Music drifted throughout the condo from a brand-new record player, quiet enough to not disturb any neighbors at that late hour of the night, but loud enough to move Crystal's hooves and hips almost of their own accord.
Slowly, slowly, you will fall in love, the recorded voice sang.
The path of love is difficult; it's bound by shyness
It's a strange war with myself; this heart worries all the time.
As she lifted a piece of paper and a quill, she mumbled, "Oh, Silent Knight, what am I going to do about you?"
The quill bobbed up and down as it scribbled along the page when she stopped talking long enough to focus on the story.
"You're no help, you know." She giggled. "You can write all these fanciful situations, but they'll never happen."
The quill added a period with an irritated plik.
"Yes, yes, I'm sorry. Let's see what you've done." She lowered the quill and scanned the page.
He put a hoof to her chin and forced her to look at him. "What are you trying to say?" She tried to pull away, but his hoof held her still, forcing her to confront him. "Talk to me, please."
She sighed and set the paper down on the coffee table. "Oh, I'd talk to you, big boy, if you'd just ask me to."
Her ear twitched at the sound of three short, quick knocks.
"Just a minute!" she called, her magic flaring. The record player shut off and she flipped a few more lights on before she went to the door and opened it. Her knees went weak and her breath caught in her throat as she squeaked, "Oh!" She swallowed.
There he was, standing in full armor, looking down at her with those calming silver eyes. A tuft of blue mane poked out from under his helmet, the only thing out of place in his otherwise proper appearance.
"Silent Knight," she breathed more than said as she struggled not to swoon.
Realization hit her and the love-struck warmth froze with a horrified chill. One hoof flew to her mane, which was pulled up in a messy bun, then lowered to the silky robe that was draped over her form. She was in embarrassing disarray.
"I'm so sorry, I'm a mess! Let me freshen—"
Silent shook his head. "No, you're fine, Crystal Wishes. It's my fault for disturbing you at this hour." He removed his helmet and tucked it under his foreleg. "I know that Velvet is away on her trip and I wanted to make sure you were doing all right by yourself."
Crystal blinked a few times, her hoof continuing to fidget with her robe. "Really?" She felt her face grow warm. "That's really sweet of you, Sergeant. Please come in. Would you like some tea?" She stepped off to the side and pulled the door all the way open.
"No, but thank you." He nodded and walked inside. He took a moment to look around, his expression an unwavering neutral, before he looked at her and smiled. "So, how are you doing?"
Crystal walked over to the pillows. "I'm perfectly all right. Won't you have a seat?" She settled down and gestured at the one across from her. Her gaze followed him as he walked over and carefully lowered himself, careful to not catch the plush material on the edges of his armor.
"I had known she was going to travel when we first moved in together," she continued. "I miss her, but I know it's good for her. Her last letter seemed very positive about her performance. At this rate, she'll be going on tour several times a year to perform in other cities." She smiled. "It's a wonderful opportunity and I only want the best for her."
Silent's eyes took on an unfamiliar softness as he said, "I know that you, of all ponies, truly mean that. You are one of the kindest ponies I know, Crystal Wishes."
Crystal couldn't fight the blush that she was sure showed through her off-white coat. "Oh, you flatterer." She giggled. "Thank you."
"Anyway, she'll be back soon, won't she?"
"Not soon enough." Crystal sighed. "But I am getting better at being on my own. Now, enough about me." She tilted her head. "You got off work late but still found the time to drop by just to check in on me, but you call me the kind pony?"
"It's an occupational hazard." He paused, then clarified, "I mean staying late. Seeing a good friend is a pleasure, not a hazard at all."
Crystal giggled behind one hoof. "I understand. So, what was the hazard today that kept you?"
Silent rubbed his cheek, a grin tugging at the corners of his lips. "Oh, well. You know Thunder Tumble?" She nodded. "Well, he got in a bit of a tussle with one of the new rookies on Princess Celestia's House Guard."
"What? Thunder Tumble?" She blinked. "But he's so sweet!"
