Autumn in Ponyville was quite mild, and thus the night air was soothingly warm with just the perfect breeze to accompany it. For somepony who strolled the streets every night, safeguarding against any suspicious activity, it was a simple pleasantry to be enjoyed, made better by the presence of a fillyfriend. Gale was grateful for Cloudburn’s company, though he frequently found himself somewhat distracted by the mare, the sky, and basically everything but the reason he had come out in the first place. He knew all too well that, aside from stealth and dextrous hooves, he really didn’t have much of a skill set. However, upon being noticed and questioned one night, Mayor Mare had generously appointed him the official Night Watch, a stroke of fortune that had earned him a steady income and many kisses. Or, at least, earned him enough to offset the occasional lecture he got for being out too late.
“Aye, the stars ‘re glitterin’ bright tonight,” he murmured, glancing across at Cloudburn who was trotting with her eyes to the sky. “Ye may not be serving tonight, but I could use some vittles. Mind if we drop in for a spot o’ grub?”
“Nope, not at all. I wonder if Freefall has made his move yet.”
“I wouldn’t hold my breath on that point, my dear lass. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anypony shake in his horseshoes so badly. Ho now, what is this?” he paused, dropping into a whisper and pointing a hoof.
“Awww, that’s so cute,” Cloudburn whispered, stifling a giggle as she beheld the most recent couple she knew of. While she hadn’t actually seen the unicorn that had everypony on edge, she had no doubt that the pony dutifully trotting behind Fluttershy with a rather large mouthful of tail was the one of which they all spoke. “It’s hard to believe that he blew up a house. I mean, just look at him! Even from here, I can tell he’s no brute.”
“Aye, he’s a gentle one,” Gale replied, watching the pair. “If I wasn’t such a frightening brigand, I’d say we should introduce ourselves, but I think we best save the name swappin' fer a bit. Come on, there’s grub to be had and booze to guzzle.” Giving the two wide berth, they soon arrived at the tavern during one of its busiest times, and at Berry’s behest Cloudburn jumped right in, serving mouth-watering cuisine and noting Freefall was nowhere to be seen. Gale quickly located Snowdrift, but the usually optimistic pony sat sullen under a mantle of gloom. “Why the long face, lad? Come now, ye have a fine fillyfriend and a cute little filly t’ boot.”
“Gale? Look, I don’t...” Actually... Gale and Storm were always the more mature ones. Maybe it’d be ok to ask him. “Can I ask you something personal?”
“Ach, what could ye possibly ask that would upset me, then?” he replied, giving a hearty laugh and patting Snowdrift on the back. “Ask away, Snowdrift. I’m an open book, confusing things that they are.”
“I was wondering... if you ever have problems with intimacy.”
“Well, that’s a cannonblast far from the starboard, now isn’t it,” Gale murmured, somewhat startled by the heavy subject. I knew you were growin’ up finally, but I admit I wasn’t expecting anything of that caliber. My, how ponies can change... “I won’t ask fer details, Snow, as ye obviously have a good reason fer asking. It ain’t a cheery subject, a pegasus with rickety wings... Snow, I don’t think anypony walked away that day without some kind o’ permanent damage. Cloud may still be able to fly, and if I tried, I might be able to as well, but that ain’t the point. Cloud’s wings give her a fair deal of pain, but it’s been getting better the more she uses them, and not just fer saucy things, either.”
“You know that tingling feeling ye get when you sleep on yer hoof and it goes all limp? I get that kind of thing periodically, but nothin’ serious. If ye don’t mind me asking, why the questions, lad?” His suspicions were confirmed as his longtime friend hung his head in shame. Gale gave him a sidelong embrace, questioning him no further and wondering why fate would be so cruel, dealing the honest, good-natured stallion beside him the worst hand of cards.
