Act 1

Part 1

~The Apple and the Tree~

The reunion was going good, she could say that much.

Not being allowed to participate in the actual rodeo had drained much of her initial excitement for the most part. She wasn't thinking about joining in the first place, but she was hopeful. Still, being promised a show was better than nothing, and she could only hope that it lived up to expectations. Considering what she knew about earth ponies, she was expecting a lot of struggling and wrestling, the latter she couldn't do very well, but she was still excited to see. This must've been what it was like for earth ponies going to air shows…

Rainbow Dash shook her head, snapping back to reality. She groaned audibly and slumped on the table. Just how much longer was she supposed to wait?

Here she was in the middle of an Apple Family mosh pit, by her lonesome in the central table. The rest of her friends were about on their own affairs, chatting with Applejack's relatives coming from varying places like Appleoosa and Fuji Hills, and even as far from Terria. Rarity was at the food table, apparently wanting to try the various foods after witnessing Pinkie slaughter a wagon of treats. Twilight was asking around about how the different species of apples needed different growing methods, and other such things bookworms needed to know. Pinkie and Fluttershy were the center of attention of most of the stallions in the crowd, the latter remaining quiet as if hoping to become invisible. And lastly, Applejack was catching up with key Apple folk that she had not seen in a long time. It's hard to imagine why Rainbow Dash was having a hard time enjoying herself.

Meeting her family had been an exciting thought at first, honestly. They were giving their hellos and such and they replied with the trademark Apple civility. But the more she met them, the less surprising they were. They were all lax, laid back, and humble, or energetic, arrogant, and hard headed, just like Big Macintosh and Applejack, respectively. Any minor difference that made them unique was left unexplored as the cowgirl introduced the next relative. She could already tell what their attitude was like just at a glance. None of them were as unique or different as the citizens of Ponyville, most likely because they were all raised in a similar environment that hadn't changed for generations. Talking to any of them was too much like talking to Applejack, only without the privilege of friendship so it hindered communication a lot. And without anything to add on, there was no point in getting acquainted with her relatives since they all seemed to openly accept them into their family.

Now, Dash was bored out of her mind.

"So then Ah said, Apple star! And he spilled his juice, just like that!"

The crowd exploded in laughter. Applejack and Pinkie Pie were freely laughing, but Twilight and Fluttershy found the joke rather vulgar to laugh at and instead opted for nervous chuckling. Rainbow Dash stayed quiet as the crowd roared, not feeling like partaking in crude typical Apple Family humor. She just wanted to go out into the rodeo and have some actual fun, not waste her time doing nothing.

"Psst, AJ," the pegasus elbowed her laughing friend, "When are we going to get to the games?"

Applejack coughed a bit to quell the laughter still in her lungs, "In a bit. Once Mac and Braeburn sell out, we'll use some o' them bits for ourselves."

Dash peeked over to the stand where the stallions were selling their wares and noted the boxes upon boxes of apple goods still left to sell. Horror struck the pegasus when she realized just how much longer she would have to wait until even half of the stock was sold and finished.

"Seriously? That's gonna take them forever," the mare turned to the cowgirl, half paying attention to her.

Applejack responded with a laugh, more at the pegasus and not because the punchline echoed in her head, "You seriously underestimate those lady magnets, Rainbow Dash."

The pegasus sighed, annoyed, but persisted, "Whatever. Can't we take a little bit of what they have already and go?"

Somewhat irritated, Applejack turned to her, "Look, the games can wait. We ain't even halfway into noon yet, and I really want ya'll to get acquainted wit' my family. So quit bein' such a whiny filly and suck it up."

She gave up. She slumped on the table and ignored the jovial chatter of the ponies around her. Nothing was stopping her from walking out of this crowd and engaging in the games and challenges set up around the rodeo by herself. Only problem was, she had empty pockets. Applejack had promised to treat them to the rodeo today, but she never made it apparent that she was getting the day's spending money on the same day's profits as well. Normally that wouldn't be a problem for Rainbow Dash. The real problem was that it was still early and it would take some time before the family earned enough spending money for them to waste on today.

And Dash hated waiting.

"Now what's this? Why ain't you enjoyin' yourself, little lady?"

