It was a wonderful day; the birds were shining, the sun was singing...
Er... whoops. Got that backwards. Caramel chuckled as he made his way past slush and mud-covered roads, then resumed grinning ear-to-ear and whistling a happy tune... terribly off-key. His horrible luck clearly extended to how well he learned the musical arts.
Nevertheless, he was having a wonderful day, even if he was late to work. Very late. Very, very late.
If he hadn’t had such a track record of doing his best, he’d have been fired long ago. As it stood, however, he was going to have a heck of an explanation to give to his boss...
“Morning, Burl!” he practically sang as he slid through the back door of the Equestrian Postal Service office. The bulky pegasus gave him a sour look and grunted.
“It’s fifteen past noon, Caramel. Where the buck were y-” he broke off as he got a closer look at his employee, then covered his face with a hoof. “Right, right, he finally got around to it... just... Look, Derpy already got most of your morning shift covered, so I’m just going to dock your pay and forget this ever happened, so long as you get a crate of farm tools we got in this morning to Sweet Apple Acres on the double.”
Caramel had just opened his mouth to thank him when Burl raised a hoof again.
“Don’t. It’s the heaviest thing to come into the office all week, and you’re not going to get help with it. Once you’re done with that, you might as well go home since Derpy handled everything else for you. And if you see her, be sure to thank her. Even if your docked pay is going to her instead.”
“Yoooooou got it boss!” the tan pony chirped as he spun and dashed out to the loading dock.
Burl groaned and mashed his face against the nearest countertop. “Celestia. He’s going to be like that every time, isn’t he.”
Caramel kept on grinning as he hauled the heavy box up onto his cart despite the weight and the sweat running off him... though he did frown slightly when it creaked alarmingly underneath the package. When the wagon made no further noises, he smiled again and fastened himself between the shafts and started pulling.
And started pulling.
Finally he thought to look at the wheels, and grumbled when he realized that the chocks were keeping them firmly locked down. A light kick to knock them out of the way, and the colt found it much easier to get going.
He’d just pulled out from behind the building when a box dropped out of the sky and landed right on his head, stunning him for half a second. Without even glancing up, he cheerfuly scooped up the container and held it up. “Dropped this, Derpy! And thanks for covering for me this morning!”
The grey pegasus plucked the box from his hoof with a faint grumble, but nodded to him all the same. “You’re welcome...”
Caramel shook his head. “No, really! Thanks! I owe you for that... so, how about I buy you muffins for a week?”
“I’m not that easy to bribe, Caramel,” she groused, and with that, she was off into the clouds again. Shrugging, the earth pony kept plodding along, the heavy load on his cart making it slow going.
He’d made it a quarter of the way to his destination, idly daydreaming of Big Macintosh the entire time, when a second carton introduced itself to his skull. Given how dizzy he felt afterwards, the colt woozily estimated this one to weigh about twice as much as the previously dropped package.
“Here you go, Derpy,” he slurred, pushing it along the ground as the grey mailmare swooped down to reclaim her charge.
“Thanks,” she continued dryly, and with a bit of effort, heaved herself into the air again.
Caramel shook his head a few times before the world righted itself, and his irrepressable good cheer had him sauntering along and whistling happily despite his workload.
The third time he was forewarned by a large shadow, but the “warning” lasted all of a second before the small, yet incredibly heavy container introduced itself to him at top speed.
This time, he unintentionally did a near-perfect imitation of a pancake as the crate slid off him to land in the muddy slush.
He glanced up at the sound of whirring wings, and squinted a few times. “Derpy... there are two of-” A few more blinks and the pegasi resolved into one. “Oh. Better. You need to be more careful, you could have really hurt someone with this...”
He peered at the label.
“Delivery of ten kilograms of lead, from Canterlot University to miss Twilight Sparkle...?” Caramel shook his head.
“I need to be more careful? What about you? I had to do three times the work today, Caramel, Dinky’s getting worried!”
That made the tan pony flush and paw at the muddy ground, ignoring the splatters already covering his chest and legs. “I’m sorry. I... guess this means we’re not meeting up to chat over coffee later tonight?”
The wall-eyed pegasus buried her face in her hooves. “Not today, ponyboy.”
“But it’s our weekly tradition!”
“Look, if you want to make it up to me...” she huffed, her irritation cooling, “then drop this pack of orders off at Quills and Sofas. It’s the last thing I need to do besides take that lump to the library, and we’ll call it even, okay?”
