It took a minute for the Prince to take a few deep breaths, get up the nerve and prepare himself to face Kingsley and apologize. He hadn’t been this nervous since Queen Chrysalis’s mind control had worn off and he’d said, “I do,” to his real bride, the one that now gently patted his wither with a supportive hoof, waiting out his nerves with her amazing patience.
Cadence smiled at him. “Are you really that nervous about facing Kingsley?” she asked him.
Shining shook his head. “No, not really. I’m more nervous about facing Coffee - “ he turned towards the other end of the cave, his voice trailing off.
“Honey?” the Princess followed his gaze to their unwilling cave mates. “...Talk?” she finished for him.
The scene before the couple was strange to say the least, borderline crazy - or hilarious depending on which pony you asked. They stared a moment, Shining Armor forgetting his nerves, simply took his wife’s hoof off his broad shoulder bone. “I’m good now,” he assured her. “After seeing that, believe me, I’m good.”
Minutes before, while Shining and Cadence were talking…
“Oh, this is bad,” Kingsley whined, shifting his weight from one set of hooves to the other. For the first time since they had all been trapped in the cave, he earnestly looked for a way out, not pretending this time.
“What,” Coffee grumbled from her side of the cave. “A moment ago you were all, ‘Oh, this is great. Little Miss Lovehorse is feeling better. Our job here is done!’”
Kingsley stopped his frantic search of the cave wall interior, eyes wide. “Great, Coffee, broadcast it all over the cave why don’t you?” He dared ventured closer to the mare. “If you haven’t noticed, it isn’t done yet and now, because of your renewed interest in my backside - “
“It’s not your backside per se that I’m interested in,” Coffee pried her eyes away from Kingsley’s furiously swishing tail and what said occasional swish revealed underneath.
“ - stop that!” Kingsley half-whined, blushing. Any other time he’d be flirting with her and prancing around, but not while trapped in a cave with a captive audience! “Because of...that...we have a new, urgenter reason to get the Tartarus out of here,” he finished in an angry hiss.
“‘Urgenter’?” she echoed, forcing her eyes back up to his. Goddess they were beautiful...so green! “That isn’t even a word in my time.”
“Is too,” he argued. “Drizzle taught it to me.”
“Drizzle is no Ponish language major if you haven’t noticed!” Coffee hissed back. Her eyes widened, realizing her amorous mood was soured every time she felt annoyance at her stallion companion. “That’s it!” she exclaimed.
“What’s it?” Kingsley asked, feeling so far out of the loop of his friend’s logic he wasn’t even aware there was a curve, let alone a loop or connection going on.
“Keep pissing me off,” Coffee told him. “It kills the mood!”
“I’m pissing you off?” he said, surprised.
“Yes, keep annoying the Tartarus out of me,” she repeated. “That way I can keep myself under control.”
A big, smug grin spread across the former tyrant’s muzzle. Taking a stance as if he were challenging a foe, he rolled each of his withers like a bull ready to charge a target. “Thank you, Buttface, for small favors and some valuable life lessons I never thought I’d ever be eager to use again!” he trumpeted happily.
It was at this point that the royal couple had noticed them - or rather Coffee - keeping an unusually wide distance from Kingsley, shaking her head and snarling at him every time he opened his mouth and Kingsley…
...well, Kingsley was just being Kingsley at his very most annoying, dredging up memories of how callous, self-absorbed and arrogant he had been as the Tyrant King of the Crystal Empire. This included not only verbal aggrandizing of himself, but reiterating all the ways he used to get Coffee’s name wrong - Toffee Hock, Hoffy Smock and Chatty Wok, to name some of the worst. This behavior of the former king’s, intermixed with some ridiculous prancing about the cave, was the point where Shining Armor had turned to him, and seeing this, shook his head back and forth sadly, convinced the 1,000 years in ice had truly and finally taken its toll and scrambled what was left of the poor stallion’s mind.