The pegasus turned her head to see the large stallion behind her. He was large, indefinitely, but he wasn't as big as Big Macintosh. His coat was a shade of orange not unlike Applejack's, but earthier. His reddish brown mane was somewhat scruffy, but a well kempt style suited of a farmer. He had some notable wrinkles on his face, especially under his reddish orange eyes, but he still had the muscles of an Apple pony. The only accessory he wore, though, was a string necklace with an apple medallion hanging proudly over his chest.

Rainbow Dash looked around quickly to see if Applejack was still nearby. No such luck. She had already forgotten this pony's name and was hoping if she could introduce them again. She didn't want to be insensitive.

"What?" she replied, playing dumb.

The stallion smiled, multiplying the wrinkles on his face, "Ah said, you don't seem ta be enjoyin' yourself."

"Oh, uh, no. I'm good," Dash replied, hoping to avoid taking another earful of western linguistics. Applejack's were hard enough to handle on a daily basis.

"You don't seem too good. Ya bored?" he persisted.

The mare silently groaned as she figured she wasn't going to talk her way out of this confrontation.

"Just a little," the rainbow mare admitted.

"Heh. Feelin' outta place now, aren't we?" the stallion said as he took a seat to the left of her.

"No, not that," Rainbow Dash corrected, "I just wanted to have some fun out there, in the rodeo. With my friends."

The stallion chuckled as the pegasus rested her head on the table.

"Ain't nothin' to be ashamed of," he comforted, "When you got such good friends like these, ya just wanna do everythin' with them."

Dash chuckled a bit, "Well, at least somepony get's where I'm coming from…"

"Name's Apple Trunk," the stallion introduced himself. Apparently he was one of the few that Applejack had neglected to introduce to the group, "You're one of AJ's friends, right?"

"Not that hard to figure out, is it?" she mocked playfully.

Apple Trunk chuckled heartily, "Well, yer wing's stick out like an orange in an apple basket here. Also yer mane outshines everypony's here. 'Course it's weird seein' you slumped, bored outta yer mind. AJ told me you were livelier than jumpin' beans on trampolines."

The mare laughed nervously at the odd comparison, but she had gotten use to such enthusiastic descriptions.

"Really? She told you that?" Dash straightened herself up in her seat, "I think that's an understatement."

"Figured so. She told us all about yer stunts and tricks, and that fancy Sonic Rainboom you're famous for," he nodded approvingly, "I can imagine yer just itchin' to try out the rodeo games out there."

"Very," she confirmed, "But AJ says we have to wait until her brother and cousin earn up enough money for us to go and enjoy the rodeo."

"Heh, I reckon you'll have your fundin' by midday," the elder stallion scratched his ear, "Those two can round up hordes o' mares in a twenty mile radius with just a shake o' their tail."

Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes at this, but was somewhat pleased. Considering how big the line was when they came in, it was believable to think that there would be more than enough money for the group by noon. She hated to admit that she was impressed, but it was efficient and quick.

She then wondered just how it was that Sweet Apple Acres was so successful. Were their apples really that good, or had Macintosh been doing the selling? She was going to have to ask later.

"You know, I'm kinda curious," Dash spoke up, "Does Mac like the attention the ladies give him?"

The elder stallion gave a characteristic chuckle, like being told a good joke. The fact that Mac was eye candy for fillies was no secret, and it would get tossed around frequently during meet ups like these. Whether or not any of these claims were serious was still up to debate.

"Beats me," he said with a shrug of his shoulders, "Pony barely talks about the subject and never says a word about it. I can safely say it makes the other stallions envious."

Apple Trunk retrieved a sprig of wheat and placed it in his mouth, much like Macintosh did. The charm had waned, though, since just about half of the crowd present wore one. There was no shortage of random wheat attacks to the eye.

"Although, I reckon you'll have to ask him yerself," the elder said, rubbing his chin, "Chances are he's just indifferent to the attraction, much like everythin' else in life."

Rainbow Dash scoffed playfully, "Well, at least he isn't like those cool posers that get what they want for being handsome," the thought of Mac in a black jacket and lazy haircut sent shivers down her spine, not out of embarrassment but out of the thought that she might actually find that attractive.

Apple Trunk seemed to laugh at the image in his head, "No mare can tie down Macintosh though. He hasn't been with a fillyfriend since he quit the rodeo."

This had Dash's interest.

"Huh? Is that why he quit?" she inquired, "AJ told me it was farm business."

Apple Trunk stared at the pegasus curiously, as if pondering the revelation himself. He chewed on his sprig for a moment, a characteristic sign of thinking, before answering.

