• 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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Feel Something

I didn’t know this before, but apparently it’s not normal to have a viewing on the same day as someone’s funeral, for some reason. I don’t know why anyone would want to spread them out and prolong this whole thing; I guess under normal circumstances, you have a little bit longer to plan ahead. Maybe if your great-grandma or whoever goes into hospice, you can start planning for time off work, buy train or plane tickets a little early and save some money. Call your distant family members and go, “Okay, we’ve got plans tomorrow, but we’re free after that. Can she die on Wednesday instead of Tuesday so we can make it a long weekend?”

It just seems odd—or it does to me, at least. And it would’ve to Twilight too! Rarity was right earlier, she really would have hated this—not only the service, but even the concept of being buried. She researched this very thing for her freshman environmental science seminar, made a whole slideshow about how much space a buried body takes up, the toxicity and carcinogenic nature of embalming chemicals, how much material waste there is, even how predatory the funeral industry is with service pricing and add-on features.

And yet here she is, in a taffeta-lined cedarwood casket flanked by standing sprays of lilies and white carnations, arrangements symbolic of both youthful innocence and a few hundred dollars in surcharges. She didn’t write a will, and it’s not like a presentation from her first college semester got shared around the family email list—I only knew about because I helped her practice her speech, and then held her from behind as she scribbled new notes, murmuring inspirational thoughts into the back of her neck. So in the end, her parents just did what they thought was right—chemicals, grifters, ignorance and all.

I’m probably the only one thinking about it that way. Probably the only one thinking about much of anything. I’ve had plenty of time for thinking over the last twenty minutes, parked on a padded folding chair watching people parade left-to-right-to-left again past me. The parade will continue throughout the day: from this stuffy room to the main chapel around noon, then out the front doors to the hearse, then a couple miles down the road to a graveyard just outside the town limits.

The casket will lead the whole way, shepherded along by funeral home staff and, for those few seconds between the church and the car, my friends and I. And that, I’ve been telling myself, is why I veered to the side and skipped passing by the casket myself: I’ll see enough of it later anyway. It makes perfect sense—or at least, it does to me.

By now, most attendees to the service have left to find their seats in the chapel, leaving only a few still milling around with me. Rainbow Dash only got about halfway to the casket before she froze in place and had to be led out of the room by Pinkie Pie and Applejack, muttering and swearing and sobbing the whole way. Pinkie stayed outside with Dash, but Applejack’s since come back to lean against the wall between the two exits, arms folded and face set into a stony blank stare. She seems to be waiting for someone else to need her. She hasn’t approached the back of the room either.

To my right, Rarity is rubbing away the last of her mascara into a tissue, and Fluttershy is bending over the casket’s open portion to drop some little trinket inside. I can’t hear what she’s whispering, nor can I see whatever it was she put inside; the first time I glanced that way, the room started spinning and my belly filled with ice, so I’m fine not giving it a second try. Like I said, I don’t need to see what’s in there—don’t see any reason to stare at a wax doll pumped full of formaldehyde and pretend it’s somebody I used to know. Just another part of this whole ordeal I don’t understand, I guess.

In the corner of my eye, I can see Rarity glance over at me every now and then. I think she wants to be my Applejack: someone I’ll cling onto and cry into until we both feel like we’ve done something productive today. That may be fine for Rainbow Dash—she’s always been the waterworks type, even when her pet turtle started hibernating back in high school—but as it turns out, I’m not much of a crier when it comes to someone dying. If it hasn’t happened yet this week, I doubt I’m gonna have much for Rarity to soak up anytime today.

Maybe I should try at some point, though. It wouldn’t help me much, but hey, it might help her.

There’s movement at the archway closer to me—a blur of blue and white. Twilight’s brother enters the room and, with a nod and a squeeze of his wife’s hand behind him, leaves her holding their baby by the entrance as he switches places with Rarity and Fluttershy.

I follow him with my eyes as far as the flower sprays—he’s in a plain black suit and tie, so his ramrod-straight spine is the only visible sign of the military background Twilight mentioned a few times. I know she loved him, but I know nothing about why, and I’m not about to learn now. He’s reached the casket now, and my stomach pulls my gaze back towards his family.

Fluttershy, Rarity, and Applejack are all focused on the baby; her stuttering giggles feel like gunshots in this silent, airless room. She never even met her aunt—not in any way she’ll remember. Someday, her dad will have to explain to her why. I wonder when he’ll tell her. I wonder how much of the truth she’ll hear from him, and how much she’ll find out accidentally from a careless relative or some ill-informed bully at school. I wonder if that’ll be how she learns what death is. I wonder if she’ll sleep the night after.

I didn’t. I was eight. I needed a nightlight for another six months after.

