Silent stared at her, his brow and lips flat lines. "We do what?"
"Spend one night apart so that we don't see each other until the wedding," Crystal said, then nuzzled his cheek. "It's unicorn tradition. Please?"
"I guess if it's something important to you?" He shrugged.
Crystal nodded. "It is. I know it's silly, but traditionally we spend the night apart, me with my mare of honor and you with your best stall—best mare, so we don't forget the bonds of friendship we have as we enter the bonds of marriage."
Silent eyed her a moment, then cracked a grin. "Uh-huh. Did you make this up just so you could sleep with Velvet?"
"No!" She huffed and glared up at him. "It's a real tradition!"
He chuckled. "What about pegasus tradition? What if I'd rather do that?"
"Do you even know what your tradition is?" She laughed when he relented with a shake of his head. "Pegasi are supposed to separate for a week."
"Oh. Then let's do yours. I like yours better." He leaned down and kissed her softly. "Even if I'd rather just do neither."
With a small huff, she put a hoof on his chest. "Just think about how much happier you'll be to see me when I walk down that aisle."
He shrugged. "I think I'll be happy either way, but if this is what you want to do, then enjoy your special night with Velvet."
"Stop making it sound dirty! We're just going to watch filly flicks and probably cry." She turned and swatted him lightly with her tail. "Now, we have six nights to enjoy, and Velvet's got practice for another hour." She stopped in the doorway to her bedroom, looking over her shoulder at him. "If you're done fantasizing about me sleeping with Velvet, then—"
Silent trotted forward and lowered his head to nip at her flank. "I'm done."
Crystal giggled. "Good." She grabbed his hoof in her magic, though he hardly needed any further coaxing to follow her to the bed.
The door nearly slammed into the wall from the force of Velvet throwing it open with one hoof, the other clutching a tote bag. "I've got the popcorn and the wine!"
Crystal's ears wiggled from her spot on one of the pillows. "I've got the chocolate and the movie!"
Velvet kicked the door shut behind her before tossing the bag on the coffee table and plopping down beside Crystal. "Then let's get it started in here!"
Crystal's magic happily complied by flicking the lights off, then starting up the little projector they had borrowed from Velvet's parents. A large white sheet was draped over the bookshelves as a makeshift screen.
"So what's this one about?" Velvet asked, setting one of the bags of popcorn in her lap and tearing it open.
"A stallion who tries to change himself for a mare who ends up falling in love with who he was before." Crystal stared at the wine bottle as she carefully gripped the cork in her magic and eased it out, then poured two glasses.
Velvet grinned. "Oh, this one again?"
Crystal stuck out her tongue before taking a sip of the black cherry wine. "It's one of my favorites!"
"Okay, okay. But you know I still think the stallion would be better off with his friend." Velvet tossed a hooffull of popcorn in her mouth.
Crystal waved a hoof at her. "That's what got us into trouble, you know! Ponies can just be friends!"
Velvet laughed and shook her head. "Not in movies! They follow different rules. You see them?" She pointed at the screen.
"Them? Who? Him and his mentor?"
"Yeah." Velvet nodded. "They should totally go at it."
Crystal's ears shot up and she glared at Velvet, tossing a piece of popcorn at her. "No! Bad filly!"
Velvet retrieved the projectile popcorn to eat out of spite. "Have you read fanfiction of your stories? From what I can tell, if two characters existed in the same scene, ponies think they should do it."
"I've changed my mind! I'm making Horsey my mare of honor and I'm going to go spend the night with her." Crystal made an exaggerated show of standing up and collecting her things, huffing and levitating them past Velvet's face.
"Okay, okay!" Velvet clamped her hooves around the bottle of wine. "I'll behave. Let's just watch the movie."
Crystal snorted, but quickly put everything back in its place and settled down. "Thank you."
Velvet picked up her glass to take a sip, then paused when she caught Crystal staring at her. "What?"
With a flustered sputter, Crystal jerked her head back to the screen. "What what? Nothing!"
"Nothing? Seriously?" Velvet frowned. "What's up?"
Tentatively, Crystal asked, "What is it like... not being interested in romance?"
