• Published 28th May 2021
  • 158 Views, 3 Comments

Seeking: Fountain of Youth - mushroompone



Braeburn wishes he had more time. An anonymous stranger offers a rather literal solution.

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Chapter 3

Hiya, coach -

You probably don't wanna hear from me right now, otherwise you'd have reached out yourself. It's not like you don't know where to find me, after all.

I figured that, just in case you weren't willing to make the first move, I'd send you a letter. I'm sure you recognize the hoofwriting by now, and know it's me by the envelope.

Look: I know now I shouldn't have sprung that on you. To be honest, I don't know what I should have done differently-- probably just not said anything in the first place. With the letter, I mean. But I guess that cat's long out of the bag, ain't it?

Anyway. You can write me back if you like. Or don't. I guess either's fine.

Sorry.

-Hondo

Howdy, coach -

Been a bit, hasn't it? Two weeks? Two and a half? Boy, time sure does fly when you're missing a good friend.

I got a little paranoid that my last letter was lost in the mail. Plus, I'm not sure it did a good job of outlining what exactly I was sorry for, so I figured I'd give it another go.

See, I made a bunch of choices for a whole mix of reasons, and I didn't really take the time to untangle them all til I was barrel-deep in consequences. I shouldn't have written the letter, sure-- I also shouldn't have shown up the way I did. I shouldn't have kept writing letters, and I shouldn't have kept forcing my way closer to you.

I respect the heck out of you, and I wanted to meet you, and I figured I had a few good reasons to do that. So I went ahead and tried them all. Stupid thing to do, eh?

I'm sorry for doing all of that. I really tugged you around, and that isn't fair. I knew it was all gonna come crashing down eventually, but I just kept kicking the can down the road.

That's what I get for being a watcher.

Anywho, I hope you're doing alright. And I hope you forgive me eventually. Your players are a bit confused over what happened, and I sure don't know what to tell them.

Maybe the truth?

Let me know what you think.

-Hondo

Hi again -

I know it's been a little more than a month now, and you're probably sick of hearing from the world's most boring vampire, but I just wanted to say:

I'm still willing to help you out.

It's not too bad. Coconut water is an excellent substitute for you-know-what, and really all you have to do is stay out of the sun. All that stuff about garlic and sleeping during the day comes from vampire fruit bats, actually. Common misconception.

Think about it. I can keep it professional.

-Hondo

SEEKING: PERSONAL TRAINER

Stallion, 53, buckball player turned coach, looking for personal trainer (or similar). Offering bits, season tickets, and/or memorabilia. Serious inquiries only.

Contact Braeburn, 6 Appleloosa Ct, AL

Hello, Coach Braeburn -

You're probably good and sick of me by now, but I thought I'd truly toss my hat in the ring this time around. My usual rate is 55 bits per hour session, with a discount if you pay for three up front (total 150 bits).

Let me know if you're interested. I have open slots Thursday and Friday night, 8-12 pm.

Thanks for the opportunity,

Hondo

Hondo-

Thursdays 9-10 fit my schedule. Will see you next week.

Bits enclosed.

-Braeburn.


To say that Hondo was nervous about what awaited him this Thursday night would have been a vast and terrible understatement.

A small part of him thought that Braeburn might only be coming here to tell him off. Loudly. In front of his clients and coworkers.

Of course, that was ridiculous. Braeburn wasn't the loud and angry type. His was more of a seething anger, the sort of thing that sizzled quietly under the surface until just the right moment arose to let it out. Usually in a snappy string of obscenities.

And yet… he had paid in advance. 165 bits (notably not taking advantage of the discount) up front.

So he couldn't mean to cause a scene.

In fact, one could even read this as a tip. A tip in advance. That was rather kind of him.

It didn't stop Hondo's hooves from shaking, though.

He had been working very hard on growing out his mustache longer. He wasn't quite sure why (Braeburn had already seen his fangs, after all), or even how (because… well, how does one encourage a mustache to grow longer?), but he sure was thinking about it quite a bit.

He actually thought it was sort of working. He tugged down on it, combed through it, and felt a few long hairs curl down to tickle at his chin.

Yes. Excellent.

Now if only he could encourage himself to burn a little less easily…

"Mr. Flanks?"

Hondo startled and looked up at his door. "Eh… yes?"

