• Published 10th Mar 2014
  • 3,311 Views, 101 Comments

Old Habits - Viking ZX

It's Nova's first official day off, and he's decided to spend it in one place he knows he can relax: the Canterlot Bazaar. But when he has an unexpected encounter with a face from his past, can he face the pony he once was?

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The Reveal

“You knew?” The words had slipped out of his mouth before his shocked mind had even caught up with the fact that he was speaking. “You knew that was me?” He was leaning forward now, both front hooves on the table, his voice rising in panic. “You—?” he caught himself, cut his voice off as he sat back down. He could feel his heart pounding away behind his ribs.

One day off. That’s all this was supposed to be. Across the table Vinyl was pressed back in her seat, an expression of shock on her face.

“I’m … I’m sorry,” Nova said, focusing on his breathing. “You just … you caught me off-guard is all. I wasn’t expecting—I didn’t—”

“You didn’t know that I knew,” Vinyl said, her voice surprisingly cool. “That’s as much my fault as yours.” There was a pause, and Nova turned away, staring out into the crowd of the bazaar. He could see mouths moving, hooves hitting the ground, but all he heard was a faint murmur. A young filly crashed into an older stallions saddlebags and tumbled to a stop, but he couldn’t hear any of it. He wanted to. Part of him wanted to be the one she’d crashed into, to be anywhere but sitting where he was.

He closed his eyes for a moment, took a breath and turned back towards Vinyl. There wasn’t anything he could do about it now. He couldn’t run. She knew. Had known, somehow. All he could do was face it.

“You knew,” he said again, looking right at her. “Was it because of my court case?”

“Court case?”

He nodded. “I know the papers didn’t use my name when they did those stories on us. Believe me,” he said with a nervous laugh, “I checked. But the court case, though. That would have had my name on it when they contacted you. Then you talked with Sky Bolt and Sabra—”

“It wasn’t them that gave you away,” Vinyl said quickly. “And your name wasn’t on the court notice either.”

Nova shook his head, confused. “Then how did you know it was me?” His mind spun back to a night years earlier, one of the last jobs he’d ever pulled. He could remember the whole theft. He’d broken into her penthouse suite in Canterlot, snuck into her bedroom, and had been helping himself to her jewelry when she’d woken up. He’d killed the lights, but she’d almost caught him in the dark anyway. At the time, he’d been running his mouth, the entire exchange nothing more than an excuse to get the Guard called. But she hadn’t called them, at least not then, and his hope of a chase had been thwarted. And she hadn’t seen him, he knew that. “You didn’t see me,” he said, the theft replaying itself again and again in his mind. “I made sure of it.”

“I didn’t,” Vinyl said, nodding. “But then, I’m not seeing you right now, either.” Her horn lit up, a soft, blue glow surrounding her iconic shades. Slowly, they pulled away, revealing a pair of cerise eyes that were once again looking at something beyond him—No, he realized as they moved in his general direction. She wasn’t looking past him. She wasn’t looking at all.

“You’re blind?” he asked slowly.

“Not entirely,” she said, her eyes focusing in his direction. She smiled. “For all intents and purposes I am, though. Right now for instance,” she said, her eyes squinting, “I can kind of make out this vague, purplish shape where you are, but it’s kind of hard to pick out what’s you and what’s the table and the chair.” Her eyes widened as she leaned back, the glasses floating back down across her eyes. “That’s why I have these.” She gave each lens a tap with her hoof. “I was born like this, but when I was twelve, my parents were able to afford a pair of glasses like these. Specially made with an enchantment on them that basically mimics the way a normal set of eyes would work and pipes that right to me. It’s not cheap, but as long as I have a pair on and cast the spell myself every so often, I can see. Pretty rad.”

“Can they see in the dark?” Nova asked.

“What? No,” she said with a laugh. “I wish! But after spending the first twelve years of my life living in a giant blur, I got pretty good at telling apart ponies voices. And I’m pretty sensitive to noises, which is probably why I got my cutie mark in music. You woke me up when you robbed my place, and all I had to do was get you talking.”

“No wonder you almost caught up to me,” he said, his mad dash to the window through the darkened apartment springing to mind.

“Yeah,” Vinyl said, nodding. “And then that was the end of it … until you jumped through the window of my club and told everyone to run for it.”

Nova nodded as the pieces fell into place. “And the moment you heard my voice—”

“Well, I wasn’t one-hundred percent sure,” Vinyl said with a grin. “Not until I got a chance to hear your voice a little more today. You’ve got a very distinct voice actually. Made it easier. Once I could hear it for a bit, I knew it had to be you. Which brings me back to my original question. Why me?”

