Thursday, April 4, 2019

Fractured Friendship, Chapter 1: Schism

[Originally posted on Fimfiction. Based on the Equestria Girls Holiday Special.]
[Prior knowledge of the setting and characters should be unnecessary if I've written this properly.  You won't immediately understand everything, but that's true of any first chapter.  Hopefully what I've done is give enough to carry you through.]
[Contains references to past bullying, neglect, homelessness, and death of family members.]

Sunset walked through the snow and repeated Twilight's final sentence in her mind again and again.

Sometimes all you can do is stay strong . . .

Sunset was the most hated girl in CHS.  Again.  The difference was: this time she didn't have the five most popular girls in school looking out for her.

She couldn't take a step without being reminded that she wasn't wanted in this world.  Every time she took to the halls she was "accidentally" bumped so many times the collisions all bled together into one big aching throbbing pain.  What was being said hurt more.

She'd been left sobbing on the floor of the school twice.

She was still here.

That was staying strong, wasn't it?

. . . be yourself . . .

With everyone already hating her and claiming she'd gone back to her old ways, it would be so easy to actually do it.  No one would dare treat her this way if she really did become the old Sunset Shimmer.

She could blackmail, bribe, and cajole her way to the top.  She could tear down anyone who so much as looked at her the wrong way.  She could make everyone back the fuck off and never be bumped or shoved or tripped again.  She could make other students so afraid they'd lock themselves in lockers instead of facing her.

She could end all of this.

All she'd have to do was become someone else.  Someone she didn't like.  Someone she never wanted to be again.

And that she would not do.

. . . and find your family.

Sunset had been alone her entire life.  She couldn't remember her parents, and her other relatives had only ever acknowledged her because the Princess expected them to.  When Celestia had found Sunset living on the street --begging and stealing her way from day to day; never getting quite enough to keep hunger a bay for long-- she assumed that Sunset's relatives didn't know what had become of her.

Celestia thought that once they were informed they'd naturally shower Sunset in the love and affection she'd been denied.  Sunset had never told Celestia the truth because she'd been afraid of disappointing her.  She had thought that any judgement applied to her family must also apply to her.  If they didn't measure up to Celestia's standards, then neither did she.

If there were one thing Sunset could change about her past it wouldn't be running away to another world, it wouldn't be stealing an Element of Harmony in an act Sunset was reasonably sure was treason, it would be the fact that she never told Celestia the truth: Sunset's surviving blood relatives weren't her family; Celestia was.

She knew that now.  She'd finally learned a lesson that Celestia never set out to teach: family wasn't the people who were stuck with you, it was the people who accepted you and made you feel at home.

That's why she was heading to the café.

Twilight knew Sunset didn't have any blood relatives she'd ever want to see again --it was one of the things they'd talked about through the magic journal-- but Twilight also knew that Sunset did have people who mattered to her.  Leaving it open-ended was to remind Sunset that it was up to her who those people were.

Sunset could have found family by walking through the portal and finding Twilight.  Maybe she would at some point.  But the thing about family was: even when they screwed up, they were still worth fighting for.

All of the girls were looking mopey when she came in.

Then they saw her at the door and they were angry.

Rainbow Dash said, "Hey, get out!" while Applejack went with, "Yer not welcome here, Sunset!"

It took some fast talking, but she managed to convince them to at least read the journal.  She knew that logically it shouldn't make a difference, but she wasn't appealing to their logic.

Sure, if they thought she was lying then they didn't have any reason to believe what she'd written the journal would be any more true than what she said, but that was entirely beside the point.

She hoped that by sharing what she had been feeling, as it had been happening, she'd remind them how they had felt about her.  Also, the fact that this was a way to communicate without talking was important.  You didn't get in a shouting match with a book.  You either read it or you didn't.

Yes, one could shout about what they read, but they weren't shouting over the words, and the book didn't have to ignore the shouting or shout back.  The words that had yet to be read were already in it.

It was a huge gamble, but if the girls felt about Sunset the way she felt about them, then all she had to do was bring that to the forefront --make that the thing at the front of their minds instead of the anger-- and they'd give her the benefit of the doubt.