The gym's receptionist was leaning against the door frame, looking more than a little concerned at the way Hondo seemed to have disappeared into his own thoughts.

"Your nine o'clock is here," he said. "He's warming up in weight room C. Want me to let him know you're on your way?"

"No, no!" Hondo leapt out of his chair and tried to scoot out from behind his desk, taking out a cup of pens in the process. "All good, there. Be down in a jif."

The receptionist nodded. "Alright. Give a shout if you need anything."

"Sure, sure. Thanks, kiddo."

Hondo squeezed past the colt in his doorway, sweat already building on his brow. He forced his hat down a little lower on his head, hoping to disguise the sheen, but only found that the closeness of the straw made the problem worse.

"It's alright," he muttered to himself. "It's just fine. Braeburn's a nice fella, he's not gonna tell you off."

He couldn't help but feel like a great lumbering mess as he barreled down the hallway. Sweaty face, big hooves, pounding heart-- even his mustache was bringing more discomfort than usual.

"He wanted to see you, darn it!" he told himself, perhaps a little louder than he had intended. "What's he gonna do, tell the whole gym you're a--"

He paused.

Through a large window on his left, Hondo could peer into weight room C.

It was dark. Darker than usual, even at night. At a glance, Hondo figured that hardly one third of the lights for the whole room were on at all, and the ones that were seemed to be relegated to one far edge of the space, leaving most of the room shrouded in shadow.

Despite it, though, Hondo could see that there was only one pony inside. He sat on a bench in the center of the room, a towel draped around his neck. For the first time since Hondo had met him, he wasn't wearing his hat or his polo. His balding scalp was on display. He slumped forward, the skin under his forelegs pallid and sagging.

And yet… he was here. His back to the window. Very still.

Hondo hesitated by the door. For a moment, he thought that he ought to just slip the bits back under the door and forget it.

Then Braeburn turned around.

He had a strange look in his eyes. Familiar, but not. As if he were trying very hard to see Hondo for the first time and simply couldn't.

Hondo grimaced and waved at Braeburn.

Braeburn's chest hitched, as if he had laughed at that. He waved Hondo inside.

It took Hondo a few tries to get the door open. He wasn't exactly sure why that was, but it certainly didn't calm him down at all.

The weight room was cool. Not quite like a desert night, but it reminded Hondo of the feeling nonetheless. Especially in the dark like this.

"Howdy, Hondo," Braeburn said. "How've you been?"

Hondo swallowed hard. "Uh. That's a tough question, there, coach."

"Yeah, well. One of many, I'd say," Braeburn replied.

Hondo blinked, unsure how to respond.

"Well! No sense sittin' around," Braeburn said, getting to his hooves. "I'll start with some stretches, if you could help me out. My flexibility ain't what it used to be."

Without waiting for an answer, Braeburn lowered himself onto the mat, stretching out his spine as he went. He then rolled into his side and pulled one of his hind legs in towards his chest.

Hondo just watched.

Something in his brain had disconnected-- or perhaps it was Braeburn's mind with a loose wire or two.

Braeburn grunted softly as he gave his leg an extra tug. Hondo heard a joint crack. Then Braeburn released the limb, and began to point it out behind him, as far as he could.

He looked up at Hondo. "Lil help, here?"

Hondo's heart started again. "Oh! Sorry about that, let me just--"

His words were lost as he rushed to the mat beside Braeburn. After a moment's hesitation, he gripped Braeburn's hind leg at the hock and began to gently pull it back. He tested the limits of the joint carefully, gently, and precisely. Like a professional.

"Uh, Hondo?" Braeburn said. "'Member what we said about you usin' your horn more?"

"Oh, shoot!" Hondo released Braeburn's leg, and it sprung back to a neutral position.

Braeburn barked in laughter, pounding his forehoof on the mat once or twice.

Hondo held his hooves over his mouth. He had to press them in deeply to stop from laughing, himself.

"I'm just jokin' around, Hondo," Braeburn said through the echoes of his laughter. "Honest, I am. Boy, you're talkin' this mighty serious."

Hondo began to pull his hooves away from his mouth. "You were just, uh… just pullin' my leg, eh?" he offered softly.

Braeburn looked up at him, a coy smile curling over his face. "Now there's what stallions our age are s'posed to say."

