• Published 29th Nov 2022
  • 611 Views, 47 Comments

Cammie - Jarvy Jared

A mother's journey to the north inevitably leads her to a journey through her own heart.

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9 - Last Will, First Confession

“I need to write a will.”

Chamomile did not look up from her reading. “You have one already.”

“I need a new one. For you and Juniper’s sake.”

She snorted, then shut her book, a bit louder than was necessary. “For the stars’ sake, Astral, do we have to do this now?

“We do,” he replied quietly.

They were in their living room. Chamomile sat in a recliner she’d gotten from her parents, while Astral took up the better part of the larger sofa. Neither of them had planned on sitting separately; it was as though they’d agreed it was necessary, safe, even. Juniper was in a stroller near Chamomile, sleeping off his breakfast.

Astral sighed and leaned forward. His gaze was as steady as his voice. “We can’t kid ourselves.”

“Who’s kidding anything?”

“I know that you don’t want to believe it, but—”

She glared at him. “You don’t know what I believe, Astral.”

He stared at her, then shook his head. “No. I guess I don’t.”

He was quiet again. She begged that it would be the end of that.

There was a certain irony in the fact that he was at his most cognizant when they had these arguments. The normally foggy impression he gave was replaced with the quiet, meticulous determination of a pony wanting to make a grave point, the closest to whom he’d been before the first fall. But this was never received with relief. It was only the other side of the reminder that he’d never be the same—that neither of them would.

Juniper made a little whimper, so Chamomile closed her book to check up on him. Having just woken up, he blinked at her, then said the word he’d come to associate with meaning the whole world: “Mama?” It always made her smile a little when she heard it, but lately she’d been taking some partially guilty satisfaction in it, because he said it first and more often than “Daddy.”

“Good morning, cutie,” she said, leaning down to boop his nose. “Are you hungry?”

He nodded. She took him out of the stroller and helped him stand. He found his balance and teetered towards the kitchen, Chamomile following.

She heard Astral following as well, but ignored him. “What would you like?” she asked Juniper.

“Apple.” Sentences weren’t quite his forte yet.

She opened the fridge and pulled one out. Placing it on the counter, she retrieved a knife and began to slice it, awkwardly, since she had no magic with which to wield the tool, both son and father now watching wordlessly. She tried not to let her irritation show.

When she was done, she placed the slices in a bowl, then handed them to Juniper. “You can eat at the table,” she said. He gratefully took them from her, then wobbled over to his seat. After placing the bowl down and climbing into the seat, he began to eat happily.

She and Astral watched him from the kitchen. Even now she had to marvel at how much he’d grown. How was it that having a child meant that the days passed differently, that years were condensed into seconds?

“It’s science,” Astral said.

She glanced at him. “Sorry?”

He pointed at Juniper. “You were thinking, I’m guessing, about how much he’s grown, all without us noticing?”

Still sore from earlier, she simply nodded.

“It’s science. Everything has mass, and things with mass affect time relativistically. The more mass you have, the greater the effect—the more time slows. There are things in this universe so large that if you were to approach it, to an outside observer it would look like you’d stopped moving—that your personal space-time had stopped moving entirely.”

“But he’s only a child.”

“But he’ll grow. And he’ll keep affecting time. Soon he’ll be walking and talking fine. Then he’ll have become a teenager. Then an adult. He’ll go on dates, maybe settle down, have a few kids—all in a blink, if anything.”

Astral sounded pleased by this notion, but Chamomile couldn’t say she was. Let him be a boy a little longer, she thought; let him have that. Don’t thrust the burdens of the world onto him before he is ready. Don’t make him grow up before she is.

“You and your notions of time,” she murmured. There was not as much bitterness in her voice as there could have been, and Astral, noting this, glanced at her. “I’ve got a notion for you, actually.”

“Do go on.”

“You told me about the second law of thermodynamics,” she recalled. “The state of a system tends towards entropy. Emptying out until the energy is equally distributed, and nothing more can occur.”

“Yes, I remember that conversation.”

“But that has to happen over time. The longer time goes on, the more entropy increases. Inevitably it all ends—time, entropy, systems—quietly—that’s what you told me.”


She shook her head. “Why does it have to end, Astral? Why can’t it go on just a little longer?”

“That’s just how natural systems work.”

“Maybe it shouldn’t be.”

