• Published 5th Dec 2012
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Tangled Roots - Bad_Seed_72



The CMC know that Babs Seed was bullied in Manehatten, but how bad could things really have been?

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Love You To Death

Love You To Death

The rest of the school day came and went without obstacle, her antagonists acting as if she were a mere ghost or shade. Babs Seed hesitated to thank any heavenly bodies just yet; there was still the absence of Card Slinger, and whatever that might mean. She had to stay on guard.

On her way out of the schoolhouse doors, Babs Seed caught sight of her four little Crusaders, banded together as they exited, chatting excitedly about the events of that school day. She waved and called out to them, beaming with joy as they waved back, if only for a few seconds as their paths split.

It’s sure nice ta have friends.

Babs Seed noticed that the afternoon was slightly darker than yesterday as she trotted home, a sign that autumn was well on its way. Leaves were beginning to brown or fade, but had not yet blossomed into their full spectrum of shades. Autumn was a magical time of the year, a reminder to all of the circles of life, of death and dying, rebirth and renewal. Babs Seed didn’t quite reflect on such philosophy, though she did lose herself in wonder at the transformation of the trees, the shift of things as old as time themselves.

Rounding the Manehatten Hill, Babs wondered what fall was like in Ponyville.

~

Citrus Blossom lazed the day away on the couch, pretending to read a gossip magazine and be deaf to her parents’ shouts and slams. She ignored her mother’s hasty departure, Libra muttering something about the garden, picking her battles. Babs’ nightmare had been running through Citrus's mind all day, leaving her too exhausted to think of anything else.

She’d lost herself in tales of celebrity and scandal, risen stars and fallen comets, letting her thoughts frolic as they may. She went over countless scenarios within the confines of her mind, debating how to best ask Babs Seed about the dreams.

Being forthright with the filly seemed to have worked the last time, but unless Babs came running into her hooves with a river of tears and an abundance of oxygen, she didn’t count on seeing that painful spectacle once more. Assumption and accusation would only anger her sibling, resulting in more slammed doors and silent nights. It seemed that Babs Seed responded the best to passivity, letting Citrus beat around the bush until she could take the suspense no more and spat the foul truth out herself.

Gentle words would be Citrus’ ally. She would pour out a shot of pure clover honey and take it straight if need be.

Citrus escalated the speed of her faux reading, turning pages with such pace she feared she would rip them. She spotted her father stomping his way back up the stairs to the master bedroom. He said nothing, each hoof-step vibrating with as much magnitude as the shift of techtonic plates. With the slam of a door, Bernie Madhoof retracted into his cave, where Citrus hoped he would stay for a while.

Citrus Blossom, satisfied with her plan of attack, began to fall back into the magazine, processing words correctly for the first time in hours without having to re-read them, when her milliseconds of peace were interrupted by a hollow THUNK!

She rose, pricked her ears, scanning the empty floorboards for any sign of invasion.

THUNK! THUNK! THUNK!

She was a lover, not a fighter. But she would do what she had to, if the time came.

THUNK! THUNK!

Abandoning the couch, feeling that a rolled-up magazine wasn’t as good as a weapon as it had first seemed, she cautiously began to sweep the first floor, ready for a deranged murderer to leap at her from somewhere behind the curtains.

Emptiness.

Citrus entered the kitchen. Allspice was chopping leeks and celery for a stew, seemingly oblivious to the pounding noise that threatened to burst her employer’s eardrums with its pitch and her heart from its anxiety-inducing implications.

“Allspice, do you hear that?”

“Hear what, Madame Citrus?” Allspice continued to slice and dice roots from the celery stalks, lost in the monotony of her task.

“That… that thumping noise.” THUNK! Citrus jumped with a start and landed on all fours, searching all crevices of the kitchen with wide eyes. Had she fallen asleep on the couch in her jumbled string of thoughts and encouragements? Was this all an ominous dream—her first nightmare in a long time?

Turning to Citrus, Allspice chuckled. “Ah. I get it now. Youze haven’t been downstairs on days like dis. Go out back, where the trees are kept, an' youze’ll find youze perpetrator.”

