Caramel Covered Apple
Big Macintosh took his time getting back to Sweet Apple Acres, mostly in an effort to avoid the older of his two sisters.
Typically, it didn’t work. As soon as Applejack saw him, she came galloping across the fields to meet him, hooves digging divots out of the earth.
“I thought I told ya not t’ come back afore sundown!” she bellowed as soon as he was in range of her voice.
“Well, Ah -” he began, then started to cough uncontrollably from the dust as she skidded to a halt in front of him. Applejack tapped a hoof impatiently, urging him to get on with it. “Ah told Caramel Ah didn’t think Ah should be seein’ him...”
“Y’ WHAT?! This have anything t’ do with that load o’ horse apples y’ were talking’ about afore y’ left?”
Big Macintosh coughed and tried not to look guilty, then dropped his ears and head as soon as he realized it wasn’t working. The red pony braced himself for another one of his sister’s legendary haranguings.
What he wasn’t ready for was his sister’s teeth clamping down on his ear and pulling him none too gently towards Ponyville.
He yelped; he couldn’t help himself. “Applejack, what’s this about?”
“I have got, “ she replied around her mouthful, “th’ most insensitive, dense, clod-headed brother in all o’ Equestria!”
Big Mac squirmed at her words, still being pulled along helplessly by the smaller mare. “Ah’m sorry!”
Applejack stopped in her tracks and spat out his ear, to the red colt’s immense relief. “Awright, I shoulda asked this first. D’ y’ love ‘im?”
Her brother flinched as though she’d just kicked him in the side. “Ah... uh... Ah don’t rightly know.”
The orange pony glowered at him. “Well, y’ better figure it out fast. D’ you like ‘im?”
Big Macintosh reared back in indignation. “A’ course Ah like him!”
“Then that’s a start. Y’ can figure out what t’ say t’ him on th’ way.” With that, she closed her jaws on his other ear and resumed dragging her unwilling brother into town.
“Jacks, this’s undignified,” he griped as she forced him past pony after staring pony.
“Y’ shoulda thought o’ that afore y’ dumped Caramel so hard!” she shot back around his ear. His only response to that was a defeated sigh as Applejack led him up the steps to Caramel’s door.
She rapped a hoof on the frame, and waited.
The orange mare narrowed her eyes to slits. She’d had more than enough of this nonsense for one day. Big Mac shied away nervously as soon as he glimpsed her expression. “Caramel! Y’ open this door right now, or I’ll buck it down! Don’t think I won’t!”
When there was still no response, Applejack lost her patience, spun, and slammed her hind hooves into the door.
To both ponies’ shock, it flung open wide, crashed into the wall, and rebounded shut.
“Ah guess he didn’t lock it,” Big Macintosh commented dryly. He shrunk back when his sister turned to stare him down. “... What?”
She lifted a hoof and prodded him sharply in the flank. “Now you are goin’ t’ get in thar an’ talk t’ yer poor, brokenhearted colt!”
The red stallion opened his mouth to reply that no, Caramel was not “his” colt, then promptly thought better of it when he saw the Look on his sister’s face. “Ah’m goin’, Ah’m goin’...” he said instead, taking a few steps into the darkened house.
“One more thing, Big Macintosh.” He froze. “Y’ aren’t comin’ home until y’ get this sorted. I mean it. Y’ try to show up on the farm beforehand, and I’ll have yer chestnuts on th’ anvil.”
Big Mac blanched, then nodded dolefully, making his way into the first darkness-shrouded room. He was completely unprepared for the door getting firmly and loudly shut behind him.
“Caramel?” he called softly. There was no answer, and he pricked his ears for any sound at all.
There were no sobs, or curses. If the pony were home, he was being remarkably silent.
“Caramel?” he tried again more loudly, then let loose a whinny of pain when his ankle banged roughly into something.
“Ah’ve ‘bout had ‘nough of this,” he muttered, fumbling along the walls and whacking his shins into more furniture until he found the light switch.
He blinked as the lights came on - the room was neat, tidy, and aside from the furniture, empty, without a single painting on the walls. To an earth pony of Big Macintosh’s background, where a wall was regarded as something to cover with pictures, it was unsettling.
The light did allow him to make better progress, and he went from room to room, flicking on the bulbs as he went. No matter where he checked, though, he could find no sign of his... friend, he finally settled on.
At last, there was only one room he hadn’t explored yet - the bedroom, which he’d balked at entering until he had no choice.