“You want to stop a fundamental law of the universe?”

“I do, and I should—isn’t that what living is? A rejection of the inevitable end?”

He was quiet for a moment, then said, “This is about the will.”

“No, it—” She sighed. “Fine. It is. It always is. You’re always talking about it, and now here you are, talking about time and slowing it and I’m thinking about entropy and—” Her voice shook. “Goddess above, Astral… why?”

“I don’t know. It just… is what it is.”

“And it shouldn’t be!”

He flinched at her outburst. In the dining room, Juniper, having not heard, continued to eat his apples.

“It shouldn’t be,” Astral agreed in a voice barely above a whisper. “But we have no say in that, my dear. I am sorry we don’t.”

She turned to him, and before she could stop herself, fell forward and embraced him. She was aware she was crying. He patted her back. Oh goddess, he was so frail to the touch, so thin. Wordlessly she begged for a pause in things, for time to stop thrusting itself forward. She wondered: if she made herself big enough, would that be enough to stop Astral from decaying further? Could that be achieved? Was that what a child was for—to slow the advance, long enough to reconcile with it?

Later that day they went to the doctor’s office for a routine check-up—routine, in that it was one of the many that Astral had had to start taking since the fall. Chamomile had become intimately aware of how they’d go and what tests the doctor would perform to the point that she could replicate the check-up herself. Nothing had changed except that everything had, and sometimes she wondered if there was a point to these appointments, when all they did was confirm what she already knew.

But today felt different. Astral had gone in, alone, while she sat in the waiting room. She was entertaining Juniper with some wooden blocks she’d found. He stacked them and watched them fall, but did not cry. He seemed fascinated by how they could fall from the slightest touch. The other patients watched with unreadable expressions—were they amused, were they annoyed?

“Juniper, stop being noisy,” she chided him gently. But he did not listen. He continued to stack and knock them over, staring at the mess like he was a scientist recording data. “Juniper, listen to Mommy, okay? You’re making a big mess.”

But he kept at it. She looked at the other patients and tried to smile apologetically, but her nerves were frayed and she feared she might snap.

Then the nurse came in and called for her. “Ma’am. The doctor wants to talk to you and your husband.”

“Oh. That was quick.”

But the nurse did not appear as pleased by this as she was. A shadow loomed over her face. She seemed shaken. Ice-cold dread pierced Chamomile’s heart as she stood. “What?” she said. “What is it?”

“I…” The nurse recovered by shaking her head. “I’m sorry, ma’am. But the doctor… he said…”

Chamomile grabbed Juniper away from the blocks and walked swiftly past her, heading for the examination room. Juniper was crying out for the blocks. She shushed him. But he kept crying and crying, as though the blocks were his whole world, and they’d just been wrenched from him by the cruel hooves of fate.

She entered the room and saw Astral, pale and depressed, and the doctor just the same. Both of them looked up at her sudden entrance. “Astral?” she said.

Astral couldn’t speak, couldn’t meet her gaze. The doctor cleared his throat. “I’m afraid I have some bad news…”

Chamomile was not fully surprised to discover that she could not fall asleep that night. While everyone else went to bed without a care, she remained awake, struggling to get comfortable in her seat. But no matter what position she tried, either on her belly or her back, some ridge or edge poked or prodded her body; her pillow was either too lumpy or too warm; her blanket kept falling off; and on and on, until finally she threw her blanket off and stood, grumpy and irritated.

Nothing stirred. In another bed was Clip, peaceful, his smile suggesting he was enjoying a particularly pleasant dream. Chamomile doubted she would fall asleep anytime soon, and decided that she might go somewhere else for the night. She turned around to grab her blanket and pillow, then paused.

Her eyes fell on her bag. She put her items down and opened the flap—without her magic, because this felt more intimate, more real, and she had opened and closed it for years on end without it. Reaching inside, she first took out the photo of herself and Astral. Had it always looked that faded? Had the corners always been that creased? She looked it over in the darkly lit corridor of the compartment, but she couldn’t say what exactly she was looking for.

She put it back inside, then pulled out the photo of Juniper. This was taken about a year ago, when he’d just turned seven, and he had a party hat on. Seeing him made her smile, but only for a moment—for once more she was reminded that a great distance separated them. She wondered if he was all right, if he’d received her letter. Then she worried if he, too, was having trouble sleeping. Did he still wake up in the middle of the night asking for his father, forgetting his face, forgetting his voice?

