Caramel and Apples
Caramel closed his eyes and slumped against the nearest tree. Though he’d spent an entire afternoon out on Sweet Apple Acres helping to harvest the crop, there was barely a dent in the small section he’d been told was his responsibility as an applebucker.
A faint whicker escaped his lips. Really, the only reason he’d even come to the farm was to help his crush with the apples. His crush who had no clue about Caramel’s interest.
And, if Caramel had anything to do with it, his crush would never find out.
The colt blinked and looked up. Charging at him at high speed were the three young ponies who had dubbed themselves the “Cutie Mark Crusaders”; despite his foul mood, he felt a small smile cross his muzzle. Whatever trouble the trio caused - and they could cause quite a bit - no one really held it against them. Their sheer zeal and joy in their continuous drive to find their cutie marks made nearly everypony smile as they recalled how they found their own.
“How can I help you, Apple Bloom?” he asked, courteously nodding to the other two.
Scootaloo, unsurprisingly, butted in. “How’d you get your cutie mark, Caramel?”
The earth pony winced. “I, uh... I don’t remember.”
The Cutie Mark Crusaders stared at him, mouths agape.
The first to recover was Sweetie Belle. “How can you not remember?! It’s the defining moment of a pony’s life!”
Caramel turned his head away. “I fell down some stairs. It gave me a concussion, and when I could think straight, I had my mark.” He really didn’t like the reminder of his perpetual clumsiness, but he felt he did need to answer them honestly.
Much as he might wish otherwise.
Admittedly, it was at least something he could pin his life of bad luck on. And as much as it rankled, his sister had gotten her mark at the exact same time.
Except her mark seemed to symbolize her good fortune. Caramel’s horseshoes overflowed with bad karma, while his sister’s poured out blessings.
The same accident, where he fell down the stairs thanks to an ill-placed scooter, resulted in his sister ducking both brother and ride.
He was abruptly dragged back to the present at the sound of Scooter’s mumbling.
“Wow, I didn’t know you could get a cutie mark for being really unlucky...”
Sweetie Belle nodded. “I hope that never happens to me.”
“Yeah!” chimed in Apple Bloom. “That’d really stink!”
Caramel rolled his eyes. “I’m still here, you know.”
The Cutie Mark Crusaders at least had the decency to look embarrassed.
“We’re sorry!” they chorused before turning to trot down the hill, bickering amicably.
With a sigh, the colt went back to bucking, hooves slamming into the tree trunk and knocking few apples from the boughs. Much to his irritation, the section of orchard he had cleared was insignificant compared to the swaths cleaned out by Big Macintosh and Applejack.
The pony groaned and lifted his hind legs for one last kick against the tree behind him in a weak effort to get the last few fruits off the branches.
Unsurprisingly, they remained firmly attached by their stems. Caramel let out a disgusted grunt at the sight.
The tree shuddered as the sound of a horseshoe meeting the trunk sounded across the clearing and the apples obediently fell to earth with a light patter. Caramel blinked as Applejack sauntered around the tree.
“Saw you talkin’ to Apple Bloom an’ her friends,” the mare began. “They still goin’ on about gettin’ their cutie marks?”
Caramel nodded, cheeks heating at the ease with which the farm pony had showed him up. “I told them how I got mine. They weren’t impressed.”
“Well, Big Macintosh wanted me t’ pass on a message.” Applejack continued. Caramel felt his heartbeat quicken, despite himself.
“What did he have to say?”
“He said he appreciated y’ comin’ out to help with th’ harvest an’ all, but you’re not quite up t’ snuff for apple buckin’.”
“Oh.” Caramel shifted awkwardly on his hooves. He really wasn’t sure what else to say.
Applejack took pity on him. “Listen, sugarcube, it’s hard work an’ it takes a while before anypony’s up to it.”
The colt nodded meekly. “Is... there anything else I might be able to do? I don’t want to leave Big Macintosh in the lurch.”
Applejack laughed. “Oh, there’s plenty left t’ do! In fact,” she continued thoughtfully, looking the other pony over, “if’n you didn’t mind, I think you’d make a good runner.”
Caramel’s ears perked. “What’s a runner do?”
Applejack flicked her tail at a particularly bothersome fly as she spoke. “Oh, runners relay messages all over th’ farm, bring drinks to th’ workers, that sorta thing.”
The tan earth pony blushed, thinking of the chance to spend more time with Big Mac. “I guess I can give that a try...”
“Jus’ go tell Granny Smith, Caramel, she’s in charge of th’ runners.”
Caramel nodded and trotted off, heart pumping. It wasn’t quite the impression he’d wanted to make on Big Macintosh, but surely the stallion would understand why he wasn’t quitting after being told he wasn’t good enough.
Much to Caramel’s annoyance, every single job he had as a runner took him nowhere near his crush. If he were a more cynical pony, he would have blamed Granny Smith for intentionally keeping him as far from the red pony as possible. Instead, he chalked it up to his terrible luck.
Soon, though, he didn’t even have time for that; Granny Smith had him galloping across the length and breadth of Sweet Apple Acres, over and over, from one pony to the next.
Of course, his bad luck was in full force, and more than once he tripped and spilled the water he was carrying, or ran to the wrong pony or the wrong side of the farm.
