioned were interesting, even relevant to his work on the farm. But for the most part, it was just words to fill what would be empty air. After awhile. Big Mac cleared his throat and looked down at her. "You sure do know a lot about a lot."
This was enough to stop Twilight from talking for a second and even drew a blush from her cheeks. "Sorry. Was I rambling again?"
"A little bit."
"It's just that there are so many interesting things that I know and that I want to know. Spike usually humors me for awhile but then just ignores me. Talking to you, I felt like you were really lis..." She looked up at him, seeing the corners of his lips twitch into a smirk. "You were just humoring me too, weren't you?"
"A little bit."
Twilight laughed quietly. "Well you're certainly a lot better at making it look like you're interested than Spike is."
"All due respect, he's still just a baby dragon. Still got a lot to learn."
She laughed again and then fell silent. They walked along in peace for a few minutes but Twilight didn't stay mute for long "Big Macintosh, why did you ask me to go on a walk with you?"
"Don't know if you'd believe me if I told you."
He shrugged his brows. "Doin' it for my little sister." His head turned so he could glance behind them. One of his conditions for doing this whole dating thing was that the Crusaders not follow along to any other the places he went. One of Applejack's conditions for keeping an eye on them and making sure they didn't follow him was that he spare no detail when he got home. Though he knew he'd left them on the farm it was still hard not to double check to make sure.
"You're doing this for Applejack? I don't follow."
Big Mac returned his attention to the path they walked. "Not AJ, Apple Bloom. An' her friends. They got it in their heads that their special talent is couplin' ponies up." This time when Twilight blushed it wasn't because she was embarrassed. Big Mac pretended not to notice. "They tried to set me an' Rainbow Dash up the other night. At a bowling alley."
"You don't even have to tell me how that one ended." Twilight glanced up at him. "But now I have a ton of questions."
"Wouldn't have expected less."
Now it was her turn to ignore him. "Did you know before you and Dash went on a..." She trailed off, giggling. "I can't even say it. Not with a straight face, anyway. A date." Her giggle turned into a laugh that Big Mac couldn't help but join in on.
"Nope. They tried to be real sneaky, like. 'Cept you know just about how subtle they can be."
"About as subtle as a bunch of musa acuminata in a bed of agaricus bisporus." She laughed but stopped quickly when it was obvious Big Macintosh didn't get what she meant. "Bananas and mushrooms?"
"Oh, right. Yeah, about as subtle as that." He told her about the cards, the crazy disguises, the very tedious string he'd endured playing with Dash, and the talk he'd had with Apple Bloom afterward. "I know she means well, they all do. But still."
"The girls just care about you and want to see you happy."
"They just want their cutie marks."
Twilight smirked. "Well, that too. I think it's really sweet that you're going along with it, though. It shows how much you care about Apple Bloom. And who knows? You just might find true love in this whole silly quest of theirs!"
With a side look, Big Macintosh raised a brow. "That so? Well, if that happens I'll be sure to send 'em your way next."
"Oh no, no, no. I'm perfectly happy being single, thank you very much. Besides, I have so much on my plate right now I don't think I could even think about adding a coltfriend to the mix. Between running the library, taking care of Spike, keeping up with my letters to the princess..." Her violet eyes focused on her hooves for a moment. "I really just don't have time or room in my life for any romance."
Big Macintosh plodded on, quietly watching Twilight. There was a soft sadness in her expression that spoke volumes over her words. He wanted to ask but the two of them weren't particularly close. She was one of Applejack's best friends and, just like the other five, he knew Twilight about as well as anyone could know another pony from casual visits. Intruding was not a thing he wanted to do, especially since they were finally striking a nice balance between quiet and actual conversation. Still, he couldn't help but wonder. "You know," he said after a minute, "I been told I'm a real good listener."
Twilight didn't reply for a few minutes but she did look up at him once, clearly appraising whether or not to open up to the stallion. At length she simply sighed and shook her head. "There is somepony. Please don't ask me who because I don't think I can even say his name right now without turning as pink as Pinkie Pie. But I do like him. A lot."
"Okay." This was her cue to continued and she seemed to know it. Still she hesitated. "You don't have to tell me nothin' you don't want to, Twilight. You can go back to tellin' me about the trees if you want."
"No." There was agony on her face. "I've just... I haven't told anyone else about this. Not any of the girls or even Spike."
"I won't breathe a word."
"I know you won't." She sighed through her nose. "I don't really think he knows I exist."
"I can't believe that's true," Big Mac replied kindly. "You're Twilight Sparkle, prized student of Princess Celestia and one of the bearers of the Elements of Harmony."
She winced. "Gee, when you say it like that..." Twilight shook her head. "Okay, I'm sure he knows I exist but... I don't know. I've seen some of the mares he works with on a daily basis and compared to them I feel so plain."
His mind started to race, trying to figure out which stallion he knew that worked with a bunch of mares. But he chided himself and gave a small shake of his head. If Twilight wanted him to know she'd tell him. It would be impolite to try and guess when his assumption could be way off. "You ain't plain," he finally said, slowing to a stop before her. "You tell anypony I said this an' I'll deny it to the grave, but my sister is friends with some of the best lookin' mares in all of Ponyville. If this stallion is actin' like he don't notice you it's probably because you intimidate him. You gotta be the one to step up an' say somethin'. Ain't nothin' wrong with a mare takin' charge like that, least not in my book."
He wasn't usually a stallion of many words and Twilight looked up at him like he had three heads. It made him uncomfortable. "Um, I mean..." He didn't get to finish because she launched herself at him, her hooves wrapping around his neck in a tight embrace. Now it was Big Macintosh who blushed.
"Thank you, Big Mac."
"Don't mention it." Nopony outside his immediate family had ever given him a hug before. Well, there was Pinkie Pie but she hugged everyone. And it hadn't been an embrace like this.
As Twilight let him go she gave him a watery smile. "I don't know who you're meant to be with, and maybe you won't even know for awhile, but whoever she ends up being she's going to be one lucky mare."
"Aw, c'mon now."
"No, I mean it." Twilight tilted her head. "There really isn't anypony you're interested in at all?"
His answer was a shrug. It really wasn't anything he thought about. If Twilight said her plate was full, his was overflowing. Running a farm was no easy task on its own, but add into it taking care of Granny Smith and Apple Bloom, plus Apple Buck season, plus making cider for all of Ponyville? What mare would want to put up with a schedule like his? Though he would admit, it would be nice to have someone to cuddle up with on cold nights or after a long, hard day. Someone he could talk with or, sometimes more importantly, not talk with. "I told you, my sister has the best lookin' mares as her friends an' that's just not a place I'm willin' to go."
"I don't think Applejack would mind. Not if it meant you being happy."
He nodded his head back in the direction they'd come and they fell into step together once more. "Me findin' somepony special would complicate things as it is. If I figured that somepony was one of her friends?"
"Why would it complicate things?"
