• Published 11th Apr 2016
  • 385 Views, 17 Comments

Drastic Measures - Nimnul



Berry Punch leads a great life. But her daughter's sire suddenly takes an interest after never before seeing the filly. Berry knows he must have an ulterior motive, so she plans to confront him and, if necessary, make sure the past stays the past.

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Shopping for Exposition

"I've received a letter from Ponyville, Tia."

The shared meal, breakfast for Celestia, was not quite inviolate, but castle staff was generally encouraged not to allow disturbances. It was, after all, the end of a long night for Luna, while her sister would get to work soon enough. Time spent together was precious.

"Oh?" Celestia gently set down her cup of tea. "From Twilight or her friends?" She smiled, apparently happy that her sister was receiving correspondence.

Luna shook her head. "That was my immediate assumption as well, but no. It's actually a request for advice from Bon Bon." The Princess of the Night took a bite from a sandwich.

It was common to want things you couldn't normally have, and especially for Celestia, the shared meal was practically the only time the kitchen could be convinced to cut back on the sort of ostentation everypony in Canterlot assumed would be right and proper when preparing a meal fit for princesses. Other meals during the day were too frequently shared by visitors who also held such expectations.

Luna was glad to sleep through most of the day, she didn't share her sister's ability to avoid ruffling feathers, but having the Princess of the Sun reject a meal would probably be a crushing blow to a chef's confidence.

She was pretty sure her sandwich was still fit to win awards, though.

Celestia seemed to wait for her to elaborate, so Luna continued. "She fears that one of her friends may mishandle a problem she is having. I would not have expected that sort of request from Bon Bon," Luna admitted. "I expect she does not enjoy feeling indebted to the crown, to use her own term. She does not wish my assistance regarding nightmares, either. Only once has she allowed an exception, and I suspect it was mostly for the sake of her beloved."

Celestia sighed. The termination of Bon Bon's employment as a monster hunter, presumably also that of her colleagues, was still a source of regret for Luna's sister. Equestria's administration was a large, complicated machine, and a lot of things were done 'in Celestia's name' without her actual input. It didn't help that a lot of nobles and bureaucrats didn't necessarily have anything but their own best interest in mind.

"Perhaps she does not associate you as strongly with that period of her life, since you were absent, at the time."

"Mhm, perhaps," Luna agreed. "Of course I might also be more inclined to be moved by the gesture of trust, since my night court is still not very well attended. Additionally, I've been known to do regrettable things when my own emotions ran high." She smiled wryly.

"You think Bon Bon is trying to manipulate you?"

"Oh no, nothing so nefarious, Tia. But if she was the sort of pony to ask for help lightly, she would not have declined a service I provide to many of our ponies each night." During their one conversation, Bon Bon hadn't complained about having been pulled into Ponyville's shared dream during the incident with the Tantabus, so her refusal likely wasn't personal. "She strikes me as a mare who tries to think carefully about her actions."

"I suppose." Celestia looked away. "Twilight once wrote me, quite upset that Bon Bon had deduced who was responsible for the incident with the Want-It Need-It spell. She took no action at the time, of course."

"Well, obviously not. She worked for the government, she would know that close connection to power trumps the law." Obviously, in hindsight, hitting Twilight with the full consequences of such a severe infringement on free will for so many ponies would quite possibly have doomed Equestria in the long run by taking Twilight out of Ponyville for quite a few years, but it would probably still sting to know practically nothing of consequence happened to Twilight as a result of her actions. "I'm sure if one of Bon Bon's peers had made a major mistake such as that, they would not have gotten away with a scolding and some extra homework for the ponies around them."

"Lulu..." Celestia seemed pained.

"I know, I owe Twilight and her friends a very great deal. More than mere words can describe, surely. They've saved me, and they've saved Equestria again and again. But you have also been lenient with their missteps, Tia. Other ponies would never expect such consideration."

"It was painful to be reminded what terror the idea of not meeting my expectations inspires in some of our little ponies, Lulu."

