“Are you awake?” she heard Shining Armor say from the other side of the dark bedroom.
She’d come inside and gone to bed the moment she’d gotten back from the ceremony. The moment she’d gotten away from the crowd, she’d taken her weight off of Shining Armor and quickened her pace. She’d rushed past the locked room, closed as many doors behind her as she could, found her bedroom, and thrown herself across the blankets and pillows. She’d burrowed into them all like some small, frightened creature, then she’d pulled the blankets up around her ears to drown out the sounds of sad, talking, and mourning ponies outside. She’d stared straight ahead, up into the crystal ceiling, and just let herself go numb again. Like she had been back in the bed at the hospital.
The ceiling here wasn’t so empty as the one there. At first, she hated it less than that cold, empty, white-washed ceiling. But then, as she’d come to see her own, haggard reflection leering down at her, she’d found she hated it more. This ceiling wasn’t as empty and vast as the other. No. In this she saw herself. It was worse this way because, even with another form there, she was still alone in her own head. She’d turned away from the ceiling and had opted to stare at the open window instead.
Shining Armor had not come in right away. He’d left her alone for what was probably hours, at least until the sun had gone down. She’d lost all track of time at this point, but only when the room was dark, when she’d blown out the lamp and only starlight peeked in through the window, only then had she heard the creak of the door as he’d come in. She’d felt the movement of the mattress as he’d sat down beside her, facing away. She’d felt the blankets ripple like a tide as he’d moved them and crawled under. Then she’d heard the silence as he lay there, still.
She wasn’t sure how long they’d remained like that. It could have been hours more, or only moments. She couldn’t be certain.
Now, as these foreign, strange-feeling words rang out, they felt painful. A disruption of the stillness she’d slowly begun to embrace. They were so sharp they cut her, and she winced from the sensation.
“Yes,” she said at last.
“Good…are you ok?”
“Is there anything I can do?”
“Cadance,” he said in barely more than a concerned whisper. “Talk to me. I’m here for you. I’m worried. We’re in this together, we both lost someone, so please…talk to me.”
She couldn’t even begin to contain the surge of rage that rippled through he body at those words. No. No, he would not say that, how dare he say that. How dare he even imply…
“He didn’t die inside of you,” she said, each word quiet and cold, sounding distant from them both in the darkness. “You didn’t lose him. I lost him. Don’t say that we both share this, because he was my burden to bear, and he still is. I lost a physical piece of me. You get to be sad, you get to hurt, because you deserve to have your grief. But I have a hole in me now, I had a part of me torn out from the inside. And I can feel it there every minute of every day. You lost a son. I lost a piece of me. So don’t tell me we’re in this together.”
The silence and stillness resumed, and in it Cadance could feel herself shaking. She grabbed hold of her own body, trying to squeeze it until it stopped, but it just continued to tremble. She shut her eyes to blot out all the darkness around her and drew her body in on itself, curling up, trying to become as small as possible. Until she wouldn’t even be there anymore. In that moment, she felt a hatred for herself that she'd never known before.
Then, when she didn’t expect it, she felt a movement on the mattress, and a hoof reached out and touched her shoulder. She shied back away from it as if she’d been burnt, but it persisted, and before she could stop it, Shining Armor gently grabbed her huddled form and wordlessly pulled her in against him in a hug.
“Stop,” she said in almost a bark.
She pushed him gently and firmly away. But he held on tightly, not letting her pull free. She pushed harder, sitting up in bed to try to fight against his arms and the blankets threatening to ensnare her. She felt like something inside her was tensing up, ready to spring. It was like she was going to throw up, like she was going to have a heart attack from him touching her.
“I said stop!” she said more forcefully, and this time the shove she gave him was unmistakable. “Stop, please!”
She didn’t mean to sound so pleading, so weak, but he just wouldn’t free her. Every time she got distance from him, he pulled her back. She felt stifled suddenly. Crushed. She openly fought against him now, nearly beating her hooves against his chest and face.
“Stop! Now…I…I command you…stop! Let me go!”
He pulled her closer with every blow. She was almost shouting at him now, and she felt distinctly like she was going to die, like she was going to suffocate there in his arms. All she knew was she had to get away, that he couldn’t hold her like this, that she shouldn’t allow this. But he was strong, and didn’t let go of her. His limbs were not shaking, he was calm. She could feel his even breath on her ears and forehead, hear his barely-quickened heart beat. How dare he do this to her, how dare he…
“Cadance,” he said in a whisper.
And that was all it took.
In a flurry of release and emotion, she fell against his body, sobbing uncontrollably, all the fight in her gone. Instead of pushing him away, now all she wanted to do was hold him close, to feel no space between them at all.
“I’m sorry,” she said as she wept. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry…”
He let her keep saying it and just held her there in the darkness of their empty bedroom. Cadance felt her throat and lungs burn as coughing sobs ripped from her mouth. She buried her face in the fur of his chest, trying to muffle the ugly sounds coming from her, but they still came, ringing loud in her ears. She felt his hoof run over he mane, over and over like a soft and steady drum beat.
