"I'm pregnant."

Brows inched higher above widening eyes as stunned air wafted out of limply gaping lips, barrel sagging and kept from the floor only by stiff shoulders. A hoof twitched momentarily on the floor, coarse fetlocks rustling across the cool boards, barely louder than the shrieking wind beyond the window. Snow peppered the glass as frigid gusts fought and battled against the panes, eager to spoil the cozy warmth of the nest, but left instead to pool in glistening drifts in the corners alongside fellows long since fallen. An eye twitched, briefly obscuring the trio of glimmering stars valiantly striving through the wind and the chill and the gloom to preserve the twinkly charm of winter's most magical evening.

"Yeah, turns out that those bimonthly physicals with the 'Bolts check everything. So the Doc noticed my hormones were out of whack, ran a few more tests, and… yeah. Awesome, right?"

Stars twinkled within the room also, given life by the strands of shimmering tinsel looped beneath the lamp and sent forth to dance on the muted yellow walls. Stout furniture, expertly hewn and polished to an earthy sheen, stood to attention around them. Broad tomes contemplating the abstract reaches of mathematics or perfecting the science of agriculture mingled comfortably alongside tales of heroism and sporting annuals. Moist goggles sat atop a dank pile of lycra, itself strewn lovingly over the reams of financial records that he had been dragged away from some time ago. Thick sheets and duvets had been ripped from their crisp state and curled into a soft, warm cocoon, almost begging for two ponies to snuggle into it.

All around, those same two ponies, and several more besides, smiled out from framed memories. And blushed. And cuddled. And kissed. And bit back a gasp as the other strained her barely healed wings to reclaim her spot at the very top of everyone's game.

"Mac?" Bright magenta sparkled through the haze for just a moment.

A light dusting of crunchy snow coated the countryside beyond the glass, ready to bring peals of foalish delight and wonder to anypony who so much as dipped a hoof out their door come the morning. In the valley below and in the shadow of the gleaming castle, Ponyville slept as soundly as possible on such a wondrous night. Colts and fillies jittered fitfully under their blankets or else lay wide-eyed and waiting; their parents slumped nearby, eager for the sweet comfort of fleeting rest before the day ahead; those old enough to appreciate the familiar warmth of the holiday simply curled up into it, soundly slumbering in their own nests and with the most important ponies in their own lives.

"Y'still there, big guy?" Blue flickered in an impatient heartbeat.

High above all of this, a myriad apple trees enjoyed their own peaceful rest, boughs dormant under thick blankets tied expertly into place. For miles beyond the window, his farm, home, and very heritage rose up from the earth, beyond which lay the snoozing fields for their own staples and vegetables. And in the centre of it all lay the centrepiece of their property. The house stood tall, proud, and strong amongst the season; its sturdy apple wood, the loving craft of a bushel of Apple hooves, and the ingenuity of his Apple forebears more than a match for any icy blast thrown its way.

"Big Mac? Did you hear me?" Gleaming white could still be spotted, but it begged for more than a flickered glance.

Right below his hooves, the kitchen sat spotless for the first time in weeks. Countless parcels of puffy pastry, fluffy cakes, and hearty apple goodness had been whisked away to bring sweet comfort to the rest of the town, with enough left to keep the table heaving and groaning under a promised feast to come. A giant, shimmering web of green, red, and gold hung from every ceiling, while usual earthy, muted scent of the living room had been freshened by the spindly conifer given pride of place in its centre. The furniture had been angled into a dutiful shrine to the strange yet most welcome visitor and the bounty of gifts spilling from beneath its branches.

"Come on, stud. Say something." Brows crashed down so fast he almost felt the air whip at him.

Something giddy kindled in his chest, remembering the scowl on his baby sister's muzzle and the doe-eyed, heart-tugging pleas to just open one present that night as he lifted her comfortably from the melange earlier that afternoon. Bloom was surely safe and sound asleep right now, nuzzling into the pillows he'd freshly fluffed for her, plum tuckered out from the pitched snowball fight with her fellow Crusaders. Maybe she would take in a wide, squeaky yawn and stretch her tired little legs, before curling up even further into her toasty blanket, snatching up the new teddy that Apple Rose had made for her.

"Babe? Hello?" Clip-clops reverberated around ears that merely flicked the grievance away.