Despite the setbacks, he continued on, doing his best to correct the mistakes he made. When he dropped a pitcher, he came back with two. When he stopped to talk to the wrong pony, he asked if he could run any errands for them.
He might not be the most efficient worker on the farm, but he had heart and dedication!
That was what he kept telling himself at least, and he was sure he heard his name mentioned between ponies as he trotted off, though he wasn’t sure what exactly they were saying.
As dusk began to fall, the weary pony was finally told to go talk to Big Macintosh. Specifically, he was told to pack it in for the night and to come have supper with the family and the hired help.
Eagerly, if tiredly, he headed out into the orchards, looking for the large red colt.
It took him several tries, roaming over the fields, before he found him. Carefully, his heart fluttering in his chest, he stepped forward...
And promptly pitched forward down the hill, his worn-out legs and hooves giving out on him, sending him tumbling tail over teakettle. It finally ended with a rather dazed pony lying in a pile at the foot of the hill - and at the hooves of his crush.
“Evenin’ Caramel,” drawled the bigger colt, before he gently helped him to his feet.
The brown earth pony nodded vaguely, still shaken. Big Macintosh waited without comment.
It took some time, but eventually Caramel got his bearings back. “Oh, er,” he began, shuffling on his hooves. “Granny Smith says you should come in for dinner.”
The sprig of wheat in Big Macintosh’s mouth switched from one side to the other before he spoke. “Ah reckon Ah can’t do that yet.”
Caramel’s heart sank as he realized Big Mac was standing in the same grove he’d tried and failed to clear earlier.
“I - I’m sorry I couldn’t do the job properly,” Caramel babbled. “I really tried, but Applejack said I wasn’t good enough, even though I did my best, and -”
Big Macintosh stopped him with a glance, then returned his gaze to the orchard. “‘T ain’t that.”
This time the colt followed the red pony’s eyes to the shattered decanter lying forlornly in the dirt. Caramel blushed.
“S - sorry, Big Macintosh. I’ll clean it up.”
Big Mac nodded and stepped forward as well, carefully picking up the shards of broken glass with his teeth and depositing them in the rather squashed basket Caramel had used to carry it.
The pair did their best in the rapidly-dwindling light, but eventually, and much sooner than Caramel would have liked, Big Mac called a halt.
“Come on, I can still see a few pieces,” Caramel insisted, tilting his head a bit.
“Caramel,” his crush replied, “‘t ain’t whether you can see it. We missed dinner, an’ Granny’s goin’ to tan our hides if’n we don’t show soon.”
“Oh, right...” Caramel shuffled awkwardly on his hooves again, then flushed as his stomach complained loudly. The red pony took no notice as he lead the way back toward the house - at least, that was what his companion thought until Big Macintosh stopped.
Caramel, typically, ran right into his haunches.
Apologizing, he trotted off to the side while the larger stallion gave him an amused and unnoticed glance. “Ah heard your belly rumblin’ back there. Ah could go for a bite m’self.” With that, Big Macintosh plucked an apple from one of the carts nearby, and with surprising daintiness, offered it to the tan earth pony.
Caramel took it without complaint, mumbling a “thank you” around his mouthful. Big Macintosh just nodded and dropped a few more into his saddlebags, taking one for himself.
“Y’did good work, Caramel.”
“R - really? Applejack said -”
Big Mac interrupted him. “Applejack just said, an’ Ah told her t’ tell you, that you’ll never make an applebucker.”
Caramel sighed, and Big Mac flipped his grass stem to the opposite side of his muzzle.
“You’re no farm pony anyhow, Caramel. No need t’ try t’ make yourself into one.”
“But -” Caramel began before immediately clamping up. His companion eyed him curiously, then prompted him to continue with a raised hoof.
“There’s somepony I really like who works at Sweet Apple Acres, and I don’t want to disappoint... them.”
The pair continued on in silence for a bit longer before Big Macintosh spoke again. “‘T ain’t m’ sister Applejack, is it? That why you’re so worried ‘bout what she told you?”
Caramel found himself flushing again, and berated himself for it; he’d been blushing more today than he had in months. “No, it’s not Applejack.”
The quiet dropped again for a few paces, punctuated by Big Macintosh chewing on his straw.
“Well, have y’ told the filly you’d like to take her out for a canter or two behind the barn? Ah heard that’s th’ latest way t’ ask.”
The tan earth pony took a deep swallow, his throat dry. “She... erm... it’s not a filly I’m interested in, Big Macintosh.”
There was no reply, though the stallion did roll an eye back to stare at the very uncomfortable pony walking with him. “Hadn’t pegged you as a coltcuddler, Caramel,” rumbled the red pony, and that was all.
“You’re not mad?”
Big Macintosh rolled his shoulders in a shrug. “‘T ain’t none o’ my business what two stallions or mares get up to in private.”
“Even if I’m interested in you?”
Wind blew through the leaves, rustled the grass, and ruffled the ponies’ manes. Caramel cursed his luck again. He hadn’t meant to say that, had never daydreamed about just telling the object of his affection - though to be honest, he’d never really shown Big Mac any affection, just sighed wistfully from afar - like this. Dreading, he braced himself for the answer he knew was coming.
Big Macintosh was going to shoot him down. Caramel scrunched his eyes shut, ready to have his hopes crushed.
Nothing happened for so long that the nervous pony cracked an eye open to glance at his crush.
