• 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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Between The Hammer And Anvil

Between The Hammer And Anvil

The knife tasted blood in that thick haze of milliseconds as the bobtail foal leapt in front of the filly with a bow in her mane, in the moment that would later come to define them forever.

Card Slinger met Babs Seed in the air, and sliced.

Her scream was primal, coming from some place deep inside her soul, flooding the night with her agony. It was a pain she could never predict, blood rushing to the site where the blade had kissed her with its demonic caress, burning through her flesh.

The dagger had connected to her left ear as they had jumped together, slashing downwards, cutting as if he were a particularly sadistic piercer.

As Card Slinger landed, he turned his attention to Apple Bloom once more, his eyes devoid of all emotion or light. His irises turned pitch-black and his pupils widened as he drew the blade once again, covered in Babs Seed's blood.

The filly was unable to speak, or move, or even close her eyes.

Time slowed. Babs Seed forgot her pain in a serendipitous instant and kicked her powerful hindhooves into the colt’s chest, sending him flying. His weapon slipped and flung out of his grasp and landed with a hollow THUNK! against the grass, the pony making a similar noise as he narrowly missed slamming straight into a tree on the other side of the clearing.

She launched herself towards her antagonist, landing on all four of her hooves, standing over him, as her blood began to drip and stain her Cutie Mark Crusaders cape.

She could speak no words. She could only fight.

Her hooves pummeled Card Slinger’s face and stomach and groin, over and over, all the fear and anger and a deep, deep sadness from within her soul released as fire from her hooves, fire and smoke and steam and iron and so, so much blood. She was the hammer, the ground was the anvil, and the colt was a white-hot piece of steel tempered by her vengeance.

In a moment of hesitation, her eyes met his, and in spite of their previous emptiness, she saw fear. She saw not a monster or a mad-pony. She saw, in spite of everything, a victim, a shuddering foal on the cobblestones.

She paused, looked at her work.

Card Slinger’s snout and jaw were bleeding, blackened, and bruised. She’d stomped on his groin more than once, his howls echoing hauntingly throughout the clearing. His chest and his flanks had met her wrath as well, dark, purple bruises erupting all over his flesh.

All through this, she had said nothing, voicing all of her emotions through her iron hooves, through the strength that rushed through her veins and gave her life... that saved her life, and the life of the one she loved.

Looking down at the colt below, the corner of her eye focusing onto the knife at the end of the clearing, Babs Seed spoke at last.

“Give me the knife, Apple Bloom.”

Hypnotized by fear, traumatized by the scene before her, Apple Bloom went mute.

Babs turned to Apple Bloom. “Give me the knife.”

Apple Bloom whimpered as she reached over, taking the bloody dagger in her hooves, handing it to her. Babs Seed grasped the hilt tightly and stared at her quarry below.

Together, the two fillies, the Apple and the Orange, watched as Card Slinger lay helpless at their hooves, all fight in him drained, panting, his breath surrounding him like dragon’s smoke on that cold, cold night.

“So… so… dis is how it ends…” The colt exhaled in between breaths. “So… youze gonna kill me, are youze? Well… go ahead. Fuck you. Go ahead.”

Babs Seed looked at the knife, then looked at Apple Bloom, and, finally, looked at Card Slinger, the blood-red colt with the mane black as night.

She stabbed the knife into the grass, pressing the hilt down with one of her hooves, practically burying it into the Earth.

“Go,” she hissed.

“What?! Are youze fuckin’ crazy?! Youze jus' gonna let me go?!” he demanded, eyes wild and mind running in circles with all sorts of torturous possibilities. Truly, this bad seed, this daughter of a devil—the child of Old Scratch himself—could not be full of such mercy.

He was wrong.

“GO!” Babs Seed barked, pressing her muzzle against his. “GO! Get outta my sight. If I eva, I mean, EVA catch youze on ma property o' harmin' anypony else again… whether it’s me, o’ ma family, o' some foal down the street… I will find youze, Card Slinga. An' I will kill youze.”

The injured colt stumbled to his hooves, making no effort to wrestle his weapon from its resting place in the Earth. Meeting her eyes, Card Slinger remarked to his adversary in the closest he’d ever come to a compliment, “Youze are a better pony than youze father eva was, Babs Seed.”

She said nothing, giving him no affirmation or denial, watching him trot away, limping, through the bushes and out of the woods, until he was a mere shadow, a demon exorcised.

Apple Bloom cried out her name and clung to her, burying her muzzle in her chest.

