Applejack was working in the vegetable patch next to the farmhouse when she heard excited voices. She nodded with approval as she saw the four fillies crossing the yard to the barn where the Cutie Mark Crusaders had been building their float for the Summer Harvest Parade. She'd known this would be a good idea. Being around a group of fillies who didn't let their lack of a cutie mark dampen their spirits would do poor Babs the world of good.
She was proud as apple sauce that Apple Bloom had trotted up to the plate like that, and her two friends with her. They'd gone out of their way to make Babs feel accepted right from the moment they met her, which was exactly what the Manehattan filly needed. Having friends to support you could get you through the hard times, and from her letters, Babs had been having a very hard time being bullied about her own blank flank.
Maybe she should bring out a tray of apple juice for the four of the little darlings... She saw some unexpected visitors to the farm. What were those two fillies doing here? Diamond Tiara was not on her list of favourite people, especially after it had become clear that she'd been the ultimate cause of the Gabby Gums fiasco. For that matter she knew about the pair's attitude but had felt it best to let Apple Bloom and the others handle that themselves unless they asked for help.
Still, she had a load of vegetables to carry across to the storage shed, so she could pass by and check on them. Babs must be feeling pretty fragile, and those two getting on her saddle was exactly what she didn't need, even if she had Apple Bloom and the others to protect her. As she walked up to the entrance to the barn, she heard raised voices from inside.
"More like Cutie-mark cry-babies!" That Manehattan accent, that snicker, that surely couldn't be Babs?
"Hey!" She heard her little sister's voice reply.
She heard the whole disgraceful episode unfold. Diamond Tiara egging Babs on, and the Manehattan filly not only going along with it, but going off on her own. She was about to step around into the doorway when there was a crash, and the float came barrelling out to wreck itself at the bottom of the hill.
Apple Bloom's voice rang out clear. "When I tell Applejack..."
"You're going to tell Applejack what?" Applejack could imagine the new pony stepping up and getting in Apple Bloom's face.
"W-well, y'know, uh..."
"What're you, a snitch?"
Then Diamond Tiara's grating whine exclaimed, "Come on, Babs, you should hang with us! Y'know, the cool ponies, not these babies!"
Applejack was already stepping around to stand silhouetted in the doorway, glaring at the three 'cool ponies' who suddenly got quite a lot colder as her shadow covered them. "They don't need to tell me anything! I heard quite enough myself."
Diamond Tiara started to edge around the farm-pony but was stopped by a glare. "You and your side-kick can stay right there! I'll get to you soon enough, but I got some things to say to my cousin first!"
Babs' cool confident front had vanished like a passing cloud, and she was practically cowering.
"I've never been ashamed to call one of my own kin family until just now! You should know better than any-pony what being bullied is like! We took you in when you were hurtin', gave you a place to stay, my little sister and her friends went out of their way to make you feel at home, and this is how you repay them? The first chance you get, you turn on them!"
"Bu... B-but I..." Babs started to tear up.
"When you said you'd been bullied in Manehattan about not having a cutie-mark, I figured you'd feel at home here. Land sakes, I figured knowing that there are other ponies who don't have a cutie mark and don't let it get them down would be good for you. Now I'm wondering if that sob story was just a front, and the reason you needed to get out of Manehattan was because _you_ were the bully, and ponies had gotten wise to ya!"
"She was bullied?" Apple Bloom asked.
"She said she was!" Applejack replied. "But that don't fit the way she just acted."
"But I was bullied!" wailed Babs. "I was scared of being bullied when those two appeared, and I... I..."
"Joined up with them and bucked dirt in the faces of every-pony who'd tried to help ya. If there's two things I can't stand, they're dishonesty and disloyalty," Applejack finished disgustedly. "Two wrongs don't make a right, and being bullied don't give you leave to be a bully yourself. I know these two and the way they act. The reason they pal around with each other is that no decent pony'll have anything to do with them, unless Tiara is throwin' her daddy's money around to buy some popularity."