Big Mac appeared to be thinking, the stem in his mouth flicking from side to side and back again, his eyes locked on Caramel’s face, his head tilted in concentration. “Ah hadn’t put too much thought inta it, Caramel. Ah figured Ah’d always do what came naturally.”
Caramel let out his breath in an explosive sigh. He was being let down. Let down nicely, but let down.
“Harvest’s too busy a time t’ go courtin’ anyway. Ah’ll let y’ know in a few days when Ah’ve got some time t’ spare on m’ hooves, an’ we can see what happens then.” Big Mac lifted his gaze from the pony to the Apple family house. “If’n you’re still interested, a’ course.”
Caramel stared in shock, then began to grin goofily, and finally let out a whoop of joy that could be heard across all of Sweet Apple Acres.
It also brought the wrath of Granny Smith down on the pair, who spent a good half hour haranguing them for missing dinner and making her worry so much about them.
Regardless, Caramel trotted home with a wide smile and a light heart.
Maybe his luck wasn’t all bad.
Big Macintosh leaned against the gate to Sweet Apple Acres, scratching his flank with the posts as he waited.
Caramel was late.
This wasn’t much of a surprise. The earth pony had shown up every day to help with the harvest of the latest apple crop, and every day he’d dragged himself to the house with a different tale of woe. It had gotten to the point where Big Mac had stumbled across some of the hired help taking bets on what had gone wrong for him that day.
A slow stare from the biggest pony in Ponyville had set them back to work, but Big Macintosh reckoned they had a point. Poor Caramel was the unluckiest pony in the town, and probably all of Equestria.
Even so, for Caramel to be late today was, if not precisely a surprise, at least disappointing. Despite how exuberant he’d been at the prospect of going out on the town with Big Macintosh, Caramel was still at heart a klutz.
The interesting thing about him, though, was that no matter how frequent the disaster, or how outrageous the claim, what he said happened was exactly what had happened.
Parasprites ate all the food he was delivering? They were still perched on the tables, munching away.
A piano fell on him? Derpy Hooves was out making deliveries and forgot to latch the back of the cart.
On reflection, wondered Big Mac, perhaps he should have thought twice about agreeing to this little get-together.
Just then, the tan earth pony crested over the hill and wearily trotted up to meet his friend.
“Hey, Big Macintosh. Sorry to be late, but the brakes on my cart gave out and I had to chase it all over Ponyville before I caught it.”
The red stallion nodded and took a few steps forward, the smaller pony dropping into place next to him as they went.
“So, where do you want to go?”
Big Macintosh glanced down at his companion and shrugged. “Ah hadn’t any place in mind, Caramel. D’you?”
Caramel scratched his chin with a hoof. “Well, we could try that little café in Ponyville, then if you wanted dessert, there’s always Sugar Cube Corner... if that’s okay with you, I mean.”
With that, the two trotted off in companionable silence.
Several hours and no disasters later, Big Macintosh left Caramel at the door to his home, along with a good-natured “this way Ah know you make it there safe”. The brown colt blushed, but took the jibe with a smile and rueful chuckle. Big Mac sauntered home at his own pace, looking up at the stars as he went.
They sparkled crisply in the sky, the moon lighting up the clouds with a silent elegance that he always tried to appreciate, though the lack of the Mare in the Moon was still a little off-putting - she had been there every night of his life, but now that Princess Luna was free, the moon was an almost unmarked sphere. It was still beautiful, but after so many years the change was unsettling, though he found himself slowly getting used to it.
The only times he couldn’t appreciate the night sky were during the harvest, much like the one just past.
A harvest that Caramel had been surprisingly helpful for, despite his usual awkward clumsiness. Applejack had been right; Caramel was no applebucker, but he was an excellent runner... once he knew where everypony and everything on the farm was located. Granny Smith’s gentle suggestion of a map had made things a lot easier for the newcomer.
Big Macintosh narrowed his eyes as a thought struck him. Caramel had volunteered to help - and now the biggest pony of the Apple family knew why - but he’d insisted on paying him a few bits for the help.
Bits that Caramel had probably just used to buy their meal, over the red pony’s complaints.
“I wanted to ask you out, right? Then I’m paying.” Caramel, despite the stallion’s best effort, couldn’t be swayed. That same stubbornness put Big Mac in mind of his sister, now that he thought about it. When push came to shove, there was nothing short of a direct order from Princess Celestia or Luna that would sway either of them.
Maybe not even then.
Big Macintosh turned down the lane that lead to Sweet Apple Acres, plucking a strand of hay as he went. Out of deference to the occasion, he’d gone without, though he wasn’t sure if Caramel had noticed the gesture.
“And jus’ where have you been, Macintosh?”
The red pony folded his ears back. Whenever Applejack used just his given name, he knew he was in for it. “Ah told you, Ah was goin’ out tonight,” he replied mildly.
His attempt to placate his younger sister failed badly. “Goin’ out?! Goin’ out?! Macintosh, it’s nigh t’ midnight! Just what were y’ doin’ out thar?”
Big Macintosh flicked his grass stem to the other side of his mouth. “Ah was out on a date, sis. An’ Ah don’t see how it’s any of your business.” He moved to step toward the house, but his sister planted herself firmly in his way, blocking him.