If Bloom was likely asleep, AJ would have probably melted into her bed by now. She had managed to eke out scraps of downtime these past two weeks, working around the yard and tieing up all the loose ends while Mac hauled their final deliveries for the year. But then the last two days had come, and she had run herself right off her hooves again, baking enough apple treats to feed all of Ponyville three times over before rushing around the farm at his side, tending to the orchards one last time before the snow hit.

At least she would be content, now. Sprawled out under her comforter, her aching limbs soothed by the tender embrace of cotton and wool. A hazy smile would ease into place as she nuzzled into her beau's pillow and dreamed of having the real stallion by her side, all under the watchful gaze of two green buttons from her bedside table. If that morning was anything to go by…

"Don't make me, don't... Sweetheart? Honey? You haven't breathed in a minute; kinda' freaking out, here..."

He probably shouldn't have laughed. Scratch that, he definitely shouldn't have; it took some getting re-used to dragging himself into a cold bed once Dash started her tours with the Wonderbolts. He of all ponies knew the comfort of having his Dashie's scent nearby, of drinking in the pillow caressed by her cheek, laced with the sweaty crackle of her mane, and drizzled by her tongue during her most elegant, snoring lay-in. But AJ's spluttering, rosy-cheeked, voice-cracking denial had tipped him over the edge.

"I mean, I get it; it's not everyday you find out you've knocked up the most awesome mare in Equestria, but you could at least say something to her?"

And Granny… well, sleeping through the night was never a sure thing for her, between the osteoarthritis and her refusal to let anypony get her a new mattress. But whether she was gently rocking in her chair, teasing some of the flock's offerings into a new sweater for one of her great-great nieces, quietly practicing her flamenco for her next trip to Las Pegasus, or if she had actually managed to drift into the land of nod in peace and comfort, he was certain that she was happy.

Winona was probably—

"Maaac!"

The sonic boom in his ears sent sparks coursing through his body, streaking down his limbs to jolt his hooves against the floor while his neck jerked upright, scattering the carefully considered musings into a joyous jumble. Mac blinked slowly, lids scraping across parched eyes, cheeks grudging to stretch as he yawned and welcomed fresh, sweet air back into his lungs. Two words rose from the melee. Two simple, wonderful words that flared a deep, intense warmth from the very core of his being. What little breath he had hitched and stuttered in his dampening nose, as white hot butterflies teased his eyes.

He dragged his gaze away from the floor and met that of Rainbow Dash mere inches from the end of his muzzle. Blazing magenta bore into him from beneath leaden brows and atop pinched cheeks as her scowl fought for room. It was a losing battle, however. He could see her lips twitch, threatening to drag themselves up in service of the vibrance dancing in her eyes.

And the wings fidgeting at her sides.

"Nice of you to rejoin us, Mac," she huffed, snorting right in his muzzle as her own levelled out. Tingles flowed from his nostrils while they bathed in her zesty essence.

A smile dared to venture across his lips. "Sorry, darlin'..." Mac lifted his hoof from the floor, unable to tell if it was shaking or if the room was truly swaying as his heart thundered in his ears, before bringing it down to gently stroke at her foreleg. His breath steadied yet the fizzy warmth remained, filling every inch of him as he revelled in her touch. "Got lost in my head for a moment."

"Yeah, I'm not surprised…" Dash bounced as she laughed, her grin finally breaking free and lighting the room far brighter than the bulbs above ever could. Mac could do little more than bask in his Dashie's pearly radiance, each scratchy giggle tenderly caressing his ears and teasing his smile into a full beam. Those two words continued to echo through his mind. "It's a lot to take in, h-uh?"

He didn't miss the stumble, the wheezy little hitch before her mouth settled into her usual, easy, comfortable grin, proudly trying to mask the the trembling tightness in her cheeks. Nor did he miss the wetness pooling in her eyes as she allowed her head to cock, the magenta shimmering in defiance of her many blinking attempts to clear the offending emotion.

Allowing himself a rumbling chuckle, Mac leant forward and tenderly pressed his nose to the peak of her cheek. "Eeyup." Even as a huff washed against his shoulder, he could still feel her cheek bunch further as he rested there, salty fluids spilling onto his nose. As though dusting porcelain, Mac traced his cheek across Dash's, whisking the traitorous tears away while savouring the touch of her soft coat against his. His wither effortlessly cupped her chin and she mashed her nose into his fur. Mac took his chance to slump into her mane and drown in her heady mix. The crisp, metallic chill of incoming rain, the crackle of static, the fruity hints of cider, the musky tang of sweat, and a myriad other hints all wafted comfortingly around his head as he lay, gently supping the most wonderful scent known to equine. "Life changin', even."

