"What do you mean I shouldn't bother?" the pegasus asked.
"Ah'm sayin' Big Macintosh ain't worth your time," the cowgirl replied, "Half the mares in town all tried to get Macintosh to open up an' none succeeded. What makes you think you'll do any better?"
"Because you forget, I'm Rainbow Dash. I'm not one to give up easily."
"Oh, sure. Go ahead an' try, but don't tell him that lest you want him to shut you out forever."
"Huh? What's that supposed to mean?"
"I'm sayin', Big Macintosh has been approached and handled by every trick there is in the book. As soon as you walk up to him an' say hi, he'll already know what's up."
Rainbow Dash scoffed, "Yeah yeah, I wasn't gonna go for a stealthy approach anyway. But just watch, I'll have Macintosh arms over my shoulder by the end of the day."
Applejack sighed in defeat. She wasn't going to change her mind and she knew how stubborn Rainbow Dash could be.
"Fine, but I'll tell you right now, you shouldn't bother him when he's workin'. He keeps a tight schedule an' he doesn't like being distracted."
"Heh, sure. Whatever," and with that, the pegasus sped off in the direction of the apple family's farm.
'This is taking longer than I thought,' the pegasus thought to herself.
Left, right, a zoom forward, and repeat. Dash had been scanning through the field of apple trees looking for the big pony called Macintosh, and for the past hour she had been searching for him. Scan left, scan right, dash forward, and scan again. Still no sign of the big guy. She thought she found him a few times, but every time she descended to meet with him she was disappointed to see that it was a cart full of apples. She was reminded of when she used to fly over this farm and mistake Macintosh for one of these, except she swore those past instances had a clearer image of him than she had now. Why was this more difficult than it needed to be?
Rainbow Dash flew down and landed in front of another cart of apples, one she thought was Big Macintosh again. She sighed, expecting it so, as she thought about giving up today and go look for him tomorrow, when he would be in town. But she was impatient…
She looked at the pile of apples and then thought of her stomach. All that flying and searching drained much of her energy, and a low rumble in her stomach suggested to her that she needed a snack. She looked back at the cart and then took a quick scan over the area at ground level. No one in sight. Surely, the apple family wouldn't mind losing one free apple or two…
She reached a hoof out and grabbed one apple. Bright red, the color was reminiscent of Macintosh… Ah well, thinking made her hungry, and there was a free snack in front of her. She opened her mouth and-
"We don't tolerate stealin' here, miss Rainbow Dash."
-and widened her eyes at the sudden voice behind her.
She quickly turned her head around to meet eye to eye with a huge overshadowing figure. Under his overcast, she could initially make out the glow of green eyes staring her down. Unlike the last time she stared into them, these eyes had the look of displeasure in them, like he was ready to deliver punishment for injustice done. They were scary, to say the least.
"Uh, Mac! Hi!" she said, furiously thinking of an excuse to cover up her stealing an apple from him, "I was just…uh…"
She looked around as she spoke, trying to find some inspiration to an idea for a good believable excuse.
"…just, polishing these apples for you!" she quickly said, looking at Big Macintosh as she gave a large exhale on the apple she was holding, then rubbing it furiously on her chest.
Macintosh blinked once, expression unchanged, until he blinked again and his face shifted to a more forgiving face. He smiled warmly and looked at Rainbow Dash like he would his own sister apologizing for something she did.
"Aw, shoot. If you wanted an apple so badly," he said, clearly the excuse had failed, "all you had to do was ask."
He took an apple from the pile and held it towards the pegasus. It was a much nicer looking apple, much brighter and plumper than the one she randomly chose from the pile. Dash looked at it and then at Macintosh; he was giving her that same look from back at the fertilizer shop.
"This one's free," he said.
Rainbow Dash looked a little lost as she stared back into Macintosh's eyes, to the point where she absent-mindedly dropped the inferior apple she was holding. The sound of the fruit falling snapped her out of her trance with a blink, but she kept her cool enough to not shake her head like the last time their stare broke.
"Th-thanks," the pegasus said, accepting the apple into her hooves.
Macintosh stared at her as she took a bite out of the apple before walking towards the cart full of apples before them.
"So, any reason you been zippin' around this farm?" he spoke up, "Every time I look up, yer up there like yer lookin' fer somethin'."
Dash was half finished with her apple when she looked to Macintosh and swallowed. "Oh, uh…I was looking for…"
She couldn't tell him she was looking for the stallion himself. As Applejack said, if he were to have any clue of her intentions, he'd shut himself tight and she couldn't lose that opportunity. It was Applejack's word, after all, and as the brother of the stallion she was interested in, she was her best lead.
