Winter felt a hoof poking his side lightly as he started to open his eyes, taking a few seconds to acomodate them to the sunlight of the afternoon, which was now growing a light orange with the sun's descend. By his quick calculations, he must have been out for an hour or so.
Turning his mind back to his surroundings, he raised his head to face the yellow pegasus glaring him closely, a huge relief seemed to burst from her eyes, as he sat on his hind legs, giving her a quick smile to assure her that he wasn't hurt as badly as she had feared.
"Thank goodness, you're all right!" said Fluttershy.
In his face, Winter kept a reassuring smile, but in his mind, he couldn't help but ask why. There he stood, covered in both his and her friend's blood, after telling her that Applejack was in a hospital, and yet, the pegasus stayed by his side, to make sure that he was going to be all right.
"Hey, Fluttershy..." he called, while the mare checked the injuries on his back once more, and found that the cuts had already closed. She sat down and turned to him after hearing her name.
"Yes?" she responded.
"Why didn't you go with the other pony?"
Fluttershy blushed slightly, somewhat caught offguard by the question "W-Well, Rainbow Dash is really fast, so I can't keep up with her. You were hurt too, so I couldn't leave you here alone. Besides, Applejack is one of the strongest ponies I know, I'm sure she will be all right."
"Yeah, she is..." he said "but aren't you w..."
"Fluttershy!" a strong shout cut him off from behind. The mare leaned her head sideways to peek at the red stallion trotting towards them, her face went light red with a blush at the sight of Applejack's older brother.
Winter, however, had a completely different reaction, when he turned around and remembered where he had heard that voice before. With a fast jump, he backed away from the earthpony and took a fighting position, not to attack him, but to be ready to dodge any upcoming stomp.
"You've got to be kidding me!" the wolf murmured to himself.
"Ya can relax, ah ain't gonna hurt ya. Ah just wanna talk." the stallion said, in an attempt to calm him down.
"Sure... because you were such a nice fellow before." the wolf replied, raising a brow.
"Um...Excuse me, Big Mac... b-but I n-need to tell you something." Fluttershy shyly called the red pony "Applejack is h..."
"Ah know. Ya'll don't have ta worry." Big Machintosh interrupted. "The doctors said she'd be fine."
"Oh, really? Thank goodness, everything is going to be all right." the pegasus sighed, taking a hoof to her chest.
"Hold it... You're Applejack's friend?" said Winter, confused, slowly leaving his combat stance.
"Ah'm more than a friend. She's ma little sister." the red stallion answered with a deep, calm voice.
"Well, that explains your greeting. It must run in the family." said the blue eyed wolf, after taking a few seconds to stare blankly into nothing, processing the news in his mind.
"Sorry, but wolves ain't exactly know fer bein' friendly. Especially in this town." The workhorse turned to the yellow pony "Fluttershy."
"Y-y-yes?" she stammered, feeling blood rushing to her cheeks again.
"Could ya go tell miss Rarity and miss Twilight about Applejack fer me? Ah think they need ta know."
Fluttershy's eyes shot wide open, accompanied by a gasp "Oh no! I forgot about them. They're going to hate me for not telling them. What do I do, what do I do? I should do something, but wh..."
"Fluttershy..." the two males said simultaneously, pulling the pegasus back into reality.
"Oh right. I'm sorry." she murmured, grinning sheepishly "I'll just go...".
With that she lifted from the ground and flew off as fast as she could, matching Rainbow Dash's average speed.
As soon as the yellow pony dissapeared behind the hills, Big Mac and Winter traded a gaze, the later trying to predict if the stallion was going say something or buck him in the face, like his sister had, days ago.
"I take it you like having wolves around as much as your sister does." the wolf finally said, breaking the silence that, while short, was begining to feel strangling. "I'll just go back to the forest, don't worry about me coming back."
Just as he turned his back to the pony, he felt a hoof landing on his shoulder. "Wait." called the calm voice behind him "Ah need ta have a word with ya."
"It wasn't me two years ago, if that's what you're going to ask."
Big Mac pulled his head backwards in surprise. "Ah know. Applejack told ya?" he asked.
Winter shook his head "No. Fluttershy told me a little bit. It was enough for me to understand."
"Ah don't think it was. Ya need ta hear the whole story."
"'Cause ah think ya can help ma sister."
The wolf's face turned to an expression of confusion "What do you mean? Help her how?"
"Will ya hear ma story?" the workhorse insisted.
"Fine" he sighted, sitting down next to the red earthpony.
The air had an unusual warm feel to it, especially for the middle of Autumn, and the orchard's leaves barely fluttered at the weak wind blowing through the apple trees.
However, it didn't bother Big Mac the slightest, it felt good to receive a bit of warmth after days of working, surrounded by increasingly cold breezes.
"Heya Big Machintosh!"
The stallion turned his head to the familiar voice behind him. "Hey AJ." he greeted back "Did y'all leave Applebloom at Miss Rarity's house already?"
"Eeyup." Applejack answered with an impression of her brother.
Big Mac gave a small grin and continued on his path, with his sister beside him "It's gettin' dark. Ah'm aheadin' on home now."
"What? Don't tell me y'all afraid of the dark." The orange mare grinned, nudging her brother on the side.
"Nope." the red pony's face went empty with expressions. Applejack lowered her head in dissapointment. Her brother was not an easy pony to tease.
"What's that?" she heard the stallion ask loudly a few minutes later, and lifted her head to see that the older stallion had stopped a few feet behind her and was now fixing his gaze at the darkened horizon. There was a large sinister figure contrasting against the growingly dark horizon, it was slowly moving between the apple trees, heading towards their house.
