• Published 23rd Sep 2021
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The Only Mark That Matters - CocktailOlive



The story of Radish Root, a pony with obscene cutie marks.

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32. Hearts and Hooves Day

Radish Root relaxed in the palace’s library, reading a magazine about Canterlot’s food scene. He realized he hadn’t been to a single restaurant the magazine mentioned.

“Root, there you are.”

Radish looked up to see Shining Armor standing before him.

“Sir?”

“What are you doing for Hearts and Hooves Day?”

Radish startled back. “Why, sir, I’m flattered, but-”

“Yeah, yeah. Funny guy. I’m serious.”

“I, uh, didn’t have plans.”

“See, when Twilight lived in Canterlot, she never got anything for Hearts and Hooves. I want to make sure she gets something from all her new friends this year.”

“Sir, it's supposed to be a day for special someponies.”

“Twilight doesn’t have a special somepony, and that's probably not going to change anytime soon. Ponyville is hardly the type of place she’d meet a smart, sophisticated stallion.”

“We could set her up with Spats. He’s working on a law degree.”

Shining Armor stared at Radish with a perfect mixture of disgust and disdain.

“Just send her something nice, but nothing she could misconstrue as romantic. And not a book.”

“Yes, captain.”

Radish went to a bookstore after work.

He picked a tome from the historical section and a Hearts and Hooves card from a rack, and brought them up the counter. The clerk, a grey female pegasus with blue eyes, rang him up.

“Want me to gift-wrap this?”

“Yes, thank you.”

“Are you sure you want to give your special somepony a book about Hearts and Hooves Day for Hearts and Hooves Day? I could recommend something a little, you know, spicier.”

“I don’t have a special somepony. It’s just for a friend.”

“It’s not really supposed to be a day for just friends.”

“My pen pal’s brother is my boss. He insists.”

“That’s… wow. I’m sorry. That’s a weird spot to be in.”

“ ‘preciate it.”

“If you do find a date for H n’ H, I can recommend a restaurant in Midtown. It’s intimate. You know, dark inside? So dark you couldn’t even see a pony’s cutie mark.”

Radish’s eyes went wide in surprise.

“You know?”

She leaned on the counter, smiling easy.

“You’re a bit of an open secret around The ‘Lot. No judgement, though. I think it’s kinky.”

“Thanks.”

She held out a hoof, and Radish shook it.

“I’m Hazy Shade. Your boss is Shining Armor, right? So your pen pal would be Twilight Sparkle?”

“You know her? Oh, of course you do- this is a bookstore.”

“Yeah, she came in here a lot. Really high-strung in those days. One time she lectured me for putting some obscure grimoire in the fiction section.”

“Well, she’s all about friendship now.”

“That’s great. I hope she enjoys this one.”

Radish took the wrapped book. He made for the door, then stopped. He went back to Hazy Shade.

“Say, are you, uh-”

“Taken, sorry.”

“Have a nice day.”


Radish had never celebrated Hearts and Hooves day. He had vague memories of passing and receiving cards in elementary school, before his parents moved him away. He never thought about it in Ranger Academy. On the plains, it came and went like every other day. The buffalo had their own special days set aside for romance, but Ranger HQ told Radish to make himself scarce on those days.

Canterlot celebrated Hearts and Hooves Day with gusto. Red and pink hearts, streamers, balloons, and bows were on every storefront and lamppost. Restaurants advertised specials for couples.

Radish found himself walking down the streets of Midtown, a district for which Hearts and Hooves Day was too mainstream to celebrate. There were no decorations or couples’ specials. He felt less on edge.

“Well, I’ll be! Radish Root! Howdy!”

Radish turned to see Applejack, hitched to a tall cart with green striped awnings.

“Oh, hello Applejack!”

“What brings you out here?”

“Book shopping.”

“Oh, lemme guess- you also got a letter from Twilight’s brother, demanding you get her a Hearts and Hooves present? Even though it ain’t the kind of holiday for jus’ friends?”

“He told me in person.”

“Why, of all the nerve. He came to you in the palace?”

“Well, he’s… yeah. He did.”

