Hearth's Warming Eve. For most ponies it’s a time of fun, presents under big pine trees, and spending time with loved ones and close friends. It’s the number one most anticipated holiday bar none, followed closely by Winter Wrap Up and the ‘new and improved’ Nightmare Night.
And I guess that here’s where the problem is. For me, Hearth’s Warming Eve is more like a nightmare than it has any right to be. And the worst thing is: It shouldn’t be. Anypony that knows me even a little knows that I plan meticulously for most major events, and even some of the not-so-major ones. And yet, gift giving on Hearth’s Warming always manages to catch me by surprise somehow. I mean, I know the psychological processes attributing to it: It never seems important enough until I’m running around like a headless chicken on the last day, trying to find everypony a present. Which, inevitably, turns out to be another book. Granted, they are personalized choices; romance for Rarity, animal biology for Fluttershy, Daring Do for Rainbow, and so on. But even I am willing to admit there are only so many books on balloon animals, even if Pinkie hugs me every time I get her one.
So this year, I decided to do things differently. Only to find out that I still couldn’t find the right gifts. I mean, sure, Rarity would be happy with another roll of moonsilk, and Rainbow Dash would never say no to tickets for any of the Wonderbolts derbys... but they’re just not... festive enough? I don’t know. They just don’t feel right.
So, here I am. Hunched over half a dozen gift catalogues, none of which are anywhere near what I’m looking for.
What do you even give to ponies who already have everything their heart desires?
After a week’s worth of research into the act of gift giving—during which I consumed more than three times my weight in coffee, which is probably unhealthy—the only thing I could really find was that ponies grew closer through the giving of presents, which was a bit of a letdown.
Upon tearing my gaze away from the catalogues, my body immediately decides that now would be a good time to seize up and protest at the way I’ve been treating it; so it’s with more than a little discomfort that I look at Spike. He has his hands on his hips and is wearing a stern expression that usually signifies that he doesn’t agree with my experimentation methods. “What is it, Spike?”
He snorts, blowing out two little plumes of smoke out of his nostrils. “Jeez, Twi. I called you like... five times. What are you doing over there?”
Stretching my wings until the joints pop is actually kind of pleasant in a weird way, and I get to my hooves in an attempt to limber up a little and relieve some of the tension in my shoulders. “Trying to find the right presents for Hearth’s Warming Eve.”
“Okay..?” He nods slowly and points at the calendar with a thumb. I don’t even need to look to know that there are only a few days left until the date marked with a solid red circle. I marked it myself in an attempt to do things right. “Do you know that—”
“I know, I know,” I interrupt him irritably. “But it’s not working. I can’t find the right presents and everything just seems to... ugh!” I shake my head and start pacing through the room. Perhaps something will come to me if I just keep moving.
“Is there anything I can do to help?”
With a sigh, I turn to face him. “Only if you’ve somehow become a mind-reader and know exactly what each of the girls would like. But since I’ve had to explain that to you, I’m going to guess you can’t.”
“Well...” He strokes his chin with a claw before snapping his fingers and smiling brightly. “How about we go to the market and get some nice presents for everypony!” Although he leaves it unsaid, I can all but hear the ‘and get some ice cream while we’re at it’ just from the way his smile sits on his face.
I can’t help but shrug indifferently, however. “I’ve already been to every stall in town. They just don’t have enough variety to find anything that would make for a good gift.”
“So why don’t we go to Canterlot?”
“Can’t. I promised Pinkie Pie I’d help her test her new ‘Pinkie Pastry Confectionary Cannon’. The train ride alone would take too long.”
When his silence stretches into the minute, I trot back to the catalogues. There has to be something in there that will make somepony happy.
“You could teleport us.”
I shake my head without even looking up from the catalogue. “I can’t teleport that far. Just across town is the limit.”
“How do you know? You’ve never tried to see how far you could teleport after you became a princess.”
Telling him that I don’t really want to go is not an option. He probably needs to get presents as badly as I do, and yet... “I don’t... If I mess it up...”
I wince when two scaly claws grab onto my right wing, and Spike uses the leverage to pull himself onto my back. He leans forward, holding onto my neck to smile again. “I’m still as fireproof as I was the last time you messed up. Maybe even more so!”