If somepony were to bottle this, he would make them the richest pony in Equestria. As their only customer.

Another shudder passed through Dash as he basked in her pleasant yet fiery presence. "Yeah… eah..." she gasped, pulling her chin away and sniffling. Mac could almost feel her eyes rolling as he teased at her mane, before she shimmied and wiped away her remaining tears, chuffing as though that would banish them completely. "And…" Dash stiffly placed her hoof down and angled into his side, voice thrumming on his neck as she dragged her cheek up through his mane. Endless red stalks stood to attention, saluting their goddess as she graced them with her touch. "So how do you feel?" She drew in a thick, lingering whiff of his mane, a whinny desperately strained in his barrel. He buried himself deeper between her wings. "Or is that a stupid question…" Her chin pulled away from his neck, replaced by the crisp wash of her breath wafting over his ears, grinning audibly.

"Daddy?"

Mac glanced down at Dashie, breath catching and his heart thundering, at the soft blue coat still and calm beneath him. Like a familiar pond on a relaxed autumn evening. The pinkish glow of her eyes could pass for the pillowy clouds above, made rosy by the departing sun, yet still bright enough to bless the evening with a glittering rainbow. He could almost taste the succulence of the recent rain, mixing with the woody scent of the grateful orchard. Most of him wanted to simply curl up at the edge of that pond, which had brought so much warmth and joy to his every moment.

"Hmm… Daddy," he rumbled, reaching a hoof up to stroke Dash's flank. "Might take some gettin' used to."

Pegasus perfection shimmied against him as she nestled ever more deeply against his barrel. "Yep," she squeaked.

But a little bit of him didn't. And it was the same part that took up a soused pegasus's offer of a hoof-wrassle all those months ago, declined her offer of a date the following evening in exchange for throwing the match, and watched her pout when her hoof hit the deck. It had then reminded her, and himself, that he wouldn't have been free until the weekend. And it was that same part that had him peck her flaming cheek.

Time to throw a rock into those still waters.

"'Specially from you, darlin'. Suspect it'd make things awkward when yer folks next visit." He grinned.

She scoffed, shaking her head while chuckles brewed in his gut. "Typical." A snort ruffled his fur. "You think of the perfect gift for a stallion and he just has to ruin it."

A laugh finally sputtered free as he sank into her back. "Don't think you thought all that much about this gift, Dashie." A few more spilled out while he basked in her warmth.

They withered in his throat the moment she stiffened under him. The lush forest in his mind's eye vanished behind a wall of wind and water towering high above. At the frothy peak, surrounded by a swarm of pegasi in blue and yellow, hovered a familiar rainbow streak. From even up there, that smug, glinty smirk consumed him.

"You're right," she barked, voice slicing into him, eyes burning into the floor. Her head bobbed in considered nods, her bottom lip thrusted out. "It's not like I'm going to have to carry somepony's monster foal for the next ten months, worrying about how to make everything right for when it's born, making sure that I eat right and don't strain myself too hard to stay in shape." Her wings rose and she cocked her hip outwards, training her eyes one him. His throat clenched and his hind hooves tremored, one even shuffling across the floorboards. "And it's not like I've got any career to stay in shape for, right?" A brow rose above blazing pink.

He hadn't… he hadn't just ruined this moment, had he?

No. He blinked. A storm blustered behind her hard eyes and stony face, but it had to battle against the dying embers of the earlier warmth. He needed to stoke them "Dash…" He strode forwards, raising a hoof to her cheek. He needed to leave humour to ponies who knew what they were doing. "Hon—"

"And!" Her own hoof batted his aside and poked into his chest. He could barely hear his own grunt over his backside plonking onto the floor. He blinked down dumbly at her glimmering smile. "I definitely haven't got to worry about anything in the long run, have I?" She strained up on her hooftips, brows quirking and her smile dangerously sharp. He leant back in time to soften the nuzzle against his chest and spare himself another winding. "No need to fly off and leave the most precious thing in the world for weeks at a time if I want to do what I'm best at."

Mac chanced the moment to wrap his hooves around her, his heart soaring as her lithe chest squeezed into his. But her could not prevent their tumble, his back sprawling harshly against the unforgiving boards, her chin jabbing squarely into his ribs. Somewhere, despite the stinging on both sides of his barrel, a deep chuckle brewed deep within.

