Tux sat on his couch, deftly working his needles and yarn, working to make a hat and matching scarf for the upcoming winter season. He was excited, as it was to be his first winter away from Hoofton, his first real, snowy winter. Back in Hoofton, winter was always wet and miserable instead of crisp and cool.
He looked up at Fluttershy, who was herself knitting a scarf, proudly wearing the hat she'd just finished. How she could knit so well without using her wings was beyond his understanding. "Looks great," he remarked, returning to his own work.
"Thank you," she smiled from the other end of the couch. "Yours looks good, too. You're almost done."
"I have about fifteen rows left on the hat," he replied. He flipped his cable needle, twisting the pattern. His hat had several cables that ran straight up it. He'd originally wanted to have four cables dividing into eight, then crossing and going back to four, but it was much too challenging for him, and he couldn't be ponied to be that ambitious.
"Yours is really cute," he said, looking back up at her. She grinned and blushed. Her hat was several shades of brown, with oversized, teddy-bear ears, and a pair of shiny eyes, a button nose, and a black yarn smile completed the teddy-bear face. Her scarf was in the same color scheme, even though she was knitting a simple argyle pattern (which was also too ambitious for him).
"How's the choir?" he asked as he finished another row on his hat. His feathers were starting to cramp up, and now he was wishing that Fluttershy would tell him her secrets of hoof dexterity.
"They're doing so much better now that you've been working with me," she said with a smile. "This performance might actually come together after all. How's your choir coming?"
"The pony choir?" he scoffed. "No takers so far. Well, besides you and the other five."
"Oh, that's too bad," she sighed. "I think having a pony choir from Ponyville is a great idea. Maybe you could ask Twilight to get in touch with ponies in Canterlot. I'm sure you could find somepony there."
"Yeah," he shrugged as the topic dropped off. As he finished another row, he got up the courage and asked, "Speaking of asking Twilight things, you know her a lot better than I do."
"And you probably know me better than she does."
"Um, I was thinking of...." His words failed him. *This must be what a stutter is like*, he thought. "I was, um, thinking of, uh, asking her out."
"Oh, road apples," she grunted, starting at his words. "I slipped a stitch." She took the yarn in her teeth and quickly remedied the situation. She resumed knitting with a stone look on her face. "I don't mean to badmouth anypony," she said without looking up, "but you and she wouldn't make a good match."
"Why not?" he asked. "We get along nicely, and she seems to like me well enough."
She finished a row and put her needles down. She scooted one cushion over so that she was sitting right next to him. "She's high-maintenance. More so than Rarity."
"You need somepony a bit more laid back. Somepony like...." She seemed to start to say something, but she backed down. "Well, I don't really know who, but I'll keep my eyes open. If that's okay with you, of course."
"Sure. I'd trust my sister to play matchmaker any day; what makes you any different?" He smiled, and she blushed. But it looked like more of a nervous blush than a bashful one. "It's okay if you don't feel up to it."
"Oh no, it's not that I don't feel up to it. I mean, I think I could choose somepony perfect. It's just that I've never played matchmaker before."
"Go with your instincts," he replied. "But in the meantime, I think I'd like to go with mine, if you know what I mean."
"Twilight," he explained. "I've had a crush on her ever since I met her."
"A whole week," she marveled in mockery. "It's meant to be."
"Hey, it's perfectly normal. I know a lot of ponies who married their crushes."
"I'm sorry, Tux, but I can't give you my blessing until you know what you're getting yourself into. Twilight and I have a lunch date in two days, and you're coming as my plus-one."
"All right," he replied. "Hey, we should double-date. I'm sure there's some handsome stallion here in Ponyville that you've been eyeing."
"Um, n-no. I m-mean, yes." She sighed, her ears drooping. "But he would never think of me."
"Rubbish," he replied. "Who-pony in their right mind would turn down a mare like you?" She blushed and grinned bashfully. "There's the Fluttershy I know."
The clarion call of Ponyville's bell tower sounded in the distance. "I have to go," Fluttershy said, rolling up her scarf and tucking it with her hat into her knitting bag. "I'll see you soon."
