A/N: Hey there, everyone. Frostbreaker here with a rather random line of inspiration brought about by a deviantART artist known as johnjoseco, and his art titled "Oh AJ...". Check it out if you want a visual representation of this first scene. Anyhow, as always, please R&R and let me know what you think.

I wish to stress that this is not an AJxMac pairing.

All characters are humanized.

Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters associated with My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, nor the original story.

Prologue: Bittersweet Dreams

The warm summer's night held the land in its comforting embrace, holding the lush earth and air in the grasp of a lover. The symphony of evening played its number, each animal doing its part, and each adding to the familiar atmosphere.

Small dancing lights flashed in a passionate waltz around each other, while the clear sky gave way to the full moon overhead. It was a perfect night...a beautiful night. The chorus of life played its lullaby to the sleeping inhabitants of the small town of Ponyville, lulling them into quiet slumber as the lunar guardian watched over them from the sky.

A lone fenced path near the outskirts of the town guided two souls home through the night, towards their large plot of land that held Ponyville's Sweet Apple Acres. It was the pride and joy of the Apple family, who worked the land diligently to provide themselves and the town with valuable produce, as well as a historical landmark that added character to the whole town.

Thick work boots stepped across the earth quietly as the pair made their way to the home that awaited them in the distance. Though the gait of the strong legs was long, it was heavy, and trudging. The gait itself spoke of heartache, and pain that plagued he that made it. The dark blue denim pants that covered the legs stretched a bit with every step of the powerful legs, and the red shirt that covered the torso was torn in a few places as blood stained the marred patches.

The man sighed sadly as he chewed on a sprig of hay within his mouth, the small tuft of dried vegetation seeming to be the only thing that grounded him at the time...for at the moment, his mind and heart was assaulted by the sound of quiet sobs of pain...both physically and of the heart.

"Ah...Ah don' know why th-they gotta hate 'er s-so much!" a woman sobbed, her cries twisting the gut of the man she clung to as he carried her back home. "Th-they're jus' doin' it 'cause she can' d'fend herself!"

Again he sighed, and continued down the dirt path, trying to keep his own tears from falling. Instead, he focused on what he could do to better the situation. He was a man of few words, opting to say only what he meant, and never any more...so he thought hard and chose his words carefully before speaking.

After a moment, he tightened his grip under his passenger's knees, and whispered, "Ah miss her too, AJ."

Those five simple words spoke all that the woman needed to hear, conveying every emotion she had been truly feeling, and reassuring her that she was not alone.

She tightened her hold across his chest and cried harder, while he continued down the dirt path, the bright moon guiding the way.

The front door to the rustic farmhouse offered not even a squeak of resistance as the pair entered, as if it sensed the seriousness within the air. Tears still fell in the wake of the duo, but thankfully for the blonde mass of heartbreak, there was no others awake to witness it.

"C'mon AJ...up ta bed." the man spoke softly, slipping off his boots next to the door before hauling himself and his charge up the short flight of stairs.

Upon arriving at the top, he promptly turned right and continued walking, before stopping in front of a door with three red apples decorating it. He pushed the door open with his knee and walked inside, hearing faint snores from behind him.

The tall, orange-haired man sat down on the bed in the room, releasing the woman's legs and gently prying her arms apart before standing again and moving her so that her head was nestled comfortably on the pillow. He then gently removed the worn boots she wore, along with the beloved hat hung around her neck, placing them in their places beside the bed itself.

As he again stood beside the bed, he frowned at the sleeping figure, noting the troubled lines on her face. He leaned down to the bed and kissed the forehead of the woman, rubbing the spot lightly with his thumb as he stood.

"Ah love ya, sis...and Ah'll never leave ya by yerself. Ah swear." he whispered lovingly as he stood again.

Just as he pulled away, a grip of fingers on his wrist stopped him, and he looked to see two emerald eyes pleading with him silently.

He only nodded, concluding the silent conversation they had before leaving the room.

The large-framed man quickly washed the dirt and blood off of his body, as well as the sweat of the day, paying special attention to the large scrape upon his forearm, which was mottled with dirt and gravel.

A rather large grunt of pain escaped his lips as he brushed the abrasion with a rag, removing the particles that were embedded within it before dousing it in alcohol. He hissed in pain as the disinfectant did its work, and once the burn subsided, he went about wrapping a roll of gauze around the cleaned wound.

After thoroughly tending to himself, he looked into the mirror, analyzing his rough, scarred skin. The life of one who works a farm was a difficult one, but also one he took pride in. Every scar was a memory, some good, some bad...yet every one taught another lesson he remembered to this day. He then looked to the newly bandaged wounds that would heal into new scars, and thought for a moment about the lesson they had taught.

