"Here you are, Miss Crystal," Willowy Tempest said as she set a teacup and saucer on the table, then poured the tea. "Two lumps of sugar"—she dropped the cubes into the liquid—"and a honey-laden stirrer, yes?" She carefully set the stirrer into the cup before she held it out to Crystal.
Crystal smiled, tilting her head. "How in Equestria do you remember that? You've only made tea for me once."
Willow puffed out her chest with unabashed pride. "You're a regular guest of Princess Luna's. Not knowing your preferences would be an embarrassment for myself and for Princess Luna."
Approaching from behind Willow, Luna smiled and said, "It would not be an embarrassment at all, actually."
Willow's ears turned before her head did, all the while gasping. "Princess Luna! When did you get here?" She dropped her head low. "I thought you were still in your Contemporary Equestrian lesson!"
"I cut it short because I knew Crystal would be waiting. Besides, I believe I now have a perfect grasp on Contemporary Equestrian. The lessons are becoming rather boring." Luna sat on the couch opposite of her guest. "It has been nearly two months, Willow. You need to learn to relax; you'll live longer if you stress less. Trust me on this." She smiled and started to turn her attention to Crystal.
"I'll relax when there's no more work to do," Willow mumbled with a small frown as she turned away.
Luna looked at her with feigned surprise. "Willow! Did you just talk back to me?" Her voice was playfully stern, but it didn't seem to be playful enough for her aide.
Crystal giggled behind a hoof while Willow's mouth opened and closed like a fish gasping for water. "She's teasing you," she whispered, and Willow stared at her with a look that begged for an answer. "That's a good thing."
Willow finally huffed. Her wings fluttered to relieve her tension before tucking back in close to her sides. "I apologize, Princess Luna. I've... never had a superior tease me before."
Luna clicked her tongue before she gestured at an empty chair. "Why don't you tell us more about yourself? I'm afraid you and I haven't been able to be fully acquainted... if Crystal doesn't mind, that is."
"Not at all," Crystal assured with a shake of her head. "It would be a nice change of topic from the usual."
Luna's ears stood straight up. "Oh, do you intend to say that you don't enjoy talking about Silent Knight?"
Crystal turned a bright shade of red and tried to not fumble the teacup in her magic. "That—What I mean is—"
Luna broke into a delicate chime of laughter. "Yes, of course." She waved a hoof to dismiss the stammering and returned her attention to Willow, who was sitting with rigid posture. "What did I say about relaxing?"
Willow slumped forward. "That I should do it?" She sighed. "But I have so much work to do, Princess."
"Make time for a chat, then." Luna smiled, but her voice was serious and almost stern. "That's why I chose you, after all."
Willow squinted at her somewhat petulantly, then straightened up. A thousand-yard stare gripped her and they all sat in silence for a few minutes before she said, "Fifteen minutes. I found fifteen minutes in my schedule." She leaned back into the seat and glanced between them. "So, what is it you want to know?"
Crystal jumped in to ask, "What exactly did you do before this? I know the general details, but..."
"I was a weather coordinator." Willow shrugged. "I was in charge of the Northeast Division for the Equestrian Weather Coordination Team."
Crystal looked to Luna, who pressed, "And what did that entail?"
"Huh? Oh, hmm." Willow rubbed the back of her neck as she glanced down at the table. "Well, the main part was going over reports of the current status of different regions' temperatures and humidities in Northeast Equestria. We pegasi only control so much. The rest is up to nature, so most of the time it's a cat-and-mouse game trying to keep things moderate for ponies. Then, there's watching out for signs that inclement weather is necessary, because we can only stall it for so long before nature takes over."
A smile started to grow across Willow's lips. "But that was just the routine things. What I really enjoyed? Scheduling. It's my passion, as boring as it sounds. I loved working with the weather teams' schedules and making sure nopony was overworked, that the right weather got to the right places at the right times... That was when I really felt like I was accomplishing something." The smile fell into a frown. "I've never understood that, though."
"Oh?" Luna blinked. "Well, it is your talent, so what is there to be confused of?"