“I mean, it’s a sweet idea an’ all, and I get Twilight’s not had many friends before, but Hearts n’ Hooves is sposed’ta be for special someponies. I don’t like it when traditions get all blurred up, you know?”

“Yeah.”

“And askin’ a feller like you to send her somethin’ is gonna confuse things further. She might think you’re sweet on her or somethin’.”

“He said to send her something non-romantic.”

“And you got her a book?”

“Yeah.”

“I dunno. You know how much she likes books.”

“Are you in town shopping for her, too?”

“Partially. I just dropped off a delivery downtown. A batch of Sweetheart Apple Tarts! Then I thought I’d poke around this part of town for a gift. But now I’m just flummoxed about what to get her. She’s kind of hard to shop for- I don’t know much about that scholarly stuff.”

“My ma always says gift-giving is not about what they want, it’s about what you want them to have.”

“Wise lady, your ma. I want Twilight to have a good set of tools! I don’t think she has any in that library.”

“That’s nice. And it’s very non-romantic. Palace maintenance buys their tools from a smith not far from here. I’ll show you.”

“Thank ya kindly.”

Radish took Applejack to the smithy. It was a long warehouse-style building with the forge in the back behind long aisles of racks displaying finished tools.

“Land’s sakes!," said Applejack, trotting down an aisle, "I ain’t never seen so many kinds of tools in my life! Look at these funny wrenches! Y’all Canterlot folk sure have some fancy things!”

“That’s funny, I don’t really think of myself as Canterlot folk. ‘Canterlites’, is what they’re called.”

“But you’ve been livin’ in town for a while.”

“I don’t get out of the palace much.”

“I don’t blame ya. This city’s a lot of a lot, ya know?”

Applejack bought a basic toolset for Twilight. She had the case personalized with Twilight Sparkle’s name and had the tool handles stained purple.

“I hope she likes it,” said Applejack.

“She will,” assured Radish.

“As a thank you, let me buy you a smoothie!”

“Oh, okay. Thanks.”

They trotted to a neighborhood smoothie stand. Applejack got Radish a hay smoothie and ordered a mango smoothie for herself.

“Really? Mango?”

“I eat things other than apples, Radish. I grow things other than apples.”

“Sorry.”

“Nah, I know I’ve cultivated a real apple-istic image for myself.”

“Well, it’s not a bad… image.”

“Thanks, Radish. You come from farm stock, too, don’tcha?”

“As much as any earth pony, I guess. But my parents both had office jobs when they had me. They bought a farm in the Flint Steppes and moved us out there when… well, you know.”

“No, what?”

“When I got my cutie marks. They wanted to live in the middle of nowhere to escape the shame.”

“Oh. I didn’t realize it was as… dramatic as all that. I’m mighty sorry.”

“It’s okay. Celestia talked to them, and we were a happy family again after that.”

“She’s swell, isn’t she?”

“Really swell.”

They sat on a sidewalk bench and enjoyed their smoothies, watching the ponies on the street go by. Midtowners tended to wear clothes that were a clashing medley of garments from various decades. Many had numerous piercings and wild manestyles, and some pulled carts that were plastered with bumper stickers featuring the names of bands, mottos of life philosophies, and brash political opinions.

“Sure are a lot of, uh, interestin’ ponies in this part of town,” said Applejack.

“They say Midtown is where ponies end up when they don’t fit in anywhere else.”

“Well, everyone fits in down in Ponyville!”

“That’s a nice thought.”

Applejack deposited her smoothie cup in a trash can.

“You take care now, ya hear?”

“You too.”

Radish watched her pull her cart down the street. He took a deep breath. He ran after her.

“Applejack, wait up.”

She stopped and turned.

“Yes?”

“I liked hanging out with you today.”

“Likewise!”

“And Hearts and Hooves is tomorrow, so I was wondering…”

She smiled, politely. Radish knew what that smile meant.

“Oh, never mind. Have a nice day.”

“Aw, come on. You were so close. Finish the thought.”

“Would you like to have dinner tomorrow?”

“That’s mighty sweet of you, Radish…”

“Okay.”

