Sep 22nd, 2016
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  1. >You are Warm Hearth, commonly referred to as Miss Hearth, or occasionally ‘Mom’ by some of the younger colts and fillies.
  2. >It always melted you a little inside when they said that . . . it was why you got into this job in the first place.
  3. >Well, that and your cutie mark, but you stuck with it through all the heartbreak and tragic stories just for those accidental slip ups.
  4. >Either they’d be half asleep and would do it without realizing, or they’d slip up when they were just too excited.
  5. >You don’t realize it, but you smile to yourself as you shift paperwork around your desk.
  6. >You are a social worker.
  7. >Or at least, close to one. You actually ran a “group foster home” in Ponyville.
  8. >It’s technically not an orphanage . . . technically. There were only a dozen or so foals here, and they usually didn’t stay for long.
  9. >Usually, being the key word.
  10. >Your smile fades a bit as you open the case file on your desk currently.
  11. >Your half-moon reading spectacles perched ever so precariously on the end of your snout, you begin to read aloud.
  12. “Violent incident with two other colts . . . Non-verbal . . . Non-equine . . .”
  13. >That last bit was somewhat odd, as it was rare for non-equines to get pulled into the system. They were usually returned to their respective government.
  14. “Unknown species . . . hominid . . .”
  15. >Reading between the lines, it sounds like this little colt was an odd one out, and was pushed beyond what he could tolerate and then lashed out, violently.
  16. >With a name like Anonymous-
  17. >You snort.
  18. “Very clever.”
  19. >With a name like Anonymous, it’s not hard to tell he was singled out in the larger group homes in the city.
  20. >A frown slowly creeps across your lips as you dig further into his history.
  21. “Age unknown, roughly ten years . . .”
  22. “Recovered from Gryphon traditionalist commune by their authorities . . .”
  23. >Because that culture just isn’t harsh enough, no, we should live in caves, deny modern medicine, and treat colts like property.
  24. >You roll your eyes.
  25. “Put into state vocational education program . . .”
  26. >More like state sponsored slave labor.
  27. >Each line is a small tragedy in and of itself.
  28. >Continuing with the file, you find that he was recovered by equestrian social services after he escaped the custody of a merchant captain who had been utilizing him as a mechanic on an airship.
  29. >The beaked moron had the gall to report him as “stolen goods” to the local constabulary.
  30. >The entire thing read like the backstory to a badly written supervillain.
  31. “And yet here I am . . . wanting to bring him out here.”
  32. >Yeah, that sounded about right.
  33. >You had a soft spot for hard cases like his.
  34. >You ease back a bit in your plush office chair, with real faux leather upholstery.
  35. >It’d seen better years, cracked, and worn down.
  36. >A bit like you, really.
  37. >But it was still the most comfortable damn chair you’d ever owned.
  38. >You push yourself back from the desk, the quiet rumble of wheels on a scarred hardwood floor breaking the silence hanging in the dimly lit office.
  39. >He sounded like a real trouble case, violent, non-communicative.
  40. >But, the easygoing country pace, warm hearted people, and open space of the countryside would change all of that.
  41. >You just got that feeling.
  42. >That was your talent, see.
  43. >You could tell that behind the case file of a troublemaker, outsider, and lost cause . . . there was a scared little colt that just wanted to be loved.
  44. >You’d put in the request tomorrow . . . and Derpy would have it out to Canterlot by the weekend.
  45. >Within 14 days, you’d have your own little bundle of baggage and issues delivered right to your doorstep.
  46. >You’d put him at the room at the far end of the dormitory. It was the last one that didn’t leak during the rains.
  47. >Your horn lights up as you levitate the requisite paperwork over to begin the transfer of custody request.
  48. >Adjusting your lamp, you set about filling in the state issued forms with your quill.
  49. >Your horn grows sore after the third page, so you take a short break to check on the foals.
  50. >As you canter down the hall of the aging dorm, you read off the names on each door in your head.
