• Published 1st Feb 2018
  • 1,890 Views, 90 Comments

Heteropaternal Superfecundation - Thornquill



When Sugarcube Corner burns down, Sunburst & Hoops are the last ponies that ought to be affected. But if the past can't be buried again, even Ponyville's model family may be shattered forever.

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Chapter 11 - Spent and Beset

As Carrot had expected, the house was empty when he finally arrived. Far out on the outskirts of Manehattan, where every tower of the skyline stood lined up like dominoes in the distance, the house itself was as haphazard and slapdash a home as could be imagined. A gray-blue amalgam of salvaged metal and weathered wood, it had been assembled, added to, and rearranged constantly over the years Carrot’s family had occupied it. It was perched precariously at the edge of the river, which lapped at a massive cement foundation a few yards below. The foundation itself was part of a massive pier that had been abandoned and later overtaken by countless houses and other inscrutable structures.

After finding the key, hidden as always inside one of the battered wooden pillars holding the porch up, Carrot had let himself in and wandered around a bit to confirm he was alone. It was almost disconcerting for him to notice how little it had changed. When he and his brothers had lived there, the house seemed to change daily, and every month or so something would be altered radically. Usually by Devil knocking another wall down by accident, he recalled with a reluctant smile. It had been noisy almost to the point of pandemonium much of the time, but it was usually a good-natured kind of noise. It had been the stuff of friendly contest and brotherly banter, the energy of housework and renovation… the sounds of life.

It was part of the reason he hadn’t had any trouble adjusting to life with Pumpkin and Pound after their birth. To him, the hustle and din had been normal, even comforting on some levels. As such, he was surprised and dismayed by how much this quiet, empty home made him feel their absence as acutely as the city had reminded him of Cupcake.

Sweet Celestia, just… leave me alone, he thought as he made his way to his old room. Since none of the floors were quite on level, almost every doorway necessitated going up or down a few stairs. It was almost like the house had been built to model the waves their father spent most of his time on, the very act of walking through the home reminiscent of drifting up and down on the tides. The house was dark, but Carrot found his way easily enough. His was the smallest room in the house, not much larger than a walk-in closet. His bed and dresser were still there, and as Carrot sat down on the narrow mattress, he was surprised to note how clean and free of dust it all was. Dad always did run a clean ship.

There was nothing to unpack. He hadn’t bothered to bring anything from Ponyville. If there was anything he might need, he could probably find it stockpiled somewhere in the house. He lay back, frowning a little as he realized how small the old bed really was. He barely fit in it.

I guess it’s my own fault. I had years to build myself something bigger. When his brothers had outgrown their nurseries, they had taken up hammer and nails, knocked down the outside walls, and built new rooms to suit their needs. Although it was a process Carrot watched them do several times growing up, he had never done it himself, instead remaining content with the small space that he never quite outgrew, at least physically.

Probably been a long time since anything like that happened, Carrot reflected, thinking again about how little the house seemed to have changed. After he, Devil, and Pan had each grown up and moved out in turn, only their father would be left behind to occupy the place. Carrot supposed he didn’t have much need to change things without a family growing up inside its many walls. It made him strangely sad.

I should have come to visit more. Not much of a son, only coming back once something like this happens…

The next moment, Carrot snorted in disgust and rolled over. Oh yeah, like dad needs me for company. Not likely. It was his brothers who always got along best with their father. When he and Carrot talked, by contrast, the only merciful aspect to the awkward conversations was that they were usually short. Carrot knew his brothers visited often, especially since Devil played for a team in Manehattan, so he had never felt too guilty about staying in Ponyville.

Ponyville.

Carrot stood in frustration and wandered back into the main rooms. I know I came here to think about everything, but is it so much to ask that I forget about it just for a few hours?

* * *

Hoops hated answering the door. Back in Cloudsdale, if it wasn’t a crazed pair of mares from Celestia’s Witnesses (a cult that Celestia herself had tried to disband several times, to no avail), it was one of the neighbors with complaints about how Score’s weekly parties were too loud. As such, it was strange even to him how he leapt to open the door when the soft knock rattled it on its hinges.

Then again, this isn’t Cloudsdale. Hoops had been absent from parties for longer than he ever had been in his adult life. Aunt Screed’s apartment was as eternally silent and still as a tomb, and there was nothing for him in the city that didn’t cost money. If something didn’t change, he knew he would lose his mind. The idea of a guest coming to the apartment—for any reason—was so exciting, it even made him forget his fear that he was waiting there for lawyers to find him.