“…and you’re a real nice feller…”

“Oh…”

“…but I’m so busy with my farm, I just can't give a nice feller the time he deserves, you know?”

“Yeah.”

“But there are plenty o’ gals who can. And I bet Miss Right is just around the corner.”

“Thanks, Applejack.”

“Next time there’s an Apple Family Reunion, stop on by. I’ve got single cousins. Real pretty ones.”

“Oh?”

“And hey- at least now you can brag about going through the rite of passage like all them others.”

“You know about that, huh?”

“Yep. Granny teases me ‘bout it.”

“Sorry.”

“Not a problem. Here, take this.”

She reached into her cart and pulled out a miniature pie with a heart shape cut out of the crust.

“I always pack spare Sweetheart Tarts in case some get ruined on the trip.”

Radish took it. He could smell the spices in the filling.

“Happy Hearts and Hooves Day, Radish.”

“I thought you didn’t like it when traditions get all blurred up.”

“Liftin’ a friend’s spirits is my tradition.”

“Thank you. Happy Hearts and Hooves, Applejack.”

“Take care. Stay sweet.”

She continued down the street. Radish sat on the bench and ate his tart.


Many of the tourists visiting the palace on Hearts and Hooves Day were couples walking hoof-in-hoof, or hoof-in-wing, or wing-in-aura, or some combination thereof. Many asked Radish to take their pictures posing in front of the palace’s more romantic views. The maids were giving out chocolates from silver trays in the halls.

Radish sat in a palace breakroom, staring at a red paper heart that had been stapled to the bulletin board. The door swung open, and one of his fellow guards, a sleek tan earth pony named Rhum Runner entered, looking stressed out. He looked around, saw Radish, and brightened.

“Hey, Root! I need your help, buddy.”

Rhum Runner had never called Radish “buddy” before. Radish was apprehensive.

“Yes… buddy?”

“You doing anything for H n’ H? Or anyone?”

“What is it, Rhum?”

“I need a fourth for a double date on Hearts and Hooves.”

“I… really?”

“You like mares, right?”

“Yeah.”

“My girlfriend Chicory has this single friend. Doesn’t want to be alone on H n’ H. And she likes stallions.”

“And you thought of me first.”

“You want to come or not? It’s at Teaky’s. You know, where they’ve got those ridiculously complicated drinks.”

“Your treat?”

“I’m treating Chicory. You can treat Sodypop. That’s her name.”

“Is she cute?”

“Are you picky?”

“I used to be.”

“And where did that get you?”

“It got me here, considering a last-minute blind double date.”

“Great! Meet you there. Dress nice. Bring a flower.”

“The eating kind or the looking kind?”

“They don’t allow outside food.”


Radish entered Teaky’s at seven, carrying a rose. Rhum Runner met him in the front. He straightened Radish’s jacket lapels.

“You look like a million bits, buddy. You’re gonna knock her dead. And bring up your dragon-watching! She’ll be hot for you in no time.”

“Rhum, what if she asks about my… you know…”

“What?”

“Come on.”

What?”

“My cutie marks!”

“Oh, geez. You’re that guy, aren’t you? When you said you used to be picky, you meant you picked Celestia?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, nopony’s going to compete with Celestia. Time to bring you down to earth, buddy. But don’t worry, there are fine ladies here among us mortals.”

“Okay. But what if she asks what they are?”

“What do you normally do when somepony asks about them?”

“Lie, make excuses, and leave.”

“Well, don’t do that here. Why not just tell the truth? We’re all adults. You could even show her. She’d probably get a big kick out of it.”

“Okay.”

Rhum Runner led Radish into the restaurant, a large bar and grill decorated in tropical themes. Ponies were drinking out of coconuts, pineapples, conch shells, and ceramic sharks.

Chicory, a light blue earth pony, and Sodypop, a magenta unicorn, were seated at a booth. Radish greeted them politely and gave Sodypop the rose, which she smiled at. They sat, ordered drinks, and chatted.

“So, Radish. Tell me about yourself,” said Sodypop.