  51. >Sunny Day.
  52. >Good Will.
  53. >Butterscotch.
  54. >Green Meadow.
  55. >All tucked in, safe and sound.
  56. >You had finally accepted that you yourself would simply never have enough sleep, and sacrificed your nights to the running of the place.
  57. >The daytime was just too busy, too many foals running around, screaming, laughing, playing, and getting into trouble.
  58. >The evening was the only time you had to work on the paperwork to keep the place funded, in at least passable repair, and to schedule appointments with potential adoptive parents.
  59. >The tarnished face of the grandfather clock in the main hall of the dormitory revealed it was nearly midnight.
  60. >You sigh, but you do so contentedly, knowing you’ve done a good days work.
  61. >Satisfied that all of your wards were truly in bed asleep, and not up to mischief, you return to your own office at the far end of the building.
  62. >The rest of the paperwork is quite easy to finish, and goes by quickly.
  63. >Just as you are about to turn in for the night, you hear the faint chime of the compound bell.
  64. >Odd, it was rather late.
  65. >Your brow furrows.
  66. >If Cloud Dust was up to her usual antics . . .
  67. “You won’t see dessert for a week if you’re out of bed at this hour.”
  68. >You murmur under your breath.
  69. >Heading through the old, oversized double doors that led out to the fenced off yard, and approach the gate.
  70. >The yard itself was a wide open area that the foals could play in with minimal supervision, and was bordered by tall, wrought iron bars atop a low stone wall that ran the entire perimeter of the place.
  71. >Just beyond the tree line, you could swear you spot two figures in the moonlight, but they disappear so quickly, you can’t be entirely certain they were ever there in the first place.
  72. >Before you can move to investigate, a quiet crooning noise catches your ears.
  73. >There, only a few paces from you, on the far side of the bars, is a bundle of cloth.
  74. >It quivers slightly, and lets out a soft gurgle.
  75. >With a flare of your horn, the old metal swings wide, and before you realize what is happening, you’ve scooped up the bundle.
  76. >As you feared, it is a foal, a month old at the most.
  77. >She cries, but softly, almost as if she’s afraid to make trouble.
  78. >Even in the moonlight, her bright orange coat glows, and her intensely violet eyes practically shine as they catch the light.
  79. >Her tiny body trembles in the chilly night air, even through the layers of cloth heaped upon her.
  80. >You stand motionless, dumbfounded at the nature of your late caller.
  81. >You only managing to mutter out the single word written sloppily on the tag pinned to the blanket the orphaned filly had been wrapped in.
  82. “Scootaloo.”
  84. >You are Warm Hearth, and it’s been a frantic few weeks.
  85. >The arrival of Scootaloo produced quite a hullabaloo amongst the children at what they simply called ‘the home.’
  86. >All of the little colts wanted to take turns playing daddy with her . . . something you quickly had to reserve to the older colts.
  87. >Not that you didn’t appreciate the help in taking care of her, the only way the place ran half as well as it did was the older ones looked out for the younger ones when you couldn’t.
  88. >There had been . . . incidents, though.
  89. >You had found Scootaloo smeared in banana pudding in one of the cleaning supply cupboards after a particularly disastrous game of ‘let’s feed the baby’
  90. >A few of the younger foals were jealous of the extra attention she received, and a few of the older ones were irritated by her very presence . . . but they were at that age where everything irritated them, and their hormones made most of their decisions.
  91. >She was a hoof-full, that much was certain.
  92. >You had taken to calling her Scoots, because that’s what she did most of the time.
  93. >She was probably the most mobile pre-term foal you’d ever seen, and she was definitely a preemie.
  94. >Those wings were so small, you thought she was an earth pony when you first brought her in out of the cold for a bath.
  95. >Still, didn’t keep her from getting into trouble.
  96. >She insatiably curious, and remarkably well tempered, she hadn’t cried at all during the two weeks she was here.
  97. >Even when she took a tumble down the front steps into the yard.
