A/N: Howdy everyone/everypony! Frost here with another chapter for all of you. Glad to see so many are enjoying this story, so here's the next chapter for your hungry bellies to gorge themselves on. Please R&R and let me know what you thought.

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

Chapter 3: To Gift a Princess

The rest of the month had gone swimmingly for the Apple family, and Ponyville in general. Life had gotten back to normal (whatever that was) and talk of what happened at the hospital had died down, as well as who was involved. The princesses had requested that the identity of the woman that helped (Applejack) was kept confidential, so thankfully Big Mac hadn't needed to deal with cameras and reporters showing up at the farm.

While three weeks had passed since that exciting day at the hospital, Applejack had not lost hope. Instead, her belief that Twilight would come out of this was gaining more and more steam as time went on, so much so that she was smiling more often than not...a welcome change to the middle child of Sweet Apple Acres.

With it being the middle of summer, however, that meant one thing for the Apple family: blooming season.

Many of the apple trees would sprout flowers and begin blooming for pollination within the next month or so, with the red delicious and mcintosh apples being the first to do so. The problem with this was that Applejack had developed allergies from repeated exposure to the pollen in the air. Twilight knew a spell that could handle the symptoms without making her drowsy, but unfortunately it was one of the very few spells she had created that she had not written down...meaning she was the only one of her kind that knew how to cast it. This in turn meant that either Applejack would help out and be miserable, or Big Mac would force her to do work in the town instead in an effort to alleviate her allergies somewhat.

More often than not, the latter was what happened.

Big Mac took a deep breath as he sipped his coffee out on the front porch of the farmhouse, relishing the familiar scent of the plantation during the summer months. He knew that without Applejack to help, it was going to be pretty quiet around the farm, but luckily there wasn't much work to be done other than check over the trees for pests or disease, a job he could easily handle on his own.

'And I still got my dau-...other sister.'

The mental slip up caused a little guilt to shoot through him, like it always did, but he shoved it away. For the sake of the youngest Apple and himself, he couldn't afford to think about it...lest it drive him crazy.

Still, in the early morning, when there was nothing to do, his mind tended to wander. It sometimes took him to dark places, and other times to dreams of what might be, or what could have been. In the situation he currently found his mind in, he wondered what it would have been like to be a father, had he the choice again. The dark side of his mind wondered what it would have been like had he never made the mistake he had when he was younger.

But, as he looked in the front window of the house to see Applebloom prancing about happily, waiting for breakfast, he couldn't help but smile.

'Maybe there ain't no right choice...but I did the best I could and proved myself to be the man my pa thought I would be.'

He knew in his heart that he couldn't have let Applebloom go, even given the chance again...especially given the chance again. He knew that accidents rarely turned into something good, but when they did, it could be some of the best things in life. Maybe he'd tell Applebloom the truth one day, and try to explain why things turned out the way they had, but at ten years old, he knew she wasn't ready.

For now however, it was time for breakfast with his family, so he downed the rest of his coffee before stepping back inside the farmhouse.

Hours later Big Mac found himself in the market district of the town. Princess Celestia's birthday get-together was tomorrow, so like any decent guest he decided he should attempt to get her a gift or two. Since she was many times older than him and had likely seen and done quite a bit more, it was unlikely he was going to surprise her with a gift.

But he'd be damned if he wasn't going to try.

Princess Celestia had been rather down lately. Among those close to her, it was no secret she drew great joy from the regular letters she received from Twilight, even if they were simply to say "hi" and tell what had been going on in life. Big Mac knew that it was difficult for the princesses to connect with regular people, so it made sense that when they did, they held onto that bond like a liferaft in the chaotic ocean called life. He knew that the princesses saw the world a different way than normal people did. They had to, as Big Mac knew that if he had to watch so much time pass and so many people die while he just stuck around, he'd probably have an emotional breakdown...or two. Still, he knew even the princesses had their limits, and this assumption was confirmed by the look of clear worry that he had seen on both of their faces every time they visited Twilight in the hospital.

He wasn't so arrogant as to think that his presence and presents were going to be enough to bring the solar princess out of her funk, but he also knew that he had to try. Princess Celestia was a friend to him, and though he wasn't as...enthusiastic about it as the young woman known as Pinkie Pie, he didn't like seeing his friends unhappy. So even though he wasn't confident he could do the impossible by brightening up the day of an ageless princess, he was confident that he could do everything within his power to do so.