"I understand, sister. But I intend to offer what assistance I can to these ponies, and I suppose I would rather not be reminded that the courts exist for a reason. Besides," Luna added, "I do not feel that Bon Bon has truly been compensated in full for services rendered."

"I trust you, Luna." Celestia seemed subdued, but smiled as she picked her cup of tea up again. "Although I am surprised that Berry would not have asked for assistance herself. Twilight has mentioned her not so long ago as one pony attempting to treat her more as a pony and librarian and less as a princess. I assumed that meant the two got along well."

It was Luna's turn to sigh. She'd already caused Celestia discomfort today, and the answer she had to that remark was likely to cause further pain. "Perhaps I am still outdated, sister, but in guarding the sleep of our ponies, I am closer to them than you can be. There are parts of Equestria, thankfully they are not many, where a pony would never expect any aid from authority, only apathy or disdain. According to the letter, Berry Punch hails from the poorest parts of Las Pegasus, torn by fights between gangs of underage colts and fillies."

Luna idly turned her own cup of tea in her magic. "Nopony teaches them that you wish to love all ponies equally, and the more fortunate ponies do not remember that, either. They've forgotten that they belong to each other. Seeing little chance to escape their circumstances, without perspective, their inability to care for their own life plays itself out in the abandonment of all reason and surely all hope."

It hurt Luna as well, because she knew her sister had the ability to take delight in even the most unremarkable of their little ponies. Celestia didn't just sort of put up with her subjects, she really cared. "Even though Berry managed to succeed, she hasn't learned to trust in us or Twilight, I think."

"I know, Lulu, I know. We'd do well to remember that what seems like steady progress to us is not always visible to our ponies, in their time." Celestia shrugged, almost helplessly. "All I can do is trust that Equestria continues to mature in time, with our encouragement. I hope you can offer some comfort through their dreams, sister."

Luna certainly wasn't qualified to comment on the causes of crime and poverty in certain parts of the nation, not after her thousand year hiatus. "Of course, Tia. But perhaps you should remind this generation of our ponies that you care for all of them. I doubt they would make demands of you as the nobles do, if you were to meet them. I'd gladly take over whatever tasks absolutely cannot be put on hold, should you leave Canterlot for a few days."

Meeting Celestia personally could have a pronounced effect on a pony. Unfortunately, Equestria was a large nation, so it was easy for groups of ponies to start believing that nopony cared, and that callous local officials invoking Celestia truly were representative of the Solar Princess' stance towards her subjects. She herself had once fallen victim to the idea that nopony, least of all Celestia, cared about her.

"I'll attempt to make time for it soon, Lulu. Again, I'll trust your judgement."

"Thank you, Tia. I'll consider the situation carefully."


It had been a pretty good day in Canterlot, Berry thought. The city didn't lack in beauty and, from the right spots, the view over the countryside was quite terrific. Even Ponyville was visible in the distance, although if it hadn't been for Twilight's crystal palace, it would have been hard to identify the distant town with any certainty.

Enny's husband, lacking anything better do to, had joined the group. Mutual Advantage seemed quite a bit older than his wife. He was in good shape – he looked like the sort of pony who had lead an active life but hadn't had to do anything so punishingly stressful that it used a pony up. Still, the contrast to his imposing wife made him look rather lean. Family resemblance to Lyra was easy to detect, although his coat was notably darker in shade.

They'd even visited an art gallery, although, that visit had been a little odd. Sure enough, it had been impressive to be reminded that some ponies could paint or draw with exceptional skill, and at least she'd be able to say that she had visited a place with culture while in Canterlot. But she wasn't totally sure who the visit to the art gallery had actually been for.

Maybe one of Lyra's parents figured it would have been a good family outing? Neither of them seemed to have shown more than the requisite polite interest. Ruby Pinch and Dinky had been reasonably impressed, and being able to paint well did apparently have some attraction, but once they'd realized how much practice went into honing such a skill, their enthusiasm had been somewhat reduced. Portraits and landscapes hadn't really seemed fit to spark their interest, although they had occasionally pointed out a funny manestyle or especially ostentatious dress.

