Chapter 41: What Now?
Berry sat on top of the barn with a bottle of cider in his hoof and relaxed while he watched the sunset shine on the color painting that was the apple orchard. Celestia knew he needed it a moment of rest. After all, it had been yet another lovely day in paradise at Sweet Apple Acres. If the scare of Cherry’s slipping sanity hadn’t been enough to concern him, his blowup incident with Andromeda, the children’s fading health, and Flora’s vicious attack and breakdown made sure he wasn’t out of the crossfire. He let out a frustrated breath. Maybe now he could get a moment of peace. No talking, no fighting, and no more dealing with other ponies’ problems.
“Mind if I join you?” a voice asked from behind.
“Aaand the moment is gone,” Berry said aloud. “What do you want, Tempest?”
Tempest shrugged and sat beside his friend, but as soon as he turned to take a look at Berry, he about lost his balance.
“Holy shadowbolts, dude! Who jacked up your face? It looks uglier than usual!”
Berry humored him by turning his head around so Tempest could get a better look.
“Compliments of Flora,” he replied.
“Flora? What did you do to tick off Flora???”
Berry took a swig of cider and wiped his mouth.
“I got too close.”
Tempest’s smile dropped as fast as it appeared.
“What the hay, man,” he said. “When was this? What did she do?”
“A few hours ago. Flora was alone in the kids’ room and started shouting at somepony. I ran upstairs to see what was going on and found her yelling at nothing. When I tried to calm her down and talk to her, she went ballistic and attacked me. She caught me off balance and was able to get a few shots in before I found out what was going on.”
“Is she alright? What happened then?”
“Bismarck happened,” Berry answered. “When Flora tried to hurt her, he… knocked her out.”
Tempest just stared at the orchard, trying to find the right words to say. He couldn’t even picture Bismarck hurting a mare, let alone his own best friend.
“Jeez” was all Tempest could say.
“Yeah. Flora woke up a while ago, but the others have told her to stay in bed until dinner time. She seems okay right now, but the were all still worried about her. It’s like Cherry all over again. They both went crazy, acted out, and ended up unconscious only to wake up back to normal again.”
Tempest’s nostrils let out a puff of air at the thought.
“That doesn’t sound normal at all. What the hay is happening to the girls? To us?”
Berry shrugged. He hadn’t the faintest idea.
“I don’t even want to think about it right now,” he said, taking another drink. “But what about you? Where’d you go, Tempest? The others were starting to wonder what was taking you so long.”
“I guess Zecora and I hit it off all over again,” he replied sarcastically.
Berry let out a false laugh.
“Riiiight,” he said, inspecting the bottle in his hoof. “So who’s the pretty mare who distracted you? You been flirting it up?”
His eyes widened.
“Wait! We don’t know her, do we?!?” he exclaimed, either jokingly or completely serious.
“What? No!” Tempest answered, shoving Berry in the shoulder.
“So we don’t know her?”
“Yes!” Tempest said. “I mean, no! I mean...”
Tempest’s face burned when Berry started to burst out laughing. Tempest had been would up.
“Very funny, Berry!”
Berry continued to cheerfully mock his friend, a nice change of pace from their previously serious conversation.
“You should… you should have seen your face!” he laughed. “Priceless!”
“My face?” Tempest grinned. “Somepony hasn’t looked in a mirror lately.”
The two continued to chuckle for a few moments.
“But seriously,” Berry finally said, offering Tempest his cider. “Where’d you go?”
Tempest accepted the drink with a brief smile. Looking down at the bottle, he slowly lifted it to his mouth, and after taking a quick swig, he handed it back to Berry.
“Andromeda’s not the only one who’s been having mom issues."
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Andromeda’s thoughts were fixated on her mother while Applejack went around the room and handed out hot tea to her guests while Granny Smith and Fluttershy prepared dinner in the kitchen. Andromeda accepted her tea graciously and listened while the others talked about what had happened to Flora. They had been discussing it for over an hour after Bismarck knocked her out and for an hour more when she woke up again. Then more talk about the still-unconscious kids would resurface and these conversations were beginning to make Cherry very uncomfortable and desperate to hear about a different topic.
“Can we please stop talking about Flora and the kids?” she begged. “I can’t take any more of this! I can’t take another minute of worrying! It’s like every waking moment is just misery and I just… I just want to talk about something else! Anything else!”
The room grew quiet with only the distant sounds of dinner being made from the kitchen piercing the nothingness. Radiance glanced around nervously and took a sip of her lemon tea.
“So, uhh…. where’d the boys run off to?” Radiance she asked, changing the subject. “Tempest’s been gone all day, Bismarck left to finish some chores, and now Berry has taken off.”
“Don’t worry about them, sugarcube,” Applejack replied, handing the other cups of tea to Cherry and Andromeda. “Ah’ll bet mah hat they’ll be back fer dinner.”
“Speaking of which,” Cherry said softly, nodding at her appreciatively while she accepted the tea. “Are our moms going to be joining us?”
“Yes, all of yer moms will be comin’, except fer Rainbow Dash. Fer some reason she never got back to me.”
