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One Last Job (/pj250/)

By pentapony
Created: 14th March 2021 02:15:10 PM
Modified: 11th April 2021 07:09:15 AM

  1. "When's the next train to Manehattan?"
  2. >The station attendant grunts a curt answer without looking up from his newspaper. "Forty-three minutes."
  3. >You glance down at your watch.
  4. >You, Anon, are not used to being back in Equestria. It's been a very long time.
  5. >Things have changed since then. Canterlot looks a lot brighter, somehow.
  6. >You find that a bit ironic, seeing as how the princess of the night has assumed the throne after her sister abdicated to enjoy retirement with you.
  7. >After so much time living your idyllic little life away, it's strange coming back to the city you used to call home.
  8. >You have so much history here. History that felt long since buried, until today.
  9. >You wonder if you should take the time to see Octavia. Maybe she'd want to know you were back.
  10. >But forty-three minutes is scarcely enough time to catch up after an eternity apart.
  11. >No, if you're going to visit her, you're going to do it right. Maybe when you get back to Canterlot, if there's time.
  12. >That's not nearly as important as what you came for.
  13. >You opt to spend those forty-three minutes milling about the platform, enjoying the view overlooking the mountain.
  14. >How many Canterlot nights did you spend sharing the same view with Celestia, falling in love without even knowing it?
  15. >You two were so young then.
  16. >It's a stupid notion, maybe, considering her age, but there's some truth to it. In the time that you've known her, she's grown so much, and your love has grown with her.
  17. >She still has that spark of youth within her, but the fire itself dwindles with age. She's hardly the same mare you used to stay up through the night with.
  18. >It's oddly nostalgic, reliving all these halcyon moments that were formerly lost to time.
  19. >Eventually, the train arrives, and when it does, it takes you a good minute to get to your seat.
  20. >You don't need your cane anymore, but after the injury, your back never did heal quite right. The tragedy is that it only makes you feel even older than you already are.
  21. >You slump down into the hard wooden seat of the carriage and breathe a sigh. At least that's one thing that hasn't changed.
  22. >It reminds you of all your old commutes across Equestria, endless train rides where you stared out the window, left with no devices but your thoughts to occupy yourself.
  23. >You're surprised it ever stopped. For the longest time, you thought that's how it was going to go for the rest of your life. You were going to work until you died.
  24. >But things change, plans fall apart, and one day you find yourself somewhere you never thought you'd be.
  25. >Every day, you thank the stars above for that.
  26. >As the train lurches forward and sets off down the tracks, a man plops down in the seat across the aisle. Even without looking, you can feel his eyes on you. Some instincts never fade.
  27. >A few minutes into the ride, he rises from his seat and leans over the row in front of you.
  28. >"Hey. Remember me?"
  29. >Glancing up, you finally get a good look at his face. And true to his word, it's vaguely familiar to you.
  30. >You simply offer him a soft smile of acknowledgment before returning your attention to the window. Quite impudently, he takes it as an invitation to sit next to you.
  31. >"I can't believe you're back," he says. "Honestly, I never thought I'd see you again. Is the Princess here, too?"
  32. >You just stare out at the mountainside flying by and answer him distantly.
  33. "No, it's just me."
  34. >Someone had to stay behind and look after the little ones, after all.
  35. >"So what're you off to Manehattan for? Is it for a job?"
  36. "I won't be staying long. There's some unfinished business that needs taking care of."
  37. >"Well, it's great luck I caught you when I did. See, I've been having trouble with this one contract, a doozy of a mare..." He takes out a file from his bag and shoves it into your lap.
  38. >When you look down and see what it is, you shoot him an irate glare and push it away.
  39. "No."
  40. >He frowns and offers the file again. "I promise it won't take long, it's not like you've got anything else to d—"
  41. >Again, you wave it away, more assertively this time.
  42. "I told you no. I don't do that anymore. If you are who I remember you are, then I've already given you everything you need to know to handle it. So handle it, and keep me out of it."
