• Published 26th Sep 2019
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CRISIS: A Royal Affair - GanonFLCL



In an alternate Equestria, a young filly, Blackburn, was destined to be Queen of Hope's Point, a beacon of light in the darkness. See her grow alongside the friends and loved ones that made her the ever-watchful, iron-hoofed Queen she was born to be.

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Chapter Sixteen: Wonderful Waltz

Lockwood woke up in the morning feeling both refreshed from a good night’s sleep and depressed by thoughts of loneliness. Until Blackburn, Gadget, and Crossfire had left, he’d never realized just how much he’d come to rely on them for companionship this past year. Most of the other ponies he knew were just business associates, not really friends, and the friends he did have were busy with so many things that he knew it would be difficult to spend time with them.

Lockwood set about his usual morning routine, albeit slower than usual, not in any particular hurry to do anything with the rest of his day. He brushed his teeth. He combed his mane. He picked out a raincoat and shirt to wear. He made breakfast, a plate of sliced tomatoes. Then he took his food, sat on the couch, turned on the television, and tuned in to the news.

It was a slow news day today, actually, which was surprisingly atypical of the city. No fires. No riots. No traffic jams. Not even a sports game. For the briefest moment, Lockwood wondered if the city knew how he felt and changed itself to reflect his mood, as impossible as that sounded.

While the news, or lack thereof, played in the background, Lockwood pulled out a datapad that Gadget had given him for use in his work, and while he wasn’t as proficient with it as she was, he’d still learned enough from her to make some headway into researching some of the new tenants.

The ponies here at Southeast Point were a varied bunch, but roughly half of them were part of Virtuoso’s empire, as that was Virtuoso’s intent when he purchased the building. The other half came from all walks of life, but over the past year of looking into them, he’d determined that none of them would be of any help to Blackburn. A few, though, were the sort that might want to go to Hope’s Point someday, so he kept tabs on them.

Satisfied that the newest tenants - a sports photographer, a garbagepony, and a construction worker and his wife - were on the up-and-up, Lockwood then set about looking into the things Blackburn had asked of him, namely keeping Crown Spectrum’s interests managed. Nothing much needed to be done yet, as Blackburn had been thorough before she left, so he just made sure that there wasn’t anything odd in their files. All clear, though.

Lockwood was done with all the work he could do from here. He looked at the clock on the wall; still morning. With a groan, he leaned against the couch. This was going to be the first long, long day of what was looking to be a long, long month.

Suddenly, there came a knock on the door. A familiar knock. An impossibly familiar knock, at that. Lockwood paused in his seat for a moment, unsure if he’d just misheard it, or if his ears were playing tricks on him, or if the sound had come from the television, or maybe if it had come from a different door elsewhere in the hall and was just particularly loud.

But then the knock came again, louder this time.

Lockwood, confused, rose from his seat and approached the door, cautious as he could manage. Beside the door was his umbrella; he took it in his mouth, intending to defend himself; he knew the knock was supposed to mean it was safe, but there was no way the knock belonged to who it was supposed to belong to.

Then, in one swift motion, ready to strike whoever was on the other side, he opened the door. But he froze right up when he saw what was on the other side, dropping his umbrella in the process. He was absolutely certain now that he’d somehow overslept and was just having a very vivid dream. A good one, too.

That’s when Blackburn swept into the room and hugged him tight with both her hooves and wings around him.

Lockwood, flummoxed as could be, returned the hug after a long moment of figuring out what was going on. This dream certainly felt as real as could be, disturbingly so. The warmth of Blackburn’s body pressed against him, the tightness of her hug, the sweet scent of her mane and coat; it all felt extraordinarily real. Even Gadget and Crossfire, who remained in the hall, watching and waiting with small smiles on their faces, seemed genuinely real.

“Okay…” Lockwood murmured, his eyes darting between the two out in the hall. “Somepony better start talking. Either I’m dreaming - and that’s my theory so far - or I’ve been in a coma for a month and just woke up. What’s going on here? Is this real?”

