Big Macintosh had never felt so helpless before in his life. It was a deserved feeling, he couldn't help but think to himself as he bit his lip to keep from screaming from the bolts of fire that raced through his body. He should have listened to Applejack. He shouldn't have been so stubborn. He should have stayed an extra day in Hoofington instead of trying to make it back to Ponyville before morning.
There were a lot of things that he should have done, but that was all in the past now. He couldn't do anything to change his situation, and no amount of rage, fear, pain, or stubbornness was going to help with that.
The day had certainly started well enough. The sky was cloudless, the sun comfortably warm even as the chilly air nipped at his nose. From all appearances, it had been a picturesque winter morning, and Big Mac was more than certain that he would be able to make it back Sweet Apple Acres before the sun set.
There was no reason to ever think otherwise. He was a stallion, as big and as strong as his name implied. What reason did he have to fear the forest that stretched from Hoofington to Canterlot. He was from Ponyville, and his own farm bordered one of the most dangerous places in all of Equestria, the Everfree Forest. What reason did he have to fear the gentle winding roads that led over the gentle hills. They were well maintained, and he had never had a problem making the trip in the past.
As he lay still in the ever deepening snow, Big Mac pondered on whether living in Ponyville itself had given him a false sense of superiority. After all, what did he have to fear from a sleepy forest when he regularly fought Timberwolves from the farm? What did he have to fear from the winter when he lived in a town that survived destruction time and time again. Nightmare Moon, Discord, Tirek. None of them had brought about Ponyville's downfall, nor did they crush the ponies who called it home. They always got back on their hooves.
They always rebuilt what had been destroyed.
Maybe that constant danger had made him forget how dangerous the world could sometimes be all on its own.
Gathering his courage, Big Mac looked down at his hind-leg. He immediately regretted doing so and spent the next few moments struggling to keep down the remnants of the pie he had had for lunch.
He was worse off than he had thought.
The trip back to Ponyville had started off easy enough. No snow was falling, and the snow already on the ground had been carefully plowed from the streets and paths through Hoofington. That gradually changed the further from civilization that he had travelled, but he wasn't worried. He easily pulled his cart through the snow, as any proud Earth Pony should have been able. He payed no mind to the ever thickening clouds, or the light fluff of snow that began to fall as each hour passed.
Big Mac had been walking for hours when he finally noticed how cold it had gotten. The sun had disappeared entirely behind dark storm clouds, and the temperature had accordingly plummeted. Shivering, he paused on his journey to retrieve his scarf from his cart before continuing on.
Even as he walked, the forest around grew somber and quiet, the trees looming above him as all signs of the path home quickly began to disappear under the thickening snow. Soon after that, he had lost all sense of the earth itself as his hooves found themselves only ever touching more snow, never reaching the frozen ground beneath.
Another stabbing of pain raced through his body as he twitched unconsciously, making him hiss in agitation. His leg was in absolutely no shape for him to be walking, but Big Mac didn't have a lot of choice in the matter. If he stayed where he was, he knew that he was dead. At least if he tried to find shelter, there was the ever so slim chance that he could hang on long enough for somepony else to stumble across him and get help.
He was lost. It had only taken him an hour to admit that to himself. The path was long gone and he had simply been walking in what he had assumed was the way. Deep down in his heart, Big Mac knew that he should have known better. He had watched Applejack nearly kill herself harvesting the farm because she had refused to ask for help. As soon as snow started falling, as soon as he left the weather carefully controlled by the weather pegasi, he should have returned to Hoofington and waited for the next day.
Instead of doing the smart thing though, he had kept on trudging onwards until he had lost all sight of the path and had no hope of ever tracing his way back. The snow had seen to that, filling in his hoof-prints nearly as soon as he had made them.
So Big Mac had kept on walking, hoping that he would come across anything that he would be able to use as shelter. Everything looked bad, but if he was careful, he would get through the night just fine and have a new lesson to teach to Applebloom.
That had been his plan, at least until he had seen the hat.
