• Published 25th Dec 2021
  • 981 Views, 12 Comments

Outside the Reach of His Hooves - applezombi

Last minute holiday cancellations lead Pharynx on a desperate flight to the School of Friendship

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Shelter from the Snow

“So, I hope we all learned a valuable lesson today about communication.” Sandbar’s saccharine pronouncement was met with a chorus of groans, as well as an avalanche of Hearth’s Warming detritus; Gallus and Smolder both rained crumpled wrapping paper down on him while he fended them off and laughed. “Hey! We’ll have to clean all that up again!”

“You sound like Professor Sparkle when you use your lecture voice, you know?” Gallus grumbled.

“At least it’s not slime!” Silverstream chimed in. “Wrapping paper is way easier to clean up than slime! It doesn’t even require a mop! Or industrial solvents!”

“Sure, rub it in,” Gallus complained good-naturedly.

“No, don’t rub it in! Yona just got the last of the slime out of her fur an hour ago!”

Ocellus watched the banter from a spot by the library’s wide window. Even though she didn’t feed the way she used to when she was younger, she could still feel the love in the room. It was like a fluffy pink cloud, bouncing around the room, floating between the friends, binding them together. Every affectionate nickname, every sarcastic quip, every well-meaning tease filled the room with lightness and beauty. She inhaled, resisting the urge to flick out her tongue to taste the beautiful sweetness of it all.

Outside it was snowing. It wasn’t a storm, just a slow, gentle fall of fluffy goodness. It reminded Ocellus of confectioner’s sugar, often a staple in Professor Pie’s lessons. Ocellus alternated between watching the snow and watching her friends.

The school’s courtyard would normally have been full with ponies capering about in the fresh fallen snow, but most of them would be home with their families now. Ocellus liked to watch them, too, but there was something quietly beautiful about the pristine, untouched scene. At least until a black cat padded his way across the snow, leaving a wake of tiny pawprints in the snow behind him.

Ocellus watched his progress with interest. Cats were fascinating to her; they always seemed to have a plan. There was always a dignified deliberateness to everything they did; they were in complete control of their surroundings.

The cat paused near one of the courtyard’s evergreen trees, leaping up to one of the low, needle-ridden branches, before casually beginning to lick the snowflakes from his fur. Once his eyes met hers, and they stared at each other as the snow drifted between them. Ocellus watched him a moment longer, until the sound of movement brought her attention back to the room.

“Ocellus, we were about to go find some after-lunch hot cocoa, if you…” Silverstream stopped, her eyes shooting wide open. “Ooh! Is that a kitty? And he’s all alone, out in the snow! I’ll bet he’s freezing his little paws off! I hope he’s not lost. Where is his owner?”

“No collar,” Ocellus noted, pointing at the cat. “But, um, Professor Fluttershy says we shouldn’t automatically assume a wild animal needs our help. I’ll go out and see if the kitty needs something, okay?”

“Ooh, yeah, you would be best at that, huh? You could even turn into a kitty! I’ll bet you’d be the cutest kitty ever!”

Ocellus felt her cheeks heating up. “Um, maybe, I don’t know. But I was going to go out as myself before trying any shape changing. Cats are sometimes nervous around other cats, and maybe as a changeling I can convince him I don’t mean any harm, first.”

“That sounds like a good plan. But bundle up, it’s cold out there!”

“Of course, Silverstream.” She had to go back to her room anyways. She made her way out of the library door, and down the hall towards the dorm.

In Ocellus’ own room, her saddlebags were still packed from when she’d been expecting to head home for the holiday. She stared at the bags for a moment; they were nearly brand new, a gift from Thorax when she’d started the semester.

It made her remember before. Saddlebags hadn’t been necessary before. No changeling needed saddlebags, because everything was the Hive’s, and the Queen’s. Personal ownership didn’t exist before. Even now it was odd to think of owning things for herself. It’s what made Hearth’s Warming gift-giving so important to her, now.