"Eyup. Farm business is what it was," he confirmed with a slow nod, "Farm work is far too time consuming. No room for rodeos, no time for mares either."

"But, doesn't he own the farm too?" Dash wanted to wrap her head around this. She didn't know much about how Sweet Apple Acres ran; she never asked. All she knew was that it was a family business, so she figured they all shared an equal part.

"Nope. He's just the worker," the elder revealed, "AJ's actually the boss o' the farm."

"But," this wasn't how it was like at all in the movies, "isn't he older than her? I thought that's how family businesses worked."

"Well, he used to," he scratched his chin in memory, "Until he stepped down."

It was just one surprise after another with Big Macintosh, "Why'd he step down?"

"You'll have to ask him yourself," he tilted his head to the stand where Big Macintosh was still working, "Stallion's a quiet one. Never speaks unless spoken to, never says more than needed. Shoot, I think that's part o' his charm."

Dash looked over to where the stand was and wondered if she should try to get to know Macintosh better. In truth, his secretiveness did make him more mysterious. What really did go on in his head? What was he hiding behind that silence? Maybe that's why the mares were really into him, to find out more about the quiet stallion.

Of course, the last thing she wanted was to become one of those obsessed mares that trailed his shadow whenever he was in town. And if his silence persisted should she go and talk to him, it'd be a waste of effort and time. For simplicity's sake, she might as well just ask Applejack, since she knows more about him than any other pony would.

Speaking of knowledge, something about this elder bugged Rainbow Dash.

"Say," she turned back to the elder stallion, "How do you know all this?"

Apple Trunk sounded a short chortle, "Why, I'm their father, o' course."

The pegasus's eyes widened at the realization. She had been having a conversation with the father of her close friend and she didn't even know it. It wasn't that she hadn't caught on to the fact. It was more like she was surprised that he even existed. Applejack never mentioned anything about her parents, and when asked, she just said that they were around and left it at that. She didn't want to persist with the question, fearing that they were an uncomfortable subject to the Apples, so she was left to her own assumptions about their whereabouts and eventually figured they weren't around anymore. Looks like she was wrong about that.

Well, half wrong, but she didn't want to be insensitive.

"THE father?" the pegasus said, earning a nod from the elder stallion, "Wow. I've a lot to ask you about Applejack."

He chuckled, "Sure, Ah do know a lot 'bout my little filly, but so does Big Macintosh, maybe more than me. They've been workin' the farm together since Ah retired."

Dash was disappointed, knowing she had more reasons to confront the stallion, but she was also curious. There was a lot more going on in the Apple Family then she thought. She never paid it much mind before since she preferred the silence of solace in her lonely cloud home. But then again, what would she know about a close family?

"Say, how come I've never seen you on the farm?" she asked.

"Like Ah said, I'm retired," he explained, "Moved to Austallion to live at the ranch in peace. Get all our money from a bit o' the other Apple farms all across Equestria and Terria."

There's that name again. Terria sounds like an important place to the earth ponies. Too bad she didn't know why.

"What's Terria?" she asked.

At this, Apple Trunk laughed loudly, sounding like he was on the verge of coughing. Dash looked around to see that the ponies nearby looked at them, curious, and hoped that they didn't hear her stupid question. Rainbow Dash nervously faked a laugh alongside Apple Trunk to mask any suspicions until he calmed down.

"Didn't they teach you anythin' in school?" he asked tauntingly, giving a small cough before continuing, "Terria's the homeland of every earth pony that ever lived."

"Ohh,I remember." The pegasus itched her head as she remembered all those lessons she slept through back in history class. Or was it geography? The morning periods had been a blur to her.

"Yep," Apple Trunk stared at the pegasus for a bit, pondering, before speaking his mind, "Say, you seem like a nice filly for Mac. Why don't Ah introduce you to him?"

The random question snapped Rainbow Dash out of her train of thought, "N-No! I'm not interested in him at all! I swear!" the pegasus pleaded, waving her arms.

It wasn't that she didn't find Mac attractive or anything. Her fear stemmed from the thought of the public catching wind of this and blowing it out of the water. She did NOT want a repeat of Gabby Gums ever again. Ever.

Apple Trunk curled his lips as he looked at her, "You sure now?"

She didn't give him time to continue, "Yes, I'm sure."