Whisper had done a very good job keeping his eyes closed, making it nearly the whole way back to the cottage with nary a problem. However, as Fluttershy beheld her newly remodeled house, courtesy of the industrious efforts of Applebloom, Big Mac, and Crimson, she stopped in her tracks, and the green unicorn came to a stop with his snout someplace it shouldn’t be. This, in turn, caused a very startled Fluttershy to bolt forward, forgetting Whisper still had a vice-grip on her tail. As she was yanked to a stop, Whisper interpreted the motion as a need for haste, dashing forward and sending them tumbling the small stream that flowed through her yard. Fluttershy lay on her back, staring up at the sky for moment while he mind attempted to right itself after the sudden shift, whereupon it decided the mishap was deserving of the Fluttershy equivalent of gut-busting laughter: little more than successive, speaking-volume dainty giggles.
“Fluttershy? Are you ok?” Lack of sleep can often breed a strange type of energy to compensate. As weeks of worry, the subsequent relief from said worry, and the hilarity which tickled her on the inside every bit as much as anypony’s hoof would all descended at once, she found herself unable to give an immediate response. Whisper’s serious frown only made it worse, himself wondering if he had somehow damaged the mare. She landed on her back, I think. Wouldn’t hitting her head do this? Maybe pegasi are different. “Fluttershy, do you think with your wings?”
Whisper’s concern was quickly growing as each motion or comment he made seem to cause further mental deterioration, her cheeks edging towards blue as she fought for air. Mercifully, he turned around, sitting with a plop in the shallow water and staring in the opposite direction. Fluttershy fought valiantly against the mirth, as it seemed to be disturbing him, and she had almost won the fight when a frog popped out of his mane, gave one loud, long croak, and hopped away. His hopes of a finding a coherent mare evaporated into the air as he glanced over his shoulder, the peek-a-boo frog being far too much for her to handle in her exhausted state and robbing her of air so completely that she ceased making noise.
I don’t know what to feel right now. I mean, she sounds really happy, but I feel kind of left out, not being able to join in... His head drooped a little lower, acting as Fluttershy’s signal to regain control, resume an even breathing pace, and tend to her stallion who quite clearly wasn’t nearly as amused as she was. Thus, she made her apology with her hooves, draping them around his neck and holding him close. It was enough for Whisper. “Thank you.” The hooves around him squeezed a little tighter as he sent the message several times over. I’m so glad... you convinced me to stay.
“Oh dear, what a mess,” Fluttershy remarked, pulling away and examining Whisper and herself, both of them soaked and somewhat muddy. Wiping off the excess as best she could, Fluttershy motioned to her stallion to do the same and follow, where she introduced him again to the mystical invention of magic water expulsion: the shower. He listened quite intently to her explanation right up until the part where she turned on the water, at which point past memories bid him beat a swift retreat. “Whisper? Come back, you need to get clean before we go to bed!”
Bed? A real one? With Fluttershy in it? Fluttershy wasn’t given time to explain the how and why being inside the shower was what made the difference, or how it was different from being in the stream, as the thought of spending the night in his new home propelled him straight into the pouring water. Oh wow! This water is warm! It feels really good... No wonder she likes this “shower.” Curiosity bred a desire for further exploration, and he soon began fidgeting with the knobs while Fluttershy held a heated internal debate, one side of her pushing her to leave for decency’s sake and the other eager to watch his foal-like excitement over basic amenities. The cute factor was winning by leaps and bounds, but as he accidently turned the heat much too high, he gave a pained yelp and ran to his comfort zone, splashing water all over the floor and hiding from the searing cascade, all but tackling Fluttershy in his haste to get away.
“Fluttershy, make it stop! I made it angry, and now it’s hurting me!” Unfortunately, his expected comfort took a little while to arrive, having to circle the roundabout of her mind several times due to heavy traffic of thoughts that were approximately as steamy as the now-scalding flood sending up signals.
Come on, Fluttershy! Normal thoughts. It doesn’t matter that he was showering, and now he’s holding me, and he’s dripping wet, and his mane is... No, stop, I said normal! Oooh, this mind is so frustrating! “I-it’s ok, Whisper, calm down...” she managed, slowly returning the embrace and quieting herself, putting her focus into the stallion still very much unaccustomed to pony life. A quick explanation and readjustment soon had him enjoying the experience once more, having learned that the machine’s mood was easily manipulated by the funny, shiny silver things sticking out near the second nozzle that reminded him very much of a nose. If I knew such amazing things existed, I would have tried to sneak into a house or two. “Fluttershy? Did you want to shower too? I can share.”