"My name's Willowy Tempest. Ponies assume I should be in the business of inclement weather. And this, well." She gestured at her flank, which featured an hourglass that more closely resembled a swirling tornado than the time-measuring instrument it was. "I got it when I found my mother's day planner and reorganized it for her. She was angry at first, then surprised that I turned her fifteen minute lunch break into a full hour. When it made her happy, that made me happy enough that I discovered my talent.
"But Willowy Tempest? Why did I end up with a name like this? What went wrong when the magic of naming missed my parents completely?" Willow sighed heavily, then straightened up. "Anyway, I think that's enough information that Miss Wishes could ghostwrite an autobiography."
Luna pursed her lips and furrowed her brow. "Truly?" Her eyes closed briefly in thought, then she smiled. "In the days before my... before either of you were even thought into existence, tempest and other words we now use only for weather were also terms for periods of time. I would believe that your name pertains to your flexibility in managing time."
Willow gazed at Luna with wide but soft eyes, as though the secrets of the universe had been unravelled before her. She swallowed and bowed her head low. "M-my parents could never explain why they picked my name, so I've always felt out of place, like I messed up my destiny as a weather pony... Thank you, Princess!"
"You are most welcome, my little pony," Luna said and placed a hoof gently on Willow's shoulder.
Crystal hesitated, then asked, "Is that why you work so hard, Willow?"
"Huh?" Willow tilted her head.
"Well, what I mean to say is..." Crystal offered a sheepish smile. "You work harder than even Raven does, and she used to be the hardest working pony I knew. I just thought, perhaps, that you worked hard because you felt out of place, as you said."
Willow puffed out her chest. "I work hard because Princess Luna deserves only the best! Not some petty overcompensating inferiority complex."
Luna snorted in an attempt to smother a laugh with a hoof pressed to her mouth. "O-oh Willow," she managed to say, "you are too much!"
"Hmmph!" Willow pinned her ears back and slipped out of the chair. "Well, I'm glad you are amused, Princess, but I have work to do!" Her wings ruffled in embarrassed agitation as she walked over to the secretary's desk near the main door.
Crystal and Luna looked at one another in silence before they both broke out into laughter.
"Now, how are you doing?" Luna asked once her amusement subsided into sincere concern. "I have yet to hear any good news pertaining to you and your Knight since he has awoken."
"Oh." Crystal focused her gaze on her teacup as she turned it slowly. "Perhaps when he has recovered..."
Luna frowned. She stared at Crystal with a clear look of displeasure, but eventually snorted and tossed her mane. "If you wish to spend your days pining away when the stallion is ready and waiting, then I shan't be the one to force you into days of happiness!"
Crystal nibbled on her lower lip. "I can wait a little while longer, until he's able to at least walk on his own."
"Nothing motivates a stallion more than a lady waiting on them." She sipped her tea. "But if the lady insists on waiting, so be it. Now, how is your new novel coming along?" A curious, playful smile curled her lips. "You have been so tight-lipped with the details!"
Crystal responded with a tell-tale flush.
Luna's smile twisted into a devious grin. "Oh my! Is this your first foray into more mature fiction?"
"What? No!" Crystal stiffened, her eyes wide. "No, no, no! Nothing of that sort!"
"Oh." The grin fell, and her cheeks darkened just slightly in embarrassment. "Is that so? But then why the reaction?"
Crystal ducked her head and muttered, "B-because, the title alone will tell you all that you need to know." Luna waited patiently, and she continued in a quieter voice, "Her Silent Love."
"Truly?" When Crystal nodded, she clapped in delight. "You are much more bold than I realized! You will do that much, yet you won't tell him yourself? How perplexing!"
"In time." Crystal finished off the remaining tea, then set the cup down on its saucer. "I will... in time. Just not now."
"Well, then, in the near term, I will expect a courier to greet me no later than the overmorrow with a copy of what you have written so far." She inclined her head and called to Willow, "Willow, take a note! If a courier does not bring me a package from Crystal tomorrow or the day after, then revoke her pass!"
"Yes, ma'am!" Willow chirped and wrote down the dictation.
"You can't be serious!" Crystal pouted, but Luna returned the look with a challenging raise of her brow.
"Do you wish to find out?" Luna stuck her nose in the air.
Crystal lowered her own head to catch the light in her eyes and fluttered her eyelashes but to no avail. She sighed and slumped forward. "No, I do not..."
