• Published 2nd Jan 2020
  • 2,859 Views, 83 Comments

Music Box Blues - PrincessColumbia

Principal Celestia gets help from a completely unexpected source when trying to find a gift for Sunset Shimmer

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Ornaments reflected light, of a candle in the night

Author's Note:

When the holidays come ‘round, it’s inevitable that the thoughts of preparations for your preferred holiday celebration will crowd out others. When one’s predominance of memories are negative when associated with said holiday, it’s easy to slip into melancholia. When one is already working on a mini-novel to purge a different set of negative associations and problematic history, one’s thoughts trend toward integrating the holiday into the story.
This work is canon to “My Empire of Dirt,” but just didn’t fit well into the story that I’m telling with that work. Continuity-wise, the most spoiler-free statement I can make on this is that it falls sometime between Chapter 5 and 7. Teensy-weensy spoiler ahead, but it’s not really one if you’ve got half a brain and any knowledge of EQG tropes. I wanted to do something with the ideas I had for this, so enjoy this unexpected “holiday special.”

Principal Celestia stared at the door to Sunset’s room, thoroughly perplexed. The holiday preparations had been going so well, with the decorations on the house going up in record time with the assistance of a teenager in the home, plus the occasional help of Princess Twilight when she was able to spare time from her studies of the magic that had cursed Sunset. Luna had begun her usual annual grumble sessions about the “crass, commercial nature” of Hearth’s Warming these days, all while “sneaking” Hearth’s Warming sweaters on after work and topping off her hot chocolate with a hint of peppermint schnapps as a nightcap. The student body was getting into the swing of the season even more than the last few years, what with the ongoing rebuilding of friendships in the wake of the Fall Formal. While Sunset’s current condition made it a challenge to consider any aspect of it positive, the students and staff at Canterlot High were definitely blossoming without Sunset’s former scheming keeping them divided and suppressed.

Celestia had been setting up the tree when Sunset had come home from spending time with her friends. The principal was just about to ask the girl if she could assist, when the darkest stormcloud seemed to pass over Sunset’s face, and the girl ran into her room and slammed the door.

Naturally, as soon as Celestia could untangle herself from the string of lights she’d been handling, she chased after the girl and now stood outside the door. Should she just open the door? No, that would destroy some of the trust that she’d worked so hard to build the last several weeks. Even if she did, what would she do, play twenty questions with the girl while she took random stabs in the dark trying to guess at whatever memory land-mine she’d accidentally tripped over with the Hearth’s Warming tree?

In that brief moment, an image flashed across her imagination, one where she opened the door and ran over to Sunset and held her close while the girl processed her emotions. Celestia shook her head, I’m not her mother, I’m not even related. I remind her of someone she had a rough relationship with that ended badly. I’m probably the last person in the world...in the multiverse that she wants to have giving her any sort of affection. She put a hand on the door, her heart aching and not quite sure why. Celestia, don’t get too close. When all is said and done she may simply go back to Equestria once the princesses figure out what the curse is all about. She’s not even a foster child, she’s not even a legal resident of this world. You’re just here to take care of her because there is nobody else to do so. Sighing, she stood straight and pulled her hand away from the wood panel and curled it into a loose fist.

She knocked briefly, “Sunset, honey, are you okay?” After several moments of no response, she said, “Sunset, I need to know if you’re alright…” the sound of a pillow thumping against the door at reasonably high velocity interrupted her, “...well, okay then. I’ll leave you be for now, but I want to see you for dinner later.” She paused, then realized she was waiting for a verbal response. Sighing (a disturbing habit she’d picked up since this fiasco started), she headed back to the living room to finish trimming the tree.

Sunset seemed to be handling her odd mood better by the time she joined Celestia and her sister for dinner, but any time she glimpsed the decorated tree in the living room, she sighed and filled her mouth with food. While the squash soup was good, it wasn’t that good, and at the rate Sunset was shoving it into her mouth she’d wind up consuming four bowls before Celestia finished one. Even Luna was noticing, instead of keeping up her usual light mealtime banter she was watching the girl with a pensive expression. A few minutes later when Sunset made to ladle herself another bowl of soup, Celestia put her hand on the girl’s wrist. “Sunset, do you need…” she hesitated, “Does the tree bother you for some reason?”

Sunset looked over to the oversized temporary houseplant, the tree lights glinting off unshed tears in the girls eyes. She looked down at her empty bowl and then tapped on her phone. The synthetic “No” was incongruous with her behavior, but then it was possible the tree only reminded her of whatever was bothering her. Celestia squeezed gently, drawing Sunset’s eyes to meet hers, “Would you like to go to bed early tonight?”

Sunset swallowed back a sob and tapped the “Yes” button on her phone. Celestia smiled sympathetically and let Sunset take her phone and bowl. The two educators watched silently as the girl rinsed her bowl out and left the room.

Luna spoke up once Sunset’s door clicked closed, “You need to do something to show her that she’s a member of this family if you want her to open up to you the way you’re hoping for.”

Startled, Celestia glowered at her sister, “I’m not going to push her into a relationship she may not want. We can’t even be sure what she wants for dinner, let alone what she wants to do for her living situation once this mess is resolved.”

