"Honey?" spoke a tired-awake, lethargic and bored Cadance, laid next to her husband.
"Yes, darling?" a much more tired Shining Armour replied. She hated when he started dozing off right after they'd finished, but at least he was consistent.
"I'm going to go and get a job."
"Mmh, you already have a job..." Shining rolled around on the bed and pushed his muzzle up against the duvet, brushing Cadance's side. She ignored it.
"Being princess of an essentially self-governing nation doesn't count. Besides, I have so much free time that I think I might actually go insane if I stay cooped up in this castle any longer. I can only handle so much stagnation before I start to feel like death."
Shining chuckled. "You're being dramatic. You can't be feeling that cooped up in here."
Cadance gave him a pointed look. "Do you know how many door-handles there are in this castle? Don't answer. There are eight hundred and twenty-six. They also come in fourteen different varieties and eight colours. How do I know that? I counted."
If sleepy Shining was listening, it wasn't especially apparent. It took him a good twenty seconds to say anything. It didn't annoy Cadance though. All the while, her mind was spinning with a small excitement that threatened to wake her all the way back up. "What would you do?" Shining finally mustered.
"What else? I'd put that nuptial law degree and masters in psychology to good use. Celestia didn't put me through all of that schooling so I'd never see proper work in my life." She could feel it now, that spark of energy that came with talking about something that excited her. She found herself smiling, despite the hour, staring up at the dark ceiling. "I could counsel ponies to help them with their relationships, or with psychological problems. I could help ponies find love, I could..." suddenly, a brainwave, and Cadance found herself sitting straight up with a grin. "Oh, I know! I could help ponies that are looking to end their relationships!"
This actually seemed to get Shining's attention. He looked at his unduly excited wife with a very tangible puzzlement. "Why do you sound so excited about that prospect?"
"Do you know how many ponies are statistically unhappy with their marriage, yet unable to leave it?" Cadance was out of bed all of a sudden, walking over to her desk and pulling out articles and documents, all dog-eared, as if she'd been considering this for a while. "For a long time, Equestrian culture didn't allow divorce, and even now, the mentality once fostered has forced ponies to stay together even when they're miserable, because they either feel as if they owe it to their shared children or that they would be shamed or otherwise disadvantaged if they did go through with a divorce. They aren't exactly easy to get here."
"...should I be glad for that? You sound more married to the idea of splitting ponies up than you are to me right now."
Cadance did the mature thing and threw a pink slipper at him.
"Listen, sweetheart. Here in the Crystal Empire, a lot of the ponies are still stuck a thousand years in the past, fostering the same old mentalities that used to make a lot of ponies' lives hell. If I can do something like this to remind my citizens that they're free to pursue who and whatever it is they want without guilt, promote freedom of choice, and help ponies find new love, then of course I'm going to do it. Besides, I'll bet the bits could be good, and there'd be some really funny stories."
"Goddess, are you always this devious?" Shining asked, eyebrow raised at the morally questionable love of his life.
"Only when you roll over and die after two minutes without finishing me," Cadance smirked. As she said before, Shining was consistent.
"I'll be your first customer at this rate," Shining snickered.
The pair of them laughed, but Cadance's heart wasn't in it. The idea of setting up a business, one that dealt chiefly with relationships, with finding ponies that were right for one another and putting single ponies in the game? It was exhilarating, it was mind-boggling, it was... not conducive to healthy sleeping patterns whatsoever.
So Cadance got up and started planning. She sat at her desk and she worked and worked as her husband began to snore in the background, going through everything from prospective names to ideas for business models, services she might be able to offer, how much capital she could pour into starting a business like this. When she realised she didn't have everything she needed, she snuck away from a sleeping Shining and entered the library, skulking around her own castle at night like an escaped prisoner, scooping up books on various aspects of law and relationships, especially law pertaining to relationships.
And luckily, she found that with her current qualifications, she was legally able to solicit advice and help handle both marriage and divorce proceedings. Apart from that, it wasn't as if she needed any qualifications to begin hooking ponies up.
It couldn't be too difficult, after all.
She'd simply need to find an office, come up with a name, and register her business with the legal authorities, and she'd be able to help ponies find new partners and enrich their lives in no time.
Because hey, everypony deserved a shot at happiness, right?
Placid Lake was a nervous pony, that much was clear to anyone who met her. She walked with a troubled, rushed gait, and often kept a portion of her mane and face hidden under a large, blue beret, which contrasted with her cream coat and dark brown mane. The other elements of her attire were both a short, black pencil skirt—formal and easy, but not flaunting in any way—and a small brown saddlebag. Placid Lake liked to blend in with the scenery as best she could, and wasn't a particularly loud pony.
