Your mare is beautiful. Perfect, even. You would like nothing more than to gaze lovingly at her, compliment her many amazing traits, take long walks with her, have light-hearted conversations with her, and make her laugh. But today, you will do none of those things. Today, all interactions are off limits.
Sounds harsh? Just wait.
Step Five is all about ignoring your mare on a day when you will be around her constantly. Trying this step on a day your mare is not around would defeat its purpose.
The ultimate goal of Step Five is to get your mare to notice the absence of your attentions. So far, you have built up a friendship with her, and after Step Four, have indicated romantic intentions. By now, your mare has likely picked up on your interest in her, or is at least entertaining the possibility of your feelings.
YOU MUST NOT ALLOW HER TO FEEL TOO SECURE IN THESE ASSUMPTIONS.
It is critical that your mare be forced to consider a life without your affections. In so doing, she will realize how upsetting it would be for you to disappear. "You don't know what you've got until it's gone," as the saying goes. It is time for your mare to confront her own feelings. The previous steps have all worked to build you into your mare's life. Now, you must remove yourself from it. Scare her, brave stallion. Ignore her. And if at all possible, favor somepony else.
It is just for one day. But trust me when I say that this one day will change everything.
"I can't do this," were Spike's first words as he sat up in bed the next morning. His eyes were wide open and bloodshot, and he rubbed at them roughly.
"Can't do what?" Twilight asked sleepily from her own bed.
"Nothing," Spike said. He climbed to his feet and darted down to the kitchen before Twilight could repeat her question.
"Smooth Fox is crazy," Spike mumbled to himself, getting out bowls for breakfast. "I'll never be able to do this. Ignore Rarity? Make her feel bad? All day?"
Spike's stomach whirled sickeningly fast at the thought, and he had to steady himself on the wall for a moment. Probably better to skip the loop-da-loop rides today, if your stomach's already acting up, Spike noted to himself, forcing down a swallow.
There was no getting around it. He hated the entire idea of Step Five, but he couldn't ignore Smooth Fox's logic – Rarity might just be used to all his attentions. If he took them away, maybe it would get her to wake up and realize how much she needed him. She does need me… doesn't she?
Spike's hand began to jitter and he quickly set the bowls down on the table to stop them knocking into each other. What if she doesn't need me? As if the prospect of spending a day being rude to Rarity wasn't enough…What if I do all this, and it doesn't even matter? What if Rarity doesn't care that I'm ignoring her?
"Oh Celestia, I can't, I can't I can't I can't," Spike moaned, covering his face with his hands and sinking to the floor.
"Can't what?" Twilight asked from behind him. Spike shot to his feet.
"Nothing!" he repeated, glancing about to try to find another place to dart to. Twilight was faster, though. Her horn began to glow, and Spike found he couldn't move his feet. Looking down, both his feet glowed against the floor. "You trapped me!" Spike accused.
"Yes, I did, didn't I?" Twilight said wryly. "And since you don't seem to want to tell me what's going on, I'm going to go out on a limb and guess your panic this morning has something to do with Rarity. Am I right?"
Spike was about to object, but realized it'd be useless. Twilight knew him way too well. He sighed. "Yeah, you're right. As usual."
"Do you want to talk about it?" Twilight released Spike from her spell, which he knew was her way of giving him a choice.
He wiggled his toes, and thought for a moment about taking off again. Looking over at his sister, who sat patiently by his side, he eventually decided against it. "Alright. Sure, yeah," he said, climbing up on his kitchen stool.
Twilight gave him a moment to collect himself.
"So…" Spike began after several minutes of kicking his feet back and forth awkwardly. "Basically…I'm scared, Twilight. I'm supposed to do Step Five today at the fair, and I just don't know if I can."
"Ugh, Step Five?" Twilight mimed gagging. "Isn't that the step I told you to skip? That's the one where you need to be mean to Rarity, isn't it?"
"Not mean, really," Spike explained. "Just…I need to ignore her. It's supposed to make her think about our relationship, and realize that she would be sad if we weren't together, or something like that."
"Spike," Twilight said, putting a hoof on his arm. "I don't often say this but…please don't do what the book says. I read that chapter. It's ridiculous. I have no idea what the author was thinking when he wrote it, but being a stallion, he probably just doesn't really understand mares the way he thinks he does. Trust me. I am a mare. And I'm telling you, skip Step Five. Seriously."