  43. >After a second's hesitation, he drops the file in his bag and returns to his seat without further protest.
  44. >You don't give him a second glance. You just go back to your idle task of meditating upon the landscape in front of you.
  45. >Perhaps you were unduly harsh. It would have taken only a moment to offer him the help he needed.
  46. >But there was a reason you left all that behind.
  47. >Let the past remain the past. Isn't that what she once said?
  48.  
  49. >You're a little surprised she hasn't changed apartments after all this time. But then again, she lived in Ponyville for how long?
  50. >You ascend the staircase, feeling a gnawing sensation in your stomach.
  51. >It's meaningless, of course. It's just that you've only been here once before, and that was far from a social call.
  52. >But that trouble is over now. Today is meant to be a happy occasion. Meant to, at least.
  53. >Nothing's happier than seeing an old friend again, right?
  54. >You barely get out two knocks against the door before it swings open and a blue flash tackles you onto the hallway floor.
  55. >You wheeze, recoiling from the fall, and look down to see Rainbow Dash hugging your torso.
  56. >"Don't you ever disappear like that again!" she yells.
  57. >You let your head fall back against the hardwood and pat her back affectionately.
  58. "Good to see you, too, Dash."
  59. >She finally releases her hold on you, and you strenuously pick yourself up off the floor.
  60. >"I can't believe you're really back," she whispers, watching you as you stand. "When I got your letter, I didn't know what to think. I wasn't sure if it was really you, or just some messed-up prank."
  61. "Yeah, well, I figured you wouldn't like me dropping by unannounced. Not after last time."
  62. >She smiles. "That stupid stunt you pulled almost got us both killed. Nice going."
  63. "It worked, didn't it? Kind of."
  64. >For the first time since you arrived, you can feel your mood beginning to lighten. Dash looks a little older, sure, but beneath the surface she's the same old knucklehead who used to give you a hard time.
  65. >"The Anon I know wouldn't come all the way out here for nothing, so spill it. What's it this time? Another cocked-up plan of yours you need me for?"
  66. >You'd forgotten she knew you just as well as you knew her. That was refreshingly rare.
  67. "I've been wondering."
  68. >"Oh boy," she groans, rolling her eyes.
  69. >She shuts the door and drags you by the pant leg down the hall. "Come on. If I gotta listen to you go on and on again, it's gonna be somewhere I can stomach it."
  70. >She takes you up to the roof of her building. Climbing the ladder from the top floor takes some effort, plus some jeering from an impatient Dash, but you manage to get there.
  71. >Up there, you can hear the sounds of the city droning from every direction.
  72. >"You ever see the Manehattan skyline?" she asks, flying up to perch on the air ducts.
  73. >Slowly, you walk over to the edge, gazing out at the city before you.
  74. "Not from up here, I haven't."
  75. >You turn back to face her.
  76. "Was it the right call, you think, moving out here? Do you ever regret it?"
  77. >She flies down from her perch and lands in front of you. "Oookay, now I get it. You don't care what I think, you're wondering if YOU made the right call, running off with Princess Celestia like that. Why? You guys having trouble or something?"
  78. "No, of course not. I love her more than anything."
  79. >"Then what is it?"
  80. "There's two sides to every story, right? In your case, there's you moving all the way out here, but there's also everything you left behind. Your friends."
  81. >"Yeah, but it's different. I'm not a whole world away like you are. I still see them."
  82. "Not as much these days, I'm betting."
  83. >She opens her mouth to respond before looking away. You can see the air of guilt weighing on her.
  84. "I don't regret for a second the decision to spend the rest of my life with her. But I'm worried about what I gave up in order to do it."
  85. >"What? Matchmaking?"
  86. "I don't know. For the most part, it wasn't a fun job. I came home to an empty apartment. But it made me feel useful, you know? I was the only one doing it. I had a waitlist with thousands of names on it. Celestia was swamped with letters from mares asking her if I could find their soul mate. And when I retired, I felt like I turned my back on the world that saved me."
