• Published 16th Sep 2019
  • 669 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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Heathen

I spend the rest of the service in a fugue, numb and blind to everything but momentary flashes of sensation: a glimpse of Rarity’s nervous gaze, a snatch of the reverend’s sermon, Twilight’s weight on my shoulders as we carry her out to the hearse, the sun in my eyes as I watch her sink into the ground. All of them only stick out because they remind me of the past—of her chewing on her lip the first time I saw her naked. Of her diary smoldering in a gap between the pines. Of carrying her home on my back when she got too tired to walk. Of my phone dropping from my hand when I finally heard the news.

I wish I had something else to say, some comfort to offer the people she left behind, some assurance they wouldn’t have to remember me this way too. But I’ve got nothing left. I spewed it all out in that viewing room, and what remains of me is hollow and frail—the same as I’ve always been, just with nothing artificial to fill in the gaps.

I’ve been like that since high school: desperate to make up for past mistakes, always making sure I was there for others even if it meant I hurt myself. And now I know what happens if I fail, even for a moment. Now I know what I’m doing to everyone by not being able to keep up the lie.

If anyone heard me yelling earlier, they don’t say so. I wish they would, though. I wish someone would just scream at me back, angrily ask me to leave with tears running down their cheeks. That’d be dramatic enough to satisfy me, right? Painful enough to match the mess I helped make. At the very least, I wouldn’t have had to tag along to this afterparty.

I mean, that’s not what it is, really. I’m sure there’s a fancy name for it like there is for every part of a funeral, but what it boils down to is all the attendees gathering back at the church for a potluck dinner, and everyone inside seemed to be having a good enough time when I left a few minutes ago to sit outside on the front steps and stare at my namesake. So it’s not called an afterparty, but it basically is one. Which is weird. I’m almost positive it is.

I feel like I should take out my phone and type that down, but moving my arms off my knees seems like way too much trouble to bother with, and on top of that my hands are already full anyway. I’ve been fiddling with my pendant all day, wrapping the broken chain around my fingers and batting around the geode still dangling from its midpoint. Looking at it now, I think again about pulling the chain tighter. I wonder once more if Twilight’s head went numb like I know my fingertips would.

I’m still wondering—still lost in idle, errant thoughts—when the church’s front doors swing open and I hear the shuffling of new shoes on concrete. Twilight’s brother walks down one step, then two, then heaves out a sigh and sits down next to me with his jacket still buttoned. Maybe that’s what forces him to sit up straight—or maybe that’s just how all military people sit morosely on stoops. I wouldn’t know. I barely know him, even after a half-dozen shared holidays and family reunions. He was always focused on his own family. I was always focused on Twilight.

At first he says nothing, only reaches into his jacket and pulls out a lighter and a small cellophane-wrapped box. Once he gets the box open and stuffs the wrapping back in his pocket, he pulls a cigarette out and clamps it in his lips to light, taking a long drag before blowing out a cloud of blue smoke and, at long last, unbuttoning his jacket so he can lean forward to rest his elbows on his thighs.

“Haven’t had one of these since basic,” he says, staring at the tiny ember pinched between the fingers of his left hand. A moment later, he turns and offers me the cigarette pack—which, I can see now, is completely full but for the one he’s smoking. A hundred other voices fill my head—high school videos about the dangers of smoking, TV ads about cancer rates and gingivitis—but most of all I hear Twilight complaining about the smell of her brother’s coat at Christmas, see her wrinkling her nose and begging me not to ever be gross enough to take up the habit like he has.

I reach out, take a cigarette from the box, and put it up to my lips. Once Twilight’s brother flicks his lighter to life, I lean towards his hand and puff until I can taste the smoke in my mouth and feel the nicotine start to buzz on my tongue. Distantly, I know I shouldn’t be doing this. The knowledge makes my next drag even deeper.

“I guess you’re Sunset,” he says as I exhale.

“I guess you’re Shiny,” I say back to him.

For a while, we just sit and smoke together, watching the wispy haze we create rise up into the darkening sky and dissipate among the streaks of sun-tinged clouds overhead. When he speaks again, it takes a moment before I realize he means for me to listen.

“She called me,” he says quietly. “After you two broke up. She was upset, she cried a bit, but… she knew you loved her. And she loved you. She wanted to get better for both of you.”

I inhale quickly, muffle a cough as the smoke seeps a bit too close to my lungs. “I don’t need to hear this.”

“Yeah you do,” he says without looking at me.

“I don’t need you to make excuses for me,” I growl back.

He takes a pull himself, then taps his cigarette with his index finger to shake off the gathering ash. “No, you don’t,” he agrees. He raises his hand again as if to suck in another lungful, then lets it drop as he stares off across the parking lot towards the treeline in the distance. Another several seconds pass before he continues.

“She was getting better after you left. That’s what I can’t shake. Would’ve sworn she was. She was going to therapy, enjoying the weather… she seemed happier. I thought, ‘It’s actually working. I’m getting my sister back.’”

He inhales, looks at me, exhales out of the side of his mouth. There’s a pitiful look in his eyes—something like loathing, but filtered through fog he worked hard to create. “That’s the worst part, isn’t it? All you can think about is how you felt. How much you wanted to believe it was over.”