The colt perked right up. “Okay! Just put it, uh...”
Derpy solved the problem by shoving the sheaf into his mouth before clutching at the crate full of lead and trundling into the air, her wings struggling from the weight.
“‘R y’ shre y’ dn’t wnt m’ t’ gt ‘t?” the colt mumbled around his mouthful. His friend eyed him, snatched the packet from his mouth with her own, and raised an eyebrow.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to get it?” he tried again, and was rewarded by her cramming the now-crumpled envelope back into his muzzle.
“No, I got it. Now get going, Caramel,” she called back over her shoulder as she slowly headed off towards the library
With his mouth full, all Caramel could do was hum, but he was humming at the top of his lungs and ignoring the annoyed glances he was getting from the ponies he passed. With the fantastic spirits he was in, there was a better than even chance he hadn’t even seen their glares.
It took a bit of effort to push against the inertia of his cart, but he managed to slow it to a halt in front of Quills and Sofas and unhitch himself without too much trouble. He gave a quick glance at his mud-covered pelt, and decided to announce himself by knocking a hoof against the doorframe as opposed to heading inside and tracking the slush everywhere.
“Mail, Mister Davenport!”
“Ah, thank you... Caramel...” he trailed off as he caught sight of the dirt-coated mailpony.
The tan earth pony just grinned at him, the smile stretching the corners of his mouth.
“Are you... all right?”
Caramel bobbed his head exuberantly, his expression unchanging. “Eeeeyup!”
Davenport had to blink at that one. “‘Eeeeyup’? … Never mind. Caramel, you’re covered in mud - did you slip and get run over by your cart again?”
“Nah, Derpy and I had another fight, that’s all!” he chuckled.
The storeowner shook his head. “You two fight a lot for best friends... are you sure you’re not sweet on her?” One of Davenport’s eyebrows lifted at his visitor.
For some reason he couldn’t fathom, this just made his mailpony laugh hard enough to fall over backwards into the muddy road and roll around. Caramel’s constant chuckles quickly got on his nerves, and after five minutes of unceasing chortles he nudged the giggling maniac with a hoof.
“All right, all right. You’ve got mail to deliver, now be about it. At least, I assume that huge box is a delivery...” With that, the owner of Quills and Sofas turned and slammed the door behind him.
His sides still heaving with merriment, Caramel dragged himself back to his cart and strapped himself in. His amusement with the joke that Davenport didn’t quite get added to his already high spirits, and as he wended his way to Sweet Apple Acres, he broke out into song.
It was fortunate that there was no glassware nearby.
Half an hour later, the deliverypony was at the gate to Sweet Apple Acres, his voice warbling and cracking as it rose through the air. He let the last few notes of the “song” die off as he unhitched the wagon and slid the bulky box to the ground, and put his weight into scooting it towards the door.
Eventually, he just gave up and left it by the main gate. Big Macintosh can get it, no trouble. Speaking of...
“Maaaaac! Are you home?” the colt called as he knocked on the door. His ears perked as he heard some sort of horrible clatter, and guilt rose. He hoped he hadn’t interrupted his coltfriend in the middle of something, like... Hmmm. Sounded like saucepans falling. Was Mac cooking?
It took a little longer than he expected, but finally the door was pulled open, and the cheerfully smiling pony was greeted by...
The yellow colt glared at his muddy visitor. “Who the buck are you?”
“I... I thought you’d gone back to Appleloosa!”
Braeburn’s eyebrows met for a few short seconds as he thought, and then realization struck. “Hold on a minute... Caramel?” The cowpony grinned, suddenly, and Caramel took a step backward in concern - it wasn’t a nice smile. “How’ve you been? Still trottin’ on the heels of my cousin, hopin’ he’ll put a move on ya?”
The tan earth pony retreated another step, and Braeburn advanced a little. “I... he...”
“Somethin’ wrong, Caramel? Surely a coltcuddler like you’d have no trouble findin’ somepony t’ keep you warm at night! Or did my cousin finally wise up that a slip of a thing like you’d never be able to satisfy ‘im?”
Caramel spluttered, and Braeburn leaned against the doorframe with a sly smirk on his muzzle, putting on a rakish air despite the cast wrapped around his leg.
