Summary: Permanently moving in with Rarity after a family crisis has changed Sweetie Belle in more ways than one. She soon finds herself feeling second-rate to her glamorous sister and her eyes start to fall to the reflection in the mirror.
English Friendship/Hurt/Comfort Rated: T Chapters: Words: Sweetie Belle
"Can you describe to us what happened yesterday afternoon?"
There are enough words to illustrate what happened to fill a textbook, one of the enormous tomes Twilight Sparkle has lined on her shelves. They all rake at my lungs, my throat, shredding me into a billion slices before the social worker pony. I am terrified to speak, to release all the emotions writhing in my chest and drown the two of us in it. Somepony weeps from the opposite side of the thin wall dividing this confidential office from the next.
The stallion leans towards me, until I can perceive his garden of stubble growing on his chin. Rarity would dub him a fashion catastrophe and hound him with an electric razor. "Miss Belle, anything you say here is strictly confidential. You can tell me anything about what goes on in your life. Your parents, your sister, even your pet."
My lower lip quivers and my hooves start to wring one another under the tabletop from all the secrets reaching out to seize my ribcages. Breathe in, breathe out. "My big sister has a cat named Opalescence. Opal is grouchy all the time, except when Fluttershy grooms her, because all animals like Fluttershy. Only not cockatrices, because Fluttershy can use her stare and make them do what she says. A cockatrice turned my magic teacher into stone."
I feel a little bit better now that I've started to ramble, hopefully wheedling the stallion out of questioning my parents. He grins, the sort of grins older ponies give foals and colts when they think we're lying or embarrassing them. "That's very interesting, Miss Belle. My daughter has a cat, too. Little beast, if you ask me. But, I would like to hear more about your sister. What's her name?"
All I can see is her sapphire corneas, haloes in the darkness as she watches me in those final moments before I drift into dreamland. The oceans behind my own eyes pound until they overflow like faucets onto my cheeks. The social worker pony glances up from the notes he has been jotting down during our brief conversation. "Miss Belle? Is there something you'd like to talk about?"
He offers up tissues, but I fixate my vision on the gray carpet, my entire body trembling as the thoughts flash through my mind. "My sister's name is Rarity and I love her," I muster between gasps, swiping at the tears trekking towards my snout. "And she is the best sister ever. I just want to go home with her."
"Well, your sister is being interviewed by the officials here and you should be able to go home soon if all goes well. In the meantime, is there anything else you want to talk about?" he inquires, pushing the question yet again. I haven't the slightest as to why he desires to engage in conversation with me. My hasty outpour has left me drained and all I wish to do is curl up beneath the blankets and never awaken. "That's a lovely cutie mark you have."
Oh. My cutie mark. I follow his gaze to my flank, where a swath of light pink musical bars flows, dotted with notes that have hearts for heads. "Thank you," I murmur, because it's proper to thank a pony after any compliment. Rarity taught me this rule, but I don't think it's very fair, considering Rarity has broken it countless times.
We sit in silence for a moment and I realize the buzzing in my ears is coming from a mechanical device implanted in the wall. Now that I have located the source of the noise, I understand how annoying it is. I wonder how the ponies here tolerate the little box and its tinny song all day long, in between consoling fillies and filing paper work. I'm grateful we never aimed for social worker cutie marks.
There is no chance in Equestria the stallion is speaking: he has been calling me "Miss Belle" for the past forty-six minutes. My heart skips a beat and I whirl about, just as somepony leaps on me, tackling me to the floor. Rarity's body is slightly sticky with perspiration and her violet mane is withering, but it's Rarity. Her chest is shuddering against mine, too violently to even find a heartbeat. "I'm so glad you're okay!"
We're locked in embrace for hours, days, weeks, just breathing in each other's sadness and drinking in warmth. Eventually, Rarity pries herself away to, in turn, interrogate the stallion, a string of foreign words I have never heard. "Court order" and "custody" and "abduction." I capture them in my memory, hoping Apple Bloom or Scootaloo will know what they mean.
"Are you ready to go home?" Rarity is back, cupping my chin in her hoof like she did the first time she saw me in Mother's arms. Even though she does not elaborate, I comprehend which "home" she is identifying and nod. Yes. Please take me home, where I can hide under the covers and cry without anypony seeing me. My legs betray me and Rarity notices. "Do you want me to carry you?"
She drops to the ground, allotting me the opportunity to mount her back, looping my forelegs around her graceful neck. Exhaustion hits the second my spine is aligned with hers and Rarity struts right out of the building, into the glistening snow. She hums her dress-making song, a melody even better than any I could devise. I fall into sleep as we trudge through the slush blanketing the ground.
Just. Like. Old. Times.
"Morning, Sleeping Beauty. You've been out for a spell."
Applejack is in my doorway, smiling beneath the brim of her cowpony hat. "Ah know what yer thinking. Rarity asked me ta watch ya while she takes care of a few things down at town hall. Things were getting mighty quiet over here and Ah don't know how Rarity can sleep with all those creepy mannequins lookin' over at her."