"A wise mare you are. Now," Luna said, leaning back with a pleasant smile, "the time has come to talk of other things..."
"I still don't like hospitals," Velvet muttered as they walked toward the looming building and entered through the main doors. "They're so creepy."
"You didn't mind when it was Red we were here for." Crystal glanced at her with one brow raised.
Velvet shook her head. "That's different! I was too excited to notice how... white and clean everything is." She shuddered. "It's just not natural."
Crystal huffed with playful petulance. "Oh, I see! Your baby brother is exciting, but visiting Silent Knight isn't?"
"Not unless I'm going to witness the confession of a lifetime. Or any confession, really." Velvet rolled her eyes and grumbled, "At this point, I'll take whatever I can get."
"Hush, you." Crystal bumped her shoulder to the other's. "Behave while we're here, okay?" She cleared her throat to address the guards posted outside the door. "Good afternoon!"
A slight nod of Lightning Flash and Thunder Tumble's heads acknowledged her. Velvet stepped close to Tumble and leered up at him.
"Got anything to say, Tumbler?" She pushed her face closer to his by standing on the tip of her hooves. Given their height difference, she didn't have much of an imposing stature, but her tone and expression more than made up for it.
Tumble swallowed. "No, ma'am."
"Ah-ha! You do, because you did!" She snubbed her nose at him while Lightning rolled his eyes. "I've got my eyes on you, buddy!"
Tumble glanced at Lightning Flash, who broke his composure just long enough to shrug.
"You should be nice to him," Crystal gently chided as she opened the door. "He's such a sweetheart."
"But being nice is no fun." Velvet snorted and then lit up with a big grin. "Huh. Well, this is different."
The hospital room was hardly anything like a hospital room and much more like the Canterlot Gardens when somepony had gone rogue with the decorations. Bursts of color from balloons tied to everything and flowers strewn everywhere filled the room, scattered in well-wishing disarray.
"Hi, Silent Knight!" Velvet chirped as she tried to find a way through the maze. "Are you still in here somewhere?"
"Hello?" Silent Knight's voice called from one direction.
Crystal and Velvet giggled as they met a few tight spaces they couldn't get past, then eventually stumbled out to his bedside.
"We almost gave up trying to find you, Sergeant," Crystal said, still giggling. "This is getting out of hoof."
Silent chuckled and nodded. "Agreed, but every gift is from a pony who was happy to send it, so who am I to spoil their fun? I'll get it all cleaned up soon enough, anyway."
Velvet squeezed herself over to the nightstand where a pile of cards were scattered all about and started to organize them by size and shape.
Crystal smiled at Silent. "Because you're to be released tomorrow, if I understood correctly?"
"Yes!" Silent perked up at the notion, sitting up straight and proud. The proper posture accentuated how skinny he had gotten from lying in bed for so long, the seafoam green gown hanging loosely from his torso. "Tomorrow I'll be in my own bed and, hopefully, back on light duty. About time, too. I've been stuck here too long."
"Well, I wouldn't say stuck so much as—"
"Say," Velvet interrupted, "Silent Knight... what is this?" She picked up an open wooden box and tilted it to show him.
Silent's ears flicked back for just a moment as he stiffened. "Oh. They are just some medals. Nothing important."
Crystal turned her head to look and mirrored Silent's posture, her shoulders thrusting back and her head raising high. "Nothing important?" She shook her head. "I don't know very much about military medals, but even I know a Celestia Cross when I see one."
Velvet huffed. "Well, I don't. What is it?"
"It is the highest honor the guard has to offer, and extremely rare! I've never seen one myself before!" She swelled with pride for Silent. "Earning one is quite the accomplishment, since a pony usually has to d—" Her words were cut off by a strangled swallow when she noticed the dark expression clouding Silent's face. "Do you know what?" She reached out a hoof and snapped the lid shut. "Why don't we keep our hooves to ourselves."
"Oh." Velvet frowned, looking as though she wanted to argue, but Crystal's pleading eyes quelled the urge. "Okay." She set the box down as quickly as she could, eyes downcast.
Crystal bit her lower lip and glanced at Silent. "I'm sorry," she whispered.
