One thing was for sure in that dingy, dank little cave, Kingsley had not slept well since his talk with Coffee.
It was one thing to be in the middle of the exploding, as he had been, and entirely another to have a front row seat and be and feel so helpless to do anything about it. That’s what had made death so great at the time. It had a marvelous way of clearing your conscience, but for those left behind and the ones who came back, life wouldn’t let the pain of the moment go with any measure of ease. He only understood that now through his brown marefriend’s eyes - and tears.
He rolled over, half-asleep, growling. Why was he still so agitated when they had made up? Was there something else he needed to do? He wish he knew.
When sleep finally came, it wasn’t kind to Kingsley. He dreamed he was in a world of pink fur, being chased by the crystal heart. Why was it after him? He wasn’t Sombra any more...then as he turned his head to see where the floating artifact was and if he were gaining any ground, he saw it too close and whipped his head back to continue running. A wisp of purple energy floating for an instant in his field of vision.
Oh no. No, no, no, NO!
There was a wall ahead and he slammed to a stop, tumbling to a halt and a heap in front of it. Cornered, as frightened as he had ever been in his lives, he turned around, desperately hoping he’d lost the crystal heart. No such luck. It floated there menacingly in front of him. “I’m not that pony anymore. You’ve got the wrong stallion!” he pleaded with it.
It ignored him and hovered closer, close enough he could see the sharp curve of his red horn in its facets. Terror filled his reflection and his mind as it glowed brighter, the glow reflecting off his fur, then sinking into it as cracks begin to show on his hide. No, no…
...NO! he screamed, waking himself up.
The crystal heart was still IN FRONT OF HIM.
“No, no, no, please!” he wailed, paralyzed with fear.
Coffee came bolting from the front of the cave, Shining Armor from the back at the sounds of his screams.
Cadence turned from where she stood in front of the terrified, prostate unicorn on the ground. Coffee was furious. Snarling, she inserted herself inbetween Cadence and her friend. Alicorn be damned to Tartarus, she wasn’t going to let him die at her hands yet again!
The love princess turned back from Shining to Coffee, then looked to where Kingsley's eyes were fixed. Her eyes went wide at what he must have thought when his first sight upon opening them was a weapon of death on her flank, two inches from his face.
Heart pounding, he couldn’t get his breathing under control. The Princess cantered back, away from him as Coffee knelt by his side.
“Kingsley?” She gently shook him, trying to get him to look at her. “Kingsley, it’s all right. It was a dream...calm down.”
He wasn't calming, his breathing coming in painful gasps. Behind them, the earth mare could hear Shining ask Cadence, “What were you doing, Cadie?”
“I just wanted to talk,” she explained to her husband. “He must have been having a bad dream.” They all looked to him for confirmation of this. Despite his racing heart and shortness of breath, he nodded. “I'm so sorry, Kingsley,” she apologized.
“What were you dreaming about?” Coffee gently asked.
He pointed a shaky hoof at the cutie mark heart on Cadence’s flank. “Uh, I, it, it…” he swallowed. He couldn’t get his brain to get a clear, smooth sentence out of his mouth. “Cornered...cornered me. I was breaking apart...again…” he ended up mumbling, closing his eyes, fighting to get control over his violent shaking.
The royal couple looked at each other, Shining with understanding, Cadence with a fresh wave of guilt.
Kingsley’s color wasn't looking good. He buried his muzzle in Coffee’s shoulder fur, shaking her whole side with his trembling. Fortunately, this position worked the same as a paper bag over the muzzle keeping carbon dioxide close and after a minute, she could feel his heart slowing and breathing returning to normal. The mare kept stroking him in reassurance until his face reemerged, but he kept his eyes on Cadence’s face, avoiding looking at her cutie mark.
“I’m beginning to think this isn’t going to work,” Coffee whispered to her stallion friend. “I’m going to tell Princess Luna - “
She stopped when a charcoal hoof landed on hers. “No, I’m - I’m okay now,” Kingsley’s forest green eyes reassured her.
“Okay, but she owes you some really good dreams, you goof,” she shot quietly back.
“On that I think we agree.” He straightened, moving away from Coffee Talk’s support and warmth. “You wanted to talk?” asked told Cadence. “Okay, let’s talk.”
“Go ahead without me. I’m not into group therapy,” the brown mare behind him grumbled. Coffee shot Shining Armor a look. The Prince nodded and started to follow the former reporter away to give the two their privacy. Coffee stopped him with a hoof. Her eyes shifted back over to the other side of the cave, the message clearly ‘You - over there’. The white stallion nodded and saying nothing in reply, retreated back over and away from them while Coffee walked back to the front of the cave.
Kingsley and Cadence started off with the awkwardness of a couple on a first date except that the stallion looked anything but interested in romance. Since Cadence had come to him, he decided to wait for her to speak first - after all, he had no idea where she was in her mental detox from the uber demon that had destroyed his life and nearly taken hers for an encore.
Keeping her eyes on his, the Princess of Love asked, “How do you - how did you go on?”
No explanation of that statement was even necessary. He knew exactly what she meant. “After? I didn’t,” he shrugged. “I was the Number One jerkhorse for a long time after we came back.” He grinned. “I kept getting Coffee’s name wrong and she couldn’t stand me.”
Cadence raised an eyebrow. “We?” she echoed. “You mean you and - it?”
“Buttface? No, I meant Coffee Talk and I, but yeah, it came along for the ride. It just kept quiet at first. I didn’t even realize the Uber survived the blast too until it saw an opportunity to - “
Cadence giggled. “‘Buttface?’ That’s what you called it?”
Kingsley nodded, “Yeah. Pet name, I guess, but it fit.”
Her mirth was short-lived, her smile fading. “No, we were its pets.”
“More like arms and legs...tools, but we let ourselves get used,” the stallion admitted. “We - well, I know I - didn’t see any other alternative at the time but to use it’s power to stop Princess - ”
“But she might have avoided war with the Griffons,“ Cadence began to say.
“No,” Kingsley shook his head. “At least I didn’t think she would. She had no military skill and didn’t listen to her advisors,” He stared off into another part of the cave. “I wonder what would have happened if I had let her live? I am reasonably sure I knew, but now we’ll never know.” He looked back to Cadence. “But with you, it was a different reason you gave in to the Uber.”
She nodded. “It was. I was afraid,” she admitted. “I was so terrified the crystal ponies wouldn’t accept me, wouldn’t love me.”
“You’re their frickin’ savior,” the stallion told her. “What’s not to love about you?” He shrugged. “Unless they don’t like pink. Then you’re horrible.”
They shared a laugh together and this time the smile didn’t fade as fast from the Princess’s face. After a moment’s reflection though, she did sober a little. “I’m supposed to be perfect for them. They don’t understand I can make mistakes too. But I’m an alicorn, so when I make a mistake, it’s a lot worse than a normal pony’s mistake. And my being a ruler, that’s twice the bad of their mistakes.”
“So you won’t do it again,” Kingsley told her. “And if you’re not sure you won’t, I made sure of it.”
“It really isn’t coming back?” Cadence asked him.
“It really isn’t coming back,” he assured her. “I could feel it this time. Not like it was over the Crystal Empire. Then I was trapped inside my horn and I was still a jerkhorse. This time,” he inclined his head. “Well, let’s just say it was different, it felt different.”
Cadence was intrigued. “How? How was it different? What did it feel like?”
The stallion smiled. “It felt - peaceful.”