  98. >You knew that the other foals would take a shine to her, given time.
  99. >You knew she’d be happy here, until she found a home.
  100. >Anonymous . . . on the other hoof.
  101. >You stood at the gate, greeting a frazzled looking blue pegasus mare in business formal clothing (a tie and collar)
  102. >And the most underfed looking minotaur colt you’d ever seen.
  103. >His eyes tracked your hoof as you raised it to greet the case worker, and his body tensed for a moment.
  104. >”Hi, Miss Hearth, correct? I’m Crystal Waters, and this is Anonymous.”
  105. >The bags under her eyes tell you she hadn’t slept on the red eye train from Manehattan.
  106. >She shakes your hoof firmly, nonetheless.
  107. “Nice to meet you both.”
  108. >You extend a hoof to Anonymous.
  109. >He flinches slightly, before you lower it, a frown tugging at the edge of your lips.
  110. >”He’s . . . well, you’ve got your work cut out for you. Anonymous is a problem child.”
  111. >She says it with a sigh, and shakes her head.
  112. “You do realize he is right here, don’t you?”
  113. >A note of chastisement creeps into your voice.
  114. >One does not raise productive, balanced, healthy members of society by telling them they are problem children.
  115. >”He can’t understand us. He’s not deaf, but he only responds to Gryphonic.”
  116. >She looks over at him. “Isn’t that right?”
  117. >She’s met with a hollow, cold silence.
  118. >”See? Now, as I said, he’s a problem child, so these are my suggestions. Bunk him with mares, for all intents and purposes, he is one.”
  119. >You open your mouth to protest, the state had laws against co-ed rooming, for fairly obvious reasons, but before you can start, Crystal keeps on going.
  120. >”I know what you’re thinking, and yes, I know you protest. Believe me, the last two times we tried bunking him in a male dorm, he fought every third colt, and was actively extorting food from them at mealtime.”
  121. >”He didn’t even eat it, he was just mimicking the behavior of male gryphons in the traditionalist commune.”
  122. >You stand taken aback slightly. This little thing? This lanky, underfed, skittish little colt?
  123. >”Now, as far as feeding him goes, he’s an omnivore, which means if you can eat it, he can. And if you can’t eat it, he still probably can. Between you and me, I would keep an eye on him around small pets . . .”
  124. >You don’t know if that’s more disturbing if she’s saying that seriously or as a joke.
  125. >”If he disappears at night, look for him anywhere there are boilers, pipes, machinery, or tools are stored. He was a naval rating in the Gryphon airship fleet, and typically slept near the boiler from what I reckon. Sees it as sort of a safe space.”
  126. >You maybe . . . just maybe, bit off more than you could chew.
  127. “I . . . see. Is there anything else I should know?”
  128. >She nods.
  129. >”Yeah, he’s about to hit that colt.”
  130. >What the . . . where’d he go?
  131. >She nods toward the yard behind you, just in time for you to hear the long inhale of a hurt child before the high pitched warbling wail.
  132. > . . . and there’s the wail.
  133. >You spin on your hooves and gallop back into the yard.
  134. “Anonymous!”
  135. >”I’ll leave the paperwork in your mailbox!”
  136. >The social worker yells at you as you run to the side of Sunshine Beam, who’s gingerly holding his snout with both hooves, blood, snot, and tears flowing freely down his face.
  137. >Oh . . . this is going to be a long week.
  139. >The long week turns into a long month, which turns into a long year.
  140. >Scootaloo is doing well, she’s made huge progress.
  141. >Almost all the others took a shine to her, that unbridled bundle of enthusiasm and joy.
  142. >Once she learned to talk, she never stopped.
  143. >Anonymous on the other hand . . . well, you’re fairly certain Anonymous knew how to talk when he showed up, and simply chose to let everyone think he couldn’t understand what they were saying.
  144. >He’s never where you think he is, he’s always up to something, and you would call him borderline sociopathic if it weren’t for the fact that he’s never -really- hurt anyone.