She wondered which was worse, or better: forgetting, or remembering.

Chamomile shook her head. She slipped the photo back into her bag.

Remembering her original plan, she picked up her blanket and pillow. Then, after thinking about it, she also lifted her bag and slung it carefully around her shoulder, before she walked out of the compartment as silent as the moon.

But where to go? Truthfully she had no plan—her legs seemed intent on walking on their own, as though they meant to expend her energies that way and let her collapse in some random car. She crept past sleeping workers and cleaners and the occasional conductor, all of whom passed her wordlessly. At one point she had the insane thought that they simply didn’t see her; that she’d vanished from their perception, slipped into some invisible fold of existence.

Then, at one point in her wanderings, she stopped, realizing where she was. It was the recreation parlor where Gaea had spoken about her past—as silent and as empty as a tomb.

But this caused no distress in her. Instead, in this absence of ponies, she felt quite comfortable, and so she chose one of the seats and sat down, intending to rest. As she lay on her pillow, though, she noted that tiredness had yet to consume her. Some other feeling had taken its place—something akin to anticipatory dread. Dread of what, though?

Dreaming, she realized. She did not want to dream. She did not want to sleep and remember Astral’s final days and wake up crying and confused.

Chamomile sat up with a light groan. She needed sleep. She rubbed her eyes, then looked at her bag, considering it.

She flipped it over, unzipped another flap, and pulled out the other significant item she’d stored inside: her portal electric tea kettle. It was as old as the tea shop itself, an item of inheritance bequeathed by her parents on her cute-ceañera. This she placed on the coffee table in front of her, and afterwards, she brought out a bottle of water and a small, thin, clear packet. Inside were the thin granules of a particular root: ginger.

After she poured water into the kettle, she plugged it into the outlet behind her. A faint hum began to sound as the water boiled. Listening to it, Chamomile could feel herself starting to drift—it was an almost relieving feeling. She tapped her packet of ginger absent-mindedly and closed her eyes.


Her eyes shot open, and it was only through immense personal effort that she did not fall out of her seat or cry out. Turning to see who’d spoken, Chamomile gaped at the sight of Gaea standing at the other end of the car, looking just as surprised as she was.

“What are you doing out here?” Gaea asked.

“I could ask you the same thing!”

She’d been in the shadowed part of the car, but when she stepped forward into where the moonlight was falling through the window, Chamomile could see that she had a bag of pretzels tucked under her hoof. She looked down at it, then, when she brought her gaze back up, it was clear she was embarrassed. “I was hungry…”

“Oh.” Chamomile thought she should say more. She looked at her tea kettle, then said, “I was thirsty.”


Gaea nodded. The two of them were frozen in a situation that only somewhat mirrored the one wherein Gaea had spoken about herself. But there was a noticeable tension in this one which made it different—a tension so palpable, Chamomile could just taste it.

“Could I sit with you?” Gaea asked suddenly.

Chamomile hesitated. She had no idea why she hesitated, and seeing the surprise on Gaea’s face at her hesitation made her feel resentful of herself. “Sure,” she forced herself to say, scooting over a bit.

Gaea sat down, the bag of pretzels crinkling in her hoof. She finished eating while Chamomile continued to wait for the kettle to finish. The whine seemed to grow louder. Steam was starting to billow up, but the heat the kettle generated was nothing in comparison to the heat brought on by Gaea’s close proximity—and the heat that was making its thorough way into Chamomile’s cheeks.

She was confused, and flustered, and trying to think of ways to end the situation—whatever ending meant—when Gaea said, “What is that, by the way?”

It took Chamomile a moment to realize she was pointing at the kettle. “It’s, ah, it’s my portable tea kettle,” she explained. “I’m brewing some tea right now.” Well, obviously! You don’t need to explain that—she can see for herself!

Not that Gaea appeared to mind the obvious. She simply nodded and threw the bag of pretzels into the nearby trashcan. “What kind of tea?”


“I thought the train would provide us with its own tea?”

“It does, but… Well, I don’t think anypony else is awake who’d brew it for me,” Chamomile said. “Then there’s also the fact that I like to make my own tea.”

“That’s right… you and that tea shop you mentioned before.”