As the words “Oh, yes please,” attempted to escape, she quickly slapped both hooves over her mouth, shook her head, and beat a swift retreat, going to find Angel and take her mind off of, well, showers and other things. Before exiting the front door, she took a moment to appreciate all the work that had been done. While she was still missing some birdhouses, and a couple of the ramps to various pets’ houses would have to be rebuilt, everything else was practically good as new. Fortunately, none of them were currently in use when Whisper’s magic had gone off, and since the house had mostly contained the blast, there were no deaths and few injuries among her animal friends. She had only wandered back once, the day before Silver threw the party at the tavern, tending to the injured and reassuring all her critters that thing were going to be ok. Then again, the list of happy animals did not include Angel, and thus she set out to spend a little time with her cute, not-quite-snuggly, thoroughly selfish pet.
It was with a heavy heart and heavier hoofsteps that Twilight ascended the staircase, passing her bed with nary a glance and continuing towards the smaller third story where Dawn slept peacefully, a foal’s picture book clutched to her chest and one hoof being a stand-in lollipop due to an absence of bedtime sweets. Gently lowering Spike into his bed, she drew the covers over him and lay down beside his bed, letting her mind revisit all of the memories they had crafted together, both the good and the bad. Nearly every waking hour had been spent with each other since he hatched, and as her stomach turned, remembering the worry and longing she had felt during the dragon migration, strength failed her and she silently shed a few tears for the times that she felt she would be trading away should she commission him to make new friends.
I know you’ve felt left out, that I haven’t been giving you the attention you deserve but... I still treasure every moment, Spike. You’re not... just my assistant. You know that, right? She didn’t want to, and didn’t mean to, but as she looked towards the future, one without her assitant, all she could see was a void within herself. A soft pressure around her shoulders indicated she wasn’t alone, and she yielding willingly to Cerulean’s embrace.
“It seems we’ve both had a rough night of it,” he whispered, his quiet laughter tinged with bitterness giving little comfort to either of them. “Come on, Twilight. We both need our rest, though if you’d like to talk about it now, I’m all ears.” She stood and turned to move towards the bed when Cerulean stepped in front of her, wiping away her tears and planting a kiss on the tip of her horn. “Can’t have you wetting the bed.” Somehow, his juvenile comment managed to reach past the gloom, bringing a genuine, though short lived, smile to her face as she followed him to bed. For a time, they simply held each other, enjoying a moment of peace in a life that seemed to be rushing by at a breakneck pace.
“I think,” Twilight started, snuggling closer in an attempt to offset the sadness within, “that I won’t be able to meet Spike’s needs. He’s not much of a baby anymore, Cerulean, and he needs more time than I have to give. But every time I think about being apart, I... He’s like a brother to me, Cerulean. I missed Shining Armor when I left for Ponyville, and if I send Spike to make some friends, then... I would hardly see him at all. It feels... like I’m losing something too important to let go. But what else can I do?” Cerulean didn’t answer right away, gently running a hoof through her mane, all too familiar with what she was feeling.
“I... missed Jade more than anything when he disappeared. I used to hardly ever cry, choosing to deal with everything as rationally as I could, if you can believe that. But when we had to go back home, I... wept like a foal. Just the thought of losing him for good...” I can’t cry, Twilight has enough to worry about. She’s been strong for me more times than I can count, so it’s only fair I do the same. “It’s not quite the same, but I guess I just want you to know I understand how you feel, about being afraid of losing something precious. I can’t tell you how things will turn out, and I haven’t known Spike very long, but that dragon isn’t going to ever leave you alone completely. It may hurt, but I think that seeing him smile and laugh from a distance is better than having him sit in your lap with a scowl, if it comes down to it.”