Blackburn pulled back from the hug to give him a warm, loving kiss. Lockwood was starting to doubt his dream theory now; her lips tasted too real. “I’m here, Lockwood. We’re all really here. Not a dream.”

“That’s exactly what a dream would say,” he replied, skeptical.

Blackburn slapped him gently on the side of the head. The pain felt real, too. Which meant it was; why would his dream hurt him, after all?

“You’re really here, then… but…” Lockwood shook his head, confused. “But it’s only been a day. I thought you were going to be gone for a month?”

“Change of plans, needed to return immediately.”

Lockwood furrowed his brow; this was unlike her. “Nothing’s wrong, is there?”

Blackburn shook her head. “Nothing worth discussing. Just a change of plans. Had to leave, or…” She returned to hugging him again, tighter than before.

Lockwood returned the hug in earnest. She was obviously lying; something was seriously wrong, and while he didn’t know what it was, if it made her feel bad he felt it was his responsibility to take that pain away. Whatever it was, if Blackburn had so drastically changed her plans for an entire month on a whim, it had to have been particularly troublesome. She’d tell him what it was when she was ready, so it wasn’t necessary to ask about it now. All that mattered was that she was here; the how and why weren’t important.

“Are you guys hungry?” he asked with a grin. “I already ate breakfast, but I can whip something up for you if you want.”

“That would be nice,” Blackburn said, nuzzling herself against his neck. “Haven’t eaten since yesterday morning.”

This concerned Lockwood, and just made him more aware that whatever had upset Blackburn had really upset her. There was no way Crossfire would’ve let her go without food unless it was an emergency.

“Well, come on in,” he said, waving for Gadget and Crossfire to join them inside. “Take a seat, guys, I’ll get something going.”

“If’n y’all don’t mind, I’ll take care o’ breakfast,” Crossfire said with a nod as he walked past Lockwood. “Y’all jus’ take care o' her.”

“No no, go ahead,” Lockwood said with a smile. He turned to Gadget. “Um… I got started on a few things with that datapad--”

Gadget brushed off his statement with her hoof. “Don’t worry about that right now, Lockwood. Breakfast first, then we talk.”

Lockwood closed and locked the door behind them, then took Blackburn over to the sofa to take a seat. Crossfire took a few minutes to slice up some tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers, sprinkle some spice on them, and serve them up to Blackburn first, then to Gadget, then to himself. Nopony spoke as they ate.

When the others were done eating, Lockwood cleared his throat. “So… uh… my plans for the afternoon were to head out and visit a few contacts, if you guys want to join me?”

Blackburn shook her head. “Just need some sleep. Did not sleep well on flight back.” She leaned against him on the couch, already starting to drift off. “Stay with me. Please.”

Lockwood didn’t even need to think about agreeing; the bags under her eyes were proof that she needed some rest. “Sure thing, BB. Here, let’s get you into bed, okay?”

Blackburn nodded, and rose with him off the couch to head into the bedroom, where he helped her get into bed with him. She wrapped her hooves around him and closed her eyes, breathing softly.

Gadget, who walked to the doorway, cleared her throat quietly to get his attention as she walked up to the side of the bed. “You gonna be okay like that for a while?”

“Yeah, I’ll be fine,” Lockwood replied running a hoof through Blackburn’s mane to reassure her until she finally fell asleep. “What about you two? Did you guys need some sleep?”

Gadget shook her head. “I slept on the ride from Hope’s Point to Newhaven, and Crossfire slept on the ride from Newhaven to here. How the big lug can sleep through all that turbulence, I’ll never know, but there it is.” She sighed. “Crossfire’s gonna stay here and keep watch to make sure nopony gives you guys any trouble. I’m gonna head out and finish getting our apartment set back up. She was insistent we get here as soon as possible, so we just dropped off our stuff and that was it.”

Lockwood began to preen some of Blackburn's feathers which had, in her stressed-out state of mind, gotten ruffled. “Whatever happened down south must’ve been pretty bad to shake her up like this.”

