Chapter 7: The Game has Changed
The door of Hospitable Loan and Trust came open. As the bell rang out with a festive jingle, a few flakes of holiday snow followed an amber-coated colt as he walked within.
The secretary looked up to see the familiar colors of Carrot Cake emerging from beneath a festive dusting. The freckled face smiled up to her as he stomped his hooves and tried to shake off most of the snow that clung to him.
"Hello!" he called out, doing his best to keep the snow upon the rug that lay in front of the door. "Happy Hearth's Warming Eve!"
"Happy Hearth's Warming Eve, Carrot!" she answered, replying to his smile with one of her own. He looked around the office and was surprised to see a little tree covered with magical lights. Upon contemplating it, he realized that there had been a wreath upon the door as well.
All of this struck him as a touch odd. He thought of Quarry's austere office. The stallion did not seem like one to whom the holiday would mean much.
Still, the tree sat there blinking away happily.
Carrot lifted the check from the saddlebags and chatted with the secretary, Paperclip, for a little while.
As he told her about how wonderful things were going at the bakery, his mind kept going back there, knowing that Cupcake was there right now and waiting for him. Right now she was seeing to the welcome, if tiring, wash of customers that had been drawn to the bakery in anticipation of the holiday. Together today they were going to try something new, try to fill an unusual order.
As he chatted with Paperclip, he suddenly felt the same pall fall over him that marked each of his appearances in the loan office. He felt the same tremble go through him, the same weight of eyes that had not diminished since he had been keeping this schedule, bringing the checks around.
He lifted his eyes to see those of Quarry meet his. The stallion had not emerged from the closed door of the office, but instead, from what Carrot assumed was a records room on the opposite side of the hallway.
"I told ya' that ya' didn't need to bring that one around until the day after the holiday, Cake," drifted the stallion's words.
Carrot took a discreet breath and tried to focus forward. He once more found himself unable to look the bulking stallion in the eyes for very long.
"I-I just, just don't want… don't want to get out of the, out of the habit of bringing it along… don't want to forget to bring it every t-two weeks," stammered Carrot as he looked to where the check had been laid on the secretary's desk.
He tried to lift his eyes once more. Quarry's grey eyes still sat deep in his cold features.
"Don't know why you chose every two weeks instead of monthly, either. Costs you more in the end," spoke Quarry in his usual rumble of attached judgment, his tone implying dubious belief in Carrot's business acumen.
Carrot felt himself wanting to answer, to tell the stallion that the sooner he was done paying, the sooner he felt that Cupcake could be with him as a true partner. He would no longer need to be hanging on the fruits of her work for payments, that then they could spend more time simply being together.
He felt himself wanting to tell the stallion that the sooner he was done paying back the loan, he would never have to sit here under Quarry's cold gaze again, no longer have to live with the idea of what would happen if something went wrong. The image of Quarry ripping apart the carriage could finally leave him.
He glanced at Paperclip, saw the secretary still smiling at him. He wondered how she stood to be here.
He wanted to say these things. As Quarry's deep breath filled the reception room, all Carrot could muster himself to say was, "I-I'm kinda mo… motivated to be done with it…"
Quarry gave a noncommittal grunt and flicked his tail.
All was quiet in the office for a long moment, the blinking of the tree lights shining that much brighter at the approach of the early winter nights.
Suddenly Carrot remembered what he had brought with him, had always brought with him each time he had brought his loan payment.
Attempting to slide out of his saddlebags, he got caught in them once again, an accident that only seemed to happen to him here in this place.
He released the strap and helped the bag to the floor. From within he produced two brightly wrapped parcels. As he placed them on the desk they unfolded and revealed themselves as two fruitcakes.
"I-I made them up for you both, H-happy Hearth's Warming," he said, looking to both the other ponies.
"You know how much I look forward to you coming in," spoke Paperclip, Carrot marveling once more at how free and easily she spoke with the large form of Quarry hovering nearby, "seems that the only things other ponies bring us are bad news…"
"… and excuses," completed Quarry, raising his head to look into the paper baskets, each wrapped as they were with the shimmering paper. At once the heat of the room lifted the aroma of the two warm fruitcakes into the air, filling the place with a holiday scent.
"Damn if that don't smell good though," said Quarry as he raised his head. He stared at the amber-colored colt as Carrot began to blanch.
"Thanks kindly, Cake," he said.
