• Published 28th Aug 2016
  • 8,058 Views, 237 Comments

Strange Gifts - Rocinante



Sometimes you're given what you wanted most, without ever knowing you wanted it.

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An Ending

“Hey, Lambert, could you polish this for me?” I asked, holding the horn-ring I’d just finished behind me with one hand, while I examined a broken hoof-bangle with the other.

“Sure!” Lambert cheered.

A moment later, I felt talons take the ring from my hand.

Silence beside me drew my attention away from the abused jewelry I was holding. “What?” I asked Gold, who was giving me one of his looks. “You’re the one that decided to make an apprentice of him, and those talons of his are almost immune to the buffing wheel.”

Gold only smiled harder. “If you were both ponies, I’d be expecting him to get a mark matching yours very soon.”

As the buffing motor whirred to life behind me, I tried bending the bangle back to its original shape. “Poor thing, he’d be stuck with devil horns on his flank.”

Shaking his head, Gold looked to the wall clock. “Doesn't he have an appointment today? It’s almost three.”

“Yeah, I’ll take him over in a minute, then come back to finish this.”

“You trying to make an old stallion die of boredom?” Gold leaned back in his rolling chair, then kicked at the wall; sending him spinning across the room. “We’re three days ahead already. If you don’t leave me some work, I’m going to be in here just spinning on my stool.”

“Umm...” Looking over at the in-box, I realized he was kinda right. My extra hours this week had stripped out all the backlog.

“Here you go,” Lambert said, placing a shiny ring on my bench.

Gold left his chair to walk over and inspect the ring. “Good work, Lambert,” he said with a solemn nod. “Now, I want you to take Mary with you to the doctor’s, and don’t let her come back to work today. Tomorrow either.” Turning from Lambert, he gave me a rather serious look. “She’s yet to use a day of vacation. Doesn’t do ya any good, if you never use it.”

Lambert fluffed at Gold’s instruction; a bit of body language that I’d come to associate with laughing.

Shaking my head, I surrendered. “Okay, okay,” I said, beginning to clean up my work space. “Lambert, let’s wash our hands, then go see Doctor Open Page.”

Not giving Gold the chance to make good on his threat to chase me out with a broom, I led Lambert outside onto market street. He tensed, and stayed close to my heels as ponies churned up and down the busy street.

“You want to ride on my back?” I asked, kneeling for him to climb on.

He started to accept the offer, but froze. “No...” he said, shaking his head. “I’ll walk.”

“Okay, let's get to a side road then. It’ll be less crowded there.” I wasn’t sure if he was trying to face his fears, or just suddenly bashful of being carried. Either way, I needed to get us somewhere quieter before he had a panic attack.

Braving the crowd for a dozen yards, we then turned onto one of Ponyville’s many side streets. It was quiet here, just a narrow road between old buildings. You could forget yourself in a place like this, and soon Lambert was walking beside me with spry steps.

As we took a maze of back alleys across town, I watched Lambert walk beside me. His eyes had brightened so much in just a few days. The hunted creature I’d brought out of the rain was quickly giving way to a child.

Leaving the market district, we used an abandoned field for a short cut. There had been a house and garden here once, but now only shadows of that past remained. We had just passed the ruined foundation when somewhere beyond the trees a crowd let out a loud cheer. The peal was enough to startle me, but it shattered Lambert. The feral creature scrambled—claws and talons rasped against dirt and rock as he made pell-mell for a hiding spot inside a hedge.

It took me a moment to gather my wits. Between the jump and seeing Lambert unhinge, I was out of sorts myself. Taking a breath, I turned to followed the path of torn earth Lambert had left. It occurred to me the little guy could do some real damage if he wanted to.

Taking a knee, I eased up to the bush he’d hidden in. “It’s okay,” I cooed, slowly pulling the branches back.

Moving some branches aside, I found a wide-eyed chick struggling to catch his breath. Snapping his attention towards me, he didn’t so much look at me as through me. There was terror in his eyes: animal fear that bordered on rage. For a moment I had the instinct to back away from him.

Then the tears flowed. Heaving breath turned to bawling as he collapsed onto the dirt.

Shouldering branches aside, I pulled Lambert into my arms. “You’re safe. I got you...”

Sobs only came harder as he clung to me. Beak nestled over my shoulder, he pressed against my chest and neck. “I’m sorry...” he mumbled between hitching breaths.

Holding him tight, I stood back up. “Don’t be.”

The tears faded soon, but he still clung to me half catatonic as I carried him the rest of the way. It wasn’t until I’d reached the safety of Doctor Page’s waiting room that I nudged him from his stupor. “You okay?” I asked when he looked up at me.

A nod was my only answer.

“I’m going to sit you down so I can sign in, okay?” He didn’t reply, but willingly released me as I bent over to sit him on a bench.

Leaving him there, I went to sign in. “He spooked in the park,” I answered the receptionist's unvoiced question.

It only took a few minutes for the doctor to appear in the doorway. “Lambert?” he called.

