• Published 22nd Apr 2013
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Severed Roots - Bad_Seed_72



Third installment in the "Tangled Roots" timeline. When our heroes of the West and our villains in the East clash at last, who will be left standing?

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Page Turner

Page Turner

Beyond the confines of civilization, a reunion defying all expectation was held in whispered excitement. Three ponies in the boomtown’s bar huddled together around the counter, the proprietors announcing last call, sending the majority of their stumbling patrons scurrying away into the night.

Apple Bloom had been the one to rise and flip the sign in the window, displaying a mournful, “Sorry! We’re closed!” apology to the disappointment of the West’s fledgling alcoholics. She chased the only remaining patron, who was currently hammering away a disjointed harmony on the piano, out of her bar. Pinkie Pie protested, flailing her hooves and offering one last jaunty saloon tune. Apple Bloom reassured her, "Don't worry, Pinkie, we'll be open back up tomorrowa at sundown 'gain!"

"But, but! I wanted to play just one more song! One more super-duper congratulations-on-not-dying-in-the-desert song!" Pinkie objected, frowning, the feather in her mane (which completed her "classy" saloon outfit) visibly deflating.

Apple Bloom glanced over her shoulder. Babs Seed and her savior (and father) chortled heartily together, slamming the oak with their forehooves, lost in some traveler's tale. She raised an eyebrow and offered a gentle smile to the rambunctious party pony. "Can this wait, Pinkie? Ah've kinda got somethin' important goin' on right now."

Sighing overdramatically, Pinkie rolled her eyes and relented, "I guesssss. Geez, you and Babs can't wait, can you?"

"Ah beg yer pardon?" Apple Bloom glared at her, her muzzle hotly matching her mane.

"Oh, nothing, silly! Now, my Pinkie Sense is telling me if I don't run off to the hotel and get a room right now, your ol' pal Pinkie's gonna be sleeping in a cactus! Again!"

Spinning on a bit, Pinkie Pie burst through the saloon doors and galloped towards the settlement's inn.

Muttering disbelief—just how had Pinkie found them out here, anyway?—Apple Bloom locked the doors and joined Babs Seed and Turner at the bar. Witching Hour was upon them, yet, in the glow of the strongest time for magic, nopony felt fatigued. Even if that had been a lie, she would’ve swallowed it with glee.

It wasn’t every day that one met a stallion who, if the cards were played correctly, might become one’s father-in-law.

"So... I neva asked dis, long 'go, but, what's youze full name?" Babs Seed asked of the stallion, absentmindedly cleaning a shot glass as she spoke. "Can't jus' be 'Turner,' are youze?"

He coughed into a forehoof and cleared his throat. "Ha! Well, I am, ta most. Youze see, ma parents weren't exactly the kindest in the namin' department. Ta me an' ma brotha both. He got the worst o' it. But me..."

The stallion broke eye contact for a second, taking in the scene before him. This oasis in the sands was constructed expertly, not one nail out of place. Every decoration that hung on its walls whispered of The Watering Hole. He smiled, an unfamiliar but welcome fatherly pride swelling in his heart. Turning back to Babs Seed, Turner finished, "Ma full name is Page Turner. But please, Babs Seed, jus' call me Turner."

Jus' like when I was a foal, Babs thought with a grin.

"An' jus' call me Babs," she replied as she smiled back. Doubt and skepticism should have flooded her mind, demanding further inquiry and analysis. How could the bartender and barber of The Watering Hole, the savior on the dusty Manehatten street, been her father, and not Bernie Madhoof, as she'd been led to believe? And why had her mother said nothing of this?

His eyes met hers again, and she knew once more, all defiant rationality swept away by the forehooves of recognition. He was tall and strong, muscles chiseled by a thousand trials visible and rippling beneath his thick coat. In his eyes, she found the same taunting light in her own. His manecut matched hers. While that was an artificial construct, the resemblance was uncanny. He, too, never shook his Manehatten accent, no matter how much he willed it.

To deny their connection would be foalish.

Despite geography, he had always been there (though immaterial most of the time) through her darkness to guide her. He was the figure of the wasteland, the beacon and the fleeting shadow. And he was here.

"An' ya can jus' call me Bloom," Apple Bloom said, her countenance bright. Turner nodded and grinned.

Babs asked him, "Youze want mo' Daniel's?"

"Iffa youze please, m'lady," he said with a chuckle.

Babs topped off his glass and passed it to the stallion. "Thank youze."

Turner brought the glass to his lips and took a sip. He smacked his lips and mused, "Youze know, when I first saw youze walk in, I saw dat cutiemark o' youze. Neva seen anythin' like it. Must mean summat pretty special, eh?"