"…Applejack, yeah," she lied, "I, uh, looked for every cart of apples I could find to see if she was nearby."
"Every cart?" Macintosh said, picking an apple off the ground and putting it back into the pile, "There's only one cart out here. I've been busy hauling apples into it."
Rainbow Dash swallowed another piece of apple she had been chewing, then looked at Macintosh, confused. "No, I've been looking all over the farm and…"
She paused and thought to herself. It occurred to her that she may have been flying in circles over the apple field for the past hour or so. Which meant she had been mistaking the same cart of apples for Big Macintosh repeatedly. For an entire hour. She felt so dumb at that moment, she'd pound herself in the face if her hooves weren't full.
"Either way, you've been wasting yer time," the stallion said as he hooked himself in place to haul the cart, "Applejack's still in town. Went to see that Rarity filly for some tear that needed mendin' in her hat."
Seeing Macintosh about to leave, she hurriedly finished her apple in one bite and walked towards him.
"Oh, uh, thanks," she said, mouth slightly full until she swallowed.
She looked at the horse and then at the huge pile of apples he was to tow back to the barn. She'd seen him heave sixty pounds of fertilizer, but some strange thought in her head made her think that he could use some help with this load.
"Hey, need some help there, big guy?" she asked, trotting jovially by his side as he pulled the cart.
Macintosh merely glanced at the pegasus unimpressed before looking back to the path ahead of him.
"Nah. Thanks fer the offer, though," he replied.
Rainbow Dash, however, wasn't one to take no for an answer.
"No, seriously. I can take some of those apples of your hooves," she said.
Macintosh looked back at the pegasus again, but with a smirk on his face, "Sorry, lil filly, but I don't think you can handle even one basket full of apples on your back, and it's a long walk to the barn."
The pegasus started showing her competitive edge, "Is that a challenge? I could haul baskets full of apples all across this farm with ease."
Big Macintosh couldn't help but scoff playfully at her attitude, "A pegasus liftin' an earth pony's work? Unheard of."
Rainbow Dash stared at Mac with an annoyed look on her face. She was used to her prowess being challenged by the likes of Applejack and such, but anyone who knew her well enough knew not to underestimate her as calmly as Macintosh was doing. The pegasus was known to be ready to prove anyone wrong at a moment's notice, and this challenge was no exception. Looking around, she spotted two lone baskets tied to a saddle conveniently located by a tree nearby. She ran towards it and slipped under the saddle with ease, donning the baskets ready to tote apples.
Macintosh watched as she ran back to his side and trotted at his pace.
"Well? Ready to prove me wrong?" she dared.
Macintosh sighed. She was more stubborn than Applejack, he thought.
"Fine, I s'ppose you can help out a little," he said in defeat.
Before Rainbow Dash could boast, the red stallion shifted and jerked the cart behind him, causing an avalanche of apples to fall directly onto Rainbow Dash. As the apples piled high and perfectly in the basket, the pegasus wasn't anticipating the sudden weight gain, being knocked down and forced to her knees at the overwhelming weight. She struggled for a bit, getting her hooves some proper footing, and motivated by not looking weak in front of Big Macintosh. The red stallion watched in mild pity as the pegasus struggled to lift herself up, but just before he was about to sigh, Rainbow Dash got off of the ground and straighten her legs. She looked at him with a smug smile on her face.
"See? Easy peasy," she said.
"Well, I'll be," Macintosh replied, watching the pegasus trot forward in a flaunting manner, "I guess I'm eatin' my words, but I ain't ready to chow down 'til I see you deliver them apples to the barn like you said you would."
Rainbow Dash merely scoffed, "Try me. I've lifted heavier stuff than this. I think your sister would agree."
Macintosh merely smiled, "We'll see."
In truth, Dash was really having trouble keeping her balance under the weight of two baskets of apples. She's lifted heavier stuff than this, true to her word, but for no more than a minute or so. Keeping her balance under the weight of two apple baskets for this length of time was a hard enough feat by itself. However, she was trying her best to keep herself from showing such strains to Macintosh. She wanted to keep up her impression for as long as she could in order to establish a long lasting relationship with him.
She never really thought about why, though. Here she was, toting apples to help ease the workload for an earth pony she just met, but she didn't know why. Maybe she felt sympathetic, maybe she felt generous. She just didn't have an exact reason. Although, if she were to think about it, she was, for the most part, trying to set herself up as a friend to Macintosh before getting any closer. At least, that's what she'd figure.
Besides, she was having a lot of fun here, and she couldn't turn down an opportunity at fun.