~

The ability of a tree to survive the harsh demands of winter upon its physiology—the ice and snow of the darkest season freezing the water within its cells, (fatally, usually) of course—is called acclimation. Trees that naturally grow in northern, higher climates, such as conifers (pines, spruces, firs) and those that are able to suppress ice accumulation (oak and walnut trees) exhibit acclimation at an impressive capacity. Temperatures can dip as low as 14 degrees Fahrenheit, and still a spruce or walnut will stand, a testament to the power of change in the face of changeless Nature.

Trees that have been planted where the intentions of Nature never reached, their roots plucked and packed and re-purposed, were not always so lucky. An orange tree is a sub-tropical species, suited to drink the rays of the sun and withstand the spray of an unforgiving sea. It is not meant to withstand the fall of snow or the temperamental desires of the frozen north.

The orange tree in the garden, along with the Orange matriarch’s foalhood dreams, had long ago succumbed to the disconnect between its existence and reality.

Libra Scales could not bear any ill will against the tree. It was a being as much as she was—albeit with many more limbs. It had done her no wrong. It had simply done as it should in the environment it had been stolen into, and passed away.

Eighteen years ago, with a foal growing and changing inside her, Libra Scales had planted this orange tree with Bernie Madhoof. Their dreams were mere seedlings then, sprouting with a meager house and one orange tree.

The tree had died within the year.

Libra didn’t remember exactly when her dreams were buried alongside it.

She kicked the withered, grizzled trunk with her hindhooves once more, hypnotized by the satisfying THUNK! it screamed as her hindhooves met the heartwood. Bark long had stripped and bled away in coats of sap, leaves and rotting oranges had been shaken free in memories of yesteryear, and all but the strongest branches had fallen victim to Libra Scales’ unrelenting hooves. She took her hooves to the orange tree, instead of taking them to the Orange stallion.

The foal of loving, close parents, Libra Scales treated the word divorce with the same disdain and fear as the word cancer. She had long vowed to nopony but her own inner critic that, until the day came when Bernie took a hoof to her or the foals, she would stay. She would stay, and smile, and make love, and run the family business, even if her stallion ran it into the ground. She would go down with the ship, whistling in the moonlight a mournful tune of love and sacrifice as she drowned.

She couldn’t take the fillies away from their father, as much as a bastard he could be. And… she wasn’t sure if she could take the world by its mane anymore, pushing forty and so, so tired.

So, she kicked the tree. She kicked it at least once a week, sometimes twice. Occasionally, there would be weeks when she wandered into the garden every day, slamming her hooves into the soft heartwood (all that remained) until sweat blinded her eyes. The mare knew there would be a day when the trunk would burst, unable to absorb her catharsis any longer.

Libra Scales didn’t know what she would do then.

Closing her eyes, marching all of Bernie’s hissing insults and mocking words before her like soldiers into the firefight, Libra kicked the orange tree over and over, unaware that the show now had an audience.

“Mother?”

She paused, her hindhooves in mid-strike, meeting her oldest filly’s eyes. Retracting her agents of death and destruction, Libra generated what surely amounted to the most plastic of smiles. “Hello, Citrus.”

Trotting over, drinking in the sight of the tree—it looked like a skeleton with its hooves pleading towards the heavens in desperation—Citrus quietly observed, “I don’t think you’ll be getting any oranges out of this one, Mother.”

“Heh, heh. You’re always quite the comedian, my dear.” Libra Scales left the tree to its own misery, silently apologizing as she always did, and nuzzled her filly’s mane. “Always so observant.”

Returning the gesture, Citrus chuckled weakly. “Um… thanks, Mom?”

Libra ushered to her daughter, leading her away from the memorial tree to a thicker part of the garden, where bushes of herbs grew proudly, not yet dormant in the face of autumn’s approach. She motioned to two chairs near a pot of thyme, and Citrus acknowledged, plopping her flank into one. Mother joined daughter in the garden.

They paused, listening to the breeze begin to whisper. The leaves had not yet transformed, chlorophyll hanging on by its cellular threads. Change was crisp in the air and could not be halted.

“I suppose you’re wondering what that is all about.”

“Well… I had some ideas. I wasn’t really reading in the living room.”

Her mother, the mare she had adored and idolized since her earliest memories of foalhood, sighed, sounding much older than she claimed to be. “I know.”

“Do you… do you want to talk about it?” Citrus asked.