  145. >There was the scuffle that first day, and one a month later when one of the bigger mares, Cloud Dust, tried to take part of his lunch to look tough for her little clique.
  146. >Actually . . . in that case, Anonymous did more to put her on the right path than you ever could.
  147. >Getting beat up by a colt that weighs less than you is a great way of teaching some humility.
  148. >You wound up putting him and Scootaloo in the same room.
  149. >You try and tell yourself it’s because he didn’t seem to care, and his mood couldn’t possibly get worse from lack of sleep, but it might be a little bit of petty revenge for all the sleepless nights he has caused you.
  150. >Maybe.
  151. >You sigh as you roll over, and glance at your bedside clock. 4:53 A.M. stares back at you.
  152. >Well, it’s almost time for you to get up, and start with breakfast.
  153. >A quick stop by the bathroom to trim up the tuft, wash the sleep off your face, and do your morning reading, and you’re ready to go.
  154. >You do linger, for a few moments, staring at the tired looking unicorn mare in the mirror.
  155. >Brown coat. Blue eyes. Tan mane that could have used a trim two months ago.
  156. >The years . . . they’re starting to show.
  157. >Tartarus . . . they started to show two decades ago.
  158. >You remembered back when you started.
  159. >It was always supposed to be a colt’s job, you were just the temporary administrator.
  160. >Then the cook had to get let go, the budget just couldn’t take it.
  161. >He was a kind soul, always sneaking extras for the little ones for bedtime snacks.
  162. >The maid went next, he showed the older ones how to keep most everything clean, and what they couldn’t get, you did.
  163. >You had a thing for him, that cute little number he wore. He was much too young for you, but it still stung a bit to have to send him on.
  164. >The handymare had been the last to go.
  165. >She lived off site, and had other clients to keep her busy in the down time, but when the Ponyville Municipal District removed the place from its maintenance budget, well . . . sometimes the heat still worked.
  166. >You were all that was left.
  167. >You snort.
  168. >You had kept this place open, kept the foals healthy, happy, and moving into permanent homes for thirty years.
  169. >By sheer force of will and the sweat of your brow, you kept it a safe place for those innocent ones with nowhere else to go.
  170. >A stallions job . . . psh.
  171. >Could a stallion have found Silverbolt in the unscheduled blizzard that had buttoned up the entire twon 14 years ago?
  172. >Could a stallion have balanced the shoestring budget this place ran on without sacrificing the quality of care it provided?
  173. >Well, okay, you had skimped in some areas, but it was basically the same.
  174. >It was a tough job, and some of these kids needed tough love.
  175. >You got looks, a mare of your age, taking care of little foals all alone out here.
  176. >There had been whispers by housecolts, rumors passed around at their book clubs.
  177. >Suspicious musings about the decaying old orphanage, and the unusual old mare that ran the place.
  178. >It had always been about the little ones, the rest be damned.
  179. >You didn’t care what they thought of you, they didn’t know what you did for these foals.
  180. >You took in the most hard luck cases, the ones that would probably just age out of the system.
  181. >You taught them right from wrong, you taught them about integrity, responsibility.
  182. >You hadn’t failed one of them, they all left this place feeling loved, and knowing what family really was.
  183. >You were going to find a way to reach this Anonymous . . . and you had just the plan.
  185. >Finding it hadn’t been hard.
  186. >Finding room for it in the budget had been a little bit harder.
  187. >Wrapping the damn thing was nearly impossible.
  188. >Still, you had one carefully wrapped teddy bear, ready to give to Anonymous.
  189. >It was the anniversary of his first day here.
  190. >You had considered giving him a toy gryphon . . . but he didn’t have a great history there.
  191. >You’d seen him disassemble and reassemble the action figures the little fillies played with.
  192. >With none of the limbs in the right place.
  193. >The stuffed monkey just seemed insensitive.
  194. >It was soft, and well made.
  195. >And sure, maybe he was a little old, but he was still a colt. Nobody would make fun of him for having it.