"Just would, is all." They'd had a discussion about it before, him and Applejack. When and if he ever did find a mare he could love then he'd want to start a family. And they both agreed that he'd help Applejack build her own place on the farm, a place where she and Apple Bloom could live so they could still be together but not in each others way all the time as the family grew. That was a change he wasn't sure he was ready for. "I'm all right where I am, honest. I got my farm an' my family. That's all I need."
"You have your friends, too."
He turned to see her smiling up at him and found it impossible not to smile back. This date may not have been what the Crusaders were hoping for, and it certainly wasn't the disaster his so called date with Rainbow Dash had been. But for the first time, Big Macintosh felt like he'd made a genuine friend. If that was all that came out of everything it would be worth it.
"So," Twilight asked as they neared the edge of the woods. "Since this wasn't a love connection, who do you think they'll pair you up with next?"
"Ugh." He hadn't even thought about a possible "next" until then. "I don't even know."
"Well," Twilight laughed, "whoever it is and whatever ends up happening, you can talk to me about it." She winked up at him. "You're not the only good listener."
Big Macintosh chuckled. "Careful, I might take you up on that offer."
They reached the main path and the split that would either take them to the farm or back into town and Twilight stopped there. "Thank you for the walk. And the talk. I think I really needed both."
"My pleasure," he said genuinely. "Want me to walk you home?"
She waved a hoof. "Oh no, I'll be fine. Good luck with whatever comes next."
"Thanks, Twilight. See you later." As the two parted ways, Big Macintosh smiled to himself. She was all right, that Twilight. If only he could be so confident that his next date was going to go as smoothly as this one had.
It was the morning after his walk through Whitetail Wood with Twilight Sparkle and Big Macintosh was sitting down to breakfast with his two sisters, Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo. Applejack had asked the question, her efforts to keep the grin from her face failing miserably.
“I think we're better off friends,” he answered, sipping his coffee.
“Well friends is an improvement over your date with Rainbow Dash,” Sweetie Belle offered. It made Big Mac chuckle.
“Dash is a fine mare but I reckon she's better fit for a pony who likes competition. Set of wings probably wouldn't hurt none, either.”
Scootaloo's eyes narrowed. “So pegasus ponies are out.”
“Well now, that ain't true. There are a lot of pegasai that don't mind livin' down here.”
“Like Fluttershy!” Apple Bloom exclaimed.
Applejack looked at her brother and quirked an eyebrow. “That who you're goin' out with next?”
Big Macintosh cleared his throat uncomfortably. “No, not exactly. Ya'll remember that tonight they're showin' My Fair Pony downtown tonight, right?”
“Oh yeah,” said Sweetie Belle. “It's going to be outside and playing on the side of the windmill. Everypony's going to be there!”
“Well I figured that'd be the best place for me to take Pinkie Pie on our...uh...date.”
Applejack looked at him with confusion. “But if you're watchin' a movie how the hay are ya'll gonna have a chance to talk?” He looked at her and blinked slowly. When it dawned on Applejack she nodded and smirked. “You won't. Not bad, big brother.”
“But how will you know if you like her or not if you don't talk to her?” asked Scootaloo. “I thought the whole point of a date was to talk and be goopy and gross.”
“We'll talk some,” Big Mac promised. “We're gonna have supper at the cafe first.”
Apple Bloom furrowed her brow. “Does this mean we can't go see the movie? Because you said we can't follow you on your dates.”
He smiled and reached over to ruffle her mane. “Course you can go. Just means you can't sit with me. Or sit an' stare at us all night.” His green eyes fell on Applejack. “That means you, too.”
“I Pinkie promise,” she said between giggles.
The three fillies got down from the table, finished with their breakfast. “A date with Pinkie Pie,” muttered Scootaloo to her friends. “Better get the next one ready. I don't think ANYpony is nuts enough to want to kiss her!”
“Let's do my sister next!” squeaked Sweetie Belle as they ran from the room.
Big Macintosh sighed and shook his head. “Remind me again why I'm doin' this?”
“Because you love our baby sister.” Applejack cleared the dishes from the table and started to fill the sink to wash them. “An' because you knew I haven't had a laugh this rich in a long time!”
“What did Dash tell you?”
“That you bowl like a blind filly with four left hooves.”
Big Mac shrugged and took another sip of his coffee. “Sounds about right.”
“We are...I am confused.”
Luna sat in the front room of Sugarcube Corner watching Pinkie Pie wrap up the last pumpkin spice whoopie pie for an overly excited colt. “Big Macintosh is asking Applejack's friends out on dates to appease the littlest Apple?”
“Correctamundo,” answered Pinkie Pie. She followed the little colt to the door and closed it behind him when he was gone. The lock was pushed forward and the “Open” sign was flipped over to say that the bakery was closed. “It was so weird when Big Mac asked me about tonight because nopony's ever asked me on a date before, let alone one of my best friend's brothers but then he told me all about the Crusaders and what they're doing and said he'd buy me dinner and we could go watch the movie in the park together so of course I said yes because I LOVE movies in the park and who in all of Equestia can turn down free food?”
Luna blinked patiently. “But you do not care for him and he does not care for you?”
“Not in the smoochy poochie, lovely dovey way,” Pinkie giggled. “He's just Big Mac and I'm just Pinkie Pie. And together we're just friends.”
With a slight frown, Luna rubbed her head with a hoof. “Perhaps it is I who needs the lessons in friendship and not Twilight Sparkle. I do not understand why you would waste each others time on a date that is not real. Do you not wish to find real love?”
“With Big Macintosh?” Pinkie snorted and bounced over to Luna to nuzzle her affectionately. “You're so funny, Luna. That's why you're my bestest best friend!”
“Not with Big Macintosh necessarily. I suppose I meant in general. Why would you go on a date with a pony you know you are not interested in in that way when you could be going out on a date with a pony you saw a potential future with?”
Pinkie's smile was sweet as she looked at her friend. “Silly Luna. I'm not smart like Twilight, strong or fast like Applejack and Dashie, and I'm certainly not beautiful like Fluttershy and Rarity. When you're Pinkie Pie, you take what you can get. And did I mention free food?”
“Oh, Pinkie.” Luna hugged Pinkie tightly. “There is a stallion out there who matches you perfectly.”
“I know.” The pink earth pony pulled back and gave a little shrug. “But he's not here.”
There was a knock on the door and both mares turned to see a big red stallion on the doorstoop, looking around as he waited with a chaff of wheat between his teeth. Pinkie Pie bounced, her energy level picking right back up again. “How's my mane?”
“Perfect!” She trotted happily to the door to push the lock back and let Big Macintosh in. “Hiya, Big Mac!”
“Evenin' Pinkie.” He nodded to the alicorn inside. “Luna. Will we be seein' you at the movie tonight?”
The navy mare nodded. “A movie in the park with the rest of Ponyville sounds like...fun. Yes, we...I shall be there.”
“Well all righty. Ready to go, Pinkie?”
“Yep! See you later, Luna!”
“Farewell!” Luna trotted to the open door to watch the pair as they headed toward Clover's cafe. With a confused shake of her head she closed the shop door behind her and took to the sky.