“… I don’t know if there is anything to talk about. Things are have they always been, Citrus. Bernie and I, well... we don’t see eye-to-eye on some things.”

That was an understatement, and both mares knew it.

Taking her mother’s hooves in hers, Citrus Blossom said, “Please, Mother. Tell me.”

“There is nothing to tell. He is not the same stallion I loved, and neither am I the same mare. Evolution is not just a series of test questions in biology, my dear.”

“I know.” It was Citrus's turn to sigh. “Are you… are you going to—"

“No,” Libra said, shaking her head. “He has not given me a reason to.”

“But…” Citrus drifted, watching as the skies began to darken. She could not suppress the mournful tone in her voice, realizing with a deep sadness why her mother had chosen the orange tree as her scapegoat. “But what about what he said about Babs? And… and Auntie?”

Citrus had been told little about her lost aunt, Libra never seeming ready or willing to tell the entire tale. She knew that her aunt had run a marvelous farm out west in Appleloosa, planting some of the very first apple trees to grow in the desert sands. She knew that her aunt had a lovely and beautiful partner who survived her and later went on to become a nurse in one of the big cities, leaving behind acres of bittersweet memories.

She knew about the curse, the curse that crept and stole ponies away from those they loved with or without warning, all magic and prayer powerless in its presence.

Cancer.

“I… I can’t forgive him for that… but… it is still not physical violence.” Libra Scales, leading the company by default if not by public acceptance, willed her tears away, finding the fractured places within her soul beginning to crack at their mentioning. She was not one for words when it came to the sister whom Fate had stolen from her.

“But… what about what he did to Greyhoof? Isn’t that enough for you to justify it?”

“Greyhoof is an elderly stallion, Citrus. Elders can fall down the stairs, you know, or over their own hooves.”

“…”

“…”

“… You’re just in denial. No. You’re drowning in it.”

“So maybe I am,” Libra shot back, releasing her grip on her daughter’s forehooves. “Can you blame me? Twenty years, Citrus. Twenty years don’t just disappear in the twinkle in an eye or the shaking of lawyers’ hooves.”

Feeling ancient, Libra Scales looked down at Manehatten below the hill, wishing to a deaf genie that she had chosen a butcher, a baker, a candlestick-maker... anything but a business-pony.

Citrus Blossom had no room to speak, and she knew it. Her own excursions into the deep, black, treacherous sea that was love had been shallow and short-lived. Colts of all stripes, beyond, within, and below her league saw her beauty, saw how she simply glowed. None of them had been able to capture her heart, and some hadn’t even given her the morning-after.

Citrus was not yet at desperation levels, but she imagined if she was—or if her life had become deeply intertwined with a stallion’s, to the tune of her mother’s marriage—it would be better to be imprisoned and stable, than free and tumultuous.

The road and what lay beyond Manehatten was tempting, but still, it was the unknown, the dark horse of the show, the winking Joker in the deck. The wild card is always the feared one.

“I guess you’re right. I just wish… I just wish he’d leave Babs alone.”

Citrus had been lucky, the apple (or orange, really) of her father’s eye. Her foalhood had been an endless parade of wonder and joy, gifts and candy and cake—between the arguments, of course. Citrus often looked into her father’s eyes as he looked at Babs Seed, hoping to catch a glimmer in what she’d seen there in her youth. It was never there.

“As do I.” Regretting her disconnection, Libra Scales took her daughter’s hooves again and whispered, “Citrus, you know that I do love you no matter who you are, right?”

“Of course,” Citrus said, nodding.

“I’ll love you no matter who you become, whether you’re a queen or a little street-sweeper. I’ll love you even if your husband is a mare, or a mare and a stallion, or something in between, or if you take a liking to taxi-carriages and just marry one of those.”

Citrus Blossom couldn’t help but giggle. How would… things… even work with a carriage? Her thoughts began to wander into uncharted territory before she swiftly whisked them away, scolding her perverse imagination.

Libra Scales smiled weakly, her own imagination running wild. “And,” she continued, losing her words in the whisper of the wind, “that goes for Babs even more so. Do you know whom I see when I look in that little filly’s eyes, Citrus?”

“Who, mother?” her eldest whispered.