“Well, my family farms beets. I was a Plains Ranger for six years. I did dragon monitoring on the Southern Plains for two of those years. I worked with two different buffalo tribes- the Long Runners and the Black Bluffs. Then I transferred to the Royal Guard. I've worked closely with Princess Luna. And Rhum Runner here is my buddy.”

“What’s your cutie mark?”

“Here, check it out.”

Radish pulled aside his slacks and showed her his cutie mark. She spit a mouthful of tropical drink across the table.

What the fuck is that!?” Sodypop demanded.

“It’s me having sex with Princess Celestia.”

“What the fuck is wrong with you!?”

“Don’t worry, it’s consensual,” Radish assured her.

“Chicory!” Sodypop hissed. “This is who your boyfriend brings for me!?”

“Rhum!” growled Chicory. “Was this a big joke to you?”

“What? What’s the big deal?” asked Rhum Runner. “It’s just his mark. We’re all adults here.”

“So, Sodypop,” said Radish. “Tell me about yourself.”

No.


Radish and Rhum Runner stood outside the front door of Teaky’s.

“Hey, sorry. I thought she would be more of a, you know, free spirit,” Rhum Runner said, putting his hoof on Radish’s shoulder.

“I never got my drink.”

“Well, Chicory is gonna need an extra to calm down. Hey, let me make this up to you.”

Radish waited.

“Um… how about a hug, buddy?”

He hugged him.

“You’ll find someone,” he said. “Just keep being you.”

“Thanks, buddy.”


Radish hunched over the counter of Joe’s Donuts. He ordered a blackberry donut with decaf.

“Don’t bother with the coin purse,” said Joe. “Remember when you paid for Twilight’s next tab? She returned the favor.”

“Then let me pay for her next tab.”

“Fine by me. You two can chase each other’s tabs for as long as you want.”

Radish leaned on his hoof and sipped his coffee. He looked over to a booth where two ponies were snuggling into each other. He sighed.

“You okay?” asked Joe.

“Just… had a bad dinner.”

“I know what that means. But you should stick around. H n’ H is a big day for comfort food. We’ll probably see a bunch of lonely hearts in here.”

Ten minutes later, Radish was talking to a slender silver unicorn.

“Palace guard? What’s that like?” she asked, brushing her mane behind her ear.

“Lots of rules, but it’s a great place to work.”

“Do you see the princess often?”

“Sure. Both of them.”

“Both? Oh, right. There’s that, uh, moon one now.”

“Luna. She’s nice.”

“How’d you get into it? Is your special talent about weapons, or fighting?”

“Oh, I’ve always just wanted to be where the action is.”

“But what’s your cutie mark?”

“It’s a… uh… you know, I don’t like talking about my cutie mark.”

“Why not?”

“It’s a sensitive subject for me. So, you live in Canterlot all your life?”

“Why is it a sensitive subject? What’s it of?”

“Never mind. What kind of movies do you like?”

“Don’t just say ‘never mind’. What’s your problem? Why won’t you answer the question?”

“Does it really matter?”

“‘Does it really matter!?’ Your cutie mark is who you are. It’s what you are. Why are you being so weird about this?”

“Why are you being such a bitch about this?”

“Yeah, nice talking to you. Ass.”

She left some bits on the counter and walked out.

Radish leaned his head on his hoof.

“Could I have another?”

Joe placed a donut in front of him.

“You okay?”

“Yeah.”

“Where’d that girl go? Not a love connection?”

“No.”

“Don’t worry. Plenty of fish in the sea.”

“I guess.”

He heard a popping sound, and a scroll appeared above him and fell onto the counter.

Dear Radish,

Happy Hearts and Hooves Day! I wasn’t expecting all my friends to give me gifts today- I always thought it was more of a holiday for special someponies. Thank you for the book about its origins. I had no idea there was a such a cool history behind it- I thought candy shops invented it! Some of the kids here in Ponyville took the wrong lesson from it, though. They had to learn that love can’t be rushed or forced- that love happens when two hearts are ready for it.

Your Pen Pal,

Twilight Sparkle

P.S., Here’s my H&H gift to you. I made one for all my friends.


Radish pulled a homemade bookmark out of the bottom furl of the scroll. It was the same color as his coat, and the tassel was the same as his mane. He smiled and tucked it into his shirt pocket.