Big Mac's sister was known for her skill at creating apple-themed dishes ranging from pies to dumplings, but the one thing Sugarcube Corner sorely outclassed her in was cakes. The people that ran the shop were named Carrot- and Cup Cake, so it made sense they knew what they were doing. Then of course there was Ponyville's resident Premier Party Princess, Pinkie Pie, who was magic in the kitchen. So the first place he decided to stop at was a staple for any birthday party, whether for a princess or a regular person: Sugarcube Corner.

As he entered the bakery, a legion of smells attacked his nose, all of them sweet in some way. He'd never really had a taste for candy, cake, or pies (besides his family's apple pies, of course), but he did have a weakness for blueberry muffins, and for some reason there was always a batch of fresh-baked muffins whenever he'd arrive...as if they knew he was coming.

A small brass bell rang as he came through the door to the bakery, announcing his arrival. Sure enough, Pinkie Pie's curly pink mess of hair popped out of the back room at the sound, and she smiled when she saw Big Mac walking in.

She jogged over to him and embraced him tightly. "Hi Mackie! What a coinkydink, a fresh batch of muffins just finished baking! You want one?"

He chuckled as he gently pushed the excitable woman off of him, and nodded. "Sure thing, Pink. Sounds good."

"Okay! You wait right here and I'll be back in a jiffer! Or is it jiffy? Juicy?" the woman answered, mumbling to herself as she began to walk back to the counter. Big Mac followed her and waited as she fished one of the fresh, moist muffins out from the glass display, wrapping it in a napkin and handing it to him. She then typed a few things into the cash register before looking up to meet his eyes, sapphire meeting emerald. "Okie dokie! That'll be two bits, please." Big Mac reached into his wallet and pulled out the two coins, placing them in her hand as he took the baked treat. He then watched as she took the money from him and put it in the register before looking back up at him. "So hey, I get a break in about ten minutes. Do you wanna stick around?"

He nodded with a grin as he answered, "Sounds like a plan. Ah'll be in tha window nook."

Big Mac took his muffin and went to sit at a small table in the window nook, where the golden rays of the sun projected a warm glow to the area. He took out his snack and began eating it as he watched the bubbly young woman literally bounce her way around the bakery as she cleaned and organized things, her vivid pink hair bouncing as much as her other "assets". Many of the men around town had tried to court her, some making the excuse that they wanted to find out if pink was her true color, but she was very picky. This in turn had started gentle rumors about her that she was a prude.

Big Mac sighed to himself...he knew otherwise.

The truth was he was possibly the only one who knew her personally outside of the other Elements. Because of her youthful personality and delightfully curvy body, she was the envy of many women in town, and the target of many men seeking a girlfriend. The problem with this was that hardly anyone truly took the time to know her, as her easily-excitable personality could grate on people's nerves at times...but Big Mac had seen more than that. He saw a person that loved to make others smile or laugh in joy, no matter how much work it took. What he hadn't known at first was the deep-seated depression she battled with every day. It was a part of the reason she chose to spread joy everywhere she went, but the other part was because if she wasn't making others smile, she'd have to stop and think about just how much she'd lost in life.

Like him, Pinkie Pie had lost both of her parents from a young age, and she grew up on a rock farm with a foster family that didn't really pay attention to her. From sunup to sundown, she was made to work with the other younger members of the household out in the fields, breaking up stone. She learned the value of hard work, responsibility, and self-sufficiency...but she also learned to distrust all others.

Her distrust of strangers was why she acted as she did in public. It was an act that made it easy to do her job at the bakery or as a party organizer by making it fun for customers, while still distancing herself from them. With her friends, she was very touchy-feely, always wanting to be hugged or hold hands, or be touching them in some way. Some of them didn't understand why exactly and simply attributed it to "Pinkie being Pinkie", but Big Mac knew from being told by the bubbly girl herself that she wanted proof that her friends weren't just her imagination.

It was rather sad when it came right down to it, that one of the people who deserved happiness the most had to fight tooth and nail just to get it.