Carrot felt himself fall under the uncertain and foreign sense of Quarry's gratitude, and he risked a small smile. At that the stallion raised his head and looked down upon him once more. With that, the sensation was gone.
"You're… you are welcome. Happy Hearth's Warming, both of you," he said as he backed towards the door. With the jangle of the bell ringing out once more, Carrot nodded and departed into the cold street.
Paperclip rose up and began folding the paper baskets back together, preserving the warmth of the two gifts. As she did, she heard Quarry give a sigh, shake his head, and turn towards his office.
"You don't need to be so hard on him, on them," she said as she placed Quarry's fruitcake among the stallion's things so that he would not leave it here in the office over the holiday.
"There's two kinda ponies in the world of money," she heard him call from his stark office, "those who owe it, those who are owed. The two are as different as the good sun and the cold moon, and shouldn't mix."
Paperclip sighed, looked down at the two brightly wrapped boxes.
"He's not a bad colt, though…" she said.
"Never said he was… just said he owes me money," stated Quarry as he once more moved from his office to the supply room, "and I learned a long time ago that anyone who owes you money is always looking for ways to be done owin' you money, always wants somethin' from ya' to get out of it. They either need tah' fear ya', or they'll try tah' get up on ya'."
She sighed aloud.
"Don't go thinkin' any different 'bout Cake then you would any of the greasy goat lickers who come in her demandin' this or that and they'll get their lawyers. He might bring us somethin' from that daftly named bakery of his, but in the end he's no different from those who try to scare me with big words… think old Quarry is some dolt who…"
She felt him shudder through the wall of the supply room, the floorboards literally quaking as he attempted to regain himself from his growing anger.
"I meant it when I said 'Thanks,' though…" he spoke in a neutral tone, his voice carrying from the supply room.
She lowered her head and turned towards the window of the office. His cynicism washed over the room as it always had, moved through it in a form as palpable and forceful as Quarry himself. It was powerful. The slowly twinkling tree fought to buoy her spirit.
Paperclip lifted her head and began to ask him about some small affairs of the office. She instead looked up to see him standing in the doorframe of the supply room. Something hung from his mouth.
Quarry walked fully forward and laid the gift on her desk.
"Happy Hearth's Warming Eve, Paperclip," the big stallion said, nodding to her.
"Thank you," she whispered, "I-I put yours among your things, thought it'd be a surprise…"
Quarry looked into his saddlebags. There he saw a thin package nestled against the fruitcake the Cake colt had brought.
"Thank ya', Paperclip," he said, nodding once more, "take the rest of the afternoon off, see ya' in three days…"
Far out across the market square of Ponyville, Carrot turned his attention to a now familiar structure. His bakery sat there in the middle of the open block of paving stones, the chimney happily puffing away.
As he cantered by, he looked up to the gingerbread trim, noted how festive it looked… how it had inspired what would happen within today.
He also noted the name on the sign. He still had not changed it, and the more he looked at "Carrot Cake's Bakery Co., L.L.C., Inc.," the less he liked it. Still, that was not something he had to ponder right now. Right now a far more welcome task awaited him.
He strode within and began to shake the snow from himself. As he did, a delicious scent streamed out over him and filled his nostrils.
"Cupcake?" he called, "Are you…"
Before he had even completed his question, she was already coming to him, her hooves falling across the wooden floors, coming to greet him at the door. Greeting him at the door… the realization made him very happy.
"Any customers?" he asked as he shook off his saddlebags.
"Oh, a few," she said, looking up to him, her rosy eyes catching his.
He leaned down and closed his eyes. Slowly, she lifted her nose and let a wide figure eight run back and forth between them as they nuzzled each other, and the sense of their touch warmed them.
After a long minute, he raised his head. She smiled and stated, "I…I think we have everything. Are you ready to try this?"
He smiled down to her. She quickly brushed some snow from his orange mane, and then the two trotted deeper within the bakery.
Together they entered the kitchen. The gingerbread had cooled, and now it was time to try to make the first gingerbread house the bakery had ever produced.
It was a long struggle, one with many false starts. At times it became a trial, an epic challenge. At other times it descended into hilarity as parts collapsed or various components went flying across the room.
Cupcake stood back at one point, saw how hard he was concentrating. He had never done this before and yet she was astounded at his concentration, his dedication. She noted the persistence in his hooves, and he made concentrated, perfect movements to create the details.
