• Published 16th Sep 2019
  • 674 Views, 21 Comments

Zealots of Canterlot - Aquaman



A few weeks before her college graduation, Sunset Shimmer attends Twilight Sparkle's funeral. She'd rather be anywhere else but here. She'd rather think about anything but what role she played—or didn't play—in her girlfriend's premature death.

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Unspoken

Hey, you know what’s better than a wake? Asleep.

Once I’m done typing, I thumb the sleep button on my phone and drop it back into my purse. It’s not my best line of the morning—so far, the frontrunner is “I wonder if his dress has pockets,” in reference to the reverend’s vestments—but it’s punny in exactly the way I know Twilight would’ve laughed at. She’d probably have just blushed at the priestly dress line. That’s how I know that one was especially good.

For lack of anything else to do with my hands, I pull my phone back out and stare at my reflection in the darkened glass. I look great—Rarity made sure we all did, of course. I’m pretty sure that was her coping mechanism. And I guess this is mine: thinking of jokes for Twilight, little silly things I’d usually whisper into her ear to throw her off her game. And then typing them out on a note in my phone instead, because I have to keep reminding myself she’s not here to hear them.

I click my phone back on and start typing again.

Well, I’m certainly putting the “fun” in “funeral,” aren’t I?

I’m really not, in all honesty. I’ve been up since before dawn—I’m not sure I slept, in the same way that I’m not sure I’m awake either—and the gummy film over my eyes migrated to my brain around mid-morning. I haven’t said much more than “hello” and “thank you” to a few distant relatives whose faces I’ve already forgotten, and since then I’ve just been parked in an alcove near the church’s entrance, hunched over my phone, texting away to nobody. Thankfully, word seems to have gotten around from the few people I spoke with; they walked away about half an hour ago, and no one else has come to bother me since.

I can’t decide if I wish they would or not. I figured it’s best to just sit tight and keep typing until I’m sure.

Is it ironic if your phone battery dies during a funeral service?

I know this much: for once, I’m glad Pinkie Pie’s found something to distract herself with that isn’t me. There are a few kids weaving in between grownups’ legs here and there, and the nucleus they’re revolving around is a toddler in a frilly jumper propped up in Pinkie’s lap, giggling at every silly face and noise she makes. Every once in a while, a stubby-legged asteroid wanders into Applejack’s orbit, but she’s too busy watching Rainbow Dash to pay them much mind.

For her part, Dash looks like she stole something and she’s itching to run away with it, constantly tapping her foot and fidgeting with the strap of her purse or the hem of her white-striped black skirt. She’s been spending as much time staring at Applejack as vice versa; I get the sense they’re steadying themselves against each other, even though they never touch. Either way, I haven’t gotten the sense they’d be great conversational partners, which—I’m pretty sure—suits me just fine.

At least Fluttershy’s nearby if I need her, which I hope for her sake I don’t. She’s been at the church’s front doors since they first opened this morning, greeting everyone who enters with hand clasps and tender hugs. Every once in a while, I catch a glimpse of her face through the coatroom separating this reception hall from the foyer—of her effervescent smile lifting her tired, pallid cheeks. She looks like she’s been awake as long as I have, but she’s powering through like she barely feels it.

Maybe she actually doesn’t—she’s probably pulled more than a few all-nighters studying for her vet school GRE. Then again, maybe being around animals so much, she’s just used to this: the muted condolences and the reverent silence that follows. The constant, ephemeral ache in your spine. The helplessness.

I wonder how many pets she’s put down interning at the animal hospital. I wonder how many owners’ hands she’s held.

I don’t type that down, though. Twilight would probably know the exact number. Plus it’s not really all that funny.

When I turn back around and face the rest of the increasingly crowded hall, my eyes immediately catch Rarity’s. I didn’t really meant for them to—I thought she was still restocking one of the trays of cookies on the table by the back wall, or refilling one of the punch bowls, or rotating all the napkin stacks back a quarter-turn to where they were before she messed with them fifteen minutes ago. See what I mean? Coping mechanism.

I guess she’s coped pretty well, though, because she excuses herself from a conversation with someone I probably met already and strides towards me, black heels clicking under a black dress, with her tiny black purse clutched in both hands in front of her waist. My dress doesn’t match my bag at all—clashes horribly with it, actually—but she bravely refrains from comment. I can tell she wants to, though. Even at a time like this, she’s still Rarity. I’ll have to remember to add that to the note once she leaves.