"Shame. Ya could've helped him…"

"Wait, what?" she questioned.

Apple Trunk quickly looked over to the stand and noted how the boxes of food were starting to dwindle.

"Well, I best go check on Mac an' Braeburn, see how well they're sellin'," the elder stallion said as he lifted himself from his seat, "Maybe you can spare an hour wit' Mac? Maybe just chat for a bit? I'm sure he'd appreciate it."

The pegasus still wasn't very certain about confronting Big Macintosh on the whim of his father. For one, she wasn't sure what they could talk about. He was a farmer, she was an athlete. What could they possibly have in common? If they ever did get to talk, it probably wouldn't last very long until one of them got bored. She didn't know what his father was trying to gain…

Before Dash could give her answer, Apple Trunk walked away, leaving her to herself in the crowd of Apple ponies.

Rainbow Dash started pondering more about Big Macintosh, since she had nothing to do besides wait. Lying on the table, she thought over what she did know about him. He was big and strong; being an Apple pony and a farmer, it was a given. He was silent and benevolent; the guy never spoke much out in town when only a yes or no would suffice, or, in his case, an Eeyup or a Nope. He was very simple, but at the same time complex. One couldn't help but wonder if there was more to him than he let on, if his lack of vocabulary was any indication. She thought about how it would be like, the two of them hanging out. He was much stronger than Applejack, that was certain, so maybe he could commit more to helping her with her stunts than she could. But a quiet guy like him would shut himself out to an extrovert like her, so opening him up first would be a challenge. But if a mare like Fluttershy was able to be more expressive around her, then Big Macintosh wouldn't take as much effort.

Hopefully she didn't fall in love with the guy first. Dash shuddered at the thought.

Her stomach growled loudly, apparently not happy with the peanut butter sandwich she had that morning. She sighed. Before she could mull over the fact that she had no money and therefore couldn't buy any food, it occurred to her that this was an Apple Family reunion, and, as such, food was always present.

She scanned the background of the crowd, looking for the food table. She caught sight of the edge nearly all the way at the end of the crowd, at the border of the lot they rented for the reunion. Feeling relieved, she got up and made her way to get herself a snack.

But then. She saw it.

She thought her eyes were being deceived, but there was no mistaking its presence.

There were barrels there, with taps. And those barrels being here meant…

'CIDER!'

She zipped through the crowd with lightning speed, dodging ponies with expert precision. This close space was nothing compared to her normal training sessions, but this time, there was a goal. It was sweet, frothy, warm water of the heavens. And this time, she was going to drink it ALL.

She arrived at the food table with a suddenly dry throat and gangly tongue. She slurped and swallowed her anticipation as she looked for a nearby mug to use. There were two barrels, one full of clean mugs, the other full of apparently used mugs. The pegasus shook her head, trying to keep focus and not accidentally pick up a used mug. She calmly and carefully picked a clean mug, placed it under the tap, and let the cider flow to the brim.

Just as she was about to drink, she heard a familiar voice at the table.

"These avocado cakes are simply divine," it was Rarity, "I must say, I didn't think your family had such a wide variety of recipes that didn't include apples."

Rainbow Dash shrugged and continued. She wasn't about to let anything ruin this moment for her. Bottoms up, the sweet drink filled her mouth and down her throat, and she savored every second of it.

"Do pardon me for saying that, but it's hard not to speak openly if you don't talk back, Big Macintosh."

The pegasus nearly choked on her drink. Resisting the urge to spit with all of her might, she swallowed the cider and gasped for air, albeit quietly.

To her left, Rarity was there with Big Macintosh, although he seemed unresponsive. The stallion merely nodded as Rarity continued to talk about the food, apparently still busy gathering small bits to sample. Her plate of food levitated next to her in a veil of the unicorn's signature aura, and it was already stacked to the spilling point with little samples. Rarity was aware that this rodeo was only around for a few days and therefore wanted to try out all the exotic dishes while she could, sacrificing her diet just for today. Big Macintosh, on the other hand, was taking his time filling his own plate balanced on his back. He already had a pie slice and some carrot rolls on his plate, and he was deciding between the hay bricks and granola dumplings to finish it all off with.

Rainbow Dash crouched under the shadow of Rarity, not wanting to be seen just yet. What was she supposed to do now? He was right there. Should she go and talk to him? Maybe she should just casually walk by and pick out a plate for herself, since that's what she came here for. Nice and casual, Dash decided.

