• Published 29th Dec 2013
  • 9,374 Views, 1,609 Comments

What Hath Joined Together - Bad_Seed_72

Sequel to "The Order". Despite receiving a harsh reprimand from Captain Ironhoof, Flash Sentry still struggles with his feelings for Twilight. When he is assigned to escort her to the Crystal Empire, tensions on all sides escalate.

  • ...

A Sheep All Your Life

A Sheep All Your Life

Flash Sentry knocked three times on Captain Ironhoof’s door. There was no trembling in any of his limbs as he waited for a response. Even as a few agonizingly long seconds ticked by, he stood tall—almost proud, if he would have believed pride to be a virtue rather than a vice. He kept his hooves firmly on the ground, not fidgeting with his armor or his forehooves.

Waiting to accept his fate.

A lion for a day, he thought, taking a deep breath through his nostrils. With his mane combed to perfection and the bristles on his helmet tamed straight, he resembled the mighty beast Greyhoof had reminded him to be. He hoped his heart would match the lion’s courage.

When the door finally swung open, there was no stammering Serving Bell standing before him this time, nor any hasty apologies or enthusiastic bows.

There was just Ironhoof, stone and statue and silent.

Clad in shining purple armor, the Captain stood tall as he looked down at his underling. His eyes narrowed, his muzzle pulled into a taut, stoic expression, and his nostrils flared. Captain Ironhoof said not a word. Even so, Flash heard everything, loud and clear.

“Captain,” Flash greeted, bowing low. “I understand that you wanted to see me, sir?”

“Come in,” Ironhoof said gruffly, taking a step away from the door. Flash bowed again and slowly entered, avoiding his superior’s gaze.

Inside, a fine array of breakfast platters littered the Captain’s desk. Pancakes and syrup, toast with butter and jam, omelettes with fresh vegetables and fine cheeses, fresh fruits of every color—all tempted Flash’s nostrils, making his stomach growl in protest.

Suppressing the urge to leap upon the bounty and devour it before Ironhoof’s eyes, Flash did not respond to his stomach’s call as he took the chair opposite the Captain’s.

Captain Ironhoof sat down beside him, his posture as rigid as his namesake. He sat up straight in his chair and stared daggers at his underling while he crossed his forehooves in front of him. The meal went untouched, sending pleasant aromas high to the heavens and both hungry stallion’s snouts.

Ironhoof didn’t move. He stared, eyes fixated on drilling into Flash’s pupils.

Flash Sentry, wondering if perhaps a breach of more minute protocol would be justified, contemplated speaking up. The silence growing between them was thick and heavy—almost nauseating.

A lion for a day. Look proud on your last day, Flash willed himself, utilizing every muscle in his body to sit quietly in his chair.

On other days, he might have tapped his hindhooves against the carpet, or his forehooves on the desk, or adjusted his shoulder-guards or the blue bristles on his golden helmet. He might have coughed and cleared his throat, or shifted position in the chair until he was sure he would tip it over.

Not today.

Ironhoof’s nostrils flared after a few more thick seconds of silence, his eyes still narrowed and locked on the pegasus. He sparked his horn and let a tendril of magic wander across the table. He selected a strawberry, then brought it to his mouth.

Ironhoof chewed. Flash sat.

After swallowing, Captain Ironhoof darted his gaze from the platter of delicacies to the pegasus guard, then back again. He cleared his throat and wiped his muzzle with a fetlock, finally averting his eyes from Flash Sentry’s for a momentous millisecond.

Though ashamed to admit it, Flash breathed an inward sigh of relief at this small mercy. Sweat trickled down his nape under the Captain’s intense stare, the suspense all but killing him. Please, Ironhoof. Please. If you have any mercy, just get it over with. Just let me go.

Just let me go so I can face my fellows next, and then, my father.

“I suppose you know why I called you in here.”

Ironhoof’s words carried a heavy weight as they left his tongue—almost if he didn’t want to give Flash the luxury of saying them. He plucked another strawberry with his aura and stared back at the pegasus again.

