Cuddles II

by Admiral Biscuit

First published

Autumn in Equestria has the Running of the Leaves, but not the lighting of the first fire.

Ponies had plenty of festivals and celebrations for the changing seasons. Winter Wrap-Up, Spring Finish, Summer Sun Celebration, Summer’s End, Harvest Festival . . . they were a chance for ponies to socialize, to bond, and to prepare for what was to come next.

For all their schedules and festivals, there wasn't one for the first fire of the season, and there should have been.

Now with a reading by StraightToThePointStudio

Cocoa, a warm fire, and a fluffy unicorn

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Cuddles II
Admiral Biscuit

There was something special to seasons in Equestria.

It was something I couldn’t exactly put into words, but I didn’t really need to. I’d been there long enough to know how they celebrated the changing of the seasons. Winter Wrap-Up, Spring Finish, Summer Sun Celebration, Summer’s End, Harvest Festival . . . a chance for ponies to socialize, to bond, and to prepare for what was to come next.

Quite literally in Equestria; the arrival of autumn didn’t just mean cleaning the yard and winterizing the house, it also meant the Running of the Leaves and pegasi escorting migrating birds southward, it meant ponies going around and making sure that all the hibernating animals had proper burrows or nests, it meant raking leaves in public spaces and carting them off to the compost piles where they’d ferment over the winter and provide fertilizer for next year’s crops.

There were also biological milestones. For one, Cami got fluffy again as her winter coat came in. I could have asked if that was a side-effect of running the leaves, but I didn’t.

Some days in summer, I wondered how she managed with her fur coat. I could take off clothes until I was comfortable, but she didn’t have that luxury. I suppose if it got unbearable she could go to the spa and shave off her fur, but she didn’t.

Not for the first time, and probably not for the last, I considered growing a beard for the winter. It would keep my chin warm, at least. The downside was that I looked like a serial killer when I had a beard, something my friends back on Earth had been fond of pointing out. Maybe ponies would be more open to bearded me, but I considered how I’d react if one of the mares in the office noticed my scraggly attempt at facial hair and opined that I looked like a murderer, and decided that it wasn’t worth the risk.

Cami’s schedule was, as always, variable; thus, it fell to me to prepare the first fire of the fall.

For all their schedules and festivals, there wasn't one for the first fire of the season, and there should have been.

We’d held out for longer than some of our neighbors; between my clothes and her fluffy winter coat we were more able to cope than those ponies who’d sacrificed comfort for fashion. But there came a time when the sun's rays didn’t warm, when all the furnishings in the house were cold to the touch, when a sweater wasn’t as warming as it ought to have been, and maybe if she’d been home to cuddle with on the couch I could have held out another day, but she wasn’t.

Of all the things I’d anticipated I’d get good at when I lived in Equestria, building a fire wasn’t even on that list.

There was a time when I’d have to think as I laid out the kindling and the logs, when I’d have to have considered the draft and the way the heat would move, but that time was past. It was second nature as I piled the wood, and presently I had a fire ready to go.

When Cami built a fire, she cheated. She'd dump a bunch of wood in the fireplace, and then use her magic to set it alight: the Earthly equivalent to dousing everything in lighter fluid and then tossing in a road flare just to make sure.

I was stuck with matches, much fatter than their human counterpart. Easy for a non-unicorn to grip in her mouth, and long enough to not risk singed muzzle-hairs upon ignition.

They were strike-anywhere, and the hearth was somewhere, so I dragged the match across the rough bricks and held it to the kindling, watching as the flame guttered and then caught.

The first fire of the season, and it ought to be followed by the first hot chocolate of the season. I’d bought a tin at the market, and now was the time to test it out.

• • •

I could have put the kettle on the stove, but that didn’t feel authentic. In front of the fire was the right place, the enamel kettle silhouetted by the crepitant flames.

A gust disturbed the fire, sending it scuttling back into the fireplace. Then I heard hoofsteps in the hallways, and while I didn’t possess the aural acuity of a pony and likely never would, Cami’s steps sounded heavy, exhausted.

