The Chase

Bucky Bitters struggles to escape the airborne affections of Derpy Hooves after a chance encounter caused them to bump noses together. His real mistake was trying to comfort the mare after the snoot-bump. Little does the poor stallion realise that their meeting was only the prologue to a journey that will change not only his life, but the lives around him forever.

This story is a sequel to The Catch

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The cake said, ‘Welcome home, Ripple!’ in bright orange frosted letters written on top of shocking pink frosting. On the cake, two pegasi were drawn in frosting, a donkey, and two unicorns. Distracted, Bucky wasn’t sure where to cut; it felt wrong somehow to slice apart one of the ponies on the cake. He held the knife in his telekinesis, unable to serve the cake.

“Daddy, you look distracted,” Sparkler said as she took the knife from her father. With cruel heartlessness, she sliced the cake and cut off the head one of the pegasi. She made another swift slice on the rectangular cake, then another, and then another. She began placing the cake slices on little plates.

The apartment over the carriage house was crowded. Bucky backed off and let Sparkler continue to cut the cake and scoop out ice cream. He retreated to the sofa, where he sat down. A record was playing on the phonograph, a somewhat scratchy record, and Rising Star was trying to coax Loch Skimmer into dancing with him.

Bucky was quite startled when Ripple crash landed on the couch with him. In seconds, she had her forelegs around his neck and was squeezing the life out of him. He returned the embrace, mindful of the wound she had in her side.

“Your little girl is all grown up,” Ripple said in a low whisper, “I left home a squire, I came home ready to be a knight, and I shagged me a nice ass.”

Rolling his eyes, Bucky shook his head. “I don’t want to know about that.”

“But I feel the need to talk about it,” Ripple replied in a very serious voice. “I think I’m getting better. I only panicked a little bit and then Bittersweet tickled me and then we started laughing and then everything that happened after that felt natural and sweet and made me happy and then we held each other afterwards.”

“Well then, I’m happy for you.” Bucky’s ears stood up and he hoped the conversation was over. “If you need to talk, really, you can talk to Berry.”

“But I like talking to you.” Ripple gave Bucky’s neck a squeeze. “I trust you. You’re the loving and supportive male figure in my life.”

Bracing himself, Bucky drew in a deep breath and then asked the question that begged to be asked. “And what about Rising Star?”

“Rising?” Ripple snorted. “Heh, he’s pervy. If I told him about what Bittersweet and I did, he’d be wanting all the details and a blow by blow recap of everything that happened.” Ripple giggled, pressed her muzzle against Bucky’s cheek, and kissed him. “You on the other hoof, don’t want to know about it, so I feel safer talking to you.”

There was raucous laughter from Sour Mash and Berry Punch, who stood with Loch Skimmer. Bucky watched them and felt bad for Derpy, who refused to come, insisting that she stay and look after the little ones, but stating that Berry needed a break.

“Ripple, I’m flattered that you see me that way,” Bucky said as Sparkler flung frosting at Loch Skimmer. The pregnant pegasus filly now had an orange smear on her nose and Bittersweet was shaking with near silent laughter, the only sound was a faint wheeze.

With her hoof, Ripple turned her father’s head so that she could look into his eyes. “How are you holding up, Daddy? I know you’re sad. You okay? You hide things, and that worries me sometimes.”

“No, Ripple, I’m not okay,” Bucky replied, being honest and feeling that he owed Ripple that. He had to be a good example for his foals, all of them, at least in the areas where he felt it mattered. He thought of Ripple’s breakdown and her psychotic episode. Honesty might have prevented that. “I’m not okay at all. It’s everything… everything all piling together and what just happened feels like a tipping point.”

“I’m sorry.” Closing her eyes, Ripple shifted her body around and pulled Bucky closer, cuddling with him. She felt him embrace her and then there was a soft kiss against her ear. “If it makes you feel any better, I didn’t do anything stupid while I was away from home. I got the job done and no one got seriously hurt.” She paused, reconsidered, and then continued, “Well, I got hurt, but those medical golems you made fixed me right up. I still have a pretty big ouchy place, but I can live with it.” Another pause, and then she added, “I’m sorry that you lost somepony that you cared about.”

“I’ll get over it,” Bucky said, not sure if he would ever get over it. There was more laughter from Berry and Sour Mash as Loch Skimmer demonstrated how she could lick her own eyebrows. Bucky listened, his ears twitching with each giggle, each chuckle, each peal of laughter, and he heaved a contented sigh as he held Ripple. She was a little big, as far as foals went, but still one of his. He began to feel drowsy and his eyelids grew heavy.