It was an innocuous little thing just lying there half buried under the snow, but Big Mac had felt a chill of worry run through his heart when he first saw it. Tall, pointy, and purple, the once proud thing drooped low and the gold and blue stars that looked to have been sewn on with an ever loving stitch looked dull and stained. He felt like he had seen it somewhere before, but he couldn't quite recall where. Maybe his sister, or one of her friends would know.
Either way, Big Mac had known that there was a very big chance whoever the hat belonged to was in trouble. Never let it be said that Big Mac wouldn't rush to the aid of anypony who needed it. His ma and pa had raised him that way, and if somepony was just as lost in the forest as him there was a much higher chance of the two surviving the growing blizzard together.
Grabbing the hat up out of the snow, Big Mac carefully stowed it away in his cart. He was sure that whoever was out in the storm with him would greatly appreciate its safe return.
"Hello!" Big Mac had shouted into the forest, loud enough to be heard over the howling wind. "Is anypony out there?"
There had been no response, but that didn't stop Big Mac. "You don't have to be afraid!
It was in that moment that Big Mac made his greatest mistake. As he took a step forward, the ground crumbled away from beneath him. For just a second, he felt his heart in his throat, but gravity took hold and he fell.
He woke up in terrible pain, feeling like molten lead had been poured into his hind leg. He screamed. He screamed until his throat felt like it was tearing itself apart, and then he screamed some more.
Being a farm pony, Big Mac was not a stranger to pain. He had hurt himself countless times on the farm before, had broken limbs, torn his skin and burned himself more times than he could count. This pain though, was completely different. It was unlike anything he had ever experienced, and the little part of his mind that could still think wished for death.
By the time Big Mac came to his senses, night had fallen and the snow fell even heavier than before. His body was covered in a thin sheet of snow, and he felt a deadly chill along with the mind-numbing pain.
With a groan, Big Mac tried to roll over, immediately coming to regret that decision. The pain returned as harshly as it could, and Big Mac almost lost consciousness for a second time. Darkness tinged his vision, and each breath that he took was a struggle.
After what felt like an eternity, he let out a long, breathy, "Nope."
Looking back at his leg, Big Mac almost threw up, quickly looking away. It was almost completely unrecognizable, bending in ways that it was never meant to bed, bone sticking straight up through his skin. Blood had soaked through the snow around him, freezing into his coat. Dark patches of red against much lighter red.
"Oh, Celestia," he murmured, wondering how he hadn't bit his tongue off when he had blacked out.
He dropped his head back down into the snow, taking deep, steady breaths.
Looking out, Big Mac looked over to see the hat he had found lying a few feet away, upside down and partly covered in snow. He hoped that whoever it belonged to would be safe. Maybe they would make it out when he wasn't able to.
His heart felt strange, beating irregularly in his chest. He could feel his blood spurting out from his leg at each beat, almost lazily trickling down to the snow underneath him.
As he literally felt the life pouring out from his body, Big Mac wondered how Applejack and Apple Bloom would take the news of his death. Granny would be sad he was sure, but she had experienced so much in her long life and they would see each other soon. He couldn't imagine that she would spend much time mourning, instead being the rock that his sisters would so desperately need. Just like she had been for him when Ma and Pa had died.
Big Mac was glad for that.
He took a shuddering breath, his ribs aching as his lungs struggled for air.
"Ah love ya, AJ," Big Mac whispered, drawing his final breath. "Bloom."
He closed his eyes, his heart at peace and ready to die.
The only sound he could hear was the snow falling to the ground and the wind whistling through the trees.
"You found Trixie's hat!"
Big Mac cracked an eye open at the sound of the happy voice.
A unicorn mare with light blue fur and a purple cape to match the hat he found was standing triumphantly over him, smiling as she held the hat in her magic. She looked down at him with a gleam in her eye. "Trixie thought she would never see it again!"
With a flourish, the mare, Trixie apparently, placed the hat on her head. For a moment, Big Mac could have sworn that he saw fireworks erupting behind her, but it was at that moment that he lost consciousness.
Big Mac never expected to wake again. He thought that when he opened his eyes he would find himself surrounded by all of those that he had lost in his relatively short life, beginning a quiet watch that wouldn't end until all those they had left behind returned to them. There would be a celebration then, and it wouldn't end. He expected to see Faust's Paradise.