He’s right. Why is it... that when it comes to matters of the heart, he’s a million times more in tune than I am? I’ve likely read more relationship books than minutes he’s spent thinking about my flanks! Well, maybe not, actually... Despite her mind being occupied with worry, she again found herself smiling, though it faded slightly as she realized there was something on Cerulean's mind as well. “Oh... I’m sorry, did you want to talk about...”
“If it’s all right with you, I’ve... spent most of the night thinking about it, and I’d really just like some sleep. I promise I’m not hiding it from you, Twilight, and I’m not trying to hold it inside. I just...”
“Shhh...” Twilight whispered, pressing a hoof over his mouth and returning her head to his chest. “I understand.” Their eyes met briefly for a second before mutual adoration bid them lean in close, holding a single, meaningful kiss before settling in for the night.
Given that the shower was far more magical than his horn, Whisper reluctantly switched off the flow and stepped out. Using his incredible powers of deductive reasoning, he figured that the white linen strips of cloth hanging nearby were clearly for decoration, being clean and unfit for drying oneself, and thus he promptly ignored them, choosing instead to shake himself vigorously, adding to the already sizable pool of water on the floor and making a frightful mess of his mane. This was fine with him, as he eagerly anticipated a good grooming that was two weeks in the coming, and set out to explore his new abode. He was tired, relaxed, and still quite sore, his unexpected walk aggrivating his still healing injuries, but the excitement abounding from every unfamiliar object drew him away from bed and towards just about everything else.
Huh, I’ve seen these things once or twice. They’re made out of trees, but they’re shaped all funny! I wonder what they’re for? The chest of drawers were perfectly content to let him have a merry time rifling through their contents, which mostly consisted of odds and ends that he didn’t recognize: quills, parchment, scraps of various animal feeds, and strange, small pieces of fabric that he couldn’t possibly imagine a use for. Pulling out an assortment of socks, he studied them to learn their secrets, noting the fresh scent infusing the clothing and immediately sticking one over his horn. Why Fluttershy, being a pegasus, had such a wealth of horn warmers, he couldn’t understand, but satisfied he had learned all he could, he selected a nice green sock with pink hearts, slipped it on, and continued his quest.
Magical lights? It doesn’t burn my eyes like looking at the sun! Oh, hey, what’s this? It’s like a fridge, but it’s not really cold at all. Really small, too. So many magic boxes! Equating a microwave with a refrigerator wasn’t the most stunning display of mental prowess, but he pulled out a potato and stuck it in anyways, wondering if food activated the cold and not vice versa. Noticing some strange markings on the sides, he pushed one and reared, elated with the delightful music note that it played. Further experimentation yielded a cavalcade of monotone music, and as he was about to finish, the inside lit up with a hum, and Whisper found himself entirely entranced as the potato spun round and round. His amazement grew yet greater as the vegetable began to steam just like a shower, and he couldn’t help but press his face against the microwave door, standing on his hind legs and bobbing up and down, anticipation nearly driving him to dance. Joy turned to dismay as the potato decided that being a solid was too much work, promptly exploding and nearly sending Whisper into cardiac arrest, horrified that the music box was really a form of vegetable torture.
Stove, cupboards, chimney and laundry hamper: it didn’t really matter what it was. If it was of pony origin, it was new, and as completely negated the effects of his shower, having first discovered that flour sacks yield a most hilarious spout of none-too-tasty white powder when assailed by hooves from either side before finding that soot from the fireplace had quite an interesting, gratifyingly earthy scent. His nostrils, on the other hand, weren’t very pleased with his over-eager investigation, and a telltale tickle allowed him but a moment to worry before a sharp intake of breath warned him of a violent explosion in the imminent future. Thinking quickly, he stuck his head into the chimney and let it all out.
“Oh dear, Crimson really did all that to you?” I can’t believe she’d really cover him in chicken feed. And there has to be some mistake about her using him as a floor scrubber. Crimson’s just too nice of a pony to... Her thoughts were jarred as a noise akin to a party cannon being fired into a funnel echoed through the night, a tremendous black cloud billowing forth from the chimney and bidding her save the rest of her poor rabbit’s tragic tale for another time. A worriesome banging soon followed after, and without further hesitation, she raced back to the house with Angel hot on her trail.