Flash bowed his head slightly, lowering his gaze to his hindhooves. “Yes, Captain. I know why, sir.”

“Good,” Ironhoof said, almost in a grunt. He chewed this next morsel loudly, smacking his lips with each munch. “Of all the ponies I would’ve ever thought I would have to counsel about etiquette and courtesy,” he began, tilting his head down at his soldier, “I would have never guessed it would be you, Flash Sentry.”

I’m sorry, Flash thought of replying, but decided against it. He kept his eyes to the floor.

The sound of Ironhoof sliding a platter across the desk filled Flash’s ears. The Captain then began loudly noshing on whichever treat he selected next.

Of course. Rub it in, Flash thought, almost mournfully. His stomach growled again with equal lament, as if missing breakfast was as much of a tragedy as being stripped of one’s rank, duty, and livelihood.

Flash ignored this sensation once more, listening to Ironhoof smack his lips and even lick his forehooves in bestial pleasure.

“You know,” the Captain mumbled through a mouthful of something delicious, “I usually enjoy conversations like this, Flash Sentry. Disciplining the Guard is part of any Captain’s duty. Especially…”

After swallowing, Ironhoof cleared his throat loudly and finished, “Especially when said Guard violates one of the most basic tenets of his duties.”

Biting his lower lip, Flash didn’t reply. The vision of a gentle, soft, purple forehoof filled his vision, as did the quiet, compassionate magenta eyes of its owner. He shook his head slightly, willing that vision to leave him be. No. Not now. Not now, and not ever.

A sharper, louder noise than that of a plate being dragged across a desk resonated through the small office. The steady thump of Captain Ironhoof’s hooves hitting the floor as he left his desk, then trotted around it, seemed as foreboding as the rhythm of any march to the gallows.

A thick, rough forehoof grabbed his chin, unfiled keratin raking across his fur. Captain Ironhoof rose Flash Sentry’s eyes to meet his.

There they were again, those eyes. Narrowed. Unwavering. Full of fire in their ice, a burning tempest of steel-gray and black against blue. Hellbent on crashing into their recipient, then tearing him apart from the inside-out.

“What were you thinking, Flash Sentry?!”

“I—I…” I wanted to comfort her. I wanted to show her my gratitude. My courtesy. My humility.

I wanted to show her how I…

How I feel…

“Well?” Ironhoof snorted, his breath hot steam that reeked of syrup and strawberries. If Flash Sentry had not one iota of respect or discipline, he would’ve retched in reply. “What’s your twisted little reason, soldier?”

“I…” Flash paused and bit his lip, lowering his gaze as far as he could from his superior’s.

“I wasn’t thinking, sir.”

At this, Ironhoof released him immediately, letting Flash’s head dip down and almost smack against his chest. “You’re damn right you weren’t thinking.”

Raising his head back up, Flash replied, “Yes, sir, I was not. And I’m sor—”

Ironhoof smacked a forehoof on the desk, hard, sending dishes of gourmet breakfast food skyward. A few pancakes fell from their plate, a hoof-full of grapes rolled down to the floor, and an entire container of syrup tipped over into a sticky mess, all ignored by their usurper.

Flash Sentry stayed in his chair, though he felt his hackles rise and his heart begin to thunder in a mix of fear and contempt.

Don’t waste my time with your worthless apologies!” Ironhoof bared his teeth, rows of flattened molars glowing demonic in the mid-morning dark.

He lunged towards Flash Sentry, standing tall on his hindhooves as he held himself up with his forehooves on the desk. He thrust his muzzle forward until it was mere inches from the other stallion’s, snorting his hot exhalation of rage. “You and I both know who you are, Flash Sentry. Where you are from. And what you are.

“You and I both know that Princess Twilight Sparkle made no motion for you to…” Ironhoof practically growled out the last words, “Dishonor her that way.”

His wings shaking, trying their best to unfurl themselves against the will of their master, Flash Sentry could only take a slow, uneasy breath. The Captain didn’t flinch as Flash raised his eyes to meet his superior’s. Flash breathed back in the silence, letting Ironhoof know that he hadn’t been rendered as incapable as he might have thought.