“I’ll leave it to her to tell you what it was,” Gadget said. She headed back out of the room. “Thanks for being there for her, flyboy.”

“I always will be, Gadget,” Lockwood replied with a nod. “You can count on it.”

Five Months Later

The Romantique District was home to one of the finest apartment complexes in New Pandemonium, The Tour de L’amour, which was the second-tallest building in the city after Pandora Tower. Like The Torre Gloriosa, it was primarily made of white concrete, but was stabilized with silver-plated durasteel instead of gold-plated, and decorated with blue and gold accents and awnings. It had a wide base and thinner floors as it got closer and closer to the top, which tapered off into a point. Also like The Torre Gloriosa, its concrete had been textured, here to look like marble.

Blackburn, Gadget, and Crossfire arrived by chariot taxi, dressed not in their typical high-class clothing, but in attire more fit for a night of dancing. Blackburn and Gadget each wore a long ballroom dress; the former’s dress was black with blue and white accents, giving it the look of a clear night sky, while the latter’s was a deep purple with a golden floral pattern. Crossfire wore a ruffled white tuxedo shirt with a high collar underneath a black vest.

Lockwood wasn’t with them; in fact he’d already arrived at the venue before them, for a number of reasons. First, he always arrived first to get-togethers and events that both he and Blackburn-as-Thunderbolt were invited to, because they had never been invited together; second, since nopony was supposed to know they were a couple - hence why they were never invited together - they knew that arriving together might raise suspicion; and third, this event was less about business and more about social interaction, and Blackburn had a reputation to maintain in her Thunderbolt persona as the business-before-pleasure sort.

The trio showed their lavish invitations to the doorpony, a pegasus mare dressed in a grisp gray-and-gold uniform, who smiled and nodded in greeting. She then showed them inside before gesturing off to the right, towards a large set of double doors. Two more doorponies, unicorns both, stood by these doors and, when the trio approached, they bowed and opened the doors in one motion, presenting the room beyond.

This was The Tour de L’amour’s distinguished Salle Arc-en-ciel, the most famous, most gorgeous, and most expensive ballroom in the entire city. Tonight, it served as the venue for a charity ball held by none other than Mint and Matcha Tea who, thanks to some generous contributions from Crown Spectrum, could afford to rent out the ballroom for the night, where they could attract the highest class of attendees.

The ceiling was high and painted with old Utopian iconography: a starry sky devoid of clouds, Equestria’s twin moons overhead. The image was painted with such careful skill and precision that the stars and moons even appeared to be moving. A classical band of ponies stood on a stage at the end of the room and played a lovely waltz for the attendees; Blackburn was certain she saw Virtuoso up there conducting them. A large space in the center of the room had been dedicated for ponies to dance, and even now it was quite crowded with pairs of ponies moving to the music.

The crowd of ponies, dancing or no, were dressed in classy ballroom attire of the most luxurious quality bits could buy; these were some of the richest ponies in the city, and once Mint and Matcha got their hooves on them, they were sure to make some plentiful donations. Even if not all of their intentions were altruistic, it didn’t matter much, because the money that would come in due to this event would be used for a good cause with the Tea sisters at the helm.

Blackburn spotted Lockwood across the room, dressed in an outfit nearly identical to Crossfire’s, but he’d chosen to wear a bowtie where Crossfire had not and he didn't fill it out quite like Crossfire did. Blackburn did not approach him, and even averted her gaze from him for now, because she knew it would be hard not to if she didn’t make the effort while she had the chance. Lockwood was in the midst of a conversation with a young unicorn mare in a pretty white gown.

Instead, Blackburn took up a spot near the edge of the room, where the Tea sisters, dressed in identical ruby-red gowns, were conversing with some other guests by the catering table, which was laden with Romantique hors d'oeuvres and champagne.

