• 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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65. Her Love

“Well, what did you think was going to happen?” Light Fantastic chuckled as she applied antiseptic to Radish’s cuts in her living room. “She’s an immortal alicorn princess. If she took ten steps a day, she’d have more exercise than you’ve had in a lifetime.”

“I’ve taken more than ten thousand steps, Fan.”

“You sure? You can borrow my fit-bat. She’ll count them for you.”

“I was just trying to get something nice for you on Hearts and Hooves.”

“You know I don’t care about that kind of girly spa stuff.”

“Every mare should get treated like a princess sometime.”

“Well, now that means being bashed to the ground and dragged through thorns. How do you come up with that stuff?”

“A chupacabra cornered me in a ravine one time. It only gave up on me because I was hiding in some briars. Still a lot less scary than Celestia.”

“It’s okay, we can do Hearts and Hooves the day after. The candy will be marked down, anyway.”

“Belated discount candy. What a boyfriend I am.”

She pulled up his foreleg and examined his bruises. “You should have had these looked at in the palace infirmary.”

“I couldn’t. Celestia was in there. For a long time.”

“You put Celestia in the hospital? I’ve got to do something with that.”

She added a note to a large, messy notebook on her desk. Her doorbell rang.

“You expecting anyone?” Radish asked.

Light trotted up to her door and put her eye to the peephole. She turned to Radish. “Honey, I think it’s for you.”

She opened the door. Princess Celestia was there. Her left eye was bruised and her coat was still stained with brown and orange splotches. Radish’s heart stopped.

“Good evening, Miss Fantastic. I am Princess Celestia.”

“No shit.”

Celestia’s eyes widened, then twitched in pain. “May I have a word with you and Radish?”

“Come in, ma’am,” said Radish. He crawled off the stool and kneeled. “I beg your forgiveness.”

“You have nothing to apologize for. I, however, have spent the day apologizing- to the Wagoners, to the Plains Rangers Admiralty, to Luna, to the palace staff, to the girls… all much easier than this. I’ve been thinking all day of how to apologize to you. I can only tell you that I’ve never been so disgusted with myself.”

She kneeled on the floor. “Please. I beg your forgiveness.”

Radish approached her. “It was an official match. We both agreed to take whatever knocks the other dished out.”

“I initiated the match in anger. I still have issues over my failures at the wedding. I should have explained that rationally, instead of bullying you into a fight.”

“I accepted your challenge of my own free will.”

“But the things I said…”

“I said things, too. It was just bluster. Normal part of competition.”

“We both know that’s not true. We meant every word we said.”

“Well, I was unfair about a lot of it.”

“And I was thoroughly cruel.” She bowed her head. “I am sorry, Radish. I don’t deserve you as my guard, but I beg you to stay, if only for Luna’s sake.”

Radish held out a hoof. “I accept your apology. Please, just get off the floor.”

“Thank you, Radish.” She let him help her up, then she held out a small gold envelope. “Here. Two all-day passes to the royal spa, as promised.”

“Ma’am, you won the match fair and square.”

“Actually, I did not. Do you remember when I dumped the hourglass onto you?”

“She did what?” asked Light. “You didn’t mention that part.”

“As Twilight was quick to remind me,” said Celestia, “one of the rules is that a participant forfeits if they-”

“-interfere with the official timekeeping device,” Radish said with her.

“You knew?”

“I didn’t want to win on a technicality.”

“You did, just the same. Thus, I’ve arranged a whole day for you two, if you’ll accept it.”

“Yeah, we will!” cheered Light as she grabbed the envelope. “You won, Rad! My boyfriend, the princess-slayer! I’ve got to do something with that!”

She added to her notebook. Princess Celestia looked over her shoulder and saw what she was working on. Light was sketching a mock wrestling poster advertising Celestia’s and Radish’s bout. It showed them squaring off against each other in dramatic, fearsome poses. She had given Radish a wrestler nickname: “Nightmare Root”. She had scrawled and scratched out several wrestler names for Celestia: Solar Flare, The Sunisher, Dawncracker, and more.

“You work quickly,” Celestia said.

“I’m going to sell these posters in my shop. I’ve heard photos of your match are already making a killing.”

“Light!” hissed Radish.

“I deserve every bit of that humiliation,” said Celestia, ruefully.

“Nah, princess,” said Light. “The ones selling the best are the ones of you looking badass- bruised, disheveled, but fierce. The public loves that its princess can take a physical beating and still keep coming. You looked wild, like a force of nature! Trust me, if ol’ Chrysalis saw photos of you like that, she’d wet her exoskeleton and run back to the badlands.”

Celestia looked at the sketch again.

“Let me know when these are ready for sale. I would like one.”

“You bet.”

“But these nicknames for me…”

“Yeah?”

“Anything but Daybreaker, if you please. That name is a sore spot for me.”

“I didn’t like it anyway. How about, ‘Princess Pain’?”

“That’s what Luna used to call me. It will do quite nicely.”

A timer in the kitchen went off.