He turns away. I keep staring at him. The light in my cigarette is dimming, but I can’t gather the strength needed to lift it to my mouth and stoke the flame inside.

“And then last week, she calls me again,” he says. “She thought she nailed her job interview, but she didn’t get the offer. I tell her it’s okay, happens to everybody, she’ll nail the next one and it’ll be an even better gig. And then I ask her, ‘Hey, are you sure you’re okay?’”

He takes a puff, and the smoke comes out of his nose in staccato spurts. For the first time, I notice his hand trembling—the tension in his shoulders and down his entire spine. “‘Are you sure you’re okay?’” he repeats, a sour, stinging bite in his tone that hits me like an echo—like a recording of me screaming at no one a few hours ago. “‘Yeah, Shiny, I’m good,’ she says. ‘Thanks for checking in.’”

He stares at his cigarette, then drops it—lets it roll near his shoe to be ground out under his sole. “And then she hung up. And she was gone.”

The words tumble out of me thoughtlessly—an old habit, dying harder than ever. “It wasn’t your fault.”

He glances at me, and it’s like I’m back in the viewing room—it’s the same piercing stare, the same quiet acknowledgement of something he learned the same way I did. That he’s been learning, all this time.

“Might’ve been,” he says with a shrug. “Might’ve been something else. She got a C on a midterm the week before, apparently. Think she lost an earring that morning too. Maybe the moon was in the wrong house, or some magical monster hypnotized her, or something else, something else, something else…”

He stares at me—looks straight through me again, the way he must’ve done with cadets and children alike, and maybe with Twilight too. Instead of heat, a biting chill grabs hold of my chest.

“We can’t spend the rest of our lives wondering,” he tells me—as if it’s that easy. As if he doesn’t know it’s not.

“How can I not?” I whisper. I don’t want to ask, but I can’t stop myself. “How do I get over this?”

“We don’t,” he replies. Over his shoulder, the sun has nearly set. “We live through it.”

It starts as a whimper, and then a groan, and my hand’s clamped over my mouth and my eyes are screwed shut, and it feels like every part of me is exploding outward at once. The cigarette falls from my fingers, and my first hiccup dissolves into a hacking cough, one that morphs right back into a shuddering, sopping attempt at a breath. I didn’t want to do this—to let myself fall apart like this—but it’s far too late to stop it. I fell apart this morning—a week ago—months and months before I ever let anyone know—and now this is just an aftershock, just one of many times to come in which everything I haven’t let myself feel will bring me to my knees and tear me apart.

And the whole time I’m sobbing, the whole time I’m breaking down next to him, Shining Armor doesn’t touch me. He doesn’t shush me, he doesn’t put a friendly hand on my shoulder, he doesn’t lean in close and murmur in my ear that it’s all going to be okay. But when I let my hand drop and clutch blindly for his, he grabs hold of it, squeezes back, and doesn’t let go. It’s almost nothing, the smallest possible gesture—and the longer it continues, the more it counts for.

Eventually, I recover—or maybe just get dehydrated—enough to look back up and loosen my vice grip on Shining’s hand. He’s polite enough to refrain from rubbing circulation back into it for the moment, but he seems like he knows he did what he needed to do—what I needed someone to do for me. Not hug me or hold me or assure me it was fine to be upset—just be there, somewhere nearby, and not worry about me like I usually would about them. In retrospect, I wish I’d been less distracted at all those reunions.

“Thank you,” I say to him as he gets up to leave. “For letting me get everything out.” I’m not just saying that for what he did now, but what he did earlier as well. It took a while, but I’ve finally figured out why no one came bursting into the viewing room to shut me up earlier, and why they gave me so much space afterwards as well.

“All I had was a photo album when I got it out of me,” he replies. “Figured you could use the real thing.”

His feet staggered between two stairs, he wipes his hands on his jacket and then extends one down to me. “There’s plenty of food left in there if you’re up for it,” he adds. “And word to the wise, my aunt’s mac and cheese is crazy good. You can’t be sad when you have mac and cheese.”

I smirk up at him—for the first time today, it doesn’t hurt to go through the motion. “They teach you that in the army?”

“Second day of basic. First day’s lesson was ‘Don’t die.’”

I snort—I can’t help it. Of all the things to say at a fucking funeral. But God help me, at least someone else said it. At least I’m not the only one trying.

I reach out and pull myself up by Shining’s hand, and I’m about to follow him back inside the church when it occurs to me how aghast Twilight would’ve been at that joke. On instinct, I reach into my purse for my phone, but when my fingers brush against its plastic case, I stop again. She would have loved those kinds of lines—at least, she’d have hated them in the right kind of way. But Shining was right, and I was earlier too: Twilight’s just in our memories now, and good or bad or anywhere in between, I shouldn’t get lost inside them.

I mean, I inevitably will, of course. I have been all day, and I still am now. My fingers still itch to type out all the things I’d say to her—good and bad, and everything in between. But I don’t have to do it now. Right now, and tomorrow, and for every day after that, I can let myself feel what I need to, and tell my friends what I need from them to let those feelings process.

