It was one of those gentle Summer evenings in Moominvalley that moomintrolls tended to love so much. It was light enough for the sun to peek through the distant trees and warm Moomin’s fur, but it was just getting dark enough for the fireflies to start lighting the air. The breeze was nice and cool, and made the surface of the river water ripple, just like it did when the fish were giving the water little kisses. Moomin sat at the riverbank, laughing as Snufkin tried to balance his fishing rod and play the harmonica at the same time.
“Ah - careful, Snufkin!” Moomin giggled, leaning forward to touch a paw to the fishing rod, in case it fell. “Don’t lose your fishing rod.” Snufkin shook his head, a silly smile on his face as he tried to play his harmonica, but the music came out too flat, and often not very tunefully at all. On a particularly harsh note, Snufkin let out a snort-laugh, and gave up on the game.
“I think it was maybe a silly thought,” Snufkin chuckled, placing his harmonica and his fishing rod down on the grass next to him. He cast his gaze out onto the river, squinting his eyes against the dark to watch the water flow. “Fishing and playing both tend to take a lot of my concentration.”
“Well, I think you’re just bad at multitasking,” Moomin told him, nudging his shoulder into Snufkin’s. He closed his eyes and lifted his nose proudly, placing a paw on his chest. “I think that I would easily be able to do both at the same time.”
Snufkin raised an eyebrow at him, clearly holding back laughter. “Oh, really?”
“Yes, of course! I’m Moominmamma’s son,” Moomin explained, crossing his arms. It was impossible to play the joke completely straight, with the brightness of the smile on his face. Still, he tried, Moomin tapping a finger to the side of his head. “She’s very good at multitasking, and I have her brain. I’d definitely do better than you.”
Snufkin let out a gentle chuckle, reaching his paws out to grab his fishing rod and harmonica. Moomin furrowed his brow curiously, and let out a small ‘oof!’ as Snufkin dropped the two items into his lap.
“Well, go ahead and prove it,” Snufkin said, his grin turning coy, mischievous. Moomin’s eyes widened, and he looked down at his lap and back at his best friend, who had crossed his arms just like how Moomin had only moments earlier. It took him a moment to process, then;
“I - I don’t think I have to. I just know,” Moomin told him, and the laughter that Snufkin let out in response was reward enough for the hot spark of embarrassment that flushed his cheeks. Snufkin didn’t usually laugh so much as he had tonight. For a free spirit, he didn’t often open his heart to the world like that; spinning stories that were often sombre and sincere, and songs that told of beauty rather than laughter.
And, well. Moomin understood, but he could really see the beauty in laughter. It felt like his heart was sparkling as he watched his best friend enjoy himself so much, copying the brightness of the firefly light spinning around them. It was funny - the sun was sinking lower and lower behind the horizon, getting later and later and further from his usual supper time, and yet all evening Moomin hadn’t thought about supper once. It wasn’t like him, but -- this wasn’t like Snufkin, either.
The two of them sat together, and laughed together. It was the sort of night that Moomin ached for in the long Winter months - the warmth in his fur and the warmth in his heart. No less perfect was it made when Snufkin let out a breathy laugh, his eyes squinted and his grin wide and silly, and he leaned against Moomin’s shoulder.
If Moomin hadn’t been so relaxed already, he would have been startled. After all, Snufkin was a Snufkin, but he was also a Mumrik. Moominpappa had loaned Moomin a book many moons ago on Mumrikfolk, when he had first met Snufkin and couldn’t understand a lot of his little mannerisms and quirks. One of those things that he learned was that Mumriks can be very reclusive, and they also don’t often like touch too much - two things that Moomin had always found in how Snufkin acted. Moomin was a hugger, and he loved being around his friends more than anything, but he had always been careful to give Snufkin the distance that was so important to him.
But now, all this time later, when Moomin knew Snufkin and not just the parts of him that his Mumrik nature made, Snufkin had decided to lean on his shoulder. Of his own accord, with a bright smile on his face.
Oh, how the sparkles in Moomin’s heart flickered. He sat stock-still, and he had never been so thankful for how pillowy Moomintrolls tended to be in his life. Snufkin must have agreed, because he nuzzled closer into Moomin’s fur, squishing his hat against the side of Moomin’s face and worrying the edge of his ear, and -- oh.
Oh, Moomin thought. No wonder Snufkin had been acting so giggly and open. Of course.
He was sleepy.
It became more and more apparent as time went on that Snufkin had tired himself out during their adventure that day - Snufkin, Moomin, Little My, Snorkmaiden and Sniff had all ventured as far into the mountains upstream as they could without getting lost, and it had been a very long and treacherous journey there and back. Snufkin was more used to walking long distances than any of them, but it was only early Spring and there was a good chance he hadn’t fully recovered from how long his journeys must have been during the Winter, or perhaps he’d just been around a lot of people for too long that day. Perhaps Moomin had simply never stayed here late enough to meet a sleepy Snufkin.