She was still wearing her scarf as she walked into the living room. The glow of her magic surrounded the ends, and as I watched, she unwrapped it from her neck and draped it across the back of the couch, a few raindrops reflecting the fire like jewels.

Cami flopped on the couch dramatically, and I gave her a moment before speaking. I could have asked her how her day had gone, but I already had a pretty good idea. “Cocoa?”

“Please.” She stretched out all four legs, then curled up into herself, a fluffy unicorn ponyloaf.

One thing I’d always relied on as my cue for home was removing my shoes, but she didn’t have that luxury. On days where she wasn't wearing any clothes, I don't know how she made the transition—she certainly couldn't remove her shoes.

I knew how they came off; I’d been with her to the farrier and while the first time I’d imagined in my mind I was the one who was going to lend moral support, it turned out quite the opposite. For as cute as they were, I could forget the occasional monster attacks, but the image of the farrier prying nails out of her hoof and then attacking it with a knife, followed by more nails going in still occasionally haunted my dreams.

I poured her a cup of cocoa and nearly as soon as I’d finished it was levitated out of my hand by her magic, to be brought up to her muzzle so she could smell it. She didn’t drink it right away—it was too hot. Cocoa was meant to be enjoyed slowly, first the anticipation as the cup was being poured and then the feel of a warm mug and only after it had cooled for a bit was the cup to be sampled. Depending on the weather and numbness in the hands, even bad cocoa could be forgiven.

A splash of alcohol would have really set it off, added a touch more flavor and a pleasant burning as it went down, but there hadn’t been any to add. The strongest stuff we had in the house was cherry brandy, and that felt like a risky combination.

My own cup followed, and rather than set it down I held it in my hands, letting the warmth seep in. For all her magical prowess, she was missing a vital step by not touching the mug before partaking.

I leaned back against the couch, against her barrel. We were together, and yet we were both alone in our introspection. Now was not the time to join her on the couch or ask her how her day had gone; now was not the time to complain about my day. Now was not the time to figure out what we wanted for dinner or to decide if we were going to go to the school play or not. Now was the time to center ourselves, knowing that we had our partner to lean on if need be.

Now was the time to watch the fire, to watch the flames creep over the logs, to listen to the hiss and pop of the wood, to watch the shifting glow of the coals.

Finally, she leaned down and brushed my head with her muzzle, then gently nibbled on my ear. I responded by massaging a forehoof, working my fingers around her pastern and up into her fetlock.

• • •

In some cheesy romance novel, we’d have just stayed there on the couch, taking sustenance from each other’s love, but the real world didn’t work like that. I had a small moral victory when it was her stomach that grumbled first, but then I’d also grabbed a snack on the way home.

“You want a sandwich?” I knew we had bread, and putting things between slices of bread always counted as a sandwich.

She nodded her head.

“Should I get up and make one, or can you do that from here?”

Cami shifted around against my chest. “Mmh, I probably can as long as you haven’t been moving things around in the kitchen”

“Can’t promise I haven’t,” I admitted. “And this is one of those situations where you’d wind up putting, I don’t know, the dish towel between two slices of bread and claim that because I’d moved it, you couldn’t tell it apart from the lettuce?”

“Well, when you can’t see what you’re grabbing with your field. . . “

“Can’t you feel it?”

“Sort of, but it’s not the same. There are unicorns that are really good at casting by feel, but I’m more of a generalist.” She dropped her head back down. “Plus, I’m tired.”

“That’s an excuse I’ll accept.” I shifted around on the couch, not wanting to move but telling myself it was only temporary, and as soon as I’d made us dinner, there’d be plenty more time for cuddling on the couch.

• • •

I’d made two sandwiches before she showed up in the kitchen.

“I got bored,” she said by way of explanation. “It’s not the same sitting and watching a fire alone.”

“You just want to make sure I’m not putting things in the wrong place.”

“Maybe.” Her horn lit and she opened a cupboard, floating down a metal tin full of oats. “You won’t be offended if I have a little snack, will you?”

“Not at all.” Their oats made decent oatmeal if boiled long enough. They were also good eaten raw, but it was more effort than my jaw was used to. “Have you ponies ever considered flavoring your oats?”