And despite the crackles and sparkles wandering hazily across the ceiling.

Dashie's squeak blasted them into the ether. Blinking, he rounded his eyes to her own. Their smug glint remained, but the giddiness once again sparkled behind it. She snorted, wriggling her shoulders to inch herself back into her familiar perch atop his chest. Eyes never leaving his own, she draped herself across him, head cocked. "No times where I'm gonna' be called to the end of the freaking world to sort stuff out."

"Darlin'..." Before he could hold them back his forelegs rushed to cradle her once again, to assure her how sorry he was.

Her wings batted him away once more. He held back the groan.

"Nope. No hug's gonna' change my mind. I gave this no thought at all, you're right," she declared, hoof pressed to his chin.

Mac blinked. She was laying on top of him, her elbows jabbing at his ribs, her hind hooves sprawled out and barely reaching his haunches. She was a leaf atop a mighty oak. And yet under her steely gaze, her ironclad brows and the sheer, crushing smirk, he was an ant. He was nothing.

He was thoroughly outplayed.

He gulped. "I'm sorry, Dash." He nuzzled her hoof, smiling as his warm breath ruffled her fur. He was sure her lips twitched. "I didn't mean that, and I spoke without thinkin'." He pecked her frog and he felt the sumptuous giggles ripple through her. "I can tell you from the bottom o' my heart this is the most thoughtful gift I could ever have. 'Sides you."

She withdrew her hoof and snorted, but it swiftly descended into a series of short chuffs as she bounced on him. "Really."

"Eeyup." Her wings remained still as he stroked her flank, smile surging. "I know how lucky I am.."

She settled her chin flush against the peak of his chest, humming softly. Her lips popped. "Sure ya do."

"Eeyup." Her cheek lay defenceless mere inches from his muzzle. He helped himself to a heady rush of its fuzz against his lips. "N'I'll be there for you." He took in a deep draught of her scent and she shuddered against him. "Every step of the way, darlin'."

She shot out another snort, this one wet and slightly wheezing, before pulling her head back to face him. Her head still cocked, her eyes still glinting, but blinking rapidly as the glare softened. "Okay, fiiine." Her mouth gaped in a gawking grimace as she held the note, eyes almost rolling all the way to town. "I won't kick my kid's drama-llama father to the kerb for a bad joke, then." Grunting, she eased her chin back into place on his sternum. "If" she purred, "he answers my question…"

Mac's eyes roved the face that had once swum hazily in his dreams and now swam in the bleary vision of his waking moments alongside his nightly musings. Over her sonorous eyes beneath softly twitching lids and the damp streaks that she had chased away from them. Over her peachy cheeks and towards her lips, curled into a downy smile that blurred his vision once more.

Mac allowed his bulky snout to rest alongside her petite nose, drinking in the soft shuffles of air and letting his eyes fall softly closed. She shared her very breath with him, her spicy, essence skating through his lungs only to grace one of the mighty boughs in his heart with her presence. She lounged and lingered and snoozed to her utter contentment, all the while her boundless energy seeped deeper into his deepest roots.

A stronger whoosh wafted over his face and Mac cracked his eyes open. He nickered gently as Dashie's smile grew wider yet somehow softer, and she nuzzled his coarse coat.

Mac inched his snout forwards and pressed his muzzle to her nose. "Ah feel like the happiest stallion in Equestria, darlin'."

"Nope." Mac glanced down and was greeted by her eyes, wide and bright and shimmering back up at him. Mac stiffened as her primaries tickled at his side, before she pounced with a hint of a grin, clasping her wings into his thick coat. He melted into syrupy, burbling comfort, cradled in her fluffy embrace. "Already claimed that one, big guy."

Fresh tears streamed down her bunched cheeks as her eyes continued to hold his own, Mac unable to do anything but stare back at her. At the puddle of pegasus nearly shattering his ribs with both her wings and his own heart.

Or perhaps with the hooves suddenly jamming into him as she vaulted upright. "Wait! I-I didn't mean that!"

Mac silently chuckled through the pops and crackles in his sight and the burning in his lungs. Two quick blinks cleared his view in time for it to focus on the blur of mane above him as Dashie shook her head. She stopped, staring back at him, eyes wide and frantic. "I mean…" Her eyes slipped away from his and down to his chest. Her hoof twisting against his chest somehow sliced him open despite barely grazing his fur. "I did, just…" She chewed her lip. Mac touched a hoof to hers, rubbing softly as her chest slowed to a mere galloping heave. "Just… just not all of it, you know?"