Gadget, meanwhile, wandered off on her own to seek out a dance partner. She had been anticipating this evening for a week now in hopes of, in her words, “finding a rich sugar daddy”. How much of that was Gadget’s typical jocularity or not even Blackburn couldn’t tell, but she seemed like she was intending to enjoy the evening one way or another.

Crossfire, on the other hoof, went straight to the catering table to sample the menu. This was no surprise to anypony.

Mint and Matcha noticed Blackburn nearby, so they finished up their conversation with another guest and approached her together. “Thunderbolt, so glad you could make it!” Mint said, a wide, pleasant smile on her face. “Isn’t this room just gorgeous?”

“It is,” Blackburn said with a nod and a polite smile as she looked around at the decorations. “I’m glad you were able to get it on such short notice. The donations you make tonight, no matter how much or how little, are going to a great cause. I hope everything goes well.”

“I’m sure it will, thanks to having this venue. We couldn’t have gotten the coveted Salle Arc-en-ciel without your contributions, Thunderbolt,” said Matcha, raising her glass in appreciation. “You and Crown Spectrum have really made a difference in this city after such a short time. Those Utopian customs really must’ve rubbed off on you after all.”

“Yes, I suppose they did. I’m just happy to be of help.” Blackburn turned her attention to the dance floor, where the ponies dancing had just cleared off to take a breather before the next waltz started. “It sure looks like everypony’s enjoying themselves out there.”

“Oh yes yes, of course they are,” Mint chuckled, hoof over her mouth. “If there’s one thing that really gets a crowd of these fancy Romantique ponies excited, it’s a good old-fashioned ball. As soon as we put out the event fliers, our office was flooded with invitation requests.”

“Literally,” Matcha added with a wide grin, sipping from her glass. “We opened the door to the office and out they tumbled, just wave after wave of the things. This whole event went a lot better than we were expecting, and we were expecting a packed house as-is.”

“Now then, if you’ll excuse us,” Mint said, setting her and Matcha’s glasses down on the tray of a passing watier, “we have to go seek out some handsome partners for the next waltz. Speaking of which, there certainly are some truly gorgeous stallions out there this evening, aren’t there Thunderbolt?”

Blackburn’s eyes drifted over to Lockwood briefly; the Tea sisters didn’t notice. “Yes, there certainly are.”

“Are you going to find a partner for the night, dear?” Matcha asked with a coy grin. “I’m sure there are plenty of stallions in that crowd that would kill for the chance to dance with a mare like you. The one-and-only Thunderbolt!”

Blackburn shook her head, embarrassed. “I’m really not that much of a dancer, to tell the truth. I’ll probably just watch and try out all the food you guys got catered.”

This wasn’t a lie. Blackburn had tried to learn some very basic dance steps when she was younger, at her father’s insistence, so as to impress the higher class of ponies Stormchaser frequently mingled with. She’d never taken to it in the least bit; “four left hooves” is what her instructors said she had. Gadget was a pretty decent dancer, though, and even Crossfire had a bit of a knack for it, but not Blackburn. It was one of the only things she knew she was terrible at, next to cooking, as well as having zero artistic or musical talent.

“Oh, well that’s a shame,” Mint continued. She smiled and tilted her head off towards the crowded dance floor. “Well, if you change your mind, Thunderbolt, I’m sure somepony will be more than happy to have you for a partner. Have fun either way, though!”

“Thanks. You too.”

The Tea sisters waved farewell and melted into the crowd, leaving Blackburn alone near the catering table, where she started on her first glass of champagne for the evening. As the next waltz started up, she noticed Lockwood make his way onto the dance floor with a pretty young mare in a frilly green dress. She knew this was going to happen eventually, even expected it, but that didn’t mean she had to like it.

Lockwood had always been a social butterfly, she knew that, and she also knew that it was thanks to his friendly demeanor and natural charm that she’d been able to succeed as well as she had over the years she’d known him. So, she didn’t object to the mares that wanted to chat him up, because for all she knew, one of them could be connected to some company, bureau, or government office that would be of help to her goals here in the city. But that still didn’t mean she had to like it.