Instead, he found himself lying in front of a warm fire, Trixie sitting a few feet away with her hat suspended by her magic. She was humming a happy tune as she patched up the rather sorry piece of cloth.
"You are awake." She turned to look at him, a pleased smile on her face. "Trixie is glad. It would have been a shame for the savior of Trixie's hat to die. You have my thanks, kind stallion."
Big Mac blinked, confused. He didn't feel like was in as much pain, and glancing back at his leg showed that Trixie had seen to bandage it up as best as she was able, splinting it up.
"Ya... thank you." Big Mac felt that words would never be enough for the gratitude that welled up in his heart. He ignored the raw feeling of his throat, instead trying to pour as much gratitude as possible into his thanks. "Ya saved my life."
"It was not a problem." Trixie sniffed proudly, inspecting the work she had done on the hat. She gave a proud nod of approval before setting it down beside her and standing on all four hooves. She stretched like a cat before trotting over to Big Mac's side. "Trixie would never let a potential fan perish when she could render assistance."
Big Mac couldn't think of anything to say to that, feeling incredibly light headed. His vision spun ever so lightly, and he had trouble focusing on Trixie as she inspected his bandaging.
"There is no need to be alarmed," Trixie murmured comfortingly. "Trixie has given you quite potent medicine. You should be proud. It was the last that Trixie had in her cart. She shall have to get more when she passes through a town again."
"Thank you," Big Mac murmured, truly thankful.
"It is not a problem," Trixie said with a flick of her hair, apparently pleased with her work. "Trixie believes that you shall live."
She stepped back over to the fire, sitting down in such a way that she could easily watch him and the forest surrounding them with minimal effort. They sat together in silence for a few moments, neither knowing quite what to say.
"What is your name?" Trixie asked, her voice quiet. "You already know Trixie's name. It is only fair to know yours."
"Big Macintosh," he spoke quietly, trying not to do anything to aggravate his voice than he had to.
"Big Macintosh," Trixie repeated to herself. "Are you a member of the Apple family?"
He gave a quick nod of his head.
"Hmm." Trixie frowned, ducking her head in what looked like shame to Big Mac. "Trixie is acquaintances with a few members of the Apple family. She is regretful that she has hurt more than a few in her travels."
He didn't say anything, keeping his gaze on the mare. Whatever Trixie had done, she had also saved him. That meant a lot in his book. Apple's could be stubborn, but they also knew how to forgive. Saving him, Trixie had wiped away whatever little sin she had committed against his family.
Meeting his eyes, Trixie frowned, biting her bottom lip. "Trixie is sorry, but she doesn't have any food. If she did, she would offer you some."
"It's alright," Big Mac whispered. "Ya've done enough."
"That is kind of you." Trixie blushed, ducking her head. "Trixie wishes that she could do more though."
Big Mac looked around at his surroundings for the first time. High above, he could see the ledge that he had fallen off of. He had fallen into a small clearing, dotted with large mounds of snow. His cart lay in a pile of timber and torch-wood behind him, partly covered in snow. Trixie's cape lay over his side, covering him as much as possible, giving him as much warmth as it could. Big Mac felt a pang of thankfulness run through his heart, thanking Celestia, Luna, and Faust for his luck. Trixie finding him in his time of need was the absolute best possible thing that could have happened.
"Ya've done more than enough," Big Mac murmured. He gave her a shaky smile, watching as the flames danced magically across Trixie's face. "Thank you, Trixie."
"You are welcome, Big Macintosh." Trixie smiled, a true thing that made Big Mac's heart race.
"Ya' can call me, Big Mac."
"Big Mac." Trixie tested the name out, giving a short nod. "That is a good nickname. It fits you."
Glancing back at the remains of Big Mac's cart, Trixie frowned. "It is a shame. I lost my trailer in these woods."
"Ya can replace things," Big Mac said. "Ya can't replace ponies. We both were lucky to only lose our carts."
"Yes." An unreadable expression passed over Trixie's face for just a moment, but it was gone just as quickly as it had come and Big Mac wasn't sure what it had meant. "Only our carts."
