A bark of laughter tore across Crystal's consciousness, rousing her from a dream instantly forgotten the moment her eyes snapped open. Her ears twitched as the laughing continued somewhere beyond her bedroom door and she rolled her head to the side to stare at the empty space beside her.
Silent must have been intercepted trying to sneak out. She giggled to herself and stretched out her legs, then tugged the comforter over her head. The light sneaking in through the curtains indicated that he was probably already going to be late for work as it was. Though she felt bad for Silent, the longer she teased him, the longer Crystal was free from—
The door creaked open. It seemed it was her turn for torture. Crystal held her breath and tried to stay perfectly still.
Velvet's low voice pierced through the silence. "You two-bit dam. I know you're awake."
Crystal ripped the blanket away to look at Velvet with wide eyes. "What did you call me?!"
"You heard me." Velvet smirked and leaned against the doorframe. "Silent looked preeetty guilty, slinking out of your bedroom like he stole something." She winked.
Crystal felt heat rise to the tips of her ears and she flopped back down, burying her face against her pillow as an uncontrollable fit of giggles overtook her. "Oh, I think he did."
A gasp escaped Velvet before she tossed her head back, laughing again. "Wow! Must've been some night, huh?"
Giggling some more, Crystal grabbed the pillow to hug it closer. "Oh, I think it was."
Hoofsteps. Crystal braced herself for the impact of Velvet jumping on the bed until she noticed the hoofsteps were moving away from her. She lifted her head to see Velvet sashaying her way across the living room and toward the kitchen. "Velvet?"
Velvet stopped and looked over her shoulder. "What?"
"You're not going to come tickle me until I spill the details or threaten me with blackmail?" She frowned, one ear perked upright and the other limp to the side.
"No way! It smells like sex in there and I don't want to know how you two did it. There are some lines, yanno?" She laughed. "A mare is entitled to some secrets, and this is totally one of them."
Crystal stared for a moment before she said in a squeaky near-shriek, "It does not smell like—like—like that in here!"
Velvet rolled her eyes. "Fine, it smells like stallion sweat and mare scent. Now come on, I have breakfast ready."
Crystal glared daggers at Velvet's back, then paused and quickly sniffed the air. "It doesn't smell like anything in here," she muttered as she slipped out of bed. "What's for breakfast?"
"Celebratory love cakes!" Velvet exclaimed as she whirled around, holding out a plate with a heart-shaped cupcake on it. The frosting and fondant was layered suspiciously similar to a traditional lattice pie crust. Velvet glanced down at the space beside it littered with tell-tale crumbs, then admitted, "Well, singular. I ate the other one."
Crystal stared at the plate, one brow raised skeptically. "Love... cakes?"
"No, celebratory love cakes. My mom sent me home with them and had me keep them in the fridge until you were ready." She held the plate out closer toward Crystal, grinning. "And I think you're ready."
Slowly, a flush crept onto Crystal's cheeks and she pushed the plate back to Velvet. "I-I'm good, thank you."
Velvet gasped in exaggerated mock offense. "But my mom made it especially for you!"
Crystal stepped around her to walk into the kitchen, shaking her head. "I'll just have a nice, plain, simple bagel." She opened one of the cabinets and fished out the bag while her magic retrieved strawberry jam from the fridge.
"Okay, fine, have it your way. I'm not going to let my mom's baking go to waste. She so rarely actually bakes herself, you know, so to think that she would go to the effort to make this for you and you'd just reject it is really heartbreaking."
Crystal groaned, whipped her head to the side, and levitated the cupcake off the plate. "Fine!" She took a bite and mumbled around the mouthful, "Happy?"
"Yup!" Velvet set the plate on the counter and pranced toward her bedroom. "Now, I'm going back to bed, 'cause someponies kept me up all night."
Crystal nearly choked on her cupcake as she struggled to swallow it so she could exclaim, "Lies! Everything you just said was a lie! Our rooms don't even share a wall, and—and—" Her face felt like it was on fire. "It wasn't all night!"