A few minutes of silence passed and the barn was closer in sight. Rainbow Dash was doing well in holding back her grunts as she heaved the baskets of apples over her back. Big Macintosh was silently watching her as she trotted onward, amused at the lengths she would go to impress him. He was flattered, to say the least, but he was a little bit more concerned with work and the time spent doing it. Seeing the pegasus tote those apples for him brought him some peace of mind, somehow.
"How am I doing?" she suddenly asked, turning to the stallion next to her.
Macintosh nearly flinched when she looked into his eyes and caught him staring at her, but he played off that feeling by putting on the calm demeanor he was known for.
"I say yer doin' pretty good for a pegasus pony," he said, Dash reacting with a challenging smirk, "but hows about you quit while yer ahead before you strain yerself too hard?"
Dash, honestly, did not like being talked down like this. She hated being underestimated, and she had grown an edge with this mindset over the past years of her life. Kindergarten, Elementary, High School, similar interactions with other foals had carried out this way, with variable results of calamity. But the way Big Macintosh kept telling her how she wouldn't be able to pull her load of work was different than when other ponies challenged her. When Applejack or Trixie had done it, she was always in their faces, ready to throw down on a whim. But with Macintosh, there was a hidden tone of sincerity in his voice, like he didn't want her to get hurt. But there was also a hint of daring in the way he spoke to her, like he wanted to see for himself that she could prove him wrong.
It was a strange feeling. It was different from anything else she felt. Was it friendship? No, this felt different from friendship. It felt…deeper.
…once again, she had no idea what she was thinking about.
"I'm not a quitter, Mac," she said to the red stallion, "I'm gonna get these apples to that barn, I might even go back and fetch two more baskets."
"Sure you can handle even a few more yards?" Macintosh asked.
"Easy peasy," she replied.
At this, she began to pick up her pace, cutting ahead of Macintosh by a few inches. Mac was a little surprised to see that she had the energy to move faster than she was trotting at, but soon replaced his minor shock with a warm smile.
Playfully, he began to pick up his pace as well, Dash not noticing. It wasn't until he was a few inches further that she noticed the stallion moving faster than her. It was Dash's turn to smile slyly now, as she decided to catch up and maintain a faster pace than him. This process was repeated a few times, Macintosh moving from a walk to a trot and Dash going from a trot to a jog. Macintosh was still faster, his legs providing longer strides for him, but she couldn't walk any faster than this without breaking into a run. But she was determined at heart, and she was willing to turn this pace match into a race if she wanted to.
Which she decided to do.
"Race ya there!" she shouted unexpectedly, going into full gallop and speeding ahead of Macintosh.
It took Macintosh a moment to process Dash's words, but no sooner did he decide to go along with her idea, taking a big breathe before forwarding into a gallop in chase.
Dash turned back her head to see how far back Macintosh was. But to her surprise, he wasn't that far behind. In fact, he was close, and gaining speed.
'Whoa! How strong is this guy?' she thought as he had already caught up to her position but still had the speed to go faster.
The red stallion took a quick glance at her as he slowly sped by. It was the kind of look you'd give another person if you had drawn the winning card or they knew they were going to beat you. Dash knew this look very well; she gave it to other ponies all the time. Being on the other end of it was something she wasn't used to, but she liked it for some reason, especially if it was by a respectable pony like Big Macintosh.
Rainbow Dash could feel her adrenaline rushing, heaving two basketfuls of apples and racing a pony twice her weight. She was reminded of the time she raced Applejack in the Running of the Leaves, except she was under a similar handicap, where she couldn't fly because her wings were tied up until the end of the race. Now, it's a similar situation as she's holding two baskets of apples that would make it very difficult to fly under their weight. Not to mention, the saddle was restricting her wings from movement. On the other hand, her opponent was a stallion towing a full cart of apples and she doubted he was used to running, so it seemed pretty fair for the two of them.
Pushing herself harder, she overtook Big Macintosh by an inch. She could hear him scoff a little as the sounds of his hooves grew more rapid. Rainbow Dash simply pushed harder, and Macintosh would repeat. They were neck and neck, running as fast as they could under their weight, and the barn was closer in sight than ever.
Until, Macintosh saw something up ahead.
"Stop!" he quickly shouted, putting the brake on his hooves and pushing against the cart behind him.
Rainbow Dash, however, looked back at Macintosh in confusion, wondering why the stallion halted all of a sudden. She didn't stop running though, but seeing Macintosh skidding on the dirt made her think she should stop as well. At her speed and the weight she was toting, however, it was very difficult to stop running. Dash felt her hooves dip into some wet substance on the ground, a consistency similar to mud. The pegasus soon figured out why Macintosh had told her to stop.