It was as dimly lit as the rest of the house had been, and despite his desire to see, and the misgivings he felt, he refused to turn on the switch here. With the lights behind him, he could make out enough of the obstacles in the room to safely navigate a path, though the floor here was mostly empty. The only possible thing he could stumble over were Caramel’s two panniers, abandoned in a sad little heap on the way to the bed.
Big Macintosh’s objective was the huddled lump on top of the bed itself.
“Caramel,” he whispered when he finally reached the edge of the mattress. There was still no reply, and Big Macintosh leaned in worriedly.
The tan pony’s chest was still rising and falling as he breathed. The red stallion exhaled in an explosive sigh and shut his eyes in relief.
The hoof which struck him sharply across the face came as a complete shock, and Big Mac stumbled back in surprise, nearly tripping over the bags.
“What in Equestria was that f-” the red pony began, then checked himself. He knew exactly what that was for.
“Go away,” Caramel’s voice was faint, and Big Macintosh found himself leaning over the bed to make out the words.
This time he was expecting the hoof that lashed out, and he shied away. “Ah’ll be goin’ then,” he murmured to the tetchy pile on the bed, “but Ah’ll be back.”
“Buck you, Macintosh.”
The stallion made his way back out of the house and sat on the front steps. Ignoring the eyes of the ponies staring at him, Big Mac gazed thoughtfully into the distance, teeth working on his hay stem.
Eventually, his eyes fell on the half-loaded cart Caramel used for his deliveries, and with a grunt the stallion pulled himself to his hooves and hitched himself to it, eyes glancing down at the packages and addresses. Satisfied that he knew where to take them, he set off.
It took him about an hour, and several variations on “Ah’m helpin’ Caramel, who’s feelin’ a mite indisposed,” but he got the job done shortly after dusk fell. As he returned the cart to the same place he found it, his mind was working on several plans.
“Ah’m... back,” he spoke to the silent house as he pushed the door open. As much of a reflex as it was, he doubted Caramel would appreciate his house getting called Big Mac’s “home”.
The red stallion peeked his head into the bedroom. “Ah just finished with your route for you,” he told the colt-blob on the bed. Once again, he wasn’t gifted with an answer. Sighing, Big Macintosh lowered his head and went to sleep on the couch, turning off the lights as he went.
The next morning, the red stallion was the first to wake, and with a quick glance into Caramel’s room, he confirmed the tan pony was still asleep. He took advantage of the time to gallop over to Sweet Apple Acres to begin the first part of the scheme he’d come up with the previous night.
Applejack was, unsurprisingly, already up and working by the time he arrived. As soon as she saw him, he got another look. “Y’ got things sorted out?” she asked in a tone that indicated that if he said “yes” she wasn’t going to believe it.
Big Macintosh shook his head. “Just here t’ get some of m’ spare bits, and Ah’ll be goin’ back.”
His sister just snorted and went back to hauling in the various farming implements that he hadn’t managed to gather the previous day.
It was a quick errand, just to nip up to his room and rifle underneath the mattress for his -
Something wasn’t right. In fact, something was missing. His money was all there, but there was another secret stash that was supposed to be there and wasn’t. Big Mac shot a suspicious glance out the window, gathered his bits, and went on his way.
After a quick stop.
“Say, sis,” he asked Applejack as he passed, as casually as he could, “You wouldn’t know what happened t’ the copies of Playmare Ah had?”
He had the satisfaction of seeing her turn bright red as he continued down the road.
“I read them fer th’ articles!” she shouted at his hindquarters. Big Mac chuckled before returning his focus to the reason he’d gone out of his way to visit the farm. With luck, the shop he was going to next was open.
As it turned out, it was, and the red stallion spent most of his bits, and half an hour, explaining what he wanted. Satisfied, he trotted back to Caramel’s house.
The tan pony hadn’t budged, and Big Macintosh sighed. “Come on, Caramel, Y’ need t’ get up. Bathe. Eat somethin’.”
No reply again.
One eye popped open and glared at him. “You’re not going to go away, are you.”
The red pony shook his head.
“... Fine.” Caramel pushed himself to his hooves and shook, his mane sticking up in odd angles. Despite the horrible situation, Big Mac had to repress the urge to smile at how cute it made the other pony look.
“Ah’ll make some breakfast while you’re bathin’,” Big Macintosh said, relieved that Caramel was doing something.