Certainly wasn't looking like either of the fillies was going to look for a cutie mark in art.

It was hard to tell whether Bon Bon enjoyed herself, as was often the case, and Lyra's energetic mood wasn't out of the usual.

That wasn't to say anypony had had a bad time. Lyra's parents clearly enjoyed one another's company, and they'd trailed along behind the fillies, watching them with great fondness. This had made perfect sense to Berry, of course. Anypony who didn't take a liking to her daughter and Dinky clearly had something wrong with them.

Berry figured she could at least cross this off the parenting list. 'Get your filly to take in some culture, maybe she'll want to try her hand at art and find her mark'. Job well done, Berry. And Ditzy would probably be happy to hear it, too.

There'd been shopping, too, although Enny's husband had been visibly relieved when the rest of the group had collectively decided not to shop for clothing. Berry wasn't a major fan of getting all dolled up, and the fillies seemed to feel similarly. Enny herself had claimed she was sufficiently unique that she didn't need any help to draw attention, which was probably true, considering some of the downright fragile looking unicorn mares in Canterlot.

There didn't seem to be much point buying something here when Ponyville had Rarity.

They'd also hit some toy stores, and although Enny had requested Berry's permission to spoil Pinchy every time, the filly had still ended up with half a dozen new toys, a mix of mundane wind-ups and mildly magical clockworks. Berry didn't expect any of them to survive more than a day after they returned home. Pinchy had a strong drive to see all the moving parts of a mechanism. However, she never took anything apart carelessly, always with the intent to understand, and if possible, reassemble. She seemed to be getting better at that last step, at least.

Dinky hadn't shown any particular interest in anything as they'd been browsing, or at least hadn't said anything. "What's up, Dinky? Nothing here for you?" It had seemed wrong to Berry that her daughter should get free stuff and her best friend nothing. She thought Pinchy had seemed glad that Berry had said something.

"There's some cool stuff," Dinky had conceded. "Nothing I really need. You know mom, she'd probably feel bad that she can't afford to buy me things like that."

Being a mailmare didn't pay spectacularly well, and it was unfortunately true that Ditzy's expenses tended to be a little higher due to various minor misfortunes. Ditzy normally tried to save money so she could buy her daughter gifts for special occasions, but their budget was generally tight.

Berry had thought Lyra's parents were about to say something or protest, but she'd silenced them with a stern glare. They didn't know Ditzy and it certainly hadn't been their place to comment. "I know what you mean, Dinky. She'll tell herself that you deserve all sorts of good stuff, but she can't give you all that much. But even if that happens, I promise we'll straighten her out, okay? Just enjoy a freebie."

Ditzy and Berry had helped one another out before. The mailmare had never really seemed to doubt her ability to raise Dinky to be a good pony, but occasionally, financial concerns could get her down, because it was easy to think that her daughter deserved more than they had. Berry herself had rarely worried about mere things, Pinchy had a much better home than her mother had had, but Berry had been prone to self-doubt when it came to her ability to actually raise her filly into a decent sort of pony.

Berry and Ditzy complemented each other pretty well that way, with a little help from their mutual friends. They were good at pulling one another out of the occasional funk. "C'mon then, let's have another look around. We got practically all day."

In the end Dinky hadn't gone for toys or comics or even books, but a chemistry set. It was rather expensive too, as if the little filly was daring the older unicorns to say anything. There'd been no real objection. The money was probably just a drop in the bucket for Lyra's parents, and Dinky was clearly not the spoiled type of filly.

"Aw, don't worry about it," Mutual Advantage had smiled warmly. "Old ponies get to spoil young ones every so often, that's how it works." The old stallion wasn't nearly so exuberantly affectionate as his wife, but he was clearly enjoying himself.

Dinky and Ruby Pinch were both bright, inquisitive ponies. Although Princess Twilight infrequently offered magic tutoring to young unicorns, perhaps to stay connected to the citizens, neither of the fillies seemed to have any particular enthusiasm for magic scholarship. Instead, they were curious about how the world outside of magic worked, although their approaches were different.