Big Mac looked down at the napkin on the table to notice that during his thoughts, he had apparently eaten the muffin, so he balled up the napkin and slipped it into the wastebin by the front door before taking his seat again. As he waited, he watched how the three bakers went about their work, efficient as always. Rarely had he seen three people working so well together, as if they were mentally connected. It was what had allowed Sugarcube Corner to become so successful, being known for great treats, fair prices, and a joyful, relaxed atmosphere.

He continued to take in the decor or the establishment, marveling at its simplicity. This was a human town after all, and across all the races, humans weren't known for being the most lavish when it came to fashion or decorations. Still, it had a warm, "homey" feel to it that was inviting without being intimidating. Many of the regular patrons were on a first-name basis with the proprietors that ran the bakery, which only added to its allure. The most enjoyable part of the bakery was Pinkie Pie though, as her smiles and silly antics always put grins on faces and joy in hearts.

He had met her many years ago, when he was no older than ten. He had found her, wandering the streets and starving, when he was doing market work with his father when he was still alive. In truth he had almost thought of just turning the other way and continuing to work, but something stopped him. That something was what he thanked every day for choosing to sneak her in the barn to give her shelter. It wasn't much of course, but it was all he could think of at the time...after all, the house wasn't his. His father was observant though, and noticed his less-than-subtle son spending an awful lot of time in the barn with seemingly no explanation why. He found the two young people of course, Big Mac keeping her company and occasionally sitting in silence while she cried softly. Even though Thunderbolt Apple was known for his strict parenting as much as his decidedly odd name, he was not the type of man to throw out a young girl who was clearly in need of help. So instead of leaving his son to try and hide her, he made his presence known to them, assured them both he was not angry, and invited her to stay with them.

This had made the young man ecstatic of course, for not only did he have a new friend, but he could actually do true good in someone's life.

Much to Thunderbolt and Big Mac's relief, the girl actually wanted to help earn her keep. She was quiet and meek, but worked every bit as hard as they did, even though her body was severely malnourished and it was clear she had a lot on her mind. Though it was true that she was too young and weak to do much besides "kid's work", she did it diligently, determined to pay back the family that offered her room and board, simply because it was the right thing to do.

As could be expected, Applejack and Big Mac soon became close friends with her.

Seeing as how Big Mac was five years older than his sister, he entered puberty before her and became interested in girls...as any young man would.

It had been a little over two years since the bubbly pink-haired girl began living with them, and he began noticing different things about her. Beyond her personality, he began noticing how soft her skin looked, and that he wanted to touch it. He began to notice the soft little lumps of flesh under her shirt every time she would hug him (which was often). Most of all though, he realized that he rather enjoyed seeing her in a swimsuit, like when she and Applejack would take a dip in the river.

These new thoughts confused him, and after receiving a rather awkward talk about "growing up" from his father, he realized that to act on such thoughts could get him in a lot of trouble. He promised himself that he wouldn't do so, because even though his new thoughts were telling him to touch her and do something, he valued her friendship much more than that...so with no small amount of willpower, he fought those feelings down, and locked them away.

Time, it seemed, had a way of complicating things.

Merely four months after Big Mac's fourteenth birthday, he received the worst news he ever had up to that point: his parents had been killed.

His mother and father personally made deliveries across the whole nation, and they had gotten caught in an avalanche after a heavy snow in the mountains of Cryomere, in the Frozen North. After being gone for nearly a week, he received a letter from the local coroner, stating that his parents may have been found, and he and Granny Smith needed to identify the bodies.

He said nothing as he went, and only opted to tell Applejack and Pinkie when he returned.

It went without saying that when he and the older woman returned, they had to explain to Applejack that their mother and father were not coming home this time. Both she and Pinkie Pie began weeping immediately, Applejack confused and angry, but Pinkie understanding what happened. The pink-haired girl was his age after all, and had lost her own parents at a very young age. Applejack wouldn't listen however, and took her father's hat off of the coathook and began to bury herself in work, hoping that if she worked hard enough, maybe the pain would stop.

Granny Smith took over as caretaker for the three young ones, though that didn't make the funeral any easier.

It went without saying that Applejack took things particularly hard, with how close she was to her father. She had to be physically dragged away from the caskets so they could lower them into the ground, and Big Mac found it one of the most heartbreaking times of his life.

Pinkie Pie also did her share of mourning, as the Apple family had been the one place where she'd felt safe, secure, and loved. They were her family, and now two strong members of that family were gone forever.