As the music of another waltz swept through the chamber, Blackburn took the time to scan the crowd for any familiar faces, but she knew that was ultimately unlikely. There were the Tea sisters, of course, because their position in the city gave them no reason to leave; Ivory Charm was out in the crowd as well, dancing with whatever stallion - or mare - approached her and winking at Virtuoso all the while to make him jealous. But that was it. So many of her contacts had taken the opportunity to move to either Hope’s Point or Utopia, and most of the ones she still had in the city weren’t the sort to come to an event like this.

As soon as one waltz ended, another waltz seemed to begin with hardly a break in between. At first, a few handsome stallions had approached Blackburn to ask her to dance, but she declined every time, politely as she could manage while jealously watching Lockwood. Soon, nopony was even coming over to talk to her.

After about an hour of waltz after waltz, Blackburn had been the one and only pony in the entire venue, apart from the waiters and musicians, of course, that hadn’t danced even once; even Crossfire, to Blackburn’s surprise, had been roped into a dance, which he had politely accepted and performed before returning to the catering table. It was just the one, but it was still more than Blackburn had done.

As yet another waltz ended, and Lockwood finished dancing with an older mare in a puffy blue gown, Blackburn had had enough of watching. She’d been enthralled with his dancing all evening; he hadn’t been lying about his passion for it. But seeing all these other mares get to enjoy his company and participate in such a deep, personal experience with him, even if it was just so he could urge them to consider a donation, was infuriating. She was going to put a stop to it.

When the music died down so that the dancers could clear the floor and relax for a moment, Blackburn made a beeline through the crowd towards Lockwood, shifting through pony after pony like dodging bullets. She was a mare with a mission. When she finally made her way to the other side of the room, Lockwood was in the midst of a conversation with an attractive mare in a sparkly purple gown, but neither of them noticed Blackburn’s approach.

The musicians indicated the coming start of another waltz so that dancers could grab their partners and make their way onto the floor, just as Blackburn reached Lockwood and his prospective new dance partner. The other mare opened her mouth and gestured towards the dance floor, clearly about to ask him to dance. Blackburn beat her to the punch, stepping right beside the mare and practically shoving her aside to put herself directly in front of Lockwood, nopony else.

“Dance with me,” Blackburn said, eyes narrowed in a fierce gaze. It wasn’t a question or a suggestion.

The other mare scoffed, smoothing her dress. “Excusez-moi--” she started.

Blackburn turned her head just enough to level the other mare with an intense glare she usually reserved for ponies that had earned her wrath, which this mare certainly had. “Find somepony else to dance with. Go on.”

The other mare turned to Lockwood, clearly expecting him to come to her defense, but Lockwood merely adjusted his bowtie and cleared his throat, clearly more transfixed on Blackburn. “Miss Thunderbolt, this is highly unorthodox--”

Blackburn took a step forward so they were nose-to-nose. “Dance with me.” Again, not a request.

Lockwood’s mouth curled in a tiny grin for half a second. “Well, since you’re so insistent… shall we?” he said, gesturing cordially towards the dance floor. He briefly turned to the other mare. “Next time, Miss Diamond.”

Blackburn shot the other mare - Miss Diamond - another glare, then allowed Lockwood to lead her out onto the dance floor just as the next waltz was starting. Lockwood took the lead, of course - it was a waltz, after all, and he was definitely the more experienced dancer between the two - and it seemed to be going well… for all of a few seconds.

Blackburn knew the steps from watching the other dancers perform all evening, and assumed that she could perform the maneuvers just as well as she could when she’d been learning to fly. But, despite how graceful she was in flight, she was not nearly so graceful on her hooves, not where dancing was concerned. She tripped, nearly bringing Lockwood down with her, but he managed to hold them steady. “Four left hooves” indeed.

Blackburn heard a scoff from the watching crowd: Miss Diamond hadn’t let the trip escape her notice. Blackburn shot Miss Diamond another terse look before rising back up to take Lockwood’s hooves and make another attempt.