“How was your day?” asked Big Macintosh politely, smiling down at Pinkie as they walked.
“It was the most incredible day ever! First I got to bake one of my very favorite kinds of cupcakes, three dozen of them, for a birthday party this afternoon. Then Mrs. Cake and I tried a new recipe for something called chocolate lava cake which really isn't made with lava but it really is made with chocolate and is a cake with ooey gooey yummy hot runny melty delicious chocolate inside that makes you have to just close your eyes and imagine what it would be like to bathe in chocolate which kind of reminded me of the chocolate rain so then I suggested building a chocolate milk fountain replica of the fountain we have in the middle of town but use this one at the next Grand Galloping Gala because, I mean, really. What kind of a party would it be if there was no chocolate milk!”
Big Macintosh blinked. “Uh...eeyup.”
“Oh Big Mac,” Pinkie giggled. “You're so insightful!”
“Uh...so what made it the most incredible day ever?”
Now Pinkie blinked as she looked up at him as though he should already know the answer. “I'm alive! I get to taste yummy things and talk to my friends. I can breathe the air and walk the streets of a town I love. That makes this the most incredible day ever. And tomorrow will be even better!” She smiled happily and looked ahead as they walked along. For the stallion beside her, the answer she'd given was not what he'd expected. But it made him think.
Pinkie Pie was genuinely happy just to be alive. No wonder she was so bouncy and giggly all the time. If she was this content just to be able to wake up each day and live, anything on top of that must have overjoyed her. Hearing her humming softly beside him brought a small smile to his own face. Truly, she was one of a kind. “Somethin' tells me there's a lot more to you than meets the eye, Pinkie Pie.”
“Isn't that true about everypony?”
He chuckled quietly to himself. Who would have guessed the party pony would be so wise? As they drew upon Clover's cafe, Big Macintosh opened the door for Pinkie and let her in before following after her. They were led to a table nearby and seated. Once their drink orders were given and the waiter gone, Pinkie Pie looked at the string of small white lights that clung to the wooden crossbeams above the dining room. “I love eating here,” she said dreamily. “It's like eating outside under the stars without having to worry about all the bugs who want to share your food with you. I don't mind sharing with other ponies or the occasional baby dragon. But I don't know where those bugs' mouths have been!”
It didn't take long for the waiter to come back with two tall glasses of sweet tea, and when they were asked their order, Pinkie batted her big blue eyes at her date. “Will you order for me? The stallion always orders for the mare in the movies and since we're seeing such a wonderfully sweet movie tonight, it would make it even better!”
“I can do that,” Big Macintosh acquiesced. “We'll both have the almond quinoa and asparagus, please.”
“Oooh, I love asparagus!” Pinkie exclaimed. “And quinoa is so fun to say. Quinoa, quinoa quinoa!”
The waiter just gave her a side eye before trotting back to the kitchen. “You know, Big Macintosh, this thing that you're doing for your sister is really nice. I wish I had a big brother like you.”
“I figure it can't really hurt nothin' if I go along with it. All the same, thank you for comin' out with me tonight. For the Crusaders' sake, I appreciate it.”
“It's no biggie.” Pinkie took a sip of her tea. “Even though we're just friends, a date is a date. And I haven't been asked out on a date in...well...never!”
“Now that can't be true.”
“It is! I wouldn't kid a kidder, and you look like you can be quite the kidder, Big Mac. Yessiree, you are my first official date.”
“Well then I feel doubly honored then.”
“How come you don't have a fillyfriend anyway? You're friendly, caring, not at all hard to look at.”
“Careful. Might make me blush.”
She giggled. “Not that I'd be able to tell.”
“True.” He grinned but gave a small shrug. “Never really gave it much thought. Takin' care of the farm an' my family always comes first. I got my hooves pretty full there. Don't reckon there's a filly out there would be interested much in what I do.”
“I know what you mean.” The answer, for Pinkie Pie, was somewhat deflated. She took another sip of her tea and looked up at the lights again.
“What about you?” Big Mac asked curiously. “How come you're still single?”
Her pink coat could not hide her blush, and her eyes almost looked sad. “Aw, you know. I'm crazy Pinkie Pie! The party pony extraordinaire, the one to whom the rules of time, space, and gravity don't apply. No one wants to be with someone as silly as me.”
Big Mac frowned slightly. “You don't really believe that, do you?”
“Maybe.” The usual flare with which Pinkie spoke was lost in her quiet reply. For the first time in Big Mac's recollection she actually looked shy and vulnerable. “Can you keep a secret?”
“'Course I can.”
She hesitated slightly, running a hoof along the rim of her glass. “It's all an act. Me being silly and random all the time? It's not really me. Well some of it's really me but a lot of times it's not. Growing up on the rock farm with my family...my sisters and I never felt like we were good enough, or smart enough, or enough in general. Please don't think badly of my parents; they're good ponies who just didn't know how to love us the right way. The day I got my cutie mark was the happiest day of my life but it was also the saddest.”
The waiter approached and she paused in her story, all sadness leaving her as she smiled and thanked him. “Mmmm,” she sighed. “This smells so yummy!”
They both dug into their dinner and were silent for a few minutes. But Big Mac wanted to hear the rest of her story and wasn't quiet for long. “What happened when you got your cutie mark that would make it so sad?”
“I realized I would never be happy there.” Pinkie took a sip of tea to clear her throat and wash the quinoa out of her teeth. “Before I kept telling myself that I would get my cutie mark and know what my calling was. You may or may not believe it, but parties and rock farms don't go well together. My mom and dad didn't really know how to relate to me after that, though it did bring me closer to my sisters. I was the one to be silly and crazy during the long days. It made them feel better and I was able to push my own sadness away in order to make their days easier. When I realized I couldn't stay there anymore and moved here, I was so sad. Only Mr. and Mrs. Cake know this, but I cried a lot.”
“I remember you comin' to town. Applejack came home one day tellin' me about a crazy filly livin' with the Cakes.”
Pinkie nodded. “That was me. At least, that was the me I was hiding behind. I was so lonely and so wanted ponies to accept me that I started acting that way all the time. It made ponies remember me, like me. And it let me kind of turn off my brain. When I'm silly and random I'm not worrying about what everypony else is thinking of me, what they say about me when I'm not around. I don't question compliments given or look for a double meaning in their words. I'm not self-conscious or uncomfortable in my own skin. I'm just happy.”
“But it's a fake happy.”
“Sometimes. The Cakes know the real Pinkie. Applejack does, too. She and Luna are the only ponies who have ever seen me really cry.”
“Pinkie...” Big Macintosh felt sadness for her and it showed in his expression.
“It's all right, Big Mac. It's taken me a really long time but I'm learning how to let ponies in and to be myself. And maybe it'll take the rest of forever to feel like I don't have to be the Pinkie everyone knows, but it's okay. I have friends I can talk to when I need to be sad.”
“I hope you can count me as one of 'em now.”
Her smile was different from all the smiles from before. There wasn't a space-case vacancy in her eyes but a genuine warmth. “I think I can.”
“An for the record, I believe you'll make somepony real happy someday.”