Ocellus opened up one side of her bags, to find the brightly-wrapped packages still where she’d left them yesterday. With a small smile she closed them again before sliding the bags over her back.

In the closet, Ocellus found a scarf (another personal gift, this one from Rarity) and a set of boots. If she got too cold, she could change into a bear or something. After a moment of thought, she also snagged a small blanket, in case the ‘kitty’ was cold, too. Then she slipped outside.

There was nopony about, just as Ocellus had seen from the window. In the distance towards the town, she could hear the joyful shouts and cries of ponies playing in the soft snow, but the school itself was quiet. Ocellus didn’t mind; it was the stillness of peace, of calm meditation and quiet sunrises. She couldn’t help but smile as she stepped out onto the snow, hearing the nearly imperceptible crunch as she moved over to the evergreen where the cat waited for her.

The black tom didn’t even look up at Ocellus as she ducked under the low branches of the tree, nestling into the bed of fallen needles underneath. She awkwardly crawled in, removing her saddlebags so she wouldn’t get stuck on the branches.

“You cold?” she asked. The cat ignored her, continuing to lick his paw. She shrugged, and pulled the small blanket out anyways, placing it on the ground next to him. “Well, it’s there if you need it. And you don’t need to play cool to impress me; I already look up to you.”

The cat turned to look at her, glaring at her with cat eyes long enough that Ocellus started to giggle. “Fine, if you want this conversation to be one-sided, I can manage.” She smiled, and slid the saddlebags over to him. “Your Hearth’s Warming presents are in the right side. King Thorax’s, too. Sorry, but I had Professor Twilight help me pick them out, so they’re books. I think you’ll appreciate them, though.”

He turned his nose up at the mention of books, before looking back at Ocellus again.

“You’ll have to be something other than a cat for the trip back, though. Because books are heavy.” The cat gave a sigh and slumped into the needles, and Ocellus laughed. “A few books should be nothing for a dragon, or a bugbear, or even a particularly athletic pegasus.

“I know ponies like presents to be a surprise, but you’ll probably wait until you get home to open them, so I’m telling you now.” Ocellus felt the little thrill of misbehavior, the nervous adrenaline of breaking the rules. “There’s two for you. Diplomacy by Haflinger, and The Way of the Intercepting Hoof, by Open Hoof. The first one is about using diplomacy to strengthen a country’s defensive position, while the second is a book on pony hoof-to-hoof combat. I thought you’d appreciate both.”

By now, the cat seemed more than interested, and he sat up to look at the saddlebag. There was an air of curiosity about him now, his nose wiggling as he pushed his nose under the saddlebag’s flap.

Ocellus giggled. “At least you could wait until you get home. It’s good to know that you’ll like your presents, though. It took a long time to figure out the right things to get you and King Thorax both.”

She reached over with one hoof and hugged the cat close to her. He made a small meow of protest, but didn’t struggle as she squeezed him tight. His fur tickled at her carapace, and he felt warm.

Warm and safe. Like he always did.

“Thank you for coming to check up on me. You didn’t need to, you know.”

He meowed again.

“I know you’re staying in the form to avoid an awkward conversation, but you’re here. So, you get an awkward conversation whether you like it or not.

“It’s really nice that you’re here, though. Did King Thorax make you take a disguise?” She laughed. “He doesn’t want you causing some kind of international incident coming to rescue me, right? It’s okay. But it does make me worried. You’re going to have to learn to trust others sometime, Pharynx.”

The cat meowed, sounding annoyed.

“It’s true. I know you’re worried. I was too, when I first came. I’m still worried, every day sometimes. I worry that ponies and other creatures won’t like me. I’m worried I’m too alien for them. I worry that I’ll say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing in some social situation and show to everycreature just how different I am. I’m worried that my friends will realize how stupid and worthless I am sometimes and just leave me behind.”

The cat hissed in fury.