"Hey!" Diamond Tiara exclaimed, stung by Applejack's contempt.
"Every-pony knows it, but I ain't your local parenty. Teaching you proper manners is your daddy's job!"
Apple Bloom asked, "If you know they're teasing us, why haven't you said something before now?"
That got the farm-pony to smile for the first time. "Because up till now you've been handling them pretty well by yourself. Heck, if I'd stepped in when you were panicking about that party, you'd probably never have formed the Cutie Mark Crusaders in the first place. I'm proud of how you deal with things yourself, and I wasn't going to take that away from you. But just so you know, telling some-pony if you do need help isn't being a snitch."
Apple Bloom beamed with pride, and the other two gave her one hoofed hugs.
Applejack had turned her attention back to Babs Seed, and her tone was a lot less friendly.
"However, even those two stuck-up fillies have never done anything worse than pass a few nasty remarks. They never damaged any-ponies property, maybe because they knew it'd come back to haunt 'em.
"But you just went and wrecked a float that was the result of a lot of hard work by Apple Bloom and the others, and you did it purely because it was the worst thing you could do to hurt them. Worse still some-pony coulda got hurt! I nearly got hit myself! Celestia knows the Cutie Mark Crusaders have enough disasters themselves, but they're accidents, not some-pony out to wreck things."
"I never meant to wreck it! I just wanted to dent it a bit..."
"Y'all can tell it to your folks back in Manehattan. I'm sending you back there first train tomorrow, and the only reason I ain't doing it tonight is 'cause I need to send your parents a pegasus mail to let 'em know to come pick you up first. I'm going to add a few choice comments about exactly how you acted around here too."
She pointed a hoof at the door. "I suggest you go pack up your things. I was gonna let you sleep with Apple Bloom, but I don't think that's gonna work out. I'll fix up the attic, you can sleep up there for tonight."
Babs slunk off dejectedly in the direction of the house, muzzle almost touching the ground, and Diamond Tiara tried to edge away again. Applejack turned to face her.
"And as for you missy, you ain't getting away with this neither!"
"But I didn't wreck that stupid cart!" the pink pony whined. "It isn't fair!"
"You and that bookend of yours didn't try to stop her, in fact you seemed pretty darned pleased about it. What has my little sis ever done to you anyhow? Huh, if it wasn't cutie marks and my sis, it'd be some-pony else and something else, because the only way you can feel big is if you make some-pony else feel small. Apple Bloom has more moxie, more guts and more gumption in one hoof than you've got in your entire body!"
"You can't talk to me like that! When I tell my father..."
"Oh, I intend to have a long talk with old Filthy myself, and your momma too." Applejack interrupted. "He's a decent enough pony and I don't think he'll be best pleased with the way you're dragging his good name through the mud with yer shenanigans "
"But..." Diamond Tiara's eyes widened. The prissy filly knew she was in trouble. But bluster had always worked before. "He'll never believe you over me, I'm his daughter! My daddy's rich, and has powerful friends! You don't want to upset him!"
Of course, this worked wonders with Applejack. "The Apple family may not have a pile of bits in the bank, but we've got a lot of friends ourselves, including a bunch up in Canterlot. So don't think you can scare me with the hooey you're spouting! Not that it'll come to that, the Apples and the Riches have been friends for generations. I figure he'll listen when I talk!"
Out of options, Diamond Tiara looked past Applejack and fixed Apple Bloom with a basilisk glare. However it was wasted on the farm filly, as she was in a huddle with her two comrades discussing something, and didn't even notice. Applejack did.
"Don't think you can take it out on my little sis neither! One more word, one more comment about blank flanks or anything else and you'll wish you were back in only this much trouble. Your dad ain't the only one who wants a piece of our next zap apple harvest! For now, I figure it's enough that you can't get in here to bother my little sis or her friends. This is Apple family land, and you ain't welcome no more, so skedaddle. And don't come back now, y hear?"