“Oh good,” said Light. “Go ahead and grab yourself a plate, princess.”

“I’m sorry?”

“Dinner’s ready.”

“You want me to stay for dinner? I don’t wish to impose.”

“You choked out my boyfriend in your garden. How much more imposing can you get? Rad, get some wine.”

Celestia walked to the table to find that Radish had pulled out her seat for her.

“Oh. Thank you, Radish.”

She sat down. Radish poured her wine, and she took a sip.

“This is Hinterland Riesling!” she gasped.

“You like it?” Light asked.

“I drank it all the time when we were establishing the Hinterland villages.”

“Wow, that was a long time ago, huh?”

“Honey,” said Radish, annoyed.

“I’m not ashamed of my age,” said Celestia. “Yes, I’ve seen a lot of fine vintages come and go. The royal sommeliers don’t like Hinter vinters. They say it’s too pastoral for royalty.”

“‘Hinter vinters’,” laughed Light. “I like that. I say, screw those rules. Who even comes up with them?”

Celestia drank her glass. She smiled as the notes danced across her tongue.

“Indeed. They predate even me. Why should we live by the prejudices of long-dead ponies? May I have- thank you, Rad.”

She drank from the newly-filled glass.

“Hey, you called him ‘Rad’,” Light pointed out.

“Uh, heh,” laughed Radish, nervously.

“I suppose I did. We are off the clock, after all.” She took another sip and leaned back in her chair. “And Radish and I have always had a rather… informal relationship.”

“So I’ve heard,” Light said with a snort. She served dinner- stuffed peppers with refried beans. Celestia took a bite.

“You’re quite a chef,” she said. “This is fabulous.”

“Oh, come on. You don’t have to do that,” said Light, rolling her eyes.

“Well, then, could you pass the salt?”

“Sure.”

“Princess, are we really okay?” asked Radish.

“Oh, you two are far from okay,” laughed Light.

“Light, stop,” warned Radish.

“Celestia, seriously. I have to know- what is it with you and Rad?”

“Light!”

Celestia swallowed, then finished her glass again. She looked at the bottle on the table.

“May I?”

“All yours,” said Light, waving a hoof.

She poured herself another drink, swallowed it in one gulp, and put the glass back down.

“The truth is, Radish… I hate your cutie marks.”

He looked down, saddened.

“I have since the beginning. I hate my expression on them. I hate the way it looks like I’ve totally lost my senses. I hate the submissive pose- like I’m surrendering to you. But what I really hate is that, whatever magic forces in the universe are that create cutie marks, whatever cosmic artists there are that draw them… just see me as… that.”

She refilled her glass.

“I have put my blood, sweat, and tears into Equestria for millennia. I never asked for any thanks, I never wanted statues built in my honor, I never wanted my face on stamps. I believed working for the greater good of ponykind was its own reward.

“But then one day I’m faced with that. The universe had slapped a mocking image of me on some boy, ruining his life and reducing mine to parody. Is that how this universe doles out its rewards? Is that really the thanks I get?

“Radish, I know it’s not your fault, and that’s part of the problem. You’re the medium by which the world has chosen to insult me. Every time you walk by, every time you salute, every time you achieve success in my name, it’s just another reminder of that insult.”

She drank more.

“Celestia,” started Light, “why not see it as a compliment? I think it’s hot.”

“Light, would you just zip it?” snapped Celestia. Light gasped in joy to see her princess like this.

“You know, you two really are the perfect pair. You,” she said, pointing to Radish, “are way too reverent to me. And you,” she said, pointing to Light, “are too irreverent. You just make jokes so you don’t have to have any empathy for anyone’s pain. Well, guess what, Light? I feel pain. I’ve felt it every day since I met your boyfriend. He’s like a little piece of sand in my eye that won’t come out.”

Celestia looked at the bottle. She took it and chugged the dregs. Light Fantastic squealed with delight. She sped off and returned with another bottle. Celestia held up her glass, and Light poured it to the brim. Radish shook his head at Light. Light grinned and nodded her head at him.

“You know what’s most galling, Radish?” continued Celestia. “You’re just so nice. Life dealt you a nasty kick to the face right out of the gate, but you just keep galloping forward, like the universe doesn’t hate you. I hate and love that about you.”

“Ah, thank you, ma’am.”

“‘Ah, thank you ma’am.’ You see how he treats me? The fawning obsequity? He says he doesn’t want to fuck me anymore, but you can tell he does.”

Radish gasped. Light held her hooves to her heart and giggled.

“Princess, would it just solve everything if you and Rad just did it tonight?”

“LIGHT!”

“Oh?” asked Celestia.

“You’re here. He’s here. This isn’t going to go away. Would you just like to take him up to the bedroom and go crazy?”

Celestia looked at Radish. Radish held his breath.

“I-”

“Well, too bad!” said Light, putting her hoof around Radish. “He’s mine now. You had your chance.”

Light kissed Radish’s cheek hard. He couldn’t help but smile and snuggle into her. Celestia narrowed her eyes at Light.