Velvet's frown tightened as she scrunched up her nose. "What is it like being interested in romance? Can you answer that question? No? Then I can't answer yours." She shifted on her pillow. "I just feel happier this way. I've read your stories and watched these movies and listened to you and my parents and Horsey and it's just, you know, it's just not for me."
Crystal dropped her gaze to the floor and asked in a quiet voice, "Have you tried?"
"What? I—Have you tried jumping off a cliff?" Velvet bristled. "Sometimes you just have to trust your gut when it says something is a bad idea!"
"Okay, okay, okay. I'm sorry. Honest." Crystal raised a hoof. "But one more question?"
Velvet narrowed her eyes. "What?"
Crystal lowered the hoof to tap it against the other. "Did you ever think you might be interested in dating, then realized you weren't?"
"What?" Velvet paused, then offered a meek shrug. "Uh, maybe? I kind of thought so for a while, years ago, when I wanted to be normal like you and Horsey."
With a flick of her head, Crystal brought over a quill and fresh notebook, scribbling down some notes. "I see."
Velvet leaned forward to peer at her writing. "What are you doing?" Her ears pinned back. "You're not going to write about me finding somepony to try to show me how great and wonderful life would be, are you?"
"No, no, no, nothing of the sort! I'm just taking some notes, just in case. I always take notes." Crystal waved a hoof at her. "Just watch the movie, dear."
Velvet stared at her before her expression lightened and she started snickering. "It's just like when we were fillies."
Crystal glanced over. "What do you mean?"
"Whenever we watched movies, you were always taking notes." She paused for a bout of laughter and continued, "I-I just thought you were a studious brat, since you never let me look at what you were writing!"
Crystal giggled and nodded. "Yes, and I was so flustered when you asked, 'What, is there a test at the end?' I actually considered making one up just to cover my tracks."
Velvet wiped her eyes. "I probably would have said we could never watch movies again if you had done that, to be honest."
They laughed together, Velvet nearly dropping her bag of popcorn and Crystal having to lower the items in her magic so she didn't lose focus.
"Don't forget," Crystal managed between giggles and laughter. "You stole my notebooks, so I think you still owe me for that."
"What!" Velvet reached over and pushed Crystal's shoulder. "I think getting you your cutie mark more than makes up for thievery, thank you very much!"
Crystal grinned, wiggling her ears. "I'm sure I would have figured it out on my own soon enough, thank you very much."
Velvet paused. Her lips lowered into a soft smile and she shook her head. "I don't know. I don't know if I ever would have picked up a Prima Donna book to discover my love for ballet, and I don't know if you would have ever gotten the courage to share your writing."
A somber quiet fell on them, the movie continuing to prattle on without their attention. Crystal finally smiled and raised her wine glass toward Velvet. "To best friends who needed each other and always will."
Velvet picked up her own glass and tapped it to Crystal's. "To best friends, always and forever."
It was the day of the wedding, and the gaggle of Crystal and her bridesmares had made it all the way to the Platinum Salon & Spa before disaster struck. Horsey plopped down on the lobby floor and buried her face in her hooves to try to hide the tears falling down her cheeks.
"I'm fat and fat ponies can't enjoy massages," she whined, her shoulders trembling.
Crystal shook her head, along with the others. "You're not fat, you're pregnant. And I already checked when I booked the appointment, they do have prenatal massages!"
Horsey sniffled and hiccuped. "No, I won't even be able to fit on the table!"
Velvet tried to pry Horsey's hooves away from her face. "Horsey, look at us! Nopony here thinks you're fat. You're a mother-to-be. That is one of the most beautiful things in the world, second only to being a mother."
Painted's ear flicked, but she kept a reassuring smile on her face. "It's an emotional time for all of us. Just try to breathe, okay?"
"She's right. Just focus on breathing," Raven said as she returned with a small cup of cucumber water. "You don't want to stress the foal."
Horsey accepted the cup in her magic, but didn't remove her hooves. "Oh, this foal is destined for stress, I'm going to be a terrible mother and that's all I'll do is stress them!"
