The Promises We Keep
Derpy grinned to herself during the long, unpunctuated flight to the Apple family farm. The urban areas of her delivery route were fairly mechanical. Drop off a few parcels, three wingbeats to the next door, and so on. But following the meandering country lane gave her the opportunity to think, and above all, to experience.
Today, she lazily kept pace with some manner of scavenging bird as it glided overhead. New, budding greenery began to grace the skeletal arbors that winter had left behind. Bleated commentary greeted her ears when she neared the pasture, and in what had become a common occurrence these past few weeks, a tempting aroma made her stomach rumble. With the growing season imminent, she was making supply runs every few days, and it was becoming a constant battle to resist her gnawing hunger until after her shift.
Derpy exchanged a casual wave with whoever was toiling in the field nearest the house, but would have accompanied it with a broader smile if that pony happened to be Big Macintosh. However, he was the one most often answering the door now; this had started at about the same time the appetizing lunchtime scents began appearing, now that she thought about it.
“Mm, smells like winter squash baking,” she remarked to nopony in particular as she landed on the front porch, then beamed at the freckled face behind the opening door. “Hi, Big Mac! Here’s this week’s shipment.” She passed him a few small boxes of seeds.
“Thank you kindly, ma’am,” he said with a brief nod. “And, uh…”
Derpy had already turned halfway around to leave, and looked back over her shoulder. “Yes?”
Big Mac stood open-mouthed for a moment. “Um, just… thank you, ma’am.”
“You’re welcome. It’s good to see you again,” she said, hesitating briefly before taking wing.
Before closing the door and enjoying yet another gourmet lunch that was far too big for one pony, Big Mac cast a sideways glance in the distance toward Applejack. She had stopped at the end of plowing another furrow and shook her head resignedly at him. He heaved a sigh and went off to his meal.
A fortnight later, the fields of Sweet Apple Acres glittered below Derpy like diamonds, as sunlight scintillated off last night’s raindrops. The first crops of the season had begun poking tender shoots through the damp earth and unfurling pale leaves. As she sped over the verdant farmland and browsing livestock, she didn’t encounter the usual cloud of mouthwatering fragrance.
I always come away from here hungry, she thought. My muffins never last long after this stop. She flitted up the front walk, but could already see that Big Mac was otherwise engaged today in helping Applejack dislodge a cart from its muddy confinement. It just makes sense to go ahead and have lunch here. If he’d ever speak up, that is.
Derpy left the day’s delivery of chicken wire and a replacement plow blade with Granny Smith, and gave Big Mac a friendly wave on her way out, earning a smile in response. Oh, well. There’s always tomorrow. But I smile and wave at him all the time. Can he really be that thick-headed?
“Big Mac!” She whipped around at the sound of Applejack’s admonition in time to see his startled expression, as he averted his gaze from Derpy to refocus his attention on his task.
The pegasus couldn’t help but chuckle quietly, but her mirth soon faded. C’mon, Big Mac, it’s not that hard…
Interlacing snippets of graceful birdsong lofted about the trees on this fine mid-spring day. It was nearly noon, which meant that today’s shipment was due at any minute. A small tin bell just inside the homestead’s front door signaled Derpy’s arrival, and Big Macintosh answered the jangling summons once again, having carefully scheduled his lunch breaks so that he would always be the one to greet her.
“Hey, Derpy, how’s it goin’?” he ventured, his words directed down toward the welcome mat. The smells of blended herbs and fresh bread poured through the doorway.
He actually spoke first? she thought, then gave him her most winsome smile. “Pretty well, I guess. Nothing too exciting, but at least I get to go for a long fly every day.”
Big Mac continued his conversation with the floor, which patiently endured his scraping hoof. He asked, “Do you get a lunch break?”
Finding it hard to speak while smiling this big, Derpy abandoned her erstwhile ally: subtlety. “Yeah, but I usually just bring along a couple of muffins and eat them while I’m on my route. It saves a little time. The food smells so good here that I usually don’t last all the way back to town, though.”
Gears turned, and Big Mac seized his opening. “Well, I was wonderin’, maybe… if you didn’t mind… you work so hard comin’ all the way out here all the time,” he said, finally raising his head far enough to address her at a more ponylike level. “I enjoy seein’ you when you come by and I thought you might enjoy a hot meal for a change.”
Because of his red color, Derpy couldn’t tell for sure if he was blushing, but she thought she could detect a slight darkening of his cheeks. On the other hoof, her own face was becoming uncomfortably warm. “Yeah, I’d like that.”
Big Mac ushered her into the kitchen, where there was a small breakfast table only big enough for the immediate family. By way of explanation, he offered, “I’m afraid it’s a mite early in the season to have any fresh harvest, but we’ve got potatoes and dried mushrooms from the winter stock that I’ve made into a soup, and there’re some hot oatcakes about to come out o’ the oven.”
“That sounds delicious!” remarked Derpy. “I didn’t know you could cook.” Her gaze traversed from the tureen on the stovetop to the impressive array of bottled seasonings beside it on the counter.
“Well, bein’ out here so far from town, you’ve got to be self-sufficient. Everypony here can do a little of everythin’.” He pulled down two mugs from the rack near the coffee grinder, then grasped the pot handle with his teeth and poured a helping into each.
Gingerly sipping at the still-steaming broth, Derpy exclaimed, “Wow, this is great!” She took a drink of water to cool the slight burn on her tongue. “You’re too modest. This is more than just a little cooking to get by.”
“I ’preciate your kind words, Derpy, but I’m just glad to share it with you.” A ding interrupted him as the oven timer went off. “Good, the cakes are ready. Get ’em while they’re hot!” Big Mac took a mouth mitt, pulled the baking sheet from the oven, and set it down on a trivet between them, then brought back a jar of honey from the pantry. “I’m sure glad you agreed to join me, Derpy. To tell you the truth, I’ve been meanin’ to ask you for some time now, but I never had the nerve,” he admitted.
Feigning surprise at his worst-kept secret, she offered a confession as well. “I did notice that you’ve consistently been the one to answer the door for some time now. That never used to happen.” She looked down at the tabletop in a rare fit of shyness. “Actually, I’m kind of glad. I’ve liked seeing you on my route. It’s been a nice treat in the middle of the day.”
After they had finished, Derpy thanked him for his hospitality, saying, “That was amazing! I could make a habit of this.” She looked up at him expectantly.
“I’d be much obliged if you did,” came Big Mac’s eager reply, but more as a question than a statement.
“That’s a great suggestion,” she responded innocently, adding, “Okay, tomorrow then. Your wagon parts’ll be in, so I’m heading here anyway. I’ll bring the food.”