"You really should wear that hat," he said, nodding at the bag. "It's really cute."
"Okay," she said, pulling the hat out of the bag and putting it on. "Better?"
"Much better. Bye." They shared a quick hug before he left for his cottage.
The time came for the lunch trio, and Tux made his way to the café at noon, and he found Fluttershy and Twilight sitting there already, an empty chair reserving his place at the table. "Hey, ladies!" he called, trotting over. He took his place and picked up the menu.
"Fluttershy was just telling me that you're fairly handy with a pair of needles," Twilight said. "I had no idea you knitted."
"Yeah, it's sort of a hobby," he replied proudly. "I've never made anything really extravagant, though."
"Well, it's still a good thing to be able to do, especially considering how cold it's going to get this winter. Rainbow Dash says that there's going to be a cloud shortage."
"How would a cloud shortage make it colder?" Fluttershy asked.
"Well, for starters, the clouds insulate during the night, so clear nights allow more heat to escape from the Earth's surface. True, clouds block the sunlight during the day, but enough of it gets through to heat things up a little bit. Sometimes I wish that somepony could fix the planet's twenty-three degree axial tilt so that it would be balmy all year round. Wait, is it twenty-three degrees, or is it twenty-seven? Ugh, that's going to bug me for the rest of the day."
"Earth's obliquity is twenty-three degrees," Tux explained.
"Thanks," Twilight smiled.
"You're welcome. I've actually got an idea for a story where, in the future, space ponies try to do that and totally screw up the ecosystem."
"I'll have to read that when you finish it," she said enthusiastically. "Hey, I'll be right back." She got up and trotted off toward the restrooms.
"I was trying to prove a point," Fluttershy said in a harsh whisper. "She can talk your ears off."
"So can I," he shrugged. "I can talk for hours on very narrow topics, especially writing, music theory, and linguistics."
"Touché," she sighed. "But this isn't the only reason Twilight wouldn't be a good match. You'll see."
Tux was beginning to feel a bit uncomfortable. This definitely wasn't the kind, timid Fluttershy who he knew. She had to have some sort of reason to be fault-finding like this. "It's really not going to work," he sighed. "I don't think there's any way to convince me. Why are you doing this, anyway?"
"Because I care about you, Tux. You told me about all your past heartbreak, and I don't want this to be your last. I really don't think you can take another one."
"You're probably right about that one." He'd told himself long ago that one more unfair rejection, and he would throw in the towel and get out of the game for good. But if it didn't work out with Twilight, he didn't think it would necessarily break his heart, though he would definitely be disappointed about it.
"All right, I'm back," Twilight said with a smile, sitting down again. Out of the corner of his eye, Tux saw Fluttershy nonchalantly put her fork askew. Upon noticing it, Twilight cleared her throat and said, "Um, Fluttershy, your fork is...."
"It looks fine to me," the yellow pony replied. "What about it?"
"No, it's not," Fluttershy argued.
"Here, let me just...." Twilight ignited her horn and fixed the flatware. "There." Not five seconds later, when Twilight glanced away, Fluttershy bumped the fork again. When Twilight looked up, her mouth fell open for a moment. "Sorry, it's...." She righted the fork again.
When Fluttershy did it a third time, Tux spoke up. "In all honesty, it bugs me, too." He shrugged and moved the fork back with his wing. Her mouth dropped open. He shrugged again.
The meeting continued normally for a while, and all of Fluttershy's contrived attempts at stamping out Tux's fire of infatuation failed outright. Twilight was getting more and more impatient, and the last straw came when everypony's food arrived.
Twilight and Fluttershy had gotten similar orders of sweet oat-flour pasta with marinara sauce, though Fluttershy had gotten a sandwich instead of a salad. Tux watched as Twilight carefully separated the pasta and salad, not even allowing her roll to touch the tomato sauce. He had always been a bit less particular about his foods touching; desserts were always to stay separate, but virtually everything else was fair game. Fluttershy was usually the same way, but this time she opened her sandwich, added a forkful of pasta, and took a bite.
"Food..." Twilight stammered, her eye twitching slightly, "...touching...."