Babs Seed remained silent, wrapping her forehooves around her as she felt tears began to dampen her fur, sobs wracking the body of the one she protected.

Above them, the clouds let loose their judgment, and wept with a torrent of rain.

The rain soaked through their manes, their capes, their tails, their fur, washing away the steady stream of blood that continued to drip from Babs Seed's ear. The wind remained silent, almost respectful, the heavens crying with Apple Bloom in the hooves of her savior. That savior stood, as still as stone and statue, holding her tight, holding her close.

Finally, one of them spoke.

“Yer… yer an idiot,” Apple Bloom whispered, her little heart racing so fast Babs Seed could feel it through her own thick coat.

“What?” Babs Seed whispered back, over the pouring rain.

“Yer… an… idiot. Yer… stupid.”

“… Why would youze say summat like dat?” Babs could not bring herself to squeeze a single drop of anger into her words. There seemed to be no reason to get angry over things like this anymore.

“Because! You… ya didn’t run…” Apple Bloom sobbed through her tears, not sure if Babs's coat was slicked because of her or the rain anymore. “You coulda saved yourself… but ya didn’t run, you didn’t run an' look what’s happened now! All because o' me…”

The bobtail filly placed a hoof under the chin of the filly with a bow in her hair, raised her head to meet her eyes, emeralds and rubies.

“I’m still heeya, aren’t I?”

Apple Bloom sniffed, her messiah’s words offering little comfort. “But… yer bleedin', Babs. Real bad.”

Babs smiled. “Am I, huh? Funny. I don’t feel a thing, any pain.” Endorphins had flooded into her bloodstream after the adrenaline high had ceased, proliferating through her veins, making Babs Seed feel peaceful and strong, soaring amongst the stars.

“It’s yer ear. It’s… it’s yer left one…”

“Can youze show me?”

Apple Bloom nodded, and gently caressed the injured ear, tilting the cartilage so Babs Seed could see it. “See? There’s a whole… part… o' it… missin’.”

“Hmm. I might as well get it pierced, huh?” Babs said, giggling. Apple Bloom chuckled weakly with her. The sound was music to both of her ears, bleeding or not.

“Yer silly.”

“… I know.”

The two fillies stood there for a moment, Ponyville saved by Manehatten grace. The heavens continued their downpour, soaking them to their marrow, huddled even tighter against each other for warmth.

Suddenly, Apple Bloom reached up and kissed the wound.

“Apple Bloom, I don’t think dat’s very… sanitary…” Babs warned.

“Ah'm sure it’ll be okay. Ah'm jus'… Ah'm jus' makin’ it better,” Apple Bloom said, pressing her muzzle to her hero’s, her tears ceasing at last.

Even though it was artificial, the short, bobbed tail of the Orange fit no more perfectly than it did in the full tail of the Apple as they intertwined.

Above, in the Heavens, in the throne of the moon, the evening star smiled, and halted the rainclouds, granting the two fillies—brought together by destiny—a moment of peace as they caressed under the stars.

~

The road to the Orange Family Mansion was a long one for Apple Bloom. She had made no trek that could compare to this journey before, and doubted that she ever would hence. Even the path out of the Everfree after almost being turned to stone by an angry cockatrice had been easier; she’d at least had Sweetie Belle, Scootaloo, and Fluttershy to keep her alert and calm through the foreboding dark.

Babs Seed, in spite of her reported lack of malaise, had not been able to make it further than the few yards out of the thicket of woods in the park. Apple Bloom had barely caught her as the world spun to black, slipping under her hooves and carrying her on her strong back. Though they were the same age, Babs had both height and weight (muscle, of course) on Apple Bloom, and each step was an act of Celestia itself.

The bleeding had stopped by now. Apple Bloom checked over her shoulder every so often to verify, but that didn’t cease her worries. She trotted as silently as she could, making each hoofstep gentle, so she could hear if her cousin’s breathing suddenly ceased in its rhythm.

She had reached the top of the hill now—or they had, rather—Luna’s parish lantern a candle in the dark, a light to guide them home.

“Don’t worry, Babs,” Apple Bloom whispered, though she knew she would not hear her. “We’re almost there. We’re gonna be alright.”

~

Allspice drummed her hooves on the table, sighing.

It had barely been an hour, yet, something didn’t seem quite right. She’d busied herself with minor cleaning tasks, tidying up the guest room for Applejack and Apple Bloom and laying out dishes for tomorrow’s breakfast. With two extra mouths to feed—three if Master Orange joined them in time—she would need to rise an hour earlier than usual.