Trixie stood again, looking at her hat. She smiled nostalgically at it, before lifting it with her magic and walking back over to Big Mac. "Trixie would like you to have this."
Big Mac looked at her hat, than back at Trixie. "Are ya sure?"
"Yes." Trixie gave a quick bob of her head, smiling gratefully at him. "Trixie is... I am sure."
She placed the hat down next to him, running a loving hoof across its fabric one last time before sitting down next to the stallion with a little sigh. "There is a lot that I regret in my life. There is a lot that I wish I could atone for."
"Ya still have a chance." His throat was still sore, but Big Mac felt like this mare deserved his thoughts. "It is never too late."
"It is for me." Trixie sighed. "I am afraid that Trixie has passed the point of no return."
"It is never too late," Big Mac repeated, firmer this time. As firm as he could with such a hoarse voice.
"You are a sweet stallion, Big Macintosh." Trixie smiled at him, reaching a hoof out and running it along his jaw. "What were you doing in the middle of nowhere during such a horrible storm? Why aren't you safe asleep in a bed somewhere, waiting out this storm with the rest of the ponies?"
Ducking his head, Big Mac frowned. "I was stupid and stubborn. Thought I could make it home to Ponyville before nightfall."
"So you didn't have a death wish?" Trixie raised an eyebrow, giving him a little smirk. "You are just stubborn then."
"Eyup." Big Mac felt his cheeks flush in shame. "It's an Apple thing."
"It is nothing to be ashamed of," Trixie murmured comfortingly. "Every pony has their flaws. You are alive. You will learn and grow. It is the way the world works."
"I was stupid." Big Mac rested his head on his arms, looking deep into the flames of the fire. "I should have stayed at the hotel."
"Probably." Trixie agreed. "I should have done the same. Every pony always forgets that the large majority of the weather in Equestria is still wild. If there isn't a town nearby, then it's really just a waste of bits to have weather pegasi managing every square inch of land every day of the year. The Everfree isn't the only unmanageable bastion out there."
"Hmmm." Big Mac hadn't known that. You learned something new everyday. "Never knew that."
"As I said," Trixie grinned. "Every pony forgets."
They fell silent, letting the crackling of the fire fill the quiet, a comfortable feeling.
Big Mac turned his head to look at Trixie, a soft smile on his muzzle. "What are ya doing out in forest in such a terrible storm? Why aren't [i]you[/i] safe asleep in your bed?"
"The storm snuck up on me." Trixie blushed, giving a quiet cough of embarrassment. "I was lucky to find this overhang."
"We both were."
"Indeed." Trixie laughed. "It was lucky for you to fall and break your leg."
"It was lucky for me to find your hat." Big Mac countered back.
"Yes." Trixie conceded the point. "Yes, it really was."
She fell quiet for a moment, but Big Mac could see the gears spinning in her head. She chewed on her bottom lip, and he was quickly coming to think that it was her way of chewing over a thought.
"I am a magician." She gave a hollow laugh, looking pointedly at her hat and cape. "The Great and Powerful Trixie, traveling showmare."
She stood up at that, holding her head proudly high, but Big Mac could see the shame running through her.
"If there was one thing that I could change," Trixie whispered, her eyes large as they filled with tears. "I would never have become a magician. It was that single decision that ruined my life. It made me arrogant and prideful, and I spent so much time focussing on getting ponies to love and adore me that I ignored everything important in life."
She looked mournfully down at the attentive stallion, a sad smile on her face. "I never made any friends. I ran from my family. I shunned love. All that it ever got me in return was a pile full of bits or a mob running me out of town. I wasted my life."
"You still have time." Big Mac felt a stirring in his heart that he hadn't felt since his school crush. Looking at the small blue mare, he felt nothing but contentment at his situation. He might have struck out on his own and gotten himself completely lost, but it had led to him meeting this beautiful mare. Looking around, he saw no sign of the cart she had spoken of, and he had a feeling deep in his stomach that she was in as dire a situation as he was. There was only one thing he could do.
"Trixie," Big Mac spoke, following the stirrings of his heart. "I don't know what ya did before, and I don't really care. What I see is a mare who is eager to start over."