“Somethin’ got your tongue? Heh, I know somethin’ I’d be willing t’ use to keep your mouth shut... Won’t take too long, either, we can get right at it while my cousin’s down in Ponyville sellin’ apples off that stand...”
Something snapped, and Caramel lashed out with a hoof, smacking the yellow colt opposite him across the face. “You... you... rrgh!”
The Appleloosan yelped in surprise and rocked back a half step... just in time for the irate, earth-encrusted pony to spin on his forehooves and buck the door shut in Braeburn’s face.
“Ow...” he whimpered, and then the door slammed full-force into his nose. “AGH! Buck you, Caramel!” he screeched, clutching his muzzle between his hooves.
The mailpony was long gone.
He hadn’t bothered to bring his cart; he’d left it back at the farm, a small part of his mind noted, but he was so angry that he didn’t care; that same tiny, calm part reminded him that it’d still be there when he came back.
No, he wasn’t angry; he was incensed. He was making his way back to the center of Ponyville, and the market stalls, and he was moving faster than he’d ever made the trip before.
He was driven.
Braeburn didn’t know what he was talking about!
His muddy hooves churned up divots of earth and snow, and more than once his legs slipped out from under him and sent him for a tumble, but in less time than he thought possible he found himself back in the town square. His eyes scanned the market until he found his target, and the small, angry, dirty colt clomped up to the Apple family’s stand with fire in his eyes.
“Caramel? What th’ hay are you doin’, lookin’ like that?” Applejack asked in shock. Big Macintosh simply stared down at his friend in astonishment.
Astonishment that turned into an outright incredulous stupor as the mailpony reached up with a hoof and hauled the red stallion’s head down for a fiery kiss.
Applejack gaped as her brother and his coltfriend made out in the middle of Ponyville, and flushed a bit when she realized the scene was attracting attention. For half a moment she tipped her hat down to cover her eyes, and then with a sigh, prodded Macintosh in the side. When that failed to get a response, she did the same to Caramel.
Finally, the pair’s lips parted, and she breathed a sigh of relief... one that turned out to be premature as Caramel turned to face her. “Applejack, I’m borrowing your brother for a bit. That all right?”
“Uh... sure?” she fumbled out, still taken off-balance by the recent turn of events.
Both Apples were utterly taken aback when the small colt reached up, gripped Big Macintosh’s harness with his teeth, and proceeded to bodily drag the stallion towards the mailpony’s home. Big Macintosh blinked a few times, but put up no resistance, and shrugged good-naturedly at his sister as he was hauled away.
Once they were out of sight, and everypony’s attention returned to her humble stall, Applejack planted her face on the countertop, pushed her hat over her eyes again, and groaned.
Big Macintosh stared up at the ceiling, chest heaving, and thinking of nothing in particular until the shower stopped running, and a much less grimy pony peeked out of the bathroom.
“Mac? Are you okay?”
Caramel didn’t get a reply, and he gave his friend a gentle, concerned nuzzle to the neck.
The red stallion let the air out of his lungs in an explosive rush. “Ah think Ah pulled somethin’.”
The tan pony chuckled ruefully and curled up next to the Apple. “Sorry about that, Mac.”
“So, what got y’ so fired up, anyhow?”
The pause that followed that question was long enough that Big Mac lifted his head and gave Caramel a worried look.
“Sorry,” he said, giving his coltfriend a lopsided, half-hearted smile. “I had to make a delivery to Sweet Apple Acres.”
Macintosh’s eyebrows lifted for a moment, and then he nodded. “Ah take it y’ ran into Braeburn.”
The way the good-natured, if normally slightly depressed, features on the other colt’s face suddenly twisted into an annoyed frown only confirmed the red pony’s guess.
“Ah’m sorry, Caramel,” he said quietly. The deliverypony only shook his head.
“There’s nothing you need to apologize for,” he replied, and the bite on the one word made it quite clear that, while Caramel didn’t hold Macintosh responsible for his cousin’s misbehavior, he wasn’t going to sit back and take it the next time he met Braeburn.
Big Macintosh nodded and leaned back, reveling in the relative peace of being with his coltfriend... who had just kissed him... in front of everyone in Ponyville.
“Oh, buck,” he whispered. Caramel lifted an eyebrow, and in reply he kept going. “Not that Ah’m complainin’ about the kiss or anything, but...”
“In the middle of the market?” Big Mac finished. Caramel blinked, then felt the blood drain from his face.
“Oh, buck me...”