“A date? Macintosh, th’ farm’s too busy fer ya to go off an’ find some filly to frolic with!”
Her larger brother grunted. “Jacks,” he began - if his sister was going to use his “trouble” name, he’d use hers - “Ah’ve worked this farm for longer’n you. T’ ain’t gonna hurt if’n Ah take one night off once in a while. You’ve gone a’ harin’ off with Twilight an’ the others more’n once, so Ah don’t think you’ve got four legs t’ stand on.”
Applejack narrowed her eyes at him, but grudgingly let him slip past her into the house. As he stepped up onto the porch, he couldn’t help but add one last touch. “Oh, and t’ weren’t no filly Ah was seein’ either.”
Applejack’s jaw dropped. “What th’ hay?! Big Macintosh, are you sayin’ you were out whoopin’ it up with a colt?!”
“Eyyyup.” Smirking to himself, Big Macintosh sauntered up to his loft.
Far too early, even for a farmpony, his door was slammed open. “Awright, Macintosh,” demanded his sister, her eyes full of ire, “start talkin’.”
Grumbling, the red stallion covered his eyes with a hoof. “Jacks, it’s too durn early for this...”
“Too early, m’ fetlocks! Jus’ what were y’ up to last night?”
Big Mac eyed his sister wearily. Even for him, this was a bit more than he could take. “Ah went out with Caramel, we had supper at a nice lil’ place, an’ then we talked. You happy now?” he finished testily.
His sister stood there, mouth agape even wider than before. “Y’ weren’t kiddin’ about seein’ a colt? And why, of all th’ ponies in Equestria, Caramel?”
The stallion pulled himself to his hooves, bits of hay from his pillows floating in the air. With practiced ease, he caught one stem between his teeth as it fell. “Ah weren’t kiddin’, Applejack. As for why Caramel, he expressed his interest clear ‘nough, and Ah figured where was t’ harm?”
The orange pony’s expression darkened. “‘Expressed his interest’, did he? What’d he do, Macintosh? Grab yer withers? Kiss yer nose? Lick y’ on the-”
“JACKS!” bellowed her brother, “T’ ain’t anythin’ like that. An’ even if it was - which t’ ain’t - Ah wouldn’t think it t’ be anything you needed t’ know about. Caramel said he had some interest, and Ah thought t’ might be nice t’ have a bit o’ ‘me’ time.”
The two siblings glowered at each other, the strained silence broken by Granny Smith’s quavering voice asking if everything was all right, and my goodness it was early, what was causing all the ruckus?
“All right, Big Macintosh. Ain’t nothin’ I can do t’ stop ya, so I’ll let it lie f’r now.”
“Durn right y’ can’t stop me, sis,” answered her brother, his mind shifting back to its more familiar placidity. “But if’n you keep this sort of thing up, Ah might move in with Caramel.”
For the second time in a very short morning, the orange pony was shocked. “Y’ wouldn’t!”
“But - Sweet Apple Acres! Y’ worked th’ farm all yer life! What d’-”
Big Mac cut her off, rolling his shoulders to work the kinks out of the muscles. “Ah might start m’ own orchard. ‘Caramel Apple Acres’ has a ring t’ it, don’t you think?”
Leaving his sister to splutter incoherently, Big Macintosh set about his chores for the day. For once, his sister didn’t say a word to him, just glowered every time she set eyes on him.
The red earth pony sighed mentally after the fifth such non-exchange. He was, however, grateful that harvest was over. Caramel’s presence was thankfully no longer needed at the orchard, or else Applejack might have gone out of her way to make him uncomfortable.
He also contented himself with the possibility of seeing Caramel later; if not that night, than in the next few days.
Work went as usual, if a bit slower without his sister’s aid, but Big Macintosh was used to making do without her. At the least, her sudden absences to go on adventures had prepared him for the extra work.
“Big Macintosh?” quavered a small voice. Big Mac sighed internally again - he knew that voice. Even worse, he knew the pony only used that tone when she was mortally worried.
“Yes, Apple Bloom?” he asked without turning around.
“I heard you and Applejack arguing... you’re not leaving th’ farm, are you?”
Bracing himself, the red stallion turned, facing his biggest challenge yet: Apple Bloom’s weapons-grade cuteness.
Large, pleading eyes, a pouting, outthrust lip, and the faintest hint of tears beginning to form...
This time, Big Mac sighed out loud. “Ah ain’t plannin’ t’ leave, Ah swear. Your sister and Ah were jus’ havin’ a bit of a disagreement, is all.”
“You’re really not goin’ to leave...?”
Big Macintosh covered his face with a hoof. He loved his sisters, he really did. At times like this, though, running off with somepony did seem like the best of all ideas. “Apple Bloom, as much as Ah like Caramel, Ah ain’t plannin’ t’ go anywhere else for a long, long time.”
All expression dropped off his sister’s face. “Y’ like Caramel?”
Her much taller sibling gazed down at her calmly. “There a problem with that, Bloom?”
She pulled a face at both the question and the diminutive nickname. “But Big Macintosh, colts have cooties!”
“Well, Bloom,” he answered, unable to help himself from smiling, “T’ ain’t somethin’ you mind when y’ get older. And if’n you’ve forgotten, Ah’m a colt too.”