Whatever the reason may be, the Mumrik had snuggled close and fallen asleep on Moomin’s shoulder, and it was something that Moomin was not equipped to deal with. It was without a doubt the longest Moomin had ever spent this close to Snufkin, and the thought set his heart tripping over and over, hardly able to hold back all of those pesky little feelings; like affection, and softness, and care, and love.
Moomin was thankful that there were other things to focus on, like the firefly light dancing above the river as the sky finally started to truly darken, or the way that the breeze cooled against his fur, or even how Snufkin’s hat dug into his temples uncomfortably. Then, it occurred to him that the hat was probably digging into Snufkin too, a little bit, and that just wouldn’t do. Moomin very carefully raised his paw, moving very slowly so as not to jostle his sleeping friend, and raised the hat off of his head. The whole process took a long and worrisome few seconds, in which Snufkin nearly stirred once and then shifted a little, but the movement only meant Snufkin snuggled closer. Moomin let out a sigh of relief, and put the hat on his lap along with the rest of Snufkin’s things, finally relaxing properly. Moomin even felt comfortable enough that he let his head drop softly on top of Snufkin’s. His hair and the dreamy flicking of his ears tickled a little, but Moomin didn’t mind.
For a while, he stayed like that, watching the river flow by and the sunset end. It was certainly late now, and Moominmamma was likely getting worried, and Moomin’s stomach would start protesting any minute now; but none of it really mattered. Not really.
It’s just that, after a long time of sitting still, Moomin tended to get very restless. He’d start squirming and wriggling until he could get up and walk or run for a while, often without realising he was doing it at all. Moomin knew this, and that just wouldn’t do today - any movement at all could wake Snufkin up, and then they’d both be embarrassed and they would feel ever so silly, and it just wouldn’t do at all.
Just as Moomin thought of this, he raised his head from Snufkin’s and started looking for something to fidget with. He looked down at the things in his lap, but he knew that he simply couldn’t. Those were Snufkin’s precious things! Snufkin was never without any of them, and if he had to be separated from them, he would hide them very very well. Moomin didn’t want to do anything with those very special things that Snufkin wasn’t supervising; it was his duty as a best friend to keep those things as safe as possible. No, the hat and the harmonica and the fishing rod were all out of the question.
He thought about maybe using a pebble or similar rock on the riverbank, but it really was dark by now, and he would have no way of knowing whether the pebble was clean or not. As silly as he might be, he was not willing to get his paws too dirty at this time of night, when he had already cleaned his paws in the river earlier. Again; out of the question.
He was starting to feel desperate, feeling a fidget in his leg coming that he knew would wake Snufkin up. He simply had to let the restlessness out somehow, and in a moment of distress, Moomin looked towards Snufkin for comfort. His face was relaxed and dream-heavy, and his ears twitched gently in his sleep. The sight gave Moomin a clever, risky idea.
Slowly, Moomin raised his paw again, once again very careful to not jostle Snufkin. His friend was hardly disturbed at all this time, much to Moomin’s delight - clearly he was very good at being sneaky. Perhaps he’d been taking a leaf out of Little My’s book (not that he would ever tell her that). Then, cautiously, Moomin ran his fingers through Snufkin’s hair, and began to scratch behind his Mumrik ears.
It was a faint memory that lead him to the decision; a memory of that book that Moominpappa had loaned him so very long ago. He seemed to recall that Mumriks who were fond of touch (and clearly, tonight, this Mumrik seemed to be) were inclined to enjoy a scratch behind the ears or underneath the chin. It was a section that at the time, Moomin hadn’t thought to read too intensely, since Snufkin had never been much for hugs and cuddles until now. It was unfortunately, because he just wasn’t sure it were true or not. Of course, his past self would never have known that this could be the result of meeting Snufkin all that time ago, so perhaps he would forgive that old Moomintroll for not being quite sure if he had read what he thought he had.
The risk paid off. Moomin had possibly never been quite so delighted as then, when Snufkin not only seemed to curl into him a little more as he pet his ears, but also began to purr.
Moomin had heard the noise very few times from Snufkin, and every single time it made his heart squeeze with affection for the wanderer. It was a noise that settled any nervousness he had ever felt, long after the nervousness had left him - a calming noise, one that could lull him to sleep with ease. Nothing could possibly be wrong with a moment if Snufkin was purring during it. The scratching was plenty enough to stave off the restlessness that Moomin felt, the texture of his hair being the perfect thing to focus on while Snufkin slept.