Standing with Lambert, I walked him to the door. The burnt-orange stallion smiled up at me as Lambert moved from my side to his. “Will you be staying, or returning to work today?”

“Umm... Staying. Work’s caught up.”

“Good,” he said, his messy, purple mane dancing at his sharp nod. “I need to talk to you after Lambert’s session.”

He sounded serious, but not in a bad way, so I didn’t worry about it. Finding a copy of Foals & Gardens, I read a few parenting advice articles to pass the time.

- - -

About an hour later, I found myself in the doctor’s office, Lambert having been sent into another room to play while we spoke.

“How are you feeling?” he asked.

“Good. A little out of my element, but good.”

“Lambert thinks a lot of you. He’s afraid to express it, but he’s getting attached to you very quickly.”

This time it was me that just nodded.

Doctor Page gave me a crooked grin, then made some notes. “I’m going to start giving him homework; little things for him to do between sessions. Are you good with helping him?”

“Sure, what all I need to do?”

“Mostly just be there for him. Push him just a little outside his comfort zone, but not too much.”

Sitting up a little straighter, I nodded again. “Is it okay that I’m taking him to work? My boss kinda likes having him around the shop, and Lambert seems to enjoy helping out.”

“He does,” the doctor agreed. “I think it’s actually very healthy for him to feel productive and appreciated. And socializing in an environment he feels is safe will do him a lot of good.” Looking to the clock, his expression took a stony seriousness. “I wish we had more time to chat, but there’s something I need to tell you.”

Something in the stallion’s demeanor commanded my full attention. “Okay...”

“The guard found the remains of Lambert’s parents.”

“Oh...” My gut knotted like I’d been struck.

Moving from behind the desk, he sat beside me. “The remains were mostly skeletal. They were killed fighting to protect their son, so the Guard gave them a griffon warrior’s funeral: cremated them where they fell.

“I asked them to come here after his session to present the what little personal effects they recovered to Lambert. He needs the closure, and I’d like you to be there with him.”

Sucking in a breath, I tried to prepare myself.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“Yeah, just hitting a little close to home.”

He studied me for a moment. “Before we go. I want to schedule a session with you.” Moving back to his desk, he picked up a pen with his hoof. “I need to catch you up on Lambert’s progress, Plus we can talk about anything bothering you. See how you feel about your sudden parental roll.”

The bastard had me trapped. I’d weaseled out of seeing him last year, when Princess Twilight had tried to get me to go, but I really did need to hear what he had to say about Lambert. Last thing I wanted to do was accidently slow his healing. “I um... It’ll have to be after one of Lambert’s sessions. Unless you can get me in tomorrow.”

The doctor smiled. “Tomorrow at noon, it is.”

“Awesome...”

Doctor Page scribbled a note, then gave me a somber expression. “Shall we get Lambert? He’s in the other room.”

“Ready as I’ll ever be,” I said, motioning for him to lead the way.

After retrieving Lambert from the play room, the doctor paused in the hall. Kneeling down to meet his eyes, he spoke in clear, even words. “Lambert, remember how we talked about closure and mourning?”

Lambert nodded while staring at the floor.

“The Night Guard found where your parents died in the Everfree.” The doctor paused, letting the words sink in as Lambert’s eyes squeezed shut. “They recovered some personal effects, would you like to have them; they’re yours now.”

At a nudge from the doctor, I kneeled to lay an arm over Lambert's back as he nodded yes to the question.

Leading us back to the waiting room, I was surprised to find three guards standing at attention in full regalia. Several chairs had been moved aside to make a larger space, and the blinds drawn for privacy. Lambert stiffened at the sight, but a little petting from me relaxed him. The guards were still and silent as statues, letting him adjust to their presence quickly.

The three of us assembled in mirror of the guards, with Lambert in front. “You okay?” I asked, resting a hand between his wings.

When Lambert gave a brave nod, the guards moved in unison, giving Lambert a slow, mechanical salute. “Be proud, young griffon,” the guard said in a noble tone.

Beneath my hand, Lambert was stone-still; I couldn't even feel him breathing.

One guard stepped forward. From his side, he produced a small box. I recognised it as a rather large ring box. It looked new, I had to guess they’d picked it up to place his mother’s ring in. Stopping just in front of Lambert, he presented it to him.

Finally, I felt Lambert take a deep breath. Reaching out, he took the box in a talon. Opening it just enough to peek inside, he let it snap back shut. “Thank you,” he whispered. Clutching the box to his chest, a hot tear rolled off his beak and dropped to the floor.

As that guard stepped back, the one to his left took his place. This time, a heavy sack was placed on the ground before Lambert. While I was utterly confused, Lambert seemed excited.

The bag was pulled away, and a toolbox was revealed. The iron-banded wood box shined with years of love and use. Setting the ring box between his legs, Lambert rested a talon on the tool box. Opening it, he ran his talon across a hammer before taking in a deep breath. “It still smells like Dad,” he said, a twinge of happiness brightening his eyes.