Autumn

by JDMHouse


Autumn

“Why don’t you ever talk?”

Big Mac turned his attention from the roaring fire to the source of the interruption. Apple Bloom sat at the kitchen table with the most inscrutable expression he’d ever seen mustered.

“Hmm?” he rumbled in reply.

“Like that!” Apple Bloom thrust a hoof over her school books. “Right there! You don’t even use full answers when I ask a question.”

A smile tugged at the corners of Big Mac’s mouth as he tossed another log onto the fire. “Why’re you so concerned about this, AB?”

“You barely ever string more than two words together… unless you’re yellin’ at me.” Apple Bloom’s jaw slackened, her eyes drooping. She took a pencil in her mouth and jotted down several math problems.

“I’m sorry, sweetheart,” he rumbled in a gravelly voice. “But sometimes, bigger ponies have a reason for not talkin’.”

“So there’s some sorta reason for you bein’ so quiet all the time?”

“Eeyup.” Big Mac nodded and returned his attention to the fire.

“Like that…” Apple Bloom said, her voice suddenly hushed. “I hear you say that every day.”

“Now you’re turnin’ into Twilight.” Big Mac laughed. “Maybe we can get you a conspiracy theory Cutie Mark.”

“There’s got to be something more to it,” Apple Bloom insisted. “That’s like…your catchphrase, or somethin’. You’re tellin’ me there’s not some deeper meanin’?”

“Eeyup,” Big Mac repeated.

Apple Bloom sat back in her chair, hooves crossed. “I’m still not convinced.”

“Course you’re not,” Big Mac muttered.

“Well, if you tell me, I’ll let it go!”

“AB, I’m tellin’ you: it’s just a word.”

“You know that’s not true! Just tell me the real truth.”

Big Mac held his voice steady as he took another log in his mouth. “Dat ith da trude. It’s jus’ summin’ I starded sayin’ a while ba’.”

“If you wanna be a liar--“

The vociferous sound of shattering glass pierced the air as a wooden projectile flew through the nearest window. Big Mac gritted his teeth and rounded on the gaping filly.

“Don’t you ever call me a liar, young lady,” he whispered in a dangerous voice. “There’s a reason I don’t wanna talk about that.”

Apple Bloom shrunk back in the seat, taking short, gasping breaths. “I’m sorry.”

Big Mac’s scowl drooped as his sister’s eyes filled with tears. Her gentle sobs thrust themselves toward him as if missiles, washing away the momentary outburst.

“I am too,” he said with a deep breath. “There was no reason for me to get angry like that, AB; I’m sorry.”

Big Mac took a step toward her and laid a hoof on her face.

“I just want to know more about you,” Apple Bloom choked out. “You hardly ever talk, so Ah barely know anything. You’re my brother, and I feel like I barely know you at all!”

Big Mac felt his heart skip several beats. “I’m sorry, sweetheart,” he whispered, holding her close. “Sometimes the memories just get to be too much.”

“Memories?” Apple Bloom asked, wiping a hoof across her face.

Big Mac sighed and took a seat to Apple Bloom’s right. “Do you know why I wasn’t too thrilled with that love potion fiasco a few months back?”

“Maybe because I almost made ya marry my teacher?” Apple Bloom asked with a sheepish smile.

“Well, yeah,” he nodded. “But do you know why I didn’t want a very special somepony on Hearts and Hooves Day?”

“You didn’t want one?” Apple Bloom’s eyes widened. “Ah thought you just couldn’t-“

She fell silent as Big Mac raised his eyebrows.

“Uh…never mind,” she said, turning her face away.

“Go on.” He smiled and waved a hoof in a circular motion.

“Ah thought you couldn’t get a very special somepony,” she murmured, focus intently on her multiplication tables.

Big Mac took a glance out the shattered window. “No, it’s not that. As a matter o’ fact, six mares asked me to be their very special somepony that day.”

Apple Bloom broke into a violent coughing fit.

“I’m guessin’ that was from shock,” Big Mac noted, clapping her on the back.

“No, no!” Apple Bloom said hastily. “After all, anypony as big and strong and…and…

“Six?” she repeated reverently, staring off into space.

“Eeyup,” he nodded. “And Miss Cheerilee was one of them. That’s why we weren’t too happy about it.”

“But why’d you say ‘no’ to Miss Cheerilee?” Apple Bloom demanded. “She’s the best teacher I’ve ever had; she would have made a perfect special somepony for you!”

“You’re right; Miss Cheerilee is a lovely pony. But she’s not the only one I’ve ever met.”

Apple Bloom’s mouth fell wide open. “You have another very special somepony?”

“I used to,” Big Mac corrected, clenching his eyes tight. “And she was a lost more than a special somepony.”

Apple Bloom laid a hoof on her brother’s. “What was her name?”

“Autumn,” he whispered. “I met her at an Apple Family get-together, more than ten years ago. She was a close friend o’ Braeburn’s.”

He met Apple Bloom’s gaze and stared deeply into her irises. “She had the most beautiful eyes.”

*   *   *

“Since when does the Apple Family dress up for get-togethers?” Big Mac demanded as Applejack placed him in a tie-induced stranglehold.