Raven winced. "That's not what I—"
"It's okay," Velvet coaxed, wrapping her forelegs around Horsey's shoulders. She stroked one hoof down the mare's back and rested her cheek against the chestnut mane. "You're fine. You're not fat and your foal is going to be the child of the sweetest, most caring parents in Equestria."
Horsey made a sound between a sniffle and a sob. "You think so?"
Crystal nodded. "We know so."
While Horsey was in the middle of calming down, a stallion's voice interrupted, "Are you harassing the customers?"
Crystal turned her head. "Oh! Hi, Rossby! I was hoping you'd be working here today." She glanced at Velvet, who nodded and shooed her with a wave of one hoof. Crystal nodded back and walked over to the pegasus. "I guess you're trying to get revenge?"
Rossby frowned. "What?"
"I've been trying to find you, but you haven't been at any of your normal places." She tilted her head. "Did you get a new job?"
"Oh. No. I was busy at... weather camp." His wings twitched and he looked over at Horsey. "Don't change the subject. Are you harassing that mare?"
Crystal stepped into his line of sight. "She's a friend of mine going through an emotional time. Are you busy this afternoon?"
Rossby paused, then nodded. "I am. More so now that you asked."
"Oh, that's a shame, I was going to invite you to—"
"Wait, you waited until the day of something to invite me?" Rossby's ears flattened to the sides. "That's stupid. Couldn't you have just sent me an invitation like a normal pony?"
Crystal puffed out her cheeks and she jabbed a hoof at him. "How could I do that! I don't know where you live!"
"Really? Wow, you're a terrible stalker."
Painted craned her neck to put herself physically into the conversation. "You're a stalker, Crystal?"
Crystal's face flushed with embarrassed—and slightly irritated—heat. "I-I am not! It's a misunderstanding! He's just a brat." She glared at him. "I'm glad you're busy! I'm officially uninviting you."
Rossby rolled his eyes. "You didn't technically invite me, so, whatever, sure."
Crystal snubbed her nose at him and started for the doors that led to the spa area. "Come along, ladies. It's time to be pampered."
Velvet helped Horsey to her hooves as they all followed after her. "Did you book the hot stones for me?"
"Yup!" Crystal smiled over her shoulder. "Hot stones for you, Raven, and me, shiatsu for Painted, and prenatal for Horsey."
Golden Fish, Conch Shell, and a few other spa ponies Crystal wasn't familiar with stood beside their respective stations, each of them smiling.
"Welcome," Golden Fish said and bowed. "I understand that I'll have the honor of working with the bride. Please, everypony, lie down and relax."
While they all settled onto the massage tables, Crystal turned her head from one side to the other. She was situated in the very middle, with Painted and Horsey to her right and Velvet and Raven to her left. Slowly, she started to smile as warmth spread through her chest.
Painted Wave was the strong shoulder she could rely on to get her through the darkness, whether it be the lingering fears of a changeling attack or just looming work deadlines that seemed impossible. She never judged or disparaged Crystal's fears; she was a steadfast lighthouse on the shore.
Raven, of course, had once been the rocky outcroppings of that shore. Crystal never imagined that the guarded mare in the garden would become such a dear friend. She trusted Crystal with her weak moments and had grown stronger because of them, now a happily married mare where a miserable one once was. In return, she had supported Crystal through the good times and the bad, even going so far as to arrange a rose garden for her in the middle of winter. Now, those outcroppings served as protection of her little friendship bay.
Oh, the sensitive but sweet High Horse, who was at that moment doing her best not to cry when the spa pony had to help her onto the massage table. She was the waves that rolled in and out with a gentle caress. Asking for nothing and giving all that she could, there were few ponies as selfless. Motherhood would do wonders for her, and Crystal had no doubt that she would flourish in the new role.
And, finally, Velvet Step. She was the sunshine and the rain, the clear skies and the cloudy days; she was everything and more. Crystal could fill a whole trilogy of how much Velvet meant to her, but right then, she was overflowing with emotions and her eyes brimmed with tears. She needed to get out of her thoughts.
