Shining Armor trudged along the hallways of the Crystal Palace, his armor clanking to the rhythm of his sluggish pace and his face bearing the expression of a wearied veteran. Today had been nothing short of exhausting for him.
Drilling new recruits had never been easy, and the typical jumpiness of a Crystal Empire citizen was always a tough nut to crack from the start of his co-reign, but this latest batch… this was something else. Each recruit at one point or another behaved in a way that demanded rebuking. There was one who tried to make a crass joke under his breath and ended up making the day longer for everypony, another who apparently became enamored with the ‘cowpony’ culture (probably encountered Applejack at some point) and tried to incorporate it in his speech entirely, and another who was downright chubby and couldn’t keep up with the rest once physical training began. That was just naming a few.
Now that today’s training was over, Shining wanted nothing more than to relax and forget about the past’s troubles, particularly with somepony else to share the comfort with. His options were limited, however. Cadance was no doubt still busy with royal court, and he didn’t want to get dragged into that. Flurry Heart would either be napping or wanting to play, and Celestia knew he had no energy for the latter. Fortunately, that still left one other option for him to choose from, and frankly, that was the option he was going for to begin with.
Soon, he managed to drag himself into one of the several lounges of the palace that offered peace and quiet for any visitors. It was in here that Shining found his newest friend sitting on a couch and reading a book: Sombra. Formerly King Sombra, he had returned for revenge almost a year ago, but Twilight and her friends were able to defeat him once again, but this time they proceeded to redeem him, in the likeness of Discord, Starlight Glimmer and many others.
After some time of Twilight’s classic ‘friendship training’, Sombra returned to the Crystal Empire, and made his home in the Palace alongside Shining and his family. While most of the Empire had remained cautious yet courteous towards him, those within the palace had come to realize Sombra’s change of ways and accepted him. Shining Armor himself was skeptical at first, but after some encouragement from Twilight and Cadance, he too came to accept Sombra as a redeemed citizen; and through a series of circumstances, had become rather good friends with him as well. Sombra turned his head toward Shining as his armor continued to make a racket and gave him a smile.
Shining gave a smile back. Them hanging out had become an increasingly regular occurrence over time, one that he looked forward to.
“What’s up, ‘bra?”
“Why is it that whenever you refer to me as such, I feel that I should be more exasperated than I already am?” Sombra asked.
“I wouldn’t know what to tell you.”
Once Shining had approached the couch, he proceeded to remove his armor and place it off to the side. Meanwhile, Sombra used his magic to return his book to its place on the shelf to give Shining his full attention.
“Ugh, like you wouldn’t believe! It’s like these guys just walked in without any idea of what’s to be expected of themselves. I mean, I know that it’s my job to make them into proper guardsponies and all, but even I have my limits when it comes to ponies who can’t commit themselves.”
“It sounds like the crystal ponies have grown soft.”
“Eh, I wouldn’t say that. I’m proud of what has become of the ponies who are in the guard already. It just seems that all the able-bodied ponies have already joined up, leaving only the… ponies who aren’t exactly soldier material.”
Sombra arched his eyebrow and smirked. “Perhaps I could be of assistance? I believe I would be more than capable of making these ponies understand what they are committing themselves to.”
Shining chuckled, the last of his armor clattering on the floor. “Thanks, but I don’t think the crystal ponies are quite ready for you spreading ideals yet. No offense.”
“None taken,” he said, a full smile growing on his face. “I assume that you desire to relax?”
Shining Armor removed his helmet, his mane flowing down freely as he turned and gave Sombra a knowing grin. “I’m pretty sure you know me well enough to know the answer by now.”
Shining moved onto the couch next to Sombra and wrapped his forelegs around him, his head coming to lay on Sombra’s chest. Sombra hugged him back, while his head rested atop of Shining’s. With that, their cuddling began.
It all started as an accident a couple of months ago. Shining was stumbling back into what he thought was his room and passed out after a night of partying with too much alcohol, only to find himself waking up in what was actually Sombra’s quarters and his hooves wrapped around its occupant. After the initial panic and confusion passed, Sombra admitted that while the circumstances were unorthodox, he didn’t mind it. This piqued Shining’s curiosity, and for reasons he didn’t quite understand, he offered to continue the impromptu snuggling session with him, which he agreed to. About an hour later, the need for breakfast pulled them apart, and Shining had to admit… it was nice.
Now Shining had found cuddling with Sombra to be his favorite form of stress relief after his days of regal duties, and if he wasn’t mistaken, it was Sombra’s as well. Of course, Shining had made consistent efforts to ensure that they were the only two ponies to know of their shenanigans.