"He is. Until somepony throws a punch." He chuckled and shook his head. One hoof raised to smooth his helmet-mussed mane. "From what I was told, they were having a debate over who had the best unit sergeant and some less than flattering comparisons were made regarding my rigidity. Thunder, well, he didn't take too kindly to what was said."
Crystal broke out into short but heartfelt laughter. "He was defending your honor?"
Silent seemed to fight it, his mouth wriggling a moment, before he laughed with her and nodded. "It seems so."
"And how did you handle having your honor defended like a maiden?" She tried not to grin.
"Honestly, it was a little embarrassing. Sunny Day and I managed to separate them and we agreed that we'd handle our respective guards ourselves." He shifted some, glancing down at the pillow beneath him. The one he had selected was a little small for a stallion his size, so he had to be sure to not shift himself right off it. "Thunder was pretty upset. It took a while just to get him to calm down enough just to talk about it rationally."
She almost laughed, but the sound instead came out as a chuffle when a thought struck her. "Oh, dear, he won't be in much trouble, will he? His intentions were in the right place, after all."
"Don't worry." Silent shook his head. "He'll receive a small slap on the hoof because he should have been the bigger pony. He really knocked the other guard down a peg or two, though. Off the record, just between you and me, I'm proud of him. He won the fight hooves down, no question about it."
"You're proud of him for winning a fight?" She laughed this time, but she did manage to cover it politely with one hoof. "I don't know that I understand stallions sometimes."
Silent shrugged and explained, "My father always taught me to never start a fight but if somepony else did, I had better finish it, and that's exactly what Thunder did."
Crystal paused. She blinked a few times, her gaze focusing on nothing in particular as a feeling of deja vu tickled the back of her neck before she shook her head once to chase it away. "That makes sense in some way, I suppose."
There was a small pause before Silent smiled. "Oh, how is your new book coming? Princess Luna is very eager to get her hooves on it as soon as possible. She said you're working on something special. I think she's your biggest fan, from what I can tell."
Crystal turned her head to look at the sofa. It was really an odd size between a sofa and a loveseat and it served more as a desk than a seating area. In fact, since she had bought it, she hadn't actually sat on it once. At that moment it was covered with pages, some blank and others full of notes.
She finally relented with a sigh, "It is, well, it's coming along. I'm trying something—how do I put it—new, you might say, but it's also somewhat unfamiliar territory for me." Her tail lashed to curl around her as she glanced at him. "I've been stuck on something for a few days now, actually. Every time I try to plan it, it either falls flat or feels forced. I could use a stallion's perspective, if you don't mind?"
Silent's ears perked. "Not at all. I'd be happy to help."
Crystal's heart broke into a thunderous pounding in her chest and her words caught in her throat. She took a small breath and forced the question out despite her nerves. "As a stallion, if you found yourself in love with two ponies, how would you choose between them?"
Silent looked at her with his brow raised in surprise. He blinked a few times and admitted, "You might not like my answer, I'm afraid."
With the way her heart pounded faster and her mouth went dry, she was fairly certain she was the one who was afraid at that moment. "Try me."
Silent shrugged. "Well, I would first make a list of why I thought I loved them. If it really was love, couldn't I explain why I felt that way? If I couldn't, that might make it easier to realize I only really loved one, or perhaps neither."
Crystal nodded slowly. He was right; the idea of an intangible list didn't help her much at all. She licked her lips and pressed, "So you make a list for the first pony, and another for the second. What then?"
Silent took a deep breath and released it slowly as he gave the question more thought. Finally, he answered, his voice low and careful, "I guess I would have to decide on the long-term traits I want in a partner. When I imagine being in love, I'm not worried about whether she's beautiful or rich. True love is a long-term commitment and those are temporary things. I'd love the pony that is patient and kind, who would put her desires after my own but know when to let me do the same for her. She would be my friend and confidant, somepony I could tell anything without her judging me."
He didn't look at her, instead looking at his hooves as they shifted to cross left over right. "Infatuation is one thing, but for true love, I'd take the mare who was sweet to me and looked out for me. That is how I'd know she was the one, since there can't be two ponies like that, can there? If I really had to make lists, then they would make it clear which one was true love and which was just infatuation."