"Psh, trust me, I want to," Spike said. "But I can't."
"Yes, you can."
"No, I can't, Twilight," Spike growled. "Don't you see? This is the step that will get Rarity to realize she likes me!" Hopefully, Spike thought, gulping. "Even if I want to, I can't skip it. Not if I want a chance with her."
Twilight sighed. "Is there anything I could say to get you to change your mind?"
"Now, remember, Sweetie Belle," Rarity said as she walked with her sister to the annual Fun Times For Friendship Fair, "Not a word about Spike's feelings. To anypony. His feelings are his own to share with whomever he wishes, and not for some young filly to spread around town."
"I know," Sweetie Belle answered, rolling her eyes. "You've only told me like, a hundred zillion times."
The fairgrounds loomed on the horizon, and the two sisters made their way towards them. Rarity continued talking. "I mean, just because he's so desperately taken with me that it's impossible for him to hide it, even in front of others, does not give you or anypony else the right to gossip about it."
"Uh huh…" Sweetie Belle said. They could see the individual tents and stands now, and the smell of fresh popcorn wafted towards them.
"Spike being head over hooves for me is a secret, you understand? I know it's fun to gush about such things, but – "
Sweetie Belle stamped one hoof. "Rarity, I get it, okay?"
The older unicorn stumbled slightly. "Er…right," Rarity said. She could feel a blush coming on, and turned away from her sister before Sweetie Belle could see her red cheeks. The last thing she needed was her sister starting in on the questions again. Especially since Rarity wasn't sure how to answer any of them. One thing Rarity was sure of was that today was going to be a much better day than any she'd had lately.
For the first time in ages, Rarity had a little prance in her step. A resurgence of confidence had risen in her, ever since the events of the night before. After Sweetie Belle had left, Rarity had carefully taken the rose from outside and put it in a small vase by her bed. When she'd opened her eyes in the morning, the sight of it made her grin. In fact, she'd had to stand in front of her mirror and squish her mouth around a bit to stop the grinning. After all, there was absolutely no way she could ever go out in public with such a goofy expression.
"Hey look! There's Spike now!" Sweetie Belle pointed out.
The goofy grin threatened to plaster itself all over her face once more, and, horrified, Rarity squashed a hoof to her cheek to stop it.
"Oh really?" Rarity asked, slowly lowering her hoof once she had her expression under control.
"Right over there, by the entrance!" Sweetie Belle said. Rarity glanced over casually. Sure enough, there her little dragon was, standing next to Twilight and Fluttershy. She blinked fondly in his direction. It was so nice of Spike to do all that for me last night. I guess I owe it to him to pay him a little bit more attention than usual today.
Rarity stepped back in surprise as Applebloom raced over, nearly plowing straight into them.
"Applejack says she has to work all day and Scootaloo said she'll only go on rah'des that Rainbow Dash goes on but ah' want to go on the Twin Twurl Challenge and ah' need a pahrd'ner!!!"
Rarity's eyes bugged out at all the yelling. How does Applejack ever put up with it?
"Whoa, there, Applebloom!" Sweetie Belle said. "Calm down. I'll go on the Twin Twirl Challenge with you!"
"You will?" Applebloom's face broke into a huge smile of relief.
"Of course!" Sweetie Belle squeaked. "That is, if Rarity doesn't mind. Do you mind, Rarity?" Sweetie Belle turned and looked up at her sister. "I know earlier I said I'd ride it with you…"
"It's perfectly alright." Rarity smiled. "You two have fun. I'm sure I can find somepony else to ride with me."
"Oh! What about Spike?" Sweetie Belle suggested brightly.
Rarity narrowed her eyes at her sister and Sweetie Belle backed up apologetically.
"I mean…or somepony else…no reason to pick Spike in particular…" Sweetie Belle trailed off awkwardly.
"Indeed," Rarity said, giving her sister one final glare of silence.
The little unicorn gulped. "So uh…Applebloom, you ready to go?"
"Sure am!" Applebloom jumped up.
"Great!" Sweetie Belle yelled, and the two of them raced away together.
Rarity shook her head at her retreating sister. Way to keep your mouth shut, Sweetie Belle. You're lucky it was just Applebloom, and not somepony older who might pick up on things!