Bloom and seed exchanged knowing smiles. "Youze could say dat, Turner."

He chuckled. "Good kid. Youze'll have ta tell me the story sometime." Rising a bit from his stool, he gestured to his own marked flank. There blazed a single black compass rose. "An' I'll tell youze 'bout dis one. Story fo' story?"

Holding out a forehoof with a sly smile, savior vowed to ward, knowing that both tales would surely spin and entwine, surpassing the boundaries of their lost time.

Babs accepted the gesture with a laugh. "O' course."

The mare beside her smiled at her observation. Truly, there was no reason for agnosticism; Babs and Turner were mirror images of each other, mare and stallion, and their reunion would make a believer out of the most disillusioned.

"Oh, we've got some stories fer ya, Turner," Apple Bloom said, winking.

"I'm sure youze do. Both o' youze. Vagabonds always do."

"Heh... not sure iffa youze can call us dat quite yet, but we've definitely got some stories. Now," Babs began, her tone inching towards a more serious matter, "I know dis is a pretty deep question ta ask o' youze so soon, considerin'... how things are. But, Turner, how did youze an' Lib—ma motha, I mean—meet?" An' why has she neva said anythin' ta me 'bout youze? O'... wait...

After another sip of his whiskey, Turner replied as he wiped his muzzle with one of his grizzled forehooves, "I thought youze would neva ask, Babs..."

~

Summertime in Trottingham was a glory to behold. The shining city on the water came into full bloom with the turning and promise of new life in the glow of the strongest rays. Wildflowers blossomed throughout the entire city, rows of every color under Celestia's sun. Even from the view of his seventh-story casino window, a young stallion marveled at the sight.

He'd been on his hooves all day, serving drinks for pittance wages. Sweat trickled down his neck and shoulders, soaking his stained apron and ridiculous red-and-white bowtie. The so-called "guests" he was obliged to serve treated him as a mere whipping-colt, barking orders and occasionally tossing their drinks in his face when the cards didn't fall in their favor. So much for luck.

A young Page Turner stared out the window until a gruff edict pulled him away. "You! More beer!"

Snorting angrily, Turner spun on his hooves and trotted over to the latest "guest". An obese, bearded unicorn stallion, a fat cigar hanging from his lips and polluting the overheated air of the casino, narrowed his eyes and scowled as the lowly wait-pony fulfilled his request. "Took you long enough, boy! Quit staring out the window and get back to work, before I call the manager!"

"Yes, sir," Turner mumbled, suppressing a sigh. He turned away, noting that the serving-tray in his forehovees was now depleted of fresh drinks. He began to stride towards the filthy kitchens when another command—this one far less venomous—halted him.

"Excuse me, sir?"

He glanced over his shoulder. At a blackjack table behind him, a lily-white Earth pony mare smiled sweetly. His breath caught in his throat as he turned to face her. She was beyond beautiful, a sight for his tired eyes. She ran a forehoof absentmindedly through her long, flowing tangerine mane. "Yes, you, sir," she said, chuckling slightly and beckoning him.

"H-h-hello, um, ma'am. What can I g-get y-youze?" he stuttered, the tray in his hooves suddenly tripling in its weight.

"I don't know. You tell me. I want something... sweet. Something sweet and dark," replied the mare, a wide grin streaking across her muzzle.

She leaned towards him, resting her forehooves under her chin, her tail swishing behind her. The other gamblers at the table rolled their eyes and turned their attention to the next deal. The dealer snuck one of her chips into his pot, although he skipped dealing her into the round. She did not notice. Well, maybe she did, but she didn't care. And, somehow, neither did the stallion blushing and chuckling before her.

"Uh, er, um... I'll be right back, ma'am," Turner said finally. Before he could stop himself, he cantered into the kitchen, nearly knocking over a fellow waiter and his own towering tray of drinks.

"'Ey, Turner, youze alright?" asked one of the chefs, raising a concerned eyebrow.

Panting, Turner spat, "There's! A! Mare! Out! There! She's—"

"Aww, does ol' Turner have some lil' mare givin' him the ol' come-on?" The chef bellowed a hearty laugh, slapping his stomach in delight.

"S-s-shuddup!" Slamming the tray onto a kitchen counter, Turner pleaded, "Quick! She asked fo' summat 'sweet an' dark' ta drink! What should I make her?"

Biting his tongue, the chef mused, "Well, I can think o' a few things. Nothin' youze can put in a glass, though—"

"Oh, youze is useless!"

~

"Heeya y-youze g-go." His teeth chattering, Turner offered a drink to the mare whose eyes captivated him and forced him to leave thoughts of this worthless wage-slavery behind. She accepted with a gracious wink and took a small sip of the creation.