  196. >Well, nobody that knew better made fun of him for anything.
  197. >That’s not the point though, it was a good, simple, comforting gesture.
  198. >Something to show him that not only was he welcome here, not only was he part of this family, but he was an important part.
  199. >It would show him that his first day here, while it had been a bit rocky . . . was still the start of something good.
  200. >You hum quietly to yourself as you head back from town.
  201. >It must be nearly eight in the morning, and the sun was a good bit past the horizon as the orphanage came into view around the bend.
  202. >It wasn’t on fire, so, that’s a good sign.
  203. >You of course, weren’t honestly afraid the place would be up in flames without you, after only three hours . . . but you weren’t going to honestly dismiss the possibility.
  204. >Your ears pick up the familiar screams and shouts of little colts and fillies playing.
  205. >There was a specific cadence to it that a trained ear could pick up, indicating that everything was fine.
  206. >A bit rambunctious, and some roughhousing going on, but fine for the time being.
  207. >You swing by the kitchen to find Green Meadow cleaning off the tables after breakfast, and washing the pans.
  208. >Breakfast had consisted of haycakes and eggs, and your mouth watered a bit as you realized you had skipped breakfast entirely.
  209. “Thank you Meadow, always taking care of the others when I can’t be everywhere, aren’t you?”
  210. >He turns a little red at your comment, but smiles.
  211. >Always such a dutiful colt.
  212. >He’d make a fine husband for some lucky mare one day.
  213. >You dodge Scootaloo in the hall; she was running around with a wonderbolt action figure, making whooshing sounds.
  214. >She’s clearly off in her own little world, having a ball.
  215. >You smile.
  216. >It was the little moments like these that balanced out the painful memories and tragic losses that brought these children here.
  217. >Finally, you find yourself in front of Anonymous and Scootaloos room.
  218. >The first name was written in careful, precise letters with black ink on a piece of scavenged fence plank.
  219. >The second was hastily scrawled with the help of a few older colts onto the door itself, in crayon.
  220. >Quite the dichotomy.
  221. >You knock softly, before you hear a shuffling sound, and the door creaks open.
  222. >You find yourself staring nearly eye to eye with Anonymous now, as he’d hit a growth spurt after you started feeding him regularly.
  223. >He says nothing, but his glare says, “What the buck do you want?”
  224. “Anonymous . . .”
  225. >You start out slow, and softly.
  226. “You’ve been with us here exactly one year. Do you remember your first day?”
  227. >You don’t expect him to respond, but you know that he does.
  228. “You had quite the temper, as I recall. But, you’ve been so well behaved recently, that, I popped out early this morning to get you a little something.”
  229. >You telekinetically lift the . . . admittedly badly wrapped bear out of your saddle bag.
  230. “You’re always playing alone, so I got you a friend.”
  231. >He casually plucks the mishmash of tape, ribbon, and multiple patterns of wrapping paper out of the air.
  232. >In a fluid motion, he sunders the packaging, his nimble fingers untying ribbons it had taken you several attempts to get right in seconds.
  233. >His expression hardens, as he regards the bear.
  234. >He stares at it, his muscles tensing as he crushes down on it with his hands.
  235. >His fingers dig into the plush body of it, and you’re afraid it’s going to burst.
  236. >His face twists into a scowl, shaking with anger, as you fear he’s going to rend it limb from limb.
  237. “Now Anonymous, please, this is a gift-“
  238. >Before you can finish, he clutches it tightly to his chest, eyes shut tight.
  239. >”Please . . . why are you doing this to me?”
  240. >His voice croaks out in a hoarse whisper, and it seems like even he is surprised by the sound.
  241. >”Just get it over with . . . I can’t take it anymore.”
  242. >You take a startled step back as he falls to his knees.
  243. >”Just tell me what you want from me . . . I can work, I can fix engines . . . I can even . . . I can even do the stuff the Captain didn’t let us talk about. Just stop pretending that things can be this . . . nice.”