As much as her sister's near outburst made Rarity cringe, she had to admit, asking Spike to go on the Twin Twirl Challenge might be a good idea. It'd be a nice way to say thanks for all his troubles with her gardening. And maybe after they rode the Twin Twirl Challenge, they could go on the Rocking Airship, or the Pony Pal-ace. After all, the Fun Times For Friendship Fair was all about doing things together. Ponies needed at least one partner for all activities. And if Sweetie Belle is partnering up with Applebloom, I'll need a partner of my own. Rarity allowed for a tiny smug smile. Won't Spike be pleased when I ask him?
She trotted over. "Good morning, Fluttershy! Good morning, Twilight! Good morning, Spike!" Rarity greeted all of them in front of the large fairgrounds map.
"Hello, Rarity," Twilight said, barely casting a glance in her direction. The purple unicorn was studying the map like it held the secret to life, scrutinizing its every detail. "We've just about got our game plan figured out for the day."
"Oh, yes," Fluttershy agreed. "Twilight has come up with a very…nice schedule for our visit to the fair."
Rarity laughed a little. "Of course she has." But as amusing as Twilight's neuroticism was, Rarity found herself looking over at the dragon next to the map. "Spike, are you doing well this morning?"
"Huh?" Spike blinked, glancing at Rarity for only a moment, before looking back at the map with Twilight. "Yeah, sure. Fine."
Rarity frowned a bit. "You're certain about that?" she asked, stepping forward in concern.
The dragon said nothing else.
"Oh," Rarity bit her lower lip, her eyes drifting to the side. Is he okay? Why won't he look at me? She shook her head. He probably was just trying to study the map, in case Twilight gave him some sort of pop quiz later. Twilight really needed to give Spike more time off. The dragon could use some free time in his life – time to do things he wanted to do. Time for fun.
Rarity straightened her shoulders. She could provide that. A smile played at her lips. "Spike…I was wondering…you see, Sweetie Belle's run off with Applebloom to ride the Twin Twirl Challenge. She was going to be my partner for the ride, but now I don't have anypony to ride with. Would you like to be my partner?"
"R-really?" Rarity asked, touching her jaw lightly to make sure it hadn't actually just fallen to the ground. "Then maybe another ride?" she tried.
"No?" Rarity danced nervously, unable to keep her legs still. "W-why not?"
For some reason, Twilight let out a giant exasperated sigh. Rarity forced herself back under control before Twilight, or Fluttershy for that matter, picked up on her distress.
"Don't feel like it." Spike shrugged. "Besides, I'm going to spend the day with Twilight. She's my partner for the rides."
"Oh no." Twilight shook her head. "You're not dragging me into this."
For the first time that morning, Rarity actually saw Spike express some emotion. "Twilight!" the dragon said, his voice squeaking higher in panic. "You've got to help me out here!"
Rarity watched the exchange in absolute puzzlement. What in the name of Celestia is going on?
"Nope, no way, no how." Twilight walked away, magically removing the dragon from her ankle, where he was dragging along behind her. "You've dug this hole for yourself. You figure it out. I'll have no part in it."
"Twilight!" Spike yelled, his eyes growing larger the farther away the unicorn got from them.
"Spike…" Rarity took a tentative step towards the dragon. "Is there something wrong? Something I can help with?"
"Uh…er…no!" Spike spun around quickly. "Because Fluttershy's going to be my partner for the Twin Twirl Challenge!" He grabbed at the yellow pegasus. It was Fluttershy's turn to have wide eyes.
"I am?" she asked, nervously. "But I don't like the fast rides…"
"You'll be fine," Spike said. "Come on. Please!" He pulled on her side, and Fluttershy couldn't get out of his grip no matter how fast she spun her feet backwards.
"Spike, what are you - ?" Rarity started.
"Please, Fluttershy!" Spike begged. Apparently his tone was pitiful enough, that Fluttershy decided to comply.
"Oh, okay then, if it really means that much to you…"
"Thank you!" Spike said, dashing off so fast that Fluttershy was forced to fly to catch up.
"Sorry, Rarity!" she called over her shoulder as she followed the dragon to the Twin Twirl Challenge.
Rarity stood dumbfounded and all alone at the fair's entrance.
"Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!" Fluttershy screamed as the Twin Twirl Challenge spun them around faster and faster.
Okay, as if I didn't feel guilty enough before…Spike's conscience pelted him with imaginary sharp, pointy rocks.