  87. >"But what about the other guys? The ones you sent over to replace you?"
  88. "I didn't think it was enough. Sure, Cel tells me I spent long enough preparing them, but even if I had all the time in the world, I don't think I'd have ever felt comfortable handing the reins over to someone else."
  89. >"They're doing a good job," she says. "There's so many happy couples out there, and they're doing so much more than you ever could alone."
  90. "It's not just that."
  91. >Rubbing your aching back, you sit down on the roof ledge, watching over the lights of the city.
  92. "I feel like I stole her away from you guys."
  93. >Dash comes up to your side. "Who, the Princess?"
  94. >"That's total nonsense!" she scoffs, sitting beside you. "It's not like you kidnapped her or anything. Everyone trusted both of you completely to do what's right."
  95. >You look over to her.
  96. "Did you? When I just up and left, after you watched me almost die, did you think I was doing the right thing?"
  97. >She grits her teeth in apprehension. "You had to do what was best for you, and—"
  98. "Don't give me that, we both know that's not you. I didn't come out here looking for lies."
  99. >"Fine!" she snaps. "You wanna know what I thought? I thought you were a real jerk, making me care about you, making me help you save Equestria from some stupid creep, making me almost lose you, and then running off without a goodbye, like our friendship never even mattered!"
  100. >Her frustration quickly melts into reassurance as she grabs your arm and shakes it emphatically. "But I got over it! Time passed, and I could see that it was bigger than me. Back then, if you told me you had to leave, I— I don't think I would've let you. I didn't know about you and the Princess. No one did. You had this whole history with her, your life in Equestria was spiraling out of control, and you needed to get out. I get that now. I do."
  101. >She lets go of your arm.
  102. >"I just wish you would've told me what was going on."
  103. "Talking about feelings isn't really your style."
  104. >She shakes her head and looks off at the skyline. "If you really knew me, then you'd know that's all just an act."
  105. "I know, Dash. Trust me. I know."
  106.  
  107. >The train ride back to Canterlot leaves you wondering, much like it did in the old days.
  108. >Long ago, your tunnel vision put Equestria in danger, and you're still suffering the effects.
  109. >You came back because, unlike Celestia, you didn't have faith in your ability to make the right call. Not after what happened.
  110. >All faith ever got you was a bullet in your back from a sociopath who saw Equestria as something to exploit, rather than the symbol of hope it was to you.
  111. >That injury stays with you as a reminder of the kind of harm that can come. Not to you. To Equestria.
  112. >To the place that saved you from the person you used to be, the place that gave you the love of your life and told you that you were good enough, even if you didn't believe it.
  113. >And when you left, even though it might have been the right choice, you couldn't help but feel like you were turning your back on a lot of different people.
  114. >Most notably Octavia.
  115. >You made the decision not to see her again. Your time together was brief, but complicated, and some stones aren't worth turning over.
  116. >You do want to see your old apartment, though. One last time.
  117. >There's a lot of different memories wrapped up in that place. Finding that bouquet from Roseluck after you paired her up, falling asleep to the rhythmic vibrations from the cello downstairs...
  118. >The night you first kissed Celestia.
  119. >When the train arrives back in Canterlot, the sun has long since set. You make the short walk from the train station to your old building, keeping careful to stay on the other side of the street for fear of coming across Octavia.
  120. >Standing opposite your building, you stare up at the window of your old apartment, then to Octavia's, directly below it.
  121. >Lights off. Asleep, or not at home.
  122. >Crossing the street, you head up the stoop and enter the tenement.
  123. >Not much has changed about these halls, aside from a fresh coat of paint.
  124. >Gripping the railing, you climb the stairs to the fourth floor. Someone else is probably living there now, but it'll be enough to just see the door.
  125. >You make your way to the end of the hallway, and...
  126. >There's no door to be found.
