Chapter Eleven: The Family Name
"Ah, Excuse me...Howdy there, ma'am?" The face was blurry and far too cheerful for how Teacup felt. Also the hoof shaking her awake was none too gentle. "Ah don't want to pry into yur business or nothin', but it's a mighty cold mornin', what with fall comin' on an' all, to be sleepin' on the ground like that. Now ah don't mind none, or nothing, but I'm a might worried that you might, well, be in some kind of distress an' all, what with sleepin' out here and such."
Teacup shivered. She was very cold, and her joints ached from sleeping on the ground. She tried to remember what the heck she was doing there. Gradually, her foggy memory cleared, and she remembered having wandered out to the edge of town, because she didn't want to face Petal. She hadn't wanted to return to their shared room. Somehow she had thought it was a good idea to curl up under an apple tree. After all, the day had been perfect.
Oh, yes... the Running Of The Leaves was coming up. The leaves had to be turned to autumn colors for that, and this required the pegasai to adjust the temperature at night so that the leaves would change. Teacup had been so preoccupied that she had forgotten about that. No wonder she felt so frosty.
"Teacup. My name's Tea..cup." She was still waking up, even if her mind was clearing, and her mouth felt like several raccoons had made an outhouse in it during the night.
"Well, beggin' yur pardon and such, I was wondrin' if maybe you might be hungry. We're fixin' to make some breakfast back at the farmhouse, and you'd be welcome to join us, if you'd like."
The pony was athletic for a mare, orange with a soft yellow mane and tail. Her mane was tied in the pony equivalent of pigtails, and had fixed her tail that way as well, so as to keep both from interfering with her work. She wore a wide-brimmed hat, and a friendly face. "Name's Applejack, this here's my farm. We grow apples, family business'n all. Glad to meet ya, Teacup."
"Um..." Teacup was having some trouble getting to her hooves; she was sore and stiff, and had just come to the conclusion that anything was almost certainly preferable to sleeping on the ground. There was also no denying that she was hungry; her stomach was making sounds like two Everfree monsters disagreeing over a potential mate.
Suddenly, she knew what she wanted to eat. She knew exactly what she wanted. And she wanted it a lot.
"Ms... Applejack?" Teacup was now fully upright, and much more awake "I'd love to take you up on your offer of breakfast! I live on a farm myself, down by South Withers, and I haven't had a good, down home breakfast in months."
"Well, shucks, we can take care of that! Withers? You're a long way from home, if'n you don't mind me sayin'." The two had begun to walk, Applejack leading the way through the orchard to the big red farmhouse just ahead.
"I've been on a long journey." Teacup was limping a little, but her joints were slowly warming up "Listen Applejack, I've got a really strong desire for a taste of my home. Back on my farm, we always ate biscuits and tea for breakfast, and our biscuits were special. They won a blue ribbon and everything. Could I make you an offer? If you'd let me use your kitchen, I would like to whip up a batch of those biscuits for you and yours. Do you think that might be possible?"
"You want to make us all biscuits for breakfast? Well, that's very kind o' ya, an' it'll save Big Mac and me a peck o' work, so sure, if'n that's what ya' really want to do. Can't hardly say no!"
The rambling farmhouse was big and roomy, and if not in the most perfect repair, had the warm, homey feeling of a place that had been truly loved. After being introduced to Applejack's elderly Granny Smith, and the appropriately named Big Mac, Teacup was led to the the kitchen. There, Applejack assisted her by bringing forth the needed ingredients and tools, and Teacup set about making Missus Provender's Prize Winning Biscuits for the small family.
As she stirred the bowl, a long wooden spoon in her teeth, Teacup's memory slipped back to her happy days on the Provender Farm, and she couldn't help a tear forming in her eye. "Somethin' wrong? Kin ah help?" Applejack had seen the tear fall into the batter.
"No, sorry." Teacup sniffed and smiled "Just remembering home. Your place reminds me of my farm, and I miss it a lot."
"Ah reckon' ah kin understand that perfectly. Ah always feel th' same, when I'm away from home myself." The orange farm pony stood close to Teacup, always ready to help with an ingredient, but mostly just to be friendly. Applejack reckoned that the poor white mare likely hadn't enough bits to afford a room, and being down on her luck, had been forced to sleep on the ground.
When the first batch was in the oven, Applejack set about the issue of tea. She had to dig around in the larder a bit, until she found the tea jar she knew was back there somewhere. "We don't drink a lot'a tea, ta' tell the truth, but there ain't no reason why we can't today. Ah don't know how good this here is, but it's tea, and it's what we got."
"I'm sure it will be wonderful." Teacup really liked her hostess, and was glad she had been discovered by her.
Soon, Teacup was bringing the tray of biscuits out of the oven, and the warm smell set everypony's mouth to watering. Nothing smelled as good as Provender Biscuits in the morning, Teacup thought, and she was happy to share this joy with her new farm friends.
Sitting down in the kitchen, at an old wood table, Granny Smith gummed her biscuit with approval, and the muscular Big Mac wolfed several down at a time. Applejack, for her part, was not faint with praise: "I reckon these here are the best biscuits ah ever done ate." There was jam and butter on the table, and the sound of smacking lips all around.