It was a small gesture, remembering that detail, but hearing it from Gaea made Chamomile feel oddly fuzzy.

“Yeah. And besides,” she continued, “I doubt the train has this specific blend.” She lifted her packet of ginger in her magic, and surprising pride entered her voice. “I grew them myself, actually.”

“You did?” Gaea’s eyes widened. “Oh, that’s right! When we were in the Badlands, and you were telling us about your garden!”

More fuzziness. Why did such a small thing mean so much to her? Why did it matter to be remembered for the little details of life?

“I’m surprised you remembered,” Chamomile heard herself say.


The question made her pause. “Why? It’s just… I don’t know. It was just a thing I said.” She put the packet down, feeling bad for being confused. “And as I said then, it’s just a little garden. Nothing special. It probably doesn’t compare to your farm… well, I mean, when you had… Sorry, that’s a little insensitive of me—”

“It compares,” Gaea replied. She said it as though it was as true as a name, which perhaps it was. She reached out and touched Chamomile on the shoulder. “Trust me. It compares.”

Chamomile looked at her, speechless. Gaea continued, “Growing anything takes effort. But it’s effort that always pays off, no matter how big a plant you’re nurturing. Even the smallest fruit is deserving of recognition.”

“Is that something your father used to say?” Chamomile asked softly, before realizing that that might be just as insensitive as her earlier remark.

But Gaea shook her head. “No. It’s something I say. Don’t sell yourself and what you do short, Chamomile. Everything matters.”

She paused, then retracted her hoof. Chamomile’s shoulder felt colder without it. Her breath hitched. Gaea shifted in her seat, placing her hooves together, and she appeared lost in thought.

The kettle dinged, a sound that was a noticeably lower volume than the whine it’d been making. The water was ready. Chamomile, needing to keep herself occupied, unplugged it from the outlet, then clumsily reached into her bag to take out a cup. She paused, her hoof gliding over the second, spare one.

She looked at Gaea, weighing her forthcoming words.

“Would… would you like to share a cup of tea with me?”

It felt far too formal to ask, stiff and spectacularly self-conscious, and she almost regretted asking it. But when Gaea looked at her, and when her face broke out into a beaming smile, the regret vanished.

“I would, thank you.”

Chamomile poured the water into both cups. She opened her packet and did her best to evenly divide the ginger between them. She grabbed a stirrer from her bag and swirled it in both, steam and ginger-scent rising like hot breath in the winter. She gave one cup to Gaea, who accepted it with a grateful nod, then set her own down in front of her.

Gaea blew across the surface of the tea. She brought the cup up to her lips, and her eyes widened.

“Oh, wow. That is good.”

The blush that erupted across Chamomile’s face could have heated the water just as well as the kettle had. “Oh, well, thank you. But it could probably be better, actually. If I had all of my ingredients here and not just the packet—”

“Even with just the ginger, it’s really good. I do mean that.”

Chamomile nodded, because words no longer came to her. She felt lightheaded, and, thinking something was wrong with her heart, brought her hoof to her chest. It beat like a burst of timpani drums, so loud and so heavily that she was surprised that Gaea couldn’t hear it.

She needed to calm down. She brought her own cup to her lips, and, after blowing it, took a long sip, turning thoughts over and over.

I don’t understand. I’ve had ponies compliment my tea before, even my basic green and black. But when Gaea says it… Why is that so different?

That, however, was not the question to ask. She realized the appropriate question a moment later: Why was Gaea so different?

They drank in silence, listening to the train rattle. The ginger tea began to take effect, but it was not nearly enough to calm the stampede of thoughts crashing through Chamomile’s mind. She felt jittery and even more flustered now than when Gaea had initially sat down. When she looked at the other mare, she couldn’t tell if she felt similarly, for her face was a placid sea of pink bliss—and for this, Chamomile thought she was jealous of her. If only she could relax! If only she could figure out why she could not sleep, could not rest, could not even sit still!

Gaea put her cup down. “So…”

So? Chamomile set her cup aside, too afraid to do or say anything.

“It’s my guess that we’re nearing the end of this journey.”

“What makes you say that?”

Gaea shrugged. “It’s just a feeling. And I noticed, earlier, when we had breakfast, that the landscape was starting to change. It even felt different, in a way.”

Chamomile supposed that made sense—she was an earth pony, likely more in tune with the environment than the average equine. “Any idea where we’ll end up?” she asked.