For a long time, they rested like that. Moomin was sure the fireflies, that now kept landing on the two of them for rest, could hear the pounding of his heart. Sometimes one or two would fly in front of his face, and Moomin would get a distinct feeling, like they were mocking the flush that was definitely on his nose. It was remarkably rude of them. He couldn’t help it if his best friend wasn’t aware of the rush of affection he felt several times a day, when he saw him, and it wasn’t the business of the fireflies anyhow.
Soon enough, it was simply too late to justify staying by the riverbank. Moomin’s stomach was growling, and it was very certainly night time by now; and unfairly, Moomin’s arm was beginning to go numb under Snufkin’s weight. Moominmamma must have definitely been wondering where he was by now. As much as he didn’t want this to end, he didn’t have the heart to worry his mother.
For a few seconds, the soft scratches behind Snufkin’s ear were all that Moomin focused on. He imprinted the motion onto his heart; the texture and the sound of Snufkin’s deep, calming purr, and he was ready to let go.
Very carefully, Moomin let his hand drop and pressed a paw to Snufkin’s shoulder. He didn’t let himself think about how he had wrapped his arm around his friend, and instead said, “Hullo, Snufkin. It’s time to wake up.”
Slowly, Snufkin stirred, with disjointed flicks of his ears and a tremor in his tail. It occurred to Moomin that perhaps he should have moved Snufkin before letting him wake up - Moomin, being a moomintroll, was very used to what physical affection felt like, but the way that Snufkin had nuzzled against him was rather a new feeling even for him. Moomin had no idea at all how a Mumrik would respond to such a thing, and for a horrible moment Moomin felt a rush of fear.
But, there hadn’t been a need to worry. Snufkin woke with a quiet, gently startled noise. It was purr-adjacent, a small mrrp, and Snufkin looked around, blinking his eyes at his dark - and strangely comfortable - surroundings. Moomin watched him anxiously, worried that he would react badly to the closeness; but when Snufkin’s eyes met his, he only saw softness there. Perhaps even a sense of rooting oneself, like he’d been a little lost and unsure and now he’d found what he was looking for.
There was another fact about Mumrik affection in Moominpappa’s book that Moomin vaguely recalled. He might have been wrong, but he had a hunch that perhaps this was the most correct he’d ever been. The fact went that when a Mumrik truly liked your company, and felt comfortable with you - perhaps even loved you -- they would tell you this with a slow, relaxed blink. It would be clear, and quiet, and the Mumrik would not explain to you, likely out of embarrassment or fear of rejection; but when a Mumrik liked you, it would blink very slowly at you.
Moomin was quite sure the book had called it something like a Mumrik-kiss.
The words he’d read in that book flashed very quickly in the eye of Moomin’s mind as Snufkin softened, and blinked slowly and sleepily at him while waking. Moomin blinked back; twice, and rapidly, and before he could think to reciprocate exactly what Snufkin had done with a racing heart and a flush on his cheeks, Snufkin had come to his senses.
“Oh - Moomin! I - h,” Snufkin tried to speak, quickly moving away from him. He coughed awkwardly as Moomin mourned the weight of Snufkin on his arm, even if the feeling was already returning to it. “Hullo, I - ah -- it’s very late.”
Moomin chuckled quietly. “Yes, it is. You seemed tired - I kept your things safe for you.” Moomin took the harmonica and fishing rod in his paws and handed them to Snufkin, then placed his hat back atop his head. Snufkin seemed a little dumbfounded, finding it hard to find his words. Moomin thought that maybe he could understand.
“Thank you,” Snufkin said, finally, and he tucked his harmonica away into a pocket in his coat. He clutched the fishing rod tightly in one paw, as though his life depended on it, but he had very little trouble returning the shy smile that Moomin gave him. “You, um. You could have woken me up. You’re probably hungry -”
“No need to fuss,” Moomin told him, and when Snufkin opened his mouth to reply, no more sound came out. Moomin was delighted by the fact that it was dark, so Snufkin couldn’t see the blush on his face, nor how his tail wagged and quivered. “It’s okay. It isn’t too late, Moominmamma won’t be worried.”
“That sounds like a lie,” Snufkin pointed out. All Moomin could really do was shrug.
The two of them said goodbye, in a roundabout way which took a very long time to end. They dissolved into giggles once again by the end of it all; with their ‘goodbye, Snufkin - goodbye, Moomin, goodbye, goodbye -- yes, goodbye, I will definitely go this time, goodbye -’, and Moomin was amazed by how relaxed Snufkin was about the whole situation. In all the time Moomin had known Snufkin, he had never once shown himself to be an affectionate person, and when bombarded with too much touch he could often shut down or slink away from the group for a long time. Moomin couldn’t understand why tonight had been different, and that a smile easily came to Snufkin’s face without showing any signs of being forced or just for Moomin’s benefit - no, he was really okay.
Moomin began to walk home with his tail swishing contentedly once Snufkin was settled in his tent, and knew very distinctly that he wouldn’t be able to stop thinking about tonight for a very long time.