It was decided early on that a second batch would be a good idea, so Teacup was already mixing it. "Hey there, Teacup, you ain't had any yurself! Ah got a cup of tea here for ya, why don't ya set a spell and have some o' yur own biscuits an' let me finish for ya?" Applejack had gotten up and ambled over to Teacup's side again.
The smell of the biscuits had driven Teacup half mad from hunger, but she was determined to be good to her hosts. "Just a moment" she mumbled through the spoon, as she finished her mixing. "Actually, I am famished. Thank you, Applejack!"
Teacup leaned over the table and took a biscuit. She moved it to a little plate by her, and as she set it down, she bit half of it away, the soft biscuit resting on her tongue. She leaned over and took a sip of tea, the biscuit melting into the warmness. The flavor and aroma of tea and freshly baked biscuit completely filled her senses.
Suddenly her memory returned to Provender Farm, and Missus Provender was smiling at her, and the chickens were perfect and beautiful, the straw was golden like lovely morning, and the floor smelled of healthy wood, of summers past, and flowers and hay and happy meals of good food and much laughter. Every little thing, every smell and taste and feeling, every butterfly hovering over the alfalfa was wonder and beauty and a true miracle, and each moment a treasure, because she alone knew just how impossible it was. With that taste, with that bite of biscuit, she knew down to the depth of her being that not even Hoofington could compare, because she already had an entire world to compare her farm, HER farm to, and she finally, fully understood Petal's words to her, and also how wise immortal Celestia must truly be to make her wait one full day.
There was a sound. It was like air filling an empty space, a swirling sort of sound, almost musical, punctuated by a tone so definite and final that it could not be questioned. Teacup's right flank tingled, as though an electrical current had passed through it.
Teacup's head shot up, her neck rigid, her legs wide. She turned her head to the right, seeing AppleJack's wide eyes and the look of surprise on her face. Teacup lowered her view as she craned her head and curved her flank, already somehow certain of what she would behold.
There, on Teacup's flank, shining in the morning light, was the image of a teacup and two biscuits, a trinity of symbols that somehow she instantly understood, for they followed the sudden realization of her heart. In that moment, she knew that her very soul had been saved by a bite and a sip, by knowing that the price of her heaven was the memory of a long lost hell.
Teacup started crying, large tears rolling down her smiling face, and Applejack was going on about how she had seen it appear, and how she hadn't noticed that Teacup was a 'blank flank' and that she was really sorry for saying 'blank flank' out loud and was Teacup alright because she was crying, and Teacup had to explain that it was because she was happy, and everything became confusing for a while, but it was good confusing, and that was OK, it was better than OK.
Petal walked nervously back and forth in front of the library. She kept scanning the roads, and the sides of the lot for any sign of Teacup. It was almost noon once again, and Teacup was very aware that Twilight had spent the night making sure she knew just the right spell and that it would remove exactly the right memories, while leaving everything else alone.
If this was truly what Teacup wanted, then Petal would accept it. Twilight had explained how the erasure would remove selectively any mention or suggestion of Earth from Teacup's memories, but that it would not eliminate anything that had happened to her since arriving in Equestria. Teacup would remember Petal, she would remember going on their journey, she would know that she had sought to have her memories erased, but she simply would not know what those memories were. Any conversation Petal had shared with Teacup would appear edited to her; Teacup would remember having talked with Petal, and any emotions she had felt, but all details about Earth would simply be missing.
This had comforted Petal somewhat, since she did fear losing her friendship with Teacup over this. But Twilight had assured her that even if Teacup would no longer remember every detail of their time together, any feelings of shared joy or gratitude or friendship would be untouched.
Petal was about to go back inside the library for a bit when she noticed a familiar white shape approaching. The violet mane was unmistakable; Teacup was coming. Petal's heart sank a bit, for she knew that it was too late, but she resolved to be the best friend she could be, whatever happened.
Teacup stopped a few feet from Petal, in profile, showing her left side. She seemed shy, somehow, and looked off to the edge of the library, never meeting Petal's eyes.
"Petal?" Teacup spoke, her head lowered, her eyes half-lidded, a faint smile playing on her lips. "Would you do me a favor?"
Petal didn't know what was going on, but whatever it was, she had already decided what her response would always be. "Of course, Teacup. What do you need me to do?"
"I need you to take me back home, so that every day can remain... amazing." Teacup turned to face the other way, deliberately showing off her new cutie mark, and Petal saw the teacup and the two biscuits, and tears filled her eyes. Somehow, Teacup had finally understood, and Petal was so grateful that there would be no memory erasure today, or ever.
Twilight was strangely disappointed; she had studied all night and now she wasn't going to get to perform any fascinating new magic. She left in a huff, intent on finding anypony that might have some memory, any memory that they wanted to lose, if she possibly could.
And thus it was that Petal found herself back on the road, headed towards Provender Farm, with her best friend Teacup.