Silence followed his words as Crystal stared at him, struck speechless. She started to smile and fought to keep it from growing to a full-on beam. She tried to speak, but her voice came out instead as a whisper. "I had no idea you were a romantic."
He shrugged. "Perhaps I am. Or perhaps I'm waiting for a pony that doesn't exist, but I can wait if she does. I'd rather get the right one later than settle for the wrong one just because she came along sooner."
"I am certain a mare like that exists, Silent Knight." Crystal reached out and put a hoof on his, lifting it to slip her other underneath so she could hold it gingerly. "And I'm certain you'll see her, eventually."
Silent stared at her, then smiled. "For some reason, I believe you." He slipped his hoof out of her grasp and stood up. "Anyway, I should let you get to bed. I didn't mean to keep you up so late. Thank you, Crystal Wishes."
Crystal blinked a few times and tilted her head. "Why are you thanking me?"
"I came here to make sure you were okay, but instead, you made me feel more hopeful about my prospects of love all of a sudden. So, thank you for that. You are the sweetest pony I know." He picked up his helmet and started to set it on his head.
Before he could revert back to his stoic self under the safety of his complete uniform, Crystal asked, "Oh, sergeant, out of curiosity, are you doing anything for Hearts and Hooves Day?" Her heart fluttered eagerly, excitedly.
Silent paused, then shook his head and replied, "Iridescence and Miley Hooves asked me to cover for them. They had plans and I didn't, so I'll be on duty. Why do you ask?"
"Oh." The fluttering calmed down, her excitement deflated in an instant. "I see. I suppose I will end up spending the day with Velvet, since she'll be back by then and I currently don't have anything else planned."
"I'm sure you two will have fun," Silent said with a smile and turned for the door. "Good night, Crystal Wishes."
"Good night," she called after him just before the door shut. She dropped her head down to rest on her hooves, letting the events roll around in her mind until they came to a boil and she sprung to her hooves. "I'm kind! I can put you before myself!" She started to prance around the room, her tail and head held high. "And I most certainly can continue to be patient!"
Her hoof landed on a loose sheet of paper and she slipped, stumbling forward but catching herself just before she fell. She glanced around to ensure the condo was still as empty as it should have been, then closed the distance between herself and the record player. The lights dimmed and the needle lowered to the record, which started to spin.
Have a little patience, my love
Take a deep breath, my dear
Crystal shifted her weight to stand on her hindlegs and began to waltz across the living room floor, the silk night robe sweeping behind her, reminiscent of a ball gown.
Go shoo all the fears away, my love
Life is too short for that
She had practiced the waltz and other ballroom dances more times than she would ever use over the course of her life, but the over-practice did mean that her legs could step and twirl without too much thought. It freed up her mind to focus on other things, like imagining her forelegs were wrapped around a strong, muscular stallion, and his held her securely but gently…
Slowly, slowly, you will fall in love, my dear
Slowly, slowly, you will fall in love…
The usual sounds of the cafe buzzed around them: cups clinked against their saucers, steam hissed from the espresso maker, and quiet chatter echoed from all directions. Crystal sipped her tea while Raven pored over the loosely bound papers levitating in front of her, held by her magic.
"Okay," Raven said once she finished reading and raised her head to peer across the table at Crystal, "so I'm fairly certain I know who Stoutheart is modeled after. Do you have something to confess?"
Crystal's ears perked straight up. "If you already know, then what point is there in confessing?" She smiled and took another sip of tea.
"To rid your conscience of guilt, of course." Raven leaned back into her seat and laughed. "So, should I take this to mean that since we last spoke, your situation has gotten better?" A coy smile curled her lips. "Will I be seeing even more of you at the castle now?"
"It's too soon to say." Crystal reached out and tapped on the papers. "But, about the matter at hoof?"
Raven blinked and looked down. "Oh, yes. It's a good start. It has a different feel than your usual work." She quickly raised a hoof. "Not in a bad way, of course. It's just clear to me that you're putting your feelings into this, instead of others'. The Mare's Temptation was a lot of me, and The Princess of the Knight was just—" She shrugged. "Fantasy?"