“Big Mac, delivery mare’s here!” Applejack shouted from the kitchen. “And she’s grinnin’ somethin’ fierce. You finally make your move or somethin’?”
“Aw shucks, AJ! You got to stick your nose in?” he called from upstairs, where he was hanging his collar.
“I’m just happy for you, big brother,” she reassured him. “I thought she was here an awful long time yesterday.”
“We had lunch,” Big Mac said with finality as he descended the staircase.
The mischief having drained from her smile, Applejack patted him on the shoulder, saying, “Good. Well, don’t mind me. I’m goin’ back out to work. Enjoy yourself.”
Applejack passed Derpy in the opposite direction on her way out to the fields, and gave her a friendly wink. “Y’all two have fun now, y’hear?” she said. The gray pegasus had to giggle in spite of herself.
Derpy was still laughing as Big Mac let her through the front door. “Big Mac, your sister’s funny.”
He grimaced slightly on Derpy’s behalf. “I s’pose so. She can be a bit of a busybody,” he warned her. “What smells so good?”
Grinning at the compliment, she said, “My cooking skills are limited to baking, but I make a mean muffin. I brought a batch of my five-berry specials. Strawberry, blueberry, raspberry, cranberry, and red currants. They’re my favorite.”
Big Mac sat down at the table across from Derpy and watched her intently as she arranged her cargo of muffins in a basket. His scrutiny began to unnerve her slightly. “Big Mac?” She waved a hoof in front of his face.
Broken from his reverie, his dreamy look faded into an embarrassed smile. “Oh, I’m sorry,” he said hurriedly. “I’m in for the drinks. There’s a jar o’ sun tea brewin’ out back. ’Scuse me.” When he returned with it a few minutes later, Derpy had set the table and folded the napkins into bird shapes. “Well now, that’s a neat trick,” he mused.
“Just a hobby I took up a long time ago,” she said, shrugging.
Already halfway through his first muffin, Big Mac said, “Wow! I can see why these are your favorite. What’s that? Cinnamon, nutmeg, and… red wine? It’s a little smoky, too. That can’t be right.”
“You’ve got a discerning palate,” she replied, jabbing a hoof toward him for emphasis. “The recipe calls for a little bit of salt. I use a special kind that’s been smoked with oak chips from old wine barrels.”
“And you say I’m a good cook! Honestly, you got me beat, hooves down,” he attempted to concede. Deftly cutting off her protest, Big Mac asked, “So, what’s it like bein’ a delivery pony?”
“Well,” she began slowly, “you really get to know who everypony is. It helps if you’re the outdoor type. We handle the occasional moving job, and the things that some ponies order are… well, interesting.” She began to gain steam, but noticed that his stare had returned while he chewed yet another muffin. “Stay with me, Big Mac.”
“Hm? Oh. Yeah. Go on – I’m listenin’.”
Two weeks’ worth of lunches later, Derpy was still unsure what to make of Bag Mac’s staring. She finally asked as they sat facing each other across the table. “I always catch you off in dreamland somewhere. What are you thinking about?”
He looked around in a short, futile search for some sort of aid before confessing. “I’m sorry, Derpy. It’s just… you’ve got real pretty eyes, like that soft golden sunlight, late in the afternoon on an autumn day, that warms your back as you bring in the harvest,” he said. “I could get lost in there.”
Taken aback by his flattering attention, Derpy smiled and held a hoof to her chest. “Nopony’s ever told me that before,” she confided as dewy moisture began accumulating in her eyes. She leaned over the table and reached for his hoof. “Thank you, Big Mac. You make me feel so special.”
“I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable,” he said, frowning slightly. “I try not to lose focus, but I can’t always help myself.”
“No, no,” she added hastily, sliding over into the chair next to him. “It’s okay. You can continue. What did you see?”
His stiff posture melting away, Big Mac settled more easily down into his seat. “’Round about October, when the wind’s got a little bite to it and the leaves have turned – that’s when we’re gatherin’ the last o’ the summer crops. The sun’s hangin’ low by five o’clock, and it’s streamin’ over the hilltops.” He looked into her eyes again to stoke that image anew. “The leaves are already so golden, but that light just makes ’em glow, and you feel all warm inside.”
Derpy leaned over and gave Big Mac a quick one-hoofed hug. “That’s beautiful.”
“Yeah, it is,” he agreed.
After a few more weeks of their meals together, the discussions gradually transformed from self-conscious small talk to real conversation, their laughter floating out the open windows and giving Applejack cause to chuckle knowingly in the fields. On this day, Big Mac stood at his sentry post by the front window, awaiting the proper moment to open the door. C’mon, Big Mac. Today’s the day. You can do it, he thought.
His ears perking to the sound of hooves on the planking outside, he opened the door and fought down his jitters. As Derpy walked by him, Big Mac dared to steal a small peck on the cheek.
“Took you long enough!” she chided.
Derpy turned back around with a sly grin on her face and planted a kiss fully on his mouth. His eyes shot wide open as he backed away, but she moved with him, keeping the pressure applied until he had run out of floor, his back against the wall. Only then did she break contact, proceeding into the kitchen without looking back, and unpacking the meal she had brought. “C’mon in here, Big Mac, the food’s not going to get any warmer.”
Big Mac remained motionless in the entryway for a minute before touching a hoof to his lips and breaking into a stupid, slack-jawed smile. He finally plodded down the short hallway, and took great interest in a particular spot on the wall over her shoulder, just far enough from her face to avoid eye contact.
“I thought we’d eat outside, down by the pond,” Derpy declared. “It’s beautiful weather today. Yes?” She nodded her head in an exaggerated motion until his head began to bob in agreement. “Good.”
Big Mac led her out the back door and through the apple orchards, enjoying the sweet scent of the blossoms after which his youngest sister had been named. Some had already dropped from the trees, beginning the months-long ripening of the fruit they had once adorned. The two ponies walked closely side-by-side until they reached the pond’s edge, then spread a blanket on the shoreline, and got out the hot roasted eggplant sandwiches that Derpy had assembled in the kitchen.
“Mmm, those look tasty! I sure am hungry,” he said, reaching for one of them.
“Oh, you can speak again,” observed Derpy, her eyes twinkling.
“Um… yes’m,” he hemmed and hawed, rubbing a hoof on the back of his neck. “You kind o’… had me outgunned there.”
She had to laugh at his discomfort. “I’m sorry, Big Mac, but you’re too cute.”
After they had eaten, they lay back on the blanket and watched the clouds drift by. Though the midday heat was becoming uncomfortable, the added warmth of the mare next to him was welcome. Big Mac held her hoof and smelled the breeze wafting over her, mixing the scent of flowers in the grove with the odor of canvas saddle bags and whatever brand of shampoo she preferred. The smell of that soap was common enough in the marketplace, but it somehow took on a magical quality now that it was forever linked to Derpy.