“I told you, this is an engagement party,” Applejack huffed. “Ol’ Brayburn found himself a nice girl to settle down with. What kind of family would we be if we didn’t celebrate with ‘em?”

“I don’t see why I need to die of asphyxiation,” Big Mac said, tugging at the silk noose.

Applejack chuckled and slapped his hoof away. “It’s only for a few hours. I think you’ll live. Now come on, let’s get going!”

The pair sprinted out of the Sweet Apple Acres barn and onto the lamplit pathway.

“Least we didn’t have to go all the way to Las Pegasus!” Applejack said, nudging her brother in the ribs.

Big Mac grunted and shooed his sister’s limb away.

Applejack clicked her tongue impatiently. “Come on, Grumpy Gus; this is an engagement party. We’re celebrating two ponies fallin’ in love! Put on a smile, would you?”

“This is the last place I expected to see myself right now,” Big Mac replied with a shrug.

“Oh…” Applejack nodded in understanding. “Look, I know y’all are upset about Carrot Top, but you need to let her go. There are plenty o’ ponies in the field, after all.”

“I guess,” Big Mac said heavily.

Side by side, they trekked down the dirt pathway. The sun grazed the hills overlooking Sweet Apple Acres, illuminating a massive, octagonal gazebo and the dozens of lanterns hung from each of its support beams.

Big Mac’s stomach began to churn as the cries of joyful ponies mingled with the carefree tune emanating from a nearby band.

“Shoot!” Applejack exclaimed as they crossed under the canvas expanse of the gazebo. “We really outdid ourselves this time, huh?”

“It’s impressive, if nothing else,” Big Mac agreed, locking his eyes straight ahead.

Applejack’s ears perked as a shout of joy erupted from the throngs.

AJ!” a cream colored pony cried as he burst from the crowd. “I was starting to wonder how long it would take you two to get out here!”

“Well, tan my hide!” Applejack chuckled, rushing to embrace him. “How the heck are you, Red?”

“Can’t complain,” Red shrugged. “So, you have to be fashionably late to a party at your own farm, do you?”

“We would’ve been on time, if it hadn’t been for scrawny neck over here.” Applejack turned to Big Mac and winked.

Big Mac allowed his lip to curve slightly, extending a hoof to Red Delicious. “Great to see you, Red.”

“Likewise, big cuz.”

Red took Big Mac’s hoof in his own, pulling him into a hug a moment later. Big Mac gave a tiny chuckle before retracting. Red tilted his head in confusion at the less-than-friendly gesture, but thought better of asking as Applejack gave a resounding shake of her head.

“Listen, AJ,” Red said, still eyeing his massive cousin. “The Smiths came all the way from Fillydelphia, and they haven’t seen you since you were a newborn!”

Applejack grinned enthusiastically. “I’ll be right over!”

Red nodded before making an abrupt about-face toward the crowd. Applejack turned to her brother, face falling instantly from a smile to a disapproving glare.

“Couldn’t even turn on your charm for family, could you?”

“Sorry.” Big Mac shrugged as his gaze drifted toward a nearby drink table. “I’m gonna go get some punch. Don’t wait up.”

Applejack’s glare morphed again into a pained expression. “Don’t you want to come see the Smiths? This is probably the last chance we’ll get to talk to them for months.”

“I’m just not in the mood, alright?” Big Mac sighed heavily, allowing his eyes to slide closed.

Applejack turned toward the crowd, face falling. “I’m startin’ to wonder what you are,” she said.

Big Mac opened his eyes once more. “I’m not—“

He rolled his eyes upward and let his hooves begin to carry him in the direction of a nearby drink table.

One hoof in front of the other, he told himself as he reached the punchbowl. Don’t catch anypony’s eye.

With a gentle groan, he took the ladle in his hoof and lifted a generous measure of the liquid into a mug.

As long as you just keep to yourself—

“Well, I’ll be darned! Big Mac!”

Of course. Big Mac groaned internally and, putting on his best attempt at a smile, turned to face the interruption. “Who else but Braeburn?” he asked, wearing a painfully false, almost manic grin.

“What, have you forgotten how the Apple family greets each other?” Brayburn demanded playfully, bounding toward Big Mac and wrapping him in a spine-crushing embrace. “Since when do you keep to yourself at this kind of party? I thought you’d be right out on the dance floor!”

“Well…” Big Mac looked in every direction for a change of subject. His search was interrupted, however, as he noticed the mare standing to Brayburn’s right. “Now who’s this?” he asked in a low voice, indicating the bright orange newcomer.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake!” Brayburn clapped a hoof to his face. “Please, pardon my lack of manners. This is Autumn, a friend of the Smiths. I met her in Canterlot when Jewel and I were celebrating our engagement.”

Big Mac’s face brightened considerably as he addressed her. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, ma’am.”

Autumn shook her ruby-colored mane from her eyes. “Likewise,” she said, nodding and extended a hoof. Without hesitation, Big Mac grabbed it and shook enthusiastically.

“Don’t go breaking any bones, now,” Brayburn chuckled as their connected hooves shook with the speed of a hummingbird.

“Pardon me for my lack of manners, Brayburn,” Big Mac apologized. “How is Jewel doing these days?”