Velvet stopped just short of disappearing into her room. Slowly, she turned her head, her brow furrowed and lower lip stuck out in a small, pitying pout. "Well, I suppose that's to be expected for the first time." She flicked her tail and winked. "Don't worry. Practice makes perfect!"
Crystal huffed, puffed, and threw the remainder of her cupcake at the mare, who laughed and ran forward to avoid the projectile pastry. "I'm never talking to you again, Velvet!"
"We'll see about that!" Velvet teased, leaning her head back through the doorway to stick her tongue out at Crystal. "It's gonna be a really boring ride to Ponyville tomorrow."
The flame of embarrassment died, replaced with wide-eyed dread. "Tomorrow?!" Crystal gasped and dropped the jar of jam out of her magic as she spun around to look at the calendar on the fridge. "That's tomorrow?!"
"You're the one who suggested Horsey schedule it for after you graduated so you didn't have to miss school, you know." Velvet leaned against the doorframe, crossing one leg over the other. "Did you seriously forget?"
Crystal slumped forward against the fridge. "Ugh, yes, I completely did." She sighed. "It's hard to get into the spirit knowing that this is the wedding they didn't want that I suppose I..." She trailed, frowning.
"Got distracted by something shiny?" Velvet offered with a grin.
"Something like that, yes." She straightened up and rubbed her temples. "Okay. It's going to be fine. We just have to take the train, show up, make sure Horsey doesn't have a panic attack, and stand pretty for the ceremony. They're going straight to the honeymoon and skipping the reception, so we shouldn't have to stay too long for that." She sighed again. "Then we can come home and life can get back to normal."
If Crystal had to describe Horsey's wedding in one word, it would be 'beautiful'. If, however, Crystal was given four words with which to describe the wedding, it would be 'beautiful, but not Horsey'.
She did her very best to stifle a yawn that crept up her throat, her jaw clenched tight and her eyes watering from the struggle. The mayor was in the middle of a speech more or less the same as the judge had given, but it didn't feel the same. The town hall was filled with so many ponies and while Crystal was delighted Horsey had a whole town interested in her wedding, she dreaded the reception. What sort of questions would they have? How long would she have to stay before she and Velvet could sneak to a train?
Her ear twitched when Velvet nudged her in the gut and nodded toward the happy couple in front of them, who Crystal realized were staring at her expectantly.
"Oh." Crystal flushed and levitated the necklace with the ring attached as a pendant toward Horsey. "Sorry."
Horsey giggled and whispered, "It's okay, it's almost over."
"For you, maybe," Crystal whispered back, grinning.
Horsey just giggled again and, when the mayor prompted her to, slipped the necklace over Savoir's head.
"I now proclaim you wife and husband," the mayor said, her tone lilting with excitement. "Savoir, you may kiss your bride."
The room erupted in cheers and stomping as Savoir leaned down to place a soft, chaste kiss on Horsey's lips. They turned to face the crowd and, as they walked down the carpet to the doors, were showered in rice and more happy exclamations. Crystal, Velvet, and the other bridesmares—Golden Harvest, Sassaflash, and Cloud Kicker—waited until the couple was halfway down the aisle before following alongside their groomstallion counterparts.
Crystal glanced up at Hors D'oeuvre as they walked together. "Congratulations on the public addition to your family."
Hors bobbed his head in an absent nod. "I suppose that is a way to put it. It is nice that they do not have to hide it now."
Crystal giggled. When she crossed the threshold to the outdoors, Horsey was waiting for her, wide-eyed. "Wh-what's this?"
A pure white carriage was parked in front of them, adorned with the same coral and orange peonies that Horsey had in her bouquet. The gilded wheels shimmered in the light and across the back of the carriage, in a matching gold-leafed script, were the words "Just Married".
