• Published 16th Nov 2015
  • 1,324 Views, 44 Comments

When The Bough Breaks - anonpencil


When tragedy strikes, everyone has a different way of reacting and dealing with their grief. But Cadance is all too aware that, as a princess, her duties must come before her own personal feelings of sadness.

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Princess Cadance stared up at the ceiling of the hospital room as she reassessed her situation. She’d just come to again after another round of painkillers, and it always took a few minutes for it all to click back into place. The flowers that had been delivered the day before were beginning to wilt, she noticed. The heart shaped balloons were deflating just a touch, but the large ‘get well soon’ card signed by most of Ponyville still stood guard at her bedside. But what drew her attention the most was the ceiling, with the nothing and everything it contained. Somehow, staring up into that blank expanse of drywall centered her enough for her to sequence the events of the previous two days.

Two days ago, she’d felt an unfamiliar, stabbing pain in her stomach. A few hours after it started, the bleeding had begun. Shining Armor had rushed her to the hospital, and it was then that she’d been told the foal she’d been carrying for the last two months no longer showed any sign of a heartbeat. They’d double checked. In the unevenness of the paint on the ceiling, she traced out the lines of sorrow in the doctor’s face as he’d told her with a shake of his head that there was nothing he could do.

She paused to take in a deep breath, then let it out in one slow long stream before she continued putting the events in order.

They’d told her that they weren’t sure why the foal had died. That once she delivered him, they’d be able to give her a better answer. It could be genetic, she knew, given that there was a slightly higher chance of fetal death with unions between Alicorns and normal ponies. It wasn’t that much of a higher chance, but it was enough that the statistic lingered in her memory now. The doctor had said they could deliver the foal that afternoon, and recommended that she do so anesthetized, to save herself the physical and emotional trauma of birthing a stillborn foal. She’d agreed without much fight. She didn’t really have much of that to offer in general anyway.

After that, she’d been in and out of consciousness. Sometimes it was welcome, and sometimes it contained images and feelings that she would have preferred to never experience.

Shining Armor had stayed by her side through it all, and every time she’d opened her eyes, he’d been there. But this time, as she’d looked around the room, he had been gone. The panic she’d initially felt on waking up alone had faded, as she’d seen him speaking with a doctor outside her private room. She’d watched briefly as a small box, far too small and too delicate, had passed from one pony to the other, and had turned away so she didn’t see her husband’s reaction.

“Make sure you get his body,” she’d said to him before they put the sleeping spell on her. "For the crystal catacombs. He deserves a place there, make sure you get his body. Promise me.”

He’d promised then. It seemed he had kept that promise now.

She found a single crack in the corner of the ceiling and carefully used it to outline the square of her husband’s jaw in her memory. Unquivering, set tight, gritted, as he’d patted her hoof while the doctor gave them the news. He’d stayed strong as her voice had shook with each question, and everything he’d asked had been about her health, her status, the next steps they’d need to take. She’d looked at him then, but not met his eyes. She just couldn’t do that, and she'd noticed that he couldn’t look at her either.

In the pit of her stomach, through the numbness that was both drug and self induced, she felt a now familiar pang of guilt. She felt this sense that she was a traitor to him now, even as she knew it was her body and not her who had acted out, and that she was the one betrayed by it most of all. But even with that in mind, even as she heard the door creak open, she felt the shame rush over her. She looked away from him to hide the expression on her face, and listened to his soft hoof-falls as he entered and closed the door behind him. She stared into each colorful letter of her get well card one by one as a way of focusing.

“Darling?” she heard him say.

He sounded so calm. Collected. Like he was speaking to a wounded animal and didn’t want to startle it. She was almost angry that he was so calm now, like he wasn't completely shattered by this.

“Yes,” she made herself say, but still didn’t turn to look at him.

“The doctors gave me his…they gave me this box.”

She felt the sheets move beside her as a small and solid shape was placed onto the bed. She instinctually flinched away from it, and a cold prickle went up the back of her neck. It was like she could feel it staring at her.

“Thank you,” she said dryly.

“They did a few tests and…it looks like it was some sort of developmental problem. Something genetic. That’s not saying it would always be like that, it’s just something they say we should keep in mind for…”

He trailed off, and she could hear the biting implication in the unsaid words. For next time? For the next foal she conceived? How dare they talk about something like this so soon, as if this wasn’t a real being she had carried, as if it hadn’t lived and grown and been a part of their lives? How dare they even think of…a swell of anger flared in her stomach and chest, but she forced it back.