With a grunt of pain, he shifted gingerly to face her, ignoring her quiet protests. He put a hoof on hers, looking into her eyes.
"If you would like," Big Mac said. "There is always a room at Sweet Apple Acres for you. My family would love to meet you, and we'd treat you like one of our own."
"You are a wonderful stallion, Big Macintosh." Trixie stood. "Never let anypony tell you otherwise."
"I was being just as stubborn as you, apparently." Trixie admitted in a sad voice. "I was actually making my way to Ponyville, to meet someone and try and amends. I got lost, and then you fell into my hooves."
Glancing at the fire, Trixie looked up at the night sky above them, still filled with storm clouds. "We should get some sleep. Hopefully the storm will have let up by morning. We can get you to help."
After helping Big Mac get closer to the fire, Trixie curled up close to him. They would need every bit of warmth to get through the night.
Trixie woke Big Mac up a couple of hours after dawn.
"You've been busy," Big Mac noted. He took in the contraption that Trixie had wheeled before him with a critical eye. "How long did it take you to build that thing?"
"Well..." Trixie blushed, glancing away. "Most of the night, actually."
She held her head up proudly though at his disbelieving gaze. "It was worth it, Big Mac."
Turning his gaze back to what amounted to the world's strangest looking wheel-sling, Big Mac felt that stirring in his heart grow. There was absolutely no way that he would have been able to make it back to Hoofington on his own, and they had both known it. His leg was in such a state that he wouldn't have been able to take more than a single step without collapsing.
Trixie had known that and instead of waiting till the morning to deal with the problem, she had instead spent the entire night making him a wheel-sling for him to use.
At it's most basic level, a wheel-sling functioned as a fifth leg for a disabled pony. It worked by using a saddle and sling to hold the ponies weight on a wheel-bound fifth "leg", allowing a pony to get around with much more ease than would otherwise have been possible. The fact that Trixie had been able to construct even such a crude one in only a few hours was nothing short of miraculous.
"Thank you." Big Mac gave her a smile from the bottom of his heart, and she blushed, looking away in embarrassment.
It took both them quite a bit of effort, even with Trixie's magic, to get Big Mac situated as comfortably in the wheel-sling as possible. After almost an hour of fiddling though, both were certain that they weren't going to be able to get it any better. With a last sorrowful look at the remains of his cart, Big Mac set off, following Trixie as she led him through the forest.
They walked in silence for the first part of their journey, a comfortable thing that neither felt the need to break. Big Mac was pleased to find that he still enjoyed the mare's company, and that whatever drugs he had been on last night had not been the reason for his infatuation. His leg still roared in pain, but he did his best to ignore it, only giving off the occasional whimper when the wheel sling jostled against it.
The sun cleared its way through the storm clouds around noon by Big Mac's estimation, and the forest was slowly falling away, the trees further and further apart the longer they travelled. It wasn't until he noticed that he had just passed a lone sapling growing out of what looked like an unending expanse of white that he realized they were free from the forest.
Trixie gave a cry of triumph that startled Big Mac, nearly causing him to topple over. It was only thanks to her rushing up to his side to steady him that he managed to stay upright.
"Trixie has... I found the path." Trixie spoke sheepishly, pointing a hoof down at a patch of bare earth peeking out from the snow covering everything around it. She hopped forward, sweeping away more snow with her tail to reveal that it indeed was the path that he had lost yesterday.
Taking a moment to orient himself in terms of the path, Big Mac placed one of his forehoofs on the bare earth, closing his eyes. There were times that he really appreciated being an earth pony. As long as he could feel the earth under him, he always knew which was north. It only took him a few seconds to pick the rough direction of Ponyville. "We need to go that way."
Trixie gave a short nod of her head.
Big Mac started walking, but paused when he didn't hear Trixie's hoofsteps behind him. Stopping, he glanced over his shoulder to find the mare smiling gratefully at him.
With an almost melancholic bounce to her step, she trotted up to his side, nuzzling him thankfully. "Trixie is glad... I am glad that you found me. I wish that we could have met before all of this. Maybe things would have been different."
