Even Fluttershy knew she was in over her head. A trip into the Everfree Forest alone was never a good idea, but the mice needed one of Zecora's more potent cures and time wasn't exactly on the mice's side. The trip there hadn't been so bad, but that had been during the day. Between the time it took to acquire the necessary materials for and make the potion, and a long friendly chat with the zebra, the sun had set long ago—and under the canopy of the trees, it seemed even darker.
It didn't look safe, but Fluttershy politely declined Zecora's offer of an escort (or an overnight stay) and started for her cottage. It was close enough to the edge of the forest that if she hurried, she could make it. At least, that's what she told herself. Mistake number one.
The still air was cut with a high, lonesome howl that sent chills racing down Fluttershy's spine. She remembered Applejack telling her about the timberwolves who lurked in the forest, the way she described the howls that once again filled the air. There was no doubt—these were the same wolves, and they were on the prowl.
Steeling her resolve (not to mention choking back a small whimper), she continued on, jumping slightly with every snapping twig, every rustling leaf, and looking over her shoulder every few feet.
This was her second mistake. When she was nearly home, Fluttershy glanced over her shoulder, turned her head back to the path—and found herself face to face with a timberwolf. It was unlike any creature Fluttershy had seen before, a wolf whose body was made of the wood and leaves of trees, earning it its name. Its eyes glowed yellow in the darkness, and it growled, low and throaty and menacing.
Fluttershy whimpered softly, taking a small step back. The timberwolf advanced closer, sizing her up. It looked so much bigger now, and could easily take her down in a single lunge. She trembled at the thought of those huge teeth sinking into her neck, snapping her bones— Panicking, she darted left, running as fast as her legs could carry her.
She could hear the timberwolf howl and give chase. The sound kick started her wings, and she felt herself rising up, off the ground, and for a moment she thought that maybe, just maybe, she could make it home in one piece.
The third and fatal mistake. The timberwolf, while it couldn't fly after her, had managed to keep pace and was snapping at her legs and tail. Suddenly, the jaws closed around her tail—and more upsettingly, the back of her left rear leg—with snap, stopping Fluttershy in her airborne tracks. She cried out in equal measures of surprise and pain and managed a kick that, thank Celestia, landed in the right place. The timberwolf's jaws released her and sent her sprawling, head over hooves, across the rocky terrain. She whimpered as she skidded to a stop, both from terror and pain as a sharp stone cut open her right foreleg.
The blood seemed to ever further pique the timberwolf's interest in her, and it advanced slowly, as if taunting her. Fluttershy clenched her eyes shut, waiting to feel teeth, pain, d-death—
But all she heard was the thundering of hooves, the snap of breaking wood and an in-equine yelp of pain. Hesitantly, she opened one of her eyes. Through tears and her frayed nerves, she could see a deep red colt give the timberwolf a strong buck as it advanced toward her—them—again.
Fluttershy started to say, "Big Macintosh…?" but couldn't hear herself over his yell, the crunch of hooves against wood, or the growling and yelping the timberwolf was giving in response to Big Mac's assault.
One final swift buck later and the timberwolf retreated, its branch tail between its legs. Big Mac watched it run for a moment before turning his attention to Fluttershy, who had clenched her eyes shut once more. He nuzzled her mane slightly. "You okay?"
She didn't open her eyes, but nodded and squeaked out something that Big Mac instinctively knew was a yes. Of course, the state she was in, physically and emotionally, wasn't exactly "okay," no matter what she said. He knelt by her and gave her a gentle nudge, wordlessly inviting her to climb up.
Fluttershy complied and all but crawled up onto Big Mac's back. Only then did she open her eyes and look around her. The area was in which she'd landed (crashed) was torn up, rightly so between the timberwolf's advances and Big Mac's hooves. More alarmingly, though, was the blood streaked on the ground, mixed with the dust. Overwhelmed, Fluttershy remained quiet for the first few minutes, until she finally did the only logical thing to do in response to her circumstances: slip into unconsciousness.
• • •
The first thing Fluttershy noticed when she woke up was how dark it was outside the window. Then she noticed that the bed she was in was not her own, and the room in which she was sleeping was too roomy to be hers, as well. She vaguely recognized the room as being a part of the home in which the Apple family lived. How in Equestria did she end up at Sweet Apple Acres, though?
Voices filtered into her consciousness—first, the high quaver of an elderly mare, followed closely by the deeper voice of a stallion. The blessedly familiardeeper voice of a stallion. She lifted her head slightly, blinked a few times to bring her eyes into focus and just barely caught the shuffling hoof-falls of Granny Smith, followed by the heavy, sure hoof-falls of a work stallion. "Big Macintosh…?" Even to her own ears, her voice sounded thick with sleep and exhaustion.
The hoof-steps grew closer, their owner stopping by the head of the bed. Big Mac smiled warmly, more than mere traces of relief and affection in his eyes. "Y'alright?" he asked softly, nuzzling her mane once more. "Scared us for a bit."
"I'm alright," she replied. In truth, her hind legs were stiff and sore, and there was a niggling sense of lingering fear, but she didn't feel quite comfortable in admitting either one to Big Mac, given how much he and his family had already done for her. "What about you?"
"Fine," Big Mac replied easily.
Fluttershy gave him a once-over with a concerned, critical eye. "You're hurt," she said softly, looking at the bandages on the stallion's legs and chest.
Big Mac briefly looked down at himself. "It's nothin'," he dismissed.
"What happened?" Fluttershy asked, her nurturing tendencies coming on full force.
"Got nipped and scratched up—nothin' worth worryin' over," Big Mac explained before turning the conversation back to the soft yellow pegasus. "What were you doing in the Everfree Forest so late?"
"I needed something from Zecora, for the mice," Fluttershy explained, looking down at the quilt covering the bed. It occurred to her that given the size of the bed, this was probably Big Mac's room. "How did you know I was—"
"I was bringing you some of our extra apples." Big Mac briefly looked over at a saddlebag that looked heavy with the weight of the apples he'd just mentioned. "I heard you yell and came runnin'."
A shudder ran through Fluttershy's body at the memory, and Big Mac leaned over to nuzzle her slightly again. "You shouldn't have endangered yourself like that…" she softly chastised. She knew how much Big Mac meant to the Apple family—they couldn't afford to lose him, not for very long. (While she wasn't a member of the Apple family, she too held this opinion.)
"And let you get killed by that thing?" Big Mac chuckled without much humor. "Not a chance."