His relief was short-lived, as Caramel somehow even managed to eat angrily. His posture, mostly consisting of hunching over his bowl of oats and glowering up at Big Macintosh, only added to the effect.
“There, I ate. You know where the door is.” Caramel turned back to the bedroom and curled up on the bed once more. The red stallion sighed despondently and went back out to the steps to think again.
It didn’t take long before Big Mac went stir-crazy. At Sweet Apple Acres there was always something to be done, and the lack of activity was more than he could handle. Quickly, he decided to see if there was anything else Caramel needed to deliver.
He always thought better when he was working, anyway.
Big Macintosh was staggered at the size of the pile that awaited him, and he shot an impressed glance back toward Caramel’s house. If this was the sort of thing he did every day, the brown pony’s stock with Big Mac had definitely risen further.
He was even more amazed that delivering them all took all day. He shook his head. No wonder Caramel worked so hard when at the farm; he was obviously used to prolonged, strenuous effort.
Before he could go back to Caramel’s for another uncomfortable night, he had a stop to make.
The store’s owner was happy to talk to him again, though Big Macintosh was a little disappointed that his commission would take a few days to be finished. Pleased, if a little irked that his purchase wouldn’t be ready instantly, he headed back to Caramel’s.
“Caramel -” he began as he opened the door, then froze. Caramel was sitting in the couch, sniffling into a pillow. The same one, Big Macintosh noted in a corner of his mind, that he’d been resting his head on the previous night. The rest of his attention was taken up with how quickly the colt went from “sobbing angstpile” to “teeth-bared ball of fury”.
“Go away, Big Macintosh,” he snarled.
The red stallion opposite him shut the door, then carefully maneuvered himself into a chair. “Ah can’t do that,” he murmured.
“Why not? You clearly don’t care,” snorted Caramel with a bitter, broken laugh. Big Mac felt something in him twist at the sound.
“Ah’m sorry, Caramel.”
“So’m I. Sorry that I wasted my time mooning over a pony who’s such a jerk!”
Big Macintosh stared at his hooves. “Ah’m not a clever pony, Caramel. Ah thought you were hankerin’ after the big, strong type o’ pony and Ah fit the bill... and that you weren’t interested in what Ah was really like.”
“Horse apples, Macintosh. I’ve known you for years. I know the ‘real’ you.”
The red pony slumped further. “Ah’m sorry,” he whispered again. He didn’t know what else to say.
“Why’re you even here, anyway? You know I don’t want you in my house.”
Big Macintosh swallowed. “Ah was told once that if’n Ah hurts somepony Ah... Ah care about, Ah need t’ make up for it somehow.”
Caramel bared his teeth and turned his back on the other pony, facing into the cushions on the couch. “Yeah. You care about me all right. You’ve got a great way of showing it.”
The red stallion looked up from his hooves and felt something wrench in his chest. He needed to do something, anything, to fix the situation he found himself in and that he’d caused.
Several possible scenarios flickered through his head, and each one he dismissed. Finally, he settled on one, though the chance of it working was... low. Not that it mattered, since Caramel seemed dead set on hating him.
The chair creaked as he stood, and trembling, he moved closer to Caramel, until he was only a few inches away. Tentatively, he lowered his head and began to lap at Caramel’s horseshoe cutie mark.
The tan pony’s reaction was instantaneous, shivers shooting through his smaller frame. “M-Mac... what’re you doing?!”
Big Mac paused for a moment, his bright green eyes meeting Caramel’s blue ones. “Ah’m sorry, Caramel. Ah l-like you a lot. Ah shoulda treated you better’n Ah had.” He swallowed, trying to get past the lump in his throat. “D’ you... d’ you still want to date me?”
Caramel let out another laugh, this one weak and burbling, but sounding far more natural. “You... oh, Celestia help me you actually mean it.”
“Ah do, Caramel,” replied the stallion, climbing into the protesting couch and awkwardly wedging himself in behind the tan pony. Wrapping his hooves around Caramel’s sides, he held him tightly and nuzzled at the back of his neck.
Caramel let out a deep breath, and Big Macintosh found himself holding his.
“Oh, buck it, get up, Mac.” The red pony blinked, hurt, before Caramel continued, “the couch’s too small for us.”
Caramel nodded, leaning back into Big Macintosh’s embrace. Despite his words, he seemed disinclined to move. “I suppose so, Mac. You can stay.”
Big Mac felt his heart leap, and he gave his colt a smile and quiet, satisfied reply.