Chapter 2: Meet The Pegasus Parents
As Applejack stepped out of the barn and into the cool evening air, Big Mac motioned towards a group of three ponies standing near the entrance gate. She immediately recognized two of them as Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash. The third, however, was an unfamiliar silver Pegasus mare with energetic yellow eyes and a mane of blue, green, and violet, tied back in a ponytail. Her body was extremely slim, athletic, and strong. All three of them were conversing openly, but Rainbow Dash stood much closer to the mysterious mare. Applejack guessed right away that she must have been Rainbow Dash's mother.
Before Applejack had a chance to walk over and say hello, Pinkie Pie suddenly popped out of nowhere in front of Applejack's face. "Hi Applejack! How ya doin'?! Oh my goodness, the Parents' Day Festival looks like a BLAST! I can't wait to go in and start doing stuff! Oh wait, but my mom and dad aren't here. And they probably aren't coming. Isn't that sad? Am I still allowed to do stuff without my parents? I mean, it's PARENTS' Day. The day you're supposed to do stuff with your PARENTS, right? It's not called Kids Do Stuff On Their OWN Day! Cuz that'd be silly, huh? Yeah, it would be!"
Applejack just smiled and shook her head. "Good evenin' to you too, Pinkie Pie. Glad you could come." Her smile then faded. "But hold on - you say your folks might not be comin' tonight?"
"Oh, I KNOW they're not coming tonight!" Pinkie said, still as cheery as ever. "They never come to ANYTHING I do! My elementary school graduation, my 'Best TV Pony' Emmy acceptance speech, my 'Let's Thank Pinkie Pie for SAVING THE WORLD FROM THE NAUGHTY SPACE GOATS' ceremony! They weren't there. They're never there. Never... there..."
Pinkie Pie maintained her bright and shining smile the entire time she spoke. Applejack wasn't sure what to make of it, but smiled politely back. "Aw, I'm sorry to hear that, darlin'. They must be busier than oxen all the live long day if they get to see you so little."
"Oh yes, they're very busy. Busy PARTYING, that is! They're schedule's always chock full of fun, merriment, and goofing off-ness! And partying. Without me. Always partying... Always without me... Partying...!"
At that point, Applejack thought she could see beads of sweat starting to form on Pinkie Pie's forehead. The up-turned corners of her mouth were starting to twitch, struggling to stay up. Applejack couldn't explain why, but she began to feel very uncomfortable. "Well, uh... Don't worry your lil' head there, Pinkie. You're more than welcome to have fun with all of us here, whether or not your ma and pa can make it."
"YAY! That makes me super-duper happy! Thank you!"
"No trouble at all. And hey, in the meantime, maybe we can try to contact your folks and convince them to come party here, with us!"
"Not even worth trying. OH! Hey, you gotta come meet Rainbow Dash's mom! She's really really nice! Come on come on come ON!"
"Wait a minute, hon! Are you sure you don't-?" Applejack started. Pinkie Pie, however, ran full speed back over to Rainbow Dash and her mom before she could even finish.
Applejack raised an eyebrow, and looked over at Big Mac, who was still standing nearby. "Is it me, or did Pinkie Pie seem a little... off? Well, more than usual, anyway?"
Big Mac replied with the usual, "Ee-yup."
Applejack shrugged. "Ah well. I suppose if it doesn't seem to bother her much, I won't let it bother me, neither..." She was silent for a moment, as another important topic surfaced in her mind. "By the way, Big Mac, we all still plannin' on meetin' up at the same time?"
"So Apple Bloom got the memo?"
"Alrighty, guess I'll see ya'll in about an hour, then. Oh, and don't forget the bouquet! You got daisies, right? Ma always likes daisies."
This time, Big Mac forsook a verbal response in favor of a simple nod.
Applejack nodded in return. "K. 'Til then, later!" She waved a quick good-bye before trotting over to where her friends were.
Rainbow Dash was chatting fervently with her mother, who Applejack noticed bore a Cutie Mark that resembled a tornado forming in the clouds, touching down to the earth. When Rainbow Dash spotted Applejack approaching, her mouth immediately turned to a toothy grin. "Oh, mom! This is my friend I was telling you about - Applejack! Next to me, she's the most athletic, rough-and-tumble pony in Ponyville! All of Equestria, even!"
Rainbow Dash's mother turned to look at Applejack with a cool smirk. "Aha, finally! Apparently the only Earth Pony that can make my little winner break a sweat. And here you are, in the flesh!"