And in the meantime, I really need to feel some food hitting my stomach. Fuck me sideways, I’m starving.

I pull my phone all the way out, but only to hold the button on the side until it flashes a manufacturer logo and turns off completely. Once it’s back in my bag, I wipe my face one last time and ascend the rest of the steps. I follow Shining Armor inside, reassure Twilight’s parents that I’m doing better, accept a fumbling and exquisitely damp hug from Rarity and the girls, and finally shovel as much mac and cheese out of the last remaining pan as I can fit onto a paper plate.

And you know what? Shining Armor was right about one other thing too: holy shit, this stuff is good.

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Comments ( 15 )

So which Twilight did you murder for no bucking good reason other than because you could? This doesn't scream Princess Twilight. More like Sci Twi since it's human.

Or am I missing something?

Holy... Damn. Have a fav. the frank approves.

That's heavy, Doc.

Not coddling someone through a time of grief to allow them their own chance to carry themselves is sometimes a hard lesson to learn and follow through on. People do need each other in those hard times, but everyone handles grief differently, and sometimes that means standing just inside the edge of arm's length—there if they need you, but not getting in their way.

This was good. A very down-to-earth portrayal of grief and what comes with it.

PresentPerfect
Author Interviewer

“How do I get over this?”

“We don’t,” he replies. Over his shoulder, the sun has nearly set. “We live through it.”

Everyone needs to read this.

This was such a gripping read. I expected to just get through the first chapter tonight, but I just couldn’t stop reading.

Really nice work here!

I read this back when I read the first two chapters and forgot to leave a comment... re-reading it just now and I forgot what nice introspection it is, and again reminded how realistic this all feels without stumbling into melodrama.
In a way these two could be any two characters in almost any world, but it still works here, and getting to read this moment of openness between them was nice. Almost comforting.
Painful, depressing, but nicely done.

Emotionally devastating and all too real, but it ends up positive in the end, or at least on an upward turn. Sunset's voice and grief are great throughout all of this, and while I've never lost anyone in this way, it still reminded me of some of what I've gone through. A+ job.

I wish there were words to describe how utterly desolate this made me feel. The portrayal of depression is so real and heart breaking I almost have to wonder if this fic is entirely fictional

The way you described Twilight getting better, only for little small things to build up and push her over the edge is so... horribly real.

The description of Sunset’s curiosity about Twilights head going numb like her finger was something that hit me so, so incredibly hard I had to take a few moments to compose myself before I carried on reading

This piece is so... beautifully written. As heart breaking as the concept alone is, the way you wrote this without falling into dramatic cliché’s about grief and dealing with loss is something I can’t find words to express how grateful I am for it.

This was amazing and horrible and I’m sure I won’t be able to stop thinking about this story for a while. Thank you.

9969117

The portrayal of depression is so real and heart breaking I almost have to wonder if this fic is entirely fictional

Probably gonna blog about this in a bit more detail soon, but long story short: parts of this fic are unfortunately far from fictional. Most of what Sunset describes of Twilight's journal, as well as a couple other things later on, are taken pretty much wholesale from my own experience with severe depression and a very close call with suicide. To a large extent, this story is current me reminding future me of what past me almost did and how bad it would've been to do it.

9971311

I’ll be honest, as someone who has also struggled with depression and had close calls with suicide myself, reading this really brought up a lot of bad thoughts I had pushed back to the back of my mind. In a way it was almost cathartic, but I had to take a few hours to collect myself before I could talk to my girlfriend (who sent this fic to me) and tell her how I was feeling.

Just reading how you wrote Twilight’s struggles stuck out to me, because I know that there had to be some truth to the words. There just isn’t a way to describe those kinds of thoughts and feelings unless you’d been there yourself. It was startling, honestly.

I’m not really sure why I’m waffling on at this point, but I guess I just wanted to thank you for replying at all, and thank you for expressing such painful thoughts in a way I, personally, never could.

Your writing as a whole is just breath taking, never mind the allegories and depth behind it.

9971506
To be honest, I wasn’t sure I could express those thoughts either as I was writing this, but I’m glad I got it out, and I’m really glad it resonated with someone who had some of the same struggles I did. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Phew, the weight of this story. The absolute dense mass of heart ache, compressed into a mere three chapters of agony, anger and helplessness is monumental.

And yet, that feeling of Sunset cresting the event horizon, of Shining being there just next to her was exquisite.

Stomach feels like I've swallowed a lump of lead and yet it feels good, well done dude.

What the fuck, this is brilliant. I’m honor bound to destroy you now for beating my entry with it.

En garde fish

I’m glad I came across this. Reminded me a lot of my brother’s funeral, after his suicide. Not the big dramatic break down- just the conflicting emotions. It’s a ritual based around sadness and remembrance, and all those other feelings that came after he killed himself- anger, resentment, guilt, even relief that the battle was over- they just didn’t have a place in that framework. Grief is never tidy, but grieving a suicide has its own particular messiness. It’s been years, but it’s still nice to read something that reminds me the messiness wasn’t wrong, it was just what happens when you’re the one left to keep going.

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