“Just fine!” Brayburn replied, gesturing broadly with his left foot. “The trees in Appleoosa are growin’ like… well, like trees.” He grinned. “But speaking of Jewel, I need to get back to her. She’ll have my hide if I ditch her at her own engagement party. Autumn, do you—“

“Not at all.” Autumn smiled and inclined her head toward the crowd.

“Right,” Brayburn nodded. “We’ll catch up later, alright cousin? Don’t you two run off together in the meantime!”

Big Mac and Autumn uttered a tiny, simultaneous moan of exasperation. As Brayburn turned, Big Mac noticed the tiniest of smiles touch of his lips.

The two fell into an instant silence. Autumn focused her attention fiercely on a nearby hydrangea bush and let out a tiny cough.

“What?” Big Mac asked at the sound.

“Huh?” Autumn said, tilting her head. “Oh, I didn’t say anything.”

“Oh…” Big Mac turned back to the punchbowl. “Great weather we’re having, huh?”

Oh lord… Really? That’s it? Big Mac groaned internally.

“I wouldn’t really know; I’ve only been in Ponyville a few days.”

Big Mac nodded in understanding. “Oh yeah, you’re from Canterlot, aren’t you? How are things there?”

“It’s definitely more lively than you all are used to.”

“Yeah, it’s a big city,” Big Mac said with a second nod. “What do you do there?”

“Just about the same as you do here,” Autumn shrugged. “My family has been working on an orange farm there for generations. It’s great; sometimes I just think there’s more to it.”

Big Mac tilted his head to the side. “More to what now?”

“More to life than just working a farm like every pony in my family. I mean, city life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Sometimes I just wish I could come to a place like this,” Autumn said in a longing voice. “It’s quiet, simple. I’ve always thought it would be great to live in a city like this, but…”

Autumn smiled and returned her attention to the bushes. In the distance, the sound of chirping crickets mingled with the plaguing silence.

“Well,” he said, recalling Brayburn’s parting statement as he ladled punch into a second mug, “I suppose I’m obligated to flirt with you now.”

Autumn burst into peals of genuine laugher, her face brightening. “I’m so sorry about him!” she said with a helpless shake of her head. “Ever since he and Jewel got engaged, he’s fancied himself a matchmaker.”

Big Mac chuckled knowingly and turned toward her, extending a mug of cider as he did so. “You know what they say: “All’s fair in love and war.” Though I think I might prefer the war.”

“I’m familiar with that feeling,” Autumn agreed with a giggle. “I’ve got to say, I’m impressed with you, Big Mac.”

“Oh? Why is that?”

“I’ve never really met a member of the Apple family who could string more than a few words together at a time.”

“Oh, yeah.” Big Mac grinned, rolling his eyes toward the sparkling sky. “I guess I’m the black sheep of the family. Just don’t let my sister hear you saying that; I get enough jokes from her about my poetry.”

“Poetry?” Autumn’s eyes widened in delight. “Mr. Macintosh, I do declare. You must be a scholar of the highest order!”

She waved her hooves across her sides and sunk into a teasing curtsy. “Please, grace me with your rhymes and rhythms.”

“Don’t you start on me too,” he warned, yet a smile tugged at the corners of his mouth even as he complained.

“Alright, alright. But I wasn’t joking.” Autumn winked, rising back to full height. “I’ve never heard of a poet in the Apple family. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t curious.”

“Well I dabble,” Big Mac amended. “I’m no master, mind you.”

Autumn nodded expectantly, waving her hoof in a circular motion.  

“Oh boy, way to put me on the spot!” he chuckled and drew a deep breath. “As sunset looms among summer’s blooms, and the jays sing their final songs, my eyes look yonder to a brand new dawn, and through fire and flame, I carry along.”

Autumn mouth opened a crack as she gave him the strangest of stares: an expression of unrestrained curiosity, sprinkled with the tiniest hint of awe.

“I know it’s not my best,” Big Mac said hurriedly. “I wrote it a number of years ago when I was just starting to—“

“It’s beautiful.”

Big Mac’s head reared back slightly. “What did you say?”

“That poem was beautiful.” Autumn’s lips curved into a curious smile. “There’s more to it, isn’t there?”

He ran a hoof through his mane in a pensive, almost awed manner as he attempted to process what she said. “You actually…”

He trailed off and glanced toward the mountains overlooking the scene. “Thirty-six verses,” he confirmed finally.

“Good lord, I think I’ve stumbled upon a severe case of self-doubt,” Autumn laughed. “Why in the world would your sister poke fun at you for that?”

Big Mac shrugged. “I suppose nopony understands that part of me.”

“Maybe we can find somepony that does.”

Autumn took a deep draft from her mug and turned back toward the dance floor, where the party’s music had transcended its previous upbeat music and shifted into a slow, classical tune. “I’ll have to hear the rest of that poem sometime,” she said, casting him a sidelong glance. Her eyebrows narrowed mischievously, the amber and ruby color of her irises glinting with mystery in the moonlight.

“Is that a request of some sort?” Big Mac asked, squinting in a curious manner as he took a step toward her.

“Oh, not at all!” Autumn shook her head in feigned shock. “Why, it wouldn’t be proper of a lady to suggest what I’m sure isn’t going through both of our minds at the moment. But if, by chance, you were to misinterpret what I said, I don’t think anything could prevent the ensuing situation.”