Applejack blushed. "Aw, you're too kind. But I'll never measure up to Rainbow Dash. She's the best, through and through."
"Oh, NO ONE'S better than her. I know that!" the mare teased, giving Rainbow Dash a playful punch on the shoulder. Rainbow Dash punched her right back. The two proceeded to trade harder and harder jabs, until Rainbow Dash finally blocked one of her mom's, signaling that she gave in. Her mom gave a cocky smile and flipped her ponytail. "Well, except me! She had to get it from somewhere, right? Haha!" She then held out a hoof in Applejack's direction. "Name's Aeroswift. Pleasure to meet you."
"Likewise!" Applejack retorted, clasping both her hooves around Aeroswift's. Aeroswift shook with such enthusiasm and strength that Applejack almost suffered whiplash.
"Say," Aeroswift continued, "Rainbow Dash tells me you were there when she won this year's Young Fliers' Competition. She did fantastic, didn't she?"
"You're darn tootin'! Especially that Sonic Rainboom she pulled off. Knocked the ten-gallon hat right offa my head!"
"Totally! She's got catching up to do, though - I won that competition four years in a row when I was young!"
"Is that right? Wow, that's quite a feat!" Applejack gasped.
"Oh, mom!" Rainbow Dash called out, "Did I ever tell you about the time Applejack and I held an Iron Pony Competition?"
"Ah, yes," Aeroswift recalled. "You said the two of you... tied, right?"
"That's right," Applejack said. "We'll have to hold a tiebreaker match one of these days, won't we, RD?"
"Totally!" Rainbow Dash said, giving Applejack a hoofbump.
"Yeah, totally," Aeroswift butt in. Her lively demeanor seemed to have become a tad more serious. "You'll be sure to win this time, won't you, Rainbow?"
"Of course, mom!" Rainbow Dash said defensively. She turned back to Applejack. "Oh! And we've GOTTA have a rematch at the Running of the Leaves this year!"
"Oh YEEEAH! Now THAT'S a tiebreaker we gotta settle, mano a mano!"
"Hold up," Aeroswift demanded. "You tied in the Running of the Leaves last year, too? You never told me about that..."
"I didn't?" Rainbow Dash asked, puzzled. "I thought I did... Anyway, yeah, we tied, but it was an awesome race!"
"I see," Aeroswift said with half-approval. "Well, I guess there's some honor in tying for first... I did once, but I won all the other five times I ran that race, I assure you of that!"
"Actually, we tied for last," Applejack admitted. This elicited a laugh from both of the younger ponies.
Aeroswift, however, lost her smile altogether. "Whoa, hang on. You tied for last?"
"Yeah, but whatevs," Rainbow Dash said coolly. "I'll kick everyone's butt this year. And I'll make sure Applejack's kissin' MINE at the finish line! Ha!"
"Well, I would certainly HOPE so. I raised a winner, didn't I? You'd best demonstrate that!"
To Applejack, Aeroswift's disappointment was very clear in her tone and body language. Rainbow Dash, however, was either oblivious or just didn't care. "I DO mom! What's your beef? That was just the day I learned how to accept losing, that's all. It's no big deal!"
"It IS kind of a big deal, Rainbow Dash" Aeroswift said coldly. "Not the fact that you lost, but the fact that you're so nonchalant about it. I mean, you 'learned to just accept losing'? That's not the filly I raised. That's not winner behavior. Winners STRIVE to win and HATE to lose! If you start just shrugging and accepting it, you're starting down the path to being a loser. And I, being your mother, have made sure that you don't have a shred of loser in you. Do you understand m-?"
Rainbow Dash's outburst brought Aeroswift's monologue to a halt. Everyone watched as she flew at about Mach 3 toward the entry gate, toward a stallion who was just coming through. She practically tackled him to the ground with the force of her hug. He laughed and embraced her back, and the two exchanged greetings filled with glee and excitement. The sight made Applejack feel both happy and surprised. It was rare to see Rainbow Dash exude such raw joy.
Aeroswft, however, looked more displeased than ever. "I take that back," she muttered loud enough for Applejack to hear. "She's got some of him in her..."