“Tell you what,” said Light with a smug grin, “if I die before him, then you can have him.”

“Are you sure of that arrangement?” said Celestia, leaning in close to Light and sneering. “Suppose you don’t live… very… long?

Light leaned right into Celestia’s face. “I’ve faced art critics more intimidating than you.”

“I’ve faced cragodiles with better manners. And teeth.”

The two mares stared each other down. Then they both fell back into their chairs, laughing.

“The truth is, Radish,” said Celestia, wiping her eyes, “you’re a wonderful stallion, but you’re just not my type.”

“Oh,” said Radish, frowning.

“I bet I know your type, princess,” said Light.

“Oh? Do tell,” Celestia said.

“Discord, right?”

Celestia made a series of disgusted spitting noises. “Ugh! I’m sick of that rumor. Have you ever even seen Discord?”

“I’ve seen the statue.”

“Oh, he’s much worse in the flesh. He looks like ten different animals had a one-night stand, and then an eleventh came along and threw up on all of them. He’s the throw-up.”

She looked up at the kitchen ceiling.

“You hear that, Discord? You’re the throw-up! And I hate the beard, too! I know he can hear me.”

“Wow,” said Light, laughing. “So what is your type?”

Celestia sat back, looking at her glass. She held it close to her heart, and raised her eyes at them. She cracked a slight smile.

“I like nerds,” she said, gently.

“Really?” asked Light, flapping her wings excitedly. “What kind of nerds?”

“Oh, you know. Reedy. Shy. The kind that was always a friendly, if quiet, fixture of your study group. But one day, he asks you to meet with him alone, and you can actually see him screw up every last ounce of courage he has, just to ask if you’d save him a dance at the upcoming gala. And you agree, simply because you never cared about galas or who you dance with at them.

“The kind of nerd Luna says is beneath you. But the next day, you hear hoofsteps in an out-of-the-way room of the school, and when you investigate, you see him with a pile of instructional books and charts, and you realize he’s teaching himself how to dance, just for you. And for the first time in your life, you actually get excited about a dance.

“So you go, and when he steps forward, the lights dim and the music changes to your favorite piece. Because he’s the kind of nerd who’s always been so kind to others, that they’ve come together to make your dance, and your dance alone, special. They put a spotlight on just the two of you, and they’ve even trained the fireflies in the lanterns to pulse along to the music.

“So you start dancing, and you can’t help but notice just how perfect his movements are. You can scarcely keep up. And as you twirl, you can see that everyone else is staring at you in awe, and even Luna is looking on with envy in her eyes.

“And when the gala is over, he takes you to a part of town you’ve never been, to a stand selling a food you’ve never tried, and the two of you sit in his cart, sharing the most delicious thing you’ve ever tasted while staring up at the stars.

"Then you take him to a favorite spot of your own, a secluded grove by the river. And you share the first kiss of your life that ever made you feel really, truly cared for. And then… you discover that there can be more to making love than just simple physical pleasure. There can be a real, tangible happiness formed by two hearts beating as one. And as you hold each other in bliss, he tells you he wishes that moment could last forever.

“That’s when you take a long, hard look at the road ahead, and realize that being a princess means your days and nights will be too full for dancing to fireflies ever again. You’ll have to split your heart evenly amongst millions, and you can’t just give a bigger sliver to one, or you’ll never stop yourself from devoting more and more of yourself to him, until there’s none left for the rest.

“And as you woefully say all that, he says he understands. He doesn’t even try to fight you on it. He’s just glad he had this one perfect night with you.

“Then you realize it’s time to raise the sun. But this time, you don’t want to. You want this night to go on and on for the two of you, the rest of the world be hanged. And by that admission, you realized you’ve lost your argument for yourself. The next day must come for all, no matter how perfect the night was for two.

“So he kisses you, and calls you a nickname that you’ve never been called before, and will never hear again. You raise the sun through your tears. And you fly home, just holding onto all the beauty and pain of that moment, knowing that you will relive it with every sunrise from then on.

“That is the kind of nerd I like. That is the icy void I carry in my heart that no one has ever filled. That is the memory you declared you could compete with, Rad, all those years ago. It’s not your fault, but you are the romantic rival to the happiest and saddest night of my life. I will guard that memory with every beat of my heart, until my heart stops beating.”

Radish and Light held each other and nodded. Celestia stood up, and hugged them both goodbye. She walked out into the night, giving a last wave to the couple.

She took a long, silent walk through the emptiest quarters of Canterlot, stopping in an obscure plaza in an ancient part of town. A small, moss-covered fountain in the center was bubbling out a weak stream of water from its base. She used her magic to pull off the moss, and cleaned the central figure of the fountain to a moonlit shine. She stepped back to admire it.

It was a worn statue of a unicorn. He stood on a pedestal, bowing, extending his hoof in polite invitation to dance. She sat before it and closed her eyes, gently swaying to a song only she could hear. Blocks away, a clock tower chimed midnight. She opened her eyes and smiled.

“Happy Hearts and Hooves Day, my love.”

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