Big Mac, by his token, was strangely quiet. He remembered getting up on the podium and saying a few words about his folks, but then left without shedding more than a few tears silently. Part of it was because he was honestly in shock of what had happened, while another part wouldn't allow himself to break down in public, where his younger sister could see him.

The day itself was bright and sunny, when it least needed to be, but life went on and so did the day.

The night of the funeral changed Big Mac's life.

He was alone, finally letting the grief overcome him in the privacy of his own room. For what felt like hours, he let the pain and sadness drip out of him in tiny drops of water, but no matter how much time passed it didn't seem to be getting better.

A soft knock on his door caused him to go silent, and it was followed by a soft, "Big Mac?"

He wiped his eyes and cleared his throat, recognizing Pinkie's voice. "Um, yes?"

"Are you alright in there?" she asked with concern. He was silent, not knowing how to answer, and she followed with, "Can I come in?"

He took a couple deep breaths and wiped his face again. "Yeah, y'all can come in."

The door opened just a bit and she slipped into the dark room, her motions silent. After closing the door, she turned around to look at Big Mac as he sat on his bed.

He took in the sight of her in the soft moonlight, her fluffy pink curls of hair draping over her neck, shoulders, and back. Though a year younger than him, she was already beginning to grow into the beautiful woman she would become. She was no longer the skinny, malnourished girl he had found so long ago...instead, she was a beautiful young woman with a smile warmer than Celestia's sun. Her pink "ice cream" pajamas complimented her personality perfectly, and her blue eyes were bright and sparkling in the lunar light.

As she walked over and sat on his bed beside him, she offered no promises that "everything will be alright". By experience, she knew it would be a lie...but she also knew that he didn't need to handle it alone. He had spent the entire day being strong for everyone else, so she knew he needed time to be weak and vulnerable...to truly grieve.

And so, she hugged him tightly...and the dam burst.

Big Mac couldn't stop himself as the tears began to fall. What he wanted at that moment was for someone to tell him ‒ to lie to him ‒ that everything was going to be alright. He knew Pinkie better than that though...he knew she would never lie to him about anything. He knew that she knew he didn't need lies to make him feel better, even if he wanted them. What he wanted right then was his father and mother to show up, telling all of them that it was a mistake and they were really okay. He wanted everything to go back to normal and for the world to make sense again.

He received none of that...instead he received a soft, affectionate kiss on the cheek.

He slowly opened his eyes and turned his face to meet her gaze, and was awestruck at the sight before him. Many times when he was working he'd thought of Pinkie as "hot" or cute, but only that night, for the first time, could he honestly say she was beautiful. For the first time he saw her as more than just his friend, or the cute girl that lived with them. Instead, for that night, he was in pain, and she was his guardian angel.

As much as everyone thought otherwise, the two had never actually been together in any sexual way. It was true that he and Pinkie had dated a bit on and off for awhile, but had always drifted apart for one reason or another. At first, it was because Big Mac had gone to college (much as the people of Ponyville didn't think so). When he had graduated, he had picked up with Pinkie right where they left off...but they were broken apart again when she chose to move out of Sweet Apple Acres, and into what was to become Sugarcube Corner bakery.

She never offered him a real explanation, at least by his count. She simply told him, "It's time for me to go now, Mackie. You don't need me anymore."

From there, they never really hit it off again. Both knew that they cared about each other, but for some reason, they just never saw the reason to actually "be together" again. That's not to say that the two weren't physically affectionate with each other when both were single, but they never crossed the barrier into a relationship again. Neither felt the need, as what they had was already perfect. Both knew they would never end up together in the end, but it was always nice to have someone that would loyally stay by your side no matter what.

A soft touch on the shoulder brought Big Mac out of his thoughts, and he turned his head to the right to see Pinkie Pie sitting down beside him.

"You know, if you were thinking any harder, I think smoke might start coming out of your ears." she commented with a grin.

He smiled at her and nodded. "Ah guess so. Ah was just thinkin' about tha past is all."

She tilted her head cutely, her soft pink hair bouncing as she did so. "What about?"

He sighed as he caught her cyan eyes with his own. "How we met...and all that stuff."

"Ooh, were you remembering Nightmare Night when we helped Luna fit in?" she asked excitedly.