Before Twilight’s brother returns to his wife, another couple joins her—the last ones who will pass through this room today before the service. After greeting the crowd at the entrance and tickling their granddaughter under her chin, Twilight’s mother and father walk side by side up to the casket, the former clutching the latter’s arm like a vice. I watch their shoes—black Oxfords and blue flats—stride past me and stop together next to their son’s glossy brown pair. A few moments pass in silence, and then Twilight’s mom suddenly speaks up.

“Honey, where are her glasses?”

For the first time, I look up at the casket on purpose—fight past the dizziness that starts to flare up in my temples. Twilight’s mom is situated between her husband and son, looking casually at the former like she’s just asked him whether he remembered to get milk at the grocery store yesterday. He’s staring back at her like that store’s been closed for years.

“Did you grab them, or…” she continues. “You know, they might be in the car, lemme go check.”

“Velvet, wait–”

She’s already turned on her heel and started to head for the exit. She makes it two steps before her ankles quiver and wobble and give out on her entirely. Her husband and son react instantly but can’t catch her before she collapses to her hands and knees; a chorus of gasps trail Rarity and Applejack as they hurry over to help as fast as their dresses allow. By the time I realize I should’ve moved too, it’s too late for it to mean anything, so I just stay put, vertigo gluing me to my chair and resonating in my gut.

Aside from the clap of her hand against her mouth and a choked, muffled groan from behind it, Twilight’s mother doesn’t make a sound. She just squeezes her eyes shut and spasms, not reacting to Rarity squatting in front of her or her son’s hand on her back, or her husband wrapping her arms around her and murmuring that it’s all right, she’s okay, he has her glasses and they talked about her not wearing them, remember? It’s all right, it’s all right, you’re all right…

And then, after I don’t know how long, she is all right. With shaking legs and help from everyone crowded around her, she slowly gets back on her feet, leaning into her husband’s arms for just a moment longer before she straightens up fully. After a few more whispered words, Twilight’s father reaches into his inside jacket pocket and produces a pair of square-framed glasses with thick black rims. His wife takes them gently, cradling them in both hands like an injured baby bird, and walks in silence to the back of the room, where she delicately unfolds their temples as she leans over her daughter’s casket.

When her hands rise into view again, she isn’t holding the glasses anymore. She pauses, seems to consider something, and then stoops forward again. I can just barely hear the sound of her lips pressing against skin, and of what she softly says afterward.

“Don’t worry about me, sweetheart. I’ll be okay. You just rest now. You don’t have to hurt anymore.”

Before I couldn’t bear to look at the casket. Now I can’t tear my eyes away. What I felt talking to Twilight’s dad before floods through me again—the same tunnel vision, the same nausea, the same overbearing heat that radiates from my chest out through every inch of skin. The room is fading out white. I can’t help but–

“Sunset?”

Rarity’s standing up again. She’s looking at me. After the second it takes me to blink, everyone else is too.

“Are you all right, darling?”

“Yeah.” The word punches out of my throat before I can even think of what I might say after it. Rarity’s brow furrows. She raises her hand as if she expects to need it again—to hold me, comfort me, lift me up off of my knees. The nausea dissipates. The heat remains.

“Yeah,” I say again, looking her dead in the eyes until she blinks first. “This is just... it’s a lot. Don’t worry about me.”

She’s not listening. Obnoxious motherly concern is plastered all over her face. I grit my teeth and look to Applejack, Pinkie, anyone else for help—but it’s not any of my friends that I get it from.

“She’s fine,” Twilight’s brother says. It’s the first time I’ve heard him speak today—now that I think about it, it might actually be the first time he’s ever said anything about me. “She just needs some time alone.”

I try to protest—the words make it all the way to my throat before they stick there and force me to choke back a gag. Rarity looks helplessly back and forth between me and Twilight’s mom, and her husband seems ready to argue too. His son keeps him silent with a word and a pointed look.

“Dad.”

He glances at his mother, then inclines his head towards the room’s exit. After a moment’s pause, everyone relents at once. Rarity guides Twilight’s mom silently away, and one by one the rest of the crowd files out behind them.

Twilight’s brother is the last to leave—but before he does, he turns around and looks at me until I look back. His eyes pierce all the way to the back of my skull—unblinking, unwavering, and utterly unreadable. Before I can think to ask him what he wants, he vanishes, and the sound of a door closing leaves me completely—finally—alone.

With her.

Fuck.

For a good while, I stay put. A fleeting glimmer of hope hypnotizes me for half a minute—a fantasy that if I just sit here and wait long enough, someone will come in to move the casket and I’ll have an excuse to leave. After that fades, I try convincing myself to just leave anyway—walk out the door, thank Twilight’s family for their thoughts, and manufacture an excuse to slip out a side exit and go drink myself stupid someplace in town. Finally, I just resign myself to making the attempt—going up to the casket, saying something profound or cathartic or weepy, and just getting this whole ridiculous ceremony over with so I can go home and scream until I pass out.