Applejack also focused her eyes on the moving shadow and shouted "Who's there?".
The figure immediately perked it's head up, turning it's gaze to them with a pair of vicious yellow eyes. The mare held her breath at the sight, and before she could notice, she was starting to hide behind her brother, who didn't move a muscle and stared right back at it, hoping to intimidate it.
The orange pony managed to regain her posture and perked her chest out, mimicking the older stallion, and throwing a stare at the figure. The shadow broke eye contact and dashed towards the house.
"STOP!" Applejack yelled as they both bolted to pursuit it. Only a smidge of orange was left in the sky, being slowly replaced by a dark blue, which made it even harder to see the moving intruder.
Just as they were getting close to the wooden building, the front door swung open, spreading what little light was coming from inside.
The shot echoed through the farm. The two ponies froze for a second, which gave the figure enough time to dissapear into the darkness. A hanging lantern was lit on the porch, revealing Granny Smith holding a smoking shotgun in the air with her mouth.
"Ya tryin' ta scare me ta death? What's with all the racket?" she said, after focusing her sight enough to regcognise her grandchildren.
"Granny Smith! Get back inside! There's sometin' out there." Applejack warned her, having recovered from the shock, and looked around in an attempt to find the figure.
"What in the hay are y'all talkin' about, youngin'? Get inside, it's gettin' dark." the elder said, walking towards the two alarmed ponies. The weak light of the lantern contrasted with a dark brown silhouette behind Granny Smith. With a jump, it came down on the old mare, immobilising her and tossing the shotgun away.
"NO!" Applejack yelled, dashing to attack the creature, but was quickly tossed aside with a paw. She fell to the ground, and it stared at her for a moment, before turning back to the prey beneath it. She could see it more clearly now, a large brown wolf, easily bigger than her brother.
The elder's neck cracked with a vicious bite, the wolf showed a wide grin as its teeth went deeper. It was cleary enjoying the carnage. The orange mare stood up, about to charge the wolf, but was stopped by a yell.
"APPLEJACK, GET OUTTA DA WAY!" her brother shouted from behind, she quickly turned her head to see him holding the shotgun with his mouth. Even with the shock, she managed to quickly comply, jumping out from between the monster and the armed stallion. Another shot echoed through the orchard.
"Damn!" the red pony grunted when he realised he had just grazed the wolf. It lifted it's gaze from the dead mare beneath it and turned to Applejack, who had landed clumsily on the ground and was now trying to get back on her hooves.
Big Mac lined up for another shot, and gasped at the realisation that he was holding an old double barrel shotgun.
The wolf bolted towards the new prey, who froze in place with terror. The stallion threw away the firearm and dashed to save his sister. With all his strength, he turned around and landed a powerful buck in the wolf's snout, making it tumble down on the ground.
Without a moment of hesitation, Big Mac raised his front legs and stomped the creature's head. Applejack didn't move an inch, watching the wolf's skull crack more with each blow.
Six hits were necessary for the monster to stop breathing, its corpse layed there immobile, except for small twiches from the damage to the nervous system. The older workhorse took heavy breaths and walked to her sister.
The mare stared at both corpses, terrified. She winced with the touch of her brother's hoof on her shoulder.
"Applejack!" she heard. For a moment, nothing happened, then she screamed louder than she ever had before, taking her hoofs to her head.
"Applejack, calm down!" Big Mac shouted, trying to hold down the orange mare.
The screams lasted for several seconds. When she ran out of breath, her whole body went numb and she fell to the ground uncouscious.
"AJ!AJ!" the stallion called, trying to shake her sister awake, unsucessfully.
"Big Machintosh! What going...Oh dear Celestia! What happened here?" a familiar voice called from behind. He turned to see Twilight Sparkle and Fluttershy running towards them.
"Twilight! Help AJ!" Big Mac shouted the first thought that came to his mind.
"Me and AJ have been takin' care of everything in da farm ever since. Applejack never cried about it, not even at Granny Smith's funeral." Big Mac continued.
Winter lowered his head, Applejack's attitude made perfect sence now. "Fluttershy said you had another sister. What about her?" he asked.
"Applebloom." the stallion aswered with a sigh "We all agreed ta not tell her da truth, we told her Granny Smith died in an acident. She's too young to deal with it."
"Right..." the wolf gave a nod "But what does this have to do with me?"
"Applejack tries ta look happy in front of her friends, but at home she barely speaks. When ah try ta talk to her 'bout it she's always angry. But yer a wolf, and ya saved her life, so maybe if ya talk to her, she'll stop thinkin' about that night. If she can make you a friend, maybe she'll go back to her old self."
"You putting a lot of faith on me. Aren't you afraid I'll hurt her?" the wolf asked.
"She's been hurt for two years. If there's a change ya can help fix her, ah'll take it."
Winter glared at the stallion's eyes, confirming that he was dead serious about it.
"Fine." he said "I suppose it won't hurt to try. But I don't think I'm allowed to go see her in the hospital."
Big Mac scratched his chin, pensitive "Do ya have somewhere ya can stay for a while?" he asked.
"I can stay at Fluttershy's house, if she doesn't mind."
"Then go there. Ah'll talk to her. We'll ask the doctors how long it'll take for her to recover."
With a nod, they parted ways. The stallion trotted back to the hospital and the wolf walked to the cottage he had stayed in the day before, already predicting the panicked reaction of the critters living there.