"A wedding gift," Crystal said, smiling brightly. "To take you to your honeymoon in style. What, did you think I was going to let you go off on hoof, or in a hay cart?"
Horsey blinked a few times as her eyes glossed over with tears, then threw herself forward and wrapped her forelegs around Crystal's neck. "Oh, Crystal, it's beautiful! But you didn't have to! What are we going to do with this afterwards?"
Crystal waved a hoof. "I'm sure Axel will help you find a way to repurpose it. He's very good at this sort of thing."
"Thank you, Crystal," Savoir said. "This is perfect." He leaned down to nuzzle Horsey's cheek. "Are you ready to go, l'amour de mon coeur?"
Horsey let go of Crystal to look up at him, then nodded. "Uh-huh." With the aid of his hoof, she climbed into the carriage. Once both were inside and the stallions in front started to trot forward, Horsey leaned out the window. "Catch!" she called as she tossed the bouquet at the crowd of mares.
Velvet shrieked in exaggerated terror and backpedaled away while Crystal and the others jumped forward, forelegs flying in desperation.
"I got it!" squealed Golden Harvest. She hugged the bouquet to her chest and stuck her tongue out at the others. "I got it! It's mine!"
"Aww..." Crystal returned to Velvet's side, pouting. "Well there goes my turn."
Velvet laughed and flicked her forehead. "Really? Was it so good you're already ready to put a ring on it?"
Crystal's eyes widened. Her gaze darted to see who was nearby before she raised a threatening hoof. "Hush, you. Let's just go mingle at the reception."
"Or we could... not." Velvet looked at the crowd that poured out of the building and toward the town square where a buffet was waiting. She then turned her head in the direction of the train station. "We could just bail. I mean, Horsey and Savoir did, so why can't we?"
Crystal frowned. "Because we're her Canterlot friends and we'll look like snobs that don't want to mingle with Ponyville ponies."
"But we don't." Velvet shrugged. "I mean, they're not our friends, and we don't live here. What's the big deal?"
Crystal fell silent and simply watched the crowd of ponies. Velvet tapped a hoof to indicate her impatience until finally, Crystal sighed and turned away. "It seems wrong, but I would like to just go home."
Velvet's expression lit up and she patted Crystal on the shoulder before trotting toward the station. "Great! Then let's go! I don't know when the next train is but I don't want to miss it!"
"Why are you in such a hurry to get back home, anyway?" Crystal followed alongside her, one brow raised. "I know why I am, but I'm a little confused about your motivations."
"Maybe I have a date." Velvet squinted at her. "Ever thought about that?"
"No, because you've made it clear to me that you don't want a relationship," Crystal replied with a frown. "So I gave up considering that possibility."
Velvet tossed her head back as she laughed. "Okay, you got me there. Honestly? The performance is next week and I'm a little nervous. I want to get back to practicing."
Crystal's ears perked upright. "Are you going to get me tickets for this one or do I have to buy them myself?"
"What, Miss Custom Carriage can't afford tickets to a ballet?" After a brief moment, Velvet added in a serious tone, "How much did that cost, anyway?"
"I paid for it a while ago, so that's past bits." Crystal waved a hoof to dismiss the question. "And you're avoiding my question. You know how expensive the good seats are, and surely wanting to actually be able to see my talented, wonderful best friend in the whole of Equestria is worth getting in the VIP row?"
Velvet laughed again, shaking her head. "Okay, fine, fine! Do you want a ticket for Silent, too?"
Crystal fluttered her eyelashes. "Pretty please?"
Velvet climbed the stairs to the platform, flicking her tail in Crystal's face. "All right, okay. Two tickets it is."
Crystal hummed as she trotted down the main castle hall toward Luna's wing. When she arrived outside Silent's office, she knocked on the door and chimed, "Knock, knock!"
There was no answer. She waited a moment longer before knocking again. "Hello?" Still no response.
