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    Dear Ren,

    It’s so reassuring to hear that you’re doing well! I can only imagine how busy a city like Manehatten is. At least you’re getting a chance to rest from traveling, though!

    Thank you for writing back. I’ve been getting letters from all sorts of former recon changelings lately and it just means so much to me. Being able to keep tabs on you guys through these letters makes me happy, and it makes me feel more comfortable with barely seeing any of you, too.

    Please let me know how the Ogres and Oubliettes convention goes! I have a couple of friends who would be so jealous.



    Calor looked up, having finished reading the hoof-written letter. Thorax was staring at him expectantly.

    “‘Love, Thorax’?”

    “What? Too much?”

    “No, it’s adorable. Totally fitting coming from you.”

    Thorax looked away, smiling.

    “Did you get the idea from Princess Twilight? From all the letters she writes to you?”

    “Princess Celestia, actually,” Thorax said. “We had the chance to catch up last month during the royal summit. She was telling me about how she used to have Princess Twilight write her letters about the things she learned about friendship. I thought it might be nice to do something similar with the changelings living abroad.”

    Calor grinned and let himself fall onto his mate’s chest with a thump.

    “First cluster naps, then hug therapy, and now our dear king wants to be pen pals with everyling.” Burying his snout into Thorax’s neck, Calor squeezed him and drew giggles. “He can’t stand not seeing them. He has to know if they’re okay. He’s too pure for this world! He must be stopped!”

    “Something tells me you won’t be the one trying to stop me,” Thorax laughed. Like a great green flytrap ensnaring its prey, he wrapped his hooves around Calor and held him to his chest.

    “Perish the thought! Nothing shall stand between King Cinnabug and his noble crusade! Let us gather up the recon drones then so that they may be hugged vigorously!”

    Thorax’s laughter continued as the nose assailing his neck climbed up just beneath his chin.

    “When did you get here, Sir Puparia? I thought you were hospitalized after last week’s theater performance.”

    “No, I wasn’t!”

    “You were stabbed by a rampaging Bugbear.”

    Thorax smirked. Calor blew a raspberry.

    “Was merely a scratch.”

    “You liar.”

    “Unhoof me, My Liege!” Calor cried, licking Thorax’s cheek. “There are recon drones to hug!”

    “Well, I found another changeling in need of my hugs,” Thorax mumbled, clinging to the squirming drone and rolling onto his side. “I think I’ll start with him.”

    “But My Liege, what of the recon changelings?”

    “They’ll be alright for now. Besides, I’m sure Lady Frons could be dispatched to hug them in my stead if need be, no?”

    Calor grinned.

    “Aha! There you are, sire. What a peculiar way of phrasing you held, before. Some balderdash picked up from the dragons, perhaps?”

    Calor was lightly shaken until he abandoned his character. Surrendering with a chuckle, he laid back against a chest of chitin and yawned. He smiled at a pair of chirping warblers flying just beyond a hole in the wall.

    “Are you gonna be content with letters?”

    “Yeah, I think so. Why wouldn’t I be?”

    Calor squeezed the green hoof wrapped around his chest.

    “Because you love with your senses, Thorax. What you can touch, hear, and talk to. Letters are nice for updates and all, but I think you’re gonna want more than that.”

    “But that’s what the letters are for, to help me deal with the fact that I can’t interact with everyling every day.”

    Calor hummed in a wavering pitch. “I get that, but I don’t think it’s gonna be enough. I have a sneaking suspicion that at some point you’re gonna look at me or Pharynx with that little distressed face you do that I can’t be around.”

    “What face?”

    “The pouty one where I have to hug you.”

    Thorax stammered. “W-well what are you suggesting, then? That I visit every single one of our recon drones? That they all come here at my pleasure?”

    “Sure, why not?”

    “It’d be a nightmare to coordinate anything like that, and there would definitely be changelings who end up unavailable anyway.”

    “You sound like you’re giving up before you try, Thorax. You know what Auntling Tymbal says about that.”

    “What? No, I’m not, I’m just thinking practically. Trying to schedule something with so many changelings in different places would be incredibly hard.”

    “But you wanna see them, right?”

    “Well yes, but I—”

    “You wanna hug them, don’t you? Huh, Papa Thorax?”

    “Stop doing that!” Thorax exclaimed, exasperation giving way to laughs. He rubbed his chin along Calor’s head. “As a hive leader, I have to think in terms of practicality too, now. I can’t just run off for a few weeks to visit everyling, or put pressure on them to come here when they’re all busy with their personal lives.”

    “Why not visit them individually then? Maybe spread out throughout the year.”

    “Oh no, that’d be even more of a nightmare to keep track of, especially with changelings moving away from or back to the Hive every so often.”

    “So have someling else organize it for you. Have that be their role in the Hive.”

    “I can’t assign an entire role for something this personal, Calor.”

    “‘Personal’? You don’t think the recon changelings would be happy to see you? Isn’t connection what our Hive is all about now?”

    “It is, but I don’t want to impose on anyling by seeming needy.”

    Calor turned his head.

    “Thorax, wanting to be a little bit involved in everyling’s lives is not needy. Just because some changelings choose to live abroad doesn’t mean they don’t want anything to do with you, or the Hive. Don’t make me get Auntling Tymbal in here to set you straight. You know I’ll do it.”

    Thorax sighed and laid his head on Calor’s, falling quiet for a time.

    “… Okay, maybe I’m still struggling with my self-esteem. I do want to see the recon changelings, and maybe that is something worth the effort. I still think letters are a great way to start, though.”

    “‘Maybe that’s something worth the effort,’ he says. This one is simply full of balderdash this evening, he is.”

    “Don’t you start again,” Thorax warned playfully, nuzzling the crux of an ear. “I want to nap with my real-life, uninjured goofball, thank you very much.”

    “Then a nap with a goofball you shall get.” Calor closed his eyes and pressed his cheek against his mate’s leg. “And when I wake up first, I’ll sneak away and get Auntling Tymbal to help me recruit a scheduler for you.”

    Thorax protested, but Calor was too happy to listen. He only smiled.

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