The train's whistle stirred Crystal from a light nap and she yawned, stretching her forelegs out to the sides. Out the window she could see Ponyville and some of its festive charm for the summer faire: balloons bobbled in the air, bright stands stood boastfully, and ponies paraded about to partake in playing games.
Crystal scrunched up her nose at the alliterations drifting through her head. She had been writing too much of Charlie and Bellerose; the old stallion liked to tease his mare with alliterative nicknames. My precious princess, he'd said in last night's draft. When the train came to a halt, she waved a hoof to chase away the thoughts and retrieved her picnic basket.
The day ahead was about having fun, and she was dreading it. Would things be awkward between her and Silent after what happened? Or perhaps he would be ready to talk about what was bothering him? She walked down the aisle toward the nearest exit, shaking her head. She'd just have to try and act natural and hope for the best—which was, in her mind, him telling her what was wrong so she could understand why he had been so angry.
Her eyes adjusted to the midday sun and she spotted a familiar blue mare standing in the sparse crowd on the platform, looking around with excitement on her face.
"Horsey!" Crystal smiled, trotting over to the mare. "It's been too long!"
Horsey giggled and shook her head. "No, I think it hasn't been long enough."
Crystal stopped short, blinking. "What?" She tilted her head when Horsey grinned at her. "Wow, what has Savoir done to you?"
"Huh?" Horsey's ears shot up and a red hue overtook her blue face. "What, err, what do you mean?"
"The sweet Horsey I knew would never make a mean joke! I can only assume that this is Savoir's doing." Crystal raised her brow in playful suspicion.
Horsey quickly shook her head while her ears relaxed back down. "Oh, no, no, I just, well, I suppose that's just me. It sounded funnier in my head, I'm sorry."
Crystal laughed and threw a foreleg around the mare's neck. "I'm just teasing! A little sharp edges never hurt anypony."
"I think that's exactly what sharp edges do, actually," Horsey said with a giggle, returning the hug. "I really am happy to see you, though. You look great!"
As Crystal pulled back and glanced the mare over, she said, "You, too!"
Crystal hoped she sounded sincere—Horsey was adorable as ever, of course. She had always been a little heavier than the average mare, but since they had last seen each other, there was a noticeable addition of weight to her figure. The last thing on Crystal's list, however, was to be the very type of pony that had chased Horsey out of Canterlot, so she instead focused on the sweet little smile in front of her.
"Crystal, you're an awful liar." Horsey waved a hoof, her gaze darting away. "I've seen myself in a mirror lately. I know how I look. It's just that, well, lately, we've been busy, and I haven't been able to exercise as much, and Sav spoils me with sweet breakfasts..." She trailed off, shaking her head.
Crystal put her hooves to Horsey's cheeks and squeezed them. "Silly filly, you're as cute as the day I met you! Well, no, perhaps more like the day you decided to be our friend." She offered a sheepish grin as she lowered her hooves back to the ground. "I was awful mean and critical of you before then."
Horsey blinked a few times, giggled, and started toward the steps off the platform. "That's okay. I was awful mean before then, too." Her gaze flickered to the picnic basket resting on Crystal's back. "What did you make for you and Silent?"
"Oh, I got a great deal on some pecans so I made a harvest cobb salad, candied pecans, and butter pecan cookies. Also, I brought you some pecans." Crystal's magic opened the basket and she looked over her shoulder to spy the wrapped package, which she levitated out and over to Horsey. "As a thank you for letting me store the basket at your place, and because I still have a lot left over."
Horsey's own magic encircled the package to take it and she smiled. "It's no problem! I wanted to make sure I got to see you, and I needed to go by the restaurant anyway to pick up some things."
Crystal tilted her head. "Oh?"
"Yeah!" Horsey wiggled her ears as a light bounce added to her step. "After the honeymoon, we didn't know what to do with the carriage you had made for us."
One of Crystal's brows slowly raised. "Oh?" she repeated.
"So we reached out to Axel—you know, the one who you had make it?—and asked his thoughts. He had a fantastic idea!" She pushed the doors to the restaurant open and held one for Crystal. "Now we have a fancy food cart! We were going to premiere it at the faire, but Sav decided against it."
Crystal glanced around the restaurant. It was somewhat eerie when closed; all the chairs were stacked on the tables and the dining and serving wares were locked away, making the whole place look abandoned. Her ear swiveled toward Horsey before her head followed to blink at her. "Why did he do that?"