"I couldn't ask for better bridesmares," Crystal said, resting her head on the pillow while Golden Fish started to massage her hind legs. "You are all so important to me, so I want to thank you all. I wouldn't be who or where I am today without you girls."
Horsey sniffled and said with a small hitch in her voice, "D-don't get me started up again!"
Painted rolled her head to look at Crystal. "I hope you plan to still come to Canterlot to visit me when you need a new cover."
"What?" Crystal blinked. "Of course! I wouldn't dare replace you!"
Painted grinned. "Then the mushy feelings are mutual."
"Oh, you." Crystal giggled and looked over at Velvet. "I promise, I'll come to Canterlot as often as I can. I have absolutely no intention of losing touch with any of you."
Velvet just smiled back at her.
"I hope not." Horsey sighed, glancing over before her spa pony guided her back into the proper position. "I would be very sad if my foal didn't get to know their Aunty Crystal."
"Oh, so you're keeping whether it's a filly or a colt a surprise, then?" Raven asked, her eyes closed while her hind legs were worked on.
Horsey nodded. "Y-yes, we haven't told anypony. Only Savoir, the doctor, and I know. We reached out to the local craftspony, Axel, to make a foal carriage, and he offered to make it gender-neutral. That way we can reuse it for any other foals we have."
"That's a smart idea," Painted said, then moaned softly as hooves worked on a knot.
Crystal closed her eyes as the first hot stone was guided along her back by a skilled hoof. "Don't worry. I love Silent, and I support him and this new job opportunity, but I would never give up any of you. It will work out, I promise."
The bridal suite was prepared with their gowns ready and waiting, Crystal's kept hidden inside a garment bag. They all plopped down into the available chairs, Crystal letting out a low groan.
"I still can't believe they changed the recipe! How can you change the recipe for a kale, apple, and pear salad?" Crystal rubbed her forehead. "All I wanted was a simple meal that I knew would be easy on my stomach. Why did they have to add red vinegar and onions? Those don't even go with pears at all!"
Painted patted Crystal on the back. "It's okay. Look, let's just get our dresses on and then you'll feel pearfect."
Crystal stared at her. Velvet and Raven stared as well while Horsey giggled behind a hoof.
"Okay," Crystal relented with a smile. "Let's. Who wants to help me get my behemoth of tulle and silk?"
Painted's horn lit up with an iridescent glow as her excitement overflowed, but she cleared her throat and looked over at Velvet. "I think that's the mare of honor's honor."
The other bridesmares nodded in agreement as Velvet stepped forward, her shoulders squared and chest puffed out. "While I would most certainly agree, I think somepony with magic would be better suited."
Painted grinned. "Magic is more suited to helping suit up." Her grin widened. "I volunteer as tribute!"
Horsey glanced over at the pink dresses hanging on the rack and tears almost instantly pooled in her eyes. "Oh, you think your dress is a behemoth... w-well, look at mine!" Her ears drooped.
Velvet and Raven were instantly at her side, the former hugging her while the latter levitated the largest of the dresses over.
"No, see," Raven said as she turned the dress in the air, "you're mistaken. This isn't a behemoth of a dress at all. It's perfectly sized for a mare who is pregnant, not fat. See?" She pointed at the loop that went around the chest. "If you were fat, this would be proportional to the midsection."
Velvet nodded. "She's absolutely right."
Painted waved a hoof in front of Crystal's face. "Hello?"
Crystal blinked, tearing her gaze away from the other three to look at her. "Huh? I'm sorry. Were you talking to me?"
Painted laughed and shook her head. "I was until I realized you were too busy fretting over your friend. She'll be fine. Let's get you into your dress without mussing up your hair."
Crystal nodded, standing still as she watched Painted open the garment bag to retrieve the dress. It was a soft champagne color, with a glittering bodice and a long skirt that trailed on for what seemed like forever. Painted's magic carefully undid the ribbon that laced up the front and slipped the dress over Crystal's form, then tied the bodice back together. Two loose lengths of tulle served as straps that draped down from her shoulders to wrap around her upper forelegs.
It fit her perfectly and, when she looked in the mirror, her heart skipped a beat. Her mane was done up in a bun that was neither too tight nor too messy, but was an elegant style somewhere in between. The sides of her face were framed by two curly coils, each with a strand of pink running down the middle of the blonde.