Now she grinned. “Really? Oh, I'm so glad you said that, because -”
She was cut off as the waiter came over to clear their dishes away. At the same time, the front door opened and Twilight Sparkle walked in. Big Mac waved and Pinkie, turning to see who he was waving at, saw her friend and did the same. In a rather chaotic manner. Twilight, in turn, waved back in embarrassment.
“What's got her tail in a twist?” Pinkie asked.
Clover, a gray stallion with black hair and three clovers for a cutie mark, came out from the kitchen and met the unicorn at the counter. “Twilight Sparkle. You know, if you keep coming by like this I'm going to start thinking you're here for more than the food.”
Twilight's cheeks burned red and she gave a nervous laugh. “What? Ha ha! It's not the food. I mean, it is the food, it's not anything else. I'm a terrible cook!”
Everyone in the cafe turned at the outburst, which only made Twilight blush deeper. Her ears drooped and she gave another nervous laugh. “It's okay,” Clover said smoothly. “You can tell me the truth. You're here because of Deep Fry, aren't you?”
Both of them looked toward the kitchen through the open door. A pony three sizes too big around the middle, with a pale blue coat stained yellow in places and a white unruly mane that stuck out at all odd angles peered back out at them upon hearing his name. He blinked and then went back to work.
Twilight laughed quietly. “Yep, you caught me. I just like to come here and look at Deep Fry.”
“I knew it,” said Clover. “Same as usual.”
“That would be nice. Thank you.”
Big Macintosh bit down hard on a smile, remembering his conversation with Twilight the day before. Seemingly knowing his thoughts, Twilight looked in his direction, gave a half smile and shrugged. When Clover came out with her order she paid and hurried out the door.
“That was weird,” Pinkie said.
Big Macintosh cleared his throat, ready to bring the subject back to their conversation and take the attention off Twilight. “So what were you sayin' before?”
Pinkie took another sip of her tea, smiling around the straw. “Oh, nevermind.”
The entire town had come out to see the movie that night. Blankets were laid out where friends gathered to share snacks, jokes, and each other's company before the movie began. Big Mac told Pinkie that Applejack brought them a blanket they could have to themselves but the party pony shook her head when it was mentioned.
“I just had the best dinner, and it wasn't because of the food. As much as I have enjoyed our date tonight, don't you think a movie is better when shared with friends?”
Big Macintosh couldn't help but smile. “Pinkie Pie, I couldn't agree more.”
While Pinkie went from group to group rounding up their friends, blankets were moved together so all of the six close friends could sit together along wiht Luna, Big Macintosh and the Crusaders. As he settled down in the group of females the stallion looked around himself with a peaceful smile. So far he'd gotten to see a side of Twilight he never knew and a side of Pinkie he never would have guessed existed. Regret hit him, thinking of the train wreck that was his supposed date with Rainbow Dash. Had he known what was going on he might have tried a littler harder. But then glancing at her now and seeing some of the looks that passed between her and Applejack, a few things fell into place. Those looks, the teasing, and the level of Applejack's amusement after the date all made him open his eyes to what had been there all along.
Now there were only two mares left. His gaze fell on the timid Fluttershy, then went to the elegant Rarity. What surprising things would he learn about them, and would either one of them turn out to be the mare of his dreams?
“A drink? With Rarity?” Applejack looked at her big brother with narrowed eyes. “You do remember which one of my friends is Rarity, don't you? The unicorn who runs the frou-frou boutique in town and has the most expensive taste outta anypony I've ever known in my entire life, includin' Aunt and Uncle Orange?”
“You realize 'just a drink' with her means more than a couple of cheap beers an' a bowl of pretzels and peanuts, right?”
“Constarn it, Big Macintosh! Don't you have anything else to say?”
Movie night had gone very well, all things considered. It had been very generous of Pinkie Pie to invite all of their friends to join them, and though Big Mac knew it would have been enjoyable with just Pinkie, they'd all had a fun time with one another, laughing and talking and just enjoying each other's company. Before the group split it was Rarity who sidled over to him, batting her eyes sweetly, suggesting they have a drink together that night. It was still fairly early so he agreed he'd meet her at Minty's Candy Bar, a sweets shop by day and a hot spot pub at night, after he walked his family home. Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo were spending the night again, as they did almost every weekend, and the three of them trotted somewhat ahead of the two older ponies.
“I don't know, girls,” Apple Bloom said quietly. “If my brother hasn't found love yet I don't think he ever will.”
“I thought out of anypony it would be Twilight,” Sweetie Belle admitted.
Scootaloo looked at her askance. “You don't think he'll hit it off with your sister?”
“Not really. Big Macintosh is a big, sometimes dirty, sweaty, muddy stallion, no offense. And the only mud she likes is the kind she puts on her face.”
“Which just leaves Fluttershy,” sighed Apple Bloom.
“Oh, that'll be great,” said Scootaloo with a roll of her eyes. “Excuse me,” she said, trying to mimic the soft way Fluttershy spoke. “Could you give my birds some of these worms. If it's no trouble, I mean. If you want to, that is.” She even finished with a quiet squeak.
The other two laughed and Sweetie Belle dropped her voice to answer, “Eeeyup.”
“Well,” giggled Apple Bloom, “At least it'll be a quiet date.”
“Who knows,” Scootaloo added. “After tonight, he may just want some peace and quiet.”
To say half of Ponyville was at Minty's was probably an understatement. On the weekend her business was always steady and alongside the minty green pony behind the bar was her fillyfriend, an orange earth pony with tri-colored hair. Big Macintosh nodded to them as he approached. “Minty, Honeybuzz. Looks like ya'll are real busy tonight.”
“We are,” said Minty happily. “What are ya drinking?”
He looked around for his date and gave a thoughtful shrug. “Not sure yet. You seen Rarity?”
Honeybuzz pushed a tall glass of frothy alcohol across the bar to a waiting pony before giving Big Mac a questioning look. “You're looking for Rarity? Here?”
“Eeeyup, we're meetin' up for a drink.”
The two mares looked at each other, then burst out laughing. Minty actually fell on the floor, she was giggling so hard. Honeybuzz wiped her own eyes before helping Minty up. “I'm sorry, Big Mac. Just...you and Rarity? Here? Together?” She covered her mouth with a hoof, trying to keep herself from losing it again. “You can see why it's a little...odd.”
“I get it,” he said good naturedly. “You'd have told me last week this was gonna happen I'dve asked how much of your own stock you'd been samplin'. Anyway, it's kind of a long story.”
Honeybuzz gave him a winning smile. “We love long stories.”
“We do!” Minty eagerly agreed. “But not tonight, Honey. We're too busy.” The orange pony pouted and got back to work, but Minty nodded toward the door. “Looks like your date has arrived.”
Big Mac swiveled his head to see the pale gray unicorn coming into the bar. She looked around curiously as she made her way through the crowds, weaving between tables and chairs to join Big Macintosh at the counter. “I hope I haven't kept you waiting long,” she said sweetly, looking up at him.
“Nope. Just got here m'self.”