It wasn't a question he needed to answer. And yet, the sight of his mare atop his chest, shying away behind her locks, devastatingly small, seemingly oblivious to the warmth and joy washing from him to her meant that he did.

Mac moved his hoof to cup her cheek, daring to angle his mare's face towards his own. Her eyes flickered back to him and she sank into his frog. "Eeyup." That wonderful smile bloomed back across her muzzle, joined by the rosy glow in her cheeks that settled his heart.

"I mean…" Dash slipped from his hoof and drizzled herself back across him, treating his heart to the steady buzz of her own. Mac sighed, eyes comfortably warm. His hoof followed her down, draping over Dashie's back, keeping her close. "I've never even thought I could feel this happy, you know?"

Dashie was pregnant. They were going to be parents. Blood pounded in his ears as he stroked her mane, swimming in her scent. He was going to be a father. "Eeyup." Hot salt flashed down his cheeks, his smile unbidden.

"It's… I can't even describe it!" Mac could feel her smile growing as she rubbed her cheek into his chest like a cat, vibrating with a soft moan against him, dampness spilling into his coat. Her tails swished across his shanks. "It's like... like there's a million butterf— falcons in my gut… and they're all making sonic rainbooms! All at once!"

He tore his hoof away from her mane and draped it across her taut, supple flank. Dash must have been weeks away from showing. She was yet to wake him with a burning in her throat or ask him for curry sauce to be spooned over her morning fritters. Rudimentary biology reminded him that their foal was—he knew in his heart of hearts—little more than a speck of cells tucked up against a soft, fleshy wall nowhere near his hoof at that moment, no clue of how desperately cherished it was.

"It's… it's incredible, Mac…" He pawed at her side tenderly, earning a moan that pricked his ears.

"Eeyup," he choked, snorting through his stuffed snout.

But it was still their little speck of cells. It was still Dashie lovingly cradling their little miracle, tucking it safely away from the world until it was good and ready. It was still their little wonder drawing life from the most incredible pony in Equestria, growing bigger and stronger by the instant, every passing moment one less until he could hold his foal in his hooves…

At least, once Dashie had snuggled her little wonderbolt into intensive care.

"And it's us…"

Mac opened his mouth but no words emerged. He traced gentle circles across his mare's side, relishing the subtle bounces of her giggles against him, mouth closing back into its soft, wide smile.

It was them. It was their job to take their spongy little jumble of limbs, fluff, and thoughts and raise it. Their duty to guide and and mould it into the best and most incredible little pony it could be. To be stood by it, biting a metaphorical hoof as it took its first wobbly steps into a big wide world, driving away the desire to shield their little miracle from life's harshness because it was their foal. And their foal could handle anything.

Was theirs a filly or a colt? Was their foal able to pierce the sky with dextrous wing or else shape the earth itself to its will with a mighty hoof? Would its destiny involve defying the very forces of nature to bring forth bountiful harvests where nought should grow, or else be devoted to safeguarding the hearts and passions of the awed crowd below? Or would it be something else entirely? A plucky inventor set to revolutionise their way of life? Fiercely curious, and ready to push the limits of their knowledge to breaking point? The noblest of shields, ready to put their life on the line and uphold the rules of their fair nation? Who would be their friends and how many would they have? Would their coat harken to the dazzling sky or the comforting hues of earth? Would they find somepony to make them feel as whole and complete and loved as he felt now?

Would their foal love him?

They flooded his mind but mattered not in the moment. All that mattered were the two ponies lounging on the boughs of his heart, one proud blue and the other a shimmering mystery, and the three things echoing through his head above the cacophony.

Dashie was pregnant.

They were going to be parents.

He was going to be a father.

"So, yeah…" A wet sniff popped Mac's eyes back open. They instantly landed on Dash's smiling face, eyes twinkling at him from her perch on his sternum. "I'm pretty happy right about now!" she shuffled forwards, tingling heat bounding across his coat at her touch, and pecked his lips softly. Dash jerked her head back up, staring down at his with steel in her gaze and a brow just as hard. "But I'm not a stallion."

Mac couldn't hold back the chuckle in his chest, followed by more as the first sent Dashie's glare crumbling.