As far as Berry could tell, her daughter preferred to learn by doing. She had a small set of tools and a very gentle magical touch with which to feel out the way mechanical forces worked in a device. Fortunately, the filly had the good sense to allow other ponies to explain things when she was curious about something she didn't own. After all, unlike certain crusaders, she wasn't related to any sort of local hero, if she broke something carelessly, her mother would be the one to pay, and Berry didn't have reputation to spare.

Dinky was okay with just reading about things, which was probably for the best. The filly had taken a liking to chemistry. She'd had adult supervision for a thermite experiment which had looked very impressive even to Berry.

Neither her daughter nor Dinky had particularly strong telekinesis for their age, she'd been told. Berry did sometimes wonder why they weren't more interested in magic beyond the basic horn use. Did they worry that they wouldn't be good at it? Sure, Pinchy wasn't the bookish sort, but she passed tests she did study for. Maybe they were worried about being magically weak? Obviously not all unicorns were created equal.

Maybe the fillies just enjoyed being able to share new things they learned with Berry and Ditzy, anything they learned could also be explained to their mothers. It wouldn't be that easy with magic, because of the obvious lack of horn.

As long as the two were happy, it didn't really matter, Berry figured. There were plenty of unicorns who didn't end up going to that fancy school for the gifted. Lyra had apparently never graduated before moving to Ponyville.

Now the lot of them were having dinner at the same restaurant they'd visited the previous evening.

"If you're unsure what to pick, I do recommend the black salsify with béchamel sauce. A lot of ponies will turn up their nose and go for asparagus instead, but to each their own." Enny didn't seem like the sort of pony with really outlandish tastes, so the recommendation seemed safe enough.

"I'd like to recommend the salad too," Enny added, "Alas, the leaves don't store nearly so well as the roots out of season."

"It's me, I'm the one turning my nose up," her husband admitted. "Although I've never been a big friend of asparagus either. Whenever my parents had asparagus, I'd have about two token stalks and then fill up on potatoes with the white sauce. That's good eating."

Berry had to grin. "Now you're speaking my language. Still, I figure I might as well give Enny's suggestion a try while I'm here."

"Curried red lentil soup? I think I want to try that." Pinchy closed her menu. "If I keep looking I'll just keep changing my mind."

"That sounds real good," Bon Bon nodded and closed her own menu. "Good call."

Dinky scratched her head. "How's their chickpea stew? I like chickpeas a lot."

"We've not been disappointed here yet. If you like them, the stew's probably good. If not, you can just order something else." Mutual Advantage shrugged. "As for me, I guess I'll take the three-bean chili."

"That's probably not as good as my mom's chili," Dinky claimed.

"Probably not," the stallion agreed diplomatically. "Good enough to pass muster, though."

"I'll have the same," Lyra concluded.

After ordering, Enny's husband shared stories from his travels. He'd apparently made his fortune in trade and shipping, having also met Enny in her tiny hometown in the frozen north. Before finding success, he'd apparently tried his luck overseas as well.

"My parents knew I was a pretty good negotiator and wanted me to get into politics, but I really didn't care to. I was practically still a colt when I hired on as a deckhoof on a ship bound for Zebrica. Spent a couple years there. Not a lot of unicorns to go around, so getting hired on with various caravans was never hard. I know a spell to chill drinks, which turned out real popular. It's damnably hot over there."

He ended up describing encounters with elephants, rhinos and other large beasts, as well as a bewildering range of tropical diseases.

"I won't elaborate over dinner, but that was a big factor in deciding to go back to Equestria. I guess I had to admit I wasn't really cut out for Zebrica. I did a lot better in the north, here."

"We got a zebra living in – well, near Ponyville. You ever learn their language?" Their initial treatment of Zecora hadn't been Ponyville's proudest moment, and Berry regretted being swept up in everypony's fear.