“How are you doing, darling?” she asks once she sits down, her hand sliding over to rest gently on my knee. I glance at her fingernails next to mine in my lap—manicured and gleaming violet, next to colorless and chewed away—before I respond.

“How should I be doing?” I ask back.

Rarity’s lips tighten into an awkward smile. “I suppose I’m not sure either,” she admits as she pulls her hand away to stare at it herself. “This all feels so… unfamiliar. So…”

Pointless, I find myself thinking.

“Out of character,” I finish for her. “She’d absolutely hate this.”

Rarity’s smile splits, and she laughs—softly and quickly, so as not to make light of the occasion, darling. “She would, wouldn’t she? All these people, this pomp and circumstance… I’m sure she’d rather be anywhere else.” She spreads her fingers out against her thigh, drumming each tip for a moment before closing her hand back into a loose fist. “But I suppose we all would, wouldn’t we? And that’s why we’re here. To… be there for each other.”

I can’t tell if she meant that as a dig at me. I know it isn’t. I want to believe so, at least. “Is it helping you?” I ask. “To be here with everyone?”

Rarity’s lips purse again. “Not particularly, no,” she says. “I can’t imagine what it’s been like for you.”

I can’t help it—I laugh. It’s a rough and hollow sound, like chair legs scraping over cement, and it makes Rarity’s eyebrows shoot up and a couple heads turn nearby. Maybe word will get around again: don’t talk to Sunset, and if you do, don’t say that.

“Sorry,” I say, after I swallow hard and spend a moment grinding my fingernails against my palms. “Everyone’s been great. I’m just… trying not to be the center of attention. This isn’t about me.”

Rarity’s hand brushes against the outside of mine. I don’t glance down. I don’t spread my fingers out into hers. “It can be about you too,” she murmurs. “If you need it to be.”

“I don’t,” I say. The words rush out of me a bit too fast; I grit my teeth as Rarity gently tightens her grip. “Seriously. I’m just tired. Everyone is.”

She’s not buying it. I can feel the sympathy radiating off her—feel it prickling on my arms, like sunshine on a burn. Thankfully, I don’t have to grin and bear it too long. From within the crowd that parts to let them through, two figures approach me—both clad in black, one in a suit and the other in a shapeless gown. Rarity looks up, gives me one last squeeze—sends goosebumps rolling down my back—and stands, offering the shorter of the arriving pair a hushed greeting and a hug before departing back to the cookie trays.

In retrospect, I should’ve counted my blessings when it was just Rarity here. In the moment, I open my hands, stand up, and accept a hug from both of Twilight’s parents.

“Thank you so much for coming,” her mother says. She looks as hoarse and beaten down as she sounds. “It’s so good to see you again.”

My tone is warm, but my response is robotic. “It’s good to see you both too. Thanks for having me.”

“Of course we’d have you,” her dad insists, his hand still lingering on my shoulder. “We wanted everyone who loved her here. Especially you.”

I wonder which would be worse: if he really believes what he just said, or if he’s faking it as much as I am. After a moment, I realize it’s worse that I can’t tell the difference.

“We really do mean that, Sunset,” her mom adds. She reaches out and mirrors her husband’s gesture, placing her hand against my other shoulder. I’m pinched between the two of them now. I paint on a smile and try not to squirm. “Twilight was blessed with so many wonderful friends, but you… you were special. You meant so much to her, and I know… even with everything she went through, I know she was truly happy when she was with you. You were so good to her, and to all of us, and I just… if there’s anything you ever need, anything at all, please, you let us know. All right, honey?”

I can feel sweat beading on the back of my neck, and something spiky and black roiling in my belly. I try to keep smiling, but I can’t quite remember how the muscles work—how to keep my expression from twisting into a scowl. In the distance, at the end of a long black tunnel that ends in the summer after sophomore year, Twilight sighs and pinches the bridge of her nose, repeating for the dozenth time that calling her friends “honey” is one thing and calling her girlfriend that is another entirely, Mom.

