Chapter Twenty-Two: An Early Arrival
"No, no, Chenoa. You must keep that on. It's to keep you from having accidents." Fluttershy plopped down on her haunches beside the baby and pressed lightly at the material with her good hoof. It was plush and certainly soft enough, but she figured the baby just simply was not used to wearing diapers.
The chick was instantaneously distracted by her adoptive mother, and subsequently pouted for a pair of moments that she wasn't permitted to take off the white, fluffy thing enveloping the lower half of her body. While she understood the word "no", she had yet to learn her name. After those moments passed, she began to converse with Fluttershy about how much fun she had with the dragon in a series of babbles, coos, and giggles. During halfway, she laughed more frequently as her mind trailed back to the trouble she caused. Of course, her young mind had not classified her actions as trouble. All she knew was that it had been enjoyable.
Smokey was immensely relieved that the baby was now occupied as he wiped up the puddles on the floor and counter. She already ate out a lot of time he could have spent preparing lunch. A lasagna was a time consuming process, especially when made from scratch. Eyes traveling up at the clock mounted above the stove, he frowned. The draconian didn't have enough time to make it entirely homemade. He would have to use the store bought ribbons of pasta to make up for lost time.
Listening intently to the baby's speech patterns, Fluttershy tried to discern what she was talking about. Nodding away and smiling, the mare pretended to understand what she was saying - though through the child's gestures, she got a vague inkling that the youngster was referencing her time with Smokey.
There was suddenly a knock on the door that divided the pegasus' attention from the little one. Before even getting up, her large teal eyes glided over to the dragon right when he whirled around in a startled jump and created a dent in the boxed pasta clenched in his hand. He appeared rather nervous, so she sent him a reassuring smile and hobbled over to the door. Upon reaching the stack of boxes, she shoved her shoulder against them just enough to open the door a crack while still keeping it propped up.
"Good morning, Fluttershy!" chimed Twilight Sparkle, clad in her scarf and boots and full saddlebags hanging from both sides. "I hope you and Smokey don't mind I came by early."
Smokey was panicking. Fluttershy's friends couldn't be here already! He barely even started gathering the necessary ingredients! Though, his thumping heart slowed and he exhaled on a breath of air he did not know he was holding upon realizing that there was only one visitor…
Only to pick up again once he realized it was the alicorn - the princess! How was he supposed to impress the royal pony if he did not even have everything on schedule? Or the rest of them, for that matter? Sure, he wasn't worried over wowing Fluttershy. She was only one pony - and he had already saved her life and took care of her. His friendship with her was sealed.
"Erm… Hello," Smokey greeted the arrival with a forced toothy grin as the lavender mare levitated the door aside long enough for her to slip inside.
"Oh, hi!" Twilight Sparkle waved at the draconian with a friendly smile.
"Um… This IS a surprise," said Fluttershy. "Lunch isn't even ready."
"That's okay. I had a big breakfast. I'm not hungry. And the others shouldn't be here for a couple of hours. They're taking care of your animals and Spike's doing his chores, so I decided to see how you were holding up. I thought I'd bring some medicine over and additional supplies."
"You didn't have to do that." The pale yellow pony smiled softly in appreciation. "Smokey's got everything covered."
"Really?" The alicorn's horn glowed, levitating a bottle of generic cold medicine out of the left bag. "Well, I don't know all your symptoms, so I brought a multitude! Cough syrup, cough drops, nasal spray, extra tissues, a couple of books you might like…"
"Thank you. That was very thoughtful. We could always have it in case we need it." Smokey offered a grateful - albeit still nervous - grin. Registering the name Spike in his mind, he instantly was reminded of the baby dragon Fluttershy had told him about. He wished he had extended an invite to him as well when Twilight Sparkle was around last time. He made a mental note to spend time with him when they would finally become acquainted. After all, it was not every day he got the opportunity to meet another dragon that was raised by ponies. The winged reptile then snapped back to reality. It was time to focus on his newest guest. "Go right ahead and make yourself comfortable."