The ride probably was a lot of fun, but between Fluttershy's screams of absolute panic, and the look he saw on Rarity's face just before he ran away, there was no way for Spike to even begin enjoying it. As soon as it was done, he quickly ushered Fluttershy far away from the Twin Twirl Challenge, patting her on the back.
"I'm sorry, Fluttershy…I really am." Spike grimaced. "I won't make you do that again. Or any other ride."
"It's…it's okay…" Fluttershy said shakily.
"No, it's not," Spike sighed. "I was being selfish. Come on, let's go do something else. What would you like to do?"
"Me?" Fluttershy asked, meekly. "Oh, I'm sure whatever you want to do is fine."
Spike stared at her. "I want to ride giant, scary rides. That's not fine for you."
Fluttershy fell silent, scratching one hoof along the ground shyly.
"How about the petting zoo?" Spike suggested.
Fluttershy perked up. "Oh, yes! That would be wonderful! That is, if it's okay with you…"
"It sounds great to me," Spike said, doing his best to look excited. The two of them began walking to the side of the fairgrounds, past several concession areas and a few of the foal-rides.
"Careful now…Basil Bee, careful now! Watch your hoof when they shut the ride door! Keep your wings inside the apple!" Spike overheard one worried mother shouting, as a young colt climbed into a giant wheeled apple on an extraordinarily tame roller coaster track. Other, equally large fruits trailed behind the apple. To the side, a stallion began to jog on a treadmill, and that got the fruits all moving along.
Spike wanted to make a joke about overparenting, but realized Fluttershy would probably side with the mother. He kicked his way through some spilt peanuts. Fluttershy was nice, but what he wouldn't give to be spending the day with Rarity instead…
Obsessed much, Spike? It's just one day. Buck up, mister! You can do this!
But his inner voice of courage just wasn't loud enough to win inside the dragon. With every step he took, his heart sank even further.
Worse, he couldn't stop himself from glancing over his shoulder every other minute. It had to be nerves, but he just couldn't shake the feeling that Rarity was following him. When he wasn't glancing over his shoulder, he'd swear he'd see her up ahead, just past the next bend, behind an upcoming tent…anywhere, really. But it always turned out to be somepony else. Or in one embarrassing case, a concession stand with white siding and berry cream cotton candy out front.
"You're crazy," Spike said to himself.
"What did you say?" Fluttershy asked.
"Nothing," Spike sighed.
"Oh look! It's a whole pen of guinea pigs!" Fluttershy squealed as soon as they'd reached the petting zoo.
Spike looked in the direction she was pointing and his face blanched. There stood Sweetie Belle and Applebloom, each holding a guinea pig and looking back at their flanks as if they were going to get some sort of rodent-petting cutie mark.
He couldn't go near them. Especially not Sweetie Belle. Not today. What if Rarity showed up?
You're not supposed to avoid Rarity, remember? You're supposed to ignore her!
Spike told his inner voice to shut up.
"Uh…why don't you go on ahead, Fluttershy?" Spike suggested. "I'm going to go see what kind of food they've got around here."
"Are you sure?" Fluttershy asked. "You'll miss out on the cuddliest snuggliest part of the fair!"
"Yeah, I'm uh…sure," Spike said. "Don't worry about me."
"Okay then…" Fluttershy replied softly. But she couldn't hide her excitement any longer, and a moment later she squeed, darting towards the guinea pigs.
Spike watched her go, and then let out a sigh of relief. No need to go anywhere near Sweetie Belle now. He turned and began his trek back towards the concession booths.
"Well, hiya, Spike!"
Spike stumbled to a halt. "Pinkie Pie?" he asked, spinning around. Where is she?
Spike looked to his right. Pinkie Pie waved from behind a long row of baked goods. She had half a cake stuck to the side of her face.
"Do you wanna buy a cake?" she asked excitedly. "I'm helping Mr. and Mrs. Cake sell their treats today while they're going around the fair with the twins!"
"Ah think Spike would rah'ther buy a pie," said another voice from down the line. Spike looked up the row of concession booths. Right next to Sugarcube Corner's stand was the Apple family's stand, with row after row of pie slices, caramel apples, candied apples, and apple tarts. Applejack stood behind it all, counting coins in a large change box.
"But if Spike doesn't buy a cake, I still won't have sold anything!" Pinkie Pie pouted.
"Maybe if yeh' didn't always have your face stuffed with food when customers came by, yeh'd've made some sales by now," Applejack pointed out.