“You know, we ought to do somethin’ after you get off work. We could meet for dinner at the café, or go to Canterlot to see a show. What d’ya think?” he asked, struck by inspiration.
“That would be great!” Derpy exclaimed. “Actually, Fluttershy invited a comedian to perform in the town square tonight. I was thinking about going.”
“Fluttershy? Comedy?” Big Mac halfway closed one eye in consternation.
“I know! I had the same reaction. Trust me, though, it makes sense,” she answered, unable to keep the laughter out of her voice. “Apparently Angel loves it. Shy said he’s done a couple of amateur nights.”
Big Mac shook his head and guffawed heartily. “Alright, just stop on by after work, and we’ll head over there.”
Clenching her forelegs in excitement, Derpy let out a little squeal of delight. “It’s a date!” She rolled away from him to begin gathering together the remains of their lunch.
“Hm?” She rolled back toward Big Mac, only to find his muzzle strategically placed to intercept hers. After exchanging a few parting kisses, she flew off to complete her route with a huge smile fixed firmly in place.
Big Macintosh paced around the porch the next day as he waited for Derpy. She hadn’t arrived the previous evening, and he had gone into town to see if she had already gone to the show. Once the performance began, he had returned home, but Applejack said she never showed up. Finally, he could see the gray pony floating up the road.
“Big Mac, I’m really sorry about last night. I stayed home with a bad headache,” she explained, hanging her head.
He waved a hoof at her dismissively. “Yeah, I’ve heard about mares and their headaches.”
“No, really,” Derpy entreated him. “I’ve been getting more of them lately. Maybe once a week, and usually at night.”
“Well, have you seen a doctor?” Big Mac said, snapping his gaze up to her eyes as his sarcasm gave way to worry.
“No. I figured it was just a sinus infection or something,” she said, attempting to deflect his concern. “Aspirin didn’t seem to help, though. I would have at least come by to tell you, but I had these yellow blobs washing out my vision.”
Raising her chin with his hoof to force eye contact, Big Mac suddenly became somber. “Derpy, this is serious. That’s not a normal headache. I want you to see Nurse Redheart after your shift. I’ll be there waitin’ to make sure you go.”
She nodded in agreement, returned his hug, and took flight to complete her route. Big Mac’s apprehension had given Derpy pause, and she found herself trembling. Best just to put it out of my mind for now, she thought, and latched onto the memory of that first kiss.
“All right, Derpy, let’s see…” said Nurse Redheart. “No family history of migraines?”
“No,” she answered immediately.
“And you just started getting them a few months ago?” The nurse scribbled some illegible comment on her notepad.
Derpy rolled her eyes upward and tapped a hoof on her chin. “Yes, about three and a half months now.”
“Well, there are a lot of things that can cause them. Do you ever get headaches from sun glare?” Redheart asked.
“No,” Derpy said, shaking her head. “I work outdoors every day, and it’s never been a problem.”
“Do you have any food allergies? That’s a common cause.”
The pegasus shrugged. “Not that I know of.”
Nurse Redheart swiveled around to place her notes on the desk beside her. “Okay, here’s what I want you to do. First, stress can be a trigger. The next time you feel a headache starting, I want you to lie down and relax. I’ll give you a pamphlet on relaxation techniques. Second, let’s see if we can isolate a food allergy. Each week, eliminate something from your diet that you eat frequently, and see if the headaches go away. I’ll see you back in six weeks, and we’ll figure out where to go from there.”
Big Macintosh gave Derpy a squeeze as they rose from their seats. “Thank you for coming here, Derpy. I feel much better about this now.”
Upon leaving the medical office, he accompanied Derpy back to her house in the cool evening air. They covered the distance much too quickly for Big Mac’s taste, as he was enjoying walking close beside her, brushing up against her warm coat, and feeling the blonde mare nuzzling his neck. “Since we missed lunch today, I thought I’d help you cook dinner,” he explained, inclining his head toward the saddle bag he carried, and trailing Derpy over the front stoop and into her kitchen.
“Sounds fun. So, let’s say oats are off the table this week, so to speak,” she quipped, eliciting a groan from Big Mac.
“Eeyup. I’ll make us some cornbread.” He passed a bundle of produce to Derpy, then unloaded a parcel of yellow meal from his pack and poured its contents into a mixing bowl.
“This will make some great salads,” Derpy remarked as she rinsed the leafy vegetables in the sink. “Thank you for the greens.”
“Don’t mention it.” Looking up from stirring his batter, Big Mac beamed proudly. “Baby spinach and spring onions are comin’ up now, so I figured you’d like ’em fresh. We’ll have some crates of ’em ready for you to ship out soon. I also brought some o’ the hard cider from last fall.”
“Ooh, that’ll be good!”
“Eeyup. We’re goin’ to get you all fixed up. No more headaches.” He came over from his work, hooked a foreleg around Derpy’s neck, and gave her a kiss while stroking her mane.
By the time Derpy went back to visit Nurse Redheart, her migraines had actually increased in frequency. She had even missed two days of work, her first absence ever. Worst of all, she could sense Big Mac’s increasing frustration and helplessness.
“So you’re getting more headaches,” the nurse asked, “but has the intensity gone down any?”
“No,” Derpy answered. “If anything, they’re worse.” She glanced toward Big Mac, who gave her a reassuring hug.
Redheart penciled another notation on her pad. “Did you get any relief through relaxation?”
“No, it didn’t make them go away any faster. But,” Derpy added, “it did help me fall asleep, and sometimes the headaches were gone by the time I woke up.”
“And what foods did you try to isolate?”
“Oats, wheat, corn, barley, hay, and grass,” Derpy itemized. “I figured it was more important to concentrate on the grains.”
Nurse Redheart ticked a number of check marks down a list she had scrawled. “Yes, those are the usual suspects. Well, keep trying your rotating diet. We might yet find a trigger. In the meantime, I’m going to prescribe you a pain reliever. I also want you to see a specialist in Canterlot. I’ll have the receptionist prepare you a referral form.” The nurse patted Derpy’s hoof. “I know this can be scary, but we’ll figure it out.”
Applejack saw Big Macintosh off early the next morning when he left to accompany Derpy to her appointment. She noticed that he had skipped breakfast again, something that had been happening all too often lately. She felt bad for him, as she could see the toll the stress was taking on him, and had even asked Braeburn to come help on the farm so Big Mac could take time off when needed.
Derpy and Big Macintosh boarded the early coach for Canterlot, and he tried to maintain an aura of calmness in order to help support her. He could see the fear in her eyes, and it was all he could do to keep up a façade of assured confidence for her. Leaning against him during the entire trip, Derpy sought strength in his warm, muscular frame and his apple-scented mane.