“Of course. It’s good they did the tests,” she said softly, trying not to sound as cold as she felt.

“Would you like to…to hold him?”

“No.”

“It’s ok if you-“

“No. Please,” she said, a little less quietly this time. “Just…take it away for now. If you would.”

She’d carried him for months inside her, and she knew she’d have to carry him again, for just a little longer, as they put him in the tomb. But right now it was a weight she couldn’t bear. She knew she shouldn’t feel guilty for that too, but somehow she did. They’d said he’d had below average weight for his age, probably indicative of his health problem. Who knew that four and a half pounds could feel so heavy?

She felt the bed move again as Shining Armor took the box away.

“They say you can go home today,” he said gently. “You’ll need to take it easy, you’ll be anemic for a while and you’ll need to take vitamins and rest for a few days. But other than that they say you should be ok.”

Physically. She almost snapped the word as a retort, but instead shut her eyes and let out another one of those long slow breaths. This was not his fault. None of this was his fault, or the doctor's fault. Maybe not even her fault. It wasn’t right for her to lash out at these people who were just trying to help. Why, then, did she want to so badly?

“That’s good news,” she said. “Let me rest just a little longer, and I’ll be ready to go.”

“You don’t have to push yourself. We can stay here another day if you don’t feel up to it.”

“I want to go home, Shining,” she said pointedly. “I just need to get my balance, and then I want to go home. Please, just go fetch the discharge papers and I’ll fill them out with you while I wake up some.”

When she didn’t hear him move, she collected herself once more. When she spoke, it was closer to the way she normally sounded. Nurturing. Caring. But she could tell she didn’t sound nearly as motherly as usual.

“Please,” she said again. “I just want to go home as soon as possible.”

A moment of silence flickered in the lonely hospital room.

“Of course,” he said at last.

Then she heard him turn and exit the room. As the door shut behind him, she again turned her gaze towards the ceiling, ugly, cracked, and uneven though it was. Her cheeks felt cold and damp in the sterile air of the hospital, and it took a moment for her to realize that they were wet, and that she had been crying.

——

It only took her a few minutes to pack. Besides the flowers, which she unceremoniously dumped into the trash, the cards and her tiara were the only things she really had to take stock of. Thankfully, Shining Armor took care of everything else without concerning her. It let her focus on staying calm.

They pushed in the wheelchair just as she thought she had everything packed to go. It was a surprise, and at first she didn't realize that it was meant for her. As she looked from the chair to the nurse, then back again, she began slowly shaking her head. The nurse seemed to sense her objection before she voiced it, and offered a supportive smile.

“It’s just a precaution Princess,” she said. “We ask that everyone who stays overnight at least gets wheeled to their carriage.”

“I don’t need that,” she said dryly.

Shining Armor looked to nurse, whose smile was beginning to droop slightly, then back to Cadance. She could see he was concerned, but not entirely sure how to proceed with the situation.

“Sweetheart, maybe you should just use the chair,” he said at last. “I’ll push you to the carriage myself, no need for doctors.”

Cadance was silent for a moment. She closed her eyes and waited until the sudden tide of negative emotions fell back into itself before she again opened her eyes. When she spoke, her voice was even and matter-of-fact. She could feel the transition in her as she went from just a simple pony to a princess, a ruler, a leader. She could feel the part of herself that experienced grief and loss become a passenger along for the ride, as the rest of her seamlessly took over.

“There are ponies out there,” she said. “My citizens, as well as the press. I will not have them see me like that. I need to appear as I always am, as if nothing has changed for me and that nothing will.”

“Most of them seem to know what happened already, Cadance. It’s not like we need to hide this.”

“I’m not hiding,” she went on. “ I just want them to look at me and see that I am still me. That I still have everything together, can still lead, can still live. I don’t need them questioning my rule because of this tragedy, and I need to be strong for them. So I’m sure I can walk to my carriage without that chair. It’s what they need to see.”

She saw that the nurse had not taken her gaze away for a single moment. She turned and met the nurse’s eyes, looking down at her with the gentle grace of any princess, and offered a slow nod.