Crystal twiddled her hooves, staring at the table, her face heating up. "I suppose that's all true. This story is much more personal to me than the others." Her head jerked up and she frowned at Raven. "Do you think it's too personal? What if nopony can relate to it? What—"
"Oh, calm down." Raven laughed softly. "I said it was different and not in a bad way, didn't I? It feels real, and that's a good thing. You're growing as an author, and you should be proud of that." Her expression grew playful as she teasingly added, "You're also growing as a mare, and you should tell me more about that."
Crystal huffed. "This seems awfully familiar."
"It does, doesn't it? 'Oh, please, tell me about your love story, I'm so desperate to hear one!'" Raven laughed again, shaking her head. "Now you're the one with a love story who won't share the details, and we're friends! I was a complete stranger then and I told you about my love life!"
Crystal gathered up her papers and tucked them into her saddlebags, shaking her head. "There's not much to tell, at least, not yet. He's not aware that I have feelings for him, but I can be patient." She giggled. "I have waited this long to fall for somepony, after all, so I can wait a little longer."
"Hmm." Raven tapped her hooves on the table. "I can help out, you know. I run into him a lot, given how close he is to Princess Luna. Though, I suppose you'll want to make friends with Willow, given that, hopefully soon, she'll be taking over that side of the castle."
Raven sighed heavily. "It will be so nice to have some free time. Moving in with Moore has let me see him more,"—she giggled at the lyrical ease with which the sentence fell off her tongue—"but I'm still stressed by the workload. Willow is competent, though a little headstrong."
"Headstrong?" Crystal blinked. "She seemed fairly normal the times I've met her."
Raven let out a small sound that was a cross between a chuckle and a groan. "She's anything but! Granted, she can shift a schedule around in her mind like nopony I've ever met, but she takes the job too seriously. Princess Luna seems to like her, however, because Willow can always find time for the things she wants to do in between what she has to."
"I think you're just a little jealous because Luna might like her more than you." She giggled when Raven scoffed.
"Well, that false accusation aside, that does remind me. Velvet is back, isn't she?" Crystal nodded, and she continued, "How did her first big tour go?"
"Wonderfully. Just as I predicted, she wasn't laughed off the stage or anything dramatic like that. She made a few nervous fumbles the first night, but after a few performances I guess she got into a groove because she came back with tons of bouquets. We're still trying to find recipes to use them in so they don't go to waste."
Crystal laughed and added, "Anyway, do you and Moore have any plans tonight after you get off work?"
Raven's mood swung to that of a school filly as she twiddled her hooves. "Oh, yes! He said he made reservations for dinner, so I had to pack a nice gown to change into so I can go straight from the castle to there." She squirmed in her seat. "I know we've had dinner before, but this is our first Hearts and Hooves Day together, and he said it would be special. I can't help but be excited!"
Crystal gasped and leaned in. "Do you think he's going to propose?!"
"What? No!" She paused, then gasped as well. "Oh my Celestia, what if he does?"
Crystal stared at her with wide eyes, the corners creased from her growing smile. "You'll say yes, won't you?"
Raven returned the wide-eyed, wide-smiled expression. "Of course!" She patted her cheeks and cleared her throat. "Of course, that depends on if he asks. I don't want to get my hopes up and ruin an otherwise perfectly romantic evening." The smile crept back into place. "But I hope he does."
Crystal giggled and slipped out of her seat. "Let's have lunch again tomorrow so I can hear all about it, okay?"
Raven nodded. "All right. Good luck with your own stallion, and your new novel!" She folded her forelegs on the table and leaned forward. "Happy Hearts and Hooves Day, Crystal."
Once she was outside the cafe and around the corner, Crystal let her smile fall. How could it be a happy Hearts and Hooves Day when she had nopony to spend it with? Velvet was waiting at the condo and they had plans to drown themselves in chocolate, but it wasn't the same.
Crystal stopped and looked over her shoulder, up at the castle. Somewhere within its walls stood Silent Knight, unwittingly on duty. She sighed and turned her head back forward only to yelp in surprise when she found herself nearly nose-to-nose with a pink collage of a mare.