That fear returned, however, when he opened the door and saw the pony standing on the other side. He certainly looked like a lawyer with those enormous glasses, scraggly mane and beard, and eyes that were just a little watery, like they were unused to looking at anything farther away than a piece of paper. The blue cloak didn’t fit the image, though. Lawyers wore suits. This looked more like the costumes the geeks Hoops used to beat up after school wore.

“Can I help you?” Hoops asked. He shrank back a little, cocking his head defensively.

“You’re Hoops, right?” the other pony asked, looking him up and down.

“Uh…” For a moment, Hoops had the urge to give the stereotypical “who wants to know?” reply. It didn’t seem like it would get him very far, though. “Yeah. Who’re you?”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to put you at a disadvantage,” the pony said. He gave a slight chuckle and looked away, as if embarrassed. Something about his mannerisms, the way everything about him was just a little disorganized, put Hoops a little more at ease. “I’m Sunburst.”

“Sunbur… oh. Oh. Yeah.” Horseapples. “How did you… what are you doing here?”

“I came to find you,” Sunburst answered. He raised an eyebrow in puzzlement, as if the answer ought to have been obvious. Hoops felt his unsteady ease vanish. He hated ponies like this, the type who ran their brains a mile a minute, then acted like everyone else ought to keep up with them.

“Uh… yeah, I didn’t really want to be found,” Hoops said, feeling his eyes narrow a little. He stepped back from the door and nudged it a little farther closed.

“Wait,” Sunburst pleaded. “Look, I know things have… in all honesty, turned into something of a disaster. I don’t think anyone blames you for leaving. Or, I don’t, at least. From what I heard from Applejack, my letter didn’t exactly inform you of the situation effectively, so I at least owe you an apology for that.”

“Applejack?” Hoops asked, opening the door wider again. “What did she say about me?”

“Well… as to that…”

Hoops didn’t like the way Sunburst was chewing his lip. “That bad, huh?” he asked before he thought better of it. He knew he should have turned back when he heard Applejack yelling after him, especially when he heard the pleas turn to angry demands. But at the time, he hadn’t been able to imagine staying a moment longer. He could only remember wanting to fly, fly so far away that no one would be able to find him.

Sunburst gave a small, mirthless laugh. “She isn’t happy, no. But that’s part of why I came. I want to find a way to fix things. Or at least fix what we can. It’s probably not much, but I feel we have to at least do something.”

“We?” Hoops asked. “Look, no offense, but there’s not exactly anything I can do. You ever see what happens when a mare finds out a guy has kids she didn’t know about?” Hoops watched Sunburst’s face for an appreciative moment of awe and horror. He didn’t see it, not like he was used to getting from Score or Dumbbell, anyway. Still, Sunburst’s confusion was probably good enough. “Not pretty. And how AJ found out was about the worst way I’ve ever heard of. Nah, I’m pretty sure she’s done with me.”

“Not necessarily,” Sunburst said, his brow furrowing. “She might give you another chance if you come back and do the right thing.”

“The right thing? And just what is that?”

Now Sunburst looked really confused. It was making Hoops angry. “You… well, I guess it is hard to say. But it certainly isn’t running away to Manehattan. If nothing else, you should have told Applejack where to find you in case Cupcake needed to talk to you.”

“Cupcake? The cougar I supposedly knocked up? What the hay does she need me for?” This is it. Time to find out how much money they want to wring out of me.

Sunburst’s brows twitched. He looked like he was getting angry too. “Again, it’s hard to say right now. But things have gotten a lot worse. She decided to tell her husband everything, and he left.”

Hoops stood there a for a few seconds, waiting for Sunburst to continue. When he didn’t, Hoops shrugged. “So?”

That got a shocked face. If Hoops wasn’t so on edge, he would have laughed at Sunburst’s stupefied look. “So, she’s alone with no one to look after her. Or help look after…” his voice seemed to catch in his throat. “Look. I know it’s confusing that we have this… connection. But it’s out on the table now, isn’t it? We each have a foal by this mare. Up until now, we haven’t been able to do anything about it, and that’s mainly been to protect her.”