"No need to be." He shook his head, then a small smile washed away the lingering darkness. "Crystal Wishes, I need to ask you a favor." He shifted slightly in the bed. "It is a lot to ask of you and you know I normally wouldn't ask something of you if it weren't important."
Velvet squeaked in an attempt to smother a squeal and glanced quickly between the other two while Crystal's heart jumped into her throat.
"Yes?" Crystal stepped closer to the bed. Her voice grew almost breathless as she added, "Anything!"
Silent cleared his throat. "I am going to be going to the Royal Equestrian Officer's Academy at Shining Armor and Princess Luna's recommendation. The military stuff should be no problem." He snorted, looking down at himself, then back up. "I'm concerned about the other side of being an officer in Canterlot. I don't know the first thing about proper etiquette and, well, you're such a fine and proper lady. The most proper I know. I thought, perhaps, if I could have you tutor me I might be able to fit in with all the Canterlot socialites... if you'd be willing to, that is."
Crystal did her very best to not sound as disappointed as she felt, which was difficult to do given that her heart stopped pounding and dropped to a lulling beat. "Of course."
On the other side of the bed, Velvet rolled her eyes and returned to organizing the 'Get Well' cards.
"When do you start?" Crystal asked, forcing a smile.
"Not soon," Silent replied. "The current class is still going, so I will start with the next one. By then I should be through with my physical therapy and back to good health." He chuckled. "The last thing I want to do is show up in this condition and be unable to do basic training."
Crystal's smile grew soft and sincere. "Well, then, it sounds like we have a head start. Come by my place once a week so we can go over the finer points of Canterlot society."
Silent nodded. "I can do that. Thank you, Crystal Wishes. You're the best."
"Anything for you, sergeant," Crystal said, unable to help a wink. She tried not to blush when Velvet grinned from the other side of the bed. "A-anyway, Velvet and I just wanted to see how you were before we had lunch. So." She took a step backwards, bumping her flank against a flower vase and hurriedly catching it in her magic. "We'll be going, then."
"Oh." It was Silent's turn to sound a little disappointed, but he covered it with a smile, though that didn't stop Crystal from feeling a pang of regret. "Have a good lunch, you two."
Velvet pranced around the bed and led Crystal through the maze. "We will. Don't you worry about that! Bye, Silent Knight!"
Crystal hesitated at the edge to glance over her shoulder. "Goodbye, Silent Knight."
Once they were outside, Velvet made no attempts to hide her amusement. She grinned up at Crystal while they walked down the hall.
"What?" Crystal glanced at the devious grin leering at her. "What?"
"Come by my place, she says." Velvet rolled her eyes. "Is that a hint for me to clear out during your 'lessons'?"
Crystal frowned. "Why the sarcastic emphasis?"
"Isn't it straight out of a filly flick? Guy meets girl, girl likes guy, guy goes through some kind of huge ordeal and ends up needing girl's help, they enter a student-teacher relationship that will obviously end in the bedroom?"
Crystal sputtered and glanced around to double-check their privacy as they left the hospital, then glared at her. "Shh! Don't say it like that!"
Velvet's grin widened even further, an almost impossible feat by that point. "Oh, sorry, forgive me, Madame Manners." She cleared her throat. "It would obviously end up in the boudoir."
"That doesn't help!" Crystal exclaimed, though her voice was laced with a suppressed laugh. "That's not going to happen, anyway. It's strictly business, just like it was with you."
"Just like it was with me? Oh, so it is going to end up in the bedroom eventually." Velvet trotted on ahead to avoid getting swatted.
"Velvet Step!" Crystal hurried after her. "Nightmare-induced bed sharing doesn't count!"
"Maybe not, but cuddling does!"
Crystal's face turned bright red and she urged her legs to move faster, but Velvet stayed a good few paces ahead. "Lies! It wasn't cuddling! Lies and slander!"
As embarrassed as Crystal was, Velvet's gleeful laughter was a nice return to normalcy. The prospect of private, alone time with Silent Knight wasn't too bad, either—especially since he'd be conscious for it. Life was back on track and that made her smile in spite of the fact she had absolutely no chance of catching up to the lithe ballerina who taunted her without remorse.