Her name had escaped him, but he knew she was due at the farm that day in Autumn. Some earth mare from Bridlington there to discuss a possible deal for them to supply apples for her bakery beginning the next Spring. Nice mare; all smiles and sunshine when talking with AJ about costs and willing to take their first offer.

Then AJ had brought her into the yard to meet him, seeing as he would be the one to make the deliveries.

"Nope," he whispered in the present, hoof tracing its familiar path through her locks. "You're the gorgeous mare who has my heart."

Then her had smile glinted, her eyelids fluttering, and she had sashayed over to meet the handsome devil she would be seeing so much of. He had rolled his eyes, dragged them away from her ponderous plot, and told her that he was already spoken for. And yet, even as he affirmed that he was very happy with his mare, he couldn't quite keep his eyes from sneaking to her plush hips. Maybe it was the pear in him.

And then, his skinny, wiry, lean, majestic mare had landed by his side, wing stretched over him to affirm that his backside was claimed. Their new partner had recoiled, shaken her head, and apologised for overstepping the mark. Eyes glinting, the earth mare jovially spoke of her surprise at seeing such a huge workhorse with such a coltish twig; she then cantered right back over the mark by asking just how such a skinny thing worked with him.

Mac had braced, imagining the dead-eyed fury in his mare's eyes, only to burst as she chuckled and squeezed him close, assuring their guest that it was he who had to work to keep up with her. And Mac could not have nodded fast enough.

"G-got that right." Dash leaned into his touch, eyes bright and blinking rapidly.

Mac had held Dashie close while AJ, orange then laced with green, hastily waved their new business partner—Crispy Cream, that was her name—back to Cuddersfield or wherever. But the second they were alone Dash stood apart from him, grunting and jerking away from his every touch; she'd seen his eyes roving over that fatass; did he not remember who owned his?

He did.

He very much did.

He had also seen Dashie's smirk.

He was very sorry for daring to suggest that he ever had forgotten who he belonged to. And he spent a long, steamy night showing how much he adored every bit of her.

That must have been about two months ago.

"'Sides, it'd be a bit weird if you were a stallion, mama."

A smile stretched languidly across Mac's muzzle as Dash stiffened on his chest despite the warmth still burning beneath her, eyes pouring into his. She blinked, magenta shimmering. Lips parted soundlessly, cheeks flushing at the two soft syllables, soft red mingling into the sky blue. With a quiet whinny, almost too gentle, she craned her neck. Her chin thrust forward in a giddy beam that he could barely come close to matching, before melting back across his chest. She tucked her head under his chin, letting out a squeaky sigh while she wormed back into her groove, nuzzling his neck.

Mac just kept his hoof gliding through her mane, savouring her scent and the twitch of her ears with every breath. He let his eyes fall closed once more.

"You've really gotta' stop me rambling like that." They popped open again, straining downwards to the rainbow in their corners. She still lay across him, hooves resting around his barrel, her wings inching into a flare.

He grinned, reaching down her back to tease at her primaries, earning a giddy thrill across her back. "N'Ah thought you liked me bein' a good listener."

"Yeah!" She jerked out of her nook to glance at him, wings almost batting his hoof away. "But not…" She slumped back into place, groan spilling out that Mac fought not to return. "Not when I'm like that."

Mac wrapped his forelegs around her and pulled her close, leaning forward to nuzzle her burning cheek. "But then I'd be missin' out on you, darlin'." She stayed in place, frown resolute, ears still folded, grousing as she nestled further into his chest. Mac bit back a sigh around his smirk, knowing full well the best way to tempt his Dashie out of her own darkness. "'Sides…" He pecked her neck. "You're mighty cute when you're flustered."

Mac held back a chuff as she stiffened under him, feeling the slow, steady collapse of her chest as she let out a long breath. He fought to restrain his grin while she pulled her elbows back along his ribs, before she rose calmly, confidently, and deliberately above him. Her brows furrowed; eyes ablaze.

"You know..." she drawled, deliciously dragging her hoof across his withers. "If I was being given a foal by the most awesome, talented, amazing," she shook her head, mane billowing against the soft lamp in a million brilliant strands, "sexiest pony in Equestria—"

"Y'are."

"—I…" Mac smirked through his own jangling nerves, soothed by Dashie's eyes bugging adorably. Hadn't this just got him into hot water?