I wrack my brain, trying to come up with some other reason not to go. Some little white lie that isn’t completely transparent. Sometimes, having to deal with Spike’s optimism can be headache-inducing. Nothing comes to me. Damn. With a Sleipnirian effort I gather what little cheer I can find and put a smile on my face before getting up and making for the door. If I’m going to do this, I’m going to give it my all. “Alright, Spike. You’ve convinced me. Let’s give it a go.” Teleporting long distances can cause all manner of blowback and damage to the point you’re jumping from. As such, I quickly choose a hill within spitting distance of the library and only focus the magic in my horn once we’ve reached it. “Hold on tight, Spike.”
The familiar smell of ozone fills the air while I focus on my magic, trying to keep the mental image of the Canterlot skyline in my mind until all parts of the spell click together.
Even before the sickening feeling of my gut trying to occupy my chest begins, it’s clear that I’ve made a mistake. It’s just not the mistake I was worried about. The Canterlot skyline is just where it’s supposed to be. The ground, unfortunately, is a few hundred feet lower.
It takes three, maybe four seconds of freefall before I remember that I have wings, and another three to get them to cooperate with the part of my brain that wants to do nothing more than scream bloody murder. It is only after my brain has been informed that I’m not about to pancake myself on any road nor sidewalk that I realise something’s missing. Or rather, someone.
No more time to think. Only act. I fold my wings and let myself drop like a stone, trying to reach him before his flailing impales him on one of the spires of the higher buildings. It isn’t long before I can see windows and ponies in my peripheral vision, and it’s only when there are just a few yards left that my brain smugly reminds me that I also have a horn. Immediately I light up my horn and halt Spike’s momentum with a levitation spell, making him come to a standstill mere inches from the ground.
Unfortunately, in my haste to save him, I completely forgot to open my own wings again and the fountain below me doesn’t seem inclined to move.
“Come on, Twilight.” Spike hugs my neck from behind in an already failed attempt to make me feel better. “At least you know that you’re sturdier than marble now.”
Snorting sadly, I make my way towards the trader’s district, marble pebbles and dust trailing behind me as they lose their grip on my coat. At least the princess has money set aside for the many mistakes I make.
We spend the next couple of hours in and around the hundreds of shops Canterlot has to offer. From woodworking, to glassblowing, to tapestries, to even a gemcutter’s workshop that generously give Spike their leftover shavings, which he promptly devours. His demeanor, unlike mine, has suffered no ill effects from our fall, and he’s as positive and optimistic as ever. Then again...
“Hey, Twilight, how do you like this necklace?” he asks, holding up a very nice-looking piece of jewelry. It’s probably made of white gold or silver with the way it shines in the sunlight. “Think of how great it would look on somepony like Rarity. It just needs a gem!”
“It’s very nice, Spike.”
I shake my head softly, just like I’ve done the last thirty times. He means well, but there simply isn’t anything that really strikes me as a good enough gift. Of course the necklace is nice, but Rarity probably has several like them already.
His enthusiastic smile fades a few seconds before his shoulders slump and he takes the necklace back into the store. The fall left him unphased, but I can’t help but feel like I’m making him feel useless. After all, he came here to help me, and all I’m doing is rejecting every idea he comes up with.
With a sigh I shake my head again. Even if none of his ideas are what I’m looking for, I could at the very least thank him for his diligence, and perhaps treat him to some ice cream. After all, it’s not like I’ve found any other use for the bits in my purse—besides, possibly, paying for that fountain... Another sigh.
When it’s time to return to Pinkie Pie and the looming but inevitable cannon blasts to the face, Spike’s more or less in the same mood as I am. It doesn’t sit well, but I don’t actually know what to do about it.
He stops playing with his own claws and looks up at me. “Yeah?” Even his voice sounds like it’s lost its luster.
“Thanks.” I muster a smile for him. It the least he deserves. “For trying to help me, I mean.”
He smiles back, but his heart isn’t in it. Perhaps I should ask Pinkie to throw him a party before Hearth’s Warming Eve. If anypony could make that happen, it’s her, right? “It’s okay, Twi.” He halfheartedly pounds on his chest with a fist. “I’m your number one assistant after all!”
Not knowing what else to say, I smile. I nod. And with another spell—and a more carefully chosen destination this time—I send us on our way back to Ponyville.
The following day is one of disappointment buried beneath chores. Helping Applejack clean up the orchard and helping Big Mac with his repairs was a good idea, if only to make sure that they actually had the time to celebrate Hearth’s Warming with the rest of us. After that, I have to help Rainbow Dash with the weather—though I’m probably more of a nuisance—Fluttershy with a supposedly secret knitting project which I can already tell is going to be her present to Rarity—even if I only possess some very basic knitting techniques—and finally, modeling a dress for Rarity so she can finish it before tomorrow.