Apple Bloom sniffed disdainfully. “That’s different. You’re my brother,” she continued as though the answer were readily apparent. “Everypony knows that makes a difference.”
“Ah’ll take your word for it,” Big Mac replied. “And Ah need t’ get back to m’chores, Apple Bloom. Weren’t you supposed t’ be meeting your friends today?”
The filly rolled her eyes. “We were, but then Sweetie Belle decided to help Rarity with her dresses, an’ Scootaloo wanted t’ chase down Rainbow Dash for flyin’ lessons, so now there’s nothin’ fer me t’ do!”
Big Macintosh nodded to himself as he hauled a cart back to the barn for storage. “Well, Ah’m sure y’ could talk some sense into your sister, tell her Ah’m not goin’ t’ leave. She ain’t said a word t’ me all day.”
Big Mac chewed his hay. “Ah know y’ heard us fightin’ earlier. Your big sister took my words more t’ heart than Ah meant. Now, Ah know she knows Ah’m not goin’ anywhere, but she’s too stubborn t’ admit it, even t’ herself.”
Apple Bloom’s eyes narrowed, and the red stallion wondered if he’d made a mistake. His littlest sister had a lot in common with her big sister - namely, an elemental unwillingness to deviate from whatever path her hooves were currently planted on, metaphorically or literally. Normally, it wasn’t a problem, aside from the havoc she and the other Cutie Mark Crusaders caused, but this time Mac wondered if he might have just set up his own downfall.
“Right, big brother. I’ll see you around,” she spoke, eyes focused. Big Mac gulped.
His fears were proven right when he caught a glimpse of Applejack in the back of the barn as he brought the third wagon in for storage. Unfortunately, with it hitched to him, he had no choice but to brave her presence, as he couldn’t simply untie himself and make a run for it without a loss of face that Applejack would never let him forget.
The withering glare she was giving him certainly didn’t give him any reassurance, but neither pony was prepared for the door slamming behind him, or the sound of the bar dropping down and locking them in.
Applejack caught on first. “Apple Bloom! Y’ open th’ door right now!”
Her only answer was a disdainful sniff.
“Come on, Apple Bloom, Ah’ve chores t’ do,” Big Macintosh tried next, after undoing the ties that bound the cart to him. His youngest sister unbent enough to answer, though it was only a short sentence.
“Y’ both work it out.”
Applejack turned her formidable gaze on her brother, and he backed into the wall nervously. As large and tough as he was, his only weaknesses were his sisters - and Caramel, his mind slipped in before he could squash the thought - as he was never able to find a way to properly argue with them. Fighting, that was different, just a lot of yelling and screaming, with the occasional hoof-stamping for emphasis, but an argument, with an exchange of viewpoints? That was something he never managed to pull off.
It certainly didn’t help that Applejack downright terrified him when she got a burr under her mane about something.
“I ain’t apologizin’!” bellowed Applejack, and Big Mac let out a groan. It was going to be one of those days.
The pair spent at least a half-hour trapped together in silence, the sun’s gradual descent cutting longer and longer shadows through the windows.
Big Macintosh had had enough. “If’n you say you’re not goin’ to apologize, Ah’d say from the sound of it, you know you ought t’ do so.”
Applejack glowered at him.
“Ah’ll just be over here, then,” he backed off.
The stallion “entertained” himself by running inventory on the tools and what would need repairs and replacing. It wasn’t quite what he had planned, but it did need to be done.
His sister was still sulking in the corner; there was no other word for it. “Ah don’t see why you’re so upset,” he tried again timidly. “Ah’m not takin’ any time away from Sweet Apple Acres that Ah can’t spare.”
Still nothing. He decided to change tactics a little. “Or are y’ upset that Ah might not be there t’ pick up your slack next time you’re out with Rainbow Dash?”
Applejack stomped a hoof. “Y’ leave her out o’ this, Big Macintosh!”
Well, at least she was talking again.
“Ah don’t know, sis, it looks a lot like that t’ me. A pony can’t help but wonder.”
The orange filly lowered her head, brows furrowed angrily. “T’ ain’t the same thing at all, Macintosh!”
Applejack paused, mid glare. “Eyyyup t’ is, or eyyyup t’ ain’t?”
“Eyyyup t’ is, and you know it.”
“Big Macintosh, t’ ain’t any o’ your business t’ poke your nose into my -” she broke off, leaving her brother to smile gently to himself as he picked through the tools.
The next pause was, if still awkward, at least not as cold.
“All right, Big Macintosh. You were right, an’ I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be pryin’ into what y’ do when you’re not workin’, an’ I should trust you not t’ do anythin’ that’d hurt th’ farm.”
The stallion nodded, a touch smugly. “Eyyyup. Now that that’s sorted,” he continued, raising his voice, “Ah think we can be let out, Apple Bloom.”
Applejack peered out a window. “She’s asleep, Big Macintosh.”
He rolled his eyes, and with a sigh, boosted his sister out the window. Thankfully, she was feeling contrite enough to unlock the door. Even more surprisingly, she was waiting for him on the other side.
“So,” she began, her voice carefully neutral, “when are y’ goin’ t’ see Caramel again?”
“Ah don’t rightly know, t’ tell the truth.”
His sister looked out over the rolling hills, and in that same careful tone, surprised him again. “Think y’ should see ‘im again tonight. I’ll look after th’ farm for you.”