All traces of sorrow and grief were expelled from Big Mac’s body as he shook with laughter. “I’ll be sure to remember that for the future.”

“Well, Mr. Macintosh,” Autumn said with a second wink, “You’re well spoken, a poet, and a capable farmer. Are there any talents capable of wooing a lady hidden under all that muscle?”

The punch Big Mac was attempting to swallow flew violently from his lungs as he began a violent coughing fit. Eyes streaming with water as he attempted to clear his airway, he looked up at Autumn with a feeble grin.

“I’ll have to take a point off your score for that,” she said, giggling as the ruby stallion stumbled to his hooves. Big Mac felt the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. He closed his eyes dreamily as the sound of Autumn’s laughter consumed the night air, forcing all other sensations out.

“Well,” Big Mac said with a final cough. “I guess drinking punch isn’t one of my strong suits.” He grinned apologetically. “But I have been known to dance from time to time.”

Autumn’s carefree smile morphed into a determined smirk as she gestured to the dance floor. “You can dance? Without tripping over your own hooves?”

“I haven’t worked on the farm all these years for nothing.”

“Prove it.”

Big Mac strode past her, his shoulders held with perfect posture and nose turned up. “I’d be happy to.”

“Wow, I can almost feel the sarcasm emanating from you,” Autumn noted, shaking her head in disgust yet smiling all the time as she followed.

“If there’s one thing I know, it’s dancing,” Big Mac assured her, casting a glance over his shoulder.

“Alright, mister confident, would you like to place a little wager on that?”

Big Mac stopped dead, chuckling as he turned toward her. “What did you have in mind?”

“If you can’t dance, you have to come do the work at my farm in Canterlot for a week.”

“Done,” Big Mac nodded. “And if I can dance?”

“That’s my secret for now,” Autumn winked.

Big Mac threw his head upward in resignation. Wading through the crowd of ponies swarming the stage, he reached the hardwood with Autumn in tow. As his hooves connected with the dance floor’s center, the band struck a tune all too familiar to him.

“A waltz,” Big Mac noted with distinct satisfaction, looking through the crowd for a partner. “Looks like this bet is already over. I just need to—“

Autumn placed her left hoof on his shoulder. She took the remaining hoof in her own as she drew him close, placing her mouth within an inch of his ear.

“Then prove it,” she whispered, closing her eyes and falling into him.

Big Mac’s heart rate increased such that he feared for the safety of the rest of his organs. Following Autumn’s lead, he closed his eyes and placed his free hoof on her stomach.

Without any further hesitation, he rose to full height on his hind legs. Drawing her closer, the beating of a second heart was easily distinguishable. His chest connected with hers, and each of their hearts pounded against the other’s in rhythmic symmetry.

Big Mac took the first step in the dance, guiding Autumn as gently as he would a filly. With each additional step, he moved as if he were made of air, guiding his partner with a grace that would never have otherwise been attributed to him. He could feel Autumn’s gentle breath on his chest as she leaned her head into him, letting her body fall limp in his gentle embrace.

As the music faded into the night, Big Mac opened his eyes and removed his hooves from Autumn’s side. Even after the dance was over, Autumn stood in awe. Her eyes remained closed in dreamy euphoria.

He smiled gently and brought a hoof to her face. “So, did I win the bet?”

Autumn’s eyes creaked open, mouth still agape. Her gaze drifted to the hoof he had placed on her cheek. Her open mouth curved into a carefree smile, and without an ounce of hesitation, she lunged forward and pressed her lips against her partner’s.

Big Mac’s eyes widened in surprise for the briefest of moments, but he quickly resigned and threw all inhibition to the wind. He pulled Autumn forward once more, wrapping his forelegs firmly around her.

When he finally broke the kiss and drew back, Big Mac became painfully aware of the multitude of eyes focused in their direction. The entire crowd had fallen dead silent, and the gentle music had ceased to flow through their ears. The sound of nervous giggles shattered the air as Autumn gave Big Mac a cautious smile that was plagued with uncertainty, yet shined like the sun in the starlight.

“What was that?” Big Mac whispered as the others resumed dancing.

“My end of the wager,” Autumn said, bursting into her own fit of giggles.

Gulping, Big Mac’s face turned purple in embarrassment as he looked around the dance floor. Through the throngs, he caught sight of Applejack standing over a shattered glass of cider, her jaw hanging open as if unhinged. As they locked eyes, her shock became a triumphant smirk.

I told you so,” she mouthed.

Big Mac shrugged, laughing off the momentary humiliation. As he continued to scan the crowd, his eyes fell upon Brayburn as he pushed through the wall of ponies, tugging a flustered Jewel along by the hoof.

“Well, that didn’t take long,” Brayburn noted. “What was it? An hour and a half?”

“Somethin’ like that,” Big Mac nodded.

“Looks like I won our bet, huh sweetheart?” Brayburn poked Jewel playfully.

“I suggest you watch the gloating,” Jewel replied ominously.

“Uh…” Brayburn cleared his throat. “Well, Big Mac? Seems my little awkward comment turned into a good night for the both of you.”

“Well, sure,” Big Mac agreed, his face falling slightly as he turned to Autumn. “But aren’t you goin’ back to Canterlot soon?”