Fluttershy had been the one to accept the journal, so she was the one holding it.  The others tried to crowd around and read on their own, but it was awkward and distracting, so finally she decided to read a page out loud.  Based on the timing of the previous entry, it was probably going to be about the sleepover at Rarity's house, which was right before everything went so wrong.

"Dear Twilight ," she read, " I'm at my second slumber party with the girls --I hope you don't mind me not counting the ones when you were here, I didn't feel like I was really part of those-- and I feel so much closer to them."

Fluttershy felt a pang of guilt at Sunset's aside.  Sunset had supported the Rainbooms every step of the way and basically been their personal cheerleader, while they'd done little more than tolerate her existence back then.

But she also felt anger.  They had been right to be hesitant, it told her.  When they let her into their hearts she turned on them the moment she could lash out at them.

Ignoring both feelings, Fluttershy kept reading the journal entry, "I haven't felt so loved in," Fluttershy had to skip over some words that had been written then scribbled out, and the result wasn't really a complete sentence. She said, " ever ," but had paused so long with the scribbles and the grammar that the 'ever' felt all alone.

So she tried again:

"I haven't felt so loved in . . . ever."

It still didn't sound particularly good, but it sounded better than before.

Apparently the difficulty she'd had reading it had stopped her from thinking about it, because once she was done it hit her:

Two sleepovers was all it took for Sunset to feel more loved than she ever had before.  That was it.  That was heartbreaking.

The sleepover at Rarity's had been a lot of fun, sure, but it wasn't all that remarkable.  If people weren't laughing at her for what she did during it, with the silly dress up and the terrible singing, she probably wouldn't remember much about it.  If that was the most loved Sunset had ever felt, then the rest of her life must have been . . .

Fluttershy moved to the next line:

"I feel like I finally have a family again."

And two days later they left her-- they left her crying on floor.

That hurt.  That hurt so much.  Fluttershy wasn't thinking about whether to believe  Sunset any more.  She was just angry with herself and the others.  How could they?  How could they have done that?  And the things she'd said to Sunset . . .

"Without all of you giving me love and support I'd be-- well, you know what I'd be."

And they'd taken that love and support away from her.

Fluttershy had reached her emotional limit. She read the rest mechanically:

"Anyway, I have to get to sleep, but I wanted to let you know how I feel.  If it weren't for you, I wouldn't be here.  You didn't just save me (and stop me); you're the one who encouraged the girls and me to become friends.  I love you all so much, and if it weren't for you, Twilight, I'd never have gotten to know any of you well enough for that.

"Your friend, Sunset Shimmer."

Rainbow was angry enough to punch someone, but the person she was angry with was herself.

How could she have been so stupid.  If the pictures had come from Fluttershy's phone, or Applejack's phone, she wouldn't have believed it.  She had learned that lesson already.

How long had she spent too angry to even try talking to Applejack about something that had come from Applejack's phone?

She was so very pissed off at having made the Exact Same Mistake twice.  Never again.

Fluttershy asked the natural question:

"If . . . if you're not Anon-a-Miss, who is?"

Sunset didn't have an answer.  She held her head in her hands and looked at the table as she said, "That's what I've been trying to figure out."

Whoever it was would pay.  Maybe it wasn't fair to want to punish someone else when she was mostly angry with herself, but she didn't care.  They'd pay.

"AJ," Sunset said, "who knew your nickname?"

"Only you all and my family," Applejack said, "but I know they wouldn't do that and I trust you five--" Applejack stopped short; Rainbow didn't notice.

While Applejack said something else, Rainbow tried to think of how someone could have found out and didn't manage to come up with any answers.  She offered, "Maybe someone overheard it," but she wasn't convinced.  She had to be-- wait.

She finally processed that last thing Applejack had said.  Applejack had corrected herself:

'I trust you five-- --you four.'

That hit Rainbow like a body check.  How could she not see they'd been wrong ?

Sunset moved on to the pictures, and things went downhill further.