“Why not?” Andromeda asked, finally breaking her own silence.
“Ah really don’t know,” Applejack said. “Ah’ve only seen her once since we all found out about y’all. Ah gave her the invitation but she didn’t even seem to pay it much mind. Ah haven’t seen her since.”
“But why?” Andi persisted. “All of our mothers have spent at least some time with us. Pinkie was here when Cherry was ill, Fluttershy has spent a lot of time with us, you’re obviously here, mom has been working with me on the spell, and while Rarity has the excuse of being very busy, even she has visited. Why hasn’t Rainbow Dash spent time with her son yet?”
“To be honest,” Applejack said, fiddling with her drink, “ah have no idea.”
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
“Hey!” Tempest said, interrupting himself. “There’s Bismarck in the fields now! We should catch up to him.”
“I don’t know if that’s such a great idea,” Berry replied. “After seeing what he did to Flora, it’s best that we don’t mess with him right now.”
Tempest let out a loud “pshhh” noise.
“This is Bismarck we’re talking about! Quit being a little foal and let’s go!”
Jumping off the roof, Tempest took off towards their country friend.
“I’m a year older than you,” Berry murmured as he climbed down the side of the barn.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Andromeda caught herself glancing at Radiance’s tummy and smiling. It was too early for anything to show, but the very idea that a tiny mare or colt was inside made her feel unexplainably… happy. While Radiance spoke, Andromeda’s mind could hear her friend’s excitement and love for her child in the voice of Twilight.
“So how does it feel?” Cherry asked Radiance, continuing with the more cheerful subject matters of conversation. “Being pregnant, I mean.”
“So far? Tiring,” Radiance smiled weakly. “When I broke my leg on the first day we ended up here, I thought I was only fatigued because I was in bed all the time. It wasn’t until I found out I was pregnant that I realized why I was so exhausted. Heck, it’s only sundown and I feel like I’m just about ready to hit the hay!”
“And the sickness? I heard you weren’t doing so great today.”
“I’m alright. The whole pukey thing is usually a morning thing, but sometimes it happens whenever it feels like it. Other times it’s strong smells like garlic that set me off, like the other night when I left in the middle of the meal.”
Something looked a bit off with Radiance. She looked like she was getting pale again and her friends noticed.
“How’s the tea?” Applejack asked with mild concern. “If it’s botherin’ you at all, ah can get you somethin’ else.”
“The tea is perfect,” Radiance nodded, trying not to cause a stir. “It actually helps keep the nausea down.”
“Why is that?” Cherry asked. “Are you feeling sick again? Already?”
“I…” Radiance murmured. “I think I am.”
Applejack took one good look at Radiance, stood up and ran into the kitchen. Returning with an apple in her hand, she gave it to Radiance.
“Here,” she said. “Eat this.”
“I’m fine, AJ,” Radiance explained. “I’m hungry but I can wait until dinner. It’s not a big deal.”
“That wasn’t a suggestion,” Applejack replied. “Ah had a cousin who puked her guts out whenever she went hungry fer too long and ah don’t want that happenin’ to ya. At least take a few bites. Fer me.”
Radiance looked up at her technically-mother-in-law and accepted the red gift with a smile.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
The apple let out a satisfying crunch as Bismarck walked through the orchard. One would think that living a life of nothing but apple this and apple that would create distaste for the colorful fruit, but apparently that had never been the case. Bismarck figured that his family must have had apple juice flowing in their veins.
“You know, I never really understood your family’s fascination with apples,” Tempest announced from behind.
Bismarck did not even turn around or react to his sudden appearance.
“Ah figured somepony would talk to me,” Bismarck muttered, discarding his apple core. “So who sent you? Andromeda? Fluttershy?”
He stopped and turned around slowly to see Tempest and Berry.
“Did Radiance send you?”
“We came on our own, Biz,” Tempest said, approaching his friend. “Just us.”
Bismarck fidgeted with his hat. He appeared very tense.
“Then ah’m just gonna assume Berry told you what happened.”
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
“I know we’re not supposed to talk about Flora anymore,” Andromeda said, sheepishly glancing at Radiance, “but she never told us how you and Bismarck ended up getting married without any of us knowing.”
Radiance shifted in her seat a bit.
“I’m not sure if now is the best time,” she said. “You know, considering what happened with him recently.”
“Come on, Radiance. You’ve been dodging our questions for days. You’ve got to tell us at some point!”
“I will! I promise. I just don’t think that now is the right time.”
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
“When is the right time to talk, Bismarck?” Berry asked, following him with Tempest by his side. “You know we’re here for you.”
“Just leave me alone, Berry,” Bismarck remarked. “Ah don’t want to talk about what happened earlier.”
“We don’t blame you for what happened,” Tempest told him. “We know you’re not like that!”
“That’s not what the girls are thinkin’,” Bismarck shook his head. “They all probably think ah’m some brutish psycho!”
“They do not think that!” Berry exclaimed. “Everypony knows that you were only defending Radiance from Flora. You stepped in and saved me too. What you did was a very brave thing.”