If Ironhoof viewed this as a challenge from the other stallion, he did not acknowledge it. Instead, he tilted his head so that his horn pointed directly at Flash Sentry’s helmet—one lunge away from impaling the rebellious mind below it.

While he maintained this display, Ironhoof unloaded on the fool below him, mincing no words. “If it were anypony but you who grabbed the Princess’s hoof—any Princesses’ hoof—without being prompted, you would be cleaning out that squalid little cell you call a home this very bucking instant. If it were anypony but Flash Sentry, one of the finest Royal Guards… and one of the few I thought I could trust...”

Running his tongue across his teeth, Ironhoof paused before he said darkly, “If it were anypony but you, Flash Sentry, there’d be one disappointed father with an ingrate of a son on his doorstep right now.”

Flash’s wings nearly flared in righteous anger at this last insult. For a moment, he felt his eyelids narrow, snapping them open as soon as he realized what he was doing. A lion for a day. Dignity. Grace. Make Greyhoof proud.

I’ll never make my father proud, and Greyhoof is as close as I have.

Captain Ironhoof clambered off the desk and stood proud on all fours. He pointed a hoof at Flash Sentry. “You got off lucky, you know that?” he said, his forehoof shaking as he kept it trained on the pegasus.

“No, sir,” Flash said before he could stop himself. Immediately, his eyes widened in horror at what he had done. No! No, no! Don’t interrupt him! Stupid, stupid—

Ironhoof snorted and spat through his teeth, “If it weren’t for Princess Celestia demanding me to do otherwise, I’d have you on suspension right now for your little stunt.”

If Flash’s eyes could’ve popped from his skull, they would have done so. They would have rolled over to Ironhoof’s hooves and stared up at him for good measure.

His jaw agape, Flash asked, “Puh… Princess… Princess Celestia?”

“No, the barkeep down the street! Of course Princess Celestia, you dense sack of flesh!” Ironhoof sneered and took a step away from him, gritting his teeth. “Instead of thanking any lucky stars that you aren’t holed up in some grimy motel for a week on suspension, you’d better thank Princess Celestia!”

Flash opened and closed his mouth, feeling his head tilt involuntarily in interest. But… but, surely, Princess Celestia must—

Still wearing his scowl, Ironhoof jumped over onto his chair again and slumped into it, then pushed a plate of pancakes towards himself. Levitating a fork in his magic, he speared a bite violently and scoured it in syrup.

“I was going to suspend you for a week and have you think about your little screw-up, but our dear Princess Celestia,” he said, unable to hide a note of bitterness in his voice, “convinced me that you were just acting out of care for Princess Twilight.”

Dumbfounded, Flash merely opened and closed his mouth again.

Ironhoof shoved his food into his mouth and chewed joylessly, swallowing quickly so he could continue. “What with that despicable, outrageous little bastard Orion—shaming his family, betraying tradition, and making an utter fool of himself on top of attacking our Princess and our Guard—pulling his stunt on the Princess’s already stressful first day, well…”

Ironhoof wiped his muzzle and stared straight at Flash Sentry. “Well, it only makes sense that maybe the Guard who protected her felt the need to get a bit too chummy with her after that little incident, doesn’t it?”

A thousand thoughts galloped through Flash’s mind, none of them coherent. Princess Celestia! But… but… how? And how can she not…? “Chummy”? Chummy?!

But wait… That means…

“Answer me!”

Flash gasped as he was jolted back into reality by the loud smack of Ironhoof’s forehoof against the desk. Nearly falling out of his chair, he grasped the arms of the chair tightly. “Y-yes, sir! S-sir, sorry, I—I was—”

“Don’t you for a minute think of repeating this little stunt, Flash Sentry,” the Captain said, lowering his eyes as he did his fork. He brought his forehooves together and leaned forward. “Know your place. Perhaps my praise of you and your special assignment went to your head yesterday. I’m not sure. Regardless, know your place.