Rainbow Dash and the stallion trotted back to the group, talking happily the whole way. The stallion sported an azure coat similar to Rainbow Dash's, violet eyes, and a mane with a red-orange-yellow color scheme that he had let grow to considerable length. Applejack couldn't help but think this stallion had a very effeminate look about him, an opinion supported by his Cutie Mark, which was a simple white lily placed atop a closed book. One look at his soft eyes and easy smile, and Applejack already knew that he was a gentle and friendly soul. As they reached the group, it was noticed that he glanced in Aeroswift's direction and gave a subtle nod. She, in return, made a discreet sneer and looked away. No comment was made about it.
"Girls, this is my dad!" Rainbow Dash announced. "Dad, these are two of my main compadres, Applejack and Pinkie Pie!"
"Boa noite," he addressed. "The name's Sweetgood Mac. It's truly a delight to meet my daughter's friends." He shook hooves with both Pinkie Pie and Applejack who, after Aeroswift's bone-breaker of a hoofshake, greatly welcomed the gentle one that Sweetgood Mac gave. "By the way," he continued, "That greeting I used means 'good evening' in an ancient tongue. Exotic, no? Learned it in this latest book of poetry I've been reading - 'The Spirit of the Age Within the Zeitgeist Within the Bounds of Foreverness'."
"Laaame, dad!" Rainbow Dash remarked with a smile.
"Well," Sweetgood Mac replied slyly, "If it's of more interest to YOU, sweetie pie, I also just finished reading the latest Daring Do book."
Rainbow Dash's eyebrows shot up. "Oh yeah! You told me you were reading it! You already finished? But I'm only up to chapter 12!"
"Well, if you want, I can tell you how it ends..."
"Ugh... Mmph...! No! But, yes! But, I mean... Agh! YES! Tell me! tell me!"
Sweetgood Mac sucked in his lips. "Nope."
"WHAT? Aw, then why'd you even ask? Uurgh! Well, can you at least tell me whether or not Daring Do saves her brother from the Endless Catacomb?"
"Hmm... I would, but... that's pivotal to the ending. So, nope!" Sweetgood Mac now wore a bona fide trollface.
"Hmph! What a bust!" Rainbow Dash pouted. "I hate you!"
His grin didn't flinch. "I don't think you hate me."
"Well, I do!"
"No you don't."
"Yes I do!"
"I think you love me."
"No way. I don't love you!"
"Yes you do."
"Oh! Gotcha! You just said 'yuh-huh'!"
Rainbow Dash couldn't hold in her laughter anymore. "Agghh! Fine, ya got me! I do love you, daddy!" She embraced him again and snuggled close to his chest.
"Love you too, baby girl," he replied, putting a loving hoof around her. "So good to see you again."
Applejack gushed at the display, amazed that the usually image-conscious Rainbow Dash showed no sign of embarrassment when acting so playfully with her dad. Pinkie Pie was gleeful too, bouncing up and down and shouting, "Ooo! Ooo! He used my trick! Did you hear it? My switcheroo mind trick! WEEE! I like him! He's cool!"
Aeroswift, however, merely rolled her eyes. "Ugh, OK... Mac?"
Sweetgood Mac looked up at her, his expression blank.
"You done showering my daughter in all your ooey-gooey love?"
"We'll decide when we're done," he replied flatly. "I haven't seen her in a while. Give us some time."
"Careful. Soften her up too much and she might go as limp as you."
"Aeroswift, not now..." he said calmly. He released Rainbow Dash, who turned her gaze back and forth between her two parents, a look of discomfort forming on her face.
Aeroswift angled her lip. "I'm just saying, I've got things I want to do with my daughter tonight. Strong, competitive bonding. Foreign concepts to you, I know."
"She's my daughter too," Sweetgood said through a quivered breath. "And she and I have got our own plans for the night..."
"Mom, dad, don't start..." Rainbow Dash pleaded in an attempt to intervene. Her voice fell on deaf ears.
"Well, I arrived at the time that we agreed on. YOU arrived late, as usual. It's only fair that I take her first."
"YOU'VE seen her as recently as yesterday. I haven't seen her in over a month."
"Well, it's not my fault you're always wandering around and never home, is it?"
"Oh, and I suppose it's my fault that I hardly feel welcome in my own home?"
"Considering the things you've done, yes, I would say so."
"Oh, for goodness sake! Can you ever just leave certain baggage behind you? Come on, have a heart already!"
"Oh, I had one once. Then I gave it to you, and look what happened."
"Aeroswift, if you're thinking of bringing that up, do NOT-!"
Aeroswift and Sweetgood Mac both broke from each other's glares and looked at Rainbow Dash's frustrated face. She stepped in close to both of them and lowered her voice to a whisper. "Not tonight, please! You promised..."