Hondo forced an awkward chuckle. "You betcha."

Braeburn locked eyes with him for a moment. A long one.

Then, before Hondo could find anything more to say, Braeburn rolled to his other side and began to stretch his other hind leg.

"So," he said, a hint of strain evident in his voice. "Tell me about yourself."

Hondo furrowed his brows. "Pardon?"

Braeburn scoffed. "I know you ain't a liar, but you certainly haven't been tellin' me the whole truth," he said. "So I'm givin' you a chance. Tell me about yourself. Uncensored, y'know?"

"Eh…" Hondo scratched at his temple. "Boy. I don't even know where to start."

"Start at the beginning," Braeburn said.

That made it sound so simple.

Braeburn released his leg, and Hondo wasted no time in wrapping a hoof around it to stretch it backwards.

"Well," Hondo said softly, tugging gently at Braeburn's leg, "I'm a little more'n a thousand years old. Stopped keepin' count a while back."

Braeburn's brows leapt up into his mane. "Wow. That's, uh… I thought you were gonna say you were a hundred or so."

Hondo felt a blush blooming on his cheeks. "Uh… no, I'm a tad bit older. Don't remember much more'n the past hundred years, though. Not specifics, anyway."

Braeburn made a face. "Really?"

"'Fraid so," Hondo said. He forced another small, awkward chuckle. "I told ya, coach. I'm a watcher. I don't get myself all involved in things-- never have. Makes it easy for the littler things to slip away."

Braeburn didn't say anything. He had the strangest look in his eyes, like some sense of profound disappointment was growing in his mind.

"But I remember important things," Hondo said hastily. "Big picture stuff. Things I did, ponies I knew. That sorta thing."

"Like where you were born?"

Hondo looked down at Braeburn. Beyond the surface-level fascination bordering on the morbid, there was something genuine in his eyes. An interest that went deeper than the superficial. A need to know about Hondo himself-- not just about his unfortunate condition.

"Well, sure," Hondo said, releasing Braeburn's leg. "I was born up north, near the Crystal Empire. Spent most of my foalhood in a small unicorn village up there… that was back when a lot of places were still kept separated, a'course."

Braeburn rolled up onto his stomach. "So your cutie mark… it's from that long ago?" he asked. "Is that why it's so… I mean, what are those, anyway?"

Hondo looked down at his own flank. He laughed, as if surprised to see that his mark was still there. "Oh, these!" He ran his hoof fondly over the long, pointed shapes. "These are from a much older ball game-- we called it whirlyball. Us unicorns had our very own game that was all about usin' magic, doncha know?"

"Wow…" Braeburn stared at the shapes on his friend's flank. "I've never heard a'that before. Never seen a ball like that, neither."

"Well, distance was the name of the game in whirlyball," Hondo explained, his chest swelling with pride in his expertise on the subject. "That shape helped it sail through the air straighter and further than just about anything else."

Braeburn sort of laughed in disbelief, his eyes still trained on unfamiliar shapes.

Without thinking about it, he reached out to touch one. His hoof grazed Hondo's fur softly and gently enough to cause him to shiver and snap his leg in towards himself.

Braeburn withdrew his hoof and held it to his chest in guilt.

Hondo bit his lip.

"So…" Braeburn cleared his throat. "You were… y'know... all that time ago, huh?"

"Turned." Hondo nodded. "Yessir, I was."

"And… Your wife and daughters?" Braeburn asked. "How did… I mean, when did… well. You know."

Hondo heaved a great sigh. "Oh, y'know. My eldest is about your age, I think. She hasn't spoken to me in a very long time, though." He looked down at his hooves. "I'd bet the farm that both my girls have a bit of… well, that they'll live a good bit longer than their friends."

Braeburn nodded. "Do they know?"

Hondo sniffed once, sharp and unemotional. "No."

"Your wife?"

"Eh… no," Hondo said softly. "I left her a while back. Before she could go gettin' suspicious about things."

Braeburn furrowed his brow.

There was a long moment where neither of the ponies spoke. All that could be heard was the constant humming of the fluorescents and the distant whistling of the custodian as he mopped the floors.

The lights flickered. Total darkness encompassed them, but only for a moment.

"Why tell me, then?" Braeburn asked. "I mean… not your daughters? Not your wife?"