The memory of that night made Big Mac blush...not so much because of the rather revealing outfit she had been wearing, but more so because of the fact that Princess Luna had caught him and Pinkie making out in front of the Nightmare Moon statue. It went without saying that the rather sheltered princess had been mortified, and he had spent the next few days praying that the night princess wouldn't arrest him for what she deemed "public indecency". She didn't of course, but it hadn't stopped him from worrying.

Big Mac shook the vision from his head before turning back to the woman in front of him. "Naw, that ain't it." He then cleared his throat and took a serious expression with her. "Anyway Pink, Ah need yer help. Ah got invited ta Princess Celestia's birthday and Ah need ta get her a cake."

Pinkie squinted a bit as she pursed her lips and gazed at the open air. "Hmm...a cake for the princess." She thought for a few minutes before her eyes widened and she let loose a bright smile. "I got just the thing, Mackie! I came up with a new design for a cake a month or two ago, but it's too big for a normal party...but for a princess..."

He smiled, glad that his friend had come through again. "Sounds good, but Ah need yer help with somethin' else too." Pinkie Pie was broken from her thoughts and looked at him as he continued. "Well, Ah need ideas fer a gift for tha princess."

She gasped and then frowned, slapping him on his shoulder. "The birthday is tomorrow, and you haven't gotten a gift yet?"

"Ah haven't had time!" he defended as he rubbed his shoulder, which from the sheer force of her blow he knew was going to bruise.

Thankfully for him she was well aware of how busy work around the Acres could be, so she dropped her look of scorn and settled for one of intense thought. "Hmm...so you leave tomorrow morning and you need a gift or two."

He nodded. "Eeyup. Ah was hopin' ta get somethin' unique that she'd really like, but Ah can't think 'a nothin'. Ah mean she's got a good couple thousand years on me, so Ah'm thinkin' it ain't gonna be possible ta surprise her."

She pursed her lips again as her brow furrowed. "Hmm...that is a toughie." She thought for a few more seconds before looking back at him questioningly. "Have you thought of anything yet? I mean you're her friend, so I think you might have a better idea than you think."

He shrugged. "Ah mean Ah got a few ideas, but nothin' Ah could do without some help from tha princess herself."

Pinkie tilted her head curiously to one side and asked, "Well what did you have in mind?"

He shrugged. "Well, Ah know Princess Celestia has a soft spot fer iceberries from tha north, but Ah don't know no one that can get 'em."

Pinkie giggled and swatted his shoulder playfully. "Oh Mackie, I can get those!"

"Wait, really?" he asked in disbelief.

She giggled and nodded. "Yeah! You don't make as many people smile as I do without making some very valuable allies and friends. One of those friends happens to be a travelling merchant who specializes in hard-to-find things, like iceberries. If we take my car, we can meet him when he makes his stop in Manehattan and be back before the sun goes down."

Hardly anyone in Ponyville or Canterlot actually drove full-sized cars, since most places could be reached on foot fairly quickly, but Pinkie was one of the few that owned one. In honesty the way she drove scared him, but if anyone could get him to Manehattan to meet this merchant in time, it would be her.

He nodded nervously. "Okay...sounds good, but Ah still wanna get her somethin' else." He thought for a few moments before stating, "Ah know she loves cider, so Ah guess Ah could bring her a barrel of it, but Ah still feel like it ain't good enough."

Pinkie thought for a few seconds before smiling. "Well what about you?"

He raised his eyebrow at her. "Ah don't know what ya heard Pink, but Ah ain't that kinda guy."

She giggled and shook her head. "No silly, I mean just you showing up to see her...spending time with her. The best gift for a princess like her is something she can't get anywhere else...you. No matter how long she's lived and will live, there's only one of you, and there will only be one."

He brought his hand up and rubbed his chin, absentmindedly noticing he needed to shave again, before nodding. "That's actually a pretty good idea, Pink."

Again she giggled as she nodded. "I have my moments."

He brought his hand up and ran it through her hair, massaging her scalp in the way that he knew always made her happy. She hummed happily as she leaned against him, and he smiled. "Ah'm glad Ah got ya as a friend."

"And you always will, Mackie." she whispered affectionately. She then pulled away and said, "You go tell your family that you'll be gone today, and I'll finish up here and meet you at the farm in an hour, okay?"

He nodded with a grin as he stood up from the table. "Sounds good. Ah'll be ready."