"Oh, Crystal," Painted breathed more than said, drawing the attention of the other mares who all reacted with varying squeals of delight.
"That dress is perfect!" Velvet cheered as she clapped her hooves.
"So beautiful," Horsey murmured, wiping a tear—joyful this time—from her eye.
Raven smiled. "You look like a princess."
"Almost," Upper Crust's voice cut in, and they all turned to see her standing in the doorway. "She's missing two things."
Crystal tried to keep an even expression and tone as she replied, "What's that, Mother?"
Upper Crust crossed the room and stood in front of her. Her magic set a box on the table that contained the bouquets. "Flowers, for one."
The bridesmares' bouquets were simple, containing only white roses. Velvet's bouquet was a step up from them with light red roses instead. Crystal's, however, was of a cascading style with the mix of white and differing reds, full and shapely like the gown she wore.
There was only one problem. For some reason, red tulips had been added to the top of the bouquet, sticking out at odd angles almost like the tentacles of a sea creature. Crystal glanced between the bouquets and Velvet, who caught the look and gave a knowing nod. While Upper Crust's attention was on Crystal, Velvet whispered to Horsey, whose magic gently tugged the tulips out of the arrangement.
Upper Crust gazed at Crystal for a moment before smiling. "Secondly, you're missing an accessory, darling. A gown like this is naked without the proper accessory." From the hidden pocket of her dress, she retrieved a blue teardrop-shaped pendant dangling on a silver chain.
Crystal blinked. Giving it a closer look, the pendant itself was composed of different shades of blue with a swirl of silver sparkles trailing along one side. "Oh, it's beautiful! Where did you get it?"
"I found it at the bottom of my jewelry box." Upper Crust's ear flicked. "I believe it was a gift from my mother, a long time ago. Since it seems you have invited... them, presumably because you enjoyed your Chicagoat visit, it only seems fitting that you take this little thing. It was hardly expensive, I'm sure." There was a pause as her gaze landed on the necklace and her expression softened. "Just a cheap trinket."
Crystal swallowed and quietly offered, "Do you want it back after the wedding?"
"What?" Upper Crust glanced between her and it. "What? No. I'm giving it to you, darling. What need would I have for it?" She undid the clasp and looped it around Crystal's neck. "There you are. Blue, like your stallion. His favorite color, I believe you mentioned."
A small smile curled Crystal's lips as she inclined her head to look down at the necklace. "Yes, blue is his favorite color." The smile widened. "Thank you. It's perfect."
Upper Crust waved a hoof. "Like I said, it's hardly worth a fuss over. But you're welcome nonetheless." She paused, then gently wrapped her foreleg around Crystal's shoulder to pull her in for a hug, placing a kiss on her forehead. "For you, I will not fight with my parents. But only for you, on your special day. My little princess deserves that much."
Crystal blinked a few times to try to clear the sudden tears from her eyes. "Th-thanks, Mom."
With a curt nod, Upper Crust pulled away and walked to the door. She offered a cordial nod to the bridesmares that stood in silence. "Ladies."
Once they were alone again, Horsey released the breath she had been holding. "Oh my goodness, That was... unexpected."
"Yeah..." Crystal stared at the door, then shook her head. "Yeah. Um, anyway." She looked over at them, smiling. "You all look gorgeous!"
The pink of the bridesmares' dresses was just a few shades different from that of Velvet's coat, but the darker accents kept the material discernible. It was simple in design, with a loop that went across the front of the chest to feature a rose—white for Velvet and light red for the others—that matched the one tucked in their manes. A stretchy fabric of the darker pink went around the middle, and a two-tiered, two-toned skirt cascaded over their hindquarters and to the floor.
"Don't we?" Velvet struck a pose, Painted and Raven following suit.
Horsey swallowed. "And you're sure I look—"
"Fine!" they all interrupted. "You look fine!"
Horsey gave a weak laugh. "Okay, all right. If you're sure."