Now, living with as many animals as she did, she was used to some degree of messiness, but the sight that confronted her was off the scale. Whisper was, at that moment, finding that pots and pans make a delightful din, and he turned to her with innocent eyes and continued composing a one-pony symphony of discordant steel notes, oblivious to the flour he had tracked into the soot coating most of the living room floor. Her eyes darted away from the disaster zone and into her room, where drawers hung half way open and socks littered the floor, one of her favorites still wrapped around the stallion’s horn.
Wha... but... how... all this soot... and... With her thoughts even more fragmented than her speech would be, she simply stared at the widely grinning stallion, letting out a dainty sneeze as she caught a whiff of powdered, burned wood that had been sitting since last winter.
“Fluttershy! Your house is really amazing! I can’t believe I didn’t take the time to look around last time, it’s just...” Unwilling to vocalize his exuberance for fear of bringing down the house, he instead romped in tight circles, kicking his hooves in the air, rearing, and having himself a merry time, oblivious to the horror etched on Fluttershy’s face, though that was partly her own fault for covering her mouth as she was prone to do when set in a situation where words simply weren’t enough. A succession of beeps from the kitchen instantly returned his attention to the nefarious contraption that had so cruelly ended the life of a perfectly guiltless potato. As Fluttershy slowly made her way over, too dazed to try and avoid the mess she was now aiding in tracking, Whisper stood aside as she stared into her microwave, unable to identify whatever mess had permanently become one with the inside of her most advanced appliance, even after she had opened the door and let out the smoke.
“Whisper? What did...”
“I didn’t do anything, Fluttershy! That strange box killed a potato! I was just playing music on it, honest!” Her eyes slowly, reluctantly pried themselves away from the unalterable mess and fixed themselves on Whisper, who sat silently defending his pride, confidently asserting his innocence and awaiting her apology for keeping such a dastardly contrivance in her abode. Instead, he received a slow, steady sigh as the mare came to the stark realization that she had a lot more to teach Whisper about than just relationships.
Black, white, and terribly active, Fluttershy was thankful she didn’t have to plead with the filthy stallion to take a second shower. She wasn’t trying to stare as he attempted to dry off, but what would have been momentary indulgence soon became an affectionate exchange as she helped the struggling stallion with the task, though she avoided certain areas for reasons obvious to her and not-so-clear to Whisper. Casting a glance at the mess of water on the floor, she bid the stallion head to bed while she cleaned up, though a glance out of the corner of her eye brought an even greater smile as she realized he was watching her just like she had been doing to him. Sure, she wasn’t freshly emerged from the shower, but it was strangely nice, and thus she said nothing until she finished.
“Whisper? I need to shower now, too. Go on, head to bed, and I’ll see you really soon, ok?”
“Are you sure? Will you need help with those... towels?”
“Oh, y... no, thank you,” she replied, barely keeping herself from accepting the offer. Shrugging and much too enthused to pay attention to his smarting chest and slightly achy limbs, he was about to return to the mire before a voice called out after him. “Whisper? I said go to bed! So, um, don’t play with anything else tonight, please!”
Awww... Whisper really didn’t have any room for complaint, and quickly sank gratefully into bed with an inaudible sigh and let his eyelids droop lower. No matter what happens, I don’t want this to end. This night was... worth the risk. Too tired to await the arrival of the mare that had brought him out of darkness, he welcomed her not with bright eyes and open hooves, but gentle snores. As Fluttershy climbed in and observed Whisper, with his tousled mane and hooves pulled to his chest, she felt a tinge of desire that she couldn’t possibly label as naughty, and scooted a little closer.
“Oh, Whisper... thank you for coming back.” Unable to further translate her emotions, she gently drew his head to her chest, holding him loosely as she began to run her hooves through his mane. I bet a lot of other ponies would say you’re not very much of a stallion, but I don’t really care. You’re adorable, and nice, and that’s good enough for me. Planting a gentle kiss on the end of his muzzle, she closed her eyes and joined him in sleep, content, and at peace.