“You may be one of our best Royal Guards—committed to duty, perfect punctuality, not even one incident on your record before today—but you are not special, Flash Sentry,” Ironhoof finished with a snarl.

His molars were bared again now, rows and rows of them, poised like tiny daggers within his carnivorous maw. “You are not special. You are to abide by the rules of our Guard and Equestria at all times. You are still a Guard, and you will never be a Captain. You will never be close to being an equal with the Princesses, so do not treat them as such. They are your betters… as am I.”

Captain Ironhoof grinned as those last words left his tongue. Triumphant, he asked with that toothy smile, “Do I make myself clear, Flash Sentry?”

Flash Sentry looked into the eyes of a better stallion than he, and bowed his head towards the floor, towards the below, towards himself.

“Yes, Captain.”

“Good.” Captain Ironhoof levitated the fork in his magic again, guiding it with the precision of a marksman towards an omelette. “I hope that we will not have a conversation like this again.”

Flash Sentry bowed his head stiffly. “No, sir.” I’d rather face my father.

“One more thing,” Ironhoof said as he began to slice the omelette with the side of his fork. Waiting until Flash Sentry looked up, Ironhoof added, “I’ve placed you on leave for today. I figured that you could benefit from a day off. ‘Clear your head,’ you know.”

On leave. Normally, any of Canterlot Castle’s Royal Guards would’ve welcomed an unexpected day off. Steel Wind and Sharp Spear—both with more aspirations of partying than promotion—came to mind.

Flash Sentry, as his little stunt had demonstrated, was not a normal Royal Guard.

At this revelation, Flash only bowed in acknowledgment. “Yes, sir. I understand. Thank you, sir.”

“Your duties in guarding Princess Twilight’s Royal Court will resume tomorrow morning as usual. For now, take the day off. Do some deep thinking,” Ironhoof said, popping a bite of egg, mushroom, and bell pepper in his mouth.

“Yes, sir.” Sensing the adrenaline of fear and rage beginning to slowly dissipate within his veins, Flash Sentry only needed to wait now to be excused. Then would come Greyhoof, and, probably, a lonely day spent in the sanctity of sheets and dreams.

A day off from guarding her Royal Court. Leaving Princess Twilight to the guard of somepony else. I hope that there aren’t any more Orions today.

Though he’d never been known to be telepathetic, Captain Ironhoof’s next words brought that possibility to Flash’s mind. “And, in the off-chance that you are as concerned about Princess Twilight Sparkle today as you were yesterday,” he said snidely, waving a forehoof, “she has taken the day off as well. Her attacker shall be dealt with tomorrow night.”

If Orion hadn’t take up hooves against his Princess, Flash would’ve felt sympathy for the imprisoned stallion; perhaps he would have even visited him in prison, offered him words that few other ears he trusted to hear.

Yet, along with his dreams, all the “ifs” were things of fantasy; the reality was as cold and unforgiving as Ironhoof’s chilling stare.

“Yes, sir.” Then, after a slight pause, Flash added, “I hope justice is served, sir.”

Another grin spread across Ironhoof’s muzzle, although this one was far less haunting. “I know it will be. Princess Celestia and Princess Luna will make sure of that.

“You are dismissed, Flash,” Ironhoof said, opening the door with a quick flick of his horn.

Bowing as he trotted backwards, slow and sure towards the door, Flash felt his heart begin to race again. Each and every step aggravated its tempo, until he was outside Captain Ironhoof’s office once more. The door slammed shut before him, leaving him to the silence of the empty corridors.

He didn’t fire me. Flash’s heart was now beating so fast he was afraid it might skip and seize in his chest. He spun around and looked through the maze of corridors, hearing his hoof-steps echo off the walls as he settled himself. I’m still here. I’m still…

He looked over himself, raising his hooves to determine that they were, indeed, his. I’m still here.

As he trudged back towards his room, Flash Sentry felt like he had gotten away with murder. He was sure that murderers felt more grateful than this, that no stones of nausea settled into their stomachs upon freedom.