  244. >You stand, in stunned into silence by what you are witnessing.
  245. >”I don’t . . . I’m not supposed to feel things like this. Soft. Warm. Safe. Cared for. They only did that when the inspectors came around, or when they got tired of regular cruelty and had a batch of fresh hatchlings.”
  246. >He begins to sob, in earnest now, burying his face in the bear you just gave him.
  247. >His voice is muffled, but still distressed enough to catch the ears of everyone in the house
  248. >”Please don’t take him away, I’m sorry, I won’t make any more sound.”
  249. >He tries to stifle the body wracking sobs that are echoing up and down the now corridor, the sounds of laughter and playing dying away as everyone comes to investigate, then witness the scene unfolding before you.
  250. >He fails, and lets out a few weak hiccups, and a surprisingly avian chirrup before succumbing to wretched, miserable sobbing.
  251. >All the eyes of the house are upon him, some filled with confusion, some with fear, but most with a mixture of pity and sympathy.
  252. >He clutches the bear to his chest desperately, holding on as if it were a lifeline in a raging sea.
  253. >He meets your gaze of pity with the look of a fearful, broken stallion in his eyes as tears run down his bright red face.
  254. >”Anon?”
  255. >That brazen, orange and purple filly that you had idly stuck with him pushes past you.
  256. >He sniffs, and tries to wipe the tears from his face with his sleeve.
  257. >”Y-yes?”
  258. >She gently nuzzles his side, just under his elbow.
  259. >”You’re being silly. You’re not s‘posed to cry when mom gives you a gift.”
  260. >His face is frozen, into an expression of shock, which slowly melts into an expression of confusion, before he finally surveys the sheer number of concerned ponies just standing, and staring at him.
  261. >”You’re s‘posed to cry when you’re hurt, or scared, or lost. Then, mom or Greenie, or even Dust comes and finds you.”
  262. >She waves a hoof at everyone, now the entire orphanage, which has clustered around Anon’s doorway.
  263. >”They put a bandaid on it, or turn on the lights, or show you where the trail is.”
  264. >She beams proudly, as if administering scholarly knowledge to a select gathering of disciples.
  265. “What I believe Scootaloo is trying to say is . . .”
  266. >You gingerly reach a hoof out, and rest it on his shoulder.
  267. “There is no trick. No one is going to pull the rug out from under you. You’re supposed to feel safe, supposed to feel warm, supposed to grow up surrounded by soft things. All of that is in the past now. We watch out for each other here, and nothing like any of that will ever happen again.”
  268. >Scootaloo gives a little hop, and buzzes her wings.
  269. >”Yeah!”
  270. >You glance around, and see even the moodiest of your teenagers nodding in agreement, and smiling.
  271. >A few lone comments string together, until it’s an entire chorus of encouragement, affection, and unbridled love.
  272. >If there were a changeling here, it’d die of overfeeding on the spot.
  273. >Even you can feel the surge of magical energy from this much harmony.
  274. >Anonymous actually smiles, and it’s the first time you’ve ever seen the expression on him.
  275. >Green Meadow helps him to his feet, and proceeds to wipe his face clean with a damp rag.
  276. >”There . . . now let’s see about breakfast, hmm?”
  277. >You had high hopes for today, for turning Anonymous around, hoping to get some kind of emotion other than cold aloofness or outright aggression.
  278. >All of that was just blown away, and left in the dust.
  279. >You were lying earlier, the moments in the hall, with the children happily playing, they were nice, but it wasn’t why you still did it.
  280. >It was a moment like this, when you finally broke through to somepony that really, really needed it.
  281. >When you taught them what it meant to be loved.
  282. >As you watch him getting dragged away by Green Meadow, Silverbolt, and Butterscotch to get some breakfast, with Scootaloo and his bear in tow, and hear them talking his ear off, you realize something.
  283. >Yes, Anonymous may have arrived on the premises a year ago today, but this is his first day truly here.
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