Rubbing the back of his neck with a forehoof, Turner muttered, "Hope y-youze like it. J-jus' summat I like t-ta drink, maself..."

"It's very good," she said, licking her lips and setting the drink down. "Thank you. What's your name?"

"T-T-Turner, ma'am."

"Just 'Turner'?"

"Uh... no..." He stared at the gaudy carpeting below his hooves. "P-Page T-Turner..."

There was that sweet smile again. "So your parents weren't the best with names, either? Same here. My name is Libra Scales."

Offering a forehoof to him, Libra surrendered her current blackjack deal and pulled her chips away from the table. She had no intention of playing games anymore—with cards, at least.

Hesitating a bit, the stallion grasped her hoof with his, finding a current that set his entire being aflame. He wanted to kick himself where it counted for being so foalish, but found no power to do so. The mare before him--perhaps a few years younger than he, although acting all the wiser--rendered him beyond most speech.

"It's nice to meet you, Page Turner," Libra greeted, matching his blush when she finally pulled her forehoof away. "You're quite good at what you do. How long have you been working here?"

Finding his words by the grace of Most High itself, Turner answered, "Uh... um... jus' fo' a few weeks. Temporary gig. Heh, heh."

"Ah. What is your 'permanent gig'?"

"Umm... it's a long s-story, ma'am--"

"Please, Turner, call me Libra."

"Ahhh, right. L-Libra."

The stallion swept his gaze over the casino floor. Rows of poker and blackjack tables filled with impatient drunkards awaited his stretched patience. Duty called. He could sense the squat stallion from an earlier table glaring at him, doubtlessly intent on fulfilling his threat. Reluctant nonetheless, Turner began to turn away, helplessly explaining, "I... I'd betta get goin'..."

"Wait." Libra rose from her stool, cradling the last of her chips. "What time are you off?"

Turner blinked. "S-say dat again?"

"What time are you off work?"

"Oh." Of course. Mustering a grin, Turner said, "Ten o' clock. Stayin' at the hotel in the casino."

"So am I. What room?"

"19B."

"Great. Not far from my own. Would you mind if we continued our conversation then and there?"

Sincere, the stallion gathered his courage and answered, "No, Libra. Not at all."

"Good." She brushed against his coat as she trotted away, whispering, "See you then."

The next four hours were the longest of Page Turner's life.

~

"... We stayed up all night, dat night, talkin', laughin'. 'Bout everythin'. I told her everythin'. First pony I'd spoken ta in years who didn't judge me, it felt like. She was there fo' almost a week at the casino. On business, she said. Neva mentioned bein' married. I wouldn't have iffa she did. An'... uh... Well, the last night she was there, things kinda... happened."

Cracking an awkward smile, he continued, "I thought nothin' o' it. She said she couldn't have anymo' foals. Least, she thought she couldn't, I s'pose. Afta dat job, I went ta Las Pegasus fo' a while, became a security guard. I neva heard from her again. I heard many years later, through the grapevine, dat she had anotha foal. An' I jus' knew... but... I... I was younga, then, an' afraid, an'—"

An unshorn orange fetlock covered his grizzled beige one. "It's alright," Babs said gently. How could youze have known befo' then? O' even found her?

Though she frowned on such infidelity—and was more surprised by her mother’s adultery than she should’ve been—she couldn't resent either of them. Not when such a union (however complicated and unexpected it had been) had, in multiple ways, made her the mare she was today. "I'm not mad at youze, Turner."

"Thanks, kid. I... I jus' missed out on so much, youze know?"

"But yer here now," Apple Bloom said, shooting him with her best smile. "An' that's what matters, right?"

Turner sniffed and took another sip of his drink. The finest whiskey in all of Equestria, poured to perfection by the finest filly he’d ever met, stroked the fires of his reminiscence. He'd never imagined he'd reunite with the foal on the Manehatten cobblestone, much less realize she was his long-lost daughter. Libra Scales had disappeared out of his life as quickly as she'd arrived. After leaving The Watering Hole behind, he pricked his ears through his travels, hoping, praying to hear her name, to see her again.

Over seven years later, his prayers were answered: half of her sat before him, truth made flesh.

Regretting still the lost time and his own foolishness—he’d known from the moment he’d seen that shivering filly that there was something unmistakable about her—Turner hoped that, no matter how much longer his nomadic hooves would permit him to remain tethered to this patch of soil, he could learn as much as possible as he could about his daughter. Perhaps, they could even be friends, and truly, family, someday, he reasoned.

"Yea, youze is right," he remarked after a slight silence. He nodded approvingly towards his daughter's mare. "I can see why youze keep her 'round, Babs. Heh. She's a beautiful mare. She has Libra's eyes."