But right now, she needed to be. She'd spent a fair amount of time standing outside the large, shared office building in the uptown of the Crystal Empire, of which she knew Princess Cadance had procured a floor for her purposes. Adverts had been travelling around the Crystal Empire for days now, as well as word of mouth, and the opportunity to work under the Princess of Love? It was incredible, it was exciting, it was everything that Placid Lake truthfully needed.
But getting there hadn't just meant getting ready, or versing herself on both her routine, and everything she was able to find out about the job. It had meant hours waiting in nervous anticipation as Cadance went through the line of prospective interviewees, of which there were many of various ages and genders. Placid Lake imagined many were unqualified, and had just seen the interview process as an excuse to speak to the princess face to face, seeing as she was tirelessly conducting them herself.
Placid didn't mind waiting. She'd gotten used to biding her time by now, and this would all be worth it if it came together.
When her turn eventually came, and she walked through the door to find the princess, she looked a lot less... frazzled than she'd anticipated. Placid had imagined that with so many hours of non-stop interviewing, the alicorn would be ready to hit the desk, but instead, she greeted Placid with a short wave and a big smile as the nervous pegasus walked further into the room. Nervous for a good reason, but she could do this. Deep breaths.
Eventually, words came from Cadance. "Hey there! Welcome to Princess Cadance's Heart Healing and Divorce Emporium, for all of your love related needs! Are you here for an interview?"
Placid noticed that the princess seemed to frown for a moment, after speaking, her eyes travelling over her, but the moment was lost when Placid blurted something in spite of herself. "That's quite the long name. Have you not considered something snappier?"
"...I'm working on it," Cadance answered with a sheepish smile. "Honestly, I'm surprised it took someone this long to call it out, but it's difficult to think of a way to combine 'divorce' and 'happy' in the same sentence." She shook her head, forgetting the notion and replacing it with that same smile from before. "So, who are you, and which position would you like to apply for, assuming that's why you're here?"
"My name is Placid Lake," she replied, tipping her beret before removing it and holding it against her chest with a hoof, not wanting to place it on the desk and appear rude. "I was hoping to apply for a junior position as a dating and marriage consultant, or fill any other position that might be available." She smiled, making sure not to be too brash about it. "When I heard about what you were doing, princess, I came almost immediately. It'd be an honour to work under you."
Cadance seemed to scrutinise her words for a while, interviewer mode turning on. "You... flew all the way here to apply? How did you hear about the opening from outside of the Crystal Empire?"
That was an easy one to get around. "Simple! I'm here on vacation, and I heard a couple talking about the opening firm when I was sat in a cafe yesterday. I'm between jobs right now, so I weighed up my options and figured that working here would be a great option for me, considering it's only a half hour commute from my current home."
"I see..." Cadance flicked through her note cards for a few seconds, looking back up at Placid, who really couldn't tell how this was all going yet. "And you have an interest in relationships?" A nod. "If it isn't too invasive of me, are you currently in one?"
"I've been single for around six months," Placid Lake replied, biting her lip and allowing her eyes to hit the floor for a moment. "The last colt I was with, we tried for a while, but he just wasn't my special somepony. We parted on good terms, at least."
"That's healthy," Cadance smiled, and it felt legitimate. "I'm both happy and sorry to hear that. Is bringing happiness to other ponies important to you?"
"Of course! I absolutely adore seeing ponies caring for and loving one another. It sustains me more than anything."
"And your qualifications? Experience?"
Now was time for the test. The documentation had been easy enough to produce, but would it be good enough? Placid Lake pulled a resume from her saddlebags, one she'd tailored specifically for this interview, and laid it on the desk in front of Cadance.
Her potential employer gave it a glance over, and while Placid wondered and waited, trying not to sweat, she began to see Cadance's face light up. "You have a glowing record from flight school, and your list of volunteer work and public sector customer relations experience leads me to..." She cleared her throat, hoofing the resume back to Placid. "You know, usually, I'd run through a list of hypotheticals, ask a bunch more questions, and look for specifics about your previous work, like a good interviewer, but honestly, I'm so impressed that I think I've only got one question for you."
"And that is?" Placid waited with baited breath. If it was 'when can you start' then this had gone better than she ever could've expected, better than she'd dreamed.
Cadance peered at the resume again, then at Placid, eyes narrowed, as if she was double checking something, and then with a wry smile, lowered her voice, dropping the friendly tone. "Who are you really?"
Placid Lake froze over. "I... excuse me?"
"I've got a bit of an advantage over most interviewers," Cadance admitted, "in that I can feel what's in their heart. I can sense their joy, sorrow, fear... and I feel all of that in you, of course, but most of all, I can sense their love. It's the driving force of a pony, after all. With you, I can't feel that flow of love whatsoever, which leads me to believe that you're not a pony. That might sound a little neurotic, but I'm afraid after a few borderline world-ending scenarios, you grow cautious about these things."