When they arrived at the doctor’s office, they endured the same fusillade of questions that Nurse Redheart had asked, with the doctor apparently no closer to an answer than the nurse had been. “Derpy, I’d like you to undergo some tests,” he said. “We’ll have a medical unicorn scan you and see what he finds. Please head down the hall to the lab.”
While suffering yet another interminable wait, the ruddy stallion fought the increasing tightness in his chest while trying to soothe his fillyfriend’s nerves. “It’s alright, sweet. We’ll get through this.” He hugged her tighter, and thought he might feel her shaking slightly.
“Derpy? If you could step back here with me…” A pegasus nurse led the pair to an examination room. “Ma’am, if you could just step onto the four marked spots on the floor… good, now just hold still while I adjust these…” The nurse slid two metal bars up a frame until one rested against Derpy’s sternum and the other touched her chin. “Okay, now try to remain as still as possible while the tech conducts his scan,” she said, indicating the unicorn stallion that had just entered the room.
The unicorn’s horn began to glow a soft blue, and he methodically moved all around Derpy, pausing briefly around some of the more vital areas: head, heart, lungs… After about twenty minutes, his horn’s glow faded, he scratched a few notations on a form the nurse gave him, and then he left without a word.
“You’re doing great,” the nurse said to comfort her. “Now, just return to the neurologist’s office, and he’ll call you back once he’s had a chance to interpret the scan results.”
Two eight-month-old magazines and nearly an hour later, the receptionist finally summoned Derpy and Big Mac back into the doctor’s office. The neurologist had several film sheets strewn about his desk, with one still clipped into a light on the wall. Big Mac recognized it as an internal head scan, and he could make out the nice, symmetric contours of cheekbones, sinus cavities, eye sockets… His heart sank as his eyes settled on a large oblong patch of lopsided opacity. He averted his gaze to the floor in front of him, closing his eyes against the rush of tears, and suppressing a shudder for Derpy’s sake. Soon, she would know the horrible truth anyway, but he had to be strong, for whatever solace that might provide her.
The doctor sat with his hooves steepled against his mouth, his jaw set. In his profession, the relieved patients greatly outnumbered the devastated ones, but it did him no good to keep score. This hurt. It always did.
Big Macintosh didn’t hear what the neurologist said. Lips moved, eyes darted from Derpy to the scans, and forelegs gesticulated, but no sound penetrated the fog that stuffed the freckled farmer’s head. At long last, the resonant tone in his ears dissipated.
“…undoubtedly the source of your headaches, Derpy. At this point it’s too invasive; we can’t risk operating unless we can shrink it. I’m going to recommend a six-month course of chemotherapy. If it’s successful, then we can talk about surgery at that point.”
Big Macintosh squeezed the gray pegasus tightly, and could feel her shaking. He had never seen her wings droop before, but they hung limply, the feathered tips trailing over the edge of her chair and onto the floor. Turning toward her, Big Mac guided her head onto his shoulder and could feel her working her muzzle into the tangle of his mane, her silent tears trickling down his neck.
“I can have all the necessary equipment set up at the Ponyville clinic so that you don’t have to travel,” the doctor said. “I really think this is the best treatment option, and we have had success with it. Ultimately, it’s your decision, Derpy. You can take my suggestion, seek another opinion, or even do nothing, if you choose.”
Without dislodging her face from Big Mac’s mane, Derpy nodded hurriedly. “I’ll do it. I… I don’t want to die.”
Drawing in a sharp, tremulous breath, Big Mac bit his lip and willed himself to remain composed. He could never fool Derpy, however.
She hugged him back and whispered, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I don’t want to do this to you.”
“Shh, darlin’. You haven’t done anythin’ wrong. I’m here. I always will be.”
Walking around his desk and crouching down beside her, the doctor said, “Derpy, it’s important to keep a positive outlook. We will fight this, and if it’s at all within my capabilities, we will win.”
Thank Celestia for Braeburn, thought Big Macintosh. His help had been a boon around the farm, and now it meant that Big Mac could accompany Derpy to her chemotherapy sessions. Both he and Derpy were jittery bundles of nerves as they sat in a secluded room in the back of Ponyville’s clinic for the first time. Big Mac held Derpy’s hoof as Nurse Redheart connected the intravenous drip that would send the poisons flowing through Derpy’s body. Neither pony knew what to expect, but Big Mac frowned at that needle, wishing it would pierce his skin instead.
“Are you doin’ okay, darlin’?” he asked gently while smoothing down her forelock.
“Yeah, I just feel a little tired,” Derpy admitted, slumping further into the recliner.
Big Mac slid a chair up to hers so he could keep a hoof around her neck. He kissed her cheek and rested his head against hers. Before long, she had fallen asleep.
When her eyes fluttered open again, Big Mac’s face smiled down at her. “All done, darlin’. Let’s get you home and have some lunch.”
The blonde mare was a little unsteady on her hooves and had to lean on him for support during the walk home. She thought some nice sandwiches and vegetable broth would be just what she needed to give her some energy, so she set about attempting to prepare a meal once they had arrived at her house. She repeatedly tried to slip past him into the kitchen, but Big Mac had different plans for her.
“No. Get. Back on the couch,” he ordered, pointing toward the den behind her.
“Big Mac, I want to help you cook!” Derpy pleaded, once more attempting to duck under the foreleg that blocked the doorway.
“Nonsense! I’m goin’ to take care o’ you.” He returned to stirring the pot of broth, eyeing her warily.
Between Big Mac’s glances at her, Derpy crept forward little by little. “I don’t expect you to do everything for me. I like cooking with you.”
“Alright, you can help a little,” he relented, “but if you’re goin’ to insist on keepin’ up your delivery route, you have to take it easy the rest o’ the day. Food’s about ready now anyway. You can carry it out to the table.”
Derpy sat at her small dinette next to her coltfriend and attacked her sandwich. The soup helped to ward off the slight chill that had seeped into her body. After eating her fill, she took Big Mac’s suggestion of a nap on the couch, her eyes drifting closed as soon as her head hit the pillow.
Big Mac had a gaunt and haggard appearance. He constantly lugged Derpy around town on his back, and instead of the usual shops and boutiques, every store they entered just contained a solitary chair in a medical lab. Derpy would take the seat, and a nurse would emerge from the back to begin another treatment. Somehow, the toxins always flowed into Big Mac instead. He looked her squarely in the eyes as his color faded a little more each time, saying, “I’m doin’ this for you, darlin’.” The image turned her stomach, and the drug-induced nausea began to make her feel ill…
Jerking awake, Derpy stumbled to the washroom and retched in the basin. She stood there for a while afterward, breathing heavily. The red stallion dashed in after her, unadulterated concern on his face, as she sank to the floor. He knelt down next to her and held her until she stopped crying.