Unable to bury all of her memories alongside the withered orange tree, feeling salt and sadness trickle down her cheek, Libra Scales replied softly, “Her.”

~

“Citrus! I’m home!”

Babs Seed burst through the front door to the Orange Family Mansion, finding herself disappointed for the second day in a row that Greyhoof was not there to greet her. So many things had changed for the foal in such little time that her system was still recovering from the rearrangements.

Dat’s strange. She’s usually down heeya by now. Suppertime’s soon.

Shrugging, Babs trotted into the kitchen, greeted by the sight of Allspice at the table. The chef had set the table for two and taken one of the seats, two full bowls of hearty stew steaming amongst the empty space of the oak. Babs stumbled into her seat, sniffing the bowl. Root vegetable stew. One of her favorites. Allspice had kicked one into the goal again, twice in the same day.

“Hey, Allspice!” Babs smiled. “How are youze doin’ today?”

Tipping her mug of coffee back into her aching throat, looking frazzled as usual, Allspice said flatly, “Same as every day, kid. Eat up. There’s plenty mo' where dat came from.”

Not needing to be told twice, Babs dug into the bowl, ravenous from hunger. A newfound love of sports had sapped her muscles and bones, demanding replenishment. She savored her meal, neglecting manners in the process, dripping vegetable juice all over herself.

Allspice said nothing, merely raising an eyebrow.

“Celestia, Allspice, dis is great!” Babs said, slurping down the last drops of stew onto her thirsty tongue. “Makin’ botha ma favorite meals in one day? Youze is ma new favorite pony!”

Laughing into her coffee, newly spewing caffeine all over the table, Allspice replied, “Aw, kid, cut the flattery. I’ve made dis fo' youze a thousand times.”

“But… but, surely youze have done summat different! Mo' celery? Less leek?”

“Pish-posh. Same ol’, same ol’. Heeya, give me youze bowl an' I’ll get youze mo', Babs.”

Watching Allspice lazily ladle another batch of heavenly stew into the ceramic bowl, Babs released her question at last, satisfied that Allspice would at least reluctantly answer it. “Where is everypony, Allspice?”

“Youze father is workin' on an important business presentation upstairs, Babs Seed. It would be best youze not disturb him. Madame Citrus an' Madame Libra are in the garden discussin' business matters also, an' I would recommend youze still clear o' dem until dey come back inside.” The mare set the warm bowl of her life’s work, her under-appreciated devotion, in front of the filly. She smiled slightly, regretting her lies, but finding them sweeter and smoother than the jagged truth of the Orange family ties.

“Oh,” was all Babs Seed could reply, before hunger beckoned her again.

Babs polished off her second bowl of root vegetable stew, slower this time, savoring each morsel as slow as she possibly could, listening for the sound of hooves down the stairs or at the door. Today was such a good day… at least I thought it was… I want ta tell youze 'bout it, Ma’ and Da’. An' Citrus, too. I want youze ta be proud o' me. I’m proud o' me…

“Why the long face, little filly?”

Allspice softly dropped her mug to the table, finding that no amount of caffeine would awaken her from this reality. Greyhoof was gone, the Orange guardians were fighting again, Citrus had discovered her mother’s secret (well… that had been Allspice’s doing, but it had been a secret), and Babs Seed was oblivious to it all.

Empathy stirred in the recesses of her hardened heart, iced by years of wage-slavery and humiliations both large and small. It had been a lonely twelve years, and though she longed to leave the mansion, to just up and quit and see where the road would take her, Allspice could never find the strength.

She realized that she probably had more in common with Babs Seed than previously thought.

Babs sighed into her empty bowl, letting her head hang. “Today was such a good day, Allspice. I even played hoofball fo' the first time in… I can’t remember when. An'… the bullies didn’t say two words ta me, neitha Not a single one. It’s… nice. Strange, but nice. An'… I dunno. I guess I jus' wanted ta share those things, dat’s all. I thought dey were important.”

Allspice smiled, seeing herself reflected in those innocent green eyes. “Dey still are important things, don’t youze think? Does a rose not smell as sweet because nopony is around ta smell it? Does it lose its scent?”

But, isn’t scent only defined by the nose o' the sniffer? Does sense exist in a world where nopony has sensory organs anymo'?