At one point he wiped the back of his hoof across his brow, leaving a white streak across his forehead. With a giggle she lifted the frosting tube, thought of leaving a great white dollop of…
… but something caught her, stopped her. "No, not this time," it seemed to say with a small divine laugh, "but someday."
Hours passed. As the appointed hour arrived, they stood together in the main showcase room of the bakery and awaited the pony who had commissioned the gingerbread house.
It looked ill, lopsided. It reminded them both of the bakery itself when they had first set eyes on it.
Cupcake saw the worry that floated in Carrot. He had wanted to do this for so long, to move beyond just making bulk breads and rolls and move into the world of creative baking. If the customer liked it then anything was possible.
Carrot felt an extraordinary sensation go through him. Cupcake's forelegs were across his withers and he felt her lightness upon him as she slowly nibbled his ear. Just drawing his ear across her lips with touches of her teeth, just enough to draw him out of his worry.
After a moment she sat before him, and with that, he placed his legs around her.
As the bell rang, the two jumped. An older pony stood there smiling at them.
"Oh, ummm… hello, Mrs. Smith," called out Cupcake as she drew herself up, blushing as Carrot did the same.
"Hello! Happy Hearth's Warmin'!" she said as she trotted forward to look over the gingerbread house that stood on display upon the table.
"This one mine?" she asked with a touch of incredulous concern. "This here the gingerbread house I ordered?"
"Ummm, oh, yes," answered Cupcake, "it is… is it, okay? Does it look good?"
"How much extry is it?" said Granny Smith, eyeing the two.
"I'm-I'm sorry? Extra?" asked a blinking Carrot.
"For bein' so much bigger, and puttin' all these fancy bits all over it! How much extry ya' gonna charge me?" she said, her voice almost angry.
Cupcake and Carrot looked at one another and then back to her.
"No, ma'am, nothing… that's, that's pretty much just a standard house, just like you ordered," he said.
"This here is just yer' average gingerbread house?" she answered as her face brightening. "Why, colt, that's just fine! That's mighty fine! Mah' grandson and granddaughter will love it! Gobble it up!"
Carrot and Cupcake absolutely beamed with pride as they wrapped the gingerbread house in a protective box. Soon a pile of bits sat gleaming in the cash register as they saw Granny Smith to the door.
"Happy Hearth's Warmin' to both of you," she struggled to say as the large box sat perched upon her carefully. "Say, is this yer' first Hearth's Warmin' together as a married couple?"
Cupcake looked up, realized that she had once more lowered herself to his chest, that his head was over hers and that she was wrapped within his forelegs.
The two blushed brightly and made little sounds of embarrassment.
"Oh," answered Cupcake, "we… aren't married."
"You'll forgive me, ah' hope," said Granny Smith with a wink as Carrot opened the door for her, "but it were an honest mistake, what with how well you two seem tah' fit together!"
As the shop closed and the fires came out of the ovens, they soon found themselves close to one another again. As they sat there with their heads across each other's withers, they swayed slightly, as though in a dance.
"Wha-what are you doing tomorrow?" she asked without lifting her head from his withers. "What are you doing for the holiday?"
"Oh," he answered, "not much, just mom and I. Some small gifts… dinner. There's not much I want."
He paused, felt her move a little closer to him, warp her hooves closer to his. This was fine, this could last him the entire day.
"What about you?" he asked. To his alarm she said nothing. After a moment she lifted her head and started to back away. She reached behind the counter and began to fish around. Soon he realized what she was doing.
As she turned back to him, she saw him jump for the rustic beams above, saw him snatch something. She had to admit: she wouldn't have thought to look there.
The presents stood before the two of them. With a wide smile she passed hers to him first. He opened it, and out came a bowtie.
"Oh, wow, I… I've never worn one before…" he said as he lifted it.
She slowly wrapped it around him. He felt the brush of her hooves against his neck as she tied the cravat, caught the look in her eyes as she looked upon him happily.
"… and now I don't know if I'll ever take it off," he concluded.
She giggled at his statement as he passed her his gift. She took her time opening it, he quickly realizing that she was one of those mares who valued the paper, would probably save it and the ribbon.
Cupcake's eyes went wide as the small jewelry box stood before her.
He flipped it open. The earrings stood there, catching the light.
"They, they were the only things that I could find that… the only things that matched the color of your eyes," he said sheepishly.
She looked down to the earrings. He obviously had not noticed that her ears were not pierced. As she smiled back to him, Cupcake knew that it did not matter. Since he had given her these, they soon would be.