She sighed again at the thought. Sleep had been so hard to come by recently, though it had never been as peaceful. Allspice had been far too exhausted to dream.

She’d hear the voices of the three mares arguing upstairs, and the pitter-patter of little hooves running about the garden, but interrupted neither activity. As much as she wanted to toss her own dice in the upstairs argument, wagering on the winner, or watch the foals frolic beneath the starry night, duty calls with a demanding voice.

Come to think of it, Allspice hadn’t heard the foals for a while, and the raised voices above had similarly halted. Strange.

Allspice rose from her stool and began to walk over to the back door. Just as she’d reached the end of the corridor, she heard furious knocking at the front entry, frantic hooves pounding on the oak.

“I’m comin’! I’m comin’! Sheesh,” Allspice muttered to herself as she trotted over to the door.

She opened the door, hinges nearly breaking as the wind flung it wide open.

Her countenance went white at the sight of her visitors.

“Hey… Allspice…” Apple Bloom swayed, an unconscious Babs Seed on her back, dried blood covering the other foal’s left ear.

The world began to spin in Apple Bloom’s eyes, vision tunneling to a tight ellipse, watching the mare in front of her begin to panic. The weight of the foal on her back and the events of the night began to hit her at last. She’d stared Death in the face, and still lived to tell the tale.

It was too much. Far too much.

“Ya might wanna… go get Applejack…” Apple Bloom mumbled, and then fell down onto the welcome mat of the Orange Family porch.

~

There was nothing but green grass. Freshly-trimmed, comfortably thick patches of green grass as far as the eye could see, surrounding one tall, proud oak tree at the top of a gentle hill.

Babs Seed turned about the scene, searching for a companion. At the base of the tree, Apple Bloom, Scootaloo, and Sweetie Belle were chasing after each other in a game of tag, Cutie Mark Crusader capes flowing behind them in the gentle breeze.

Babs felt around her neck and realized that she, too, had her crimson cape, and was one with them. She trotted excitedly up the rolling hill, thick blades of grass tickling her fetlocks, and joined the other foals near the oak tree.

“Can… can I play wit' youze girls?” Babs Seed asked shyly, her tail creeping up to cover the spot where her cutiemark should have been.

“Sure!” Apple Bloom exclaimed, smiling. “Except fer one thing, Babs… Well, two things.”

“What are dey?” Babs asked.

“Well, first, you don’t have to be ashamed of your flank!” Sweetie Belle said, face lighting up with happiness.

“Yeah!” Scootaloo chimed in. “You aren’t defined by your flank, remember?”

“Oh, yeah… youze is right. Well, what’s the otha thing?”

“You need ta wake up, Babs Seed,” Apple Bloom answered as she strode over to the foal, nuzzling her neck.

“Wake up?” Babs asked, returning the gesture and nuzzling her filly. “But… but… it’s so beautiful heeya. Dis is the most beautiful place I’ve eva seen.”

“But, there’s lots of ponies worried about you,” Scootaloo explained, her fragile wings fluttering and levitating her into the cool, crisp air. “And they need you to wake up.”

“But… but what iffa I don’t wanna? What iffa… what iffa I’m scared?” Babs asked in panic, unable to comprehend the possibility of leaving such a paradise.

“Then… we’ll be right here wit' ya,” Apple Bloom said, holding her muzzle in her hooves.

“Heeya? Where is heeya?”

Apple Bloom pressed a forehoof to her chest, feeling for her heartbeat. “Here.”

Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle trotted over to the two, smiling proudly.

“We’ll always be wit' ya, Babs Seed, in yer heart. An' you’ll always be in mine,” the Apple explained to the Orange, grasping one of her forehooves and leading it to feel her own heartbeat.

Babs Seed could say nothing, only smile.

Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle clapped their hooves together and said, “All right. Enough of that, you two. It’s time to wake up, Babs.”

Babs gasped as she began to hover, lifted into the air by the unseen hooves of the Most High. The three fillies below her waved goodbye excitedly as she rose from the field, from the one oak tree on the one tiny hill in Paradise.

In spite of her lack of pegasus wings, Babs Seed felt no fear, as she rose up, up, up, into the air and out of her dream.

~

She was lying in her parents’ bed, spread-eagle, with four mares and one foal huddled around her. Her Cutie Mark Crusader cape was gone. Her ear was burning.

And it was much, much too bright.

“She’s awake,” Citrus Blossom whispered.