She realized she was clutching him then, like she was afraid he’d get away, or worse that he’d push her away. She had this swell of feeling that perhaps he knew now. Perhaps he really did know this was all her fault, that she had failed them both, failed herself, failed her unborn son. That she was useless, faulty, that she couldn’t even carry a foal as any other normal pony could.
“I’m sorry,” she could hear herself continuing to say. “I’m sorry I couldn’t…that I didn’t…”
The final words wouldn’t come and she just fell back into crying every time she tried. She felt Shining Armor squeeze her a little in a hug each time.
“Don’t be sorry, it’s not your fault.”
He paused, and she felt his heart skip a beat. Maybe a moment of realization or pain. Then he hugged her tightly again. With each sorry she uncontrollably let loose between sobs, he followed it with ‘it’s not your fault.’ They continued the morbid duet for some minutes.
“It’s not your fault Cadance,” he said then. “It just happened. But it’s going to be ok, we’ll get through this. It’s going to be ok.”
“No, it’s not,” she choked out. “It’s not ok, nothing is ever going to be ok again. My son is dead, I felt him die. I’ll never hold him again, I’ll never touch him or see him…”
With those words, a horrifying realization hit her. Her whole body went rigid and she straightened up in his embrace. In the darkness, she knew he couldn't see the color draining from her face, but she could feel it. She could feel the cold chill that moved up her body and the catch in her lungs that made it hard to breathe. And right then, she didn't want to breathe. She didn't deserve it.
“I never saw him, Shining,” she said. “I never saw his face, never knew what he looked like. I don’t know what color he is o-or what his mane was like or…I…I don’t…”
She was shaking, and she gagged on this realization, suddenly afraid again that she was going to throw up. She didn’t know what her own son looked like. And now she’d never know.
“What kind of mother am I?” she said before he could go on. “What kind of mother doesn’t hold her baby? Doesn't know what his face looks like. What kind of mother doesn’t know…doesn’t…”
She closed her mouth at that kind but solemn command. Shining Armor pulled her close once more and she could feel him bury his face in her mane. She felt him breathe a sigh into it, and the heat from it soothed her a little.
“You are a great mother,” he told her. “You’re the mother to this whole kingdom. You were a great mother to him too. Don’t ever doubt that. You didn’t do anything wrong, haven’t done anything wrong. It’s ok. It’s ok.”
Fresh tears flowed freely down her face, staining his white coat a dark gray. Cadance wept effortlessly into him, holding him close, loving every sweet word that he was saying. She loved the vibrations they made against her face, loved the calmness and strength he showed. And she hated and loved that she could be weak now. That she could fall apart now. He had her.
“Shining?” she choked out, hardly recognizing the creak of her own voice.
“Did you see him? D-did you see what our son looked like?”
Shining Armor was silent, and she again heard his heartbeat quicken once and then slow back to steadiness.
“Yes,” he said. “He was pink all over, and he had little wings, like you. And a blue mane, like me. He was beautiful, Cadance. He...is beautiful. He would have been so happy.”
The image pressed itself into her mind, like a wax seal, and as his shape materialized to her, she felt her emotions change direction. She had something now, someone she could mourn. A color, a face, even one in simple colors without lines or detail. As she continued to cry, she could feel she wasn’t weeping for herself now. It was for a small, far too small colt with little wings and a blue mane. She wept for her son for what felt like hours, until there were no more tears to cry. Until she shut her red and worn eyes and fell into an exhausted sleep within the safe embrace of her husband’s arms.
She was alone in near darkness, and she could feel that she was bound by her every hoof. The chains on her hooves were tight and painful, and she couldn't shake them free, couldn't get loose. She could feel how difficult it was to strain against them, how heavy they were. She tried so hard to walk, to move, to continue on…but the chains held her.
Cadance looked back, and she could see a small black box, all chains emanating from it like spider legs. It was such a small box, so delicate. Why couldn’t she pull it along with her? Why was it so heavy that it was holding her back? She strained against her bonds, but the box would barely move. She could hear a loud cracking scrape, like wood being shattered, each time she pulled. But each time, it was like the box pulled back against her chains.
Why wasn't she strong enough? Why couldn’t she break free?
Cadance was crying then, calling out for help. She screamed for anyone, but her words just echoed, like she was last far underground. It was just her and that box, and the chains connecting them. She tugged once more, and it was as if the box suddenly gave way, and she jolted forwards. With a cry, she felt there was no more ground beneath her, and she began to fall.
Down, she fell down and down with nothing but the sound of her clattering chains. She could see the box above her, and now it was so big. So massive. And she knew that, when it landed, it would crush her under it. And then it would all be over. She shut her eyes and waited for the inevitable, sickening thud and crunch she knew would be there.
A loud sound came, and her eyes flew open.
She was in bed. She wasn’t falling anymore. And the box was gone. She was breathing hard, every muscle ached, and she felt like she really had been hauling that heavy box behind her for a long, long time. She felt worn out in every imaginable way. But at least that dream was over again. She’d had it every night since she’d been home from the hospital. Each time she’d felt the weight, and each time there had been the horrible grating noise of wood splintering with her every movement.