The way it numbs the panic that keeps threatening to overtake my stomach is pleasant, but throughout the day I can’t help but wonder where Spike is. With only a day to go until the celebration, I thought he would be working away at some project or another, some arts and crafts work to present together with his presents. Or, if that wasn’t the case, then I would at least expect to see him in Rarity’s boutique, helping with whatever is required. The fact that I didn’t only served to make me second guess everything I’d done the previous day. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been looking for the perfect gift, and instead just accepted some of the suggestions he brought me. Or perhaps I shouldn’t have gone at all... It would at least have saved that fountain from a grisly death. Or maybe even—
“Darling, what’s wrong?”
I flash a smile at Rarity. She doesn’t need to know that I still don’t have any gifts for tomorrow. Just give her an excuse that sounds reasonable, and go find Spike as soon as I’m done here. “Nothing.”
All she gives me in return is an unimpressed look. “I hardly think that it’s ‘nothing’, dear. You’ve been fidgeting like there’s a snake wrapped around your middle for the last ten minutes, and you keep looking around as though you expect to be jumped by zebraian ninjas.”
That’s... slightly more difficult to find an excuse for. “Well...” I let out a flustered laugh. “You see... it’s like this—”
“You still haven’t found the right gifts for the Hearth’s Warming celebration tomorrow?” Rarity finished the sentence for me.
She takes the words right of my mouth before I’ve even had the chance to twist them into some halfway convincing lies. Nevertheless, I nod. “Yeah.”
Rarity tsks and slaps me on the flank. “Darling, how many times do I have to tell not to worry about that so terribly much?”
“I can’t help it. I just want to show how much I care for all of you! But how can I claim to be a princess of friendship when I don’t even know what to get my friends for Hearth’s Warming Eve?”
Rarity shakes her head. “You’re looking at it much too black and white, darling. Not knowing what to get somepony and not being a good friend are two completely different things.”
Listening, that is to say, hearing what Rarity says happens subconsciously, without any need to do anything from my end. Absorbing, thinking through, and internalizing the idea, however, just seems impossible. I cannot for the life of me understand how the two are not related when they seem to be so intricately linked to one another. Rarity is still waiting for a response, so I settle for the age old, “I guess.”
She playfully rolls her eyes, swats me on the flank again and says: “We’re done for today,” before simply sauntering off like she wasn’t just feverishly trying to get a dress ready in time.
“But Rarity,” I call after her, looking out through the windows where the sun is still a good few hours away from its resting place. “It’s not even evening yet! I thought you needed somepony to—”
Rarity steps back into the room with a single cup of tea, and a smile. “True enough. Though I think that I’ll have to ask Fluttershy to model for me for the rest of the day.” She points a hoof at me, and then transfers it to the door while helping me out of the dress that felt fused to my coat just a few minutes ago. “You need to get out of here and make sure that you have presents for tomorrow.”
Leaving my response at a shrug and a nod, I make my way to the door, only for her to stop me at the last possible second with something that doesn’t help my already souring mood in the slightest.
“Please try to think of something other than books this year, would you?”
I force myself to nod. “I’ll try.”
With no other ideas, and even the comfortable fallback of books denied to me by the knowledge that my friends really are getting sick of them, I wander around the town for a while. It turns into a search for Spike, whom I still haven’t seen. I would have known had he been at the boutique, and he wasn’t at the library. So where is he?
The sun has set by the time I get back to the library. I’m all but exhausted, having done everything but physically turn Ponyville on its head in my search for Spike. It’s like he just disappeared from the face of Equestria.
“Heya, Twilight. What took you so long?”
Or he could just be sitting at the table. With leftover gem shavings around his mouth, and a distended belly from all the food that’s undoubtedly disappeared down the black hole that masquerades as his stomach. It makes me angry, worrying about him and then finding out that nothing was wrong. I manage to suppress most of the anger, but a small part slips out.
“I was looking for you. Where have you been?”
He rubs his neck sheepishly. “Uh... out?”
The anger already building up behind the slip up is doused under the twin mountains of ‘exhaustion’ and ‘cannot be arsed’, so I leave it at a stern look. “And does this ‘out’ also happen to have gems for you to snack on, or did you just take a few when you got home?”