“They won’t, really. Or are you angry about the stupid and worthless thing?” Ocellus began to idly pet the cat as she held him. “I don’t feel like that most of the time. But sometimes.” She let out a breath, misting the cold air. “Professor Fluttershy calls it ‘catastrophising’. She’s given us a lot of strategies for dealing with it. She’s really experienced, you know.

“But you know what strategy I like best? Professor Fluttershy taught us to remember a moment when we felt perfectly confident. When we felt strong and in charge. And to focus on that. I remember a time when I was a nymph. When one of my only friends had disappeared, and everything in the Hive seemed to be falling apart.

“And a really brave, strong changeling reminded me of our greatest strength. Right after he sacrificed something he wanted in order to keep us nymphs safe from Chrysalis. I carry that memory with me. It makes me strong.”

Ocellus sniffed, wiping her eyes with a hoof. “Did you know I never felt safe enough to cry, back in the before? We hid everything, because Chrysalis would pounce on even the hint of weakness.”

She was crying freely now, tears of joy and memory. It was a little absurd, so she laughed. “Sorry. I came out here to help you, not to cry at you.”

The cat meowed his confusion.

“It’s been difficult for you, hasn’t it? You work so hard to keep us safe, and yet the more we spread our wings and test our newfound independence, the harder it becomes, right? And now you’re worried that even though I was the first to go live outside the Hive, I won’t be the last.”

This time the cat just stared at Ocellus. The fear in his eyes was decidedly un-feline. But Ocellus grinned at him, sniffed, and nuzzled his face.

“It was a little obvious. I know how long it takes to fly from the Badlands to Ponyville. You got here pretty quick. Thank you.”

Ocellus didn’t even let go when the burst of green fire washed over him. When Pharynx spoke, his voice was raw.

“I don’t know if I can handle this,” he whispered. “What if others decide to leave, too?”

Ocellus did let go, now, looking at him straight in the eye. “Nymph!” she barked, barely able to keep a straight face as she made her best Pharynx impression. He narrowed his eyes. “What is the greatest strength of the Hive?”

“Adaptability, ma’am,” he rolled his eyes and played along.

“And you can adapt to this. Sure, it’s not going to be easy finding a way to keep your family safe when it starts spreading out. But I trust you. And I’m sure you’ll find a way to do it without having an overprotective meltdown.”

Pharynx let Ocellus hug him close again.

“I might have overreacted,” he admitted. “Sorry I didn’t get you any presents.”

“Sure you did,” Ocellus giggled. “Happy Hearth’s Warming, Pharynx.”

“Happy Hearth’s Warming, Ocellus.”

Comments ( 10 )

This was super-duper wholesome.

Well that was a big heap of Pharynx covered in an overwhelming amount of D'AWWWWWW

And I loved it. Great job!

We all need more Pharynx in our lives.

I do love me some wholesome Pharynx! I really like how worried about Ocellus he was, and the little flashback when Ocellus was still a nymph. It was so cute and captured exactly what I thought their relationship would be like!

Just like all the best Pharynx stories, this one reminds just that Pharynx’s aura of toughness is just a porous layer covering the fact that he’s a big softy.

This was great.

Not nearly enough Thorax for my taste, but Bookbug love is always appreciated and the story is sufficiently adorable and wholesome regardless.

:yay: :heart:

The prompt was for Pharynx and Ocellus, so I was legit worried I was including too much Thorax.

:pinkiegasp: Inconceivable! There's no such thing as too much Thorax!

Nah, I can understand. :twilightsmile: Cinnabug is precious, but he's really not the focus here and he doesn't need to be.

The cuteness is off the charts. And I dig the little changeling worldbuilding you threw in there.

Still... would have been funny if the cat wasn't Pharynx at the end. :rainbowlaugh:

This was outstanding. Brilliant work with all three of the starring bugs. I especially love the little bits like Thorax hocking resin onto the tree and Ocellus doing her best Pharynx impression. If any character should be variable and adaptable as the situation demands, it should be a changeling. Thank you for this, and a merry Jinglemas in July.

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