This one went better than the last time… but only for a moment. As the tempo of the waltz picked up and Lockwood led, as he was supposed to, Blackburn found she just couldn’t keep up no matter how hard she tried. Again, she tripped, and again, Lockwood struggled to keep the two of them from falling over.

There was a giggle from the watching crowd, this time a pair of mares that had danced with Lockwood earlier, and who had done so much more gracefully. Blackburn scowled at the two, but rose up and tried again. And, again, she tripped, and this time brought Lockwood with her. Another set of giggles and laughs came from the crowd.

Blackburn rose back up and scowled at the mares laughing at her. Then, the waltz came to a close, and Blackburn knew the dance was over, that she had failed in her attempt to be close with him in this event. Her face red with anger and embarrassment, she made to leave the dance floor in a huff.

Lockwood stopped her from doing so by spreading his left wing out in front of her path. She almost ignored him and just kept going, but in the brief moment that she gave him her attention, he gestured with his right wing, just once, into the air. Their secret signal for “up”. Blackburn wasn’t sure what he meant at first, but then the musicians indicated another waltz was beginning, so she had no time to consider it as he swept her back onto the dance floor and took up a position with her, just as the other dancers were doing with their partners. She noticed, however, that their hooves were reversed so that she was leading.

When the music started, Lockwood spread his wings and tilted his head up briefly. Blackburn realized what he was doing now. So she took the lead, spreading her own wings and taking him with her up into the air. Here, with her wings in control, she was as graceful as a feather in the wind. She swept Lockwood with her in a dance unlike anything being performed down on the floor below. An airshow in a ballroom.

Those in the crowd not dancing watched enthusiastically as Blackburn took Lockwood through the motions: spinning in a gentle roll; looping slowly, wings outspread; swift descents followed by steep ascents; twisting, tumbling, and twirling to and fro. In the air, Blackburn was at home, in her element, and even though her movements proved difficult for Lockwood to follow, he managed to do so, for her.

When the waltz ended, and the pair descended, Blackburn looked out into the crowd at the mares that had laughed earlier. They weren’t laughing now; in fact they looked dumbfounded, as did several others in the crowd. There was a murmur of approval from those who hadn’t been dancing, even those who had, and a few ponies even clapped.

Blackburn smirked, and turned back to Lockwood to thank him for the dance. She was surprised when he gestured to her again with his wings; first, he spread them both and tucked them forward in a sort of prayer-like gesture, bowing on the floor as he did so. He then offered his right wing out towards her while tucking his left over his heart.

He rose as soon as his gesture was done. To a pegasus who knew wing language, he’d just said he was having chest pains and needed to sit down. Blackburn wasn’t completely sure what he’d said, though. Despite clearly being the special code they’d developed, he’d put the gestures in such an order that she was having trouble putting it together. But then, after a moment to consider it, she had a guess:

My heart belongs to you.

At least, that’s what she figured he meant.

Blackburn fought every urge in her body to react to what he’d said right now, and it was one of the hardest things she’d ever had to do. Her heart was telling her to grab him right now and kiss him like she’d never kissed him before; her head was telling her to say something back; the rest of her was screaming at her to tear off his tuxedo and do him right there in front of all these ponies.

But she managed to fight those thoughts. Barely. Barely. Instead, she merely left the dance floor in a flustered huff, face as red as a ripened tomato, just as a new wave of dancers was coming along to take their positions for the next waltz. Blackburn sntached Gadget away from a stallion she’d just walked onto the floor with; Gadget went to protest at first, but she stopped when she noticed the expression on Blackburn’s face. Blackburn then swept by the catering table to grab Crossfire, who saw her coming and grabbed a mouthful of snacks before she could pull him away.

The trio then left without another word.

*****

Lockwood was not surprised at all to find Blackburn, Gadget, and Crossfire waiting for him in his apartment when he arrived an hour or so later. He’d have been surprised if they weren’t here, actually. They hadn’t changed out of their fancy attire, though Crossfire had loosed his tuxedo and Blackburn and Gadget had clearly had theirs tailored to be comfortable. So, Lockwood wasted no time in loosening his bow tie and removing some of his uncomfortable clothes so that he could be more relaxed, as they were.