She leaned forward, laid her cheek to his, slid down the length of his neck to his shoulders. Once more the two sat there and swayed back and forth in the fading heat and smell of the gingerbread.
She lifted her head and moved quickly, planting a small, delicate kiss on his lips. He looked back at her quizzically.
"That was for your mother, from me," she said as understanding grew upon his face. "Please be sure she gets it, righty?"
"Sure," he said as he cast his eyes down into hers. "Sure thing."
With that she leaned in again, leaned in much deeper, leaned against him fully. With that he answered a kiss that was meant for him alone, one that lasted a great satisfying while as snow drifted around once more and ponies went up the street outside singing holiday songs.
The following morning, three happy fillies had bounced around inside their room, asking their parents to wake and go with them downstairs.
As they did, the presents sat there, shimmering beneath the tree, and for the first time in that household, peals of laughter and joy met a Hearth's Warming Day.
On a mountainside far away, in Canterlot, that fabled city where magic both deep and terrible flows as freely as the waters that race through its channels, Ivory's parents had joined her in the restaurant of their hotel. Before them, a magnificent buffet had been spread out, one that would consume the morning with the bounty it offered.
As the young intern sat with them, the family exchanged their presents. Ledger stared happily at his daughter as she regaled her mother with tales of palace intrigue and political intricacies.
In a small white house, Cheesecake and Carrot Cake woke late, greeted one another, and then went to a brunch he had prepared in the small kitchen. As they had sat in the living room they exchanged their few presents and talked long into the afternoon.
In a large home on the other side of Ponyville, Cupcake had lain among her nieces and nephew as they implored her to help them open their new toys, asked her to play with them.
As much as she rejoiced in the presence of these children, how much her heart swelled as they gave her their small school-made gifts and they wrapped her in hugs, there was one she longed to be with, to share mornings like this…
… and back in that white house he wished for her to be near.
Quarry, having forgotten something of importance, walked the quiet morning streets in a huff, lamenting loudly that there seemed to be no stores open.
The old stallion stopped to breathe, the cold air falling as vapor from his mouth as he pondered the day, and music drifted from nearby houses.
None of them could feel it, these partners and these players in "The Game of This," but as they celebrated that morning, the strings of causality that linked each to one another wrapped around them that much more.
As trim as the ribbon around a package, all of these participants had been drawn closer to one another, linked with the tendrils of fate that flowed from Carrot and Cupcake as they sat in the light of their trees and thought only of one another.
The scene moved forward once more, and as time passed, the holiday colors of the early winter faded into that of the deepest part, the least happy part.
As this time sped on, the bakery kept producing its bounty, offering the warmth of breads and sweets to those who sought to escape the cold and misery of winter.
Carrot could only smile as the bakery began to serve those coming off the street, those who were beginning to seek out the warmth, those caught in the allure of the smell of fresh baked bread on a cold morning.
As winter faded, Carrot found himself assailed by one of his most ancient of enemies, one he knew he could not face alone.
In short, it was tax time, and he was simply horrible at math. Fortunately for him and his bakery Cupcake was there.
They decided that they would work together, Carrot doing as best he could to help her, and together they would finish the taxes in one night. He couldn't help but look at her as she scratched away, looking every inch a true partner in this enterprise as he brought her warm drinks and treats to snack upon.
He read the numbers back to her, cautiously skipping over any details of the loan he had taken out. He did not want her to feel that she had placed any burden on him, did not want her to know that he had indebted himself to a pony like Quarry. He could still picture the fearful look on her face on that day long ago in the mill.
He slipped the loan payments and interests into the calculations, hid it from her in the hope that she would not worry about owing him anything.
He could not know it, but he had just committed a flagrant foul in "The Game of This."
As the evening drew on, they found themselves in the enviable position of being able to draw some conclusions. As ten o'clock rolled around, they began placing these conclusions on the forms… and with jaws dropping open, they realized that they had just finished the taxes.
Not only that but the best available evidence seemed to suggest that Carrot and his bakery were due a refund, and not a small one at that.
Celestia and simple deductions be praised!
They sat as the taxes went into the envelope, as they finished their treats and drinks, chatting as the night wore away.
As Cupcake began to yawn, the hallway clock began to chime eleven, startling her in the slightest. Outside, the Mare in the Moon cast her glance over the frozen streets of Ponyville. A sheen of ice covered everything, the pegasi having let it get too warm by a fraction of a degree during the day.