Nova let out a sigh. The edge of fear was fading now, growing into a cold, abrasive chill of nervousness and reluctance. Reluctance to speak, to talk about himself, his past, or anything else. Part of him wanted to just get up and walk away. Leave the table, leave the restaurant. But…

No. He wasn’t that pony anymore, to run from his mistakes, his crimes. That was the pony who’d denied his own cutie mark.

That pony wasn’t him. Not anymore. Maybe he never had been him.

“Honestly?” he said with a shrug. “There wasn’t any real special reason that I chose you. You just happened to be the pony who was in the penthouse that night at the hotel.” He let out a sigh at her look of confusion. “You were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. You were in the penthouse. You had bits to throw around. So I figured you’d be alright losing a few—”

“The jewelry was my grandmother's,” Vinyl said.

“Your what?”

“The jewelry,” she said again, her words driving his heart lower into his chest with every syllable. “It was my grandmother's. My agent put me in that room. I barely had a bit to my name.” Nova winced, her words digging into him like a spear.

“I…” She looked up at him and his voice faltered. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know. If I had—”

“Why?” There was no sadness or anger in her voice. There wasn’t even sympathy. Just honest, humble curiosity.

“I…” Nova felt his throat close up. You can tell her, he thought. You can open up, right here, and tell her. She already knows. You might as let her know why.

“Alright,” he said, slumping back slightly in his chair. He picked up his cup and took a quick drink, larger than any of his previous sips, the energy arcing across his teeth and sending a long shiver down his back. He took a deep breath.

“I haven’t been a Guard for long,” he said, forcing the words out. "And I didn’t exactly choose to join. I mean, I had a choice, but it was between this or the prison farm. Before that, I was a thief. A really good one.”

“I know,” she said, nodding again. “After you robbed me and the Guard said it was probably you, I did all the research I could. I read every article, checked every story. You really were a good thief. The best. Just…” She tilted her head to one side, her ears lying flat. “Why? What made you want to do that?”

“Hunger,” he said, the words slipping free of his mouth with barely a thought. “I was alone, cold, and starving. So I stole an apple from a grocery. Almost got caught. I got a little quicker the next time, started to make plans. Then I realized it was a lot easier to steal ponies bits and just pay for the apple, so I moved up.”

“Nopony would give you a job? Something to earn bits for?”

He let out a short, forced chuckle that sounded hollow in his own ears. “I was five. No one was going to give me a job, and I wasn’t going to go back to the orphanage. So I made things work on my own, and I got good at it. Really good.” He leaned back in his seat and gave her a shrug. “After that, I kept it up because I was good at it. It wasn’t my talent, but I had a knack for it, and it worked. I could make enough to afford a studio apartment and some necessities—”

“You owned a studio?” Vinyl’s head jerked up in surprise, her eyes widening behind her glasses. “With the thefts you pulled off?” She cocked her head to one side, one ear twitching and then lying flat. “You don’t have, like, some crazy massive bank account somewhere in the Plainslands or the Griffon Empire?”


“But all that stuff you stole—”

“I didn’t actually steal that much, just stuff that got attention,” he said, cutting her off and grinning a little at the memories. “Most of the time, I stole stuff that wasn’t worth that much just to get the Guard to chase me. I was in it for the sport. The stuff I did steal, I fenced, and it usually was just enough for me to live a comfortable life. It was also practicality. If I had stolen a bunch of really expensive stuff rapidly, it would have been hard to sell it all without giving myself away. Same for living in some splashy, massive house or apartment. One of the secrets to being a great thief is knowing what will attract and attention and what won’t. I didn’t want attention. I hate to say it, but you weren’t a target or anything. You were just simply the pony there at the right time.”

“Well, that’s a little disappointing to hear,” Vinyl said, slumping slightly. “I hope you at least got a good price for my Grandmother’s jewelry. I don’t dress up often, at least not for events like that stuff was for, but it would have been nice to have.”

“I uh, don’t remember. Sorry.” He hung his head, folding his ears flat. “I really do mean it when I say that though. At the time … it was all just fun. I never stopped to worry too much about it. But now? I really am sorry. I know that you’ve been paid back for what I stole, but that doesn’t replace—”

“So why’d you stop then?” He paused at her question. Again, her voice wasn’t accusatory, angry, or even upset. It was actually kind of ... curious. There was no other word for it.