“Ah just saw him last night, Applejack,” he replied mildly as he trotted over to the base of a tree to gather a few empty bushels. The orange filly nodded but continued on anyway.
“T’ ain’t like he wouldn’t like t’ see you., I’m sure. Y’ like ‘im, right?” She pulled a face, despite her attempts to remain unaffected. Talking about colts with her brother just felt weird.
Big Mac nodded. “Ah like him well enough...” he trailed off. His sister could feel the “but” at the end of his sentence.
“Well, Ah wonder if’n he likes me, or the big, strong, silent Big Macintosh every filly seems t’ dream about in her head and everypony knows Ah’m like.”
Applejack clapped a hoof to her forehead - carefully, after the incident Twilight had experienced and shared with her friends - and dragged it down her muzzle. “Then sounds t’ me like y’ should see an’ talk to him, all right. Go on, git, Big Macintosh! An’ don’t come back until after sundown!”
Big Macintosh nodded in such an over-exaggerated display of mock obedience that his sister couldn’t help herself - she slapped his tail against his flank. The red pony jumped in shock, then gave her a look that mixed annoyance, amusement, and exasperation as he sauntered off.
Caramel, Big Mac knew, would still be out making deliveries for the next hour, leaving the stallion with perhaps too much time for contemplation. Most of it, of course, revolved around his unexpected budding relationship with the town’s most unlucky resident.
As Ponyville appeared over the hill, the red stallion came to a conclusion. It was either luck or fate that the tan earth pony’s cart was parked outside one of the nearer houses; the colt was indeed busy doing his rounds.
Nodding, the stallion slowed to a walk, then stopped a few feet from the wagon.
Now that he had the time, Big Mac looked it over, noticing small details that he had missed when passing Caramel by in the streets, or when talking to him.
The cart was well-kept, but worn, and in several places even careful sanding and polishing couldn’t disguise the wood’s age or shabbiness. Big Macintosh swallowed; it was amazing the cart had lasted as long as it had.
“Big Macintosh! What are you doing out here?” Caramel’s voice rang with surprised pleasure as he the colt trotted up to him.
“Applejack gave me t’ night off,” the red earth pony answered uncomfortably as he shifted on his hooves.
Caramel tilted his head. “Is... something wrong?”
“Caramel... Ah don’t think we should be seein’ each other. Ah think’ you just want t’ date me ‘cause Ah’m a ‘safe pony’ and y’ think Ah won’t hurt you.” With that, Big Macintosh dropped his head and walked off, refusing to look the devastated pony in the eyes. Caramel watched him go, stunned and barely able to react.
“But... what’s wrong with ‘safe’...?”
Caramel Covered Apple
Big Macintosh took his time getting back to Sweet Apple Acres, mostly in an effort to avoid the older of his two sisters.
Typically, it didn’t work. As soon as Applejack saw him, she came galloping across the fields to meet him, hooves digging divots out of the earth.
“I thought I told ya not t’ come back afore sundown!” she bellowed as soon as he was in range of her voice.
“Well, Ah -” he began, then started to cough uncontrollably from the dust as she skidded to a halt in front of him. Applejack tapped a hoof impatiently, urging him to get on with it. “Ah told Caramel Ah didn’t think Ah should be seein’ him...”
“Y’ WHAT?! This have anything t’ do with that load o’ horse apples y’ were talking’ about afore y’ left?”
Big Macintosh coughed and tried not to look guilty, then dropped his ears and head as soon as he realized it wasn’t working. The red pony braced himself for another one of his sister’s legendary haranguings.
What he wasn’t ready for was his sister’s teeth clamping down on his ear and pulling him none too gently towards Ponyville.
He yelped; he couldn’t help himself. “Applejack, what’s this about?”
“I have got, “ she replied around her mouthful, “th’ most insensitive, dense, clod-headed brother in all o’ Equestria!”
Big Mac squirmed at her words, still being pulled along helplessly by the smaller mare. “Ah’m sorry!”
Applejack stopped in her tracks and spat out his ear, to the red colt’s immense relief. “Awright, I shoulda asked this first. D’ y’ love ‘im?”
Her brother flinched as though she’d just kicked him in the side. “Ah... uh... Ah don’t rightly know.”
The orange pony glowered at him. “Well, y’ better figure it out fast. D’ you like ‘im?”
Big Macintosh reared back in indignation. “A’ course Ah like him!”
“Then that’s a start. Y’ can figure out what t’ say t’ him on th’ way.” With that, she closed her jaws on his other ear and resumed dragging her unwilling brother into town.
“Jacks, this’s undignified,” he griped as she forced him past pony after staring pony.
“Y’ shoulda thought o’ that afore y’ dumped Caramel so hard!” she shot back around his ear. His only response to that was a defeated sigh as Applejack led him up the steps to Caramel’s door.
She rapped a hoof on the frame, and waited.
The orange mare narrowed her eyes to slits. She’d had more than enough of this nonsense for one day. Big Mac shied away nervously as soon as he glimpsed her expression. “Caramel! Y’ open this door right now, or I’ll buck it down! Don’t think I won’t!”
When there was still no response, Applejack lost her patience, spun, and slammed her hind hooves into the door.
To both ponies’ shock, it flung open wide, crashed into the wall, and rebounded shut.