'AJ's not as strong as she acts.'

As much as he hated to admit it to himself, it was a truth that became all the more apparent today. Even with all the hardship they had been through as a family, he never coddled or "babied" the elder of his two younger sisters. It was her pride in the strength of her body and heart that kept him from doing so, as well as her self-made image she had constructed as a hardworking, honest, no-nonsense girl.

'Guess the dam's finally startin' to crack.'

It was no secret among his immediate family that he was the heart and soul of them. Quiet, stoic, and often misunderstood in public, he was in fact deeply loving, wise, and understanding. Only his family knew who he truly was on the inside, and he aimed to keep it that way. Today had been a reminder that most of the rest of the world didn't care at all, and that they only had each other to rely upon. Family became all the more important because of incidents like these, and it reminded him that when it came right down to it, it truly was them against the world.

He sighed once more before turning off the light and heading to his room.

Dressed in a pair of shorts and a tank top, he again made his way the room that was marked with a trio of red apples, and softly knocked on the door before entering.

"AJ?" he whispered.

"Ah'm here..." came a sniffling, subdued answer.

He opened the door and stepped into the dark room, closing the door behind him. The moonlight from the window cast a beam of ivory light onto the lone bed against the wall, which harbored a cleaned and dressed-down blonde woman, her emerald eyes shining with tears in the soft light. Her knees were pulled to her chest as her arms stay wrapped around them, and she simply stared out of the single window of the room.

"Mac..." she whispered, her tone nearly overflowing with emotion.

Wordlessly, the man made his way to the bed and sat down against the wall it bordered, and wrapped his strong arms around his sister as she climbed into his lap. Again, she began dripping silent tears of agony, and he allowed his eyes to wander over the many bandages she herself had because of today. The anger within him flared, but he fought it down...vengeance never solved anything. Not only that, but Applejack was still young enough to be impressed upon, and he didn't want to set such a bad example for her.

The girl shifted in his grasp, laying her face against his chest as she sniffled a few times. "Mac...Ah don't know if Ah can keep doin' this to mahself." Again she sniffled before adding, "It's been a long time, an' it ain't changed nothin'."

He set his chin atop her head as he rocked her slowly back and forth, whispering, "Y'all can't give up now, sis. She's gonna need ya more than ever when she wakes up..."

"If she wakes up..." she shot back bitterly.

He sighed and rubbed his hand on her back. "No sis, when. Ya can't give up on her...she wouldn't give up on you."

She let out a shuddering sigh as he felt her head nod against him. "Ah know...Ah'm sorry, yer right."

He was silent for a long few moments before asking, "Ya still love her...dontcha?"

Without hesitation, he nodded. "Always...more than anything."

Attempting to lighten the mood, the man grinned down at her and replied, "More than yer big brother?"

His tactic worked, and she let a small smile cross her face. "Ah said anything, not anyone. Mah fam'ly always comes first...she knew that when she met me." The smile vanished for a moment as she asked, "Ya really think she's gonna be alright?"

The strongest Apple, Big Macintosh, nodded. "Eeyup. She's always been too darn stubborn ta go out like this. Doctors say she's always gettin' stronger, so don't you fret none. Ah reckon next phone call we get will be them tellin' us she's some kinda medical miracle or somethin'."

She nodded, but didn't respond otherwise as she began to shift, laying down on the bed. He followed her, never once releasing his grasp from his sister.

Applejack reveled in his embrace. She had remembered that when she was just a little girl, she could always be sure her brother would be there if she had nightmares or a bad day, and just like tonight, he would hold her tightly...grounding her and reminding her that she was loved, and was far from alone in the world. Just like her brother, it was a truth she had learned...the world was cruel, many times without reason or provocation. However, no matter what, she knew she could rest assured that her family would always be there to keep her safe, especially her brother. It was an odd bond she shared with him, somewhere between a sibling and a father, though like neither one. Truthfully, she didn't care to think about it...it didn't matter to her. All that mattered was him, and the love and safety he provided to her.

She felt her eyes begin to droop finally as her tears dried, and she whispered, "Ah love ya, Mac."

She felt his arms tighten slightly around her as he muttered, "Ah love ya too, sis. Get some sleep."

As the darkness of sleep closed in, she didn't feel fear or hesitation. She knew without a doubt that together, they could fight off whatever shadows came after them. With that last thought in mind, she finally surrendered to her exhaustion, falling asleep moments later.

Big Mac gazed lovingly at his sister before planting a soft kiss upon her head. "G'night sis...Ah hope ya have good dreams tonight." He then sighed and closed his eyes, following her into the realm of dreams soon after.