“Oh, I must’ve forgotten to mention.” Autumn smiled mischievously. “I recently decided to move to Ponyville.”

Brayburn chuckled. “Recently? What, five minutes ago?”

A howl of pain broke through the air as Jewel’s hoof descended painfully on Brayburn’s.

“Well, I guess we’ll be planning another one of these soon?” Jewel winked, gesturing to the band.

Big Mac and Autumn’s eyes widened in perfect unison.

“Yes,” Autumn nodded, looking back to Jewel.

“Yup,” Big Mac agreed.

They grasped hooves, grinning as their eyes met.

“Eeyup,” they said together.

*   *   *

Apple Bloom sat back, eyes wide in awe. “It sounds just like a fairy tale.”

“That’s a pretty good description,” Big Mac said.

“So what happened after that?”

“Exactly what you’d expect from a fairy tale,” he said. “For almost a year, we hardly spent more than a few days apart.

“I bet Applejack made fun of you somethin’ fierce,” Apple Bloom giggled.

“Only until Autumn beat her in an applebucking contest.”

Apple Bloom folded her hooves across her chest and raised an eyebrow.

“Well, they had a buncha contests,” he admitted. “Applejack won about half, but she was still impressed.”

He leaned on his left hoof and stared up to the ceiling. “How did she put it again? ‘A city girl who can buck apples like me? Alright, y’all can keep her.’”

Apple Bloom resumed her giggling. “Well, there’s still more to it than that, isn’t there?”

“Sure, but most of it is just canoodlin’ and smoochin’ and—“

“That’s not what I meant!” Apple Bloom moaned, shielding her ears from the onslaught. “I meant somethin’ really important to you, somethin’ meaningful.”

“Meaningful? Oh boy, that’s an easy one: the picnic.”

“A picnic?”

“No, the picnic.”

*   *   *

“Come on now, slowpoke!” Big Mac encouraged her, turning back down the hill for the umpteenth time that evening.

“I’m still not used to all this climbing,” Autumn complained, struggling up the incline. “Back in Canterlot, our farm was always on completely flat ground.”

“What, a year isn’t enough time to adjust?” Big Mac asked, grasping her hoof and pulling her further up the grade.

“Somepony is sarcasming themselves out of a cuddle after dinner,” she warned.

“Noted.” Big Mac wrapped a hoof around her, turning back up the hill. “I promise, the hike is worth it. This is one of my favorite places in all of Ponyville.”

“This particular mountain?” Autumn raised her eyebrows. “What possessed you to hike this many miles from Sweet Apple Acres?”

Big Mac smiled and planted a kiss on her cheek. “You’ll know once you see the view.”

Autumn closed her eyes, relishing the warmth of the setting sun on her coat. Taking their final steps, the pair reached the apex of the climb. A single tree hung over the mountain’s peak, the setting sun casting its shadow into the distance.

“Alright, now what’s so special about this mountain?” Autumn asked, stooping over and inhaling deeply.

Big Mac stood silent, raising a hoof and indicating the opposite side of the peak.

Autumn opened her mouth, eyeing him curiously as she turned in the direction of his hoof. “This—“

She stopped dead as she took in the scene. Fading light fell upon Ponyville thousands of feet below as the sun crested over the town’s westernmost hills. Rivers and streams running though Ponyville’s valley seemed to stretch eternally into the distance, disappearing beyond the horizon. The far-off ocean sparkled like a sea of gemstones in the steadily retracting light.

“This is incredible,” she whispered. “Why didn’t you ever tell me about this before?”

“It’s always been a personal spot of mine,” Big Mac replied. “I wanted the first pony I shared it with to be… well, special.”

“I’m special? Why, I’m so utterly flattered!” Autumn swayed on the spot, falling into Big Mac’s waiting embrace.

Big Mac chuckled. “Now who’s being sarcastic?”

“How did you find this place anyway?” Autumn asked, extracting a blanket from one of Big Mac’s saddlebags and laying it on the grass beneath the towering tree.

“I was wanderin’ around town looking for a place to sit and write,” Big Mac explained. “Somehow, I found myself up here after hours of searching, and I made it a point to come back at least once a week.”

“I can see why,” Autumn nodded, setting herself down on the blanket. “Well, are we going to sit here and gab all afternoon, or are we going to eat?”

Big Mac reached back and extracted a tray of vegetables from his saddlebags and sat beside her. “You read my mind.”

Autumn removed a pile of the vegetables from the tray and lay them on the ground beside her. Without warning, she slid toward Big Mac and lay her head on his stomach.

Big Mac felt his heart rate triple as their bodies connected. Cautiously, he lifted a hoof to her mane and played with the strands of her hair.

“You don’t need to be so timid,” she scolded him playfully through closed eyes. “I mean, we are together.”

“I just… sometimes I can hardly believe this is all happening,” Big Mac said, marveling as he wrapped his foreleg around her shoulders. “Me, the big lug and hopeless romantic from Ponyville, find…”

Autumn shifted under his embrace, wriggling ever closer. “Love?” she whispered.

Big Mac’s heart pounded harder still as she uttered the word.

Autumn sighed happily as she felt the sensation. “I guess I hit the nail on the head then,” she said, poking him in the stomach. At the touch, he giggled in a remarkably feminine manner shying away from her attacking appendage.