Babs Seed groaned.

“Step back, y’all, give her some air!” Applejack ordered. The others took a few hoof-steps back as Babs began to sputter and cough.

“What… what happened…”

“There’ll be a lot of discussion about that later,” Libra Scales said as she walked over to her daughter. “For now… can you move your limbs, darling? Move your hooves. Move all of them.”

Babs tested each of her hooves, feeling a supreme weakness flood her body at last. She barely had the energy to do much more than lift each forehoof and hindhoof for a few seconds, but those mere actions caused the adults in the room to breathe a collective sigh of relief.

“Allspice, bring us some iodine, cotton balls, gauze, and roller bandages, please,” Libra ordered, turning to Allspice.

Allspice nodded. “Yes, ma’am,” she said, slipping out of the master bedroom towards the second-floor bathroom and its First Aid kit.

“Are ya okay, Babs?” Apple Bloom whispered, forehooves on the bed, eyes full of concern and threatening tears.

“Thanks ta youze, I am,” Babs said weakly, cracking a smile. Each muscle that moved—even the ones in her face—burned with an intensity that spoke of something beyond mere exhaustion.

Ma whole body feels wounded.

Allspice returned, handing the requested supplies to Citrus Blossom. “Um, I don’t think I should—“

“Ah’ve got it,” Applejack said, grabbing the items from Citrus’s unsteady hooves. “Ah’ve had ta fix up Big Macintosh Celestia knows how many times. Stupid stallion’s always hurtin' himself in one way o’ the other,” she grumbled, making her way past Libra Scales to Babs Seed.

“W-w-what are youze gonna do?” Babs Seed asked, eying the bottle of liquid that was emblazoned with a skull and crossbones.

“Ah’m sorry, honey, but this is gonna hurt. A lot.”

“Then why are youze doin’ it?!” Babs panicked.

Applejack sighed. “Would y’all rather Ah don’t fix ya up, an' in a few weeks we have ta rush ya the hospital because it got infected?”

What kinda STUPID question is dat?! “No!! O’ course not!!”

“Then, close yer eyes an' bite yer tongue,” Applejack said, leaning down over the foal and examining her ear. “Horsefeathers. That’s a big ol’ chunk gone. This’ll be fun.” She pulled the cork out of the bottle with her teeth, tossing it aside. Taking a cotton ball from the bag, she carefully soaked it in the foul-smelling liquid, then asked, “Ya ready?”

Seriously?! “No!” Babs Seed cried, heart pounding in the anticipation of even more pain.

Apple Bloom took one of her outstretched hooves between both of hers. “It’s alright, Babs, Ah’m here.”

Applejack nodded and looked to the other three mares. “She’s got the right idea, y’all. Hold her hooves down.”

Babs Seed gulped and squeezed her eyes shut as she felt Applejack's hot breath near her ear, strong hooves pinning her to the bed on all sides. The iodine made its contact with the open wound, and she howled in absolute agony, voice shaking the walls. “Ahh, dammit, oh, DAMMIT, Celestia, it BURNS!”

She burst into tears, almost wishing for Card Slinger to be there and slice the other ear open wide to distract her from the pain, to make this current hurt pale by comparison.

Citrus Blossom could take no more. Once Applejack had finished cleaning the wound and begun to bandage it up, she galloped out of the master bedroom, tears of her own falling from her eyes.

“Citrus!” Libra Scales yelled after her, taking to her hooves in pursuit of her daughter.

Libra slammed the door behind her, leaving Allspice, Applejack, and Apple Bloom with Babs Seed. Babs's chest was rising and falling slowly, sleep beckoning her with expectant hooves.

“Is… is dat it?” Babs asked, breathing heavily. “Are youze done?”

“Yes, Babs Seed,” whispered Applejack. “That’s the honest truth. There’ll be no mo'. Tomorrow, when ya wake, Ah’ll change yer bandages fer ya, but there’s gonna be no mo' cleanin’ of it. What I just used will keep everythin’ bad outta it.”

Summat ta keep the bad stuff out… should’ve used dat stuff a long time ago. Do dey make dat fo’ bullies an' murderers?

Babs Seed closed her eyes and exhaled. “Good. Cousin AJ?”

“Yes, hon?”

“Can… can youze an' Apple Bloom stay wit’ me tonight? I… I don’t wanna be alone.”

Applejack looked to her sibling, who smiled and nodded. She then turned to Allspice and offered, “Why don’t ya take the guest bedroom tonight instead o’ us, Allspice? We’ll be fine up here.”