"Fine!" Diamond Tiara stamped her hoof. "I never wanted to come to this smelly old barnyard anyway!"
Silver Spoon was slightly brighter, not that that was hard, and asked, "But what about the Grand Apple Picnic, or the Harvest feast, or the Nightmare Night Apple-bobbing?"
"Like I said, you ain't welcome!" The Apple family hosted a lot of the bigger events in Ponyville, in whole or in part, so that was a pretty serious punishment. Applejack stood aside and pointed at the gates. Diamond Tiara, finally realising that she'd met a tougher pony than she was, stomped off in a snit. Silver Spoon followed in her wake, a lot more subdued and casting gloomy glances back at the guardian earth-pony.
It wasn't until the pair were out of the gate that Applejack turned back to the trio, who were now watching her with awed expressions.
"Wow! That was totally awesome, amazing and...!" Sweetie Belle exclaimed.
Scootaloo finished. "... way past cool!"
"I didn't enjoy doing it, but acting nice to those two would have taught 'em nothing. They need learnin' that actions have consequences. In this case, that if you buck the Apple family tree, you get a whole bunch of Apple's dropping on you!"
"You'd really do that, stop selling Filthy Rich zap apple jam? For me?"Apple Bloom asked uncertainly. She knew enough about the Apple farm's business, to know that changing something like that would be a lot of trouble and quite possibly cost the Apple family quite a bit of money.
"In a Manehattan minute!" Applejack replied, ruffling her hair. "There are other distributors, but I only have one sister, and I aim to protect her. And that goes for her friends too."
After a second, Apple Bloom said, "About Manehattan, I mean sending Babs back there. We've been talking, and we wanted to ask a favour..."
Babs Seed was up in Apple Bloom's room, slumped down on the bed with her head in her hoofs and sobbing softly. How could things have gone so wrong so fast? This had been her life-line, her big chance to escape what was happening in Manehattan, and she'd blown it about as badly as possible!
When the bullies in Manehattan had started on her, her parents had told her to just ignore it. She'd tried, really she had, but that had just made them bolder, scaring away any-pony who might want to be friends with her. Even the fillies who weren't part of the gang stayed away to avoid drawing the bullies attention, and she couldn't really blame them.
She felt a completely irrational burst of anger through her misery. Why did her cousin have to be so eager, so nice with so little reason! She'd been lonely for long enough, that a group of ponies wanting to be friends had scared her, not that she hadn't been nervous already with meeting her famous cousin Applejack.
The whole time they'd been hauling her around, showing stuff off, telling her they wanted her in their club, she had been waiting for the other horse-shoe to drop, for them to turn on her, and restore the universe to normal. The idea that the offer was genuine never really occurred to her. Then those two stuck-up witches had turned up, and she was right back in her worst nightmares. She'd panicked and done something monumentally stupid.
Another bigger burst of hurt and anger was directed at the fancy-pants fillies. They'd come at the worst time, and their approval at her insulting the other three was reassuring. Things were back to normal, ponies were bullying other ponies and no-pony was doing anything about it, only this time she was on the winning side. Then it had gotten out of hoof. She'd been desperate for more approval, but she really hadn't meant to wreck the float, just damage it a bit. Just enough to seal the deal with her new 'friends'.
That had her growling at the Cutie-mark Crusaders again. Why couldn't they build a better float, or at least a less fragile one! With that, she figured she'd pretty much burned her bridges behind her, so it seemed easier to keep rolling with it, and it wasn't like she didn't know exactly how bullies operated. Then her roll had come up against a rock called Applejack.
She wanted to lash out at all of them, but Applejack's devastating analysis of her actions left her no comfortable place to divert the blame. She'd thrown away what was freely offered, hurt people who wanted to care about her out of fear, just to get in with a pair of ponies she would never have wanted to be friends with in a million years.