“By Celestia, Kingsley,” the earth mare shook her head. “There's annoying and ANNOYING, but you are just plain ridiculous!” she sputtered, finally falling to the cave floor in a fit of giggles.
The charcoal stallion frowned. “Aw c’mon, Coffee,” he whined, still prancing back and forth. “You gotta admit this is pretty obnoxious!”
“It’s...something,” Shining Armor agreed, coming up to them, Cadence by her side.
Kingsley immediately stopped acting like a damn fool horse and straightened. “Whelp, there goes the party, Coffee,” he stated with just a hint of resigned sarcasm.
“Agreed,” she sighed. They nodded at each other, Kingsley leaving and Coffee heading for a wall opposite Kingsley’s destination.
The two didn’t get very far when Cadence spoke up. “Wait, Kingsley, I meant what I said as far as an amiable truce.”
“Yeah? Right. Okay,” he said in a tone that hinted he was waiting for the “but” in her statement.
And he wasn’t disappointed. “But I forgot something,” Cadence followed up quickly in a reasonably calm tone. The Princess looked awkwardly first at Shining, but that was a quick glance, then a longer look at Coffee.
Coffee bristled slightly. “Oh no,” she shook her head vehemently. “Don’t you start sending me to another part of the cave or I swear - “
Cadence’s eyes widened. “I wasn’t going to do that,” she defended. Well, at least not to a corner, if that’s what you meant…
“Listen, Princess, whatever you have to say to me you can say in front of Coffee, okay?” Kingsley insisted. Then he pointed at Shining Armor. “He’s another matter!” he snapped. “I’m sick to death of getting my head bit off and judged every time I open my mouth around - “
That immediately stopped Kingsley’s tirade and indeed all thought in the cave. The charcoal stallion’s eyes widened and after a heartbeat. “Huh?” he blinked.
Not believing her ears, Coffee came back over to Kingsley, still unconsciously, physically siding with him opposite the royal couple. She was having an even harder time believing what she thought she had heard the Prince say, especially after her job of trying to get the hard-headed pony to see hers and Kingsley’s side of the situation. Not daring to jinx progress, she kept her muzzle shut.
“I - wait,” Shining hesitated, looking at his wife. “This is supposed to be your apology. Sorry honey.”
“Oh I don’t mind waiting to give mine,” she acquiesced, encouraging him to go on. “Yours appears to be the bigger shocker, so since you’ve started, go ahead.” She smiled for the first time in front of everypony. “Besides, I don’t think Kingsley - or Coffee could concentrate on what I have to say now that you’ve said something.”
Shining nodded. Despite his initial tension being abated by the former Tyrant’s silliness, now that all eyes were on him, it returned. He started out slowly and carefully. “Okay...so, Cadence and I talked and it makes more sense to me now how - you - “ he nodded at Kingsley. “ - ...and Cadie could have been, ah, taken over by…” he looked down at his hooves, shuffling a moment. Then he looked back up to his wife. “I don’t have to call it, ‘Buttface’, do I, honey?”
The other three ponies snickered. Of all the ones to speak up, it was Coffee who said something first, “No, that’s an exclusive club...only those who had it in their head get to call him that.”
“That’s a thing?” he asked, surprised.
“No, you dork,” Coffee fought to not roll her eyes. “Of course not!”
Kingsley shook his head, glaring amused at Coffee, then turning back to Armor. “She’s yanking your bridle,” he said rather unnecessarily. But at least it showed that he was willing to speak civilly and without the defensive, then annoyed and finally exasperated tones he’d had in his voice this past, seemingly long confinement together.
A glance at Cadence to see she was smiling assured him he was doing fine and to continue. He had to think a moment where he’d left off, then went on, “The Uber demon-thing, whatever you call it. And I know Cadie’s a good pony. I just don’t, well, I don’t know you like I do her, Kingsley - “
“Obviously,” muttered Coffee.
“Coffee,” Kingsley shushed. She rolled her eyes.
“I know she isn’t capable of - “ he looked down trying to soften the blow of saying what had to be said. “ - murder. I just don’t know about you.”