  127. >An open door frame leads into what used to be your apartment.
  128. >Slowly, you step inside. It's just a vacant unit now, stripped of all its furniture. Nothing but dusty old countertops and peeling wallpaper.
  129. >This wasn't what you were expecting. You can still picture in your mind the way it used to be.
  130. >Now it's... this.
  131. >Maybe it's apt that this place was left to rot after you left, a desiccated shell of what it once was. That couldn't be more fitting.
  132. >If you were hoping to find something comforting here, it wasn't this. Honestly, you don't know what you were expecting.
  133. >You spend some time milling around the tiny apartment, failing to find any trace of your time spent here. What an enormous waste of time.
  134. >Eventually you pull yourself away and summon the will to leave.
  135. >Once you reach the staircase, though, you hear voices on their way up.
  136. >Not wanting to be seen, you retreat and hang back on the landing. It sounds like children.
  137. >And then you hear her.
  138. >Her voice is still the same as you remember it. Soft spoken, with the lilt of an accent from Trottingham.
  139. >Sitting down on the stairs, you catch just a glimpse of her grey frame through the bannisters as she comes up to the third floor. Two little colts run up ahead of her as she walks down the hall.
  140. >"Easy now," she warns, "remember what Daddy said about running in the halls."
  141. >You hadn't realized how much you missed hearing her speak.
  142. >It wasn't her voice, per se, but the things she used to tell you that forged that soothing association in your mind.
  143. >You used to talk for hours in her apartment. She understood you in a very specific way that no one else could.
  144. >When you didn't feel good enough for Celestia, when you felt like all you did was hurt the people around you, she was always there to hold you together.
  145. >Because you did the exact same for her, and she loved you for that.
  146. >Too much for her own good.
  147. >You hear the jingle of keys as she unlocks the door, and her kids' laughing voices disappear into her apartment.
  148. >Slumping back against the wall, you think back to a time when it was you in there with her.
  149. >You didn't have to hide your inadequacy from each other. At the end of the day, when your world was falling apart, you could just exist with each other without feeling like an utter disappointment.
  150. >She said she just wanted you to be happy. You are, and probably so is she.
  151. >After all, you were the one who found her husband.
  152. >Now she has a loving spouse and beautiful children. Everything she ever wanted. Just like you.
  153. >So why the hell do you want so badly to knock on her door?
  154. >Is it because you're not actually happy? Is it because you were right when you told her you'll never be happy?
  155. >No. You love Celestia, and you don't doubt it.
  156. >We just can't help but miss the people we used to be close to.
  157. >She's not a part of your life anymore, and you're clearly not a part of hers.
  158. >So even if she still wishes you'd one day show up at her door, you know you can't.
  159. >Because you made a choice to leave, and that's something you can never take back.
  160. >After a few minutes of reflecting, you get up and make your way down to the ground floor.
  161. >As you walk down the hall, head swirling with restless thoughts, a mare exiting Apartment 1A greets you.
  162. >"Hi, can I help you?"
  163. >You look down at her in confusion.
  164. "No, I was just leaving."
  165. >"Oh, sorry," she says. "I'm the landlady. I thought you might be looking to tour a unit."
  166. >You glance up at the apartment she just came out of.
  167. "Where's Morry?"
  168. >Her expression turns to surprise. "Oh— he passed a few years back, I'm afraid. I'm his daughter."
  169. >You don't know why you didn't anticipate that. He was a cantankerous old stallion when you knew him. Still had a good heart, though.
  170. >You mumble a "thanks" and pass her as you head for the door.
  171. >"H-Hold on, are you Anon?"
  172. >You turn back to face her.
  173. >She comes up to you. "It's you, isn't it?"
  174. "Yeah."
  175. >She laughs in amazed delight. "Dad used to go on and on about you. Stories about shooting the breeze with you out there on the stoop. Towards the end there, when his mind started to go, he wouldn't stop rambling about some time you dumped gold in his lap. Said it was a secret he was gonna take to his grave. I never could tell if it was real or not."