“I won’t be needing that, thank you for the offer,” she said sincerely.

The nurse looked like she might protest for an instant, then lowered her eyes and chin in response. She gave a slight bow and pulled he wheelchair away, out of the room. Cadance watched her go with a muted satisfaction. At least she could still command, still give her word and have no one question it. Except maybe her husband. Once she was out of the room and the door had shut, Shining Armor turned to her with a worried expression.

“I’m still going to walk at your side,” he said. His voice was soft, but firm. “If you feel faint, you can lean on me. No one will notice you resting on me, no one will think it’s weird. I just want to make sure you’re safe.”

Although she still couldn’t meet his eyes, she suddenly felt compelled to say something. For no reason she could name, she wanted to apologize. She wanted to say she was sorry over and over again, until there was no breath left in her lungs. She wanted to collapse, her neck bent across his chest, and apologize into his fur so that he could feel it against his very skin. But she couldn’t. She had to be strong now, had to put on a good front. It was her duty, and no matter what had just happened, her duties came first.

“If you wish,” she said with a sigh.

“I do.”

“Then let me set my tiara and we can go.”

She gave a final glance towards the ceiling of the private room as they left. In it, she had seen every moment of the past few days relived. She had seen the dotted lines between each event, each word, each singularly excruciating moment. She had seen the outlines of people, places, and even the stabbing edges of one very small box.

It had centered her before. Now she found she hated that empty, all-encompassing ceiling, with more passion than she had ever felt in her life. She wanted to tear it down, so that no one would ever have to look at it again.

She could feel her husband pressed close at her side as the front doors of the hospital opened. There was the usual flash of camera bulbs with each step she took, the usual chattering of reporters with pens poised in their teeth or suspended in the air with magic. Shining Armor pressed a little closer to her, but she kept herself from leaning on him. She didn't need that right now, and would only do so as a last resort. Instead, she focused on each individual step.

Cadance held her chin and head high. She looked ahead as she moved, never to either side, striding evenly and confidently towards the open and waiting carriage door.

“Are you doing alright?” she heard Shining Armor say.

She didn’t answer him.

In her head, she reminded herself carefully: you are royalty. You are the embodiment of grace and love. You are beautiful and strong and you lead the hearts and fates of many. You are their rock, their precious gem. You are princess. Walk like a princess.

And as she walked, it was not at all as if she could feel a strange, floating emptiness inside her. It was as if she was not feeling a swelling hell inside her, where something had lived and grown, then abruptly stopped. None of them would have known how much she wanted to collapse and crush her hooves in on her stomach to try to block out that terrifying dead feeling inside her. It was as if he had never left her, in more ways than one.

As she reached the carriage, she steeled herself for one final moment of regality. With a nudge to Shining Armor as a signal, she turned to face the media ponies, and offered them a slight nod in lieu of a bow. They fell silent, but strained in towards her, aching for her any word, decree, or hint. She would give them one. Her duty dictated that much.

“Everyone. Thank you for your concern over the health of my family and me,” she said as loudly and as evenly as she could. “I will not be answering any questions right now, but I would be happy if you would attend a memorial service tomorrow in the Crystal Kingdom, at our castle. There we will be entombing…our son.”

She paused, mentally recomposed, then continued.

“I would like to be sure the rest of the kingdoms learn of his passing with your help, so you are all welcome to report on this story, and on the ceremony. Thank you, we will see you then.”

She tried not to think about the way her voice had cracked at the word 'son,' while Shining Armor helped her up into the carriage’s plush interior. She listened to the din of the curious, clamoring media ponies as he closed the carriage door behind them, and the driver pulled them away from the hospital curb.

——

Author's Note:

I know I don't usually write seriously for fimfic. I know that, if you've read my work before, you're used to gore, vomit, bad puns, inappropriate jokes and humor...
Well, I know this isn't that. This is...something different. This is something that actually happens to people.

Because of that, I would ask that in the comments (and I know the puns are coming, I'm not even going to try to stop them, you guys are great), you not argue with each other about how "that's not what it's like" or "that's not how it feels" if people are giving personal feelings and experiences. As I said early on, everyone experiences grief differently. I do not want to see the comments become a war over what people are supposed to feel about something that they actually went through. Feel however you want to feel. About this story, and other things in general.

That's all.

-Pencil