“Do you feel any better today, darlin’?” Big Mac inquired. “Last week was the first time; maybe the chemo just takes a little gettin’ used to.”
Walking home from her second appointment at the clinic, Derpy nodded brusquely in the negative, her weak knees wobbling as she shivered, even in the noonday heat.
“I wish you’d let me carry you home. It ain’t a problem. I lift stuff on the farm all the time.” He often found logic to be useless when dealing with mares, but tried nonetheless.
“No, I need to stay active. It actually helps keep my mind off of…” Her gray coat took on a tinge of green as she fought off the urge to gag.
Frowning at the spasm he could see in her throat, Big Mac continued his line of reasoning. “Sweet, you get enough exercise since you insist on keepin’ up with your deliveries. You really should go part time, or let ’em hire a temp.”
“I’m not going to languish away at home,” Derpy averred. “I need to feel useful.”
“I do too. I feel like I ain’t doin’ enough to make this easier on you,” he lamented.
“Big Mac, I can see the sadness in your eyes that you try to hide by turning away, and I know when you give me spontaneous hugs so I can’t see your face.” She stopped walking and hung her head, a smattering of tears beginning to dot the sidewalk. “I can’t help but feel like I’m the one who’s got it easy, and I wouldn’t blame you for leaving.”
The red stallion’s voice became suddenly stern. “No! Nary a word about leavin’! You can’t really think I’d do that!” This time he didn’t bother trying to hide his emotion from her as his voice broke. “I stand by the mare I… the mare I love.”
A surge of elation buoyed her spirits with his admission. She knew – she had known for some time now. But this was the first time he had said it. As uncharacteristically talkative as he was willing to be with her, she still knew that his innate reticence prevented him from vocalizing such things easily. “You’re right. I love you too much to let you go like that, and you are an incredible source of strength, almost magical. I guess it’s true what they say about earth ponies.”
“Eeyup. Solid and immovable rock. So don’t you argue,” he said with a self-satisfied smile.
She had to stifle a chuckle, lest it stir up her nausea again, and resumed the journey to her house. When they arrived, Big Mac reheated some of the rich vegetable stock he made periodically, as it was the only nutritious thing she could consistently stomach.
“Don’t get yourself full now,” he cautioned her. “Remember, a little at a time.”
“Yes, mom,” she replied, rolling her eyes.
“I don’t believe you’d kiss your mom like that.”
In contrast to his mischievous grin, Derpy was the epitome of innocence. “How, exactly? Surely I wouldn’t know anything about that.”
Big Mac silently thanked Nurse Redheart for the anti-nausea medication she had prescribed. It was taking effect now, and Derpy was the happiest he had seen her in weeks. “If I recall correctly, it went somethin’ like this…” He leaned in and kissed her, enjoying the warm feeling of her muzzle against his.
Returning his gesture in kind, Derpy for once completely forgot about her sickness. She wrapped her forelegs around Big Mac’s neck and pulled him close.
After a moment, he pulled back a little. “Mmph. Now, Derpy, I don’t want to cut into your nap time.”
“Shut up and kiss me.”
Finally, Derpy had to admit that she had reached her limit. Traversing her route now left her completely exhausted, and she tried cutting back to every other day, but the effort still left her panting for breath. She now only covered the immediate area around town, and allowed a temporary employee to take on the outlying exurbs. What she missed the most was the regular pass by Sweet Apple Acres, where she would see Big Mac basking in the natural beauty of the farm he loved, striding out to greet her, then inviting her in for lunch or delighting in the long walk with her back to her own house to eat together. At least Big Mac still visited for lunch and dinner every day, but Derpy was beginning to feel like a burden.
“I’m sorry, darlin’,” he said, his voice downcast. “I know how much your work means to you. Don’t you fret, though – you’ll be back at it in no time.”
“Well, at least my headaches have mostly stopped. There is that,” she replied, more for his encouragement than hers.
Big Mac’s face brightened as he broke into a smile. “That’s got to be a good sign. Chemo must be workin’.” His grin fading as he glanced at her plate, he pleaded, “Now please try and eat some o’ your salad.”
“I know I should, but it’s so hard to force food down. I can’t really taste it anymore, and I get sick half the time anyway.” Her shoulders drooped in resignation.
“I know, but maybe it’ll all be done soon. We’ve got your checkup in Canterlot in a few days. I’m feelin’ good about it,” he said, a sparkle returning to his eyes.
“Maybe so, but I just don’t feel like lunch today. I’m going to take my nap.” She proceeded to the couch, but when she saw Big Mac curl up on the rug, she opted to cuddle up next to him. Derpy had never slept like this, with his warmth warding off her anemic chill, and breathing in his earthy scent. It was the most satisfying rest she’d ever had, and it came at a particularly needful time.
Derpy and Big Mac once again sat in the neurologist’s office, awaiting the results of her latest test. He thought she appeared to be in good spirits, and Big Mac was overjoyed to see the change in her attitude. He hated to get his hopes up, but had considered the possibility that her disappearing symptoms meant that the therapy was working, and maybe surgery would be unnecessary.
“Derpy, the latest scans show that the tumor has shrunk, which you might have expected from your reduction in headaches,” began the doctor. “However, time is also a factor, since we need to try to remove it before it has a chance to metastasize. Its size and location are borderline right now; we probably could remove it, but it would be risky. I would prefer to continue your chemotherapy at a higher dose for the time being, and see if we can shrink the tumor enough over the next three months to make surgery a safer prospect. I’ve consulted with our oncologist, and she’s in agreement.”
The gray pegasus smiled uncertainly at Big Mac, who gave her a squeeze and a cheerful grin. “Don’t you see, darlin’? We’re makin’ progress! You’re gettin' better!”
“Well,” cautioned the doctor, “let’s be realistic. The situation is still serious, but you’re right, things are moving in a good direction. We’ll start your revised dosage at next week’s session, and our office will send over the updated paperwork to your local clinic.”
On the carriage ride back to Ponyville, Big Mac wrapped a foreleg around Derpy’s neck and gave her a jostling hug. “See, darlin’? You got this beat!”
“Please, Big Mac, don’t shake me,” she exclaimed, holding her stomach. “I’m not better yet, and you’re going to make breakfast come back for a rematch…”
“Oh, I’m sorry, I’m sorry! I wasn’t thinkin’.” He jerked his hoof back and grinned sheepishly.
“It’s okay. Just take it easy on me.”
“Always,” he answered, giving her a kiss on top of her head.