Actually, that last one’s about my only option, now that I think about it. No matter what I choose, I can’t lose control here. Not at a godforsaken funeral.

Fine, then. I’ll go through the motions. I’ll make everyone else feel better. I put my hands on my knees and push myself up from my chair, and I take a deep breath and square my shoulders and walk up to the casket and look insi–

It’s her.

I thought she’d look fake. I thought her skin would be pale, her clothes too starched, her lips… at worst, I thought she’d look asleep. Isn’t that what everyone says? The dead look like they’re sleeping, like they could sit up and talk to you again once they wake up. But this thing in the casket, this… it’s her. She’s real. She looks horribly, horrifically real.

She looks dead.

She’s got her bangs hanging over her forehead just like always, and her fingernails are trimmed and her glasses are perched on her nose. And her geode necklace is arranged just so above her collarbone—above a bone-white kerchief she never wore in life, a tasteful cover for the bruises the embalmer couldn’t obscure. And there’s a little trinket next to it—a grass-woven star with seven identical points.

And it’s…

And she’s…

The vertigo’s back, and with it the nausea, and with that the pulsating, searing heat that I’ve been trying to stamp down all day—all week—for months and months before this god-awful pageant I have no choice but to sit through. And now there’s no one left to force me to stay focused, make sure that I keep saying I’m fine. That I keep the lie going. That I keep holding everything—everyone—together.

“What is wrong with you...” I whisper through clenched teeth.

I can’t hold onto it any longer.

“... what the fuck is wrong with you, Twilight?”

I don’t realize I’m shouting until I hear the echo my voice creates in this empty room. Someone outside probably heard me. Too bad if they did. I’ve been bottling this up for most of a year. It’s not going back in now.

“What wasn’t good enough for you? Huh? What more could you have done, have… wanted from life? You had everything going for you. Everyone was rooting for you, everyone loved you. And you couldn’t… what, you couldn’t handle it? You couldn’t handle being smart and talented and the darling of the whole town? You just fucking quit?”

I’m seething at the casket, hissing every word through a throat that’s already seared raw. I feel hateful, depraved, disgusting, disloyal—but it’s good. Finally, for once in years upon years, God it feels good to just fucking yell.

“What are you gonna say, you’re… you were depressed? You… that’s it? That’s all you got? Your brain, your big, beautiful brain just… it just broke, right? And that was that. Wasn’t worth fixing, wasn’t worth fighting… never even told us. Never told me. I had to find out from the fucking cops last year, and now…”

Memories are flooding through me—campus police knocking on my door three weeks into our senior year of college, learning that the only person I’d ever truly loved had engaged in “suicidal ideation,” realizing with dawning horror that she’d never even told me she was depressed. All the times she told me she was tired, she was stressed, she was distracted and had a lot on her mind. All the times I believed her. All the times I trusted her.

The time she pulled her lips away from mine after high school graduation and made me promise—made me swear to her—I would never use my geode to read her mind. She wasn’t mad, she said, just uncomfortable with the concept. I kissed her back. I kept my promise.

“Bullshit.” I don’t say the word—I spit it. “God, this is… this is fucking bullshit, and you knew it. You knew what this would do to us—to everyone who cared about you! You could not possibly have not fucking known!”

She really couldn’t have. I made sure of that. I gave all of myself to keeping her alive—keeping my promise to her. And she goes and does this. She betrays me.

“This is all on you,” I tell Twilight—straight to her serene, expressionless, hideous fucking face. “All of this. All the people you hurt, all the lives you’ve broken… your fault, Twi. You self-centered, ignorant, idiot fucking child… you kept it all bottled up, you couldn’t deal with your own shit like a goddamn adult, and that is not my fault!”

I pause to take a breath—to wipe my face and pull my hair away from my eyes. At some point, I blindly wandered back over near the chair I was sitting in before. My whole body shudders with the effort of not picking it up and slamming it to pieces against the wall.

“You probably would blame me, though, wouldn’t you?” I mutter. And then I can’t help it—I laugh again. “For… abandoning you. Because I’m the bad guy, right? I’m the one who tried to help. Took you to therapy, got you meds, had the girls bring you cookies and throw parties and show you every day how loved you were. Lost sleep, lost… months of my life, because the only thing I could imagine wanting was for you to be happy. For you to be as happy as you once made me.”

I’m back in front of the casket again. My chest is starting to hurt. I’m not finished emptying it yet.