  176. "Oh."
  177. >You'd forgotten about that. You get the sense she's waiting for an answer, but it's not something you want to revisit at the moment. You just stand there silently.
  178. >"He was inconsolable when you left," she continues. "Kept thinking you were gonna come back, and wouldn't rent the place out to anyone else. He'd go spend time up there when it got too cold to sit on the stoop. He even had the door taken off the frame after he kept forgetting where the keys were."
  179. "Sounds like him."
  180. >Hearing this is probably the last thing you need right now. Now he's just another in a long line of those you abandoned, too late to make up for.
  181. >"Of course, I didn't rent the place out after he passed. I know he wouldn't have wanted anyone else living there." Suddenly, a spark lights up behind her eyes. "Say, you're not looking to move back in, are you?"
  182. "Sorry. Just visiting."
  183. >"Oh, okay," she sighs. "Well, come back any time. I'd love to know how many stories of his were true and how many were just the ravings of a doddering old curmudgeon with more time than teeth."
  184. "Thanks."
  185. >You push open the door and head out into the streets of Canterlot.
  186. >It's time you went back to the palace. What's next might actually serve as a nice distraction from your thoughts, because Equestria has a new Princess on the throne, and you're dying to know how the last few years have fared for her.
  187. >Luna was asleep when you arrived earlier in the day, and you didn't want to send a guard to disturb her.
  188. >Surely she's awake now, though, and it'll be good to see her again after so long.
  189. >When you reach the palace, Luna's personal guards allow you in, and you go straight to the throne room.
  190. >There, the Princess eagerly awaits you.
  191. >"Ah, Anonymous," she booms upon your entry, "We are most glad to receive you after such a tragically prolonged absence!"
  192. "Cut the shtick, Luna. It's me."
  193. >You set your bag down and come up to her, pulling her in for a hug.
  194. >She giggles as she rests her head on your shoulder. "Sorry. Just wanted to see how you'd react."
  195. >You let her go and smile warmly.
  196. "I hope everything's okay here. I can't lie, I've been worried sick since the day I left."
  197. >"Everything is fine," she assures you. "The kingdom is safe under my watch and the Initiative is in good hands with the recruiters you sent. They're pairing ponies up by the score. Equestria has never seen such a romantic time as this."
  198. "And they're doing a good job? Up to the standards I kept?"
  199. >"You needn't worry about a thing. It's all going swimmingly."
  200. >She opens the balcony door so that you can talk out in the open night air.
  201. >"Now, tell me what I want to hear. Is Tia coming to visit anytime soon? I miss her so."
  202. "She wants to, I promise. Not a day goes by where she doesn't think of you. But between the foals and the difficult journey getting here, it's looking like it might be a while longer before she's able."
  203. >Her mouth hangs agape. "Do my ears deceive me? Foals?"
  204. "Oh, shoot— I spoiled the surprise, didn't I? Hang on."
  205. >You go to your bag and retrieve the pictures Celestia took.
  206. >When you hold them up for Luna to see, she squeals in delight.
  207. >"My stars! Never did I think I'd see the day that she'd choose the path of motherhood, after all she's been through..."
  208. >She looks over at you fondly. "Oh, she truly loves you, doesn't she?"
  209. >You look down at the pictures for yourself and smile.
  210. "Yeah. I think so."
  211. >"You're just wonderful, Anon. I'm eternally grateful you came into my sister's life when you did. I only wish I'd spent more time getting to know you when I had the chance."
  212. "That was years ago. You'd just gotten back from... you know. After so long alone, I don't blame you for keeping your distance."
  213. >"That's all in the past now," she declares confidently. "Assuming the throne has made me a better mare in every respect. I had my doubts, but Tia always did know me better than I."
  214. "Do you think she made the right decision? For you and Equestria?"