“Fabulous.” She turned, her blue eyes sweeping over the bottles on display on the other side of the bar.
“Minty, darling! How are you?”
“Busy as all get out, but I can't complain. What can I get for you?”
Rarity's lips puckered as she thought, lifting a hoof to tap her chin. “I'll take a Black Bullet if you please.”
Both Minty and Big Mac looked at her, but it was Minty to question the order. “You know that's fifteen percent alcohol by volume, right?” Rarity's returning smile said she was well aware. With an impressed smirk, Minty turned to the speechless stallion beside Rarity. “What about you? Absinthe, maybe?”
He cleared his throat. “Ah, no, nothin' that strong for me, thanks. I'll just take whatever ya got on tap.”
“He'll take a Black Bullet, too.” Rarity looked up at him and winked. “Trust me, you'll love it.”
It was very clear that Minty was having a hard time keeping herself from laughing, but she nodded and said, “Two Black Bullets, coming right up.”
“Um, Rarity, you should know I'm not that big of a drinker, an'...”
“Don't worry, Big Macintosh. I'm not trying to get you drunk so I can take advantage of you. Look, the pool table is free!” With excitement on her face, Rarity trotted away from the bar with a slightly perplexed Big Mac following behind. Her horn glowed softly as she used her magic to rack the balls in a diamond shape. “Nine ball?” she asked.
“Sounds good to me.” All he could do was stand back and look at the unicorn as she worked, arranging the balls carefully. Either he'd somehow slipped into some sort of alternate dimension or he'd actually fallen asleep during the movie and this was all a really bad, strange dream. “Didn't take you for the pool playin' type.”
She stood up straight and gave a small sigh, looking the stallion directly in the eye. “I would have thought you of all ponies would know not to judge someone based just on what you see.” He opened his moth to reply but Rarity held up a hoof and closed her eyes, a somewhat tortured expression on her face. “Please, Big Macintosh. Before we go any further you must make me a promise, a solemn vow that you simply must adhere to or I will have to end this evening prematurely.”
He blinked, not really knowing what to say. “Uh...okay.”
Her eyes opened and her features smoothed into one of complete seriousness. “You must not fall in love with me tonight.”
It was that exact moment that Honeybuzz came over with a tray in her mouth that held the two dark bottles of beer. She set the tray on the table beside the pool table and hurried away, lip between her teeth to keep herself from exploding with laughter. Big Macintosh just stood there, dumbfounded.
“Can you do it, Big Macintosh? Can you promise me that?”
She let out a sigh of relief and finally smiled. “Thank you. I know we are here as friends and all to help out the girls in their latest crusading mission, but I didn't want there to be any confusion.” She stepped away from the table to levitate her beer over to her. Taking the bottle between her teeth, she tilted her head back just enough to get a good sip. Once the bottle was set down, she smirked at her date. “Go on, try it. I really think you'll love it.”
There was no way he was going to get out of it. Knowing this, Big Mac took his own bottle in his mouth and tipped his head back for a swallow. He barely had time to set the bottle down before he sputtered and coughed. “Good,” said Rarity. “You got the first sip out of the way. Try again, now that you know what to expect.”
He eyed her warily, sniffling and wiping the tears from his eyes. But he listened and went in for another sip. This time it went down a bit easier and he could really get a sense of the flavors. It was more like an old port with hints of plum and raisin. Setting the bottle down, he looked at Rarity with surprise. “Not bad,” he said. “Sweeter than I was expectin' but not bad at all.”
“See?” She took a sip from her own bottle with a victorious smile on her lips. “I knew you'd like it. Now, are you shooting first or shall I?”
“How kind of you.” Horn glowing softly, Rarity levitated a cue stick to her, lowering her head as she got into position. With a quick shot the stick jumped forward, sending the cue ball into the diamond of multi-colored balls and scattering them across the table. The yellow one ball fell into the left corner pocket and she smirked.
“Thank you, darling.” She circled the table to find the best position, then went through the same process of setting her stick correctly, adjusting the angle of her hit, a quick release and the blue two ball went rolling across the table to the right middle pocket.
Big Macintosh watched, a slow smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. “Somethin' tells me you've played this game before.”
“Are we talking about pool,” she asked, sinking the red three, “or this entire evening?”
He chuckled. “Both.”
Rarity's only answer was a smug half-smile as she went for the next ball. When it was finally Big Mac's turn he was going for the burgundy seven ball. There was a thin line of concentration between his brows as he surveyed the table. “Never been much of a pool player,” he admitted pensively.
“You're not much of a drinker, you're not much of a pool player.” Rarity finished off her beer. “What do you do, Big Mac?”
She was teasing with her tone and he just shrugged. “I like to read, go for walks in the orchard, spend time with my family.”
Just as he was appraising the table, Rarity was sizing him up. She tilted her head and said, “Try from over here. You'll have a much better angle.” She even used her magic to help him line up his stick for a better shot. “Most ponies don't realize how much elegance it takes to play this game.” With the end of the stick in his teeth, Big Mac drew his head back, then lunged forward for a powerful shot that sank his targeted ball. Rarity blinked, impressed. “Well what you lack in elegance you certainly make up for in brute strength.” As he lined himself up to go after the next ball, she smiled softly. “You're a good stallion, you know that? I don't know many who would be able to care for your family the way you have.”
He missed his shot and stepped back with a shrug. “Didn't really have a choice.”
“Of course you did. You could have walked away, simply left to find you own path in life.”
He shook his head. “I couldn't do that to Granny Smith. To any of 'em really.”
“Which is what makes you a good stallion. You chose your family over yourself. You do yourself a disservice by saying you didn't have a choice.” She picked up her cue stick. “Tell you what. How about I stop playing nice, finish this game up, and we got for a walk?'
Big Macintosh laughed. “You were playin' nice?”
“Your naivete is adorable, darling. Never lose that.”
Sure enough, in one play Rarity had cleared the table. She hung the sticks back on the wall and finished what was left of Big Mac's beer before heading for the door. He chuckled to himself and followed her out, knowing the drinks would be put on his tab.
The moon was high above them, full and shining so much light that it almost looked like it was closer to morning than it really was. The two ponies walked along together at a slow and quiet pace, passing shops long closed for the night. There were other couples out for a stroll as well, lovers walking close together, friends sharing deep conversations. As they turned down the path that would lead them to the park, Big Macintosh looked down at Rarity. “Mind if I ask you a question?”
“Of course not.”
“Why did you make me promise not to fall in love with you?”
She smiled, something sweet and soft in her expression when she looked up at him. “My heart already belongs to another.”
Big Mac's brows rose in surprise. “No kiddin'.”
“No kiddin',” she replied with a quiet laugh. “I haven't told anypony yet. Not because I'm embarrassed or shy, Celestia knows I'm not shy. But it's still new and things are a little complicated, and we both agreed we want to keep it to ourselves for now. We don't want to share it with anypony just yet.”