He visibly blushes and chuckles. “Heh... uh... yeah. Sorry, Twilight.”
I sigh and smile. I was never any good at the whole ‘stern mother figure’ thing, and it isn’t as though he’s done anything that would cause problems, save for perhaps giving himself another belly-ache. “I know Hearth’s Warming Eve happens only once a year, Spike, but please try not to overstuff yourself until then, okay?”
Unbidden, I find myself yawning, hiding it behind one of my wings for decency’s sake. “I think I’ll go to bed. I’m past tired.”
“Did you manage to find any presents for the girls yet?” he asks while I make my way to the stairs, prompting me to halt at the base.
“No, and Rarity said that they didn’t want any books either, so I guess I don’t really have any presents this year.” Saying that only makes me feel worse. Without presents, the whole thing is meaningless, and I might as well not go. Or rather, show everypony I care about that I don’t care about them. “I really just want to go to bed and hide until this stupid holiday is over. Goodnight, Spike.”
He looks up at me sadly. “Goodnight, Twilight.”
Any hopes I had of feeling better after a good night’s rest are dashed the moment I wake up. If anything, I feel worse; scanning the outside of the window with bloodshot eyes, knowing that there’s no possible way for me to get any gifts anymore as the stores are closed on the day of the celebration itself. With half a snort and the miserable feeling of failure in my chest, I turn over and wrap myself in my blankets. I need to catch up on some sleep anyhow.
It last for maybe ten minutes before Spike knocks on the rear end of my bed, making me open one eye to give him a death glare with. He smiles nervously and climbs up onto my bed.
“What do you want?” I grumble.
“Are you still coming to the Hearth’s Warming party? Or did you mean what you said yesterday?”
Silence is said to speak volumes, and even though part of me wouldn’t want to miss it, bed is much more appealing right now.
“O-okay. Then...” Spikes reaches around and pulls out a festively decorated gift from Celestia knows where. “Then I want to give you my present now, if that’s okay.”
His well-meaning gesture makes me feel even more terrible about myself. I don’t even have anything to give him in return. Still, I can’t just tell him that I don’t want it... With that in mind, I sit up and rub the remnants of sleep out of my eyes.
“Sorry,” he says softly after handing me the gift to unwrap. “I know it’s not perfect, but I tried my best, and I hope you’ll still like it.”
I have to make sure I don’t hit myself for my stupidity. Of course...
Hearth’s Warming isn’t about the perfect gift, or knowing what somepony really needs or wants. It’s about trying to make others happy in a way that extends beyond the festivities... Why couldn’t I see that? I swallow the lump in my throat and carefully set the present aside before grabbing him in a heartfelt hug. “It’s completely perfect, Spike. Thank you.”
He hesitantly reaches around and hugs me back, which melts the miserable feelings and leaves only contentment behind. It feels great just hugging him like that, until he ruins the mood by saying: “But you didn’t even open it.”
With a chuckle, I let him go and reverently pick up the present. What I find inside takes my breath away. A small star-shaped agate of the deepest blue has been set in the center of the silver necklace he showed me two days ago, surrounded by six smaller stars etched into the pendant. “Spike, where did you get this?”
“I made it!” he declares proudly. “I bought the necklace in Canterlot when you weren’t looking, and I made the gem myself...” he rubs the back of his neck again and continues sheepishly: “That’s what all the gem shavings yesterday were about.”
“It’s beautiful,” is all I can think to say.
This time, he’s the one hugging me and I can’t help but laugh. “I’m glad you like it, Twilight,” he murmurs, his voice muffled by my coat. “After yesterday, I was afraid you would hate it.”
“No.” I shake my head vigorously and peel him off me so that I can look at him at a leg’s length. “I love it, but...”
He looks at me inquisitively.
“I don’t have anything for you.”
“That’s okay, Twilight. You always take care of me.”
Once again I find myself wracking my brain. This time for a way to have something to give to him, and possibly the others as well. Of course, with the necklace in plain view, an idea isn’t far off.
“How long does it take you to shape one of those gems?”
“That depends on the size. The bigger they are, the easier it is to get it into the right shape,” he replies before looking at me suspiciously. “Why?”
I hop out of bed and magic him up onto my back. “Because if I can use my magic to transmute some gems, and you can shape them... and if it doesn’t take too long... we might be able to make presents for all of the girls!”
He laughs and hugs my neck from behind. “You can count on me, Twilight.”
It might become a wonderful Hearth’s Warming Eve after all.