“Don’t tell me,” Autumn opened her eyes, turning toward him with a wicked smile. “You’re ticklish?”

“Eh…” Big Mac instinctively wrapped his hoofs around his midsection.

“You are!” she shouted gleefully. “My goodness, you’re a lot more complicated than you look, aren’t you?”

Autumn launched herself at him, laughing maniacally as she stabbed at his exposed ribs. Big Mac broke into a fit of giggles each time her hooves connected with his abdomen.

“Okay, okay, I get it!” he pleaded, shooing her away.

“Alright, I’ll call a momentary ceasefire,” Autumn said, running a hoof along his cheek.

The two collapsed back on the blanket, lying on their backs and facing the sun as it touched the tip of the distant mountains.

“Autumn,” Big Mac began, wrapping his hoof around her once more. “How long have we been together?”

“Hmm…” Autumn looked up thoughtfully. “It’s been a little over a year since Brayburn’s engagement party. Why do you ask?”

He let out a massive sigh. “Sometimes, I just feel like there’s more, you know?  That there’s more to life than just this?”

“I can’t act like I don’t feel a certain way about… things,” he said. “I’m starting to think that maybe we should—“

“I will.”

Big Mac shook his head at the interruption. “What?”

She stared at him, any traces of sarcasm and humor absent from her face. “I’ll marry you.”

“But… how did you even know I was going to ask that?” Big Mac asked incredulously.

“We’ve been together for a long time, sweetheart,” she said, leaning on one of her elbows. “I can read you like a book by now.”

Big Mac stared at her expectantly.

“And I guess this sort of fell out of your saddlebags,” Autumn conceded, holding out a diamond-studded necklace.

“It ‘fell out,’ huh?” Big Mac asked skeptically.

Autumn winked. “Right hoof to Celestia.”

She stood with a flourish, standing over him with perfect posture. “So, Mr. Macintosh, am I to understand that you’re asking for my hoof in marriage?”

Big Mac followed her lead and rose to full height. “I certainly am,” he said with a flourish of his hooves. “Would you do me the honor of being my wife?”

Abandoning all pretense of formality, Autumn launched herself at him for the second time. “Eeyup,” she whispered, leaning into him.

At that word, Big Mac’s thoughts were sent reeling back to the night he first met her. Her hooves on his shoulders, her breath on his chest and her heart against his were every ounce as meaningful as it had been one year ago.

They fell back onto the picnic blanket, face to face.

“And will you promise to love me forever?” she asked, stroking his mane.

“Eeyup,” he said with a smile.

With that, their lips met, and though the sun had set, an even brighter line shone around them.

*   *   *

“So it was your catchphrase?” Apple Bloom asked.

Big Mac shook himself from the memory induced trance, staring at Apple Bloom in a questioning manner.

“Yours and Autumn’s?” she asked.

“Yes, it was,” Big Mac said.

“Then why in the world wouldn’t you want to tell me why you say it?” Apple Bloom demanded. “That’s a great story!”

“Because she left.”

Apple Bloom sat back in her chair, floored by the shock of the revelation. “What?” she asked in a tiny voice.

Big Mac took a deep breath. “Several months after that day, Autumn left. I never saw her again.”

“She… left?” Apple Bloom shook her head. “But that doesn’t make any sense! You two seemed so happy together.”

“We were; believe me,” Big Mac said. “But she had to go somewhere, do something important. And she told me I couldn’t go with her.”

“What did she have to do?” Apple Bloom asked.

Big Mac remained silent, shaking his head gently. A drop of water fell from his face and struck the wooden table.

“Tell me,” Apple Bloom pleaded. “I need to know.”

He shook her hoof away and stood. Taking several long strides toward the fireplace, he stared into the roaring flames.

“Applejack will be back from the farm soon,” Big Mac said. “Why don’t you go wash up for dinner.”

“Big Mac—“

“Now’s not the time, AB,” Big Mac whispered. “Maybe another day.”

Apple Bloom rose glacially from the table, never taking her eyes off Big Mac as she strode toward a nearby bathroom.

“Thanks for telling me all that anyway, big brother,” she said. “I love you.”

Big Mac closed his eyes as he heard the door latch click into place. “I love you too, sweetheart.”

*   *   *

“…Anyway, I’m startin’ to think we need to put up a wire fence around our property,” Applejack said, shoveling a piece of apple pie into her mouth whole. “At leaft a few hundred affles haf been stolen since laft month.”

A bombardment of apple chunks came spewing across the table. Big Mac eyed them in disgust before returning to his own meal.

“We didn’t used to have to deal with that,” Granny Smith interjected. “We just knew it was wrong to take other ponies’ things.”

“Welcome to the real world,” Big Mac muttered.

“What do you think about the fence, Big Mac?” Applejack asked.

“Eeyup,” he nodded.

“Alright, I guess that settles it,” Applejack said, casting her brother a suspicious look. “I’ll start gettin’ the supplies together tomorrow afternoon. I think it’s about high time we started protectin’ our property.”

Applejack shifted her gaze to her younger sister, who sat shifting her food back and forth on her plate.

“Why so quiet, Apple Bloom?” Applejack asked.