"I-I... erm..." Placid Lake didn't know what to do right then, what to say!
"Would you mind if I cast a quick scrying spell on you? It isn't a particularly long process, I promise."
Shit. She needed to do something right then, or things were going to go way south. "Wait!" Placid Lake called, waving her hooves at Cadance as she fell to her haunches. Emergency plan B, here we go. "Wait. If I told you that I was a changeling, would you be angry with me?"
Cadance raised an eyebrow. "If it's simply a thing of comfort? No. If you've lied to me more on your resume and I find out? Yes, most definitely."
Placid Lake sighed. Time to go all out. "What if I told you my name was Chrysalis?"
Cadance didn't react with shock, not like she'd expected her to. In fact, she barely moved. "In that hypothetical situation, I'd ask you what should stop me from arresting you right here and now. And, again, purely hypothetically, if I was Queen Chrysalis right now? I'd be making my excuses and leaving."
There was no malice in her tone, only clear, stone cut clarity. Placid Lake transformed in spite of the warning, and there stood Chrysalis in her place, the creature she'd always truly been. "I'm sorry that I've lied to you. I did it with the best intentions."
Cadance looked as if she was ready to spring from her seat in an instant, but she didn't charge up her horn. "You should leave now, while you're still able to."
Chrysalis feared Cadance, honestly. With all that she'd done to her in the past, and with the shift in the power dynamic now that Chrysalis had lost all of her people and so much of her power, there was no way she could take the Princess of Love on. "I will if you truly want me to, but I only came here to atone."
"I'm sure that's a load of steaming hot crap," Cadance spat in response. She was usually so sweet and calm, every other time Chrysalis had seen her. She wasn't sure if she liked the change as she usually would. Cadance shrugged her withers from the opposite side of the desk, relaxing back into her chair. "You've got a minute. Explain why you're here."
Chrysalis took a deep breath. This was going to be difficult. "I'm being honest with you. I've had... I've had a long time to think about all of the things I did. At first, it was only ruthless pragmatism, me trying to find a way to provide for my people, who I never thought would be accepted or understood. Then, after so many setbacks, it became callous viciousness, a desire for revenge. I've realised how useless those emotions are." She paused, considering something for a moment. "You said you can tell how creatures feel. Do I hate you?"
Cadance was silent for a moment, trepidatious. "...no. You don't."
"I want to start making amends for all the bad things I've done over the years. You and Shining Armour are at the top of my list. I thought that by helping you, helping other ponies? I might be able to take the first step towards turning over a new leaf..." Chrysalis hung her head. "I understand if you wish to turn me away. The only reason I didn't reveal myself until I was forced was that I knew you wouldn't accept me if you knew who and what I really was. I wouldn't accept me. I wouldn't trust me, being in your hooves."
Cadance narrowed her eyes, brows furrowed. "I don't. There's something you're holding back. Tell me the real truth. Everything."
Chrysalis couldn't bring her eyes to meet those of the princess. "Fine. I realised that working in an environment like this, I'd constantly be around ponies that were in love with one another, and that it would give me some of my strength back. I'm starving, princess, truthfully. I've been malnourished and weak for months, and I'm running low on fumes. If I didn't find a solution, and soon, I knew there was only a limited amount of time left for me."
"And you couldn't just share the love in your heart, like all the other changelings managed?"
Chrysalis tilted her head. "Do you realise how old I am, Cadance? Older than Celestia. Almost as old as Discord. The other changelings, they've only lived a single lifespan. They were able to change their ways because they've not been so solidly set in them? Me? I've been forced to be this way for as long as I can remember, and many lifetimes of memory before that. It isn't a switch I could just flip like the others. Selfishly, it was the main reason I abhorred the notion. Well, that and a lack of trust."
"So you admit you don't trust ponies, that you've lied to me about who you are, and that your reasons for coming here weren't legitimate, yet expect me to let you stay?" Cadance's face was like stone. It wasn't right on her.
"I wasn't lying about my reasons," Chrysalis said, and she begged with her heart that Cadance would listen. "Perhaps I do need to feed to survive, but I can do so without hurting ponies. I could've gone elsewhere, but I chose here because I owe a debt to you, to you and your husband, and I'd do a lot in an attempt to make it up to you. That matters to me more than anything else, besides my own life."
For a long time, Cadance was silent. There was a knock on the door, making Chrysalis jump, but Cadance shooed them away. When she came to sit back down, she'd found words. "How do I know that you aren't plotting something? That this isn't a plan to return to your original power, perhaps more, and try to steal my country away from me?"