The increased strength of the drugs was very quickly evident to Derpy. It was only three weeks into the new regimen, and she was more miserable than ever. She just had to keep reminding herself that there were only two months left; she was closer to the end than the beginning, and with any luck, this would all be over soon.
“Derpy, please eat somethin’,” entreated Big Macintosh, stepping in front of the couch to force his face into her field of view.
“I can’t.” She frowned, shaking her head with a grimace and gagging over the large bowl she had been keeping beside the couch for just such a purpose.
“You’re wastin’ away, darlin’. You’ve got to take care o’ yourself.” He took hold of both of her forelegs and cast a pleading look into her eyes.
“I know, but it really is worse to eat and then get sick. After my nap, I’ll try to have a little dinner,” she promised, then sighed deeply, laying her head back down on a cushion.
“Okay. I’m goin’ to hold you to that.”
“As long as you hold me,” Derpy remarked, giving him a weak smile.
Big Mac lay down next to the couch and lightly rubbed a hoof up and down her back. Soon she had surrendered to an uneasy slumber. The ruddy stallion looked her over and noticed her ribs showing plainly through her skin, the drab brownish-beige tint overtaking her coat, and the lack of a glossy luster to her feathers. He hadn’t even seen her preen them in a month. Resting his head in his hooves, he succumbed to his own exhaustion as a few tears trickled down his cheek. One last thought flickered through his mind as he gave in to fatigue. If I’d known it’d be like this… Oh, Celestia, I’d do it all the same. Anything for this wonderful mare.
“Almost there, sweet. Just two more weeks.” In what felt like it had become a routine, Big Mac held her in an embrace on the washroom floor, after she had vomited another light meal into the sink, then abandoned the fight against gravity. The pronounced bags under her eyes had become permanent, and her coat was dry and brittle, with far too many thin patches. Absentmindedly stroking her mane with his hoof, Big Mac’s breath caught in his throat as he stared in horror at the clump of blonde hair that clung to his horseshoe.
“Hm?” Derpy looked up wearily to see what had caused his suddenly shallow, ragged breathing. He jerked his hoof away, trying to dislodge the tuft of mane into the wastebasket before she noticed it, but this had come as no surprise to her. “It’s alright, Big Mac. I already know. What do you think happened when I brushed my mane and tail the last few days?”
“Oh Derpy! I’m sorry. I… I wish I could do somethin’.”
“You are, Big Mac!” she said, smiling as broadly as she could. “I don’t think I could have made it this far without you. I probably would have given up long ago.”
The stallion rose to his knees as a flash of desperate anger shot through his eyes. “No! Don’t say that! Don’t you ever give up! What would I do without you? Go back to my lonely life? I love my farm, but I never met anypony there. I waited all my life, trustin’ to fate that I’d find somepony I could love, really love, and now that I have, I…” He broke off, unable to continue, and turned his face away, but he couldn’t hide the beads of moisture striking the tile floor.
“Big Mac, calm down! I didn’t mean it. I love you too much to surrender like that.” Derpy knew that he wouldn’t want to let her see him cry, so she allowed him to keep his face hidden, hoping the release would do him some good. She didn’t have the heart to tell him that her headaches had returned.
Heading into town early, Big Macintosh had an errand to run before he went to escort Derpy to her final treatment. He stopped by Carousel Boutique to buy a small trinket that Rarity had custom-made for him, the antiquated significance of which she probably didn’t appreciate. The shop’s elegant proprietor placed it in a small paper bag as Big Mac paid the five bits. Expense was immaterial; it was a token of great meaning.
When he arrived at Derpy’s house, she looked at him curiously. Being the time that the previous appointment was furthest in the past, the mornings before her sessions with Nurse Redheart were the occasions she felt the best, and had actually kept down a small breakfast today. “What’s in the bag?”
“There’s an old tradition, one that most ponies nowadays don’t know. This is the way it was done back when Granny Smith was a young ’un.” He pulled out a length of braided gold cord, embedded with metallic flecks and knotted at each end. Tying the rope loosely around Derpy’s neck, he smiled at the brightness it brought to her dull, flat coat, and how it matched the hue of the last few strands of mane stubbornly rooted in her neck. “In my great granddaddy’s day, a young stallion would do this to… to show everypony who he was honored to have as his intended.” He stood back to admire the gleam that the accessory brought out in her eyes, which had drawn him in irrevocably all those months ago.
Derpy held a hoof to her mouth and began to quiver. “Oh my gosh! Big Mac, are you… are you asking what I think you’re asking?” Her heart pounded in her chest.
“Yes’m, I sure am. I don’t ever want to be apart from you again.” He cocked his head and gazed at her with a dreamy expression of pure affection.
“Yes, Big Mac! Yes!” She threw her forelegs around his neck and hugged him tightly. Big Mac gave her a tentative kiss on the muzzle, and she returned it with enthusiasm. It had been a long time since she could abandon herself to the feeling of his lips against hers and the security of his embrace. For the first time since her ordeal had begun, Derpy caught herself envisioning a future. For the first time, she wept joyous tears.
The following week, Derpy and Big Macintosh had returned to Canterlot for a surgical consultation with the neurologist. After enduring another scan and more waiting, they sat expectantly in front of the doctor’s desk. In Big Mac’s judgment, the doctor seemed surprisingly unemotional for the good news he must surely bear.
“Derpy, I’m afraid the tumor didn’t shrink any further,” the physician informed her. “In fact, it appears to be growing again. Have the migraines come back?”
Looking down at the floor, Derpy gave a quick nod. Her eyes traced a route around the carpet in every direction but Big Mac’s.
“Derpy, why didn’t you tell me?” he rasped, slumping in his seat.
“I… I couldn’t let you down.” A sense of betrayal washed over her. “I couldn’t bear to disappoint you. Not after what you’ve done for me.”
“You’ve done nothin’ wrong, darlin’! You’ve got to let me help you!” His hoof raised to his forehead, Big Mac shook his head in exasperation.
“Big Mac, I know about the anxiety medication Nurse Redheart gave you, and I can see you’ve been losing weight. I didn’t want to make things worse for you.”
With Big Mac speechless, the doctor took the opportunity to continue. “We need to schedule surgery immediately. I have an opening in the morning. Does that work for you?”
Derpy nodded wordlessly again, feeling somehow smaller.
“I need to make sure you understand the dangers, Derpy. First, there is always a risk of death associated with any operation. However, the concerns I have with this particular case are related to the size and location of the tumor. We will have to cut extraordinarily close to areas of the brain related to memory and personality. There is a real chance that both could be affected.”
Derpy shrugged. “What choice do I have?”
“If you can make the first carriage in the morning, we can schedule you for prep at eight o’clock. Please don’t eat or drink anything at least twelve hours prior. And Derpy…” He paused, waiting for her to make eye contact. “We’re going to take good care of you. You’re in good hooves.”