It wasn’t that Shining Armor was foreign to the concept of cuddling. He always enjoyed falling asleep with his wife every night in each other’s legs, and his little Flurry was so adorable that he knew no pony in their right mind would deny a hug from her. With Sombra, however, it was all different. First off, stallion-on-stallion cuddling was not something casually disclosed to anypony. Then, there was the issue of who was engaging in the cuddles, in this case a member of royalty and a former tyrant. Even to Shining, that screamed ‘scandalous’. He couldn’t help himself, though. He enjoyed the comfort of Sombra’s dark, soft fur on his own body, the scent whenever he nuzzled into his neck or chest, the tightness of his hugs; he could go on for a while. Furthermore, he didn’t just feel relaxed during it all. He also felt peaceful, satisfied, safe even. All of which were emotions he didn’t experience quite the same way when cuddling with somepony besides Sombra.
If those feelings were ever discovered and associated with his cuddling… well, he didn’t even want to think of what would happen.
But for now, he was content. He hummed in satisfaction as Sombra nuzzled the top of his head and stroked his back with his hooves. In return, Shining tightened his grip and sank deeper into his embrace. Both wore smiles on their muzzles and felt content to stay right where they were, knowing that nothing could go wrong at that moment.
Shining’s eyes shot wide open. Horse apples, he thought. I forgot Twily was visiting today!
Twilight Sparkle stood at the doorway with an affectionate smile and a hoof to her chest. Once she noticed her brother give her eye contact (while still in each other’s grasps), she made her way towards them.
“I knew you guys were friends, but I had no idea you two had become snuggle buddies!” At the mention of that cutesy title, Shining’s face went whiter than his fur and he swiftly pushed Sombra away from him, catching the other unicorn off-guard as he fell off the couch and onto the floor.
“N-No! We are not snuggl-that! We are not that! This isn’t what you think it is, I swear!” Shining yelled frantically, waving his forelegs around for emphasis. Twilight simply rolled her eyes at the display. Her brother was always a bit too attached to the 'macho stallion' stereotype. She decided to press her luck and continued with a smile.
“Oh, come on, Shining, it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. There’s nothing wrong with cuddling with your friends.”
“I wasn’t cuddling with my friend, Twily!”
Meanwhile, Sombra was just getting up off the floor, all the while maintaining a deadpan expression. He kept his thoughts to himself as he observed the back-and-forth between brother and sister. Really? You, the new prince of the Crystal Empire and captain of the guard, feel embarrassed over this?
“Shining Armor, I saw you as clear as day. You don’t need to defend yourself from me, you’re my BBBFF.”
“I’m not defending myself! We weren’t doing that and never have!”
We have been doing this consistently for months now.
“But you looked like you were having fun. You seemed so peaceful being the little spoon.”
“I was not being the little sp-I-I mean, I don’t even know what that is!”
You practically gave me a lecture on the plethora of terms you ponies have come up with for the activity.
“Nopony cares, Shining. I’m sure Cadance would actually like that you’re getting along with Sombra so well.”
“Twilight, don’t you dare go spouting off lies to my wife!”
I already told Cadance two weeks ago on a whim. She thought it was ‘adorable’.
“Well what about Sombra? He seemed to be enjoying himself too.”
“Oh, come on, Twily, that’s Sombra you’re talking about! You know, the former tyrant of the Crystal Empire, the shadowy king who enslaved his subjects and instilled fear and hatred in his enemies. Do you really think that somepony like that would go off and be snuggle buddies with anypony, let alone another stallion such as me? That’s just crazy talk, Twilight, and you know it!” Shining Armor turned to look at his male compadre. “Tell her how crazy that is, Sombra.”
Sombra gave no verbal reply. All Shining received was a face consisting of narrowed eyes and a sharp frown. This went on for several seconds; Shining began to feel unnerved. “S-Sombra?” Shining asked nervously.
A few more silent seconds passed before Sombra let out a ‘Hmph’ and turned away, smacking Shining Armor in the face with his tail. He then proceeded to walk out the room with the demeanor of a haughty Canterlot noble. Meanwhile, Shining and Twilight simply stayed where they stood, with the former having a look of confused shock as he placed a hoof on his struck cheek.
Twilight closed her eyes and gave a heavy sigh. She could already see that it was going to take a whole episode of ‘friendship problem solving’ to fix this mess. “Shining Armor, you know I love you,” she said as she walked up to him and placed a hoof on his shoulder. “but sometimes, you can be a real idiot.”