“Ah guess he didn’t lock it,” Big Macintosh commented dryly. He shrunk back when his sister turned to stare him down. “... What?”
She lifted a hoof and prodded him sharply in the flank. “Now you are goin’ t’ get in thar an’ talk t’ yer poor, brokenhearted colt!”
The red stallion opened his mouth to reply that no, Caramel was not “his” colt, then promptly thought better of it when he saw the Look on his sister’s face. “Ah’m goin’, Ah’m goin’...” he said instead, taking a few steps into the darkened house.
“One more thing, Big Macintosh.” He froze. “Y’ aren’t comin’ home until y’ get this sorted. I mean it. Y’ try to show up on the farm beforehand, and I’ll have yer chestnuts on th’ anvil.”
Big Mac blanched, then nodded dolefully, making his way into the first darkness-shrouded room. He was completely unprepared for the door getting firmly and loudly shut behind him.
“Caramel?” he called softly. There was no answer, and he pricked his ears for any sound at all.
There were no sobs, or curses. If the pony were home, he was being remarkably silent.
“Caramel?” he tried again more loudly, then let loose a whinny of pain when his ankle banged roughly into something.
“Ah’ve ‘bout had ‘nough of this,” he muttered, fumbling along the walls and whacking his shins into more furniture until he found the light switch.
He blinked as the lights came on - the room was neat, tidy, and aside from the furniture, empty, without a single painting on the walls. To an earth pony of Big Macintosh’s background, where a wall was regarded as something to cover with pictures, it was unsettling.
The light did allow him to make better progress, and he went from room to room, flicking on the bulbs as he went. No matter where he checked, though, he could find no sign of his... friend, he finally settled on.
At last, there was only one room he hadn’t explored yet - the bedroom, which he’d balked at entering until he had no choice.
It was as dimly lit as the rest of the house had been, and despite his desire to see, and the misgivings he felt, he refused to turn on the switch here. With the lights behind him, he could make out enough of the obstacles in the room to safely navigate a path, though the floor here was mostly empty. The only possible thing he could stumble over were Caramel’s two panniers, abandoned in a sad little heap on the way to the bed.
Big Macintosh’s objective was the huddled lump on top of the bed itself.
“Caramel,” he whispered when he finally reached the edge of the mattress. There was still no reply, and Big Macintosh leaned in worriedly.
The tan pony’s chest was still rising and falling as he breathed. The red stallion exhaled in an explosive sigh and shut his eyes in relief.
The hoof which struck him sharply across the face came as a complete shock, and Big Mac stumbled back in surprise, nearly tripping over the bags.
“What in Equestria was that f-” the red pony began, then checked himself. He knew exactly what that was for.
“Go away,” Caramel’s voice was faint, and Big Macintosh found himself leaning over the bed to make out the words.
This time he was expecting the hoof that lashed out, and he shied away. “Ah’ll be goin’ then,” he murmured to the tetchy pile on the bed, “but Ah’ll be back.”
“Buck you, Macintosh.”
The stallion made his way back out of the house and sat on the front steps. Ignoring the eyes of the ponies staring at him, Big Mac gazed thoughtfully into the distance, teeth working on his hay stem.
Eventually, his eyes fell on the half-loaded cart Caramel used for his deliveries, and with a grunt the stallion pulled himself to his hooves and hitched himself to it, eyes glancing down at the packages and addresses. Satisfied that he knew where to take them, he set off.
It took him about an hour, and several variations on “Ah’m helpin’ Caramel, who’s feelin’ a mite indisposed,” but he got the job done shortly after dusk fell. As he returned the cart to the same place he found it, his mind was working on several plans.
“Ah’m... back,” he spoke to the silent house as he pushed the door open. As much of a reflex as it was, he doubted Caramel would appreciate his house getting called Big Mac’s “home”.
The red stallion peeked his head into the bedroom. “Ah just finished with your route for you,” he told the colt-blob on the bed. Once again, he wasn’t gifted with an answer. Sighing, Big Macintosh lowered his head and went to sleep on the couch, turning off the lights as he went.
The next morning, the red stallion was the first to wake, and with a quick glance into Caramel’s room, he confirmed the tan pony was still asleep. He took advantage of the time to gallop over to Sweet Apple Acres to begin the first part of the scheme he’d come up with the previous night.
Applejack was, unsurprisingly, already up and working by the time he arrived. As soon as she saw him, he got another look. “Y’ got things sorted out?” she asked in a tone that indicated that if he said “yes” she wasn’t going to believe it.
Big Macintosh shook his head. “Just here t’ get some of m’ spare bits, and Ah’ll be goin’ back.”
His sister just snorted and went back to hauling in the various farming implements that he hadn’t managed to gather the previous day.
It was a quick errand, just to nip up to his room and rifle underneath the mattress for his -
Something wasn’t right. In fact, something was missing. His money was all there, but there was another secret stash that was supposed to be there and wasn’t. Big Mac shot a suspicious glance out the window, gathered his bits, and went on his way.
After a quick stop.
“Say, sis,” he asked Applejack as he passed, as casually as he could, “You wouldn’t know what happened t’ the copies of Playmare Ah had?”
He had the satisfaction of seeing her turn bright red as he continued down the road.