Despite himself, the Apple chuckled. “Ah just did. Want ‘nother round?”
The tan colt shot him an evil glare, and he clammed up. “Oh, buck, oh buck... Mac, I wasn’t thinking... Oh buck everyone in the entire town’ll know now...” When Big Macintosh failed to have any noticeable reaction, Caramel gave him another long stare. “Doesn’t that bother you?”
Big Macintosh rolled off the bed and plucked his hay stem off the end table before dropping back down next to his companion. “Aside from my ex-fillyfriend findin’ out... Nnnnope.”
Caramel gave him another annoyed look, and the red stallion sighed and continued.
“Ain’t nothin’ Ah can do t’ stop ‘em talkin’. Just give ‘em a little time, they’ll run out o’ interestin’ gossip ‘bout us. All we’ve got t’ do until then is just keep on goin’ like nothing’s happened and they’ll stop talkin’ all the sooner.”
The smaller colt sighed. “I guess you’re right...”
His coltfriend gave him another smile and started to nibble at his partner’s ears, causing them to twitch again.
“Maaaaaac... why do you keep doing that? You know I hate it...”
The small smile on Big Macintosh’s lips froze, then slipped away. “Ah’m... Ah’m sorry. It’s... It’s how Ah show Ah like a pony. Ah used t’... t’ do that when Ah was... Ah was with Cheerilee...” He swallowed. “Except she liked it...” He dragged a hoof across the sheets, looking everywhere but at Caramel. “If... if y’ want, Ah’ll stop...”
Caramel watched his pony paw at the bed uncomfortably, and let out a quiet sigh. “I should have known...” At Macintosh’s hurt look, he leaned in towards the larger pony and nibbled up his neck. “If it’s that important to you...” He took another breath. “You can keep doing it, okay? Just... remember, you owe me for it.”
“Ah owe you?” Big Mac chuckled, a deep, relieved rumble from the depths of his chest, and the mailpony avenged himself by flicking his tail across the stallion’s face.
“That’s right, you do! Remember, I own your flank!”
Big Macintosh gave the smaller colt a strange smile, and Caramel felt his heart lurch. “Ah’ll remember that... but Ah think it’s time we went and put on a little show for th’ town’s waggling tongues... Plus Applejack’s probably wonderin’ where Ah went and is ‘bout ready to buck your door down again.”
Caramel groaned and scrubbed at his face with a hoof. “I suppose so... hey, Mac?”
The colt paused for a second before continuing. “Who... which one of us is going to move in with the other?”
The grass stem in the red pony’s mouth bobbed a few times as he chewed in thought. “Ah don’t think it much matters right now... Ah don’t want t’ leave Sweet Apple Acres, and Ah’m sure you’d rather not be in the same house as cousin Braeburn...” Macintosh grunted sourly. “Not that Ah can blame y’ there, most days Ah don’t want to either. Suppose it’s somethin’ t’ think about, though. We’ll work it out when th’ time comes.”
“Yeah...” Caramel answered as he hauled himself to his feet. “Now where’d your harness g- how did it get on the ceiling fan?!”
Big Macintosh refrained from making a comment, though the temptation to say something about a small, angry, and attractive colt who might have had something to do with it was high. Instead, he settled for shrugging into it and heading towards the front door with his companion following behind.
True to Macintosh’s prediction, Applejack was indeed waiting for them and tapping a hoof impatiently. Caramel did his best to ignore the few gawkers who were inconspicuously lurking about, with varying degrees of success.
“Well, it took th’ pair o’ ya long ‘nough! Big Macintosh, we got t’ be gettin’ back to the house, it’s gettin’ late an’ Granny an’ Apple Bloom’ll be wonderin’ ‘bout us!”
“Um... have a good night,” Caramel said. “I’ll be by to pick up my cart sometime tomorrow morning...”
Big Macintosh nodded and winked at the tan earth pony and leaned in to nibble at his ears again. The deliverypony sighed and leaned into the gesture, hiding his discomfort at being such a spectacle. He was thus completely unprepared for, and taken aback, when Big Mac’s tongue slid down to lick at the horseshoe mark on his flank.
“Big Macintosh! You leave yer colt alone right now, we’ve got t’ get home!”
“Eeeeyup,” he agreed, and with a smile followed his sister towards Sweet Apple Acres, leaving behind a rather dazed, if uncomplaining, earth pony.