Horsey waved a hoof while she unlocked the door that led to the second floor. "Since it's mostly locals, they're all going to want to try faire food, you know? Not the same ol', same ol'. And he said he just wanted to enjoy the festivities, so everypony got the day off. A lot of the shops and such are closed, too."
Crystal smiled, following her upstairs. "That's why I really like your little town. It's so... oh, what's the word? I don't know. Warm and inviting. Everypony is so friendly and focused on what truly matters in life, I think."
"It's home," Horsey said while she took the basket and put it away in the fridge. "It just feels like home."
"Yes, that exactly." Crystal looked around the space they were in that served as kitchen, living area, and dining room.
Horsey and Savoir lived in a humble home that had grown even more cozy over the past two years. The walls were lined with pictures from their life together, including their wedding and a honeymoon in Prance. In every single one, Horsey had the most beautiful smile on her face; she had truly found her happily ever after.
Horsey cleared her throat. "So, I guess I'll get back to enjoying the faire with Sav, and you'll go find Silent Knight to do the same?"
"Huh?" Crystal's attention returned to the mare. "Oh, yes. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to stare. It's just nice how your home has developed." As they headed back downstairs, she teased, "And your life, really. I think of the three of us you are the most successful!"
Horsey glanced over her shoulder with a small frown on her face. "Crabapples! You and Velvet are doing just fine. I'm a nopony at all, but you two have the real chances to be someponies."
Crystal sighed, then took in a deep breath of fresh air once they were outside. "I suppose that depends on whether or not being a somepony is a mark of success." She looked at Horsey, smiled, and pulled her into a hug. "I'll see you after the faire to pick up the basket. If I don't see him, give Savoir my regards, would you?"
"Of course! And the same to Silent Knight!" Horsey squeezed her, then started making her way into the crowd.
Crystal stood there a moment to collect her thoughts. Horsey had never stopped being happy once she and Savoir found each other. So why was she full of nerves and dread over seeing her own special somepony?
She swallowed the lump in her throat and urged her hooves into action. It wouldn't be hard to find him. He spent the morning on duty and would just then be switching with Iridescence, which meant he would still likely be near Princess Luna, one of the easiest ponies to spot in a crowd.
Once she located the princess participating in one of the various games, Crystal looked around and spotted Silent Knight waiting off to the side by a funnel cake stand. Her heart raced at the sight of him. His usual grumpy face—which he insisted was the typical neutral expression a guard wore—was firmly in place. Was he still brooding over whatever had happened the day before?
Well, there was nothing she could do right then except find out, so she took a deep breath and started toward him. "Hi, Silent," she said with her nerves seeping into her voice when she was a few paces away.
Silent looked over at her and smiled. "Hi, Crystal. Ready for some fun at the faire?"
Crystal's ears shot straight up, her hooves freezing in place. So that was how he wanted to play it, then? Act as if nothing had happened? She eyed him warily, then smiled and stepped forward to close the remaining gap between them. "Yes, please." Her gaze roamed their festive and active surroundings. "They always go all out with this faire. What should we do first?"
Silent shrugged. "Up to you. I don't have any plans. Though I think I saw an artist's booth while I was on duty, so we could have a portrait made. That would be something different that we could keep."
Crystal smiled, more genuinely than before, and nodded. "All right. That sounds like fun; let's head over and see how busy it is."
Act normal. When he's ready to talk, he'll talk. Those were the two mantras repeating in the back of her mind while she tried to focus on just keeping a smile on her face.
"I know they're not what you had in mind," Crystal said, levitating the two canvases between them while they ambled through the town, "but they're rather cute, I think."
Silent glanced at the caricature of himself and returned the picture's serious expression with one of his own. "Maybe we should consider getting actual portraits done. Something less silly and not so exaggerated."
Crystal giggled. "All right, I'll see if Painted would be interested in doing that for us." Her ears perked when she spied a bright pink tent that boasted 'Love Advisor' on its sign. "Oh! I wonder if that's who I think it is?"
"Huh?" Silent followed her gaze and stopped in place. "A love advisor?"
Crystal waved a hoof. "No, no, no, I'm not suggesting anything of the sort. Don't make that face." She leaned over to place a kiss on his cheek. "I just want to see if it's a friend of mine. You don't mind, do you?"