Her focus turned back to the real author of this mess, herself. If she'd only had a little more courage... no, in the clinch, she'd discovered she was a coward, and the self-loathing burned like acid in her soul. Her parents had never really believed how bad her situation was, and after Applejack wrote that letter, they never would, and neither would any other member of the Apple clan.
She was going back to Manehattan, back to the humiliation and pain, and this time there'd be no escape. The worst part of it was, she was starting to think she didn't deserve any better. She considered running away, maybe into the Everfree forest. She might be a Manehattan girl, and know less about wilderness survival than a pet poodle, but being torn limb from limb by rabid timber wolves would still be less painful than what she felt right now.
There was a knock on the door, and her younger cousin's voice came through it. "Babs? Can I come in?"
The Manehattan filly felt another spike of anger at how gentle her voice was, and that anger made her respond, "Come to gloat? Now you've got what you wanted?"
Even as she said it, the heat of her anger turned cold. 'Way to go Babs, if there's a way to make things worse, you'll find it!' she berated herself.
"I just wanted to talk, and I never wanted you to get sent away like that, but if you don't want to..."
"NO! Please, I mean I'm sorry, I'm so sorry and I've been so stupid and it's all gone wrong!" Babs called out in a panic. "I didn't mean to wreck the float, and I shouldn't have sided with those two mean brats, but I... oh, what's the use! There's no way to fix it, fix anything... "
The door opened and Apple Bloom trotted in and came over to the bed. She reached out a hoof and Babs flinched away closing her eyes, but all that happened was the feeling of a fore-leg wrapping around her in a hug.
"It's okay, I know what it's like to feel all alone, to be scared like that. I might have ended up as bad as that if it hadn't been for Scoots and Sweetie Belle. I guess we came on a bit too string, huh?"
Babs just hunched tighter in on herself, turning away, feeling even worse at the warmth in her cousin's voice. "How can you be so nice to me after what I did! Applejack was right, I'm not fit to be around here! Maybe I am just a rotten apple!"
"Applejack once told me what Fluttershy, she's a pegasus friend of hers, said when she was telling off a dragon who'd been snorting out smoke across Equestria and blocking out the sun. 'You ain't a bad dragon, you just made a bad mistake.' I figure if she can tell that to a dragon, I can say that to you, excepting that you ain't a dragon."
"A dragon? Really?" That was a bizarre enough story that it cut through some layers of the shell Babs was building up around herself. A lot of weird stories came out of Ponyville, what with one thing and another, but this one took a lot of believing.
"Sure as sugar!" Apple Bloom replied. "Ask my big sis, heck, ask any-pony. Anyhow, what I really wanted to talk to you about is a second chance."
Babs' heart leapt at the words, then immediately fumbled it's vault and came crashing back down. "What can I possibly do? Applejack wouldn't believe I was sorry if I got a statement endorsed by the Princesses, Celestia and Luna both!"
"My sister can be stubborn as a mule, though come to think of it, the one mule we have around here is about as easy-going a fella as you could wish. However, we convinced her to hold off on that letter and stuff, if you were willing to do something for us."
That made Babs scared again. They were going to put her through the wringer somehow to pay for her crimes... but a part of her actually looked forward to it. However humiliating or unpleasant her penance was, it'd still feel better than what she felt now. Somehow, she knew that whatever dreadful thing she had to do, the offer itself was genuine. Apple Bloom had never lied to her, or tried to trick her, whatever her own fears had told her.
"What do I have to do?" she asked, nervously.
She heard Apple Bloom chuckle, a sound devoid of the edge Babs' own had taken on when she was insulting them. "Don't sound so scared. It's just we're still down a carnival float, and the carnival is tomorrow. That means an all-nighter for the three of us, and we figured a fourth set of hooves would come in handy. We reckon the best way for you to make up for wrecking the first one was to help build the replacement."
"That's all?" Babs was stunned, and her voice showed it. "After how I acted?"