"I had my phone with me from the end of the slumber party until well after they were posted," Sunset said.

"And we were the only people at the party!" Rarity said.  She wasn't trying to be helpful.

Diamond Tiara watched with interest as the scene unfolded.  Not the Rainbooms, that was a side show.  (Who cared if Rainbow Dash were defending Sunset Shimmer now?)  No.  The show was the Canterlot Movie Club.

As Rainbow Dash and Applejack yelled in each other's faces, the developments between Scootaloo and Apple Bloom were too precious to miss.  Of course she was recording it for posterity too.

She wasn't recording it to send to Anon-a-Miss, there was nothing to expose here, she just wanted to be able to relive this in the future.  Cell phone video was no substitute for the real thing, though, and so while it was going on she opened up her senses and drank in every detail.

Sunset was being meek again, like she had between the Fall Formal and the Battle of the Bands. It wasn't right. It wasn't the real Sunset Shimmer. That just made Rainbow Dash more angry with three of her best friends.

Applejack was stubbornly insisting that Sunset was obviously to blame and Rainbow was being stupid for believing her.  Rarity was arguing for Sunset's guilt with dramatic flare.  Pinkie didn't say a single word.

Fluttershy was being timid, which was to be expected, but she was on the right side.

Rainbow gave it one last try:

"It doesn't mean anything that it came from her phone; this is just like the texts!"

"Yeah," Applejack said, "it is. Because she's splitting us up again and yer falling' for it again!  The difference is: Ah Ain't!"

"This is going nowhere," Rainbow said.  Applejack had a response, but Rainbow didn't bother to listen.  She said to Sunset and Fluttershy, "Let's get out of here."

The other two got up, and Rainbow turned to leave.

Then Pinkie said her name.  It was the first time she'd spoken since Sunset came in.  Rainbow didn't bother to turn around.

"We all made a mistake, Pinks," she said. "I'm done with that."

Then she left with Sunset and Fluttershy.

⁂   ⁂

So, notes:

If you're not familiar with Equestria Girls I just threw out a lot of names, things, and, to a lesser extent, events that you don't know the background for.  I'd like to think that I've created something no more confusing than any other in medias res first chapter.  I have no idea if that's actually true.

My feelings keep bouncing around between, "Basically no one explains everything at the outset" and "Oh my God, no one is going to understand anything and because of that they won't give the story a chance, and everything is terrible."

The Equestria Girls Holiday Special gets a lot of fanfiction and has an even larger body of work when one also considers proposed ideas in addition to actual stories.  There are a variety of reasons for that, but right now that's not what I'm interested in talking about.

Vague bits and pieces that would go into this story had been floating around in my head for ages, but what brought it all together was talking about how, for the sheer volume of fanfic related to that particular source material, there's surprisingly little variation.

Almost everyone takes their point of major departure from the source material at the exact same place.  That place, basically, is right about here:
Rainbow Dash said, "Hey, get out!" while Applejack went with, "Yer not welcome here, Sunset!"
In the original story (a comic) immediately after those words Sunset convinces them to read the magical journal she uses for communication with the pony princes.  In the vast majority of fanfics, she doesn't.  One way or another, she's driven out of the building, and then things go off the rails.

This only pushes things back a little further.  About a page.  That makes everything different.

It isn't just about "Hey, not everything needs to be the same", though.

Another huge thing was that while Applejack is doing the "you five-- you four" thing, Rainbow Dash is trying to come up with explanations of a "not Sunset's fault" variety.

For much of the story, Sunset's friends act as a monolithic anti-Sunset whole.  This is the only place where they end up taking different sides.  It isn't explored because one panel later someone says a certain word for the eleventy billionth time and things finally click for Sunset.

Then everything wraps up at absurd speeds.  Sunset figures out who's framing her, but doesn't have time to say, because the guilty party steals her thunder by coming in and confessing, two apologies are said (when twelve are called for) and then we cut to the epilogue.

This story owes a major debt to keroko, who was the one to really made me think about this scene in general and the role the journal plays in the story in particular.

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