"Hi!" the mare chirped, her wings fluttering excitedly. "I'm Lovey Dovey!"
"Hi?" Crystal took a step back to regain some personal space. "Can I help you with something?"
"Huh? Oh, no." Lovey smiled.
Crystal waited a moment, then lifted a hoof to walk around the mare. "Then—?"
Lovey blinked, tilted her head, and mirrored the movement of lifting a hoof. "Yes?"
Crystal's brow slowly furrowed. "Is there something you need?"
Crystal sputtered several attempted questions before she settled on, "What are you doing?"
Lovey's wings fluttered again. "I just wanted to say hello! I saw your cutie mark from across the road and thought, 'Wow, that pretty mare has a pretty cutie mark!' But I might be biased because I love hearts. And love." She leaned in, staring at Crystal's chest a moment, then up to meet her gaze. "You love love, too, don't you?"
"I, well, that is—What?" Crystal blinked a few times.
Lovey half-snorted, half-giggled. "Of course you do! So, since I haven't met a lot of ponies in Canterlot who don't love fashion or money or art but instead love love, I'd really like to be friends!"
Lovey's expression sobered rather suddenly, her ears falling to the sides and her eyes closing halfway. "That is, if you have some time. I understand if you're busy. I just can't seem to find a lot of lovey cheer on such a lovey holiday in this un-lovey city."
Crystal started to smile, then broke out into delicate laughter. She put a hoof on Lovey's shoulder and nodded. "Why don't you come with me? My friend Velvet and I are going sulky for the holiday."
"Sulky?" Lovey glanced downward. "Oh, but you have no reason to sulk!"
This gave Crystal pause before she shook her head. "No, no." She gestured for Lovey to follow as she started to walk in the direction of the condominium. Lovey squeaked and hurried after her.
"You must not spend a lot of time in Canterlot," Crystal said with a smile.
"Nope! I live in Ponyville. Strangely, although I've been all over Equestria at some point or another, I just don't end up in Canterlot that often!"
"Oh?" She glanced at the mare. "Anyway, 'going sulky' is the local slang for 'going solo'. It doesn't mean we'll be sitting there sulking all afternoon. Or, at least, Velvet won't." She laughed again, albeit a little less happily.
Lovey furrowed her brow and pursed her lips. "Well, that's an awfully sad slang!"
Crystal raised a hoof to gesture off to the right at a stallion pulling a cart, a mare resting in the seat and fanning herself as she regarded her surroundings with disdain. "That's a sulky. Admittedly, I don't know why it's called that, but it is. Given that it's a one-pony cart, the name was adapted to mean being single. I don't think a lot of other towns have sulkies, though."
Lovey's pout brightened up. "Oh, that's actually kind of cute! Odd, but cute!" She giggled. "So what's your name?"
"I'm so sorry!" Crystal blinked. "I completely forgot. I'm Crystal Wishes, but of course, you can just call me Crystal." She smiled, returning her gaze to the road ahead of them. "I have a feeling you'll get along well with Velvet. She can be a little high-strung, too."
"What?" Lovey gasped. "Are you saying I'm high-strung?"
"I—No, of course not, I just—" Crystal frowned lightly when Lovey started laughing.
"Of course I'm high-strung! You would be, too, if you were surrounded by love." She pranced on the tips of her hooves, looking around them. Her feathers started to ruffle before her wings fluttered. "Nopony seems to want to admit it, but there's love in this city. I can see it even if they can't!"
Crystal arched her brow and said nothing for a moment, simply letting the mare ramble on before she finally asked, "Lovey, when you say you see it, do you mean you actually see love?"
"Huh? Well, yes, of course! Why would I say I could see it if I couldn't?"
Crystal stared at her with wide eyes. "That's amazing! Is that your talent?"
"Maybe!" Lovey shrugged. "I've met a few other ponies who can see love lines, though I've certainly met a lot more who can't."
"These, er, 'love lines'?" Crystal paused to open the door to the condominium building. "Do they tell you who a pony loves or some such thing?"