"I suppose you don't," Chrysalis admitted, for she could truthfully find no counterargument. "As I've said, if you ask me to leave, I will, but if you allow me to stay, I promise to work hard for you. It may shock you a little, but that resume is an understatement. I've filled so many positions in covert operations over the years that I may as well be an expert in interpersonal communication. I'm sure I could be an asset to you."
"And that's what scares me," Cadance replied, snickering despite herself. "It'd be stupid for me to take you on, and I absolutely know it."
"Then send me home, princess."
"No. You'll stay here. You'll work for me, and you'll work hard." Cadance risked it, she risked a smile, broke her stoic countenance. "We're here to help ponies find new relationships, so I'll have a try at repairing ours. How does that sound?"
Chrysalis smiled. Not a malevolent or otherwise evil thing, only a simple smile of happiness, of relief. "We need to do something about the name, though. What you greeted me with sounds legitimately terrible."
"...is it honestly that bad?"
"In my four-hundredth year of rule, a band of changelings chose to name one of our settlements 'Greck' after the name of a sludge-like substance we'd been forced to eat for years, which was abundant there. That name had more poetry to it than Cadance's Heart Dealing Horse Emporium, or whatever it was."
"Heart Healing Divorce Emporium," Cadance muttered, seeming like she was already regretting her decision.
"Yes... that." Chrysalis pointed at the desk. "May I?" Cadance nodded, and the changeling wooshed up the papers with names written on them using her horn and began to pick through them. "Courtship and Courtrooms... too serious." A frown. "Finding Hearts... too simple, but at least it's shortened." A slight hum as she reshuffled the documents. "What does this crossed out one say?" Chrysalis moved the paper back a little, staring intensely, as Cadance began to shuffle on her hooves. "...Pound Town? I didn't realise you were running a brothel here."
"Okay, that's it! No more reading for you, bug lady!" Cadance swiped the papers from Chrysalis, earning a growl for either that or the nickname. The moment Cadance's eyes hardened, Chrysalis lost the temper.
"I don't like that name. I am far more imposing than a simple bug." There was a single piece of paper on the floor that Cadance hadn't remembered to grab, Chrysalis scooped it up. "How about..."
"Ooh, are we thinking of names for you now?!" Cadance jumped up and down in place like a filly, a big smile about her.
Chrysalis blinked. "Why are you suddenly so excited?"
"Two things make me truly happy in this world. Naming things, and getting ponies in relationships. That's why I've thought of ship names for so many ponies I know! Twidash, Sparity, Flutterdog... the list goes on."
Chrysalis probably shouldn't have said what she was about to. "Have you ever considered that perhaps the excitement you display at these prospects is a little alarming?"
For the first time since her reveal, Cadance's eyes truly darkened. "You will not take away my right to make cute pony couple names."
Have you ever seen a pink, angry love demon? Chrysalis hadn't until this moment, and she'd almost forgotten what it felt like to sweat in her usual body. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. Forget I said anything."
"Why do you think I'm doing this, after all?" Cadance said with a now manic glee about her. Chrysalis wondered if she'd triggered something.
"Because... you wish to help ponies in matters of love?"
"Because it's fun! It's fun and it's wonderful and I know everything about how to make ponies happy!" Cadance all but squee'd, grinning like a mentalist. A few moments, and she blinked out of it, her eyes seeming to change back to usual, and Cadance clearing her throat with a forced cough. "Erm, and yes.... to help. Of course."
Why was it that through all of that, it now felt as if it was Cadance hiding something, either from Chrysalis, or from herself?
"Anyways, I'd probably call you cheese legs."
And just like that, Chrysalis stopped contemplating the very important question of what had caused that monumental but momentary change in Cadance and started focussing her attention on not leaping across the table and attempting to strangle her. "Cheese legs?" She repeated, her throat so dry she sounded as if she was about to cough up sawdust.
"Well, sure! Like emmental, or one of the other holey cheeses."
"I am a queen," Chrysalis mumbled, hiding behind as much mane as she could.
"Oh!" Cadance announced, suddenly very excited, though managing not to start prancing around this time. "I think I've got our name! Hearts and Holes."
Chrysalis looked at her legs, then at Cadance's flanks, where her cutie mark rested. "That... sounds like an innuendo."
"I know, right?!" Cadance grinned, writing up the name and testing a strapline. "Hearts and Holes: however big the gap is, we can fill you up!"
"...I think it gives off the wrong message. How about something else that's related to us?"
"Alright, how about Princess Cadance and the Conniving Bitch Bunny Boiler: you'll get divorced because of us!"
Chrysalis looked about ready to commit a war crime. Again. "...Hearts and Holes it is."
Cadance gave her a very smug and satisfied grin. "I think we're going to enjoy working together more than I realised."
"If this reintroduction is any indication? I think a part of me is beginning to favour the prospect of execution."