Memories flowed through his mind. Memories that gave him an eternal, intense hunger that not even the sweetest apple could quench. His tears had slowed now, leaving a soft pool on the floor. Nestled into his front hooves, Big Macintosh stared out at nothing, remembering all of the times that Applejack and he had spent. He was closer to Applejack than he was to Apple Bloom. Well of course, he'd been with AJ for much longer. Besides that, he'd practically fathered her; Granny Smith wasn't able to take care of them. She was much too old for that kind of thing, so Big Macintosh had taken up responsibility of her upbringing. Well it hadn't been easy! It took a lot just to keep the newborn filly from using the house as a giant bathroom for one thing, and while he was out working in the fields, he had to check on Applejack for what had seemed like every five minutes.
It had confused him when AJ had looked up at him and spoken her first word. He'd been called her father, and while he was taken aback by it, he only just began to realise how sweet, heart-warming and joyful it could be. She'd grown up thinking he was her father until he broke the news to her, to which he'd almost keeled over in hysterics at the look on her face. That was the seed from which their rivalling sides stemmed. Sometimes the filly got so argumentative that she could wake up the dead with her wailing, but at the same time, he could always calm her down in a minute or two. When she was a teenager, then he'd be in a spot of trouble, but he could think of a few ways he'd easily calm her down... Well, actually they were ideas that would more wind her up than anything, but he'd find amusement from them.
Sighing, his ears flattened against his head, before he stiffened. Tilting his head up, he caught the familiar scent of someone who'd raised him for his early life. Not anymore, but had. Praying inwardly that it was a trick of his already disturbed mind, he turned his head, only to feel his heart sink. Standing there in the doorway was Granny Smith, her eyes half open, but which had caught his weakness. Bones cracking loudly as she hobbled over, she stood over the Earth Pony.
"Get off the floor," the elderly green pony mumbled, "You'll mess up your lovely fur!"
"Now, let's sit down at the table, hmm?" It took a moment for her to get to the table, but when she did, she nudged a chair for Big Macintosh to sit on before she sat down on her own. "What's troubling you, dear?"
"It's nothin' to be worrying about," Big Macintosh said quickly, "Just-"
"Now I might be old, but I'm not blind yet." A stern glare from his elder silenced the stallion. "What's wrong?" Personally, telling anyone about his problems was against his nature. He hated being a burden! "If you don't tell me, Big Macintosh, it'll weigh heavily on your mind. It helps to talk about things."
"I don't want ta be a burden on y'all," Big Macintosh excused himself, trying to avoid having to talk about it if he could. He usually figured things out on his own, so talking wasn't really something he was good at.
"Big Macintosh!" Granny Smith halted him, and he knew that he wasn't going to get away with it. He wasn't one to raise his voice, so feigning anger and storming out wasn't at all his style.
"It's Applejack, alright!?" He growled, forcing back the tears that tried to resurface. "Ah'm worried about AJ. Ah haven't heard from her, and it ain't like her to just clam up 'n' pretend ah don't exist nuthin'!" Suddenly it just came spilling out, and he found himself unable to contain the words that flowed from his maw. He sure hoped that Apple Bloom and Rainbow Dash weren't listening in on their conversation, but he could hear them talking in the other room. Unwilling to let the fillies eavesdrop, he lowered his voice. "An' ah know she can be a mite stubborn, but even she ain't that busy to send a letter our way. Ah'm worried, and ah can't stop thinkin' about her!"
Granny Smith was silent for a moment. Perhaps she was processing the words in her mind, or she was thinking about how to respond either way, he wasn't sure. His head lowered and he sighed, listening to the storm as it quietened down. It was probably almost over now. Peeking through the clouds, rays of sunshine graced the acres. While the fields would be too wet to plough, he knew he'd have to get out and at least try to do some work. He couldn't stay here and laze about all day!
"I feel the same way, dear. But thinking about it too much won't help. Why don't you send a letter to the Oranges and ask about her? I'm sure she's just as anxious to hear from you as you are from her." Granny Smith suggested. Big Macintosh grimaced.
'Sure. If she's still alive, that is.' He thought, and whipped his tail against his thigh in agitation. "Ah'll do that," he said dryly and averted his gaze from his Grandmother's. "Ah want to go get sum work done," he added with a tone that implied 'I'm not in the mood for talking right now'.