Allspice blushed at the gesture. It would be the first time she had slept in a real bed in almost twelve years. “I… Youze honor me, Madame Applejack. Thank youze.” She bowed and left the room, softly closing the door just as Applejack began to turn off the lights.

~

Citrus Blossom wanted to kick the tree, wanted to burst through the heartwood, wanted to knock it down and let it fall to the city below, crushing all evil beneath its trunk. She wanted to stamp out all of it, every bully, every criminal, every crooked law-pony and business-pony, maybe even Bernie Madhoof along with them.

Of course, he was conveniently absent tonight… almost too conveniently, Citrus thought.

She wanted to brush away such possibilities, fearful of what her thoughts might create, but what did it matter? The dark night had risen and almost stolen the sister she loved from her in its fury. What did it matter, what she thought?

Did anything matter anymore?

She sat under the memorial orange tree, tears watering the long-dead roots. Citrus Blossom thought of her own dreams of fashion and fame, dreams of leaving Manehatten in her dust and becoming a model in Canterlot. Her dreams seemed so superficial now. What did it matter if her name was not a household phrase? What did it matter if she’d never see it written in lights?

She thought of her wardrobe full of clothes, the five-star meals they ate year ‘round consisting of ingredients imported from all of Equestria, their luxurious and glorious mansion. Citrus remembered that her father had once ranted during one of his drunken stupors about beans and corn, about owning no clothes but for one tattered winter coat, about sharing a little shack in the woods with his parents and brother. Poverty always seemed to be a monster in his eyes, an unholy demon that demanded exorcism.

However, her father had no tales of forced barbering or being attacked in neighborhood parks by rabid foals with knives, so perhaps poverty would be preferable to the life of twisted luxury the Oranges had led.

And… Applejack. How could she have asked such a heavy question of Citrus and her mother? How could she have barreled into their home, filling the miles between them to propose such an awful thing? Did she even care about her cousins, aunt, and uncle, or was she merely exercising what little authority she had as one of the Elements of Harmony?

“Hey,” a mare whispered behind her, dragging her from the depths of her swarming thoughts.

Citrus Blossom rose her head to meet her mother’s eyes, tears staining her face. “Hey, Mom.”

“So… how many licks did this ol’ thing get, this time?” Libra Scales asked, taking a seat next to her daughter on the dew-kissed grass.

“None,” Citrus Blossom said, sniffling. “I… I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I’m just so, so—“

“Angry, confused, afraid, sad, helpless?” Libra offered, reaching a forehoof across her daughter’s shoulders.

“All of the above,” Citrus answered, leaning into her mother.

“Me, too, kiddo.”

“I… I just… I can’t believe Applejack’s nerve. Buying an extra train ticket, just for Babs, so she could come back with them to Ponyville? Not just to visit, but to… to—”

“Move. I know. I was there,” Libra Scales said.

“I know. I wasn’t saying you weren’t.”

“I know. Sorry. I’m just…” Libra’s voice trailed off into the distance somewhere, and she sighed. “I’m just… torn. At first, I was pretty angry, darling. I was ready to tear Applejack a new… you-know-what. But, then this up and happens… I… I don’t know. I love Babs Seed, honey. I love her so, so much.”

“Me too, Mom,” Citrus whimpered, nuzzling the mare’s shoulders. “Me too.”

“You know, when she was born, your aunt was so, so happy. That first time she held that little foal in her hooves, why… it was like watching an angel hold her.” Libra's eyes filled with tears of joy and sadness at the memory.

Watching the clouds above begin to part, revealing a cosmos painted masterfully with stars, Citrus Blossom said, “Maybe she was the angel that was protecting Babs tonight. Maybe she pushed the knife outta the way.”

“I don’t know, Citrus. I don’t know if there’s life after death.”

“I hope so, Mother.”

“Me too.”

The two sat in silence, watching as a comet passed across Luna’s canvas, leaving a trail of stars in its wake. “Make a wish,” Libra Scales muttered.

Citrus Blossom giggled and whispered, “I thought youze didn’t believe in things like that, Mom.”

Libra Scales chuckled. “I don’t know what I believe anymore. But it’s nice to think about.”

“I guess.”

Libra pulled her eldest into a hug, embracing her tightly, watching the moon as it rose to a new day, city clock chiming in the distance for the flipping of the four zeroes. Yesterday, Libra Scales greatest worries had been Bernie Madhoof’s sudden change in behavior and the future of Orange Enterprises. Now, in the approaching twilight of a new day, all of those fears seemed downright ridiculous and superficial.