“Huh?” Apple Bloom broke out of her trance and shrugged. “It’s nothin’, just school stuff.”

Applejack looked between her siblings. They sat as symmetric images, heads laid on their elbows and playing with their meals.

“Is somethin’—“

“I think I’d better excuse myself,” Big Mac cut in. “Rabbits have been diggin’ up the western part of the orchard, and we need to cut ‘em off at the head.”

“Alright then.” Applejack smiled uneasily.

Big Mac stood and bolted out the door without a second glance.

“Uh, I’m finished,” Apple Bloom said, pushing her plate aside. “I think I’ll go help Big Mac with the rabbits.”

“Just leave Granny Smith and me with the dishes, I guess!” Applejack threw her hooves up. “Fine, just be back before it gets too late.”

Apple Bloom nodded and shot for the door. As it slammed shut behind her, she could just make out a broad silhouette trotting over a distant hill in the fading sunlight.

He’s in a hurry, Apple Bloom noticed. And probably not for rabbits…

Without a moment’s hesitation, she bolted off in the same direction. Following the massive hoofprints struck into the ground, Apple Bloom watched as the trees became progressively sparser. Galloping with all her might, she followed the trail until she finally saw a ruby red glow a short distance away, his back turned. Apple Bloom proceeded cautiously when she saw the last of the apple trees slip behind her, the towering figures of mountains replacing them.

“Where’s he goin’?” she wondered aloud.

As she trotted within a short distance of her brother, Apple Bloom ducked behind a bush and perked her ears. She strained her ears as Big Mac took a deep breath, continuing his walk a moment later. Apple Bloom stood from her hiding spot and watch as Big Mac started up a steep mountain path.

She tore after him and began trudging up the pathway in his wake. Gasping for breath after the first few hundred feet, Apple Bloom marveled at his seemingly boundless energy.

As the shadows of the boulders and spires grew longer, Apple Bloom felt minutes slip by. With each new look over the cliff’s edge, she saw more of Ponyville’s landscape revealed, ponies below becoming ants in her vision as she climbed.

After what seemed like an eternity, she saw Big Mac round a corner on the path and climb onto a plateau. As she followed his lead, Apple Bloom saw him come to rest in front of an unassuming hunk of rock, set beneath a towering oak tree.

Apple Bloom ducked behind a large boulder, peeking around it toward her brother. Without a word, Big Mac lay on the grass and stared at the stone.

She watched in awe as he simply sat, still as a statue in front of the ebenezer.

“Sweet dreams,” Big Mac said. As quickly as he had sat, he stood on the spot and started back toward the downward path.

Apple Bloom stared as he walked away, hanging his head low. For the briefest moment, she made to follow him, but stopped after only a step. Turning toward the rock, she strode forward once Big Mac’s head had dipped below the plateau.

As she neared the stone, she saw an intricate series of engravings cut into its surface. Placing her hoofs in the imprint left by her brother’s, she strained to make out the carvings.

Apple Bloom’s entire body went cold as she read the first line of the inscription. Surrounded by the image of dozens of oak leaves was a single word:

“Autumn,” she whispered reverently.

Stepping forward, she laid hoof on the stone. She barely dared to breath as the realization came crashing down.

Loving friend, sister-in-law and wife,” Apple Bloom read. “We will never forget her, even as she sails above the clouds to wonders unknown.”

Tears sparkled in her eyes as she bowed her head low, allowing the pain to wash over her.

I had another sister, she thought. I had another sister, and I’ll never get to know her.

The realization crashed like the tide on a shore. Apple Bloom remained hunched, allowing the tears to wash away the surreal feeling that had gripped her body.

Why does it have to be this way?” she asked the mountaintop as her sorrow was absorbed by the thirsty ground.

Steeling herself, she raised her head and attempted to make out the rest of the inscription.

Apple Bloom’s torment was cut short as she noticed a word immediately after “Autumn.” Obscured by years of wear and tear, only a single letter of the word was visible.

“Autumn B?” she wondered aloud. Try as she might, Apple Bloom found herself incapable of deciphering the tarnished remembrance. Shaking off the disappointment, she turned her eyes toward the rest of the writing.

“Born April 14, 1290 AC, died—“

Apple Bloom felt a familiar sensation of shock course through her body as she read the date. Without any further inspection, she turned from the grave and bolted toward the pathway down the plateau.

No more lies, Apple Bloom told herself as she galloped down the pathway toward Sweet Apple Acres, the earth-shattering information still fresh in her mind. No more secrets. You’re going to tell me the truth, if it’s the last thing you do.

*   *   *

Darkness had crept over the valley cradling Sweet Apple Acres when Apple Bloom bounded up the stairs to her home. She pressed her ear to the door, but heard nothing but the sound of hisses and crackles from the fireplace. Taking a deep breath, she placed her hoof on the handle and swung the door wide. As she entered, she saw the figures of two ponies reclining in front of the flickering flames.

“AJ? Big Mac?” she called into the house.

The silhouettes of her siblings bolted from their chairs and toward the doorway.

“Apple Bloom, thank heaven you’re alright!” Applejack shouted, lifting her sister from the ground and embracing her forcefully. “What on earth do you think you were doing out there, all alone at night?” she demanded.