“That was some party, huh?” Lockwood asked, a smile on his face. “Did you guys enjoy yourselves?”

Blackburn remained quiet.

Gadget did not. “Golly, I must’ve danced with twenty or so stallions tonight. A veritable smorgasbord of rich, handsome, eligible bachelors to feast my eyes on, get my hooves on… but nothing else.” She sighed and rolled her eyes. “As the Romantique say, c’est la vie.”

Crossfire let out a small belch, then covered his mouth and pounded his chest. “‘Scuse me. Ahem. Well, them snacks they had were mighty fine, I tell ya what.”

“Didn’t I see you dancing with a mare once out there?” Gadget asked, a coy grin on her face. “Did somepony draw you away from food?

Crossfire shrugged. “I mean, I guess? She said I was the best lookin’ guy there, but I don’t know ‘bout none o’ that. She asked so polite-like ‘n’ all, I couldn’t be rude ‘n’ say ‘no’, right?”

Gadget blinked. “So… that’s it? You danced with her once, then right back to the table?”

“Yeah? Why? She jus’ asked me fer one dance--”

Gadget groaned. “You… you are such an idiot.”

“Now what’s that s’posed ta mean?”

Suddenly, Blackburn stood from her seat on the couch to approach Lockwood. “Your message to me. Repeat it… please.”

Lockwood paused a moment, then smiled and nodded. First, he spread both wings and tucked them forward in a sort of prayer-like gesture, bowing on the floor as he did so. He then offered his right wing out towards her while tucking his left over his heart. He remained in that position while Blackburn watched, until he was satisfied she had gotten his message.

Blackburn pondered it, just as she had before, but now, without distractions, with time to focus, she could get a good feel for what he was saying. It was exactly as she’d read it before:

My heart belongs to you.

Blackburn, red in the face, nodded appreciatively, and gestured for him to stand up. As he did, she pulled him forward and intertwined her wings with his, a deeply intimate gesture among pegasi. Lockwood knew what it meant, and turned as red as she was. “Blackburn…”

She shook her head and put her hoof to his lips. “Shhh. Have something to say.” She took a breath. “I came back because… if I didn’t, might never see you again. Unbearable thought.” She hung her head, pressing it against the underside of his chin. “Life without you… can’t imagine now. So… so I…”

She pulled back to look Lockwood in the eyes. “I love you. You are… we are of a kindred soul. You have given me everything… and you have asked for nothing in return. Even when you gave me your love, you did not ask that I return your feelings… and that is why I do. You and I… we share a bond unlike anypony else…”

She turned to Gadget and Crossfire. “Gadget… Crossfire. My friends. You have stood beside me since we were young. We have bonded together as family.”

Gadget nodded and smiled. “We have, Princess. Haven’t we?”

Crossfire smirked. “Sure as shootin’.”

“There is nopony else I would trust with my life, as I do with the two of you. I love you both dearly. And… I want to be sure that you approve of--”

“Of course we do, Blackburn,” Gadget said. “There’s nothing that could convince me you’re not doing the right thing.”

Crossfire nodded. “Y’all got our approval. We’re there by yer side, no matter what.”

Lockwood looked between the two of them, then back to Blackburn. “What are you three talking about?”

Blackburn took a deep breath, then knelt down in front of Lockwood, wings still intertwined with his. “I want to… I want to ask… Lockwood, will… will you… marry me?”

Now, Lockwood was stunned, left blinking, mouth opening and closing as he tried to find the words to react. It took him a long moment before he was able to manage: “Yes. I will.”

Blackburn rose up in an instant and kissed him deeply, hooves on the sides of his face. He didn’t fight it, not even out of a brief moment of surprise.

Gadget and Crossfire glanced at one another, then left the room without a word.

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