“I … let’s just say I got my cutie mark,” he said, rising slightly so that she could see the dual crescents on his flank. She rose from her own seat, leaning forward across the table. “It took me a while to figure out what it was for, but let’s just say the night—”

“Alrighty now!” Nova froze as Jam Roll jumped through the bead curtain, a tray with two heavily-loaded plates on it across his back. “Now,” he said without even looking, “who’s ready for some good old fashioned … island cooking?” His eyes widened as he stared at the pair, his goofy grin stretching even wider.

Nova’s snapped his head back forward, his eyes locking with Vinyl’s for a moment as they stared at one another, shock and horror simultaneously crossing both of their faces as the saw how close they were.

Nova jerked himself back, slamming his shoulders against the seat-back even as Vinyl let out a startled yell, dropping back into her seat so fast Nova was sure he would have missed it had he blinked.

“Uh,” she said, holding up one hoof. “Jam, I know what that looked like, and I swear it wasn’t—”

“Oh, I know!” Jam said, trotting forward with an obvious glee. “I know, I know, I told you two lovebirds that I’d be back in ten minutes,” he said, his accent growing thicker with his excitement, “and den you went ahead and just decided that you were going to be making good use of de’ time!” He winked as he slid the tray from his back.

“So, here’s your jerk patties and potatoes,” he said, sliding a plate piled high with steaming portions of sliced, fried potatoes and what looked like small, dough-baked pockets down in front of Nova. “And here’s your shrimp, also with jerked daisy patties,” a second plate, piled almost as high as it was wide, slid to a stop in front of Vinyl, “and I’ll let you two be getting back to whatever it was you two were,” he paused and covered his mouth with one hoof as he let out a cough, “talkin' about?”

Then he grabbed the tray and tossed it on his back, the braids in his mane bouncing as he spun around and headed for the door, laughter ringing across the balcony. “Oh, wait until I tell de wife!”

Then he was gone, vanishing back through the bead curtain. Nova looked down at his meal and then back up at the stunned unicorn sitting across from him. He was pretty certain that the shocked look she was wearing was a mirror of the one on his own face. He grabbed his cup and took the longest, largest pull of Shock he’d had short of his first, mistaken cup. A choked gasp squeaked out of his mouth as his entire body tightened, his muscles trembling, and then he slumped back in his seat, sparks arcing around his mouth.

“Why—?” Vinyl started.

“I was hoping it’d bring some sense back to things.”

“Did it?” Vinyl asked, looking at her own cup as if considering the option.

“No.” Nova shook his head. “Did he really—”

“I have no idea. He might have been teasing. I hope he was. I swear, he was waiting for something like that to happen with timing that good.” She let out a laugh. “I mean, he couldn’t have come in at a better time!”

A chuckle rolled out a Nova, which soon switched to a laugh as Vinyl joined in. “You’re right,” he said. “Leaning across the table, muzzle-to-muzzle—sun above we must have looked like a couple of foals!”

“Anyway,” he said as a blast of hot, scented steam rolled across his nose and his mouth started to water, “what do you say we dig in before this gets cold, and I finish my story.”

“Really?” Vinyl said as she picked up a fork. “You don’t have to. I can tell it makes you a little uncomfortable.”

“Which is exactly why I should tell it,” he said as his own horn started to glow. He took a deep sniff, his nose burning from the rich, spicy scent. “Because…” He paused for a moment, a smiling image of the Princess of the Night coming to mind. “Somepony important to me told me once that failing to trust anypony will only lead to more regrets.” A smile moved across his muzzle as the memory filled his mind. “She was right.”


“Princess Luna.” He saw Vinyl’s eye widen and he had to grin. “What? I’m a Guard. Of course I see the Princesses. But, she was right.” He shrugged his shoulders and speared one of the dough pockets—which were probably the “jerk daisy patties” he’d ordered—on his fork. “I need to trust ponies. Which means being open about my past, no matter how much the old me would have hid from it. And of all the things I should be proud of,” he said with a smile as he lifted the patty, “my cutie mark is definitely one of them.”

A sharp, spicy flavor rushed across his tongue in a flood of juice as he bit down. He chewed it a few times, taking in the smooth texture and the pleasant blend of spices before swallowing. Vinyl grinned at him from across the table.

“So,” she asked, “how’s the island cooking? Good enough to hear about that cutie mark and how it got you into the Guard?”

“You know?” Nova said as he picked up the patty once more, “I think this might even buy you the story on how I got it in the first place.”

He took another bite of the patty and chewed. The spice had never tasted so sweet.