Though she felt a stirring debate itching within her mind, Babs Seed decided that Allspice’s disguise was beginning to wear thin, and put logic aside at the opportunity of seeing the mare as something more than a servant. “I… I guess not,” she muttered.

“Youze see? It’s still wonderful, even in the winter. It still grows. It still has its roots. It’ll come back, once the skies are a bit brighter all around. An' youze parents an' Citrus will be ready ta hear the story soon, an' it’ll be as great ta tell as the moment it happened.”

Allspice began to reach for her cup again, but, remembering futility, decided against it. She offered up a smile to the little filly, and found it not as forced as before.

Babs Seed returned the gesture and asked, “Befo' dey’re ready… do youze wanna hear 'bout it, Allspice? 'Bout the best game o' hoofball in Equestria itself?”

Laughing, Allspice replied, “O' course. Tell me all 'bout it.”

~

The alicorn of the night, catcher of dreams and painter of the stars, had just begun her patrol of the night skies, dragging her lantern from its hiding-place beneath the void when the stallion heard his doorknob turn. There had been no need for a lock. The only ponies who grasped that doorknob knew their names, and he had no need to repeat them or bar them entry. His home was his castle, his bedroom his throne room. A king had no reason to fear his subjects. He was far too much for them to handle, regardless of their number.

Bernie Madhoof, unable to name his trespasses and pray away his sins at the altar of the Most High, had retired early, warming his hooves between expensive layers of cotton and silk. He felt his bride join him, brushing her hooves against his back and flank. They were cold, but not unpleasantly so.

He flipped himself, running his hooves over her stomach, taking one of her ears into his maw. She stirred but did not move, neither rejecting nor accepting his advance.

“Libra…” He moaned, blowing hot air into her ear. The night was young, and so was his blood. He was hot from the wine, riding his buzz into the night sky, ushering his bride to come with him, to soar above the stars together.

He never dreamt of pegasus wings. He didn’t need to. He was Bernie Madhoof, the most powerful stallion in all of Manehatten. He could do anything.

“Libra.” He felt himself growing hot, tightening his hooves around his mare. He ran his muzzle through her thick mane, memorizing her scent. He wanted to bathe in her fragrance, roll around in it until he was consumed by it. He felt his need gnawing in his stomach, increasing his heart rate, flooding his muscles with blood.

It had been so long.

Libra Scales rolled out of his hooves, inching closer to the edge of the king-sized bed. “No, Bernie,” she spat, thoroughly sickened by his nerve. “No.”

“Come on, Libra, please…” Madhoof forward in the darkness, pulling his youthful bride towards him once more. She was just playing coy. Mares always did this. They would wink and smile, circle and nuzzle, nibbling on his ears, giving off all the mating signals of ancient times. Then, once the dance of love and flesh began to beckon, they would play shy, play coy, denying their urges until he was forced to read between their lines.

Libra Scales had never played this game with him, but other mares had, and he would always win.

“No,” she repeated, flipping herself only enough to face him for a second, forehooves thrusting him away from her in the dark. She could barely believe that she was still here, still under “his” roof, still sharing the sheets with him. Mustering all her patience, Libra Scales had been able to enter the bedroom. If Bernie continued, she would be totally bankrupt of it.

Knowing that the game was almost over, the stallion reached over a third time, towards her stomach and the heat below.

His forehoof had barely touched her fur when the pain began.

Patience had been a chain to an anchor, and then a rope across an acrobat’s stage, stretched taut. Then, with Bernie’s rough hooves, sickeningly-sweet breath, and unwillingness to comply with the most basic of requests, patience had snapped and fallen, striking the Earth.

Patience took Libra’s hindhoof with it, and connected to Bernie’s genitals.

The stallion screamed in pain, reaching octaves he had abandoned past puberty. He rolled, clutching his family jewels, his coin-purse, his blackened and bloody balls that ached and hissed and burned from Libra’s iron hoof. He rolled off the bed, landing with a heavy THUD! on the shag carpeting, sending yet another yelp of pain through his body.

“Don’t you know what ‘no’ means, dipshit?!” Libra screeched, rising from the bed and meeting him on the floor. She took his muzzle in her hooves, eyes wild with fury.