Apple Bloom's voice was surprised as hers. "What did you think we were going to do? Ask you to walk through the Everfree blindfolded? Spend the night in the pig-pen? Like I said, I understand what it is to be scared, and lonely and do crazy things because of it,and so do the others. I think my big sister has forgotten that, though truth be told, she was late getting her own cutie-mark. I figure this is kind of neat, the punishment fitting the crime, as Sweetie Belle said. I also figure we'll find out what kind of pony you are at the same time."
Babs couldn't quite believe she could get off this easily, but she wasn't going to let it slip through her hooves. She turned back to face her cousin, hope in her eyes for the first time. "I'll do it! I'll build you your pumpkin!"
"No, you won't." Babs heart crashed, so it was just a trick after all. But before she could say anything, Apple Bloom continued. "We decided a coach made out of a pumpkin was too filly-tale. We'll be building a golden apple, and so will you."
Babs smiled properly for the first time since she'd arrived, "I'll do my very best!"
"Glad to have you on-board cuz!" Apple Bloom gave her cousin a proper hug, and this time, Babs hugged her back. It felt wonderful. In fact, she felt a lot better than she had in a long time.
The long night of building (with appropriate background music) was over and the four fillies stood back and looked at what they had wrought. The golden apple float looked fantastic. Babs had been better than her word, working twice as hard as any of the others. The early evening start combined with her extra efforts meant the whole thing had been completed by mid-night, with enough time to catch most of a full night's sleep.
"Is this it?" Sweetie Belle yawned.
Scootaloo was sagging slightly. "I think... we're good to go!"
"Oh pony! Maybe I should have taken up that blindfold walk across the Everfree instead!" Babs puffed, blowing her fringe up. "I ache in places I didn't even know I had!"
"Well, we couldn't have done it without you, well, not as fast and not as well. Those were some neat ideas you came up with!" Apple Bloom was as tired as the others, but she was still watching out for her cousin. "I'm going to make sure Applejack knows just how hard you worked, and just how much you went through back in Manehattan. None of us had it half so bad!"
"Ohhh!" Sweetie Belle growled. "Those meanies make Dumb Tiara and Silly Spoon sound like cream-puffs! If I ever get my hooves on them...!"
"Yeah!" Scootaloo added, "If they give you any more trouble when you go back, let us know and we'll come give you a helping hoof dealing with them."
Babs might be tired, but the warmth of their enthusiastic support still made her feel good. "Thanks guys... Thanks for everything!"
"It's the least we could do for a fellow Crusader..." Apple Bloom realised what she'd said and looked around. "Guys, I think Babs has worked her passage, don't you?"
"Worked her tail off more like!" Scootaloo exclaimed.
"All in favour of making her a member of the Cutie Mark Crusaders, say Apple!"
The vote was unanimous. Sweetie Belle spoke for them. "Then we, the Cutie Mark Crusaders, elect Babs Seed to join us as a sister, friend, confi-day-nte, alley, boss-om buddy, gal pal, compader... what was the rest of it, Scootaloo? Oh, who cares, we can do the official stuff later! The short short version is, you're in!"
"Well I'm all in for one!" Apple Bloom yawned again, causing something of an epidemic. "We gotta be our best tomorrow, so we'd better get some shut-eye."
She held up her hoof. "Cutie mark Crusaders..."
The other two slapped their hooves against hers, and then Apple Bloom looked over at Babs. Her eyes widened and all three fillies nodded in response to the unasked question in them. She stepped over and put her own hoof against theirs. "Cutie Mark Crusaders... HO!"
Authors Note: Yes I should be getting on with my many main projects, but I saw the episode and felt compelled to write this. While I'm okay with the overall moral of the story, don't become the things you fight, I still feel Babs Seed was something of a Karma Houdini, getting away with some worse things than Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon have ever done, with no comeback.
So I decided to write the story so that she had to work for her redemption, rather than just being handed it on a plate, and have to go through some soul searching first. The result is a lot darker in tome than most of my fics, but hopefully it works. I also wrote an extra bit which is basically bashing Diamond Tiara, but I'll post that separately, if at all.