I feel someone rubbing my arm—the left one, I think—and then the world rushes back into focus. A child’s squeal reverberates across the room. Twilight’s mom is tearing up.

“Oh, honey, I’m so sorry. I know you’re hurting too, I just… wanted you to know we’re here for you. That’s all.”

I nod, bite my lip, bend my face back under control. “Oh no, I’m… thank you, but I’m doing okay,” I tell her. I lift my hands to cover theirs, hoping my clammy palms will distract them from how quickly I pull myself out of their grip. “Thank you both. It’s really nice to hear you say that.”

The lie does the trick—Twilight’s mom leans in for a hug, wearing the same wistful smile when she wraps her arms around me as she is when she pulls away. “I’m gonna go check in with my sister,” she informs her husband, who nods and plants a kiss on her forehead before she edges behind him and walks towards a heavyset woman I recognize as Twilight’s aunt. Once his wife’s out of earshot, Twilight’s dad offers me a grin of his own.

“Sorry,” he says. “Guessing that was pretty intense.”

“It’s fine,” I lie again. “I get it. And I appreciate it, really.”

He nods, sliding his hands into his jacket pockets as he sighs and gazes around the room. For a second, I get the strangest instinct that he’s about to ask me with an accusatory glare what I’ve been getting up to with his daughter. For another second, I feel an even stranger urge to tell him—to let him know exactly where that hand he just held has been.

My stomach churns again, and something hot and painful starts rising in my throat. I swallow it back down as Twilight’s dad turns to face me again.

“We really do mean it, though,” he says. “Anything at all. Doesn’t have to be right now either. Far as Vel and I are concerned, you and the other girls are family.”

His gaze drifts down to the floor, and his hands flex inside his jacket. Contrary to the lightened streaks amidst his wife’s violet stripes, not a single navy-blue hair on his head shows a hint of gray. Save for the sag in his cheeks and the slight paunch in his gut, he looks like he could almost be my age.

“Gotta take care of your family, y’know?” he mutters at the ground.

Looks can be deceiving.

“You’re a good person, Sunset. A great one. And for what it’s worth, you… don’t feel like you have to pretend you’re not upset for our sake, all right? I know what you’re thinking. I’m thinking it too. Haven’t thought about much of anything else since it… since last week.”

I find myself staring over his shoulder, at a space on the wall between his wife and in-law’s heads. They’re greeting Twilight’s brother, who just arrived with his wife and infant daughter. I’ve seen them before. Right now I can’t remember where.

“I just hope you don’t think this is at all your fault. What Twilight… what happened, it… it wasn’t anybody’s fault. It wasn’t her fault. It was a sickness she had, and we all… we did the best we could.”

I know her brother has noticed me—is staring at me—but I can’t tell why. Right now all I can feel is my hand closing into a fist again. All I can see is a vision of myself smashing it into his father’s nose.

“And I think… I hope she knows that. I hope she can see now how loved she was, and… I hope she’s at peace.”

Maybe he can hear what his dad’s saying. Maybe he’s glaring because I’m not listening anymore. Maybe it’s because he wants me to give in.

“And I hope you find peace too. I mean that. I think we all will, in time. It’s just… it’s good to see you, that’s all. It’s nice to be reminded of the good times.”

My hand twinges, shudders, rises—and opens just in time for my palm to land on my girlfriend’s father’s shoulder. I take a deep breath and hold it as long as I can, until the heat in my chest dulls enough to speak past. “It is nice,” I tell him. “And I’m sure she knows.”

He needed to hear that. I can see his relief spilling from the upturned corners of his mouth, welling at the bottom of his eyes. When he hugs me, he rests his hand on the back of my head and grips my shoulder with the other, seeming for a moment like he’s never going to let go. I let him do it. It feels like old times—like old habits, rising easy.

When he leaves, I’m left alone again, wiping the dampness off my palms onto a velvet dress that suddenly feels stifling. Gradually, I notice people moving past me—an exodus towards a corridor that leads to a smaller side room. I guess the viewing’s about to begin. I can barely breathe through the heat. I wish I could do something about it—rip my clothes off and sprint in the opposite direction, naked from head to toe like a full-blown heathen.

Heh. Twilight would get a kick out of that. She’d probably even blush.

As I slip into the shuffling crowd, I reach into my purse and take out my phone again.

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