The pegasus downed the rest of the cider and refilled her mug, momentarily deciding to finish it in one gulp and go for a third refill. Deciding against it, Dash sheepishly inched closer to the two, silently hoping Rarity would give the two the space she needed. The unicorn caught sight of her in her peripheral, but before she could say anything, Rainbow Dash brought a feather over her mouth. Rarity blinked and looked to Mac, then back to Rainbow Dash, and made the connection. She made a silent ooh before winking and backing off. Dash retaliated with a serious stare. The unicorn simply laughed it off and wandered back into the crowd, now happy with the 'small' plate of samples she gathered and was anxious to try.

Rainbow Dash shook her head and looked to see if Mac had noticed her yet. He was still looking over the food, trying to find which one to properly top off his plate with. The pegasus decided to follow his example and build her own plate. She set aside her mug for a plate and began to fill it with whatever looked good to her, although the Zap Apple pie looked like a promising fill.

When she decided her plate was full enough, she set in on her back so that she'd have a free hoof to carry her cider with. Pegasi weren't as good at balancing things as earth ponies were, but her wings were handy enough to provide support when they weren't used for flight. As long as nothing startled her or forced her into the air, the food would live long enough to see a proper table.

She took her mug and looked to Mac, who still seemed oblivious to her presence. It was just as he chose the hay bricks when he noticed a colorful pony standing right next to him. Dash suddenly turned sheepish and gave her best friendly smile she could. Mac stared for a bit before setting the hay bricks onto his plate and looking back to the table, as if to add another food to his plate.

Not wanting to make for an awkward introduction, Dash spoke first, "Uh, hey."

Mac stayed silent for a while before realizing he was expected to reply, "Howdy."

"I'm Rainbow Dash. Do you remember me?" she kicked herself in her head for asking a stupid question.

Macintosh merely nodded and spoke, "Yeah, I remember you."

The pegasus stood closer to him to better hold the conversation as the noise of the reunion would get in the way of their words, "How were those apples selling?"

Macintosh had noticed the diminishing distance between the two, but paid it no mind. It was something he was used to.

"Pretty good," he said, trying to maintain his attention between the mare and the food.

"Got lot's of bits, hopefully?" she asked, trying to make conversation.

"We got enough," he simply answered.

Rainbow Dash flicked her tail. This conversation was going nowhere quickly. Big Macintosh barely committed to the subject, ending it with just a few words. Was he trying to shut her out? Did he just not like talking? Patience, she told herself. This is what he's known for, she had to remember that. If she was going to get him more involved in the conversation, she needed to catch his interest with something else.

"Sooo… I met your father just now," she brought up.

Macintosh looked back at her, almost surprised, "You did?"

"Yup," Macintosh couldn't tell if that was a cheap imitation of his own catchphrase, but he let her continue, "He told me a lot about you."

"Huh," was all he said before finally reaching for the granola dumplings.

The stallion turned around and walked into the crowd. Dash, not wanting to lose him, followed Mac and stuck close by so that their conversation could continue.

"I hear Terria's a big deal to you earth ponies. Ever been there?" she asked as they navigated the crowd to some unknown destination.

"Not yet," he answered. For a moment, Dash thought he was going to leave it at that, but he continued, "I plan to, though. Most earth ponies do, eventually."

It was working.

"Why?" she continued.

"It's traditional. Ya go and pay your respects to yer homeland, to the very land you were born from," he looked into the ground in deep thought, "Makes us feel closer to our element."

"Wow. Deep stuff," she admitted. It was easy to relate to. She felt the same way about Stratosus, "What's it like over there?"

"I heard it's green as far as the eye can see," he answered, reaching an open table, "It's supposed to be made entirely of fertile land."

"So why would the earth ponies leave Terria?" she asked as Big Macintosh seated himself, "I mean, there's nothing wrong with the land, is there?"

"It became crowded," he answered as Rainbow Dash set her plate down and took a spot near him, "So they set out to find new land. One o' them was the very first Apple clan pony, Johnny Appleseed."

"Wow. You've learned your history," she said, impressed.

He shrugged, "Just important family stuff. Every Apple clan member knows it."

Dash tapped her chin as she thought back to what she knew about Equestrian history, "So, that's when you guys met the unicorns and pegasi, right?"