  215. >"Without a doubt! She always had the extraordinary ability to see the best in others, even when they, themselves, could not. She saw the same in you, and that was the right choice, wasn't it?"
  216. "But what about Equestria? What if she had been wrong, and you weren't ready?"
  217. >She smiles at you. "Even so. Love comes first, Anon."
  218. "Even when you rule a nation?"
  219. >"Especially when you rule a nation!" she exclaims. "My sister spent all her life sacrificing her well-being for the sake of her subjects. She kept it up long enough, but no mare is without her faults, not even her — despite what she'd like you to believe. There comes a time when we must all put our needs ahead of others'."
  220. "And that's not wrong? Even when it means turning your back on everyone you care about? You were the only one who knew we were leaving. Everyone else, I just left them behind. How am I supposed to rationalize that?"
  221. >"If that's your line of thinking, you'll worry yourself to death." She raises the photographs in your hand with her hoof. "For goodness' sake, they're your whole world now. If you hadn't left, if Tia had stayed on the throne, they wouldn't be here. We wouldn't be speaking right now."
  222. >You rub your thumb across the pictures, delicately tracing the gloss.
  223. >"We owe it to ourselves to pursue our dreams. The kingdom didn't fall to ashes when you left. Equestria is happy, and those you left behind have their own dreams to chase."
  224. >She leans her head against your arm. "You and Tia took care of us, so now let us return the favor. We'll keep the kingdom safe and sound. Just enjoy your life with her. You deserve a moment's peace."
  225. "I don't know what to say. Thank you."
  226. >You gaze out at the twinkling stars, reminded of the sunsets you used to watch with Celestia.
  227. "Luna?"
  228. >"Hmmm?"
  229. "What are your dreams?"
  230. >She blushes and looks away. "That's awfully personal, isn't it?"
  231. "Well, we're family now, aren't we? This time, I want to know that when I leave, I'm not taking your dreams away from you."
  232. >"I suppose..." She pauses. "I'd like the same life my sister has, but made my own. Each dawn, I sleep alone, and wish it wasn't so. Maybe it's trifling to admit it, but I wish I was loved the way you love her. Such a simple thing goes a long way."
  233. >You're not all surprised by her answer. In fact, it was the one you were expecting. Back then, she was so closed off, just begging for someone to tear her walls down.
  234. >You didn't press at the time because you could tell she wasn't ready.
  235. >Now she is.
  236. "Have you gone to the Initiative?"
  237. >"I've thought about it plenty, but—" She hesitates. "Each time I consider it, I can't bear to place such an immense level of trust in someone. To find my soul mate, they'd have to learn every intimate detail of me, and just the thought of it makes me—"
  238. >She tenses up, and suddenly looks to you. "You wouldn't consider seeking out my mate for me, would you?"
  239. >You don't know how to answer.
  240. "Luna, I'm... I'm retired. That life, it's all behind me now. I can't go back to it."
  241. >"Please," she pleads. "I know I ask a great deal, and I wouldn't if you hadn't said anything tonight, but all this talk of love, and... I just couldn't possibly bare my soul to a stranger, but you— you know me well enough already!"
  242. "It's not that easy. What about the throne?"
  243. >"I'd keep it, if that's what it took, or perhaps leave it to Twilight. She really has come into her own in the years since Tia's departure, and I'm sure she'd entertain the idea..."
  244. >As you look into Luna's eyes, you're reminded of a mare who, many years ago, stood before you in a very similar position.
  245. >One who couldn't stand the idea being alone any longer, who felt so deeply a need to love and be loved that she was starting to lose herself in that haze.
  246. >Now she's your whole world. Falling in love with her was the best thing you ever did. She's the only choice you never regretted.
  247. >So tonight, after everything you've looked back on, who are you to take that same dream away from Luna?
  248. "Very well, my Princess. I'll tell you the same thing I tell all my contracts."
  249. >She breaks out into a giddy grin. "What's that?"
  250. "If he's out there... I'll find him."
/pj250/

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