"Alright, dear, but remember what I told you! And don't forget to deliver the crates to Ponyville." That's right! He had a crate of apples, celery and bean stalks that needed to be taken to three different locations that day. It sounded like an easy enough delivery to do. Nothing he couldn't handle. Being careful not to trip and fall, he collected the cart and checked the wheels for obstruction. Three of the wheels were alright, but as he checked the fourth, he noticed the joint was caked in a thick swamp of mud, making it unusable. Irritated, he tugged at the cart, and found that he couldn't move it either. Submerged deeply in the mud, the cart was held tight.
'Ah must've fer-gott'n to put it away. All this commotion about AJ is affectin' mah work here. Great, now ah have to lug the crates all the way.' Feeling very annoyed, the Earth Pony barged his way through into the barn and snatched up the three. They weren't big, and he could lift all of them at once, though they were heavy. Unsure of if he could make it the whole way without stopping; the stallion tied them to his back and then headed out.
In the distance, just where the storm clouds parted, he could see a figure drifting about in the skies, with tiny wings stretched out wide as it soared and rolled confidently in the air. Pushing his way forward in the growing heat from the sun, he identified it as Rainbow Dash, and noticed a second figure gazing up from the ground below Apple Bloom.
"Careful y'all," he called over, but wasn't going to stop for them.
"Big Macintosh! Oh? What're those things on your back?" Rainbow Dash asked, lowering down to just a few feet off of the ground. Apple Bloom smiled at him, but did not speak.
"Deliveries," he said simply, shouldering his way around the filly. "Ah gotta git these off to Ponyville before ahm late. Ah trust ah can leave ya here and expect ya to be mature 'n' responsible?" He really couldn't stay. Suddenly Rainbow Dash was in his face, her hackles raised aggressively. Before she could speak, he added calmly, "Not sayin' ya aren't bein' good fillies as ya are."
"Hey!" Apple Bloom piped up quickly, "Can me and Rainbow Dash come with y'all?" Oh great. He had enough to do without having to watch out for Apple Bloom running off. Rainbow Dash wasn't really as concerning she knew the dangers of the town most likely by now, and she was older so she would know better. But he was still reluctant to bring them along. At the moment, if the crates toppled, she could get hurt.
"Ah think y'all should stay here at the farm," he said instead, earning one of Apple Bloom's pleading faces. In return, he flashed her a stern 'what did I just tell you?' look and gnawed on the wheat in his mouth.
"...Fine!" Apple Bloom pouted, dramatically planting her rump onto the floor and folding her arms across her chest.
"It ain't a place for a filly, Apple Bloom. Ah need to make sure that these here crates are delivered on time. Ah can't get distracted by y'all runnin' around or flyin' in some cases. Nah I hav't get goin'. Ah'll be back." With that, Big Macintosh broke into a trot and headed towards the path to Ponyville.
How long is this path anyway? He'd been carrying these three for about ten minutes now at a steady pace, and it was painful on his back. When he finally reached the end, he hopped over the border and into the town, his head high and legs holding strong against gravity. Ponies paused to look at him as he strode through the town, weaving his way in and out of traffic carefully and making sure to avoid the children where he could. A small navy filly with a pink and purple mane looked up at him as he walked past.
"Woah! You're strong!" She grinned, earning a grateful glance from the earth pony. "When I grow up, I'm going to be as strong as you are...!"
"That there's a good thing t' look forward to," he said softly, but there was a hidden tone of uncertainty in his voice. "A very good thing indeed..."
...It smelled like hay. Pressed against his nest, his crimson head wobbled unsteadily as he tried to look around. All he could smell was the soft scent of his mother, but her coat was faded, and he couldn't really get a clear image of what she looked like. A soft nuzzle to his side urged him up, and she stood up.
With a squeak, he rocked on his haunches, trying to get up on his legs. For a minute, he couldn't even move, until suddenly he summoned a burst of strength, and the ground under his legs was gone. But wait... Where had it gone? His legs wobbled, and he tried to balance himself to keep himself from falling, but after a moment and a dozy blink, he toppled back onto his rump and ended up on his back with a startled squeak.
"Get up now, my dear..."