Spike couldn't help but laugh a little at the pair of them. "How about if I buy a piece of cake and a piece of pie?" he offered. "I'm starving!"
"Great!" Pinkie bounced up, the half-cake sliding off her face. It hit the ground with a splat.
Spike walked over to their stands, and tried to decide exactly what he wanted to purchase. There were plenty of tasty looking options. But his decision was interrupted.
"Oh look, there's Rarity," Applejack noted. "Ah bet she'd be interested in a slice of pie."
"Rarity?" Spike paled. "Where?"
He spun around, caught sight of her – wow she was beautiful when the sunlight caught her mane just right – and then promptly panicked.
"What?" Pinkie asked, just as Spike dove over the top of the Cake's stand to cower between the two ponies. Applejack stared down at him.
"And what, may ah' ask, are yeh doin'?"
"Just hide me! I can't be around Rarity right now!" Spike explained in a hushed tone. Spike! Step Five, buddy! Come on! You're just cheating now!
"Oh, are we playing hide and seek? I love that game!" Pinkie Pie danced in place. "Don't worry Spike, we gotcha covered!" She threw several giant racks of cupcakes over him until he was buried under a mountain of the baked goods.
"Pinkie, ah don't think Spike's playin' a game…"
"SHHHH! Rarity will hear you!"
"But Pinkie – "
As annoying as Pinkie could be, and as sticky as Spike felt covered in cupcake frosting, in that moment he was eternally grateful to the silly pink pony.
Rarity watched Spike nose-dive over a booth of cake, landing between Pinkie Pie and Applejack. She sighed, dragging her hooves. After wandering aimlessly for most the morning, her stomach rumbles had brought her to the concession stands. Seeing Spike there had given her a brief moment of hope, but his reaction to her was all too telling.
He was avoiding her because he was mad at her.
And it was all her fault.
Rarity could scarcely believe she'd been so foolish. Of course Spike wouldn't want to spend time with her. Not after the way she'd treated him the day before. Yelling at him to get out, to leave her alone…hardly a ladylike gesture on her part.
All the weeding and rearranging of flowers last night must have meant something, though, right?
Rarity's fretting came to a temporary pause as she watched Spike allow himself to become covered in cupcakes. Ugh, the mess…
Wait…a sudden thought struck her. What if last night was Spike's way of setting out his feelings…in order to say goodbye to them? One grand, final gesture?
Rarity sucked in a breath. It couldn't be true, could it? Was Spike really that upset that he'd finally thrown in the towel? He'd given up on her? And now…he'd gone to other ponies for help! Not her. Pinkie Pie. And…Applejack. Rarity narrowed her eyes. She still didn't trust the orange pony. Not around her Spike.
Her eye twitched slightly. Rarity, dear…when in the world did you start calling him your Spike?
Oh dear. She was in trouble now.
Rarity took an even deeper breath than before. Now calm down, Rarity. It's okay to care about Spike. He is your friend, after all. And it's completely understandable that you're upset at the idea of him being angry with you and taking his friendship elsewhere.
Now you just need to earn it back. She straightened up, lifted her nose high, and strode over to Applejack's stand. "Hello, Applejack. Pinkie Pie." She nodded towards the pink pony. "I was wondering if either of you had…erm…seen Spike lately?"
"Nope!" Pinkie said loudly. "Not at all!"
"Really?" Rarity arched an eyebrow at her. "Not at all?"
"Well, actually…" Applejack started, but then Pinkie Pie shoved a cupcake in the cowpony's mouth.
"Not. At. All." Pinkie glared at Applejack, bugging one eye out towards her.
"Erhm…" Applejack said through a mouthful of cupcake.
"Sorry, Rarity!" Pinkie smiled brightly. "No Spike here!"
"You're sure?" Rarity asked. She gave them her very best unimpressed stare.
Pinkie nodded. "Yep! If you want to buy a cake, you're welcome to stay! But if not, I guess you'd better be moving along now. Lots of fair to see, after all!"
Rarity sighed. Unless she wanted to get her hooves dirty and dig Spike out from his pile of cupcakes herself, it didn't look like she was going to get a chance to talk to him here. She eyed the cupcake pile warily. Icing dripped off it in large splotches onto the dirt ground.
Her upper lip wrinkled. No. It just wasn't going to happen.