The journey home was made much easier thanks to a word with the local weather pegasus; she turned out to be yet another of the original ambassadors to Earth, and Spike was able to convince her to put the word out that two travelers needed clear skies to get home. It helped to have friends in high places, it seemed, even in Equestria.
Petal and Teacup stopped only briefly in Hoofington, just long enough to refill their traveling supplies. Petal was surprised that Teacup did not want to take in a show or stay a week or two, but Teacup was adamant; the harvest was coming, and she needed to get home as quickly as possible so as to help the Provenders.
When they finally reached South Withers, most of the substantial number of bits they had made during their first time in Hoofington were finally gone, so they had a simple, inexpensive meal, and begged the Toffee twins to crash in their home for one night, until they could set out down the very last road on their return journey; the road that led to the Provender Farm.
The next morning, they found themselves on that road, heading home. In the distance ahead, vast fields of wheat and corn lead to a small but cozy farmhouse.
"Petal?" Teacup's eyes searched the familiar landscape "Do you think Missus Provender...." Teacup's voice trailed off, and her ears drooped low.
"Missus Provender...what, Teacup?"
"Do you think... she missed me?" Teacup looked genuinely concerned.
"Oh, Teacup. You silly filly! - of course she missed you! She loves you, Teacup. Goodness." Petal stared at Teacup. "What brought this on?"
"Well, I don't know... I guess it's just been so long, and really, I AM just some newfoal she took in to work on her farm, after all." Teacup's head hung even lower as she ambled.
"Teacup, you are my friend, but damn... sometimes you just aren't the most aware pony I've ever met. It's frustrating, to tell you the truth." Petal shook her head.
"I know." Teacup raised her head and sighed. "Thanks for putting up with me."
Petal sighed in return, and then gave her friend a soft, loving smile.
Provender Farm was the same as Teacup remembered it, save that now the crops were full and ready. Mister Provender was the first to greet them, and the old stallion held Teacup tightly under his neck for a long time, pulling her tight against his chest. Inside the kitchen was Missus Provender, who, for the first time that Teacup had even seen, actually wept.
When all the fuss and tears and laughter of their reunion had passed, after the big dinner that Missus Provender threw together to celebrate Teacup's return, and after all the fuss over Teacup's new cutie mark was done with, Teacup found herself alone at last with Missus Provender. Petal was asleep upstairs in Teacup's bed, they were used to sharing beds by now when it was required. Durum had retreated upstairs as well, knowing that Cornflower and Teacup needed some time together.
Missus Provender made tea, and there they were, in the night, at the same table where Teacup had first received her name.
"Did ya manage to find a fix to yer... problem?" Missus Provender poured tea for the two of them.
"I think, after a fashion, that I did." Teacup felt so many emotions she had no words for most of them "Cornflower..." It was not often that Teacup had ever used Missus Provender's first name out loud. "I want to tell you about it, if you're willing to listen."
"Great Celestia, Teacup! All I ever wanted is for ya to open up ta me! I've been worried sick about ya for a long time." It was a surprisingly open admission by the normally reserved Missus Provender, but the real weight behind her words was in her wet, shining eyes.
"I was... afraid." Teacup began to shake with emotion. "I was afraid that you wouldn't really want to hear, I was afraid that what I had to say would harm you somehow, I was afraid...because..." Teacup's tears fell onto the table "...in my heart, you are the mother I never had. I...I love you. I wish you were my mother. I would be so proud if you were. I am so grateful you took me in. I'm so grateful to have been allowed to stay here, to work here, for you to put up with me, and I just want to be here, on the farm, with you forever, I just, I just..." Teacup just couldn't speak any more.
"You jus' listen to me, Teacup..." Cornflower looked down at Teacup's new Mark "Teacup....Biscuit... Provender! I expect my fillies ta come an' talk ta me about anything, that's what I'm here for. Your sisters never gave me this kind 'a trouble, so I expect ya ta just stop that kind 'a nonsense from now on. Ya hear?"
'Teacup Biscuit Provender!' Teacup overflowed with emotion and she had barely enough strength left to put her head down on the table, sobbing from relief and joy. The tea spilled, but with all the tears, it didn't really matter. Cornflower laid her own head across Teacup's back, a mother's embrace, and nuzzled Teacup as though she were but a foal.
Once they leave the farm, really leave the farm, they don't come back - Cornflower recalled her own thoughts so long ago - except sometimes, Cornflower happily realized, except sometimes, when they do.
One: The Big Respawn,
Two: Euphrosyne Unchained,
Three: Letters From Home,
Four: Teacup, Down On The Farm
The Conversion Bureau Novels:
27 Ounces: A story of eight and one half ponies
The Taste Of Grass
The Conversion Bureau: Code Majeste
The Conversion Bureau: The 800 Year Promise
The Conversion Bureau: Going Pony
The PER: Michelson and Morely
The Reasonably Adamant Down With Celestia Newfoal Society!
The Short Stories:
Her Last Possession
The Conversion Bureau: PER Equitum
The Conversion Bureau: Brand New Universe
Tales Of Los Pegasus
The Non-Conversion Bureau Fanfics:
The Ice Cream Pony Summer
Around The Bend