He swiveled around in his stool and gazed up at the palace through the shop’s windows. Some of the exterior lights had been tinted red and pink for the holiday. He lifted up his coffee cup and toasted the palace.

“Happy Hearts and Hooves Day, Celestia.”

“And yourself, lieutenant.”

Radish whipped around. Celestia was in a corner booth. He steadied himself on the counter.

“What in the…”

“Oh, you didn’t know I was here? You were toasting me in absentia?”

“Sorry.”

“For what?”

“I don’t know.”

She left the booth and took the stool next to him.

“Bad day?” she asked.

“Did you just see?”

“Yes. And heard.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am. It was unbecoming of a royal guard.”

“I found her etiquette to be quite discourteous. Many of these Uptown ponies are overly-used to getting their way in all things. Sometimes a strong upbraiding can give them something to think about.”

“Yeah.”

“But still, language.”

“Yes, ma’am. Uh, may I ask why you’re here?”

“Twilight turned me on to this place. I’m picking up one of their holiday specials for Luna and I to share.”

“Could you tell her I wish her a happy Hearts and Hooves, as well?”

“Of course.”

Radish sipped his coffee. It was cold now. Joe wasn’t around to warm his cup.

“Radish, I’m sorry if my ah, presence on your cutie marks is causing you to miss out.”

“It’s not your fault.”

“No.”

“I’m just so unused to anyone caring about my marks. After you met with my parents, they turned around on them. I’m really grateful for that, by the way. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. I was happy to help.”

“I just stayed on the farm for a while after that. Didn’t really interact with anyone but a few traders and some tutors. They never asked about my marks, they were just there for business.

“Then I joined the Rangers, thinking it would take me a million miles from anypony. It did, but the Academy had to come first. You know- groups showers, physicals, swim drills, any number of ways to be exposed. They all saw it. I got some stares, some laughs, some questions. But there were marks of all kinds there- lollipops, spoons, topiaries. We all forgot our marks after a while. The training was what mattered.

“And on the plains, I was usually assisting or arresting ponies. No questions about it there. The buffalo don’t have marks, and they never asked about mine. Just one ever knew. She teased, but only because we were that close.

“And the palace guards all knew my story coming in. They act like it’s no big deal. I always wondered if you or Shining had something do with that?”

“No, other than we simply hire the best. The best don’t mock one’s marks.”

“So when I get asked about my marks, it really throws me for a loop. I’ve spent my life avoiding anyone who cared, so I never built up a defense on the matter. I’ve got as thin a skin about it as when you met me.”

“I’m sorry. Pony society, especially Canterlot, is very much oriented around cutie marks. Your problem is almost singular among ponies. I’d like to help.”

“You don’t have to.”

“Your highness, your order is ready,” said Joe, emerging from the kitchen with a tall box.

“Thank you, Joe,” said Celestia, taking it in her aura. “Radish…”

“It’s okay. I’ll be fine. Don’t let your food get cold on my account.”

“It’s an ice cream cake.”

“Then don’t let it get warm on my account.”

She pulled a homemade bookmark out of her wing. It was her colors, as well.

“Just remember that you have friends who cherish you for who you are, Radish. Even on your worst days.”

“Thanks, princess. Happy Hearts and Hooves. For real.”

“Happy Hearts and Hooves, Radish.”

A white dove flew in through the shop's open transom, carrying a pink envelope in its beak. It lighted on Celestia’s outstretched hoof. She took the envelope and held up a coin, which the dove took before flying away. She opened the envelope, pulled out a letter, and read it. A joyous smile spread across her face.

“Radish! It’s from Shining Armor! He’s in love!” She threw her hooves around Radish and hugged him tightly. Radish’s entirety of being froze solid.

“With… you?”

Celestia laughed and picked him up, holding him above her head.

“With my niece Cadance, silly! They just had the most wonderful Hearts and Hooves date!”

“Oh! That’s great!”

He dangled there in her hooves, not entirely disliking it. Then, he realized what he just heard.

“Wait, you have a niece?”

“You’ll see!” she cheered, her eyes shining brightly.

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