“I’d killed before Buttface parked itself in my head,” Kingsley told him. “The griffon assassin that tried to kill the Crystal Princess,” he said matter-of-factly. “I didn’t hesitate to put that thing down.”
“Oh,” Shining digested that quietly for a moment, then the light of realization hit him. He raised his head back up. “Of course, being a Captain of the Guard, of course you - “
“And back then, it was a more violent time,” the other stallion added, lowering his head. “I killed a lot of enemies of the Empire, Shining, just not the one that I really needed to before - “ he drifted off. Coffee smiled, putting a hoof on his neck.
And just like that, Shining Armor’s attitude softened in an understanding that had started with a conversation with Cadence and a reality-check with Coffee Talk.
“I’m sorry, Kingsley,” the Prince Regent said from a lot closer to the charcoal stallion than they had been a minute ago. Kingsley looked up, staring into Shining’s blue, sympathetic eyes. “I realize now I blamed you for a lot of things that weren’t your fault. I blamed you for Cadence becoming possessed - “
“It caught me at a weak moment, Shiny,” Cadence said from behind him. “That was my fault.”
“I blamed you for her post-possession depression,” the stallion went on. “I blamed you for what I thought was our marriage failing, for her poor health lately, her magic failing - even for the crystal heart weakening!”
“Princess Luna didn’t tell us about the crystal - “ Coffee began to say, then put a hoof to her muzzle.
“Ah - we’ll tell you when you’re done with your confession,” Kingsley winced, smirking in a way both mares found adorable.
The Prince shook his head, not understanding but dismissing it for another talk. “So, I’m sorry. After I saw what that Uber do to Cadie, how it turned her, I can see how different you really are from when you were King Sombra. I didn’t give you another chance,” he wrapped the apology up. “Everypony’s right, you did pay for the Crystal Princess’s death by dying - twice and who am I to judge you beyond that? It isn’t fair to you and I think I see that...now?” Shining Armor trailed off, puzzled by Kingsley’s slowly deteriorating attention span. The dark-colored pony had started out attentive enough, but had drifted off more and more, stealing glances at Coffee Talk, inching closer to her and now at the end of his apology, the stallion was nibbling at the earth pony’s neck.
It wasn’t until Kingsley nickered into her fur, tickling her through the thick, tan hide that the earth mare was suddenly aware of what he was doing. For an instant she smiled, rubbing her head against his, then her eyes flew open. “Kingsley!”
He lingered on her neck, utterly distracted by her pheromones. “Mmmm?” he snorted against her. “Yeah, yeah,” he muttered. “Me not Sombra, sorry, blah, blah” he pawed at the cave floor, his tail twitching so much it was swatting Coffee on the rear.
“Um, yeah,” the earth pony smiled at the royal couple, pushing her paramour away with a gentle hoof to the forehead. “He accepts, he’s just - distracted, see. Since you’re feeling better, your Highness, I think it’s affected me and he’s well, scenting on me.”
Cadence’s eyes grew wide and next to her Shining Armor stifled a laugh. “Oh! Oh my,” they said at once.
“So yeah,” the brown mare nodded, now having to use her outstretched hoof to keep Kingsley at a distance. “So since we can’t get out of here - and I’m hoping help comes real soon now that we’re all good - “ she sputtered. “Can you like, turn off that love magic so I don’t get - um, mounted in my sleep tonight?”
“Oh dear, well,” the Princess looked embarrassed. “I can’t actually, ‘turn it off’,” she confessed sheepishly.
At this point Kingsley had decided since Coffee Talk was resisting his advances, he needed to turn on the charm by displaying, so at least he wasn’t as near her, prancing around the cave, tossing his luxurious coal-black mane and vocalizing rather - handsomely, she thought much to her annoyance. She watched him for a moment, finding herself smiling at how funny and cute he was, and how...intriguing. Then Cadence’s words sunk in.
Her head snapped back to the Princess. “Wait, you can’t what?!?”