"Alright," Rarity said slowly, looking back and forth between the two ponies. "I apologize for wasting your time."
The unicorn turned and walked away with as much dignity as she could muster.
"Come back when you want a cupcake!" Pinkie Pie called. Spike let out a sigh of relief from underneath the cupcakes. Rarity must have left.
"Ptooey!" Applejack spit something large out of her mouth. "Pinkie Pie, what was that all about?"
"You know, silly! We're hiding Spike!" Pinkie Pie said, shoving a hoof straight into the cupcake mountain and yanking Spike out.
"Ergh!" Spike wiped his hands all over himself, knocking off chunks of cake and frosting. He remained sitting on the ground, below the height of the table, just in case Rarity came back.
"But Rarity looked like she really needed to see him," Applejack said, frowning. "And Spike, don't yeh dare trah' to tell me yeh were just playin' a game, like Pinkie said."
Spike looked up at Applejack and winced. "I wasn't."
"Ah didn't think so," Applejack replied.
Spike sighed. "I guess I kind of owe you an explanation, huh?"
"If yeh'd like to give me one, that'd be nice," Applejack said, sitting down. "Business is slow, anyway."
"Ooohhhh Spike, are you going to tell her - !" Pinkie Pie slammed a hoof over her own mouth.
"Yeah, I guess," Spike said. Might as well. Applejack's trustworthy. "Applejack…see…the thing is…" He took a deep breath, building his courage. Applejack sat quietly, waiting patiently. Pinkie trotted in place and clutched at her mouth, her cheeks bursting. Bless her sugar-filled heart, she can keep a secret, can't she? Spike vowed to bake Pinkie Pie some cookies later. But in the meantime…Applejack was waiting for her explanation. No use putting it off.
Spike exhaled. "I…I like Rarity. As in, like like."
"He does!" Pinkie Pie squealed, leaping up and spinning in the air. "He told me ages ago!" She danced proudly. Spike wasn't interested in Pinkie Pie's antics at the moment, though. He was more concerned about what Applejack was going to say.
"Yeh like Rarity?" Applejack asked.
"Yeah," Spike replied, tracing a line in the frosting sitting next to him in the dirt.
"Uh…huh," Applejack said after a moment's pause. "Well, no offense, Sugarcube, but ah can't say ah'm too surprised to hear this."
"What?" Spike shot to his feet. "Did Twilight tell you? Oh, I'll get her…"
Applejack laughed. "No, no. It's just somethin' ah sort of figured out on mah own."
Spike's expression fell. "Oh. Is it that obvious?"
"Not at all!" Pinkie Pie said. "I was completely shocked when you told me, remember? First you were all like, 'I have a crush on Rarity!', and then I was all like, whaaaaaaaaaat now?! But I kept quiet anyway, I did I did!"
Spike looked up appreciatively at Pinkie Pie. "I know you did. And thanks for that."
"What ah don't understand," Applejack continued, "Is why yeh were tryin' to hide from Rarity."
"Oh. That," Spike said, scratching the back of his head. "I'm sort of trying to…well…you see…" He could feel his face flushing. "I'm following some advice. From…somepony. Steps. If I follow all the steps, I'm guaranteed to win Rarity over."
Pinkie Pie nodded. "Totally true! I knew about this, too!"
Applejack didn't look convinced. "Steps?"
"Yeah. From…from a book," Spike admitted.
"…And one of those steps is hidin' from Rarity?"
Spike smiled sheepishly. "Well…one of the steps is ignoring Rarity. Just for one day!" he added quickly, as Applejack's expression turned even more appalled. "I know it doesn't sound nice, but I have to do it! Even if Twilight does want me to skip it."
"Wait, lemme get this straight," Applejack said, narrowing one eye at Spike. "Twah'light wants yeh to skip a step."
Spike nodded. "Yeah, it's really annoying."
"Sugarcube…" Applejack shook her head sadly. "If Twah'light's tellin' yeh to skip a step in a book, maybe yeh should consider skippin' the step."
"I can't!" Spike said, his defenses rising up around him once more. "I've got to do what Smooth Fox says! There's no way a lame little dragon like me would have any chance of winning Rarity on my own!"
"What about askin' yer friends for help, then?" Applejack suggested.
Spike hesitated before responding. He hadn't really thought about asking anyone other than Twilight for help.