"I-I don't like you going out in that, you might fall," he said gathering up jackets, "let-let me walk you home…to the lamppost…"
"Then you could fall on the way back and I'd feel horrible," she said as she tried to hide her small yawn again. "Besides, I told them I'd be staying out tonight."
Cupcake startled and looked to Carrot. "But, but I forgot to ask you! I didn't think to ask you! Carrot… may, may I stay here tonight? May I sleep on the couch or one of the chairs in the…"
"Nah, you can sleep in my bed," he said as he immediately placed the coats back on the hook. "Just let me put some fresh sheets on…"
"You-you don't have to…" she began. He though was already past her and trotting up the stairs into the living space above the bakery.
He tossed various and sundry items into his closet that he did not particularly care to have her see lying around his room, generally trying to straighten it as he went about in a hurried state.
He opened up the linen closet and was almost obscenely happy that there were, in point of fact, clean sheets for her to lie upon.
As he quickly stripped the bed of sheets and blankets, a welcome sound came up the stairs, wonderfully familiar hooffalls sounding out down the little hallway. He looked up to see her standing at the door of his bedroom, smiling a small smile.
"Aren't you the gentlecolt," she said. "And where will you sleep?"
"Oh," he said, "somewhere…"
He fumbled with the sheet, watched as an unexpected and unmatched pillowcase fell from it.
"Here," she said as she lifted her hoof, "let me help."
Together they circled the bed, laying the blankets and sheets. For the first time that evening he was wordless, Carrot unable to think of anything appropriate to say as a beautiful mare walked around his bedroom.
All too soon they had finished. As she began to remove the earrings, he found himself blushing and turning towards the door. "If you need anything, the blankets are here in the linen closet, and the attached bathroom is…"
… a mess.
"Out of order!" he called in small alarm. "So, ummm… use the one down the hallway, okay?"
"Okay," she answered as she slowly trotted over to him and lifted her nose. His tiredness faded as the soft feel of her touch went through him once more, as the feeling of their presence drifted through one another.
So familiar, welcome, was the touch that as she shifted her head, he knew what she was asking for. As they settled into their goodnight kiss, he found himself opening his eyes to look upon her face as they parted.
Silence hung there, neither speaking, blushes growing across their faces as they stood in the bedroom. Within both the understanding hung that there was more that they wanted to say, that the night had simply come too early.
"Good… goodnight, Carrot," she whispered, putting the conversation to rest for the night.
"Goodnight. Goodnight, Cupcake," he said as he backed out of the room. Soon he was going down the hallway as night seemed to settle around the bakery in deeper tones.
Cupcake collapsed upon the bed and rubbed her eyes. As the thoughts of numbers and deductions fell from her, she felt herself wanting to sleep, grateful for the expanse of the bed beneath her. It was warm enough in the room, and the bed was big and deep.
But sleep would not come. As she wondered why, a comprehension opened up in Cupcake. Here once again he had opened himself up, let her into the very innermost sanctum of his own personal self. Once more he had been open with her and as the moonlight flitted around the room, she saw all the little items, everything about him laid bare to her.
Even as she lay on his bed, she realized, she was still keeping her secrets from him. Even if they were for his protection, for their dreams… they were still secrets.
Her head turned and fell across the breadth of the bed. Despite the new sheets that lay crisply beneath her, his scent still filled the room. It filled the bed, and as she thought of him, she knew that she was being utterly unfair. She knew that most colts would not have put up with it, would have demanded…
But, Carrot was no regular colt… no, he was a stallion, a real one. He was living for her, living for every little shred she was giving him. He was hanging on hope. Ten months. For ten months she had showed him no more of her life than the front of her house, another pony's children, and her favorite restaurants. In that time she had met his mother and he had drawn the pain out of her. He had shared with her his hopes and dreams; he had waited for her and never been anything other than kind.
For fifteen long minutes that seemed like an hour, Cupcake thought about this, thought about how in her life Carrot alone had not wanted anything from her but to be with her, to be near her. He alone had simply wanted to marvel at her, look deep into her eyes, feel the warmth of her touch.
In her life she had wanted that from him alone too… he was the only one who had offered it without a price.
Ten months. For ten months he had believed in her and trusted her. His mother knew, his mother was right… she did risk losing his love every moment she did not open up to him, but the idea of having him end up like the other stallions…
Cupcake sat up in the bed with a little cry of worry rising from her. Right now she realized there was one thing she could do to show him that his trust, his love, was not misplaced. She could in this moment show him that she desperately wanted him in her life, that even an act as simple as those taxes completed downstairs were slowly bringing them together.