Her brows bunched further, almost casting her fiery eyes into shadow, but her lips still tucked into a smirk as she alighted his own. "No, Mac…" She deigned to rest her chin on his chest once more, tenderly nuzzling. "You're the strongest, nicest, cuddliest, hunkiest dork in all of Equestria. Trust me." Dash snorted, almost forcing a sneeze from him, her chest puffing up despite his forelegs around her. "I'm the expert on awesomeness."

"Eeyup, but…" He squeezed her for an instant, her wings tickling against his flanks. He pressed his lips to her forehead. "I must have good eye for awesome, then."

She snorted, smirk still proud on her muzzle. "Guess you do." She tugged a wing out from beneath his hooves, flicking it up to just graze his nose. "Don't forget it." A quiet moan rumbled through his coat as she settled herself back down into it. "And since you've got a good eye for it, you should know better than to call me that."

Mac chuckled. "Nothin' wrong with cute, Dashie…" He dragged his foreleg further down her back, easing a hoof into the delicate crease between her wings. "Don't stop you bein' brave…" She skittered beneath his touch, wings fanning out at the tickle of his fetlocks. "Or darin'..." His other foreleg snaked under her feathery appendages, teasing the tight muscles beneath. "Or strong…" His hoof continued over the supple blue to her haunch where he stopped, circling around her cutie mark, her cheek pressing fervently into his chest. "Or talented…" He rested his muzzle into her mane, sampling the veritable storm of crackling energy. "Or awesome…" His hoof relinquished its hold on her wing-joints, instead smoothing the down on her humerous. "Or sexy…" One muffled, squeaky kiss into her mane later, he pulled back, just in time for her to tear herself away from his neck. Their eyes met once more, warm and wet in the dim light. "N'here's the kicker, hon…" He kissed her nose, not stopping the warm streaks down his cheeks. "Our foal's gonna' be cute."

She sniffed, glancing away for a moment as she blinked hard enough to create a draft, before looking back. "Yeah… and I guess you're lucky you're cute, too. Almost as lucky as I am…" Her eyes glistened, never leaving his own as she pressed her lips to his. Cool, crisp delight flooded every inch of him. "Happy Hearth's Warming, Mac. I love you."

Mac could do nothing but stare at... at…

The fearless saviour of Equestria, who would charge effortlessly into battle with only the thrill of danger and the fear of losing powering her wings.

The athlete, blessed with generational skill and the finest honing of her heritage, and yet the work ethic to bring her down to mere mortal levels so that others may have even the remotest chance of keeping up.

The hot-headed, stubborn mule, who could rile seemingly anypony with a blundering choice of words of even the steely glint in her tone, ready to show the whole world what happened to those who dared overshadow her awesomeness. And yet her skill in needling under pony's skin was bettered only by her ability to worm her way into their heart, stay by their side, ready to take on anything.

The stunning, effortless beauty, who would bless his mornings the timeless grace of her sprawled across their bed, mane a tangled jumble of colours and wings crumpled by her side, singing her siren's snore.

The lout, able to turn a neatly organised kitchen or recently scrubbed bathroom into a hazy, smoking mess of stain, stench, and stickiness underhoof.

The deep, sensitive soul, well hidden beneath brisk wing and fiery words, and yet so easily shared when they were alone.

The love of his life. The coltish streak who had raced by and stole away his heart, only to offer her own in return once his body had caught up.

The mother of their foal.

His Dashie.

Mac kissed the mare who made him feel more whole than he ever thought could be possible. "Love you too, Dashie. More'n anythin'." She nickered, nuzzling deeper into him, their hearts beating as one.

Mac brought a hoof up to Dashie's ear and tenderly stroked her mane, his heart silently soaring as she leaned into his hoof with a soft moan. She closed her eyes and slumped gracefully into his ribs once more, prompting a squeak from him just louder than the wind howling against the windows. The house still stood stout and warm against the icy wastes, his sisters toasty and secure in their beds, his grandmother blissfully restless. A wondrous day lay immaculately prepared below, ready to be despoiled in moments and yet utterly cherished nonetheless. The town slept peacefully below in wait for their own merriment, beyond the guardians of his family and their legacy. Perhaps only in his mind, the ethereal chorus of their guest flock lilted alongside the wind as they welcomed their solstice feast.

Their bed lay a few yards away, tempting, soft, and dripping with their scents, but it could wait. It could all wait.

Mac smiled, shamelessly content, still stroking his mare. All was well.

"Wait."

She batted his hoof away with her head, rearing up to stare at him with wide eyes, somehow starker than the winter.

"Aren't we supposed to get married first?!"