"Yeah!" Pinkie bounced in place. "We can help! We'll make sure every single step of that book works!"
"Wait, really?" Spike turned to Pinkie.
"That's not exactly what ah meant…" Applejack tried to interject.
"Don't be silly, Applejack! We just have to help Spike get the steps right, and then Cob's your uncle, Jammy's your aunt, poof! Wedding bells!" Pinkie squealed.
"W-wedding bells?" Spike's eyes widened and he took a step backwards. "Let's not get carried away here…I don't even know if Rarity likes me that way yet…"
"Okay fine, dating bells," Pinkie corrected herself. Then she put one hoof to her chin. "Does anypony know what dating bells sound like? Do you think it sounds anything like doorbells?"
"Ah have no idea." Applejack shook her head. "And ah also don't know if ah like where this is headed…"
"Oh please, Applejack!" Spike begged. "I could use all the help I can get!"
Applejack looked down at him and sighed.
"If ah must."
Rarity sat outside the fairgrounds, waiting for the day to just be over already. Why couldn't Sweetie Belle hurry up and come to their meeting spot? It would give her a reason to stop brooding.
Until then, Rarity was left with her thoughts.
So Spike hates me now. Or at least, has decided to quit liking me. She was sure of that much. Her indifference and cruelty had finally driven him away. And straight to Applejack.
There wasn't any proof of it, but Rarity bristled at the very idea of Spike spending the rest of his day with the Earth pony. All the flowers from the night before…they meant nothing to him now. Not like they did to her. He had said his goodbyes, and moved on. It was the only conclusion she could draw. A few tiny voices in her mind tried to point out that she was making a lot of assumptions, but Rarity smothered those quickly under a heavy blanket of dramatic woe.
The sun had just dipped below the horizon, casting long shadows along the ground. Rarity fought back tears as she watched.
"Rarity…we need to talk."
Rarity turned at the sound of the voice to see Twilight standing beside her.
"Twi-Twilight! What a surprise!" Rarity said, blinking quickly to shove any stray tears away.
Twilight sat down next to Rarity, watching the disappearing rays of sunlight.
"I want to apologize for any of Spike's weirdness today," Twilight said. "He uh…hasn't been himself lately. As you may have noticed."
Rarity let out a short laugh.
"So you've noticed," Twilight concluded. "Yeah. I'm sorry about that. I'm afraid he may have picked up some of my more…anal tendencies. He's insisting on doing something in a very particular order, and I'm afraid it may be hurting you."
Rarity sniffed. "Hurting me? In what sense?" She glanced at Twilight out of the corner of her eyes. The purple mare just stared at her. After a moment of such staring, Rarity's shoulders slumped. "Okay, so what if it has been?"
Twilight put a hoof on Rarity's shoulder. "I don't know what to do about it anymore, actually. I just wanted to let you know, that however it may seem, you're still important to Spike. He cares a lot about you."
The tears from earlier sprung back to Rarity's eyes, completely unbidden. "He…does?"
Twilight watched her carefully. "Yes. He does. And I have a question for you. Just how do you feel about Spike?"
Rarity stood up quickly. "Well…that's just a silly question. I care for him, too, of course. He's a great friend."
"Friend, though, right?" Twilight asked.
Rarity backed up slightly. "Er…yes. Why are you asking?"
Twilight nodded. "Just sorting things out. I thought as much."
Rarity sat back down tentatively. "And…so…what exactly is Spike doing? Why is he acting so odd?"
Twilight shuffled a front hoof through several blades of grass. "I can't say. It's a promise I made. But I can say that it's something very, very dumb. He's hurting you right now, and he knows it. He's actually doing it on purpose."
"He's…what? On purpose?" Rarity gasped.
"Yeah, it's silly, really," Twilight continued. "We'll probably get a good laugh out of it later. But right now, I'm afraid he's being a bit of a dolt."
"He's hurting me on purpose?" Rarity clarified.
"I can't tell you why," Twilight said. "I wish I could, it would make all this so much easier."
Rarity stared straight forward. She could feel the ice creeping over her heart. "Thank you for the talk, Twilight," Rarity said calmly.
"No problem!" Twilight smiled. "Anytime! Glad to help!" She got up and walked back towards the fairgrounds. "I'll send Sweetie Belle out if I can track her down."
"That would be lovely," Rarity replied, continuing to stare into the west. The sunlight was gone now, and darkness had taken over the sky.