"Oh, thank you!" Twilight Sparkle trotted over to the couch to sit down as she telekinetically lifted her saddlebags off her back, her vision stopping at the white griffon who was attempting to get the diaper off again. "So, this is baby… Chenoa, was it?"
"Yes," Fluttershy confirmed as she hobbled towards the child to prevent her from damaging the diaper.
"I was surprised you found a baby in the woods and I thought I would bring some things over. I found some books on griffons, their culture, and how they raise their children. I also brought along a few toys."
The lavender mare opened the right bag and fished out some colorful wooden blocks, a plastic train with two cars behind the engine, and a deflated ball which the mare proceeded to blow up in a series of puffs.
"Again, thank you. I should have known somepony as sweet as Miss Fluttershy would attract such wonderful company," he stated, the effect of the princess' kind gesture throwing off most of his worry over making a good impression.
Chenoa ventured closer to Twilight Sparkle with hesitation in her steps. Her large amber orbs fixated themselves on the vibrant toys she had set on the floor - predominately on the ball as it fell to the cold stone, now at its full spherical shape.
"It's not a problem. I still wanted to make up for causing so much trouble yesterday. I know we agreed to fix the doors and window, but I'm afraid I don't have a lot of personal experience with such craftsmanship. I can look up the information, though, and I have plenty of references, how-to and do-it-yourself guides, so I surmise it shouldn't be that hard. I recall Applejack saying she'd bring the actual materials."
"You'd probably be a better supervisor," Fluttershy piped up, her eyes on the chick as she inspected each of the toys. "Like with Winter Wrap Up."
"Oh! That reminds me!" The winged and horned pony's eyes lit up in realization. "Thank you, Fluttershy. Yes, Winter Wrap Up is just around the corner! I need to make sure to get the checklist ready for that."
"I've done my fair share of fixing things. I can help out," Smokey offered as he resumed gathering up ingredients, including the leftover cheese mixture he intended on blending with a homemade tomato sauce. Though, he hoped he would have the lasagna in the oven by the time the rest of the party came by so he actually could help with the fixing.
The child, now more contented in the presence of the stranger, closed the distance between them and pounced a hind hoof hanging from the couch. Twilight Sparkle smiled as she directed her attention to her. Letting out a short giggle, she stretched out her other leg to nudge the ball right up to her. Chenoa sprang away from the mare's leg and went right for the ball, body bouncing right off the object after landing on it. She tumbled back, described three circles, and ended up on her belly. Her eyes swirled in their sockets before she shook her head to dispel her dizziness. With a mischievous glint in her orange orbs, she headbutted the ball, sending it rolling several feet away.
"She's a cute baby," Twilight Sparkle said, tilting her head up to rest her eyes on the yellow pegasus.
"She certainly is." The pegasus smiled, watching Chenoa the whole time.
"And you just found her… by herself?"
"Mhm…" Fluttershy nodded in affirmation. "We don't know where her real parents are… if they're… well…"
She went silent, pursing her lips as dread descended upon her at what possibly could have happened to the poor chick's mother and father.
The corners of the lavender alicorn's mouth tugged back in a frown. "How long do you think she was alone?"
"I'm not sure," Fluttershy answered. "I only found her two days ago."
"And she came from the forest?"
"I'm pretty certain, but I don't know where else she could've come from. I found her by the chicken coop when I went outside. I never saw her actually leave the forest, but that was where she ran to and where she was most closely situated."
"Well, if that's the case, then her parents shouldn't be that far away from where you found her," Twilight Sparkle explained. "After all, Chenoa's… how old? Less than a year?"
"Sounds right. She's still tiny and she's not able to speak properly," Fluttershy mused unsurely. It made sense. The twins residing at Sugarcube Corner didn't say their first word until they were a month old. However, this one looked like she was at least a few months.
"Then either she's developing hunting skills far earlier than usual or she's just very lucky. Because griffon babies generally aren't capable of taking care of themselves until they're far, far older."