“And then one time—one time—I tell you that I’m exhausted. I just need… I just need a break. And I need you to finish what I helped you start, and I know you can do it and I trust you to do it, but I can’t do it for you. I couldn’t. No one could. And you look me in the eyes and you hug me, and you say, ‘You’re right, Sunset, thank you, I promise I’ll get better for you.’ And then you just… fucking quit.”

I link my hands behind my head, shut my eyes, suck in a slow breath through my nose. It doesn’t help. I snap my eyes back open and feel my face contort into a sneer.

“Yeah, it’s all my fault. That’s what you’d say if you could talk right now—which you can’t, because guess what, Twilight? You’re dead. You’re gone. Forever. And I’m still here, still trying, still dealing with it and living with it and screaming at a fucking corpse!”

The words leave my lips, and then gravity leaves the room. I double over, cover my mouth, drip sweat and snot onto the carpet as I fall to my knees and focus everything I have left on ensuring my heaving stays dry. Seconds pass—the earth shakes—and then the tension drains from my shoulders and takes the rest of my strength with it. I roll backwards onto my haunches and then sit down, propping myself up with quivering arms and letting my head loll back and my hair hang in a stringy, frizzy mess.

I take a breath, and let it out. The doors are still closed. No one’s come in to stop me.

“Found your diary, by the way,” I tell Twilight. “The one in your desk drawer? Stole it, technically. Your parents still won’t go in there. But I had to. Because I needed to know.”

I sit up, wrap my arms around my knees, stare up at the casket with my face burning and my eyes starting to sting. “And I do, now. I read everything. What really happened last fall. How you tried to hang yourself from the fire alarm but couldn’t get the bedsheet knot tied right. How much it hurt to have the cops show up, to have to call your parents… to disappoint me. Because that’s what I was, right? Because of course that’s what your girlfriend would be when she found out you were drowning in all this and there was nothing she could do to help—fucking disappointed.”

The last word is enough to get me on my feet, if only so I can pace in a circle with my hands on her hips and increasing shallow breaths echoing in my chest. “I read what you wrote after that too. About how it hurt too much to tell us how bad it was. How the worst part of all of it was sitting in that counselor’s office staring at the phone, listening to your mother cry. You promised yourself you wouldn’t tell anyone next time. You wouldn’t put us through that… be such a burden. Next time you’d just do it.”

I stop pacing. I cross my arms over my chest and stare at the ground.

“And you did. Didn’t even leave a note. Checked the whole notebook, your whole room. Nothing.”

I look at the casket again.

“I have nothing, Twilight. I have no idea why you did it, and I never will. I will spend the rest of my life not knowing.”

It’s her cheeks, I realize. That’s why she still looks real. Whoever embalmed her covered them with makeup, added a little blush, made them look as lifelike as possible. I only noticed now because they’re starting to blur, because every second I spend staring at them blunts the rest of my vision even more.

“That’s on you, Twilight,” I say to her—like I’ve said to myself so many times, and no one else. “Not me. Not me.”

I’m right. I have to be. I’m not the one who killed myself. I’m not the one who hurt people.

“I burned it. Your diary. Took it to the woods, where we used to camp out back in high school. Watched it until the embers went dark… made sure it was ash. Your parents won’t know either. I’ll never tell them. I won’t do to them what you did to me.”

I’m the one who did the right things. Who did the best she goddamn could.

“Guess I’m just as bad as you.”

And it wasn’t enough.

It wasn’t enough to just be there for her. It wasn’t enough to take care of her, to help her every way I could, because eventually I couldn’t anymore. I burned out. I wanted out. I never even told anyone else we were on a break, and neither did she. I just thought it was what I needed. I thought she’d be fine. I thought, I thought, I thought.

I guessed. And I was wrong. And I know exactly whose fault it is.

“I don’t want forgiveness,” I hiss. “You don’t get to do that. You will never give me that, and I don’t care if you would. You’re a memory. You don’t get to be part of whatever life I have left.”

My fingernails dig into my arms, then my neck, then the skin under my eyes.

“I would’ve come back,” I tell my ex-girlfriend. “I swear to God. I just needed you to try. I needed you to…”

As it falls from my face, my hand brushes over my necklace—over the little crystal pendant that matches hers in all but color. My fingers close around it, and suddenly the heat is back—flaring, roaring, suffocating. With gritted teeth and a snarl, I yank the pendant off my neck—there’s a pinch of pain as the clasp breaks, and the sound of metal pattering against carpet as the pieces bounce off the floor and out of sight. I want to destroy it. I want to crush it under my heel. I want to throw it into the casket along with everything else I never want to look at again.

In the end, I don’t do anything. I just stand there and stare at Twilight’s glasses, and the geode pulses in my clenched, shaking fist. I’m out of energy. I’m out of things to say.

And I’m still alone.

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