Suddenly Big Macintosh bolted out of his sleep, his eyes closing shut. He'd not had that dream in years, so why now? It wasn't so much as a dream, because it was also a memory. One of the earliest he could remember. Panting heavily, he lowered his head back onto the pillow and sighed. How much longer was this going to haunt him...?
There was a reason why he wore his harness; something that he didn't want anyone else to see resided beneath. Lying at the point where his neck and shoulder met sat a horrendous scar, stretching along the base of his neck. It looked like the long-side curve of a crescent moon in shape, and it parted the fur in its path. He'd got it after he'd snuck out one night. Just at the edge of the farmland was a dark, fenced off bit of forest the Forbidden Apple Orchard. Unknown to him at the time, it housed a variety of reason for why it was forbidden, and he should have stayed well away. Needless to say, he'd very nearly died after he'd fallen down an abandoned fox den, and he was very lucky to be alive. Big Macintosh had received a fairly negative reaction from it especially from the fillies and colts that saw it. One of his fears was for it to be seen, and others rejecting him based on how he looked. His ears pricked as he gazed at the scar in the mirror, his sap green eyes calmly examining it. Picking up outside, the wind rattled against his half-opened window, streaming into the room and lifting up his mane. Curiously, he moved over to his draw and closed his mouth around the handle, pulling it open just enough to push his muzzle inside. If he was right, he'd find what he was looking for...
"Wow, big brother!" Applejack's jaw dropped and she smiled up at him as he walked through the town. It was her Birthday in a few days, and in an effort to make her happy, he'd offered to take her into town to explore. Bouncing up and down, the orange filly stared through the window of a shop, her eyes transfixed onto a single item: a pale earth-coloured Stetson hat.
"Ah see ya've found somethin' ya like. Hm, and ah nice hat it is too!" Big Macintosh peered into the shop window. Nose pressed against the pane beside him, he smiled to himself. Glancing up from another customer, the shopkeeper's eyebrow lifted in interest at the filly by the window. It was a small, deep purple colt with blazing golden irises and a mischievous spark to his eyes. With his sister preoccupied, Big Macintosh pointed a hoof at the hat and mouthed silently 'Keep this for me, would you?' and flicked his ear sideward towards Applejack.
Ears perked, the shopkeeper smiled and turned back to the customer and then pushed open the small door at the side of the counter. Being sure to talk to the customer, he headed over and pointed towards the hat, head turned back towards the pony he was conversing with. A moment later, he snatched up the hat gently in his teeth and took it back to the counter, putting it in a box. Instantly, Applejack's green eyes reflected misery in the window, and her head fell slightly at seeing someone else 'claim' the beautiful hat.
"Aw, that sure is a shame," Big Macintosh looked down at the sad, orange filly. "Ah reckon that pony saw it first. C'mon, let's go get you an Ice Cream 'n' head off to the park." Applejack nodded, feeling somewhat better, and turned to walk away. Big Macintosh glanced back at the shopkeeper, who immediately put the boxed hat under the counter and winked at the crimson Earth pony.
'I'll be back to get it later!' he mouthed and trotted after Applejack, off towards the cake shop where she would get something to snack on.
Later that same day, Big Macintosh sent Applejack home for some food and then returned to the shop by himself. It took a bit of negotiation and trade, but eventually he secured the hat and took it home with him... However, he forbid Applejack from entering his room as he had always tried to do and hid it somewhere out of her reach. Thankfully she was still unaware of its presence, which meant that he could still present it to her when the time came.
He gazed into the drawer, pulling off a cloth to reveal a light purple box; the lid tied down securely with yellow ribbon. Resting inside was the same hat, cushioned by soft paper. Without opening it, he lifted it out of his draw and placed it on his desk, eyeing it calmly. Should he put it in her room for her to find should she come back? Should he sell it and use the money to contribute towards the farm? Flicking about in his mouth, the sprig of wheat bounced up and down against his teeth, and he knew his answer. Silently, he put the box back in his draw and covered it back up and left it there, closing the drawer and slipping his harness onto his shoulders. It would be a long day... Applebuck season was fast approaching, and he needed to get an early start on the trees if he were to do the entire orchid in the season. He was hardly big enough to do it all himself as it were, and he knew that Applebuck season was the most important time of the year for the Apple Family.