Without warning, his mood shifted, and with the drowsy feeling he was experiencing, everything around him became annoying. The music ground on his nerves, the scratchiness of the record bothered him, the loud, jarring laughter made his body jump and startle. Even Ripple’s embrace changed, and Bucky found that he wanted to be alone.

Knowing how he could excuse himself, Bucky made himself yawn, then shook his head. “I’ve been awake for too long. I’m sorry, but I’m gonna go get some shuteye.”

With a worried, knowing look, Ripple nodded, suspecting that there was more to what Bucky had said. She felt his twitchiness, the way he jumped. She let him go, pulling away, and felt a great deal of sadness for him. He was hurting, and there was nothing she could do to help him. There was no way to make it right.

“Go get some sleep,” Ripple said to Bucky, “maybe you’ll feel better.” For a moment, she saw the guiltiness on his face, the pain, the sorrow. His mask broke for a moment, but then as quickly as it had vanished, it returned. She knew that there would be no sleep. He was retreating, off to find quiet. Off to find some place to reflect upon his pain.

Off to make himself hurt someplace where he could not be reached.

As Bucky got up to leave, Berry Punch followed after him.

 

 

Below, in the carriage house, as Bucky walked between the wagons, Berry Punch caught up to him. She slipped past him, turned around, and blocked the path to the doorway, knowing that she couldn’t make Bucky stop if he didn’t want to be stopped. She had to make him want to stay somehow, but she didn’t know what to do.

“Really? You’re walking out on Ripple’s party?” Berry’s eyes were filled with worry.

“It was too much right now,” Bucky replied. “The sound. The music. The laughing. Everything hurts inside, Berry. It isn’t even what just happened, it’s everything. I’m tired, Berry. Worn out. Worn thin. I feel as though my very soul is stretched to the point of tearing.”

Blinking, Berry nodded, understanding.

“Celestia and I played games to manipulate her,” Bucky said in a low voice as he stared down at the ground. “The carrot and the stick. Celestia wasn’t even sure if Chrysalis liked carrots. I was forced to be the stick. I treated her poorly. Badly. Even in her fecked up, messed up, screwed up state, she still had the potential for goodness. All of the horrible things that happened to her in her long life still hadn’t crushed that tiny spark of hope. But did I reward her hope?”

Berry waited as Bucky sucked in a deep breath.

“No. No I did not. I got her killed.” He closed his eyes and hung his head. “And now, Crisis does not have her mother. And at some point, I have to explain this whole mess to Crisis… except I’m probably not going to live long enough for her to reach a point where she’s mature enough to understand all of it. All of this, it drags me down.”

“It’s pretty heavy, I’ll give you that,” Berry replied. She moved towards Bucky, nosed his ear, and poked her nose against one of his tiny antler buds. She took a step back, reached up, and rubbed her nose with her hoof. “Bucky, at the risk of enabling you… I have to say, do what you’ve always done… pour yourself into your work and try to make something good happen. Accomplish something wondrous. Take up a project and get this out of your system.”

Lifting his head, Bucky looked Berry in the eye.

“Just remember that we’re all out here waiting for you… don’t forget about us… and when the clouds part and the sun shines again, we’ll be here for you when you feel like you can show your face again.” Berry invaded Bucky’s space and locked her muzzle on his, kissing him, throwing every bit of herself that she could muster into it, trying to make the physical connection that she knew that Bucky needed.

She felt him respond, he moved, and she felt herself seized. She sat down, wrapped her forelegs around his neck, and then she embraced him, giving all of herself to him, every last bit that she had, and she felt him warm in her embrace. He sat down with her, and she felt her body pulled close to his, they entwined, and she could feel his heart beating in his barrel. She ran her foreleg up his long, somewhat crooked spine. He had changed on the outside, but the pony that she loved was still on the inside.

The kiss broke with a breathless gasp, and Berry found herself being squeezed. Bucky was clinging to her in much the same way a shipwrecked pony clings to wreckage, hoping for life. His talons clutched her mane, holding it, but not pulling it. She could feel his deep, shuddering gasps as he tried to contain himself.

And then, she heard it. It was like glass breaking, it was a sound that made one cringe when they heard it, it made the body tense in apprehension of what had just happened. It started with a low snuffle and then Bucky was weeping. Berry redoubled her grip around him and held on, knowing that there was a torrent waiting to happen behind the floodgates.