"Eeyup," he answered, taking a bite of the granola dumpling.

Rainbow Dash tapped the table with her hooves, trying to think of other things to say.

"You know, Stratosus isn't really a cloud city," she said, earning a look from Big Macintosh, "It's actually a bunch of tall mountains."

"Huh. Didn't know that," he said before he took another bite.

She waited for him to ask further about the place, but it seemed like he wasn't as interested, to her disappointment.

She still didn't want to give up, though.

"So, I hear you used to be in the rodeo, right?" she asked.

Once again, Macintosh straightened up with interest at the question.

"Did my pa tell you that?" he asked.

"Nah, AJ told me," she answered, "Says you used to be the best."

"Oh. I was pretty good," he said with a sly smile before finishing the dumpling.

Rainbow Dash smirked, 'Oh, so it's like that, huh?' Rainbow Dash had seen this before in herself. If somepony was interested in her own skills, she'd gladly flaunt it in the conversation. The fact that Macintosh responded positively to his past achievements told her that he had his own ego, apparently.

Even better, it was something he hid well. She was making progress with him, and that excited her.

But not that excited.

"Wrestled with a lot of bulls?" she asked, elbowing him playfully.

"Plenty," he replied, "Ponies thought I was suicidal, goin' in wit' a red coat."

Dash blinked, "What's your color got to do with it?"

"You don't know?" he asked, somewhat surprised, "Nothin' ticks off a bull more than the color red, and I was a target wit' four legs back then."

"Wowww," she said, generally impressed. She had no idea Mac had a daredevil in him, "Did you ever get horned?"

"Nnnope. Bulls couldn't land a hit on me," he said with a sassy smirk, "Made it too easy to get a rope around them."

"Hah! Now that's what I'm talking about!" the mare exclaimed proudly as she held a hoof out for him.

The stallion only stared at it oddly, leaving Dash hanging as her grin devolved to a frown.

"Uhh, you're supposed to hoof me," she explained.

"Oh. Uh, like this?" he said as he lifted his hoof to meet hers, albeit rather slowly.

"Yeah, but faster," she really hoped he wasn't this antisocial, "Let's try that again."

Macintosh reluctantly complied and reeled his arm back for a powerful high hoof.

CLOP!

The pegasus' eye twitched as her shoulder screamed. She hid her shock well, holding her face when their hooves met. But the desire to screech overwhelmed her mime act.

"Uhh, you alright?" Mac asked, concerned.

Thinking quickly, Dash pointed to the sky behind him, "What's that over there?"

As the stallion looked back at the distraction, Rainbow Dash clutched her shoulder and silently cried, rubbing it as the pain magically soothed away.

Mac looked back just as Rainbow Dash folded her hooves on the table, "It was just a blimp."

"Oh, don't see those too often," she said under a cautious chuckle. A dying ring in her shoulder brought about her curiosity again, "But, wow, you're strong. Stronger than I expected."

Mac chuckled, hiding his embarrassment, "And you ain't as…" he started, but worried he might insult the mare, given how competitive she was, "…frail as you look."

It didn't work though.

"Huh? What's that supposed to mean?" she asked as her wings flared up involuntarily.

"Well," he tried to explain, scratching his head, "I just heard that all pegasi have hollow bones, to support them in flight."

Her temper ceased as her wings retracted. He was right. Pegasi had less durable bones than normal and definitely weren't as sturdy as a unicorn's bones. Perhaps he was just being cautious, as one had to be with a lot of power like Mac. If that was the case, she couldn't blame him for worrying. But something didn't sit right with her.

How did he know that?

"Well, you heard right," she said, Big Macintosh easing up at this, "But I'm not that weak."

"I know. You helped me out with the wheel last Cider Season after all," the stallion nodded.

Dash chuckled, remembering how they drove those 'Phlegm' Brothers, as she liked to call them, out of town.

"I've also seen you compete with mah sister before in the Iron Pony Competition," he said with a gentle nod.

"Oh yeah, that," Rainbow Dash modestly rubbed the back of her head. While she did win the competition, it wasn't her proudest memory, "You were there for that, I remember."

He nodded slowly, thinking back to the contest, "Apple Bloom was upset when you started usin' your wings to beat AJ," Dash flinched at this, "But we didn't say anythin' cuz AJ didn't say anythin'. We thought she was fine with it."

