I wake, a sudden chill down my spine. My eyes open reluctantly, fixing on the ceiling of the little room I share with my wife. My Cupcake. In the gloom, my eyes can barely discern the cheerful, bright patterns above me; made to be seen and appreciated the most in the shining light of day. The clock beside my bed ticks over the minute past midnight, and I sigh.
I'm still cold.
Reluctantly, I turn to the right. The outline of my wife stands out, stark against the window beyond the bed. I can see that, in her sleep, she has rolled over, taking the blankets with her. Moonlight washes over her mane, the usually impeccable tresses flowing like pink, glowing water down the bedspread. I can't see the other side, but I can imagine, after so many years of marriage, that her nose barely peeks out of the blankets; the rest of her snuggled down warm and soft.
A ghost of a smile crosses my lips, and I shiver once more. I reach out with one hoof, experimentally tugging at the blankets, only to find them firmly in the grasp of my wife. I try once more, grabbing with my teeth this time and pulling harder; yet still, they barely budge from the slumbering pony. I give up, a good natured huff escaping me. The bedsprings squeak once in protest at my rolling, and I glance back up to the ceiling, wandering through the recesses of my mind.
There is a faction in Equestria, made up almost wholly of stallions, that preach and shout and stomp to any that will listen that mares are weaker than stallions and thus, below them. It has always been my private and unshakable belief that none of these stallions have ever once had to try to get the blankets back from a sleeping mare. I smile to myself at that thought, before my muzzle droops once again, my eyes drifting to her. Slowly, I roll over, still careful not to disturb her; one hoof reaching out to gently touch her, before falling away, just short.
Lately, there's been a canyon there, you see. A large, unspeakable gulf that I can actually feel getting larger sometimes. Sometimes the gulf is tiny; nigh-nonexistent, and I can hold her in my forelegs and stroke her mane and giggle with her about this and that; but so often, the canyon grows. So often, it gets so large and deep that even if I squint, I barely recognize her as my wife on the other side.
The canyon doesn't come from nowhere, though. Sometimes, I cause it, and other times, she causes it. Tonight, I know she blames me for the gulf but really, I feel it's her fault.
In the end, though... it's not important. My hoof worries at the sheets between us, and I scrunch my eyes shut; drawing in on myself like a young, lost foal. Curled up on our tiny bed but still leaving that important space between, I let a sigh dance through the air, the aching emptiness and the loneliness while being a mere three inches from her permeating my being.
What's important is that the canyon exists and that I wish it did not exist. There was a time, when we were much younger and Cup still had so much spring to her step and shine to her eyes, that I could simply lay a hoof on her withers and nuzzle her. I never felt, back then, that I needed to hurdle a gorge simply to offer her support or comfort.
We could simply lay quietly together on the highest hill in Ponyville, watching the sunset. I loved seeing the deep fingers of rosy light across her blue coat, dappling in the summertime through the trees. Or when we finally bought the bakery—we spent hours together the day we opened baking our first stock. That little poke of the tongue from the side of her muzzle when she carefully squeezed on frosting to her namesake, the practiced ease of how she rolled the tarts, the hoofprints in the flour we spilled—all of that just made me fall a little deeper in love each time.
I certainly never felt that I needed to draft my every interaction with her, editing and re-writing in my head the parts that seemed likely to make that rift grow. Conversations that took mere seconds ten years ago now take minutes, sometimes hours—both of us carefully circling the other with our words, hoping against hope that we'll catch one another. I wonder, as I lay here curled up beside my gently snoring wife, why we lay these little verbal traps. Is it to pull the other closer, cross that canyon... or is it to ensnare, to capture, to hold the other aloft and score points on some Luna-damned board?
And I never, never once, saw that glimmer of fear in her eyes before. I can tell by her cautious approach to me and her pauses in speech that she is doing the same thing—composing, re-composing, and carefully evaluating each possible outcome. It's in the hitch in her voice, the way one front hoof is always slightly off the ground, the uneasy sway of a mare truly considering simply running. That glimmer of fear has overridden the usual shine and zest for life she once had.
I hate myself for it.
I roll off the bed, setting my hooves down gently before carefully making my way into the hall, down to the first door on the left. The bathroom light is bright, too bright, and I fumble for the taps; splashing my face with cold water, I finally open my eyes to look at the stallion I've become. I... I don't like what I see.
I'm not sure why she does.
The walk down the hall to that half-open door on the right feels more like the trudge of a criminal, being brought back to see the fruits of his crime. I poke my head in, the tiny creak of the door deafening in this absolute silence. Moonlight has spilled into my children's room, snaking across the carpeting to the crib, coming to rest finally upon two soft forms. I can feel my own face soften as I reach inside, gently stroking my son's mane as he and his twin sleep peacefully beneath their blankets.
Ponies tell you, always, that having foals changes things. That it's a whole new life, even after the huge leap into marriage. Back then, standing tall and proud beside my Honeybun as she grew and nurtured and perfectly cared for our twins inside her own body—an idea that I'm not quite sure I'll ever fully wrap my mind around the enormity of—we smiled. We bumped noses playfully, looking at each other and looking forward together and knowing—knowing! How naive we were—that we were prepared for anything.
When I stood beside the hospital bed and watched two foals, neither of which were Earth Ponies, come out of my wife... I realized I most certainly was not prepared for that. Every word, every action over the past two years from my Cupcake to any other male was thrown in harsh relief, leaving me to wonder if that unicorn vendor wasn't a little too friendly, if she didn't giggle just a little too cutely at that pegasus customer's jokes. I stood there under the harsh and unforgiving hospital florescent light, staring blankly down at two snuggling foals in her forelegs, a frozen smile on my face as the doctor's exclamations about genes this and hereditary traits that droned on.