“And that’s been fine by me. In fact, the way I see it, if she didn’t need anything from me before, then she doesn’t need anything from me now. So if she’s just trying to use me to get out of her own mess, tell her I’m not interested. And there’s a good chance a judge would see it that way, too.” It was a bluff, but it was all he had. Sunburst seemed to be waiting for him to lie down and just take whatever he was about to give. Well, ponyfeathers to that. If they want to ruin my life over this, they’re not getting it without at least some kind of fight.

Sunburst only looked flabbergasted. “They’ve lost their house. Their business! They’re living on charity, and you don’t care at all?”

“Not really,” Hoops said. “Look. I’m sorry her husband ditched her. But that’s her fault, isn’t it? I didn’t do a thing that night she didn’t ask for. Nopony told me she was married, and if she didn’t want kids, she should’ve taken care of that the morning after. None of this is my fault, and I’m not going to have my life ruined over it. Look around. You see a big, fancy house? No. I’m not some sugar daddy rolling in bits, and I sure as hay can’t just write checks for needy mares like it’s nothing. Sorry to disappoint her, but I’m not that kind of pony. You feel so bad for her? You fork over the bits. Sounds like she’s got you locked under her harness, anyway.”

Hoops made to slam the door shut. After a few fruitless shoves, he darted a baffled glance between the door, which stood as immobile as a boulder, and Sunburst. He could just see the light of a spell fading from the Unicorn’s horn above a dark, confused glare.

“This isn’t about money,” Sunburst said. “This is about your foal!”

“Not. Interested.” Hoops gave the door as strong a shove as he could, but he might as well have been pushing a brick wall. This is why Unicorns should be banned from sports.

“Not…” Sunburst looked like a fish out of water. “Don’t be ridiculous! Look, I know how stressful this has been for all of us, but you can’t go around saying things on a whim like that. That’s how you ended up here, isn’t it? You need to calm down and start thinking about this, or you’ll lose Pound forever.”

“Let go of the door,” Hoops growled.

“No! You can’t keep making stupid decisions like this. I know you’re confused, but we can work together now. No one’s asking you to figure it all out alone.”

“Stop it!” Hoops yelled. “Stop saying you ‘know’ this and you ‘know’ that! You don’t know anything. You don’t know anything about me, and you haven’t heard a thing I’ve told you. So listen up—I don’t care about any of it. Now go back where you came from before I throw you out a window.”

Hoops gave the mightiest shove he could muster, and with a flash of satisfaction, he felt the impossible force holding it give way. He and the door flew forward, but when it hit the frame, the thin wood exploded beneath his heavy shoulder, and he tumbled forward into the hall with a crash and a yelp. He felt the door break apart and fall in large pieces on top of him with a crash.

“Ow… damn it…” Hoops shook his head, scraps of dry, crumbly wood falling off his back. He glanced around angrily and spotted Sunburst a few paces away. The Unicorn had apparently managed to jump away when the door gave.

“What do you mean you don’t care?” Sunburst asked as if their conversation hadn’t been interrupted. “This is a pony’s life we’re talking about. You can’t just shrug it off like it doesn’t matter, not when it’s about your son.”

Hoops felt a knot of irritation and rage clench inside him. He had never once thought of the foal as his son. Something about words like “son” and “father” was too intimate, too personal. It brought up memories he couldn’t bear to think about at that moment. The word suddenly made him small, looking up at a much taller pony, a pony who looked down with such distance and apathy, it was like he was looking down at a homeless beggar, not a foal. Hoops couldn’t stand to be there like that again. He wouldn’t.

Hoops rose, pushing himself to the fullest extent of his height. He flared his huge wings, spreading them from wall to wall in the passageway as he faced Sunburst. He was satisfied to see how much taller he now stood against the bookish Unicorn, and the feelings of panic fled. He was the one in control again. Much Better.

“Get out,” he growled.

“And what about Applejack?” Sunburst persisted. “Are you just going to leave her alone without explanation?”

The words delivered another bitter lance to his heart, and Hoops knew he flinched. It was enough to douse some of the fury he was floating in, like a cold breeze shutting down a warm updraft. AJ. That was probably the most bitter part about this whole mess. He had liked Applejack, more than he thought he could like a mare. Other ponies he had dated just stared vapidly at him while he talked. Afterward, they prattled about makeup and saddlebags until he wanted to drown in the drinks he ordered for them. He didn’t have to talk about sports with Applejack, though. He could actually enjoy them with her, and on the afternoons they went out for a few one-on-one rounds, she held her own better than most stallions. He had never been able to actually do things with a mare before, at least other than the obvious, simple acts. He had been surprised how hollow it made dating other ponies look by comparison.