As hard as she could, she pressed her hooves into the ground to brake, but the mud on the ground gave in to her resistance. The momentum from her speed and all that weight she was carrying slung her across the pool of mud. The pegasus found herself sliding into the direction of an open barn door and she was helpless to an impending crash. She'd have flown away to avoid collision, but the saddle on her back constricted her wings; she couldn't even budge them open. She braced herself as she shut her eyes and awaited the all too familiar feeling of pain and all too familiar of something breaking.
Macintosh quickly undid the reigns hooked to his horse collar and jogged towards the cabin. He avoided the mysterious mud puddle and made his way through the barn door to see the results of the crash. There lay Rainbow Dash, apples strewn on the floor everywhere, the baskets thrown into a corner beside her, and farming tools piled on top of her. Stars spun in a dance around her head as she was trying to regain her vision. She shook her head and looked around, first seeing Macintosh before her and the trail of mud she slid on before crashing there on the wall.
"Uh, heheh, my bad," she said apologetically.
Before he could say anything, Macintosh noticed a lone rake teetering to a fall in the direction of the pegasus. Before he could say anything, the stick had knocked Rainbow Dash on her head.
"You sure you don't need help, there?" Macintosh asked.
Dash was now free of the hold the mess had on her. She was still a little dazed and her forelegs ached a little, but Macintosh was kind enough to help her up and get most of the dirt off of her person. The pegasus shook her head to alleviate her dizziness to a degree, but found herself still teetering in her steps.
"Yeah, I'm okay," she answered.
She took a step forward and- gah!
'Ow! My ankle!'
The pegasus looked down at her left hoof and pressed it lightly on the floor. Instantly, a numbing pain seared through her ankle, causing her to retract her leg.
'I think I sprained it…' she thought to herself.
"You don't look okay," Macintosh said as he inched closer to the pegasus.
"No, no. I'm fine, real-GAH!"
That shout was all Macintosh needed to hear.
"That doesn't sound fine. Let me help you."
Before Dash could protest, Macintosh ducked under her body and lifted her up with his neck, carrying her so that she wouldn't have to strain herself walking. Rainbow Dash was taken by surprise at this and thought the notion sweet, even if the pegs on his horse collar were jabbing into her ribs; she didn't complain.
"I'll help you out of here and to the doctor," he said, looking back to see the pegasus, "Best get that leg looked at."
Dash looked into Mac's face, momentarily admiring his kind hearted gesture, but donned a worried face.
"No, no. I'm the one who crashed into your barn," she said, "besides, my wings still work. I can just fly there."
"You sure you didn't injure a wing, now?"
Rainbow Dash lifted one wing, stretching it upwards, before folding it and stretching the other. Then, both wings were raised and then lowered to point outwards, lining up horizontally and stretching. This was a portion of a stretching exercise she learned in Flyer's School and practically knew the routine by heart. Not feeling anything wrong from the usual, she could confirm that her wings were functional and undamaged, and also capable of carrying her to a physician.
"Yeah, I'm sure. I can make it to the nurse's office from here," she stated, "But I don't think it's serious."
"Now come on, miss Dash. As my Pa always said, 'better safe than sorry'," he said, looking into Dash's face being serious but also somehow caring, "Just promise me you'll see the nurse, alright?"
Dash looked back into Macintosh's captivating green eyes. That stare, it was a lot like the one he gave her back at the fertilizer shop, except there was a little hint of worry in them. They were like the eyes of a person who couldn't help but worry, who only had her well being and health in her best interest. It was a comforting look. Dash couldn't help but stare off into them again.
Somehow, she was reminded of her mother…
"…alright. I'll see the nurse," Rainbow Dash gave in.
Macintosh smiled warmly at this. "I'm glad to hear that."
"…you know they used to call me Rainbow Crash?"
"What in tarnation?"
Both Macintosh and Rainbow Dash's conversation was interrupted by the surprised exclamation of a mare in a cowboy hat. She had a perfectly mixed reaction of astonishment and confusion, which was justified as she didn't expect to see her friend on top of her brother, walking out of the barn, and the both of them looking rather dirty.
…and not in that context.
"Applejack," Big Macintosh exclaimed in a low tone but still sounded like a surprise, "Uh, I was wonderin' what was takin' you so long…"
Applejack said nothing as she stared at the two of them. Dash, still balanced on the stallion's back, could feel Applejack's stare aiming at her. She wouldn't blame her for it, as the present image of her and Macintosh was an odd one to process.
"Uh, hey Applejack," she said, trying to hide her tone, "Did you get a new hat?"