Luna snorted, “I highly doubt you’re talking about letting her move back to that warehouse we found her in.”

Celestia rolled her eyes, “Of course not, Lu. I’m talking about her moving back to Equestria. If I understand the situation right, she’s actually old enough chronologically that she should be fully graduated from school on the other side of the portal. Goodness, she was working on the equivalent of a doctoral thesis when she fled here. Once things are...worked out between Sunset and the princesses, what’s to keep her here? She has a whole life on the other side that she abandoned in pursuit of whatever plan led to her putting on that crown at the Fall Formal. She has every reason to go back to that, and none to stay here with m…” Celestia cleared her throat, “No reason to stay with the life she had on this side of the portal.”

Luna raised her eyebrow at her sister’s unintentional slip of the tongue. Celestia pretended to not notice and took another mouthful of soup, intending to let the silence end the conversation. Luna was apparently having none of that, however. “I dare say that she already has something here that she never had over there; you.”

Celestia put her hands down hard enough that her spoon clattered on the rim of the bowl and splashed in her soup, now glaring at Luna, “Oh, she does have me over there. A perfect, immortal goddess queen version of me, one that knows more about magic than probably the entirety of all human fiction works have ever contemplated combined!

It was Luna’s turn to let the silence dominate the conversation as she lifted her bowl and noisily (intentionally so) slurped down the last of her soup. Only after setting the bowl down on the counter and deliberately putting her spoon into it did she speak again. “If she is so perfect, why did Sunset run away?” As Celestia sat in slightly stunned silence, Luna got up and rinsed off her dishes before returning to Celestia to give her a somewhat awkward sideways hug, “Even if she does go back to Equestria when this is all over, don’t you think it’d be better for her if she knew there was someone here that loved her?”

Celestia sighed dramatically, a long-running sisterly signal that she yielded to Luna’s argument...but of course as the older sibling she was honor bound to not verbally acknowledge it. “I don’t ‘love’ her, I care about her wellbeing as one of my students.”

Luna stood straight with a smirk, “Yes, because all high school principals would take into their home a homeless illegal alien into their home after said illegal turned into a huge she-demon and brainwashed the school instead of, you know, handing them over to child protective services or some similar agency. It’s totally something I can see, say, Cinch doing, since so many principals do that as part of caring for the wellbeing of their students.” So saying, she squeezed Celestia’s shoulder affectionately and left the room.

Thirty minutes later, Celestia sat in an otherwise empty living room, magic journal in her lap, ballpoint pen in hand. Luna had gone to her own room and from the sounds of her barking orders into her headset and the furious clicking and clatter that accompanied one of her first-person shooter games that came through the door, would likely be there until late into the night. The place on the page for her communication, should she be able to formulate it, was empty. How did one ask about the history of another person through a third party about an odd reaction to a tree? Did they even celebrate Hearth’s Warming in Equestria?

Then there was Sunset herself. With the holidays approaching a swift clip and the girl unable to communicate, she had no idea what to do about clothing, let alone presents. The last time they had gone to a clothing store that was popular among students, Sunset had experienced a seizure almost as soon as she set foot in the store. Apparently, self-expression via wardrobe choices was considered a potential form of communication by the curse and decided to stop any possibility before it could start. Celestia and Luna had taken to measuring Sunset themselves then taking turns going to different stores to get clothing that was kinda-sorta like what they remembered Sunset wearing in the past. Luna thought the girl could use some video games, but they only had the vaguest idea what kind of games she liked. Celestia considered some music, but the two sisters had been completely divided on what they thought Sunset listed to. Of course, their individual tastes made the conversation even more of a challenge, what with Celestia being an avid lover of ABBA and Luna once being an underground death metal celebrity, the door was closed on that subject almost as soon as it was opened. The idea of a new computer came and went, they had already had to get a new one when Sunset moved in just so she’d be able to do her schoolwork, and the same with the phone. Even thinking of those voice assistants seemed incredibly insensitive. Sunset’s inability to communicate beyond “yes” and “no” made it impossible to gauge with any accuracy how their gift ideas might work out.

Deciding to take the tactful route, Celestia combined her two concerns:

Dear Princess Celestia,

We’re approaching one of our annual holidays and are in a bit of a quandry. We don’t really know what to get Sunset for Hearth’s Warming. Do you have Hearth’s Warming in your world? I can’t imagine why you would, given the holiday is about the miracle of a yule log kept lit through a month long siege from when an ancient kingdom was founded over 1,500 years ago. Since you mentioned that your version of Discord had thrown all nations into chaos during that time frame, I can’t imagine you have anything similar. Or perhaps I’m confusing the dates?

In any case, we exchange gifts with each other, but due to Sunset’s inability to tell us what she might want, Luna and I are stymied. We did notice when we set up the tree (a tradition that got picked up for Hearth’s Warming celebrations about 1,300 years ago), I noticed that the sight of the tree made Sunset rather depressed. I was hoping that you might know what caused this depression, or if she was showing any signs of it before she came to this world.

Whatever details you can provide would be greatly appreciated.


Principal Celestia

With the letter written and finally satisfied that she had done all she could on the matter for now, Celestia closed the journal and went to bed.