Hondo took a deep breath, then let it out slow. "Hard to say, really. I'm not sure I have a good answer," he said. "Maybe I'm just… I mean, if there's one thing that can show you just how lonely this is, it's trying to settle down, eh?"

He tried to force a smile. It came off as nothing but a pained grimace.

"You wouldn't have picked this, then?" Braeburn asked, softly and down to the floor.

And the implication was clear.

Why give this to me when you yourself wouldn't have taken it?

Hondo looked down at his hooves. "Uh… gee, coach. I dunno." Using his magic, he pulled his hat off his head, and set it on the mat beside him. "Maybe, way back when, I would've. Heck, I know I would have. In a heart beat, I would have.

"But… knowin' what I know…" he continued. "It's lonely. It's goodbyes, and a lot of 'em. More than any decent pony should ever have to see."

"Ain't all goodbyes, though," Braeburn said. "You get more hellos than anypony else, too, doncha?"

Hondo gave a half-hearted shrug. "I s'pose."

"I mean, I feel like I just keep finding new things to fall in love with," Braeburn continued. "My first love was the rodeo. Then it was buckball-- first as a player, and now as a coach. Who knows what new and amazing thing could be out there, just waiting for me to find it?"

Hondo looked over at Braeburn and chuckled. "That sure is an optimistic way of lookin' at it."

Braeburn smirked. "Well, call me crazy, but I think somepony like you is in need of a little optimism now and again."

Hondo chuckled. "Maybe. Maybe."

"And, no offense or nothin', but y'all don't have the monopoly on feelin' lonely," Braeburn continued. "You better believe us mortals can find plenty of time for loneliness. Y'don't have to be old to be alone."

Hondo sighed. "It's different."

"Maybe it is, and maybe it isn't," Braeburn said, pushing himself upright. "All I know is… well, these past few weeks are the least lonely I've felt in a good long time."

Hondo's heart skipped a beat.

He glanced over at Braeburn, in just enough time to catch the stallion slipping his forehoof under his chin and tilting it gently upwards. That made his heart skip another beat or two, though it still managed to flush his cheeks with ease.

"I know you're a mite older than I am," Braeburn said softly, a sarcastic sneer curling on his lips, "but I think the both of us are havin' the same midlife crisis, don't you?"

Hondo snorted in some sort of embarrassed laughter. "Oh, boy. I dunno about that."

Braeburn dropped his hoof back down to the mat. "Well, tell me: do you still feel lonely when you're with me?"

Hondo swallowed the knot building in his throat. "No. No, I don't."

Braeburn smiled. It was a lopsided and coltish little thing, mischievous at its core. "Thought so."

Hondo smiled back. His was an older smile, one which curled his mustache up on both sides.

"Now, then," Braeburn said authoritatively, scooting in closer to his companion. "Let's take a look at those pearly whites, shall we?"

"P-pardon?" Hondo edged away. Even so, he cautiously opened his mouth to expose his fangs-- only the tiniest, most necessary amount.

Braeburn leaned in close for inspection.

"Eh… does this mean you wanna--"

But Braeburn didn't wait for Hondo to finish his question.

In one quick motion, clumsy as it was sincere, Braeburn planted a kiss on what was probably the strangest friend he'd ever made. Hondo's mustache tickled his lips in a way he wouldn't have guessed-- his whiskers were soft and fluffy, like the fur on a cat's stomach, not at all the wiry tangle he'd expected.

It was over before Hondo could react, though. He hardly had time to blink.

"I'll need to think it over," Braeburn said simply. "Your offer, that is. But something tells me I'll have plenty of time."

Comments ( 2 )

Interesting take, but uhm...doesn't feel like it solves anything. The first problem was Braeburn mid-life crisis, then it became Hondo's condition that affects they relationship and the shift of the protagonist of the story just threw the effect of the revelation out the window, didn't even give it a time to find if the first problem had a solution and then the consecuenses of the revelation just ended up in a scene that just add more questions without an answer.

I think it was a good story but it either needs to stay on track of what it wanted to be at the beggining or give it more story to explain where is it going.

I had no idea who Hondo was, haha! Still, very good job with this story -- the interactions between Braeburn and Hondo are heartfelt and feel very realistic. I enjoyed this one a whole lot! :pinkiesmile:

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