“None whatsoever. Maybe a depot, or another station, or another abandoned town. It’s hard to say. I wish we had a map.”

“Most of this area is largely unexplored.”

“Then I wish we could make a map for ourselves.”

Gaea leaned forward a little, looking at Chamomile sideways. “But either way, I think this might be the last day we get to rest. Then it’s time for work, whatever that will entail. Afterwards…”

“You mean, after the job is done?”

Gaea nodded. “Yeah. I mean… when that happens, we’ll all have to head home, right?”


“And that means we’d all have to go our separate ways.” She said this in a somewhat subdued tone. She was looking carefully at Chamomile.

“Ah. Right. I… I guess that makes sense.” But that seemed insufficient of a reply. She had a dim sense of what Gaea was getting at, but no means of articulating the point. “You’d head back home to Maretime Bay, Polar to Zephyr Heights, Clip and I to Bridlewood…”

“I’d love to visit, one day,”

The declaration caught Chamomile off-guard. “You would?”

Gaea nodded again, and a soft smile came over her face. “It’s funny. Prior to this job, I never would have thought about leaving Maretime Bay. But now I’d like to see other places.” She paused, then said, “I think I finally understand what my brother meant when he said that the world is too vast to stay in one plot of land.”

Then she looked at Chamomile, and her smile widened. Her voice became even more demure. “Thank you.”

“Me? What for?”

“For helping me realize that.”

They were staring at each other, now, and it was different from the other times they’d met each other’s gazes. Chamomile was struck by the way the moonlight struck Gaea’s eyes, how it seemed to enunciate every part of her smile. She could smell something earthy, something with a slight coconut scent to it—it might have been the lotion Gaea had used, or something else.

They were coming closer to one another, but Chamomile only barely registered this. She was too focused on how her breath seemed to stall, how her heart was, at once, beating in her ears with primal anticipation. Gaea’s lips were slightly parted, invitingly. Chamomile could feel her own lips begin to part. Every part of her seemed to tingle, like a low-voltage electric current throbbed through her body.

“I am really glad to have met you, Chamomile,” Gaea whispered. Chamomile could feel her hot breath washing over her face.

They were so close that Chamomile felt the butterfly touch of their lips. A hoof was brought up, as though to grasp the other’s.

But Chamomile’s right hoof, lifting slightly off the seat, curled itself upward, as though holding another, invisible, painfully malnourished hoof.

She remembered, too, the first photograph in her bag.

That sensation and memory suddenly brought her back into herself. She made a strangled sound, so quiet and pathetic that it was barely perceptible, but because Gaea was so close, she heard it. Her movements ceased, and her eyes looked at Chamomile with confusion.

“I can’t,” Chamomile heard herself mumble. “My… husband…”

The word sounded like a profanity, how it’d brutally escaped her lips. Gaea’s pupils shrunk, and then, a second later, she scooted back so quickly that she almost knocked over her cup. “I—I’m sorry—oh my gosh, I-I mean—I didn’t mean—”

Seeing that she was on the verge of panicking, Chamomile tried to reach out to calm her, but Gaea moved away from her hoof. “It’s fine,” Chamomile then tried to say, but her own voice sounded hollow to her. “You didn’t know.”

“I should have—I shouldn’t have—” She looked like she was about to cry. She hunched over and buried her face in her hooves, groaning.


“I’m sorry,” she kept saying. “I shouldn’t have… I’m so, so sorry. Oh, I’ve made an utter fool out of myself, haven’t I? I thought—I had thought that—” She peeked out from behind her hooves at Chamomile, before covering her face again and making an indecipherable noise.

Silence fell once more, as heavy as sorrow. Chamomile wanted to say something to break it, to comfort Gaea—but no words would come. Inside of her was a scream, as incomprehensible as the moment, unable to escape her caged heart.

After some time, Gaea appeared to have calmed. At least, as much as one might have thought her capable of doing. She lowered her hooves, then removed herself from the seat, stepping so deliberately onto the floor that it was painful to watch. She took a deep breath but was unable to meet Chamomile’s worried gaze.

“Thank you for the tea,” she said stiffly. “It was nice.”

Then, before Chamomile could respond, she turned and galloped away. The moonlight caught something sparkle from her eyes, but it vanished before it hit the ground.