“Nothin' wrong with that.” Funny. Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Twilight, and now Rarity all had secret feelings for another, yet none of them was willing to share. And here Big Macintosh was, the secret keeper of the group. “I gotta say, none of these dates are turnin' out the way I thought they would. I've really enjoyed getting' to know of of ya'll the way I have.”
Rarity giggled. “Really? I assumed your date with Pinkie Pie did not go as well as hoped when we were all invited to join you for the movie.”
“Nah, it went just fine. It was real nice to be able to just sit down an' talk with her for awhile. 'Sides it was her idea for all of us to watch together.”
“Did you tell you about <i>her</i> special somepony?”
Not for the first time tonight, Big Mac's brows lifted in shock. “She's got a special somepony, too?”
“You musn't say anything to her. I only know because I caught her reading one of his letters and looking all silly and sweet as we mares do when reading a love note. So of course I asked her about it and begged her to tell me.”
Big Mac looked down at her, expectant. “Well? Do I get to know?”
“You know him,” Rarity said coyly. “Rather well, actually.”
“No no, darling, think bigger. Think away from Ponyville.”
They crossed into the park and Rarity sat on one of the swings, wrapping her hooves around the chains holding it up and swinging her back legs. Big Macintosh just sat on the grass in front of her and shook his head. “Only ponies I know real well outside of Ponyville are my family in Appleloosa.”
Rarity blinked innocently. “You're getting warmer. When we went to Appleoosa to deliver that tree your sister cuddled like a child, there was one pony in particular that we spent quite some time with.”
Big Mac blinked. “Well I'll be.”
“They've been sending letters back and forth ever since. It's really the most adorable thing. Actually it was what inspired me to start sending letters to my beau. It's such a romantic way to get to know one another better when you can't see each other face to face as often as you'd like to. Or in Pinkie's case, at all.”
With a shake of his head, Big Macintosh took up the swing beside her and sat with a slightly dumbfounded look on his face. “The things I'm learnin' about on these dates...”
“Isn't it just so thrilling?”
They talked for a little while about small, casual things. The late hour crept up on them easily and when Rarity was silent for awhile Big Mac wondered if she was ready to call it a night. He looked over at her to see her staring off in the distance, not completely zoned out but not entirely there, either. “Penny for your thoughts?”
She blinked and gave him a small smile. “Oh, it's nothing.” When he just looked at her she shook her head. “You're going to think me such a silly mare.”
Rarity chuckled softly. “Sometimes I just get so transfixed by the colors and textures around me that I forget my surroundings. When you're in my line of business you notice these things a lot more than most ponies.”
“I don't follow.”
“Take those trees over there, for instance. Describe them to me.”
He felt a little awkward describing trees and lifted a hoof to scratch the back of his head. “Well they're...trees. Brown rough trunk, green leaves.”
“Yes, but what shade of green? That tree over there has more of a sage color to it while the tree next to it looks almost lime in the moonlight. Alongside of that, those lime leaves have a rich olive undertone where the light doesn't quite hit. See how they compliment each other? I am constantly captivated by the way light changes colors and shapes, even the visual texture of something. As though light by itself were magical.”
Taking her words into consideration, Big Mac looked at the slide close to where they sat. He never took the time to notice light and shadow, if only because it never crossed his mind. But now that it had been pointed out he could see that yes, there was light and dark to everything. One side of a tree looked rough and almost silver in the cool light of the moon where the other side was smooth, dark, rich chocolate. It was actually quite beautiful. “I never noticed before,” he said softly.
Rarity's smile was small. “Not many do. Only those who make it their business to know notice. Artists, whether by painting, drawing, or creating fine garments, we take these things into consideration. We see light, dark, appeal in everything, every shape and every movement. There is beauty to be found in everything when you know what to look for.”
Big Mac looked over at her and noticed the way the moonlight shone on her coat. There was love in the way she spoke of her surroundings and she practically glowed. “I reckon I should confess that, out of all of AJ's friends, you always intimidated me the most.”
She blinked, truly shocked. “Little old me? Whatever for?”
“You're just differnt'n what I'm used to is all. I took you for an all out high class kinda mare.”
“Not the kind to drink beer and play pool?” She giggled. “You see? There is so much you miss when you don't know what you're looking for.”
“I'm beginnin' to understand that.” He smiled at her. “Can I walk you home?”
“I would like nothing better.” Side by side once again, they set out through the park to make their way back to the boutique. The silence between them was quite comfortable for a time, but when the boutique came into view Rarity cleared her throat daintily. “Only Fluttershy is left.”
“Big Macintosh, I do believe this goes without saying, but be gentle with her. As her best friend it is my solemn duty to come after you with a spiked metal bat if somehow she ends up hurt.”
“You got nothin' to worry about, Rarity. This was never really about findin' love. Not for me, anyhow. I think I'm just getting' a better understandin' of ponies I can legitimately call friends now.” He winked. “But it's good Fluttershy has such a carin' pony lookin' after her.”
At the door, Rarity stepped inside to flick on the lights, then turned back to smile up at Big Macintosh from the open doorway. “I had a lovely evening.”
“I had a pretty good time, too.”
Leaning up, she placed a gentle kiss on his cheek. “Good night.”
“Night.” He waited for her door to close before turning to head for home. Four down, one to go. He wasn't looking forward to the disappointment of the Crusaders, but he would certainly be glad when all of this was over.
It was one of those days where it felt like the sun was shining just for him. There was no real reason why Big Macintosh was in such a good mood except for maybe the idea that all these silly dates were almost over and he could get back to life as normal. Not that he hadn't enjoyed himself; Big Mac learned more about the ponies Applejack called her best friends in the few hours he'd spent with each of them than he had in all the time he'd known them. Granny Smith always said to never judge a book by its cover but the meaning behind the cliché little saying had finally come into perspective for him.
As he walked the familiar path from Sweet Apple Acres to Ponyville, a picnic basket hung from between his teeth and a red checkered blanket lay draped across his back. He was meeting Fluttershy for lunch and couldn't help but wonder what he would find out about her. With only the timid pegasus left the Crusaders had already deemed themselves failures at matchmaking and were off helping Zecora in hopes of discovering one or all of them had a green hoof and would get their cutie marks that way. Applejack's parting words to him were, “Might wanna bring a deck of cards,” while Granny Smith kissed his cheek and told him to have a nice time. He had high hopes that it wouldn't be too awkward and that they'd get thought it without too many uncomfortable silences.
They were meeting out closer to Fluttershy's house to eat together down by the river. There they could be outside in the nice weather but not have to worry as much about ponies passing by who might whisper and chortle, and make Fluttershy uncomfortable. Big Mac couldn't really care less about what anypony else thought about him but he was aware of Fluttershy's sensitivity and wanted to make their time together as painless as possible. In all honesty it had come as surprise when she'd agreed to the picnic but he was looking forward to getting to know her better and was glad she was okay with the idea.