“Like, add a bit of salt?”

“No, not exactly.” I paused my sandwich assembly. “One of our snack foods back on Earth is potato chips, which are thin-sliced potatoes that are fried.” I wasn’t exactly sure how they were fried. Oil, probably. “Now they come in all kinds of flavors, like sour cream and onion or cheddar cheese or salt and pepper. And we’ve got instant oatmeal that has lots of flavors. Maple and brown sugar is the best.”

“Nopony is stopping you from putting things in your oats.”

“But they don’t come like that from the factory . . . from the market, do they?”

“Not here, anyway. Maybe in Canterlot or Manehattan.” She looked up at me. “Do you want flavored oats?”

I shook my head. “Maybe that’s for the best.” There was a trade-off between convenience and health, wasn’t there? Ponies had cubicles and their own interpretation of Chinese restaurants, did they really need instant oats and TV dinners, too? And what would they call them, since they didn’t have TVs? Fireplace dinners?

“It was just a thought,” I said. “But maybe it’s better this way, where you can just get basic oats and put in whatever you want.”

• • •

The fire had burned down by the time we returned to the living room, and our hot chocolates had cooled.

I solved the first problem by tossing more wood on the fire, while Cami took care of the second with a warming spell, lighting both glasses with a burst of magic.

We sat side-by-side on the couch and ate our sandwiches. I was getting more used to pony tastes, but still wished they’d invented mayonnaise. And, while I was thinking about things that ponies didn’t have, ranch dressing for salads would have been nice, too. Then again, they had bread delivery wagons and that was something that I didn't think had ever existed on Earth.

It wasn’t right to think about what I didn’t have. Better to think about what I did, better to think about the pony scrunched up against my side, the inviting flames of the hearth, the satisfying feel of a full stomach. Our second cups of cocoa sitting on the coffee table, mostly finished.

“What would you do if I suddenly got magic powers?”

Cami shrugged. “Divorce you, probably.”

“We’re not even married.”

“Principle’s the same,” she said. “You know your best quality is your complete lack of magic. It's really nice after a bad day at the office. I don't have to worry about you ever casting a spell and having it get away from you.”

“Is my magical impotence better than my hands?” I ran a finger up her horn, and she shivered involuntarily.

“Okay, it’s a tough call.” She stuck her tongue out at me. “Sometimes I think earth ponies got it easy; their foals don’t ever accidentally summon a salamander, they just make unexpected gardens.”

“Has that happened?” It was kind of a dumb question; if she’d brought it up, she’d probably dealt with it.

Cami sighed. “More than once. And that’s not the only magical beastie you can get with a miscast summoning spell, either. On the plus side, salamanders are big, not too smart, and you can usually follow the trail of fires to find it. Small stuff is the worst. I don’t know how she managed, but a couple years back we had to come in after a filly summoned a swarm of twittermites. Wouldn’t have been so bad, but we didn’t find out until after they’d laid eggs. That’s a month of my life I’ll never get back.”

“Kids are dumb sometimes.”

“Yeah.” She leaned her head up against my shoulder and levitated her cocoa off the table.

• • •

The fire had died down to embers, and neither of us was willing to get off the couch to add more wood. Was that something my ancestors had known that was foreign to me? Did they have a better understanding of levels of comfort? For most of my life, it hadn’t been much of a chore to turn the knob on the thermostat up or down as required; now there was a whole process to it. Too much wood on the fire and it was too hot; too little and it was too cold. Cuddling and blankets offset the cold, at least.

She’d fallen asleep, or nearly so. To get up meant to disturb her, meant the trade-off between warmth now and warmth later; to move the blankets meant to introduce cold air beneath. Maybe it was laziness or maybe it was wisdom to stay put, I couldn’t say for sure. I thought that the scales tipped in the direction of wisdom, though. If we got too cold, there was nothing preventing her from magicking more wood onto the fire, after all, and yet she hadn’t.

I ran my fingers through her mane and she nestled against my chest in response. The fire was nothing more than shifting coals, and outside the first flakes of winter began to fall.

Life was good.