It was over now, though, and it had happened just as quickly as it had with the other mares. He wished that made it easier for him not to care. On the contrary, though, it hurt. A lot. He hadn’t known he could feel hurt quite like that as an adult, lying sleeplessly on the couch for hour after hour while the empty, aching pain in his chest ate a hole deeper and deeper inside him. He thought he had left that pain behind when the last pony he had cared about left.

It only made Hoops all the more certain of one thing: The thin, weak little Unicorn in front of him had no right to tell him what he ought to care about.

But when he didn’t answer right away, Sunburst seemed to think he’d gained some kind of advantage. He stepped closer. “What kind of pony are you? Are you fine with never seeing her again?”

“Yes,” Hoops lied. “Get it through your fucking head! I don’t care about any of it. Not Applejack, not the kid, not any of it. Now get out!

He screamed the last words so loud, he could hear the windows rattle in their frames. Sunburst finally cowered back, his ears flipping flat to his skull in fear. Good, Hoops thought. That was the expression the idiot should look at him with—respect, not pity. But Sunburst didn’t run. A moment later, Hoops saw with another burst of rage that Sunburst was drawing himself up again, as tall as he could manage, then looked him square in the eye. For a moment, he felt his own resolve waver as he realized Sunburst looked nearly as angry as Hoops himself felt. He just held a much more composed and noble bearing to it.

“I was a fool,” Sunburst said. “I thought since Applejack saw something in you, that you had to be… but no. You’re just another scumbag.” He turned, his blue cloak billowing out behind him as if it wanted slap Hoops in the face. “You don’t deserve her. And you don’t deserve Pound. They’re better off rid of you.”

Hoops thought about jumping him. One leap was all it would take, and then he could batter that smug face with hooves heavy as anvils. But something about the words nailed him to floor. He watched, hot breath coursing out of his nostrils, as Sunburst strode down the hall and vanished around the corner.

It was a long time before his emotions cooled enough to let him move again. When he did, his hooves pushed scraps and splinters of wood away as he shuffled back inside the apartment. His mind was an empty slate, almost like the fury had bleached it blank. He wasn’t even trying to justify himself or think up arguments against Sunburst’s claims. He was just floating in a steadily draining pool of emotion, leaving him tired and stained with the ghosts of what he had felt.

He didn’t know how long he stayed like that, minutes or hours. All he knew was that when he looked up, he was startled to see Screed standing in the doorway. She looked down, her brow knit in displeasure as she nudged the broken wood with a long, sharp hoof.

“Who broke the door?” she asked quietly.

Hoops felt himself shrink with shame, and he felt suddenly small again, like a foal caught next to a broken lamp. When he spoke, the words sounded just as childish and repugnant to him. “Someone tried to break in. I chased them off, though. It’s fine.”

Screed didn’t say anything. She just looked at him with those quiet, dark eyes, slit pupils tall and narrow as a cat’s, and every bit as piercing and scrutinizing. She didn’t contradict him, but he knew with absolute certainty that she didn’t believe him for an instant.

* * *

For the first time in years, the house smelled of something other than salt and sweat. Although most of the rooms remained dark and silent, all the lights in the kitchen were on. Waves of heat seemed pour out of it, carrying the incongruous smell of warm flour and yeast into every room.

The small iron oven, a dented, battered thing about half the size of most home ovens, was one of the only additions Carrot had made to the house in his life. It had taken him five hours to drag it home from a scrap yard when he was seven years old. It was the oven he had first started baking in, and the one he had been using when he had earned his cutie mark. Now, the oven was cooling in the corner, the wood fire beneath it smoldering as it burnt the last of its energy out. On a spindly, unpainted table nearby, a golden loaf of plain, sweet-smelling bread sat in a blackened pan. Soft curtains of steam were still rising from it, drifting and twirling in the draft before vanishing into the salty air.

The loaf was alone in the room, forgotten as it slowly grew cold. Several rooms away, hidden from the light and warmth of the kitchen, Carrot lay curled in the dark on his foalhood bed, furiously suffocating his sobs in a ragged pillow. As far as his room was from the kitchen, it wasn’t far enough away that he could escape the smell of the baking, or the memories it carried with it.