“You should feel terrible, worryin’ me and your sister like that!” Big Mac scolded her. “Lyin’ to AJ, followin’ me on my personal business…”

Apple Bloom looked rapidly between her siblings, mouth agape and eyes helpless.

Applejack waved a hoof threateningly. “Wait until Granny Smith hears about this-“

Big Mac nodded furiously. “Don’t think you can pull a stunt like this again-“

“-not goin’ out with your little friends for quite a while-“

“-lucky you weren’t eaten by a coyote-“

Why did Autumn die on my birthday?”

Applejack and Big Mac froze in their tracks as Apple Bloom’s demanding voice echoed through the house. Their mouths fell open in perfect unison as they looked at one another.

“You told her?” Applejack asked in a low voice.

“Not everything,” Big Mac shook his head. “Not yet, anyway.”

“You can’t honestly think now—“

Big Mac turned his head to the ceiling and took a deep breath. “AJ, if she’s willin’ to go this far, I think now might be the time.”

Applejack opened her mouth to respond, but thought better. Nodding in resignation, she approached Apple Bloom, laying her hooves on her sister’s shoulders.

“Be strong, sugarcube.”

Without another word, Applejack turned and ascended the stairs to her room.

Big Mac gestured to the hearth, walking side by side with his sister as they sat.

“How much do you remember about mom and dad?” Big Mac asked.

Apple Bloom squinted in deep thought. “Only what y’all have told me. You said they ran the farm just like we do now, and they died right after I was born. But you’re not answerin’ my question.”

“Easy there, I’m getting to that,” Big Mac said gently. “So I take it you found Autumn’s grave?”

“Yeah… I did,” Apple Bloom replied, cradling her head in her hooves before stiffening her resolve. “Why didn’t you ever tell me about this? You and Autumn were married, she died, any you never told me any of it!”

Tears filled her eyes for the second time that evening. “Do you not care about me?”

Big Mac closed his eyes, wrapping his hooves around her. “Of course I care about you, sweetheart. There’s more to it than you think.”

“I just don’t understand why you kept this from me for so long,” Apple Bloom said, sobbing into his chest.

“You’re not listenin’,” Big Mac whispered, laying a hoof on her mane.  

“Tell me the truth,” she demanded. “No more secrets. Why did she—“

“She died during childbirth.”

Silence shattered the exchange like a cannon blast. Apple Bloom sat stone still, her eyes locked unblinkingly on the stallion.

“What are you talkin’ about?” Apple Bloom asked, her heart racing.

Big Mac shuddered as he inhaled. The statement had erupted from him like lava from a volcano, long awaiting its expulsion.

“After we got married, Autumn found out she was pregnant with a filly,” Big Mac explained. He stared directly into the fire as he spoke, unable to look her in the eye. “It was the happiest day of my life. I wasn’t just goin’ to be a husband; I was goin’ to be a father.”

He sniffled as his tears dripped to the floor. “But it wasn’t that simple. When Autumn went into labor, the doctors said they would have to perform surgery to get the baby out safely. They said that if they operated, Autumn might die in the process, but if she didn’t…”

Apple Bloom’s entire body began to shake as she shared in her brother’s tears. “And?”

“Autumn said she’d rather die than let that happen,” Big Mac choked out. “She said she’d lived long enough. So they did it.

“Before they put her to sleep, we agreed to name the filly after both of us, and so I did.”

Big Mac took a deep breath, still staring directly forward. “Autumn’s last name was Bloom.”

He turned to Apple Bloom with a weak smile, his eyes aflame in the firelight.

“You have the same eyes, the same smile, even the same laugh. You two would be so much alike... if only she were here to see it."

Apple Bloom mimicked her brother and stared into the fireplace. “Autumn was my mom?” she whispered.

He nodded, his eyes bright and expectant.

“And that means you’re…”

Big Mac turned to her and opened his hooves wide. Apple Bloom exploded into a fit of joyful tears, embracing Big Mac without restraint.

“Why didn’t you ever tell me?” Apple Bloom whispered into his chest.

“I wanted to tell you every day,” he assured her. “You just weren’t ready. I couldn’t wait for the day you were.”

Apple Bloom drew back from the embrace, wiping the tears away with a flick of her hoof.

“So that means Applejack is my aunt… doesn’t it?”

Big Mac chuckled. “I suppose it does. Is that a problem?”

Apple Bloom shook her head, unable to tear her eyes away from him. “No, it’s just… funny. In a few minutes, I lost two sisters, but I gained a father and mother. Even if Autumn’s not here anymore, I still get to know.”

She rose to her hooves with a deep sigh. “And I still have you.”

Big Mac placed his hooves on her sides, lifting her into the air and planting a kiss on her cheek. “You’ll always have me, sweetheart.”

His eyes drifted to a clock standing above the fireplace.

“I think that’s enough riveting revelations for one day,” he decided. “Why don’t you head on up to bed? Maybe in a few hours, you’ll wake up, and this will all have been a dream.”

“Maybe…” Apple Bloom said over her shoulder as she turned toward the stairs. “but I don’t think I would want that. After all…”

She turned just as she alighted on the top step. “I love you, dad.”

Big Mac’s heart rate tripled as she uttered the word. “I love you too, my beautiful little Bloom.”