"Well, she obviously wasn't…" the pegasus tapped her hooves meekly, ashamed of how she had performed back then. It hadn't occurred to her that she had humiliated Applejack in front of her family for the selfish motive to win, so hearing all of it again was a blow to her self esteem.

"Glad you an' AJ resolved it, though," he said with a light chuckle, "Half o' those games were rodeo events, an' she takes 'em very seriously."

"So I've heard," Dash said, but then a thought came to her head, "Say, you wouldn't happen to have had a part in that, would you?"

The stallion looked at her curiously, "Whaddya mean?"

"Like, I dunno," she shrugged, "Maybe she got interested in rodeos because of you?"

He gave a soft laugh with a confirming smile, "Ah suppose Ah played my part back then. She always told me she wanted to be jus' like me."

Rainbow Dash chuckled, "I bet she was real upset when you quit."

Big Macintosh chuckled, a little forcefully, and looked to his plate for something else to eat.

Silence.

"Why did you quit, anyway?" she asked.

Macintosh was about to bite into his Pitaya Pie when she asked the question. He thought for a bit before setting it down to speak.

"She didn't tell you?" he returned.

"Yeah, but I want to hear your side of the story," Dash explained.

"Nuttin' much to say. The family and the farm were more important than the rodeo was," he said just as he bit into the pie.

"But AJ makes time for the rodeo. Why couldn't you?" she pestered.

The stallion swallowed quickly before answering. He was taught better than to speak to a mare with his mouth full, "That's because she's the boss. If you haven't noticed, she's the one who spends her time with you and your friends just about every day. I stay behind an' keep the farm runnin' while she's gone."

He bit into the pie again as Dash processed this information.

"That doesn't seem very fair," she commented, "But that's another thing. You used to own the place, right?"

This time Macintosh stopped chewing and stared at the pegasus intently. He almost forgot to swallow this time.

"Did…AJ tell you that?" he asked.

She shook her head, "Nope. Your dad did. Says you stepped down and let her take over."

Macintosh stared blankly into his pie, trying to find the right words to use for the inevitable questions.

"So…" she started, "Why did you step down?"

The stallion set down what was left of his pie and sighed.

"I just felt better doin' the hard work than sittin' behind a desk," he answered.

That didn't sit well with Rainbow Dash though.

"So you just worked at the farm every day for the rest of your life?" she asked.

"Eeyup," he said before finishing off his pie.

"And that's what you'll be doing until the day you die?" she persisted.

"Mhmm," he answered, not bothering to mull over the thought of working to death.

Rainbow Dash sighed, running into a dead end with Big Macintosh. It wasn't that the thought of working for life upset her. It was the concept that somepony could be so comfortable doing all that work without a day off. Of course, it explained why the guy was well built, she had to admit, but the image still wasn't complete to her. He quit the rodeo, he stepped down from headmaster of Sweet Apple Acres, and he willingly works himself to the bone at no expense to himself. Maybe because she preferred her own freelancing lifestyle, jumping between work and play whenever she wanted to, that made Macintosh seem somewhat unbelievable to her. She couldn't imagine a guy like him grounded to the farm so early on in his life. It just didn't seem…believable.

For the first time in her life, a pony seemed unreal to Rainbow Dash.

"Hey Cous'," a familiar voice spoke to their right.

Both looked to see a blonde stallion in a vest and hat holding a plate of caramel apples in one hoof.

"We'll be needin' to go back to the stand in a few minutes. Sales are droppin' quickly. Ah can't help but wonder why…" Braeburn said in a sly, sarcastic tone.

"A'right. Lemme finish eatin' first," Mac replied as he picked up a carrot roll.

Braeburn looked to Rainbow Dash seated across from Mac. The pegasus braced herself for the inevitable assumption as he smirked.

"Don't let me intervene, though. Take as long as you need, gettin' acquainted."

Before Mac could swallow, Braeburn was already walking away, "Hey, it ain't like that," the stallion pretended to be out of earshot as he disappeared into the crowd.

"Is he always like that?" Rainbow Dash asked. The Braeburn they met back in Appleoosa wasn't so…assuming before.

"Braeburn likes mares, simple as that," he replied before quickly scarfing down the next carrot roll.

"Huh. Guess he was busy with the buffalo issue to hit on any of us when we saw him in Appleoosa," the pegasus chuckled.

Mac swallowed, "Family before fillies, that's Braeburn."