She was already down by the river by the time he got there, and Big Macintosh slowed to watch her before making himself known. She was on her stomach, a sweet smile on her face as she talked to a mother duck and the six ducklings that swam around her, chirping and cheeping. One little ducking climbed out of the water and up onto Fluttershy's nose making the pegasus giggle and go cross-eyed as she watched it. It made Big Macintosh smile just seeing the exchange. She truly had a gift and he'd never known another pony who cared for the animals the way Fluttershy so obviously did. Gently taking the ducking in her hooves, she placed him back in the water. It was then that she saw Big Mac watching her.
As her cheeks flooded with color he headed over and set the basket down a little ways from the bank of the river. “Didn't mean to startle you,” he apologized once his mouth was free. “I didn't want to intrude.”
“Oh no,” she said quietly. “It wouldn't be intruding at all. We were just talking about how lovely the weather is today.”
Big Mac looked up at the clear sky, the warmth of the sun heating his coat just enough to be comfortable without being too hot. “Haven't seen a day this fine in quite awhile.”
“Perfect picnic weather. If you like the sunshine of course.”
He smiled at her, her awkwardness endearing. “Wanna help me spread the blanket out?” He turned his head to grab it with his teeth, then gave it a shake to unfold it. With Fluttershy's help it was laid neatly on the ground with the picnic basket in the very middle. As he started to unpack their lunch and she tried to peek inside at the contents, he raised an amused brow. “Hungry or suspicious?”
Once again she blushed, shaking her head. “I'm not suspicious or hungry! I mean, I am hungry but not so hungry that I can't wait. I was just curious.” She muttered an apology, her gaze falling to the blanket.
“I'm just teasin', Fluttershy. It's all right.” There were grapes, strawberries, a big container of dandelion salad, cheese, crackers, apple turnovers that were still warm, and a bottle of sweet raspberry mead. Seeing it all, Fluttershy's eyed widened and Big Mac tilted his head. “Think this is all right?”
“It looks wonderful,” she said, a small smile on her lips. For the first time since he'd arrived she met his gaze and her smile widened ever so slightly. “It's very nice of you to do this for your sister and her friends.”
He popped the cork on the mead and carefully poured them two glasses, then took a thoughtful sip. “It started out as doin' it for them but somewhere in the middle of my time with Pinkie Pie I think it became somethin' to do for myself.” Fluttershy tasted her mead as well and he was satisfied to see she liked it, making a mental note to make sure they had plenty to eat in between glasses. “I don't really have a lot of friends myself,” he continued. “It's been real nice getting' to know all of you better.”
“I don't have many friends, either,” Fluttershy admitted quietly. She watched as Big Mac began to dish out their meals and shrugged slightly. “Rainbow Dash has always been my friend. My first friend. And Rarity is my best friend, but I think if Twilight hadn't come to Ponyville it would really only be those two.”
“Nothin' wrong with not havin' a lot of friends if you ask me. Just means you're closer with the ones you got.” He glanced down to the riverside where the mother duck was still floating around with her babies. “'Sides, looks to me like you've got plenty of friends 'sides the other five ponies.”
Fluttershy looked at the ducks with fondness. “I know some ponies think I'm silly spending all my time with the animals. But life is so much simpler with them.”
“I reckon it's a lot less drama than it is with pony folk most days.”
“It is,” she agreed easily. “They don't judge you or make you feel bad about yourself. They don't expect more from you than you can give them and you never have to prove you're worthy of their love or attention. They just love you and it's not something that can easily be broken.”
Big Macintosh chewed his salad quietly, watching Fluttershy as she spoke and the delicate way in which she moved. He never would have even taken time to think about it before but hearing what she had to say and that unmistakable thread of pain underlying the truth of her words told him she'd been hurt by ponies before and too many times over. Letting that thought sink in made him a little angry and that surprised him. Maybe it was because she was so timid and seemed so delicate, but the idea of anyone giving Fluttershy a hard time over anything made him feel protective of her.
“They're lucky they have you,” he said at length, trying to figure out why he suddenly felt the way he did. Maybe it was the big brother syndrome. She was one of Applejack's friends after all. It wouldn't be so out there to be at least somewhat protective of all of her close friends. They'd become her family.
“I think it's the other way around,” she argued softly. “But thank you for the compliment just the same.”
“More than welcome. Here, have some of these strawberries. Just picked 'em fresh this mornin'.” He tried to think about what he knew of Fluttershy and wasn't entirely surprised to realize there wasn't a lot that came to mind. She was the type to answer questions when asked and to stay silent otherwise, whereas the others had no problem making their opinions known. She'd help when help was needed but was hesitant in asking for help herself. And she was inexplicably kind. Save those few times he'd heard about her temper. Though if she'd had as hard a foalhood as he suspected a temper like that wasn't all that much of a shock. “Fluttershy, can I ask you a personal question?”
Her turquoise eyes lifted from the strawberries, reservation in her gaze. “I...I guess so. If you want to.”
“Now I want you to think real hard about this. It's important.” She swallowed, her reservation quickly turning into uncertainty. Big Mac looked at her evenly. “Who do you think is a better apple bucker: me or AJ?”
As the question filtered in through her defensive walls a smile lit up her face and she covered her mouth with a hoof to hide her giggle. Trying to be serious she said, “Well I don't know that I can say for sure. I've never actually seen you buck an apple tree. And Applejack was so exhausted the last time I saw her doing it, the poor thing.”
“So you're sayin' you can't choose?”
With an impish smile, she shook her head. “I'm sorry.”
“Dang,” he breathed, feigning disappointment. “Well I guess you'll just have to come out to the farm come fall an' see how we measure up. Make your decision then.”
“It's a date.” Realizing what she said, Fluttershy sucked in a breath, her eyes widening. “I mean, not a date. Well it would be a date on a calendar. In late September or early October? Can you pinpoint a certain date for that sort of thing? Can I have some more mead please?”
Chuckling, Big Mac obliged and filled her glass again. She gulped it in one and when she held out her glass for more he set the bottle down and pushed some of the cheese and crackers her way. “Try some of that, first. Promise you'll like it.”
Now an awkward silence settled between them. Fluttershy seemed to be looking everywhere but at Big Macintosh and he was caught between amusement and frustration. When she'd finished half the platter he sighed quietly and looked at her. “Time for another question. A serious one this time.” She glanced at him for the quickest second and nodded. “What're you so nervous about?”
For the despair that entered her expression he could have asked her how her favorite animal died. Her entire frame sagged and her brows came together in a hopeless pout. “Everything.” Her voice was a squeaky half-whisper and she shook her head. “I'm so sorry, Big Macintosh. Maybe this was a terrible idea.”
“I don't think it was,” he said gently. “Fluttershy, you ain't got a thing to worry about. Not with me, okay? We're just two friends havin' lunch together, nothin' more. You don't have to worry about tryin' to be perfect or impressin' me or anythin'. Just be yourself.”
“But I can't,” she said desperately. “I don't know how.”
He thought a moment. “What about when you're with AJ an' the rest of your friends?”
“I don't know. I suppose...I'm less nervous but I'm still nervous with them. There's always something to be scared of.”
“Not with me. You got nothin' to be scared of here. I'll protect you.” The words slipped out before he had time to think about them, but unlike Fluttershy and her earlier outburst his surprise was not shown on his face. Because as soon as he said it he knew it was true. He would protect her. For some reason, he wanted to protect her.