Picking at their plates silently during that evening’s dinner, neither Big Mac nor Derpy wanted to broach the subject hanging over their heads. In fact, he had said nothing since her appointment. Finally, Derpy decided to break the oppressive quiet. She knew that the stallion would be happy to leave things as they were, but she had something that needed to be said, and she wasn’t guaranteed the luxury of time.
“Big Mac, I need you to make me a promise,” she declared, forcing strength into her voice.
“I’ve already done that, sweet. It’s hangin’ on your neck.” He gave her a sideways glance and ventured a timid smile.
She grinned despite her serious mood. “No, I need a new promise. A bigger one.”
His ears pricked up as he beamed, clearly oblivious to the tenor of what she was about to ask. “Anythin’.”
“If I… if I don’t make it through tomorrow…” She held up a hoof to forestall his inevitable protest, as a scowl crossed his face. “…or if I’m not me anymore, I want you to move on. Your happiness is the most important thing to me. I don’t want you wasting your life missing me or, worse yet, trapped into marrying somepony you don’t know. Promise me.”
Drooping ears framed an expression of barely-contained sorrow, as the tightening of his cheek muscles belied the tumult within. He shook his head quickly. “Don’t do this.”
His voice barely audible and his lip trembling, Big Mac was the closest to cracking that Derpy had ever seen. She could tell that her request had cleaved straight through his brave front, but surely he had to realize that it would save him more pain in the long run. “Please, Big Mac, give me some peace of mind that you’ll carry on! Promise me!”
Reluctantly, he nodded his assent, if only to put her at ease, but by the suppressed spasm that surged through his chest, she knew that his heart was broken. It was all she could do to keep her own turmoil walled behind good intentions. Derpy let him lead her to the couch, where he wrapped her in a warm embrace. She tried to lose herself in the feeling of loving comfort, but couldn’t shake the worry that she had shattered his life once too often.
“Derpy, you actually look calm this mornin’.”
She nodded silently, watching the scenery pass by the coach for a moment. “Yeah, it’s just… everything’s out of my hooves. Nothing I do will make a difference now.”
“Well, I have to say, you’re bein’ mighty brave. I’m real proud o’ you, and…”
Derpy had to grin. Big Mac had been prattling on like this all morning, releasing his nervous tension in a way completely alien to him. It seemed as if he thought he could stretch each moment indefinitely by stuffing it with fawning attention, thereby postponing the inevitable. She pulled her blanket around herself a little more tightly, the section draped over her head concealing her baldness from the other passengers.
A superannuated mare across from Derpy noticed her fidgeting with her flaxen neckwear, and after a spark of recognition ignited in those old eyes, the elderly pony smiled conspiratorially, as if the two were sharing an exciting secret. Derpy rested her head against Big Mac’s neck and beamed back at the matriarch, confirming her suspicions.
Eight o’clock came and went that morning, and in the end, Big Mac had exhausted what verbiage he could muster, sitting by Derpy’s bedside silently as the nurse administered a sedative. Derpy was struck by how utterly fragile he looked. At least she had reached her crossroads; when next she woke, if in fact she did, she would either be blissfully ignorant of what she had lost, or thankfully resuming her romance. He was the one who stood to be left behind.
Big Mac could only rest his weary head on Derpy’s shoulder as she felt the drowsiness overtaking her. She sensed a final gentle touch of his lips, and a soft voice whispered in her ear.
“Derpy, I love you more than anythin’. Hold on to that. Please hold on to that.”
She mouthed a silent “I love you” as her vision failed.
Her foreleg trailed feebly off the gurney when the nurse wheeled her away, as Big Mac capitulated to the circumstances, letting her hoof slide out of his grasp.
Big Macintosh had been sleeping for hours out of sheer exhaustion. After an agonizing eight-hour vigil in the waiting area, a nurse at last extended an invitation to see Derpy in her room. He watched over her throughout the night, smiling at her beautiful face, expressive of the tranquility that only sleep could bring. The rhythmic rise and fall of her chest comforted him as he waited to see those bright eyes gazing at him again. Finally, he lost his battle against irresistible fatigue just before sunrise.
He awoke to a light pressure on his shoulder. Sitting up with a start, he looked at the bed, expecting to greet his fiancée, but it was the doctor who had roused him.
“Big Mac, can you please come with me?”
The red stallion glanced toward where Derpy still slept, then stood up and followed the doctor to an empty room.
“Big Mac, we didn’t want to disturb you since the nurses told me how long you’d been up,” the neurologist explained. “Derpy woke up earlier this morning, and she’s doing well. We were able to conduct our post-surgical exams, and I’m confident we’ve removed all of the cancer. However, her psychological evaluation did show some changes.”
Gulping against this feared outcome, Big Mac tensed to the point of shaking, and noticed a ringing in his ears that partially drowned out the doctor’s voice. “Changes? Like what?”
The physician consulted the notes in Derpy’s chart and ran a hoof down the list as he discussed each item. “First, we removed two additional small growths near the back of Derpy’s brain. As a result, she’s lost some motor control, which may leave her a little uncoordinated, and she’s developed a lazy eye. That shouldn’t be a problem for her, but I just wanted to make sure you were expecting it. Second, the personality test she took when applying for her job was in her file. After administering it again today, there’s been a dramatic shift from strong extrovert to strong introvert. Third, her development seems to have reverted somewhat. She will eventually reach full maturity, but right now her mental state is closer to that of a filly about five years younger. This won’t affect her ability to do her job, but she probably will need somepony to help her manage her affairs. Were you aware that she had signed over power of attorney to you?”
“No… no, she never mentioned it.” Big Mac felt confused, and the new information threatened to overflow from his head.
“Well, you’ve done such a good job caring for her so far that I don’t think it will be an issue for a… brother? Cousin?”
“Fiancée.” Big Mac stared at the wall, his expression unreadable.
“Oh, Big Mac, I’m sorry.” The doctor was shocked into silence for a moment. “All this time, I thought…” He wiped away a tear before continuing. “Her memory has been affected as well. It could still return, but I think that’s unlikely. The further back we go, the more she recalls, but the last year or two are very spotty. She didn’t say anything about dating or being engaged.”
His oblivious stare still in place, Big Mac stood on wobbling knees and slowly left the room.
The doctor called after him, “If you need to speak to somepony, we have counselors on staff. I can send one up, if you’d like.”
The farm pony showed no further reaction as he trudged back to Derpy’s room, occasionally bracing a hoof against the corridor’s wall to keep himself upright.
