It is the virtue of the loved that time can never hurt them.
Though they were older and subject to the responsibilities of life as their parents had been before them, Pipsqueak and Dinky had never seen each other age. Through their eyes, they never grew old. Through loving eyes, they were eternal.
Many years had passed since the declaration that solidified their bond. Further vows had been made, swearing by the icy oak and their shared memories, in front of and under the guidance of other ponies, their friends and family, but both ponies remember the day when they realised their love.
It was perhaps their fondest memory, though they sometimes couldn’t choose between their marriage and the birth of their son. Young Patch was the pride of their lives. He enriched their every moment with his very presence. The little foal had grown into an adventurous young colt much like his father.
Though he had his father’s fur, his mane and eyes were as huge and as golden as the mare who birthed him. A certain talent for exploration had also been inherited, leading to many frantic searches through town as he got himself into what he thought were adventures. Dinky called them ‘trouble’.
Pipsqueak smiled fondly at the memory of one particular incident involving a shooting star. Patch had seen it as he looked out his window at night and thought he could go and collect it. Patch the Star-Hunter was the name he went by that night. The little colt had seized his antique toy sword and charged into the blackness that enveloped the Everfree Forest. Pipsqueak’s smile faltered as the memory of how scared he and his wife had been played across his senses.
It was no Whitetail Wood. Happiness and good memories were rarely the result of forays beneath the aphotic canopy. The younger parents of the Star-Hunter knew this and acted quickly, rallying every pony who was able and starting a search party. Fortunately, the unicorn who ran the town library was a master organiser and she managed to keep panic from overwhelming them.
Less than three hours after his grand quest had begun, Patch the Star-Hunter was returned to his parent’s custody, dirty and scraped but alive and happy. An experience like that, however, has a lasting effect on parents. Restrictions were imposed and enforced so that they would never need to feel such terror again.
That was why Pipsqueak cautioned his son to stay close as the family walked amongst the spring trees. Critters skipped across the uneven ground, exciting the colt and making him run after them. Only Dinky’s quick reflexes stopped Patch from disappearing into the undergrowth. She heaved backwards, his tail in her mouth.
“Uh-uh, you heard what daddy said. Gotta stay close, okay?” she said to her son, who ceased his struggle with a groan.
Pipsqueak smiled broadly. He liked the title of ‘daddy’, it made him feel so responsible and grown up. Which he was, when he thought about it. Being a father had shaken loose almost all of the strings he had to his childish nature, for which he was glad. His son needed a stallion, not a colt.
“Do you think it’s still there hun?” he asked amiably, not too concerned with the conversation and just enjoying the walk.
“Of course it will be. It’s been there forever!” she nuzzled Patch and spoke the last word in a silly voice, making him giggle.
“Forever!” he squeaked enthusiastically, causing both parents to laugh. Their son did not know many words, but the ones he did know were always used to their full extent.
Even after all those years, the two older ponies recognised the trees and bushes. There were new ones of course, but this forest was ingrained in their memory more than any other place in the world.
Pipsqueak, despite his responsible adult persona, couldn’t help but quicken his pace as they drew near. As much as he tried to deny it, he had missed this place immensely. Unbeknownst to him, his wife was smiling at his enthusiasm and his son hurried to catch up.
And suddenly, there it was. Towering as ever and yet somehow smaller, the mighty oak tree stood. Unchanging, unmoving. Each curve and rupture in the bark was exactly the same as the ones they remembered.
The married couple approached it slowly, almost reverently, and laid their hooves upon the trunk. It was warm in the spring sunlight and brought smiles to their faces. The feeling in their chests was of nostalgic joy amplified by the bark seemingly warming to their touch, as if greeting old friends. Pipsqueak felt an absurd desire to say ‘hello’ that he quickly suppressed. Little did he know, Dinky shared that same desire, fulfilling it under her breath.
Patch gazed upwards with delight, already planning his route. Before either of his parents could say anything, he scrambled up onto a low hanging branch and began to climb.
His rustling soon caught their attention. “Patch! Slow down and be careful!” his mother called out. Needless to say, she was promptly ignored by the quick little colt.
Pipsqueak made to follow his son, approaching the usual lower hoof-hold. It was too small for his hoof, however, and when he grasped the branch it bent lower. His breath hitched in his throat. The branch had never bent; his hoof had always fit. But no longer.
He tried in vain to pull himself up anyway and the branch held, barely. He grunted with the effort of maintaining his balance.
“Pip...” Dinky’s voice was slightly sad at seeing him struggle to do something he had done his entire life.
“I can do it.” He wobbled slightly and tried to reach up for the next hoof-hold. It was a hole in the bark so small he couldn’t grip it. With a sigh, he uselessly patted his huge hoof over the indentation.
“Pip, I’m sorry.”
He dropped to the ground with a thud, stumbling slightly. “Why can’t I do it? I’ve climbed this tree a million times,” he mumbled to himself.
Dinky trotted closer and nuzzled him comfortingly. “You got bigger. It was going to happen someday.”
Pipsqueak shook his head. “Yeah, but not with this. This was supposed to be forever. This wasn’t supposed to change.” He felt tears in his eyes, a strangely foreign feeling. There hadn’t been reason to cry for a long time.
“Oh, Pip. I know how you feel.” They embraced each other far beneath the branch on which they confessed their love. Every now and then a small leaf would flutter down, shaken loose by their son. One of them caught in Dinky’s mane, unnoticed by the couple.
“Why did we have to get older, Dinky?” sniffled Pipsqueak, burying his head in his wife’s mane.
For a moment, she had no answer. She too missed their younger bodies, running through the forest and scaling trees with ease. Back when she could see a world beyond her own, built with her mind and populated by her imaginings. When things such as ‘money’ and ‘insurance’ were simply part of the gibberish language that older ponies would speak.
Dinky knew her mind had been tempered by reality, she knew that her other world was slowly fading away in the recesses of her memory. That fantastic, wonderful place of colour and laughter...
But that world was for children alone. That’s what made it what it was. She was an adult, and adults had no place in the realm of childish imagination. Dinky had left that world, yes, but found a new one, infinitely more tangible and satisfying than even her younger self’s wildest fantasies.
She had her own family now, a husband she loved and child she adored. She would not give them up for all the pretend pirate ships in the world.
So she stepped away from her husband, lifting his head high with her hoof, and looked up.
Patch was at the top, sitting on the highest branch. The wind whipped through his golden mane and his matching eyes were wide, but not from fear. He was seeing what they had seen all those years ago. Pipsqueak had once called the view endless, even when he knew it wasn’t. Just as he had thought his childhood would be endless, and it wasn’t.
The couple knew what landscape had their son so captivated, they had lived it themselves. They had felt the same wonder, the impossible sense of infinity.
“Maybe,” Dinky whispered, “We have to get older so others have the chance to be young.”
The father felt his tears cease flowing, his grief abated by those wise words. He looked back down at his wife, and agreed.
For though time can be the cruellest of companions, those imbued with love need never fear it. Some perceive the passage of time as closing doors and decaying opportunities, but this is not so. Because when it strips possibilities away from someone, it must grant them to somebody else.
Pipsqueak had enjoyed his childhood and, now that it was over, Patch could enjoy his. Although the father would never again climb his oaken mast, the joy he felt would return in the form of his son’s excited eyes.
That continuation, that eternal cycle, is why time can never hurt the loved.