Her eyes lifted very slowly from the blanket to meet his unwavering gaze. “What if...what if you're what scares me?”
Well that came out of nowhere. He had not been expecting that question and it made him give her a goofy grin. “Me? Ain't nothin' scary about me. 'Cept maybe...” He looked left, then right, then lowered his voice to whisper conspiratorially, “'Cept maybe me before my first cup'a coffee in the mornin.'” His answer had the desired effect, drawing another sweet giggle from the pegasus. Big Mac grinned and stood up. “C'mon, let's go for a walk.”
Together they walked side by side down to the bank of the river, then turned east to walk beside it. They didn't say much to one another but it wasn't uncomfortable. Big Mac found he could enjoy the silence with Fluttershy just as much as he enjoyed conversation with her when the silence wasn't because she was nervous. Almost every time he looked down at her she would look right back up at him with a warm smile. They'd say a few sentences to each other then, or maybe they'd just keep walking with nothing to say. But it was comfortable.
Before long the pair had wandered farther away from solitude and closer to town. As they began to see more and more ponies the less and less comfortable Fluttershy became. Her withers slowly inched up until they seemed hitched to her ears and more of her mane kept falling in her face to block out anyone but Big Mac. He looked about casually, seeing some ponies take notice but no one really dwelling on them for long. With quiet and gentle authority he turned them toward the direction of the park so they could pass through and out onto the stargazing hill.
“I'm sorry,” she whispered, seemingly trying to shrink for existence as they moved through the crowded park.
“You worried about what ponies might think seein' you walkin' with me?”
She nodded and squeaked some sort of an answer he took to be in the affirmative.
“If anythin' I reckon they're all feelin' sorry for you.”
Fluttershy blinked and looked up at him with confusion. “M...me? Why?”
“I'm the stallion who's been on dates with five ponies in five days. Can you imagine what they must be thinkin' about me? They're probably thinkin' you're my latest victim or some such nonsense.”
“Oh, Big Macintosh that's terrible!”
He shrugged. “Don't bother me none. I've had ponies talkin' 'bout me all my life. My whole family has. We're the dumb farm ponies who can't read, can't count, can't do nothin' but work a farm. We got thick skin.”
“But those are horrible and mean things to say!”
“Yes they are,” he agreed. “But I learned long ago that ponies are gonna talk when they wanna talk. Ain't nothin' I could do to stop 'em an' if I tried I'd just get mad. I don't like getting' mad.”
“It doesn't bother you at all?”
“Does when it's about AJ or Apple Bloom. They ain't stupid. Far from it. But if I flew into a fit every time somepony said somethin' they wouldn't know how to stand up for themselves an' they wouldn't be as tough as they are now.”
Fluttershy looked down sadly and didn't say another word until they were through the park and out on the wide open space of the star gazing hill. There were some ponies out there enjoying picnics themselves, little ones playing tag, or keeping to themselves with a good book. When the pair stopped, Fluttershy blew her mane from her face and looked up at Big Macintosh.
“You must think I'm so weak.”
“Nope.” He shook his head but kept his gaze skyward for the time being. “You left a life up there to come down here, a place you knew nothin' about really, and start a whole new life. You helped fight Nightmare Moon, Discord, and Chrysalis an' still have time for your friends an' your animals. That don't sound like a weak pony to me.” Now he looked down at her, gaze soft. “I just think you been hurt a lot.” She looked down herself and nodded. “I ain't sayin' you gotta talk about it, Fluttershy. But if you ever want to... I'd like to listen.”
“I can't talk about it,” she whispered. “Not right now. But someday. Someday I want to tell you.” Very slowly she looked up and offered him a timid smile.
“Then I'll wait for someday.”
A small pegasus zoomed by them, chased by two more in a loud and laughter filled game of keep away. The couple watched the foals for awhile, smiling at their innocence and laughing when they tumbled or did something silly. When they flew up high overhead Big Mac looked at the sky with wonder. “Must be a whole different world up there.”
“It is. Everything is soft and wide open. I think that's why I like the ground better. I like having a house with solid walls.” Big Mac laughed and Fluttershy giggled quietly. “That sounds so silly.”
“I understand. I'd like to see what it looks like up there someday.”
She brightened. “Twilight knows a spell to give ponies wings. We could fly together.”
He cleared his throat. “Is that the same spell she used on Rarity? 'Cause much as I'd love to go flyin' with you I'm not so sure butterfly wings would look all that great on me.”
This made the pegasus laugh. “No, I suppose not. Maybe she can try something else out.”
“Maybe,” he chuckled.
“There he is! Hey Big Macintosh!”
Both ponies turned around to see the Crusaders bounding their way, Applejack fairly close behind. “We were lookin' all over for you guys!” panted Apple Bloom.
“Somethin' wrong?” her big brother asked.
“Big storm's coming' tonight,” said Applejack as she joined them. “Dash just came to let us know. We need your help getting' everythin' ready.”
“How was your date?” asked Scootaloo, practically choking on laughter as she looked between Big Mac and Fluttershy.
She blushed furiously but he looked down at her with a fond smile. “Not too bad.”
“You should go help your family,” Fluttershy said softly. “I'll clean up the picnic and bring everything by tomorrow.”
“That'd be real nice.”
The four date crashers just stood there, watching. Big Mac eventually cleared his throat again and got to his hooves. “Well all right then. Let's get a move on.”
“I get to herd the chickens!” shouted Scootaloo.
“No fair,” yelled Sweetie Belle. “You got to herd them last time!”
“It's my house,” exclaimed Apple Bloom. “I get to herd 'em!”
As the three fillies bolted on ahead, Applejack walked beside her brother. “Well it looks like your datin' obligation has been filled.”
“Glad it's over?”
“No love connections?”
“Nope.” But he glanced back over his shoulder to the pretty pegasus sitting on the hill. She waved shyly at him before flapping her wings and taking to the sky. As Big Mac returned his attention forward he had a small smile on his face. “But you never know what could happen in the future.”
My granny always told me you could never really know a pony just by looking at them. Take my family for example; so many ponies write us off because they think we're not up to their standards. What they don't realize is that we just don't say nothing because we've got nothing to say, and if we do it won't be nice so we hold our tongues. All right, maybe that's just me. But you catch my drift.
I've learned being smarter than everypony doesn't mean you always know what you're doing. That just because you're wearing a smile doesn't mean you're not hurting on the inside. That just because you like designer clothes and fancy jewels doesn't mean you don't want to have fun just like everypony else. And that ponies can still surprise you no matter how well you think you know them. But I think the most important thing I've learned about friendship is that it takes work. You can't call a pony your friend just because you know each other's names, you have to be there for one another to talk, to listen, and to support.
In trying to help my sister and her friends out I've learned a lot more about friendship than I knew before and I think I learned a few things about myself along the way. As long as you're open to new experiences, sometimes with ponies you think you won't get along with at all, you just never know when a new friend might come along.