“Heh, mom sure's pretty, alright." Babs laughed and scooted closer to Apple Bloom behind the bar. “Not as pretty as Apple Bloom, though,” she added as she nuzzled her mare, leading to a blush on yellow cheeks and the melting of a hardened heart.

“Youze two are… adorable. An’ dat is a word I don’t use very often, youze see, so take it as a major compliment. Ha. So, how did youze too meet, then? One story fo’ anotha.” Turner tipped back his glass.

Two sets of eyes met and exchanged worried glances for a second before Apple Bloom answered, “Um, Turner, that’s a… a real long story. We might not have time ta, uh, tell it properly.”

“Yea, um… it’s… an interestin' story,” Babs said, unsure if the stallion would be among those to question the connection between them, or if he would prove to be as unprejudiced now as he had been then. "I don't judge nopony!" youze said. Youze true ta dat now?

“I’ve got all the time in the world, Babs, Bloom,” Turner said, drumming a forehoof on the bar counter.

Sweat trickled down Babs Seed's neck. “Um… alright. But, er, jus’… keep an open mind, okay?”

The stallion laughed as gently as he could in the wake of both mares’ apparent nervousness. “Kid, look, I don’t judge nopony. I’ve seen it all in my travels, including things dat should’ve neva been. But youze two? Why, youze love fo’ each other is apparent, an' I don’t care iffa youze are two mares."

Apple Bloom nuzzled Babs Seed’s neck reassuringly, silently requesting her approval. Slowly, Babs nodded, swallowing the lump in her throat.

Apple Bloom looked into the eyes of the stallion and began to tell their story, realizing with dread that she was doing something she’d usually been lucky to avoid amongst her friends.

Trying to impress, and win the approval of, her fillyfriend’s father.

~

Over the horizon of the desert plains, flat but for the uplifting limbs of cacti in their prickly prayers, quiet but for the rustle of tumbleweeds, Celestia embraced the land with her caress, raising the sun to greet the dawn as her sister retired for much-needed slumber. Within the saloon, two expectant, anxious mares were surprised to see the stallion, his eyes bloodshot from a mix of both weariness and a few tears, rise from his stool and trot around their side of the bar to crush them both in a bear hug.

Returning the gesture with the pure, unrefined joy, Apple Bloom heard Turner declare proudly, “Now, Babs, I know it must not mean much ta youze, in light o’ the suddenness o’ dis… reunion… but youze both have my blessin'.”

“Really?!” Babs exclaimed, clapping her tired forehooves together in delight. Stallion and marefriend both released her from their embrace after an eternity, all three muzzles splitting in two from their joy.

All these years, an’ I always said I didn’t need nopony ta approve. Only Celestia could’ve known dis, but I guess I needed somepony else’s nod, too. An’ he’s jus' gonna give it? Wowza.

The wise old stallion nodded. “Youze are happy, an' dat’s all dat matters ta me. Maybe a lil’ close fo’ some ponies’ comfort, but I don’t have no problem wit’ it. Anypony does, jus' give me a holler, an' I’ll take care o’ dat,” he added with a wink and a nudge to Babs's ribs.

“O' course.” Babs exhaled, feeling waves of tension dissipate from her muscles into the floorboards. “I really appreciate it, Turner.”

“Heh. Maybe someday youze can call me Da’, Babs?”

Babs Seed felt a slight smile snake its way across her face. “Maybe.”

Turner cast his gaze to Apple Bloom and suggested coyly, “An’ maybe youze can too, someday, lil’ lady?”

Apple Bloom squeaked in response, flushing hotly with embarrassment. “Um, uh, heh, Ah d-don’t know, sir." From the peripheral of her pupils, she noticed her mare's muzzle was just as red, rivaling the skies above as they began to burn with the dawn’s flame.

“Well, I think I’ve done a great job o’ embarassin’ youze both, jus’ like any good parent!” Turner laughed merrily, packing up both of his saddlebags. The weight of his long, momentous journey commanded him to seek shelter and slumber at last. “Enough o' dat fo’ now. Either o’ youze have somewhere fo’ me ta sleep?”

Babs Seed shook her head. “We jus' sleep in one o’ the hotel rooms, Turner. We're not settlers, ha. But we can get youze a room on discount. I know the owner.” An uneasy grin did its best to distract from her deep blush.

Her long-last father gathered his belongings and answered in the affirmative. The three exited the bar as dawn broke across the desert's looming horizon. They knew that, even if their sleep schedules would be thrown off their delicate tracks for the next few days (if not weeks), it was worth it in the long haul.

Things had come full circle, after all.