Silent just shrugged in response, but he did follow her over to the tent. He held back the flap for her and took the canvases out of her magic to put them on his back while she gasped.
The pink pegasus in question looked up from the table and smiled. "That's me! Hello!"
Crystal beamed at her. "It's me, Crystal!"
"Ooh!" Lovey clapped her hooves. "Yes, hello! Hi! How are you?" Her gaze darted around, moving down, flickering away, and landing on Silent, at which point her wings started to flutter. "Ooh, congratulations! You figured out my riddle!"
Crystal's smile fell into a curious frown. "What?" She looked at Silent, then back at Lovey. "What riddle?"
"Oh. You figured it out on your own?" Lovey's wings ceased their ecstatic movement. "I guess it was a rather difficult riddle, wasn't it?" Her wings flapped again. "But yay! You figured out your love line anyway!"
Silent cleared his throat and shot Crystal a confused look, prompting her to ask, "Figured out... what?"
Lovey gestured at them with both hooves. "That it was Silent Knight! You know! S-s-s'all 'k-k-kay?"
"S'all kay," Crystal repeated under her breath, then slapped a hoof to her face. "Oh my gosh, Lovey. S K? Really?"
"You got it!" Lovey squealed.
Crystal groaned softly. "I don't believe I'd have ever figured that out, honestly."
"Like I said, it was a difficult riddle!" Lovey bubbled with a flurry of giggles and flapping of her wings. Then, rather suddenly, her expression snapped into a serious one and she steepled her hooves. "Now, what can I help you with?"
With a smile, Crystal shook her head. "Nothing, we're fine." She put a hoof on Silent's. "I just wanted to drop in to say hello."
Lovey tilted her head. "Are you sure?"
"Am I—Yes, I'm sure of the reason why I came here. It was my reason to begin with, after all." Crystal blinked a few times. "Wait, why?"
Lovey eyed her and smiled. "Just making sure that you're sure! If you're sure, then, hello!"
There they were again: the butterflies that agitated her stomach with their sudden fluttering. She squeezed Silent's hoof and took a step back. "I'll let you get back to business, then. Have a good day, Lovey!"
"Okay!" Lovey waved both hooves. "You two have fun and remember to smile!"
Crystal nodded, walking with Silent out of the tent. Smile? All she had done all day was smile! With a quick glance up at Silent, she wondered if perhaps she wasn't the one to whom Lovey was referring.
"I think I've met her before," Silent mumbled, his brow furrowed.
"Oh?" Crystal smiled. "She comes to Canterlot from time to time."
"Is that so?" He looked down at her. "How long have you two known each other?"
Crystal pursed her lips and lifted her gaze to the sky in thought. "That's a good question, actually. I met her last year. We're much more acquaintances than friends, I suppose, but her personality is so overwhelming that it's hard not to feel like you're the best of friends." She laughed, shaking her head. "Nevermind that. What now?"
Silent turned his head to survey their surroundings. "Try our hooves at a few games?"
"Only if you think you can win me one of those cute plush parasprites before the day is through," she teased with a wink.
Silent raised his brow, grabbed her hoof, and guided her over to the nearest game booth. "Challenge accepted, my dear."
While the vendors dismantled their booths, the main square came alive for the town dance that would close out the faire. Crystal and Silent had found a nice spot out of the way to spread out a blanket and enjoy the picnic after retrieving it from Horsey's fridge.
Silence joined them for dinner, decided to stay for dessert, and lingered afterwards to watch the town dance with them. Crystal glanced periodically at Silent to see where his attention was at, but he never seemed to be looking at anything in particular. All she knew was he wasn't looking at her, and she couldn't help but assume why.
She couldn't take it anymore. Something had to be said. One of her hooves reached out to rest on his. "I've something to say, but it's going to sound terribly snobby and I hope you won't judge me for saying it."
He blinked at her. "Okay? I don't normally judge you, so go ahead."
A giggle escaped her. "I really enjoyed today, but this faire was certainly no Glimmer World."
Silent's face lit up with a soft smile and he leaned over to rest his shoulder against hers. "I don't think anypony would disagree with that. It's hard to compare with the most magical place in Equestria."
"Yeah." She shifted to rest her head against the crook of his neck. "Still, they worked hard to put this together and it was great. I had fun."