"Was that really necessary?" Tux whispered as Twilight went catatonic.
"Yes," Fluttershy replied.
"But I can live with that," he protested. "My sister is just like that with her food. So is my brother. I'm sorry, but you still haven't convinced me that this isn't a good match. All you've done is tortured an innocent mare."
"I guess you're right," she sighed sadly. "This really isn't like me. I figured that I'd be saving you the trouble of finding out for yourself.
"I appreciate the sentiment, but I think it may be best to pave my own way with this." Fluttershy agreed to stop trying to interfere, and he helped her finish the pasta sandwich, which wasn't terrible, but had a strange texture.
Almost as soon as it was gone, Twilight snapped out of her catatonia and asked, "What happened? Did the...thing go away?"
"It's gone," Tux assured.
"Oh, thank goodness."
"You didn't...hear anything we said while you were out, did you?"
"Not a word," she replied. "Why?"
"We were just talking about Tux's family," Fluttershy replied. It wasn't altogether untrue. "He said that his sister and brother are also picky with their food."
"My brother will eat only rolled oats whenever we go to the Feed Bucket," Tux explained. "That's a restaurant chain on the east coast. When we fix greens, he'll eat only alfalfa, and when he grazes, he'll eat only clover."
"That is pretty picky," Twilight remarked. "Oh, Tux, before I forget, which I usually don't do, but you know how things get when you have a busy schedule, anyhoof, before I forget, I thought you'd like to borrow a book I have on the history of Equestria. You know, the one that talks about all the sordid little details that other textbooks don't give you?"
"Oh, yeah," he said eagerly. "Are you going to bring it by?"
"I would, but I don't have the time; Princess Celestia has me doing a major research project on the Crystal Empire. You should be excited to know that Ponese is still one of their most widely spoken languages. Anyhoof, I was wondering if you could swing by later today, maybe when you get off work. You could pick up the book, and I could show you more of the library."
"That sounds great," he smiled. Off in the distance, the clock tower chimed One.
"Gah!" Twilight gasped, shoveling the remnants of her salad into her mouth, chewing hurriedly and swallowing prematurely. Once the look of discomfort left her face, she said, "I'm sorry, but I have to get back to my research. I'll see you both later!" She stood up and left the table.
As soon as she was out of earshot, Tux said, "I think I might ask her out to dinner when I go over later. It's the perfect opportunity."
"Please, Tux, be careful," Fluttershy beseeched, her normal timbre returning, replacing the disapproving tone she'd been using when speaking about the idea of Tux and Twilight as a couple. "Be sure this is what you want before you do anything you'll regret. And I know you will regret it."
"We'll see," he replied. "I've never been so sure of anything in my life."
"Famous last words," she said under her breath.
Later that day, Tux made his way to the library and found two royal guards stationed outside. He hesitated, but one of them asked, "You are Tux n Tails?"
"Yeah," he replied.
"Twilight Sparkle said you'd be coming by. Come right in."
"Why are you two here?" he asked.
"The Princess has made a visit to consult with Twilight on her research," said the other guard.
Tux walked past them into the library and found Twilight standing there next to Princess Celestia. They were conferring over a stack of very old books with crystal-studded bindings. They were apparently so into their discussion that Twilight didn't see him enter. The princess looked over at him and said, "Welcome, Tux n Tails."
"Please call me Tux," he corrected, bowing.
"Yes, I seem to recall from our last meeting that you preferred just your first name. I'm sorry we didn't meet under better conditions, Tux."
"It's fine, Princess."
"You may get up now...."
Tux clambered back to his hooves and looked to Twilight. "I'm here to borrow that book."
"Oh, sure," she said with a smile. "Follow me." She led him up the stairs and into her bedroom. Everything inside was immaculate. Not a thread was out of place, not a pen or piece of paper skewed; not even a speck of dust found place on any surface. Her bed was made with perfect hospital-corners, and the bedspread was exactly centered. The hem was parallel to the headboard and folded over at what appeared to be exactly one tenth of the beds's total length.
But what really told the story was the to-do list on the desk, which Tux read cursorily as Twilight searched for the book in her personal shelves.