But this time, she found that the noise hadn’t faded. In the distance, she again heard the crack and groan of wood. As if someone was hauling that box down a flight of stairs outside her room. She reached out for Shining Armor in the darkness, but found that his side of the bed was empty. Maybe he’d already gone to investigate? With trepidation, Cadance rose from the bed and carefully crept out of the room to follow the strange sound.
The noise grew in volume as she quietly made her way down the stairs, and now she could hear the occasional sound of a voice. There were no words, only muffled noises of exertion, and she hesitated for a moment, unsure if she should continue. But curiosity, and some sense of reluctant suspicion drove her on.
Her throat tightened as she neared a particular door, and she quickened her pace in anticipation of getting past it sooner. But her steps slowed as she saw a crack of light spilling from one side of the stone doorframe. The door, which had been locked since her arrival home, now stood open just a very little bit, and she could hear the horrible ripping noises echoing from inside. With a shaking hoof, she pushed the door open just a little wider to see what was happening inside.
There before her stood Shining Armor. His back was to her, but she could easily see what it was he was doing, and where the noise was coming from. In his mouth, he held a hammer, and with it he was prying nails out of one side of the crib he’d so carefully built only weeks earlier. He grunted and strained, and Cadance heard the tinkle of nails as they fell to the hardwood floor of the nursery. She noticed that much of the crib was already in pieces on the floor, as was a bassinet he’d gotten for her, a small bookshelf, and mobile they’d gotten as a gift from Twilight. All of them were now just fragments of what they'd once been.
Shining Armor gave another huffing grunt as he reached up and tore back the railing to one side of the small crib. It gave way with a groan of wood, then splintered part way down. He gave a stifled roar of frustration and anger, and threw the piece of wood that had come free to the ground with a clatter. The remainder, still attached to the crib, began to glow a pale blue, than began to twist and wrench itself free of the crib. As it too came loose with his magic, Shining Armor forcefully cast it aside, then set his vision on another part of the crib. His shoulders and back were heaving, like he too was out of breath from hauling something heavy behind him. Soon the bars began to glow blue, and she watched them shatter under his magic. The crib squealed and cracked with each tearing motion he made, as one piece after another destroyed itself.
Cadance could hear that he was crying underneath each grunt and muted yell of anguish. She could hear the pain in his voice, mirrored by the pained sounds of the crib disintegrating. How many nights had he done this? Since they’d been home?
All at once Shining Armor launched himself at the crib. He trampled at it with his hooves, punching, not seeming to care as splinters cut at his forelegs. He leapt back, hunched as if he was ready for the thing to attack him back. Then, when it didn't, the whole crib rose into the air, distorted and crumpled and encased in blue, and flung itself at the adjacent wall. It fell in pieces to the ground, and Shining Armor collapsed forward onto the floor of the nursery, weeping openly. The sound of clattering and breaking wood fell away, and all that was left was the sound of his rhythmic and staccatoed sobs.
He hadn’t seen her, and Cadance stood frozen, watching it happen. His body curled around itself, his hooves occasionally lashing out at the floor or something that wasn't even there. She could feel understanding flooding over her then, seeing him like this. Every time she’d seen him, spoken to him, been near him in the last few days, Shining Armor had been calm and collected. He’d been as dignified as her, perhaps even more so. He’d been strong. And what was more, he’d been strong for her. Even when she didn’t accept his shoulder, even when she wouldn’t speak, he’d been there to catch her in case she fell. And when she broke down, he was the to collect the pieces. She had never once seen him shed a tear. She hadn’t seen him grieve.
But he had been. Away from her, he’d found his own way to feel his grief.
As she stared at him, she remembered every unkind thing she’d said. She remembered how she’d pushed him away. She felt a pang of guilt that she had been so cruel to him, all the while not even wondering that he hadn’t been more upset. She’d even been angry, just briefly, that he hadn’t seemed more broken up about this. But while she was being strong for the nation, for Twilight, for everyone else, he’d been strong for her. It was his much-needed turn to break down now.
She wanted to reach out to him then. She wanted to hold him close as he’d held her, and tell him that everything would be ok. But she knew she couldn’t do that right now. With her there, he’d be strong again. With her there, he couldn’t fall apart, couldn’t let himself crumble the way she had, the way she’d needed to. He needed to be alone with his sadness in order to do this, and she knew that. On some level, she even understood it. This was his time to feel, completely unrestrained, and she wouldn’t intrude.
Holding back her own sobs, Cadance turned away from the door. As she made her way up the stairs back to their bedroom, she began to rehearse what she would say to him tomorrow. She began to plan the careful words of comfort she would give him, the way she’d begin the conversation about how they’d work together to get through this part of their lives. She began to plan how they’d make a memorial to their son, how they’d honor his memory in years to come. Even though she couldn’t reach out to her loving husband at that moment, she knew she would reach out. And she knew he’d reach back.
She wasn’t going to be silent any longer.