"Oh, no. I was honestly just doing scut work most of the time, and we had interpreters. There's a lot of languages over there. Most ponies don't realize how bloody big Zebrica is. It's a continent, not a country." He shook his head. "Honestly only saw a small part of it, but some of it was really beautiful. I guess financially I could have worked any sort of menial job here to save up money, but I wouldn't trade in the experience."

"We'll take your word for it, husband." Enny grinned. "I simply get miserably sweaty in hot weather. I could not stand Zebrica, I wager."

"Yes, we've been over this, love." He winked at their guests. "She's too vain to get her coat shaved down."

"I will not deny it, and I make no excuses."

Apparently that was the end of it, because the stallion changed the topic without further comment. "Have you spent any time at sea, Berry?"

"N-no. I think I'd remember that. Where'd that come from?" Berry really hadn't seen that much of Equestria, let alone the world. She didn't think she looked like any kind of sailor.

"Hm." The stallion raised an eyebrow. "I guess you just got a peculiar way of walking then."

"I got a funny walk? That's rich. You do know Lyra, right?" Sure, Lyra Heartstrings didn't constantly bounce about, or call time and space into question the way Pinkie Pie did, but when the mood struck her, she'd bound and jump with barely restrained energy where another pony would walk or run.

"My daughter's endearing quirks aside," Lyra's father spoke with obvious fondness. If Lyra's minor oddities had ever bugged him, they certainly didn't now. "I was reminded of sailors when they return to land. Some of them seemed so used to the pitching and rolling of a ship on the waves that on solid ground, they didn't seem quite at home. They tend to have a wider stance. You don't sway, though."

Irrationally, Berry felt like she'd been caught at something. "I still do that, huh?" There'd been quite a few times where Berry couldn't take walking without falling over for granted. "When Pinchy was younger, there weren't a lot of times where I wasn't at least a little buzzed."

It'd probably be too charitable to describe herself as 'high-functioning', but she'd managed to keep her life together adequately, more or less just for the sake of her daughter. "I got to moving about carefully. Little foals cause enough chaos without having me stumbling all over the place."

Enough time spent with a diminished sense of balance mandated a little care and deliberation when moving. That wasn't to say she'd never gotten really hammered. Sure, and those occasions were probably the most memorable to ponies who knew her. But when there was a social event to attend, Berry had generally remembered to organize a foalsitter or sleepover to square her daughter away for the night.

In hindsight, she'd felt rather rotten about foisting her daughter on Ditzy so often. They hadn't been close friends back then, only connected by the friendship of their fillies. She'd only later wondered if dinner and breakfast for a second young pony hadn't been a strain on the mailmare's budget.

Likewise she'd apologized to Pinkie, the mare put so much effort into her parties, and for too long, Berry had only been interested if there was free alcohol involved.

Both of them had told her not to worry so much. She tried not to. Sure would be nice to have Ditzy here, though. That mare had a way of smiling, half encouraging and half proud, that could really calm a pony down. Sort of a 'I know you can do it, but I'll still be here if it doesn't work out' thing.

Life seemed a little less scary, and various self-doubts a little more silly when you had Ditzy in your corner, Berry felt.

Sure, Bon Bon and Lyra were great friends, and good with the fillies, but, well, in the past, they'd been more occupied with Bon Bon's problems than with Berry's.

"Been nearly a year now since I had my last drink." It had been pretty miserable at the start, but she'd had more support than she thought she would have. She still got thirsty, now and then, but surprisingly, Spike had shown the most empathy of anyone outside her normal circle of friends. He'd claimed that he would always have to keep watch on himself to avoid another catastrophic growth spurt due to greed.

Of course Spike couldn't help being a dragon. Berry had caused her own problems herself.

Both Ruby Pinch and Dinky seemed to watch the older unicorns for any sign of derision. They'd both immediately bought into some notion about how praiseworthy it was that Berry had finally tried to fix her own mess and their patience for ponies thinking little of their respective mothers had been worn quite thin from exposure to certain bullies at school.

Lyra's parents didn't seem entirely comfortable, probably didn't have anypony in their own circle of friends or family who'd overdone it like Berry had.