"She must have been lucky considering how skinny she is," the dragon pointed out, having been listening in on the conversation while rinsing off some plump tomatoes for the sauce. He twisted his neck and stood up on his tiptoes to gaze over the counter separating the kitchen from the living room at Chenoa, who was having the time of her life chasing the ball, batting and headbutting it, squealing with mirth.
"You know, I can ask Zecora if she might have seen anything unusual. It's doubtful she might have. Chenoa's parents might be looking for her."
"I suppose we can ask." Fluttershy gave pause. "Though… I don't think they are. If they're still… out there, I find it difficult to imagine they'd have just willingly abandoned her. I don't want to imagine it, but…"
"You're assuming the worst," Twilight Sparkle interjected. "I understand. I guess I'd be doing the same thing."
"You… wouldn't mind asking… if your friend has seen any signs of other griffons?" He was reluctant, but he knew giving Chenoa back to any worried parents who had been separated from her for whatever reason was the right thing to do. The draconian could not help that he was growing more attached to the dear child.
"I certainly can." The purple alicorn's horn glowed a vibrant magenta, pulling out a couple books that regarded how-to guides on fixing up the home from her saddlebag. "Would you mind if I left my things here? I can go over to Zecora's and ask her right now."
"If you wouldn't mind. Lunch won't be done for a while yet and Chenoa seems quite entertained." The pegasus' grin widened, her heart melting along with the dragon's at the squeals and laughter emitted by the chick as she booted the ball around.
"Of course. I'll be back momentarily." With that, Twilight Sparkle slid off the couch, readjusted her scarf, and she headed on out.
After the princess' departure, the only sounds coming from the baby and the kitchen as Smokey got back to work were heard for several minutes - at least until the red-scaled beast decided to open his maw and speak.
"I hope you do not mind me asking," he began as he sliced open the first tomato, depositing the slimy center that contained the seeds into the sink. "What is it like being one of the Elements of Harmony?"
"What do you mean?" she inquired, reaching out with her bandaged hoof as the ball rolled into her direction and took the opportunity to engage in a one-on-one game with her daughter. She really didn't give him a chance to elaborate as she bumped the object back to Chenoa, figuring she knew what he was asking. "It's… nothing special, to be honest. Though we saved Equestria a few times, we're not really given any special recognition or treatment from it. And… well… I don't FEEL any different since I became the Element of Kindness."
"Oh. Alright. I was only curious," he stated with a shrug of his shoulders, satisfied with the answer. He didn't know if she felt a hidden power churning inside of her, or anything significant. What better way to learn than to ask? "Say… Miss Fluttershy? When spring comes around, would you like to go on a picnic with Chenoa and I?"
The mare lifted her eyes to Smokey, rolling the ball back to the baby as it was butted towards her a second time. A warm smile grew on her visage at the idea and she gave a single nod.
"Oh, yes. That sounds lovely."
"It's not a date though!" he informed a little too quickly and anxiously upon realizing how it may have sounded, calming down a second later. Fluttershy didn't look it but he didn't want her to get the wrong idea. "I mean… I suppose, it technically would be… but we… can just call it parental bonding."
At that moment, Smokey wished he had not said anything after the pony had accepted, and just allowed her to think what she wanted. Now he felt awkward.
A little astonished, she blinked twice in succession at the large reptile. Giving him a disarming smile, she lowered her head to nudge the ball with her nose as it was sent at her for a third time.
"I never thought you implied it was."
How the tables have turned. Now Smokey was the one blushing - though not to the extent of Fluttershy when he had flustered her. Coming to the conclusion that he had not embarrassed her, he was becalmed with some belying awkwardness, and more of his playful nature emerged again.
"Does the lady want to call it a date?" he questioned, not actually meaning it.
Fluttershy's smile faltered into a nervous one.
"Um… well… I suppose… that would be… fine?" She squeaked softly, her eyes going wide at the implication. A date, parental bonding, it was still spending time together.