Applejack finally responded by shaking her head and glaring at the two of them.
"What were you two doin' in that barn?" she got straight to her questions, "Would it have somethin' to do wit' that crash I heard a few moments ago?"
Macintosh didn't say anything, lowering his head at a loss as to how to explain himself to his sister. Dash, feeling guilty, spoke up as she rose her hoof.
"Uh, that might have been my fault…" she said uneasily.
Applejack looked at the pegasus with a raised brow before it occurred to her that she should've expected this. A loud crash and the existence of Rainbow Dash were usually affiliated. She brought a hoof to her face and shook her head mildly, disappointed in her friend. But her distress didn't end there as there was another problem to address.
"And Macintosh," she said, bringing Macintosh's head back up, "care to explain that?"
She pointed her arm into the orchard to a trail of apples leading to the cart Macintosh was towing. As Macintosh added up the visuals, he realized that he had dropped those apples from the cart as he raced the pegasus to the barn. He groaned tiredly; he rarely messed up work and he knew he was going to have to fix it or make up for it.
"Ah'm sorry, sis. I guess I didn't see what I was doing…" he apologized.
Applejack only groaned and looked at Macintosh sternly. She knew Macintosh was a hard worker, but she thought he knew better than to mess up like this. She looked to Rainbow Dash, lifting herself off of the stallion with her wings aflutter, and figured she had something to do with all this. Macintosh screwing up at the same time he was with Rainbow Dash? Too coincidental.
"Go pick up them apples in the orchard and clean up the mess you guys made in the barn," she commanded, "Rainbow Dash, I'd like to speak with you, in private."
Macintosh sadly walked away to get started on his extra work. Rainbow Dash opened her mouth to try to say something, but couldn't think of anything to make the situation any better. Before the pegasus could turn away in disappointment, Macintosh turned his head back and said,
Rainbow Dash felt sorry for causing trouble for Macintosh. She usually didn't think about the consequences of her actions, but she had never felt sorry for another pony like this. She's felt worse than this before for others, but that was with friends who could recover or forgive her easily. As this was Big Macintosh, he only had a little extra work to be done. He could handle it. He's a hard worker, like Applejack said.
But she still felt guilty. It was her fault that Mac had more work to do, even if marginal.
Why did it feel different with him?
"Rainbow. Talk. Now," Applejack said as she pushed the pegasus away from the barn.
Rainbow Dash couldn't say anything to object. The earth pony pushed her, the pegasus having to hop to avoid pressing on her sprained ankle, until they were out of earshot of the red stallion.
"Jeez, Applejack. No need to be all pushy," the pegasus said, annoyed.
"First, yer gonna tell me what happened between you and Macintosh," Applejack began, ignoring Rainbow Dash's previous comment, "What exactly were the two of you doin'?"
Dash looked, annoyingly, at Applejack as if she was insinuating something. She walked to a nearby hay block to sit on and ease the stress on her ankle.
"Well, I was just helping Macintosh take the apples back to the barn, and then-"
"Wait," Applejack interrupted, "You helped Macintosh?"
"Yeah?" Rainbow Dash looked at Applejack, further annoyed that she interrupted her, "So what?"
The cowgirl was skeptic, "Macintosh never let any pony help him work, much less a filly," she said as she scratched the hair by her ear.
"Oh really?" Dash said with a smirk, "He personally gave me two baskets of apples to haul to the barn. You can ask him for proof."
"Okay…so, what were you two doin' in the barn then?" she asked.
"Oh, I slipped on some mud…" Rainbow Dash admitted, looking away in embarrassment.
"And you landed in the barn?"
"Yeah. What was with that big puddle of mud anyway?" she asked, remembering her sliding and crashing.
"Oh, Applebloom must've bathed Winona this afternoon like I told her to," Applejack explained, "She probably dragged on the washin' and rinsin'. Silly filly…"
"Why are you asking me all these questions?" the pegasus asked, frustrated.
"Because I'm tryin' to understand what is it with you and Macintosh. He's our best worker and we can't have him slippin' up if yer around."
"Hold up," Rainbow Dash didn't like where this was going, "What are you trying to say?"
Applejack sighed, "Look. I don't know how you did it, but you seemed to have grabbed Macintosh's interest. At first, I thought it was cute, but if it's gonna get in the way of Macintosh's work, I can't have you around him. I'm afraid yer gonna have to give him his workin' space."
"Wait. Are you saying I can't hang out with your brother?" Dash questioned.
Applejack didn't like this either, but she had to take responsibilities.
"No. I'm sayin' you can't see him anymore."