“Libra, I… I…” he managed to squeak, clutching his most private of parts, fighting back waves of nausea. He had never known such pain in his life. Nothing in the textile factories could compare to this agony, his body sounding all sorts of alarms as the most precious parts of him—his DNA, his seed, his legacy dying by the millions now—threatened to burst.

“Yer gonna start listenin’ ta me, ain’t ya, boy?” Libra Scales lost her manners, lost her pride, lost her eloquence and returned to her roots. She grabbed her husband by the muzzle again, squeezing his head between her hooves. “Ain’t ya?”

Bernie Madhoof said nothing, two demons in his brain arguing over the need for relief and the need for truth.

Libra Scales stomped her hoof down again.

Bernie Madhoof howled like a timberwolf and felt shameful tears begin to dot his eyes.

His father would’ve been so ashamed, so disappointed, so utterly disgusted with his pussified wreck of a son. His father had kept his mother in line with a stern hoof; his son feared too much for his business reputation to dare take a hoof to his foals or his mare, though the thoughts ran through his mind too many times to count. It was too late now. Libra had him by the short hairs… literally.

“Answer me, Bernie Madhoof!”

Libra, in her mourning for her sister long dead and her foal (she feared) drifting away, found a new truth in the depths of her irrationality: there was nothing left to lose now. Her dreams were dead. Her sister was dead. Her parents were dead. She was dead, in a sense.

She was a slave to the facades of business, to the subtleties of high-class society, to a set of social expectations and manners and mores that were, frankly and utterly, alien to her. And, most of all, she was a slave to Bernie Madhoof, letting too many ignorant and hateful things slip out of his tongue, letting too much go unpunished.

Libra decided, without breathing a single word of it, through tearful hugs with her eldest, that enough was enough. She couldn’t take it anymore. She couldn’t let the stallion defecate all over her sister’s grave, or poison her foal’s future. Babs Seed could date rocks for all she cared, as long as she was happy. Her cutiemark could be of a broom or a frying pan, as long as she was content. It was impossible for her to be happy or content with a father so judgmental, so bigoted, so downright rotten.

Libra Scales would stay with Bernie Madhoof, provided he made a few… concessions.

“Libra! What do you want me to say?! What do you want?!” he shrieked back, tears flowing freely now, his genitals in the vice grip of some twisted monster, some cruel joke of Discord’s creation. He prepared to offer the company, his wealth, and even his life, if his wife would stop him from suffering so.

“Leave Babs Seed alone. And my sister, too. Leave them be. Let them be what they are, whatever they are.” She hissed, bringing his muzzle to meet hers, her eyes intense and wide and fiery. “You’ve got one ball against ya now, buddy-boy. Three more, and you’ll walk off this diamond, ya hear? This will be ma show to run.”

She couldn’t do that… could she?

“You can’t do that!” He growled through the pain. “Orange Enterprises is my company, Libra. You’ve got 50% ownership, and that’s if I’m being generous.”

Libra snapped her head back and laughed, hoping that Princess Luna was enjoying this most unusual of evening escapades. Returning to the stallion’s deep, dark eyes, Libra replied, “Bernie… why do you think I do all the book-keeping?”

He felt his jaw unhinge, and the mare smiled as she stepped off of his bruised, aching body at last.

“It’s 75-25, darling.” Libra Scales giggled, trotting back towards the bed, amused at her ingenuity. “25% of ten million bits is still plenty to retire on, maybe git yerself a nice cabin in the woods somewhere. Or another mansion, really. Ya like mansions, don’t ya, darling? But no, dear, ya’ve got two choices: call or fold. Call, match my bet, start being a better parent and I’ll switch the paperwork back in your favor.

“Fold… and I’ll kick your flank to the curb so fast, ya'll think a bullet train hit ya.”

Pearly whites gleaming in the darkness, Libra Scales met her husband’s eyes with a wide grin, expectant as a dealer in one of the Las Pegasus casinos. What would be his wager now?

“… If I call, will you get me some ice?”

She nodded. “Of course.”

Swearing he could hear the moon laughing at him, Madhoof sighed and conceded, calling the dealer’s bluff with all of his remaining chips. The flop, turn and river had been against him already, so his hopes were low for the final act.

He assumed he lost the showdown, and with a quick flip of the cards (and a smile on Libra’s muzzle), he was right.