I massage my temples, hoping to rid myself of the throbbing near my ears. My tongue lolls about in my parched mouth, prompting me to ponder exactly how long I have been lost in a dreamless darkness. "Wh-what time is it?" I ask, propping myself up and tugging the lavender quilt off my lower half. Applejack peers at the clock above the side table in the hallway and reports it is ten-fifteen. My pulse rockets into a dangerous zone that makes me liable for a heart attack. "Oh my gosh, I'm late for school!"
"Whoa there, little filly! Rarity told Cheerilee ya weren't feeling up ta school today, and since today's the last day before winter break, it all got worked out lickety-split." I'm relieved, but not by much. The pressure from the last day has bundled itself up in my torso until I think I'll suffocate. I sigh to empty my lungs of the pressure, rolling out of bed and shuffling towards Applejack. "Ah'll let ya freshen up. Ah'll be in the kitchen if ya need anything."
I wait until she's out of view to smile. Applejack has always been like a second sister to me, the mare I could reach out to if Rarity and I had fought or I couldn't endure her cleanliness a second longer. There was something magical about Sweet Apple Acres, how simply pure and rustic it was, where everypony worked together to make things happen.
The bathroom was originally for the both of us, but Rarity soon decided she required more space for her over-growing collection of beauty products and "moved out." Thus, I had two sinks, a mirror, a toilet, a bathtub and shower all to myself, along with a diminutive closet that I usually used to store my possessions. I leaned towards the mirror, scrutinizing my reflection, something I rarely did unless I was sure there was a blemish.
My eyes were cracked with vermillion veins and dark circles like bruises surrounded them. As pallid as my visage was, it had somehow grown paler, so that I was a ghost haunting my reflection. My mane was tangled from restless slumber; my tail was in no better condition. Another day in Ponyville. Another day as Sweetie Belle.
I brushed my teeth, washed my face, and brushed my hair. At least that was ordinary. I had a feeling today would stray from normality.
Applejack is rummaging through the cabinets above the stove, frowning at the quantity of groceries we have stocked. "Boy, Rarity must never have ta eat. There's barely enough food here to feed a newborn filly." She discerns me out of the corner of her eye and grins feebly, heading towards the pantry in search for provisions. "Ah guess she's used ta feeding one pony. Let's see what Ah can rustle up for us."
"Rarity usually keeps eggs in the very back of the refrigerator and bread under the sink. She has a bizarre system when it comes to organizing stuff," I explain, taking a seat at the kitchen table. Now that I'm resting, I realize how strong the pain in my head is, like somepony is pounding a hammer behind my eyes. I rest my forelegs on the tabletop, hooves on my brow.
"Oh, there ya go. Right in the place ya would least expect." Applejack withdrew the loaf of sourdough bread from beneath the maze of pipe work, spreading out the slices. I can't imagine why she thinks I'm the least bit hungry. Still, I help her by pouring two glasses of orange juice and I prepare to carry them to the table. My hoof slips, and-
A thousand shards of glass magnifies the spreading puddle of juice, flashing me back to an unfathomable amount of mess-ups through the ages. The pressure melts against the warmth of my eyelids and I swipe at the tears surging in my eyes. Applejack lays a hoof to my cheek, reaching out to rid my visage of the moisture. "Aw sugar cube, it's nothin' to fret about. Everypony spills something every once in a while. Ah'll clean this up, don't worry."
I almost yearn for Applejack to continue her hold on my cheek. Her hoof is smooth, cool, and she exudes the faint aroma of apples and diverse vegetation. Not quite as familiar or consoling as Rarity's exfoliated neck and her scent of cherry bubble bath, but I only want pony contact. I need psychical closeness, to share warmth and love and touch and smell. I blink. Applejack is across the kitchen.
After everything is tidied up and prepared, Applejack joins me. She never fails to amaze me with her unremitting strength, the way she can power through each day without having to stop and breathe and hold back tears. "So, Sweetie, how often do ya stay with Rarity?" the amber mare implores, her dull knife gliding through the butter trough.
Everypony seems to have taken interest in my life. With slight reluctance, I salt the scrambled eggs in front of me, wondering how I'll swallow the first bite. "Usually three or four days a month, and when I do, I usually spend it with Apple Bloom and Scootaloo. The house isn't too far from here, but I like being closer to school and my friends."
Applejack takes a bite of toast, analyzing the hidden layers behind my answer. Her left pupil vibrates when she's mulling over something. Every forkful of egg is heavier than the last one, a pebble in my throat. "So what did your parents do, Sweetie?"
"Rarity told me Mother doesn't have a job, and that Father earns all of our money through Canterlot." When I talk about them, it almost feels like they're nearby, in my presence, not a million miles away. "But last year, Rarity had a fight with them and said she won't take any more of their money. That was a few days before she met Twilight."