_x_ Make checklist about supplies for making checklists
_x_ Make to-do list
_x_ Feed Spike
_x_ Feed Owlowiscious
_x_ Read *A Brief History of the Crystal Empire*
_x_ Write report about *A Brief History of the Crystal Empire*
The list continued on in the same vein for quite a distance, all written in calligraphy so perfect that it looked typed. One thing that Tux hated was lists. They didn't help at all, overwhelming him and stressing him out. Another thing that Tux knew he couldn't live with was a neat-freak, and he knew this from experience. He himself was more cluttered than neat. Not messy per se, but very cluttered. His bedroom back home in Hoofton was like Rarity's inspiration room: organized chaos. Surely something that Discord would see as an abomination.
"Found it!" Twilight proclaimed, producing the book. It had a simple black cover with red lettering that read, "The True History of Equestria". "It somehow got stuck in the wrong spot. You see, I use the Library of Canterlot call number system rather than the Dewey Decimal system. It makes things easier to find, unless they get misplaced. I'll have to talk to Spike about this; he probably shelved it."
"Thanks a million," he said as she put the book in his saddlebags.
"Hey, I have an idea," she gasped. "Let's talk to Princess Celestia about you writing her letters whenever you learn about friendship. I figured, since you're a part of our circle of friends, you might as well be included."
"Sure," he said with a shrug.
He followed Twilight down the stairs and waited to hear the princess's response to Twilight's proposal. After a few moments of thought, the princess said, "Yes, I think that would be splendid. Tux, the way this works is that whenever you learn something about friendship, you will write me a letter and send it via dragon-mail. Spike has the address, so he will take care of that for you. Remember, send me a letter if and only if you learn something about friendship. There was one time when--"
"Please, Princess Celestia, don't tell that story."
"Twilight can tell you the story, then. But later; we still have research to discuss."
"I'll be off, then." He bowed briefly and left the library. Fluttershy was standing outside conversing with a chipmunk. "Hi, Fluttershy," he greeted.
"Did you see her bedroom?" she asked.
"I think I'm starting to see a problem," he sighed. "But it's nothing that I can't overlook."
"And I thought I wore rose-colored glasses," she quipped.
"Fluttershy, have you ever been in love?"
She paused, her ears drooping. "Yes," she replied. "I prefer not to talk about it. It's such a sad story."
"And if you had a shot with the stallion of your dreams, would you take that opportunity?"
"No...." She sniffed. "I'm...too shy."
"Don't cry, Fluttershy," he said, wrapping a wing around her. "I didn't mean to bring up any unpleasant memories."
"I know," she sniffed. "It was a long time ago. And I made a mistake, thinking that a bad match was a good one. I don't want you to make that same mistake."
"I've made it before. I think by now, I've become a pretty good judge of what's good for me. I really do appreciate that you want to look out for me. Not many ponies want to do that. And those who do are my true friends."
"Thank you," she murmured, smiling weakly.
"In fact, I'd go so far as to say that you're my best friend." She put her head on his withers, and her returned the gesture. Once again, he felt the tearing deep inside of him that he'd felt at the end of his housewarming party, and he realized that this whole love business was going to be much harder than he'd originally anticipated.
After he had bidden Fluttershy farewell, he started making his way back to his cottage. He was sorry to leave her there, but he figured that there was really nothing he could do to make her feel better. They had agreed to meet for lunch the next day, but in all honesty, he wasn't really looking forward to the meeting. Fluttershy had proven that she had a dark side. It was something that he didn't like.
When he reached his cottage when skin, he found it to be emptier than it used to be. It wasn't that all of his stuff was gone; it was that there wasn't anypony else there. He had heard it said that home was where you made it, but he had also heard it said that home is where the heart is. And his heart was with other ponies. He had always considered himself to be a loner, but that wasn't really true. He desired, even needed companionship, and when he didn't have that, he found himself to be stagnant.
Perhaps that was why he wanted Twilight so badly. Maybe he wasn't looking for a mate, but rather a friend. But he had found that in Fluttershy already, so why was he so insistent on dating Twilight? Tux hated it when his thoughts confused him, and that was what they were doing. He was just like Twilight in some ways; he needed everything to be just the way it should be. Anything else, and he would go insane.