"Me, too." He nodded. "Princess Luna had a good time, as well. That was important. She's getting better at enjoying herself."
"Yeah," Crystal repeated. She peered up at him from her spot nestled against him, then raised her head to nose his cheek. "Well, while I have your attention, could we talk about last night?"
The muscles of his neck and shoulders tensed briefly. "What about it?" he replied, not looking at her.
Crystal's ears folded back, but she pressed forward. "You were really upset, Silent." When he didn't speak, she continued, "You put a hoof through a column, and then you barely strung together sentences more than a few words for the whole evening." She squeezed his hoof. "Silent, what's wrong?"
Finally, his head turned to shift his gaze to her and their eyes met. "Crystal, I—" No further sound came from his mouth, though it remained open.
They stared at one another, silence their ever-faithful companion, until she asked, "Yes?"
His mouth snapped shut. She could see the gears turning as he puzzled through whatever was going on in his head. He shook his head and explained, "There are just some parts of my job that are... ugly, I guess. I can't share them with you, I'm sorry. Some things will always just be..."
The nerves and uncertainty were briefly washed away with a feeling of annoyance. "Classified?"
He nodded. "Yes, classified."
She sighed and looked out at the crowd of happy ponies dancing without a care while she felt a heavy weight in the pit of her stomach. "I suppose I can accept that. I just..." She sighed again, resting her head against his shoulder and closing her eyes. "I'm happy, Silent. I'm happy with what we have, with our life together. I really am. Lately, though, you've been a bit distant, and yes, I know that's because of your job keeping your focus elsewhere. But the other night you were angry." Her head gave a small shake. "Not just angry, but furious. That was new, at least to me."
He shifted to wrap a wing around her and pulled her closer. "I'm sorry. I really am. You shouldn't have seen me like that." He kissed the top of her head. "It won't happen again."
"Really?" She pulled back to look at him with one brow arched. "What is 'it', being angry? You mean to say that you'll never be angry again? That seems unlikely. Everypony gets angry." She frowned. "Or do you mean I just won't see it happen next time?"
"I mean—" He hesitated, then shook his head. "Actually, I don't know what I mean, but what I'm trying to say is I'll try not to bring my work home with me. That's not fair to you since it's not about you."
Fair? Fair was taking the bad with the good; fair didn't mean getting to pick and choose. She inclined her head, kissing his cheek. "Well, don't forget, I'm marrying all of you, not just the part I see after you get off work."
"Yeah. I know." His voice, however, suggested otherwise. There was a hint of doubt and uncertainty in his tone.
Silence butted in once more while she stared at him. Before she could decide if the issue was worth pressing when it was clear he didn't want to talk, he said, "Shining Armor offered me a job."
Crystal blinked. "What?" She blinked again. "Really?"
His expression relaxed and he nodded. "Yes. It is a really great offer. It's not like being the commander of a house guard, of course, but it is an advancement and I'd get to be working with him again. The obvious problem is that we'd have to move to the Crystal Empire."
That didn't seem like much of a problem to her, but she kept that opinion to herself. "Well, then, the obvious question is, do you want the job?"
He pursed his lips and furrowed his brow. "Yes, I want the job, but I don't want the side effects. I don't want to leave Princess Luna, and I don't want to uproot you from your home."
"Oh, trust me, I wouldn't mind." Velvet would, but judging by his expression, it wasn't a real enough possibility to stress the mare over. She chuckled softly under her breath and nuzzled closer to him. "I can write from anywhere, of course, and it would only be a train ride away. The Luna thing, though, that is a tough decision. You've been with her for so long." She tilted her head. "It sounds like you need to think it over some more. Just know that whatever you decide, I support you. Staying here, moving to the Crystal Empire, both sound great. Does that help any?"
He gave her hoof a squeeze. "Of course it does. Now, why don't we join the nice Ponyville ponies and dance? I think I'm done thinking about work for a while and would rather just have fun tonight. How does that sound?"
Crystal giggled and slipped out from under his wing to stand. "Well, I certainly would never turn down a chance to dance with you, but—" She turned to face him, concern returning to her expression and voice. "—if you do need to talk, about work or otherwise, you can always talk to me, all right?"
"All right," he replied as he stood and followed her to the crowd. She wasn't convinced he believed her, but that would be a concern left for her future self to figure out.