Applejack appears sympathetic, almost humiliated for me. Crumbs spill from the edge of her lower lip, but she has enough composure to swallow her butter-laden dough. "Rarity told me her parents were rich folk, but Ah didn't know her father worked in Canterlot." She selects apple preserves for her second slice of toast, while I'm still struggling to stomach a fraction of eggs. "Look sugar cube, Ah want ta help ya with this. We're all going ta search for them."
I keep my head bent over my plate, focusing on breathing in and out. "I don't know where they could have gone. They go on vacation all the time. Rarity told me they used to go to Hoofington when I was a little filly and she had to take care of me. But they always came home. Always." Everything inside of me is battling to escape, including the piteous excuse for a breakfast. "A-applejack? I think I'm going to throw up."
She reacts like there's dynamite lit beneath her, practically scooping me up and steering me towards the closest bathroom-Rarity's. I begin to refuse, but my esophagus warns me that premature breaths will lead to a violent eruption. Applejack bundles my mane back, an invitation to eject the contents of my stomach. This is the first time since I was a newborn foal, and it burns me, acidic fire on my tongue and teeth.
When it's over, all I can do is lean on Applejack and sob into her amber coat. I feel weak, like I'm a burden on everypony: Rarity, Applejack, even Scootaloo and Apple Bloom, because I have no purpose. My own parents couldn't even come home to me, they had to stay away. Her labor-toned muscles begin to shake beneath me, and I realize she's crying too. I don't know why. It isn't her fault. It's mine.
I don't know what happens, but it's freezing and dark and I think I like it.
"Okay, Rarity is going ta be here in about half an hour. Will ya be okay?"
She can't take her mind off of breakfast; I can tell. "I'll be okay. Thanks Applejack, for everything." I enfold her, getting one last whiff of the gorgeous fragrance. Applejack nuzzles me, and I watch her canter towards Sweet Apple Acres, where there has been an accident reported with Winona and a herd of cattle. I stand on the front stoop of Twilight Sparkle's library, which is constructed in a tree. I will never know why.
She smiles at me, a genuine smile that I've missed. "Well Sweetie, since this is an impromptu visit, I don't think we should pick up last week's lesson." Twilight visits her golden pedestal, inspecting the parchment unrolled over it and shaking her head. "I can't believe this…Spike! I asked you to send this letter to the princess!"
"Sorry Twilight, I got…distracted." He hastily expels an emerald blaze, one that consumes her message, sending it over waves of magic. Tendrils of smoke drifting from between his razor-sharp incisors, he dashes up the staircase. Before he closes his door, Spike leans into view, waving to me from afar. "Hey Sweetie Belle, hope you're feeling okay!"
"Hi, Spike," I call up to him, but Spike is already on the opposite side, distracted once more. I sigh, glancing up at Twilight Sparkle, who is rolling her eyes. "Do you know what he's doing?"
"Probably whipping a present up for Rarity. If he gives her a ruby on his own birthday, I'm scared to know what he's doing up there." Twilight leads me to her extremely small kitchenette, which is so dark and cramped, I at first believed we had walked into a basement. "Applejack told me you were feeling a tad under the weather, so I'll brew us some tea."
"Thanks, Twilight." As she prepares the leaves she obtains from Zecora, I poke around in her kitchen, finding that instead of food, she has books in every cabinet. I wonder how she survives. "Hey, Twilight, do you eat the books around here? Is that how you're so smart?"
"Of course not. I went to school and studied, just like you did. Maybe someday, you can go to school in Canterlot. You're getting much better with your magic," Twilight Sparkle praised, pouring the blistering tea kettle's contents into the cups. To demonstrate her excellent teachings, I levitate the tea cup from across the room to my lips. I then utilize a cooling spell she taught me last month, taming the steam and bubbles.
"I don't mean to brag," I say after a sip, instantly refreshed by the amazing taste and perfect temperature. "You are the best teacher I've ever had-well, the only teacher I've ever had. You're also a really good friend." She blushes, brushing her indigo bangs out of her eyes. I never noticed, but she is really pretty. Not meticulously styled pretty, like Rarity, more of a natural brilliance.
"You're a wonderful student. I hate to see something like this happen to you." Twilight Sparkle lifts her chin to match my gaze, and I see the ugly truth around her violet eyes: wrinkles. We're all growing old. "Your parents are going to be all right." Why does she think that's what I'm worried about? "But while you were in the hospital, we…found something."
My heart freezes between my lungs, and for a moment, I don't breathe or think or live. Twilight Sparkle sets her tea on the countertop and rummages through a stack of papers stuck between the pages of "Star Swirl The Bearden: A Reference Guide." "Sweetie, if you know about this, you have to tell me."
I follow her hoof to the printed parchment spread before me and read the words over and over without understanding them. Dark blotches creep in on the edges of my vision field, but I manage to blink them away, hoping to block out the hideous letters creeping along the ink lines. Chrysanthemum and Silver Shoe to Hoofington.