A knock sounded on his door. He heard Rarity's voice calling out, "Tux are you home?"
"Yeah, I'll be there in a minute," he said. He shed is saddlebags, and he hurried to the door. When he opened it, he saw Rarity and her cat, Opalescense, standing there to greet him. Rarity had a smile on her face, but Opalescense didn't look so happy. Tux had never met Opalescense before, and he said, "Hey, I didn't know you had a cat."
"Oh, yes, she is such a dear," Rarity beamed, levitating the feline and hugging her. Opalescense lashed out with her paws, buffeting Rarity's face, but she did no damage. Tux chuckled at the cat's disapproving antics, smiling broadly.
"That's what I need!" he exclaimed. "That's what'll cheer Fluttershy up!"
"What's that, dear?" Rarity asked.
"I'll have her help me pick out a pet," Tux explained. "It's really an ingenious plan."
"Why does she need cheering up?" Rarity asked.
"It's a long story, and I don't want to get into it." He stepped out of the doorway and invited them in. "Come right in. Is there anything in particular you wanted to see me about, or did you drop by just for the heck of it?"
"You actually left your jacket at the boutique," she replied. "Opalescense and I were out for a walk, so we decided we would drop by."
"She doesn't really seem to like that harness, does she?" he observed. The feline was scratching manically, trying to shed the apparatus.
"Oh, she's fine with it," Rarity replied. "She does this every time I take her out. You know, whatever has Fluttershy down, helping her help you find a pet will cheer her right up. Though, from what I gather, you're not really interested in her, are you?"
"And how would you know who I'm interested in?" he asked.
"Darling, you wear your heart on your withers," she replied. "I've seen how you act around Twilight--you're practically falling all over her."
"I am not!" he retorted.
"Oh please," she scoffed. "I've never seen someone so enamored. You, my friend, are lovestruck."
"I guess I am," he sighed.
"So, are you going to ask her out?"
It then occurred to him that he hadn't ask her out at the library, even though he had planned on it. Usually, when he set his mind to do something, he did it. Especially if it was something important to him. Maybe Fluttershy was right. Maybe this was just a crush. He didn't want something that would last a little while; he wanted something that would last forever. And in all his years, every single crush had ended up dying out. As much as it pained him to admit, it was probably better that he remain single than to settle for somepony that he didn't love, or at least somepony that he thought he loved. If you were to be happy, he needed to be with somepony who he knew he loved.
"Rarity, I think you just taught me something about friendship," he chuckled.
"I'm lost," she replied. "Exactly what did I teach you?"
"You and Fluttershy just taught me that you should listen to friends who are concerned about your well-being. I think she'll be happy to know I'm going to take her advice after all. Even though I won't like it, I am not going to ask Twilight out."
"And why not?" Rarity demanded. "You melt every time she walks into the room. Not only is she oblivious of your feelings, but she doesn't think ill of you, and she never will. If you ask her, she will say yes."
"Maybe I will ask her out eventually," he shrugged. "But I don't think it's the right time. I should get to know her better. I'm not looking for just companionship; I'm looking for the mare who will be the mother of my children. I'm looking for the mare who I will spend the rest of my life with. I can't afford mistakes."
Rarity groaned. "Tux, you are out of your mind. Nopony does things like that. If you marry the first pony date, how do you know that there isn't a better match out there for you?"
"I don't," he replied. "But if I trust those who care about me, I won't need to find a better match."
"Well, good luck," she bade, leaving Tux's jacket on the couch. "Just know that I care about you as well."
"I know you do," he quipped. "But it's not only your advice that I'm going to be taking into account. I need to listen to all of the ponies who care about me, not just one. That's why I'm going to get six blessings before I make any major decisions."
"Well, if you still want to pursue twilight, you have my blessing in that. Opal and I have to go now, but I'll see you bright and early tomorrow morning at work."
"Enjoy the rest of your night," he said as they walked out the door. Even though he was hungry, he climbed the stairs and went to his writing desk. He produced a pen and a piece of paper, and he began penning his first letter.