"Don't you mean, every Apple?" Dash joked again.

Before the last carrot roll could be devoured, Big Macintosh stopped and stared into space. Rainbow Dash's childish grin faded when she saw the sadness in his eyes. Did she say something wrong?

Before she could say anything, another familiar voice called out.

"Rainbow! Where is ya?"

Big Macintosh snapped out of his trance in time for them to see Applejack emerge from the crowd to their left. She saw them and was delighted to have found Rainbow Dash, but flashed a quick expression of confusion when she saw who she was with.

"There you are," she said as she approached them, "It's fifteen past nine and we already got the bits we need for the rodeo."

The pegasus blinked in surprise. Had it really been that long since she started talking to Mac?

"Oh, uh, good," Dash said with mixed feelings. Half of her wanted to leave the crowded reunion and get on with the games that were promised to her earlier that day. The other half wanted to stay and talk to Macintosh some more.

"Well? Ya ready to hit the rodeo?" she looked at Mac, who went back to finishing his plate, "Or should I leave you two alo-"

"Yes!" Rainbow Dash responded a little too quickly, tired of the assumptions. Her anxiety was short lived and she retracted her hastiness, "Uh, I mean, yeah, let's go."

Applejack chuckled at her nervousness, "Ok then. Lemme go find Fluttershy real quick. Some of these ponies can get a little too close with a good lookin' mare."

As she left, the pegasus sighed deeply and looked to Mac, who was already leaving.

"Hey! Where ya going?" she nearly shouted.

"Braeburn said I was needed back at the stand," he turned back to say, "Only gave me a few minutes to finish eatin'."

Dash looked at his empty plate, then at her own. Then she looked back to Mac and put on her best annoyed face while crossing her arms, "You could've at least said bye…"

Mac looked like he broke a family heirloom when she said this. The stallion prided himself on honor and treating mares right. Realizing he was about to walk out on her, a friend of Applejack's no less, without another word made him mentally buck himself for such mistreatment. He knew he was raised better than this…

"Right…Ah'm sorry," he apologized with a bow, "Umm, I guess…Ah'll see ya around?"

Rainbow Dash flicked her tail as she slouched back onto the table, "Yeah, I guess…"

The stallion sighed mentally and walked away, leaving Rainbow Dash to her own thoughts. As she absentmindedly started eating, she began to think negatively of Big Macintosh. What was his problem? Did he have an issue with mares or something? Or did he have something against rainbows? The way he kept her out of the conversation annoyed her, but through persistence she managed to see just a little bit of what Macintosh was like, and she wasn't sure if she liked what she saw. He only responded positively to things about himself, making him out to be a little narcissistic. Then again, she could be a little egotistical too when it came to adoring fans…

There was still a lot left to learn about Macintosh, but ultimately, Rainbow Dash decided on something.

It wasn't worth it.

'Thanks, but no thanks,' she thought as she bit into her pie, 'Two earth pony friends are enough for- SWEET CELESTIA THIS PIE IS AWESOME.'

The pegasus looked down at her pie, Zap Apple filling, and marveled at the taste carnival in her mouth.

'Mmm! It tastes just like-!'

"Rainbow Dash, you ready?" Applejack called out.

Dash snapped out of her train of thought, seeing her other five friends ready to head out to enjoy the carnival. Realizing she was taking her time, the pegasus quickly devoured the rest of her plate and gulped hard, washing it down with a mug full of cider.

"I'm always ready," she replied as she abandoned her plate on the table.

"Good. The rodeo show starts at noon, so we gots about three hours before the show," Applejack said as they began their way out of the reunion.

"Finally. I was getting bored to death back there," Rainbow Dash said as she walked alongside the cowgirl.

"Oh, I'm sure you had something to keep you entertained…" Rarity spoke slyly as she had her chin held up.

The pegasus turned to Rarity, confused, before realizing what she meant. Before she could sound a retort, Applejack spoke to her.

"So, what do you want to do first, Rainbow?" she said as they left the crowd, "You're the one who wanted to play the games so badly, so Ah figured we'd let you choose first."

Rainbow Dash looked back at her friends, anxiously waiting for the first thing they were going to do today. Now that they were finally going to do things her way, the pegasus let fly a smirk.

Today was going to be an awesome day.

A/N: As you know, FimFiction will receive the next update a day before this website gets it. So, in the meantime, please R & R.