Her hooves shifted as a flurry of nerves overtook her. She wasn't supposed to go into his office when it was shut, but what if he were in there, passed out on the floor? Or perhaps he was sleeping, though she couldn't realistically imagine such an event. Slowly, the nerves settled to the pit of her stomach like a heavy weight that tugged her ears into a drooping position. What if something were wrong and he was shutting everypony out?
Uncertain of what to do, Crystal just started pacing. As more time went on and castle staff that passed by began giving her odd looks, she slumped against the door and stared at the ceiling. Where was he?
"Ms. Wishes?" came Willowy Tempest's voice, and when Crystal looked up at her, she continued, "Is something the matter?"
Crystal rose to her hooves and shook her head. "No, or at least, I don't believe so. I was just looking for Silent Knight."
Willow frowned. "Is the lieutenant not in his office?" Before Crystal could respond, Willow marched toward the door and opened it after a quick knock. "Lieutenant?" She stopped, then said in low voice, "Of course he's not here. Why should he be here? It's only his job to be here."
"Perhaps I'll come by another time," Crystal offered, taking a step back.
Willow whirled around to face her. "I understand that you and he are a couple, but I would have you know that your stallionfriend is the single most annoying colt I've had the displeasure of working with." She jabbed a hoof at the empty chair. "His job is to be here during certain hours, and this hour is one of those! His job is to handle House Guard affairs! Do you see that pile? There shouldn't be a pile!"
Crystal glanced to the side. "Yes, perhaps another time would be best."
"Whenever I need him to sign something, or whenever I have a question for him, that seems to be the exact moment he is away! His schedule shows that he should be here, but is he? No! And when I try to ask Princess Luna where she believes he might be, she says she 'knows where he is'." Willow groaned, rolling her eyes. "It is as though he can do no wrong! Princess's favorite or not, he has a job to do!
"At the very least I wish the princess would give me some kind of indication as to when his secret, off-the-books meetings are, because they are certainly not on any copy of any schedule I have. Or at least he could put a sign on his door to inform ponies such as you and I that he is away so we don't waste our time waiting on the off-chance he is in but preoccupied!"
As Willow stood there, taking ragged breaths to recover from her rant, Crystal shifted from hoof to hoof with indecision. Finally, she blurted out, "Do you have any plans Friday evening?"
Willow blinked a few times, then furrowed her brow. "What?"
Crystal offered a weak smile. What, indeed? "You seem awfully stressed, and Silent Knight seems to be the cause of that. Next week, the Canterlot Ballet is premiering Swan Lake. I have tickets." What was she doing?
Willow's brow furrowed further. "I'm glad for you?"
"What I mean to say is"—What did she mean to say, exactly?—"I have two tickets, one for myself, and one for you, if you'd like."
For a long, awkward moment, they just stared at one another. Willow broke the silence with a derisive snort. "Your stallion isn't here, so you're immediately giving away his ticket?"
"No, no, no." That was exactly what she was doing! Crystal waved a hoof, smiling wider. "I was going to ask him, yes, but you seem as though you could use a nice night out more than he. I am primarily there to support a friend who is in the ballet. It was hardly a date at all."
Willow's gaze drifted up and down Crystal's form, then wandered about, then returned to Crystal. "I don't have any plans for Friday evening."
"Wonderful!" Crystal clapped her hooves. "I also have dinner reservations for before the show at Le Bernardin, so we can meet there and walk to the theater together."
The skepticism returned to Willow's voice. "Are you certain this wasn't supposed to be a date?"
"It's simply convenient to the theater," Crystal deflected.
"All right, then." Willow took a cautious step away from Crystal, stared a moment longer, then started down the hall. "I'll see you for dinner on Friday, I suppose."
Crystal smiled and waved. "Give the princess my regards!" Once Willow had turned the corner out of sight, Crystal diverted the hoof from waving to instead rub her temple. "Seriously?" she muttered, shaking her head. Could she possibly have made that any more awkward?