"Ya have a chance now." Big Mac wondered to himself how long he could convince her to stay in Ponyville. He would like the chance to get to know her, on many different levels.
"Thank you, Big Macintosh." With a flourish, Trixie's horn lit up and she carefully placed her hat on Big Mac's head. "I want you to have this. I made it myself after I got my cutie mark, when I was just filly."
Glancing up at the brim of the hat, just hanging into the edge of his vision, Big Mac gave Trixie a warm smile. "I'll take good care of it, Trixie."
They fell back into silence, continuing on towards home.
Twilight Sparkle awoke to frantic knocking at her door. The purple unicorn shot up straight in her bed with a startled cry as somepony broke down her door.
Jumping out of her bed, Twilight instantly recognized the voice of Applejack, one her closest friends. "I'm up here-"
Before she could even finish her sentence Applejack had already bounded up the stairs and into her bedroom, plowing into Twilight and sending both of them sprawling to the floor.
"Twilight, ya have to come quick!" Applejack ignored the fact that she had broken into her friends house without invitation, and the moment that Twilight saw her panicked eyes she felt that it was definitely excusable. "It's Big Mac! He's hurt!"
Almost without a thought, Twilight teleported the two of them upright, focussed and ready to help. "Where is he, Applejack?"
"The hospital!" Applejack looked on the verge of tears. "We have to hurr-"
Before she could finish, Twilight had already cast her teleportation spell. In a flash of blinding purple light, the two of them appeared in the lobby of Ponyville's only hospital. The nurse at the front desk fell out of her chair in surprise at their sudden appearance, and a baby started wailing in its parent's hooves, but Twilight ignored all of that.
"Applejack, which room?" Twilight demanded from her orange earth pony friend.
"Twelve!" Applejack pulled her hat on tighter to her head, bouncing on her hooves in worry.
Twilight rushed down the hall, Applejack following close behind her. One, two, three, four, five, Twilight counted in her head as she passed each door. "Twelve!"
She skidded to a stop, taking half a second to catch her breath. She glanced at Applejack, who was practically vibrating in nervousness. "Are you ready, Applejack?"
"Yeah." Applejack nodded firmly, worrying away at her lip. "Apple Bloom is getting Granny."
With a nod, Twilight opened the door and stepped into the hospital room. She gasped in shock at the sight that greeted her. Glancing back at Applejack, she watched as tears filled the mare's eyes. She looked back into the hospital room to see Big Mac laying still on the bed, his hind leg suspended from a sling above the bed. He was either asleep or unconscious, and Twilight couldn't rightly tell which.
She stepped aside to let Applejack move to stand beside her.
"What happened, Applejack?" Twilight scrunched her brow up in confusion. "How did Big Mac get hurt?"
"I don't know!" Applejack sat back on her hind-legs, taking her hat in her forehooves and worrying at its brim. "I was at the market when Lyra and Bon Bon found him. Lyra rushed him to the hospital and Bon Bon ran to tell me. Said that he had stumbled into town half delirious, with a bandage on his leg soaked through in blood."
Twilight stepped closer to Big Mac, studying the binding of his leg before lifting his chart from its pin at the end of the bed. As she read over it, her eyes widened in astonishment. "Oh Faust! Big Mac is a very luck stallion."
"What?" Applejack tried to read over Twilight's shoulder but the chart was practically indecipherable. "What's wrong?"
"He..." Before Twilight even started to explain, she caught sight of the extremely familiar sight of Trixie Lulamoon's hat on the small bedside table. "Trixie..."
"Did Bon Bon say anything about Trixie being with him?" She turned to Applejack.
"No!" Applejack shook her head, honestly not caring about some cruel magician who had done her best to show her up at every chance she had had. "What's wrong with Big Mac?"
Twilight shook her head, looking back at the chart in her magic. "He's suffering from exposure to the elements, frostbite, extreme blood loss, and his leg is suffering from a compound fracture. It's a miracle that he even made it back to Ponyville."
"What happened to him?" Applejack put a hoof lovingly on her older brother's cheek. "How did he get so hurt?"
"I don't know." Twilight shrugged. "We'll have to wait until he can tell us."