Now, she worried about her youngest foal, if she was safe now, and if she would be if she remained under her care. The mare let her thoughts wander, running a hoof through her daughter’s fiery mane, lost in repetitive motion.

Breaking the silence, Citrus Blossom asked, “So… what are we going to do? Are we going to stay here? All of us?”

“We can’t all leave,” answered Libra, shaking her head. “I still have an entire company to run. Regardless of your father’s current turnaround, I still do most of the accounting and paperwork. My name is tied to that entire corporation, Citrus. If the ship sinks, I’ll be going down with it. And you… you have your own dreams to follow, don’t ya? Do you want to stay?”

A thousand points of lights above all whispered to her, urging her to speak the truth, to let her deepest desires roam free. Citrus pretended to be deaf to their voices.

Regardless of her own reservations, she could not abandon her mother. Libra Scales would wither away if she did, and both of them knew it.

“… No. I want to stay and help you run the company, too. It’ll be mine someday,” Citrus reasoned at last, the moon itself sighing in disappointment at her lies.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. Yes, mother, I am sure.” She offered the best grin she could muster in such dark times.

Libra sighed. “I see.”

Citrus looked away from the stars and back to her mother. They had both been dancing around the central question, tiptoeing around the elephant in the room, afraid to wake it and send it stampeding. They couldn’t do this forever, Citrus knew, and let the hammer drop.

“And what about Babs Seed? Where shall she go? Will she stay?”

Libra Scales dropped her gaze to the ground, where the withered roots of her sister’s memorial tree tangled beneath the Earth, never to know life again. Her sister would’ve been able to handle this dilemma much better than she; she’d always been the stronger one. She missed the mare daily, but more so in times like this, in times of crossroads and crisis.

She could not hold back her tears again. “I don’t know,” Libra said, crying.

“I don’t know.”

~

Applejack was used to sleeping on hard, barn floors, and the plush carpet of the master bedroom was definitely much more comfortable than that. Still, Applejack could find not one single drop of sleepiness within her brain, could not allow comfort to sway her asleep, though the darkness must have flooded her mind with melatonin.

She arched her back, placing her forehooves behind her neck, counting stars outside the bay window. Next to her, Babs Seed was snoring, the poor foal having slipped into the waiting hooves of the Sandmare the moment the lights had been shut off. Apple Bloom was curled up beside her, but the sound of the filly’s tossing and turning meant her sister wasn’t finding this any easier, either.

“Applejack,” Apple Bloom whispered, peering up from the covers and past Babs's slumbering body.

“What is it, lil’ sis?” Applejack whispered back.

“Ah can’t sleep.”

“No, really?

“Yeah! Ah really can’t!”

Applejack face-hoofed. “That’s not what Ah meant! Now, hush, Apple Bloom, you’ll wake yer cousin!”

“Are ya kiddin’? She is out,” Apple Bloom replied, sitting up in the darkness.

Her sibling raised an eyebrow. “And how would ya know that?

“Um… lucky guess?” Apple Bloom replied, blushing, hoping the night would conceal her cheeks.

The Element of Honesty, true to her title, saw through it anyway, and grinned. “Ah thought as much. You were way too excited ta take that four-hour train ride wit' me here, sugarcube.”

Chuckling awkwardly, Apple Bloom began to fidget with her forehooves. “Heh, heh, Ah dunno what ya mean, Applejack…”

“We can talk mo’ ‘bout it in the mornin’,” Applejack said, her grin still wide and gleeful. “It’s not a bad thing, though, if yer worried. But let’s try an’ sleep, okay?”

“Okay, big sis. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Apple Bloom.”

Applejack closed her eyes, breathing deep, feeling her back ease into the carpeting, all muscle tension melting away. Tomorrow would be a momentous morning full of might and meaning. She’d expected that from the moment she’d bought the tickets. With the events of this evening, however, her proposal carried a much more urgent and serious weight.

Even if Applejack had her way, and escorted two foals instead of one on the train ride back home, there would be really nothing to celebrate.

She lifted her gaze to the foals on the bed, watching Apple Bloom nuzzle Babs Seed's chest as she settled into her covers. That filly, regardless of who she would grow up to become, was one thing the Ponyville mare hoped nopony would ever forget.

A hero.

Applejack fell into the deep embrace of Princess Luna’s night, under the glow of the Manehatten moon.