It’s chilly in Cloudsdale during the Hearth’s Warming season. The factories need the cold air to produce the snow, and though the sun shines brightly, it does little to warm the city streets and the cloud homes of the resident pegasi.
In one of the little houses, a yellow pegasus carefully pours tea from a kettle into a mug, which rests on a plate with a hoofful of miniature shortbread cookies. She deposits the kettle back on the stove and takes the plate gingerly in her teeth, moving into the living room of the house, where stacks of cardboard boxes make a sort of maze that she navigates to reach the sofa.
Placing her tea and cookies on the table with a small, happy sigh, the young mare settles into her seat and breathes in the aroma of her tea. It’s just when she’s most comfortable that—
Knock knock knock.
—There’s a knock at her door.
The pegasus frowns, and glares at nothing in particular. After a small moment of resentment, she steps onto the floor and makes her way over to the offending portal.
When she opens it, a lanky, teal, teenage stallion stands there meekly. “H-hey sis,” he says, “How are things?”
“Zephyr? Um. What are you doing here? Aren’t you supposed to be at your marefriend’s until after Hearth’s Warming?”
“We, uh… aren’t together any more,” Zephyr Breeze confesses. “She found out I still live with Mom and Dad. And that I don’t actually work for Fogtek.” His sister simply deadpans at him. “Um. I was hoping I could stay here until Mom and Dad get back from vacation? Or you could turn the heat in the house on for me, ‘cuz I don’t know how.” There’s a pause. “Please, Fluttershy.”
Fluttershy lets out a long sigh. Then she forces a smile. “Come inside for now, Zephyr. Let’s… talk.”
As they enter the house, Zephyr looks around at the many boxes and sparse decoration. “Woah. Almost ready to go, huh?”
“Yup,” Fluttershy responds as she takes her spot on the sofa. “The move’s in under a week.”
“Why not just… pack up everything the day before you leave?” Zephyr idly kicks a box. “Instead of not having it for days?”
Fluttershy sighs again. “Because that’s a terrible idea.”
“I don’t see why.”
“I know you don’t. Tell me about your breakup.”
“Nothin’ else to say, Sis, honest.”
“You don’t seem very upset for somepony who had a breakup two days before Hearth’s Warming.”
“I was lookin’ for a way out. She was an overachiever. You know?”
Fluttershy looks at her younger brother searchingly. “And that makes her not marefriend material?”
Zephyr shifts uncomfortably in his own seat and looks away. “Look, I don’t wanna talk about it, alright? We weren’t gonna last. I’m better off flying free for now.”
“Okay, I guess,” Fluttershy replies as she takes a sip of tea. “You really don’t know how to turn on the heat on at the house?”
Fluttershy sighs again. “Feel free to have a cookie,” she says while she rubs a hoof on her temple. Zephyr happily obliges and takes two, munching one whole with an appreciative noise. Fluttershy goes on, “Is there food over there? Can you cook for yourself?”
“‘Course I can cook for myself,” Zephyr says indignantly through the second cookie, “I’m not a little colt.”
“Uh huh. How about I just tell you how to turn the heat on?”
Zephyr looks uncomfortable. “Um. You mean like, memorising…?”
“I can write it down.” Fluttershy looks around, then sighs once more in realisation. “Or, if all my stationary weren’t packed away I would.”
There’s silence for a long moment. Then, Fluttershy takes a breath and smiles.
“Alright. You know what, Zephyr? I still have work to do here, but… let’s both go back to the house. I’ll stay with you until Mom and Dad get back. It’s only four days. I’ll still have two to finish up here.”
Zephyr grins widely back. “Sure! Great plan, sis. It’s better than spending Hearth’s Warming alone, right?”
“I like being alone,” Fluttershy shoots back.
“Alright, alright. No judgement.”
As his older sister goes to her bedroom to pack for her four-day stay at her parents’ house, Zephyr takes the rest of the shortbread cookies.
“Okay, It’s warming up,” Fluttershy announces as she emerges into their parents’ much larger living room.
“Great,” Zephyr Breeze says from his chair absentmindedly, flicking a page of a magazine.
Fluttershy takes her own seat and gazes at her younger brother. “Doesn’t really feel like Hearth’s Warming, does it?”
“Huh?” Zephyr looks up from his magazine. “Oh. No, not really.”
“I still can’t quite believe Mom and Dad actually went on vacation.”
“Well, they won it. Woulda been crazy not to go when it’s free.” He cocks his head at her. “And you said you liked being alone anyway, right?”
“Right. I do,” Fluttershy says quickly. “I don’t actually mind. Them being gone, I mean. I was looking forward to being alone. Usually it’s so… hectic. I’d still rather be at my own house.”
“Riiiiight,” Zephyr says, returning to his magazine.
Fluttershy gets out of her chair and meanders into the kitchen. “Are you hungry?” She calls back. “I guess I could make dinner.”
“Sure sis,” Zephyr says with a private smile. “Thanks a lot.”
“So you don’t have a job waiting for you in Ponyville?”
Zephyr and his sister are lying on the floor, wrapped in blankets and drinking hot coco. They each have a book in front of them: Zephyr a magazine, and Fluttershy a dainty novel.
“No,” Fluttershy says. “I have savings. There’ll be plenty of time for me to find work. I might even be able to get the mayor to hire me. Apparently they have a lot of wildlife problems.”
“Like mischievous squirrels and raccoons. Bears and other big animals wandering out of the forest. The local paper has reported on what they call the ‘bunny mafia’ more than once but that’s probably a hoax. I mean, what bunny could be mean enough for that?”
Zephyr snorts. “Sounds like a weird town.”
Fluttershy smiles widely. “Oh, but it’s so wonderful with all the ground critters. You wouldn’t believe it. All the cutest, most adorable—”
“And you can do that weird staredown thing, huh?”
“Y-yes. It’s my talent.”
“Did you have to do it much as a vet’s assistant?”
Fluttershy rolls her eyes. “Oh, Celestia, you have no idea. With cats, especially. Even when they’re only there to have their cloudwalking enchantments refreshed.”
There’s silence. They each sip their coco.
“So what about you.”
“Huh?” Zephyr says.
“What jobs are you looking for? So you can finally move out of here.”
“W-well, uh. You know. There’s not a lot out there right now. And I don’t have a cutie mark talent, per se, so it’s been—”
“Zephyr.” He stops. “Are you even looking?” When he opens his mouth, she gives him a look. “Remember I’m not Mom.”
“...No, sis. I’m not really looking,” Zephyr says with head bowed.
“Thank you for telling me.” Fluttershy goes back to her book.
Zephyr risks looking up. “That’s… it? You’re not gonna yell at me?”
Fluttershy sighs. “I know it won’t matter if I do. Just remember that we all want you to succeed, Zephyr. If it takes a long time that’s fine. But you have to grow up soon.”
“I know.” He retreats into his coco for a moment. “It’ll by my new year’s resolution. Okay?”
“Good.” Silence returns, but it doesn’t last long.
“Thank you,” Zephyr says suddenly.
Fluttershy looks up. “For what?”
“For coming here. For cooking me dinners. For not spending Hearth’s Warming alone and making me do the same thing.” He quickly looks away, blinking rapidly and taking another drink.
Fluttershy’s expression softens along with her heart. “Oh, Zephyr,” she says, “I could never.”
The siblings continue talking into the night. They don’t have the best Hearth’s Warming ever. But it isn’t so bad. In times of change, family is the only real constant.