 

 

Eyes narrowed, Derpy made a low sound of equine worry deep within her throat, a wordless sound, a deep rumbling noise that began in her barrel and worked its way up. She stood in the bathroom door and watched as Berry dumped Bucky into the tub with a splash, sending water everywhere and all over the floor.

He was limp and he lay in the water, face up, not moving, half floating, half sinking as the tub continued to fill. His face was a mess of tears and mucus. Derpy sniffed, her folded wings flapped against her sides, and she watched as Berry Punch dumped far too much bubble bath into the tub.

Lyra appeared, pushing in through the doorway past Derpy, holding a bottle and a heavy tumbler filled with ice. Lyra approached the tub, slipped past Berry, and set down the bottle along with the glass on the edge of the tub, near some bottles of soap.

“Gin,” Lyra said, shaking her head. “I’m sorry, but I’m not sure I agree with this self medicating. We need to get him to talk.”

“I’m gonna get him to talk, that’s why I need the gin.” Berry Punch’s face looked grim. “Bathtub therapy. He’s not leaving this room until I feel satisfied that he’s said enough. We might be in here a while.”

Lyra, who reconsidered her feelings, nodded. “Whatever works. If you think this will get him to open up, then I’m behind it. He’s a mess.” Lyra looked down into the tub and saw Bucky’s mane floating all around him, and his tail. His changeling appendage was visible, and his goat leg twitched. His eyes were vacant, blank, and stared up at the ceiling. The suds from the bubble bath began to consume Bucky, swallowing him up with suds.

 

“Learning to deal with my own grief has been difficult,” Lyra said in low voice. “But I’m managing. Some of the anger and the heartache is easing off a bit. Bucky just keeps holding all of it in.”

“What about the little ones… do we let them in to see him like this?” Derpy asked.

Lips pressing together, Berry Punch took a moment to consider Derpy’s words. “We’ll keep them out, for now, except for Cadance. I’m almost certain that if we tried to keep her away, she’d just blow the door off and let us have it. Now, I ain’t saying that Cadance is a troublemaker, or that she’s bad—”

“But she’s a terror when it comes to her father.” Derpy gave Berry a knowing nod.

“They’re connected,” Lyra said to Berry and Derpy. “Those two share a connection that we don’t have.” She reached down into the tub and prodded Bucky with her hoof. The only part of him that was above the water was his muzzle, everything else was submerged.

“Bucky, we’re gonna go and leave you to the mercy of Berry Punch.” Derpy’s voice sounded strained. There was no reply from the pony submerged in the bath. “Give Berry what she wants, or else… we’ll… we’ll… we will do something…” She fell silent, not knowing how to threaten Bucky. He seemed too fragile to threaten, but she needed some way of reaching him. “Look, just try to work with Berry, okay? Let it all out, you’ll feel better.”

“Keep me supplied with hard liquor.” Berry’s brows furrowed. “Remember when he was blitzed down in the cellar of the castle and he opened up about his mother and father? Well, here’s to hoping that I can recreate that scenario. Wish me luck.”

“Good luck, Berry.” Derpy gave her fellow wife a hopeful, but sad smile.

“Yeah, good luck… I’m going to head to town real quick like and come back with chocolates. Maybe that’ll help.” Lyra looked at Derpy. “You gonna be okay all by yourself with the foals for a little bit?”

“I should be,” Derpy replied. “Bring me chocolate too. Lots of it. The dark kind.”

“Can do.” Lyra eyed Berry and nodded before Berry could say anything. “I’ll bring back enough for an army.”

“Good deal.” Berry Punch lifted up her hoof and saluted. With a look of fierce determination, she climbed over the edge of the tub, eased herself down into the sudsy water, and pulled Bucky up from the depths, cradling him in her forelegs. “Hey, Bucky… how would you like a glass of gin?”

Lyra departed and Derpy backed out of the bathroom. She shut the door behind her. Turning around, she saw Barley, who stepped aside so Lyra could pass. She saw a grim look on Barley’s face.

“Aye, my wee, sweet Berry has the right idea,” Barley said as he eyed the bathroom door. “That poison has gotta come out. It’s killing him. Bucky needs to go on a spree and be given a free pass to be a drunken mess for a while. It’s not an ideal way to fix the problem, but as an emergency measure, it’ll have to do.”

“I trust Berry’s judgment on this issue.” Derpy watched as Sukari brushed up against Barley’s leg, then rubbed her face against it. She gave the zebra filly a warm, maternal smile, and then looked back up at Barley. “Try to keep Cadance busy so Berry has time to work, will you?”

“Aye, I can do that…”

 

 

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