"I promised I'd try," Aeroswift remarked, shooting another cold look at her husband.
"Well try harder!" Rainbow Dash begged. "All my friends and their parents are here, and I want you guys to make a good impression. And I want to spend time with BOTH of you! Can't you put a lid on it for just for one night? For me?"
The two both stared at one other for several seconds, then back at Rainbow Dash. Sweetgood Mac was the first to nod. "OK... For you, sweetie. We will. Right, Aeroswift?"
Aeroswift looked none too pleased, but eventually consented. She simply nodded.
"Good. Thanks!" Rainbow Dash said with a sigh of relief. She turned back around to face her friends, who were standing by in awkward silence. "So... now that everyone's introduced, wanna go see what Twilight and Rarity are up to?"
The two nodded in unison, eager to move onto a new subject. "Abso-positive-lutely!" Pinkie Pie exclaimed.
"Yeah, I've been wonderin' where Twilight's been," Applejack said. "So she's over at Rarity's booth, eh? With her folks, I'll bet?"
"That's what Big Mac told me, yeah," said Rainbow Dash. "Oh! And I think I saw Fluttershy heading that way, too. Have you talked to her yet today, Applejack?"
Applejack's delighted grin quickly melted into a frown. She suddenly remembered the last moment she saw Fluttershy, being led out of the barn by her hulking beast of a father before he angrily slammed the doors. A slight nausea overcame her. "Uh... y-yeah, I did talk to her earlier. You said you saw her recently?"
"Yeah, just a few minutes ago!" Rainbow Dash chirped, pointing to the fairgrounds. "She went that way. At least I'm pretty sure it was her..."
"Was she with anypony?" Applejack asked, almost afraid of the answer.
"Yeah!" Pinkie Pie joined in. "There was a big, old, strong, muscular, mustache-and-beard-having, scary-as-all-doody-heck-looking stallion walking in front of her! You didn't see them, Applejack? You must be going blind. Are you going blind? Oh no! Please tell me you're not! Cuz that would really ruin my day! And yours!"
"No, no, I ain't goin' blind," Applejack assured, feeling somewhat relieved that Fluttershy had at least been spotted with her life. "Guess I was just distracted is all. Anyway, that stallion musta been her pa. I met him, briefly..."
"I thought it might have been," Rainbow Dash reasoned. "Cool! Is he nice?"
Applejack bit her lip. "Weeeell, it might be too early to say, but he seemed about as nice as a badger with an ulcer and a skin condition."
Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie both put on confused expressions and looked at one another. A few seconds later, Pinkie Pie lit up. "OH! I get it! That's clever..."
Rainbow Dash just rolled her eyes. "Whatever. She's probably heading over to Rarity's booth, too. C'mon, let's get over there and meet everypony! And then we can play some games and have some chow! AW YEAH!" She turned back to her parents. "C'mon mom and dad, let's go meet the rest of the gang and have some fun!" She then took off flying towards the fairgrounds. Aeroswift and Sweetgood Mac took one last uneasy glance at each other before spreading their own wings and following behind her. Pinkie Pie proceeded to bound effortlessly after them, humming a merry tune to herself.
Applejack stayed behind for a few seconds to think some things over. Her Parents' Day with her friends had only just begun, but she couldn't help but notice that some things had already turned out very different than she had imagined. Fluttershy's frightening father, Pinkie Pie's ever-absent (and still absent) parents, the obvious bad blood between Rainbow Dash's parents... She even recalled Rarity's complaints about her own mom and dad. While the idea of gathering them all in one place to meet and have fun had seemed like a great idea, she found herself reconsidering. Could this particular mixture of ponies be a toxic one? As the night wore on, could all these relationships and the tensions brewing underneath give rise to catastrophe?
Applejack couldn't be sure. She herself had never known any of these problems with her own parents. They had always been perfect in her eyes. Loving, to each other and to their children, always there when they were needed. Always...
As she closed her eyes in deep thought, she pondered for a moment, given the busy circumstances of the night, whether or not she would even get a chance to visit them with her brother and sister as she had planned...
No. There was no question. Of course she would visit them. She owed them so much, for making her the proud mare that she was. And, naturally, it was Parents' Day. She had to.
Feeling content with her mindset at the moment, Applejack began galloping in the direction her friends had set off in, eager to meet her remaining friends' parents and later get the chance to see her own...