"I'm sure." Crystal put a hoof on her shoulder. "You are as beautiful as you've always been." Before the mare could think into the phrasing, Crystal quickly corrected, "And you've always been beautiful."
Willowy pushed open the door and stuck her head in. "Ladies! Are you ready? It's almost time!"
Velvet gasped. "Really? Already? Oh my gosh!" She glanced in the mirror to take one more look at her mane, picked up her bouquet, and started out the door. "Okay, fillies, we only get one shot at this so let's get it right for Crystal!"
Horsey bit her lip as she examined her reflection. A quick clearing of Velvet's throat tore her attention away. "M-mm." She smiled over at Crystal, then followed after Velvet.
"We'll see you out there," Raven said, embracing Crystal one last time before she trotted after the other mares.
Painted paused and lingered at the door. "How are you doing?"
Crystal waved a hoof at her. "My hooves are very warm. Don't worry about me!"
"No, I more meant, how are you doing?" Painted gestured at her with a wide circle. "Emotionally. Mentally. Physically. Spiritually. This is a big day for you."
After taking a quick moment to close her eyes and search her thoughts and emotions, she finally smiled and shook her head. "It doesn't feel real yet." She tilted her head. "When did it feel real for you?"
Painted chuckled and merely shrugged before galloping away to bring up the end of the line of bridesmares.
Crystal stuck her tongue out at the air. "That's not an answer!" She huffed and started to pace.
She was getting married. It was really happening!
All of a sudden, her stomach filled up with butterflies and her body felt hot with uncertainty. Where had all these nerves come from?
"Knock, knock," Jet Set said as he tapped a hoof on the door and pushed it open. "Is the princess ready?"
Crystal turned to look at him, smiling to cover up her anxiety. "Oh, hi, Father. Is it time?"
Jet Set just stared. His magic lit up and raised his glasses off his muzzle, paused, put them back in place, and he finally smiled. "You look absolutely beautiful, Crystal, dear."
She felt her cheeks warm and she ducked her head. "Th-thanks."
After another moment to take in the sight, he offered his foreleg out to her. "The bridesmares are on their way down the aisle as we speak. It's time to take our place behind them."
"All right." She crossed the room and slipped her foreleg around his, the bouquet floating in front of her chest. "I'm ready."
They left the suite and walked in relative silence down the halls to the door that led to the garden. Once they were just outside the rose vine-covered archway and waiting for their cue, Crystal took a moment to look around.
The tall rose bushes blocked sight into the ceremony area, a beautiful barrier of deep green leaves and dark red blooms. A few of the petals had left their homes behind to drift lazily on the warm breeze. She giggled to herself. Who would ever imagine a breeze being warm at that time of year?
Jet Set sighed and patted Crystal's hoof, looking down at her with a soft smile. "Your mother and I made mistakes. Looking back, I can see that now. But I won't apologize."
Crystal blinked. "What?"
"I can't apologize. We did what we thought was right, we wanted to prepare you for the world, and though you found a world different from the one we imagined for you, we did our best." He bobbed his head in a light nod. "A parent can only do so much with the limited knowledge they have."
Crystal did her best not to frown. "I don't quite follow, Father."
Jet Set shook his head. "I don't expect you to, not until you have a foal of your own that's grown up before your very eyes." He squeezed her hoof. "Whether we did right or wrong by you, you found your place, dear. You did that on your own in spite of the mistakes we made. And I'm proud of you for that."
"I..." Her lips lifted in a smile and she leaned up to place a kiss on his cheek. "Thank you, Dad."
When the music changed to give the signal, Jet Set smiled. "That's our cue. Let's get you married to that stallion of yours."
He started walking forward and she followed alongside him. Her heart started to race. He would be there, wouldn't he? Of course he would. There was no way he would get cold hooves. She took in a breath, shifted the bouquet in her magic, and tried not to hurry her steps just to find out.
Silent Knight, her knight, would always be there, forever by her side. That didn't stop her mind from latching onto new fears at random, of course. What if she tripped? What if a bug got in her eye? Did she look all right? Had her mane come undone? Was there anything in her teeth?
As they turned the corner and started to pass under the white arch, her eyes found Silent's and the world melted away.