Applejack walked into Derpy’s darkened room quietly, not wanting to disturb anypony at this late hour. She found her brother still awake, staring at the bed’s occupant through reddened eyes, and clutching a braided golden cord that was damp and frayed where somepony had absentmindedly chewed through it.
“Thank you for comin’, AJ,” he said.
“Big Mac, is that what I think it is?” she asked, gasping in astonishment. “I haven’t seen one before ’cept in Granny Smith’s old photos.”
“Eeyup. She doesn’t know what it is anymore. She doesn’t remember any of it. The nurses said she’d been jawin’ on it all mornin’. They’d have stopped her, but they didn’t know what it meant either, ’til I told ’em.” His voice was flat and emotionless.
Applejack’s eyes shifted from Derpy’s bandaged head to the flecks of metallic glitter adhering to the corners of her mouth. “I didn’t realize y’all were engaged… What’re you goin’ to do?”
“I made her a promise I’d stay with her and love her forever. Then she made me promise her somethin’ else. She said to move on if she weren’t herself, or worse…”
Wincing in anticipation of Big Mac’s answer, she said, “And she ain’t herself?”
“No. She was awake for a few hours today, and I talked with her,” he said in a monotone. “I loved how she was always so bold and outgoin’. Now, she’s a timid little thing. Not that that’s bad, but… how can I be with her, now that she’s changed? It’s like I’d have to get to know her all over again, and she can’t help but painfully remind me of the mare I fell in love with. Plus, she’s been knocked back a bit, mentally speakin’. It’ll be a few years before she grows up again.”
“I’m sorry, Big Mac. Real sorry. But at the risk o’ bein’ blunt, I figure the mare you made them promises to is gone,” Applejack reasoned. “She ain’t goin’ to hold you to ’em. You’re free to do what you think best.”
“I reckon so,” he agreed. “And I intend to keep both promises.”
Exasperated, Applejack became quite animated and risked raising her voice. “Really? You’re goin’ to marry somepony you don’t even know, and a child at that! How does that help either of you? Are you sure she even wants this?”
“Shh!” Big Mac briefly turned an angry glare on his sister before resuming his empty stare. “No, I’m not goin’ to marry her. I’ll love her forever like I said I would. I couldn’t stop, even if I wanted to. And I’ll stand by her, if not literally. She gave me power of attorney. I didn’t know she’d done it, but she’s goin’ to need somepony to help her keep her money straight, from her salary, rent, food, and what have you. It won’t be much trouble on top o’ the books I already keep for the farm, and I’m happy to do it for her. I’ll also move on as best I can, though to be honest, it won’t be any time soon.”
“You’re doin’ the right thing, big brother.” Applejack couldn’t hold back her tears anymore, and was amazed at Big Mac’s composure until she noticed a prodigious pile of tissues in the wastebasket. “How do you do it? I can tell you’re hurtin’, but I’d be a useless mess in your place.”
“She’s stronger than you know. It kept me goin’, knowin’ how much she loved me, but now… Maybe in a few years, but she’d still make me think o’ the old Derpy I’d loved. I just dunno.” He grimaced as the tears welled up anew in his eyes.
Applejack hugged him, saying, “Whatever you decide, I’m behind you, and I’m here to help however I can.”
Four months after her surgery, Derpy had resumed her full delivery route. Now, after three years, her coat and mane were back to their original thickness and color, and she sailed easily through her daily rounds. She enjoyed flitting around in the fresh air, particularly along the road past the Apple family farm. The help they had given her with her finances until she could manage on her own was appreciated, and she always got a fresh apple during the growing season. From afar, she would notice a large red stallion working in the fields and orchards. He was quite handsome, if forlorn-looking, and she would blush on her way up to the house, hoping that he didn’t see her watching. She knew his name, but didn’t recall ever speaking with him.
On one occasion, when the winter snow was just beginning to melt, she lingered on the front porch, looking down shyly at the hoof she scuffed against the rough planks. “Applejack, does Big Mac ever get away from the farm? I don’t ever see him around town.”
“Naw, sugarcube, he’s mostly caught up in his work,” said Applejack. “I try to get him out o’ here for his own sanity, but it’s no use.”
“Do you… think he’d like some muffins?” Derpy’s horseshoe was about to carve a groove into the floorboards.
A polite smile masked a note of deep sadness in the Stetson-shaded eyes. “I… can’t speak for my brother, but you can talk with him directly if you please.”
“Oh. No, it’s okay, I’ll… Have a nice day, Applejack.” Derpy trudged off as usual.
Applejack could see daily how the pegasus gazed wistfully at her brother, and while she was heartened at this small amount of progress, it was still just the barest glimmer of assertiveness. She shook her head. I might have to put a stop to this.
Interlacing snippets of graceful birdsong lofted about the trees on this fine mid-spring day. It was nearly noon, which meant that today’s shipment would be due at any minute. A small tin bell just inside the homestead’s front door signaled Derpy’s arrival, and Applejack answered the jangling summons once again, Big Macintosh having carefully scheduled his lunch breaks so that he would always be in the fields at this hour.
As was usual for this time of day, he kept his mind blank as the sun soared overhead and his groaning stomach clamored for a midday meal. Fortunately, he had an eminently convenient distraction. The Summer Sun Celebration would be held in Ponyville this year. Big Mac had buried himself in his work, ensuring that his crops would represent the Apple family well at the festivities. In a few short months, the Princess would send her student as a representative to inspect their preparations, and Big Macintosh welcomed the predictability of the routine required to fulfill Celestia’s trust.
However, today the unexpected happened. Big Mac’s heart leapt into his throat as Derpy diverted from her way back to the road. She appeared unduly interested in the ground just in front of her hooves, but even at this distance, he could see a definite red tint to her cheeks, and she was undeniably headed straight for him. He thought he had been complacent in a numb monotony, keeping his promise of moving on, after a fashion; now, everything came flooding back. Swallowing hard against the tightness in his chest, he strode out to meet her halfway.
“Hi, Big Mac. Um, I was just wondering if you might like to… have lunch together sometime? I’ve always got some extra muffins with me and I just thought…” An apprehensive giggle escaped her lips as a well-worn horseshoe dug and twisted into the upturned earth. Tucked behind her saddle bags, an extra pouch emanated the sweet scent of cinnamon and berries as two bird-shaped folded napkins poked inquisitive heads over its edge.
Much to his surprise, the familiar attentive linens and appetizing aroma eased his tension as a flicker of enduring affection danced across his eyes. The freckled stallion gave her a warm smile and sighed. “Yes’m, Derpy. I think I’d like that.”
Disclaimer: Hasbro owns this show and these characters. I make no copyright claim on either.
Thanks to the following reviewers/commenters at Ponychan:
Ion-Sturm, midnight shadow, Logician, Isphone.