“I read them fer th’ articles!” she shouted at his hindquarters. Big Mac chuckled before returning his focus to the reason he’d gone out of his way to visit the farm. With luck, the shop he was going to next was open.
As it turned out, it was, and the red stallion spent most of his bits, and half an hour, explaining what he wanted. Satisfied, he trotted back to Caramel’s house.
The tan pony hadn’t budged, and Big Macintosh sighed. “Come on, Caramel, Y’ need t’ get up. Bathe. Eat somethin’.”
No reply again.
One eye popped open and glared at him. “You’re not going to go away, are you.”
The red pony shook his head.
“... Fine.” Caramel pushed himself to his hooves and shook, his mane sticking up in odd angles. Despite the horrible situation, Big Mac had to repress the urge to smile at how cute it made the other pony look.
“Ah’ll make some breakfast while you’re bathin’,” Big Macintosh said, relieved that Caramel was doing something.
His relief was short-lived, as Caramel somehow even managed to eat angrily. His posture, mostly consisting of hunching over his bowl of oats and glowering up at Big Macintosh, only added to the effect.
“There, I ate. You know where the door is.” Caramel turned back to the bedroom and curled up on the bed once more. The red stallion sighed despondently and went back out to the steps to think again.
It didn’t take long before Big Mac went stir-crazy. At Sweet Apple Acres there was always something to be done, and the lack of activity was more than he could handle. Quickly, he decided to see if there was anything else Caramel needed to deliver.
He always thought better when he was working, anyway.
Big Macintosh was staggered at the size of the pile that awaited him, and he shot an impressed glance back toward Caramel’s house. If this was the sort of thing he did every day, the brown pony’s stock with Big Mac had definitely risen further.
He was even more amazed that delivering them all took all day. He shook his head. No wonder Caramel worked so hard when at the farm; he was obviously used to prolonged, strenuous effort.
Before he could go back to Caramel’s for another uncomfortable night, he had a stop to make.
The store’s owner was happy to talk to him again, though Big Macintosh was a little disappointed that his commission would take a few days to be finished. Pleased, if a little irked that his purchase wouldn’t be ready instantly, he headed back to Caramel’s.
“Caramel -” he began as he opened the door, then froze. Caramel was sitting in the couch, sniffling into a pillow. The same one, Big Macintosh noted in a corner of his mind, that he’d been resting his head on the previous night. The rest of his attention was taken up with how quickly the colt went from “sobbing angstpile” to “teeth-bared ball of fury”.
“Go away, Big Macintosh,” he snarled.
The red stallion opposite him shut the door, then carefully maneuvered himself into a chair. “Ah can’t do that,” he murmured.
“Why not? You clearly don’t care,” snorted Caramel with a bitter, broken laugh. Big Mac felt something in him twist at the sound.
“Ah’m sorry, Caramel.”
“So’m I. Sorry that I wasted my time mooning over a pony who’s such a jerk!”
Big Macintosh stared at his hooves. “Ah’m not a clever pony, Caramel. Ah thought you were hankerin’ after the big, strong type o’ pony and Ah fit the bill... and that you weren’t interested in what Ah was really like.”
“Horse apples, Macintosh. I’ve known you for years. I know the ‘real’ you.”
The red pony slumped further. “Ah’m sorry,” he whispered again. He didn’t know what else to say.
“Why’re you even here, anyway? You know I don’t want you in my house.”
Big Macintosh swallowed. “Ah was told once that if’n Ah hurts somepony Ah... Ah care about, Ah need t’ make up for it somehow.”
Caramel bared his teeth and turned his back on the other pony, facing into the cushions on the couch. “Yeah. You care about me all right. You’ve got a great way of showing it.”
The red stallion looked up from his hooves and felt something wrench in his chest. He needed to do something, anything, to fix the situation he found himself in and that he’d caused.
Several possible scenarios flickered through his head, and each one he dismissed. Finally, he settled on one, though the chance of it working was... low. Not that it mattered, since Caramel seemed dead set on hating him.
The chair creaked as he stood, and trembling, he moved closer to Caramel, until he was only a few inches away. Tentatively, he lowered his head and began to lap at Caramel’s horseshoe cutie mark.
The tan pony’s reaction was instantaneous, shivers shooting through his smaller frame. “M-Mac... what’re you doing?!”
Big Mac paused for a moment, his bright green eyes meeting Caramel’s blue ones. “Ah’m sorry, Caramel. Ah l-like you a lot. Ah shoulda treated you better’n Ah had.” He swallowed, trying to get past the lump in his throat. “D’ you... d’ you still want to date me?”
Caramel let out another laugh, this one weak and burbling, but sounding far more natural. “You... oh, Celestia help me you actually mean it.”
“Ah do, Caramel,” replied the stallion, climbing into the protesting couch and awkwardly wedging himself in behind the tan pony. Wrapping his hooves around Caramel’s sides, he held him tightly and nuzzled at the back of his neck.
Caramel let out a deep breath, and Big Macintosh found himself holding his.
“Oh, buck it, get up, Mac.” The red pony blinked, hurt, before Caramel continued. “The couch’s too small for us.”
Caramel nodded, leaning back into Big Macintosh’s embrace. Despite his words, he seemed disinclined to move. “I suppose so, Mac. You can stay.”
Big Mac felt his heart leap, and he gave his colt a smile and quiet, satisfied reply.