I think he went on for a bit about peas. I don't quite remember.
I give a last stroke to my son's mane, and plant a whisper-soft kiss on each of their perfect little foreheads. It is late, and my exhausted body cries out for relief. I make my way back to my room—our room—and hope against hope that maybe she's rolled over since I left.
Ah. Not so much. I slip back into bed, laying now with my back to her. Every inhale, I can feel the soft blankets wrapped around her rubbing gently on my back and withers. Against my better judgement, I lean further against them, letting my eyes slip shut as I enter my memories once more.
I tried to be every inch a proud father. I helped name them, showed them off to the girls while Cup rested, and kept that frozen rictus of a grin on my face the whole time. Pinkie and her friends cooed and giggled, and it comforted me in that moment to see one of the smartest ponies around completely accepting this quirk of biology. Twilight even offered advice!
I tried, so hard, not to let my paranoia get the best of me. Eventually, though... it did. In the end, I quietly brought a lock of my son's mane and my own mane to a magical scientist. I did not tell Cup, or anypony else, and the scientist had a sworn confidentiality agreement.
I curl closer against her, and feel her shiver and pull in tightly against herself. I suppose I deserve that.
She knew. Somehow, she knew. There was no logical way, but... she did.
Mares, for all their power and strength, have a fey way about them that I have yet to truly understand. Some sort of way of tapping the underlying ebb and flow of emotions and translating them to real events that transcends even the inherent magic that permeates this land. The cock of her head and strange shimmer to her eyes when I told her everything was "just fine" was enough to tell me that she knew. She would never tell me she knew—she had no hard proof, after all—but as we stood and traded stares under our respective masks of loving calm, I knew she knew.
It was true, everything was fine, and I can proudly call my children my own. But I cannot proudly call myself a good husband for that. Trust is the most precious of commodities in a marriage, and knowing that I had lost that trust—even for a little while—made me ill. She hadn't done anything wrong. All she had done was bore me two strong, healthy children that I could be proud of.
And instead, I found reason to doubt her.
The clock ticks over again to twelve-fifteen. I bring up my hooves, rubbing my bleary eyes before squinting again at the mare beside me. I ran my eyes over her again, debating each critical thing I had said towards her.
The rift opened soon after, and regardless of the fact that I had no real reason to behave poorly, I did. Maybe it was my stupid pride, hurt at being proved wrong about my children and wife. Maybe that private embarrassment needed some outlet, yet still, I ought to have known better.
It was true that after having the twins, her generous figure had only expanded slightly. It was to be expected, and I knew that, yet I couldn't help but mildly judge her each time she ate. I tried to introduce more healthy things to our menu, but with Pinkie Pie and a mother somewhat dependent on sugar and caffeine to get through the day, it was a losing battle. Many were the battles we fought, not always with words, me attacking under the guise of "concern".
My gut churns and my face heats as compounded embarrassment rears up to slap me.
Do I really care that much? Does it really make that big a difference that I need to tell her what to eat, and how? Why did I assume that she didn't know her choices weren't the healthiest, and why did I think it was any of my business? She was entirely healthy, and her doctor had already told us that her weight was not affecting her adversely. All it did was drive her to eat in secret. Drive her away from me in yet another way.
I groan softly into the silence, pinching the bridge of my nose with a hoof. I remember all of it. All the times I glared at her over a cupcake, or snapped at her over the same spilled flour that so charmed me ten years ago. I remember her face, most of all.
The cautious stare of a mare that isn't quite sure who has done away with her husband and replaced him with this... thing.
Perhaps the rift protects her. Perhaps being on the other side, safely with her children, gives her some small measure of comfort.
Her silhouette against the window blurs, breaking into small refracted glows of light, and it takes me a moment to realize that I am crying.
Screaming across a canyon is no way to live with another pony. Deliberately ensuring the canyon is there is no help, either. I feel a small surge of anger worm through my stomach and up to my chest at her. How dare she not try to fix this? Doesn't she care?
And just like that, lying on the cold side of the bed beside my wife at twenty past midnight, the anger disappears. Perhaps I am too old to continue fighting. Or too tired.
Or, perhaps, too mature. My mind works, clicking through the scoreboard, totted with marks on both our sides, before I quite suddenly toss it down into that Luna-damned canyon. A sudden spike of cold dread at throwing away the one weapon I have to win against her shoots through me, before being replaced with a giddy warmth. Radiating out from my chest, it spreads to my forelegs and head and eventually, I breathe out. A small, fond smile replaces my previous frown, and I turn fully to face her back.
The canyon might always be there, but there is nothing saying that we cannot be on the same side of it. I realize now that I am going to have to build a bridge. It is a good thing, then, that I have a strong back and able hooves. Bridges take time to build, to make them sturdy and safe for travel, and I know it will be some time before she can join me permanently on my side. Yet, there is nothing saying I cannot show her my efforts to build that bridge, and I begin by draping one foreleg across my slumbering wife's body. She shivers, then relaxes, body pressing back against my chest.
I hold her, even through the cumbersome blankets, and stroke her mane. The smell of sugar and fresh bread rises from her, and I smile. Snuggling deeper against her, I pull her in tightly, willing my feelings of love and devotion to translate through the fluffy barrier.
Marriage is not a war. She is not my enemy.
She is my love. My Cupcake.
And I can't believe I ever forgot that.