Bismarck’s muscular jaw clenched as Berry spoke.
“What ah did,” he said, “is hurt…. one of mah oldest friends in the world.”
“It was an accident,” Tempest frowned. “You didn’t…”
“DON’T… JUSTIFY WHAT AH DID, TEMPEST!!!” Bismarck shouted with thundering power.
Tempest and Berry stood where they were, frozen but ready for whatever Bismarck might do. To their relief, Bismarck’s tense shoulders relaxed as he turned away from them.
“Just leave me alone.”
Seeing Bismarck walking away again, Berry and Tempest looked at each other worryingly. They wanted to help but what could they say? Tempest tried to think fast.
“And what about Radiance?” he found himself blurting out.
Intended or not, it got Bismarck’s attention. The country stallion had turned around once more.
“You’re clearly protective of her, Biz. If you don’t want to talk to us, that’s fine, but do you really not trust her? She’ll listen to you! She’s your wife for Luna’s sake!”
Bismarck shook his head.
“Radiance doesn’t need to know what’s going on with me,” he replied. “She’s got enough to worry about… like the best friend I nearly killed.”
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
“I just don’t get why you two are so secretive,” Cherry smirked. “I wish you’d just be honest with us for once.”
“We’ve been lying about our marriage for months,” Radiance replied. “Telling the truth in its entirety hasn’t been a part of our agenda.”
“I know I asked this before, but… why?” Andromeda added. “You never gave me an answer. Why did you not trust us?”
“Of course, I trusted you,” Radiance exclaimed. “I would trust all of you with my life!”
She grew quiet again, looking down at her now-empty cup. The truth had to come out eventually, but she still felt like she needed to wait for her husband first.
“It was Bismarck’s decision that we stay quiet. He trusted… trusts… all of you, but he doesn’t trust the paparazzi or Ponyville as a whole, and that was before the ‘incident.’ Ever since that point, Bismarck and I swore to not reveal our marriage until we both felt the timing was right.”
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
“We’re running out of time,” Tempest announced while he and Berry watched Bismarck walk off in the distance. “Dinner should be ready soon and I don’t think Bismarck is going to be joining us tonight.”
“I told you this was not worth the effort,” Berry sighed. “Bismarck’s a stoic character. He just needs time and personal space to think. We can’t just rush him into admitting all his feelings on the matter, especially…”
Before Berry could finish his sentence, Tempest had placed a hoof over his mouth to shut him up.
“Quiet!” he whispered. “Do you hear that?”
Both he and Berry lifted their ears to listen. Far away, in the direction of the barn, they could hear laughing conversation. One of the voices was unmistakable. Pinkie Pie had arrived at Sweet Apple Acres and she seemed to be talking to some other ponies. Tempest’s ears twitched again.
“Our moms are here!” he said. “Why didn’t you tell me they were coming?”
“I dunno,” Berry shrugged. “I guess I forgot that nopony told y…”
Once again, he was unable to finish his reply as Tempest jolted into the air and took off. Landing atop of the Apple family’s roof, he glanced down at the visitors. Below, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, and Sweetie Belle had arrived, each pony carrying some food with her. Tempest looked around for Rainbow Dash, but found himself disappointed once again. Following the new guests into the house, he entered the living room to find the mothers reunite with their daughters. Despite his own mom being a no-show, he still felt happy for his friends.
“Ohhh, it’s so good to see you, darling!” Rarity exclaimed, squeezing Radiance.
“Mom, mom,” Radiance laughed, tapping her back. “You’re crushing me.”
“I’m sorry. I just feel so awful for not being around more often!”
“I understand. Really!" Radiance said, hugging her aunt Sweetie Belle next. "You’ve got work and deadlines. I haven’t gone anywhere since you were last here.”
“And I’m super happy that my girlie is feeling better!” Pinkie exclaimed, giving Cherry an even bigger bear hug. “I was super duper worried about you and… hey! Where’s Berry?”
“I’m here,” Berry announced, entering the house. “It’s great to see you, mom.”
Berry hadn’t taken more than a couple steps before Pinkie Pie was upon him, yanking Cherry with her into a group hug.
“We’re a family again!” she sighed, embracing her twin children.
Tempest looked to the side and found Andromeda, fiddling with a letter he had not seen before. Her sunset eyes remained fixed on the doorway, expecting Twilight Sparkle to arrive, but nobody came. Tempest sighed and walked over to her.
“It’s okay, Andi,” he said, stopping at her side. “Twilight’s probably working on something really important. I know she’ll be here if she can.”
“I know,” Andromeda sighed. “I guess I just wanted to talk to her, that’s all.”
“At least you’ve gotten to spend some time with your mom,” Tempest smirked. “I haven’t seen mine since our secret got blown. That’s why I left earlier. I spent all day trying to find her, but I never did. It’s like she doesn’t even care that…. I…”
Tempest’s mouth went dry. A new guest had arrived at the door and Applejack wasted no time in welcoming her.
“Rainbow Dash!” she exclaimed, letting her colorful friend inside. “Ah’m so glad you made it.”