It was easier for her to move through the thick underbrush in the forest than it was for Big Macintosh. He lumbered through clumsily, just keeping her in sight. And then just like that she was gone. He stopped to look around, panic rising. She was still crying somewhere up ahead. And so he pushed on, breaking through to the more sparse part of the forest, just before it turned back into a field on one side and Ponyville on the other. She was crouched down at the edge of the stream, legs tucked under her, wings folded tight against her small body. Her turquoise eyes were locked on her own reflection, watching herself as the rain fell down around her.
The ground had to have been cold underneath her and Big Macintosh felt the need to scoop her up and protect her from the elements. She looked so much like Fluttershy that this past year had made it hard to look at her for long, let alone be a real father to her. Her yellow coat that faded to orange then red at her ears and the tips of her wings, her pink mane and tail with streaks of orange throughout, all matted and soaking. Even in the gloom of a storm she still looked like a winter sunrise. Her coloring was what prompted her parents to name her Morning Glory
She must have known he was standing there watching her because her head lifted eventually, heavy lidded eyes so full of sorrow. It made him move. The rain and the cold didn't matter as he got down on the ground beside his daughter, trucking his legs under himself as she had. "What are you doin' out here, Glory?"
"Aunt Applejack was worried."
"So she sent a little filly out into the storm?"
She shook her head and sniffled. "I snuck out."
Big Macintosh sighed. "You are more like your aunts than you'll ever know."
They were silent for a long time and she wouldn't meet his eyes, either face to face or in their distorted stream-water reflections. He saw her shiver and readjusted himself so he could drape a strong foreleg around her and pull her closer. This started the waterworks again. Not knowing what else to do, Big Macintosh lowered his head and laid it across her back, embracing and forming a sort of protection around her at the same time.
"I miss her, Daddy."
Her quiet confession brought his own emotions on strong once more and he answered her in a choked voice. "I know, darlin'. I miss her, too."
"I'm startin' to forget what her voice sounded like."
There was a twisted part of him that wished he could forget the sound of her voice, or somehow give all his memories of Fluttershy singing, her gentle laugh to their daughter. Maybe it would make the pain less. Or maybe it would just make the pain less meaningful. "I can't forget it. You sound a lot like her."
Glory lifted her head, searching her father's expression. "I do?"
"Especially when you sing. Both my girls always sounded like angels. You start missin' your mamma you just sing. That's all you need to do to remember her."
She bit her bottom lip, looking like she was weighing whether or not to say something else. At length she seemed to make a decision and the lip she'd been worrying began to quiver. "I miss you, too, Daddy."
Big Macintosh looked at her quizzically, his brow furrowed. "I'm right here, darlin'. I've always been right here."
"No you haven't. It's like you died with her. You never talk to me, you never play with me, you don't even really look at me anymore. It's like you're not even really here."
He opened his mouth to rebut and he found he couldn't really make an argument. Her words stung but mostly because they were true. It was exactly as Applejack said to him that morning, that he hadn't been living, just surviving. That meant mustering up enough energy to get himself out of bed every day, to eat, to work, even simply to breathe sometimes. When it was all said and done and the sun had set on another day there just wasn't enough in him to give to anyone else. His sisters could take it, but ignoring his own daughter? How could he have let that happen and for so long? How could a father forget about his own daughter?
Sorrow can break even the strongest workhorse.
Fluttershy told him that when Granny Smith died. He'd felt so angry and at a loss that it all came to a high pressure breaking point and he didn't know what to do with himself. Much like now, though this sorrow was different. The gentle reminder from his beloved may have been whispered in his ear right then for all he knew, the memory of her sweet voice still so strong. He could almost see her across the stream, watching them sadly. You can't change the past, my love. It's your now and all the tomorrows that matter.
He blinked, pulled from his thoughts. His imagined vision of Fluttershy faded away and he fought the urge to chase it. He could still feel the little body in his grasp and the warmth she gave him, small as it was. It kept him there, grounded him. "I'm sorry," he said at length. He managed to tear his gaze away from the opposite bank and nuzzle against his daughter's cheek. "I been lettin' myself get so wrapped up in my own hurtin' that I forgot I'm not the only one who lost her. Can you forgive me for not bein' here for you?"
Without a word, Glory wiggled out from under his leg and threw her hooves around his strong neck. "I swear it'll be different from now on," he promised, holding her as close as he could. "We'll do this together."
"I love you, Daddy."
"Love you too, sugar. C'mon. Think it's time we headed back to the farm. I'll make us both some hot chocolate."
She let go of him and smiled. "With mint?"
"With mint, just like your mamma used to make," he assured, kissing her forehead. "Climb on up."
Glory scampered around and climbed up onto Big Macintosh's back. She wrapped her hooves around his neck once more and giggled. "Soon I'll be able to fly an' you won't have to carry me like this. Scootaloo said I'm doin' real good an' she expects me to take off any day!"
"I don't have to carry you like this now, but I will. An' I want to. It's what I do."
"Cuz you're my daddy?"
"You got that right. Did I ever tell you about the day we told your auntie Applejack we was gonna have you?"
"No!" She clutched him tighter in excitement. "Tell me!"
"Well she an' all her friends were at the cafe talkin' about somethin'..." He turned back for home feeling lighter than he had in a long time. There was still a lot of healing that needed to happen and there would always be a piece of him missing. But now he realized it was not only his journey to peace. Morning Glory needed him to show her everything was going to be all right, that they could still be a family. He was determined to be the father she deserved and the stallion Fluttershy always believed he was.