Lovey shook her head. "Oh, no. I mean, well, yes. But not always. Love lines link two or more ponies who are perfect for each other. It's kind of like soulmates, but not a guarantee." She sighed. "Love lines are really delicate! But don't worry, yours is very strong."
"Mine?" Crystal's ears perked straight up and she stopped halfway up the stairs. "You can see mine? Where—Where does it go?"
There was a small pause as Lovey didn't look at her for a moment, then mumbled, "I'm sorry, but I get the feeling that you're the kind of mare that wants to find out for yourself. I could tell you if you really want, but—"
"No, you're right," Crystal interrupted, rubbing the back of her neck. She sighed and continued up the stairs, though a smile graced her lips. "I don't want any spoilers, as tempting as it might be. I'm just happy to know that whomever I'm meant to be with, it's a strong connection."
"Yup!" Lovey jumped into the air and hovered above Crystal to look down at her, smiling and giggling. "It's very strong! You're a lucky mare indeed!"
One of Crystal's ears twitched, then perked upright, followed by the other. "That said, I wouldn't mind some spoilers regarding"—she worked the lock and threw open the door, pointing at the unsuspecting and surprised Velvet—"her!"
Lovey flew in and skidded to a halt in front of Velvet, her head lower than Velvet's to stare at her chest. Just as Velvet was about to protest, Lovey straightened up with a curious, almost confused look on her face. "Oh?" She blinked a few times. "Hi! I'm Lovey Dovey!"
Velvet stared at them with wide eyes and a quirked brow. "Um, hi?" Her gaze settled on Crystal. "I didn't know we were going to have company."
Crystal walked inside and shut the door behind Lovey. "Me neither, but she's a little lonely today, and you always tell me I need to make more friends." She sat down on one of the pillows, her nose upturned.
"Well, yes, but I didn't mean grab strangers off the street and drag them home." Velvet laughed and straightened up. She offered a hoof to Lovey, continuing, "Anyway, hi, I'm Velvet Step. Welcome to our sulky party!"
Lovey took the hoof, but frowned. "Nope, nope, nope! Even now that I know what that means I just don't like it. Why can't it just be a party?"
Velvet looked to Crystal and they shrugged back and forth, then she said, "All right, then. Welcome to our party."
"Much better!" Lovey settled onto one of the remaining pillows, turning her attention to Crystal. "I thought you said she was high-strung like me?"
"You told her I was high-strung?" Velvet reared up onto her haunches, crossed her forelegs over her chest, and raised one brow. "You've got some explaining to do, missy!"
Lovey gasped and glanced between them as they stared at each other, Velvet with a frown and Crystal with a pout. "I'm so sorry, I didn't mean—Please don't fight, I just—"
Velvet sputtered into laughter and reached out to flick Crystal's forehead. "Oh, don't worry," she said, looking over at Lovey. "I'm just joking. I mean, I still wouldn't call me high-strung, but that just means I'm not going to share any of the chocolate fondue I made."
Lovey's fears were instantly washed away by a squeal. "Chocolate fondue? Really?"
"Yup! I even brought some sugared rose petals from Mom and Dad's, too." She sighed and looked on the coffee table where a fondue pot and a plate of fruits and the petals rested. "Guess I'll just eat it by myself."
Lovey pointed at Crystal and exclaimed, "She called you high-strung, not me!"
Velvet grinned. "Then you may have some fondue."
"Yay!" Lovey hopped to her hooves and dragged her pillow over to the table. "Sorry, Crystal, but I've known chocolate much longer than I've known you!"
Crystal laughed and folded her hooves, watching Velvet and Lovey enjoy the fondue, the former with much more exaggerated expressions and reactions. Finally, she scooted her pillow closer. "All right, all right. You're not high-strung. Now can I have some chocolate?"
Velvet relented with a giggle and motioned her closer so that the three could enjoy an afternoon of chocolate and chatter. By the end of the evening, even though Lovey had abruptly left with the exclamation of a 'love line emergency,' Crystal found herself in much higher spirits than she would have expected for going sulky on Hearts and Hooves Day.