Enny surprised Berry by getting up from her spot, approaching her and giving her a quick hug. Despite Berry's apprehension, she had to admit it was rather comforting. Maybe that was a default reaction when the big mare didn't know what else do to. "Good job. I am sure your friends and family are very happy." At least she sounded honest about it.

"Nothing to add to that," Enny's husband shrugged.

Pinchy and Dinky seemed appeased by the response, at least. They smiled, then proceeded to cast impatient glances towards the kitchen, waiting for food.

"Uh, well, thanks, Enny." Berry wouldn't really describe herself a hugging sort. It wasn't really her first response, unless it was between her and Pinchy. She didn't mind the contact, though.

"Speaking of family," Bon Bon hadn't been saying much all day. Probably a bit mentally exhausted. "Didn't you want to tell your family when you'd been dry for longer than last time?"

Berry had been drinking frequently even as a youth, but she hadn't had a drop while pregnant, and in any case her really problematic heavy drinking had only started after that, she figured. "It's coming up on that, true." She fidgeted a bit. "My cousin and his parents, they're running a vineyard out northwest, not quite all the way to Vanhoover. My granny lives with em, too. I owe 'em big time, 'cause they took me in and later practically funded me getting set up here in Ponyville when I told em I was expecting Pinchy. They'll probably be happy to hear from me."

That was another item she was going to have to put on the list. Have more contact with the family. Easy to forget ponies cared for her while she was being a sack of self-loathing.

"What about your parents? You mentioned them like ... " Lyra paused. "Once?"

"I think I remember that. Told you and the gang they were happy I moved away to raise my daughter?" That Lyra had remembered Berry's decision to not tell her family she'd quit drinking until she'd made it longer than she had been pregnant wasn't totally surprising, that she'd brought it up again was unexpected. Berry didn't think she had ever heard a single mention of Bon Bon's family and perhaps had assumed that family wasn't a topic much talked about by the couple.

"Well, I think my dad was glad enough anyway. He's so henpecked it's hard to tell sometimes."

"I don't like grandma," Pinchy suddenly cut in. She looked a little conflicted about the admission, perhaps due to the presence of ponies who were still relative strangers. "She was nice to me, but she was always being nasty to mommy. It was confusing, when I was little."

Berry would have preferred if her daughter hadn't remembered. "My mother's a miserable, bitter nag, but I don't like talking about it because whenever you tell ponies that you cut your parents out of your life they look at you like you're just the most ungrateful pony they ever did meet." She sighed. "I guess it sucks I'm not talking to dad either, but she wore him down to a shadow of a pony, which just hurts to see."

"Well, we wouldn't want to spontaneously summon up Applejack to give us a lecture about family values, right?" Leave it to Bon Bon to make a crack like that. Occasionally Berry wondered if there wasn't some resentment on the other mare's part towards the local heroes.

"Don't even joke about it. Wouldn't know how to talk about that sort of thing with any of the Apples, seeing as their parents are, y'know, no longer with us." And a real shame it was, too, Berry was sure. Apples were solid sorts, and she really felt for Applebloom probably not really remembering her parents well at all. Still, the filly's older siblings seemed to do a good job as parental substitutes.

"No reason to dwell on such unpleasantness!" Enny's smile was encouraging. "Or shall I hug you again, perhaps?"

"No, that's okay. I guess Bon did warn me about you being a hugger." Berry was happy about the suggestion not to elaborate on the topic. She wasn't going to budge on not liking her mother, but she didn't really have a counterargument in case somepony brought up that she must have been pretty disappointing in the first place, juvenile delinquency and all.

"Hah! It is true. In seriousness, though," the large unicorn continued, "I am inclined to accept your judgement, if even your little daughter noticed that your mother has not been good to you."

"Food's coming, I think!" Pinchy probably didn't mind dropping the topic either.

"Alright. Remember, mind your manners in public, Pinchy."

"Took long enough," Dinky observed quietly.

"Should be worth the wait, Miss Do!" Enny grinned eagerly herself.

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