He deserved this, this proof. No stallion had ever been so kind to her, had loved her for herself. There was no other stallion in Equestria so patient or so giving. In that instant she knew how to let him know that he was winning "The Game of This."
She leapt from the bed and trotted down the hallway on silent hooves.
Carrot shifted uncomfortably, trying to keep the one blanket below him to keep the cold surface of the couch from his body, keeping the other over him as the spare room grew colder.
He had ripped the seam of the couch trying to get the bed to unfold. It had jammed halfway and now he lay awkwardly upon it at an angle, the metal bits glistening on his left side, threatening any number of wounds if he turned in the night. This was compounded by the fact that his face was now directly in the moonlight no matter what position he took.
The thought of these torments was driven from as he sighed and found a set of rosy eyes staring down into his.
"Cupcake?" he whispered into the night. "What's wrong? Do, do you need…"
She pressed her lips to his so forcibly that the bed came unstuck and fell back within the sofa.
He was able to take one small breath as it did, Carrot startling both at his descent and her sudden act. As he lay there, she still stared down into him. To his amazement her foreleg crossed over him and sat next to his head. With that Cupcake slowly lowered her head again, catching against his lips in a long, lingering kiss.
She stood, took a few steps back and raised her hoof to him.
"Cupcake…" he breathed.
"Please," she said, her voice a soft tremble as she waved her hoof again.
With that he slowly stood, leaving the blankets on the couch as he gathered her hoof into his. With that she led him back down the hallway.
As they entered the bedroom she lifted his hoof and placed it against her face. He felt the warmth that was flowing from her. He swallowed hard and tried to remain calm as the mare stood with him in the night, staring at his bed. As the moonlight fell through the room, he took a soft breath, thought of the most perfect thing he could say, and leaned down to her ear.
"Wherever you want to go, I'll go there with you…"
If he could have gotten away with it, he would have slapped himself in the forehead. He had read that in a trashy pulp novel once, most likely while waiting in a doctor's office. Even though he meant every word of it, he immediately imagined that it came across as a very special sort of awful.
To his utter amazement they went towards the bed.
"Lay with me," she whispered.
She sat upon the bed and looked to him.
"Just… just lay here with me, please, Carrot," she said as her frame was outlined by the moonlight.
"Yes," he said, his voice cracking the slightest. "Of course… of course, Cupcake."
Carefully, gingerly, he too entered the bed and rested himself behind her. As she settled into the crux of his body, wrapping herself with his frame, she felt his strength and his tenderness.
In time she knew that she would call on these, but at that moment all she asked for was his hooves. He reached around her, placing his forelegs along hers. With that she placed her hooves upon his and gave an easy sigh.
As he felt her breathing, Carrot was suddenly very happy that he had bought the king sized bed. As the sound of her breath caught in his ears, Carrot was suddenly a huge fan of income taxes. As the feel of her body drifted across the length of his, Carrot decided that "Lay with me," though not the destination he had fleetingly imagined, was not such a bad place to go.
Not bad at all.
"Carrot," she whispered, "I love you. I trust you. Please don't give up, don't stop trying to be with me… we're, we're going to be together, I can do it."
He kissed her softly on the cheek.
As she lay there with her body safe and secure within his embrace, he ran his free hoof across the tones of her mane, lovingly stroking it as he felt her breathing slow to match his deeper ones, as her heartbeat slowed to match his.
With that she was asleep, the moonlight falling upon the soft expression that dwelt across her.
Downstairs the clock struck midnight and a new day began. As every second ticked by, Carrot could not help but feel that they were sounding out the most perfect day of his life. He felt himself treasuring each second that passed as she lay so close to him, her body to his, sheltered in him.
Already he could feel his right foreleg beginning to go to sleep as her head rested upon it. He knew that upon his waking, it would torture him, make him pay the price for this wonderful feeling of wholeness that was creeping across him, the blissful feeling of her light frame against his but… he… did… not… care…
Slowly he pulled the sheet over them, and the blankets too. As her sleeping breaths raised and lowered the sheets, he gazed over her one last time. Putting his lips to her ear, he breathed "I love you" in the shadow of a whisper and laid his head above hers.
Although he thought sleep to be impossible, her sweet scent soon filled him. With that he went off into dreams that fought very hard to be as wonderful as the waking world.