"Now, if you've followed my instructions thus far, students, then now would be the optimal time to pour in the contents of beaker C into the mixture. Carefully, mind you, that compound has slight acidic properties; it is harmless, but it will eat away at your fur and mane, leaving you with a bald spot for a few weeks if you somehow manage to spill some onto yourselves."
Ebony fixed the safety goggles firmly over his eyes, taking the teacher Mr. Anode's heeding to heart. It was Ebony's last class for the day, Chemistry, and it just so happened to be the day for the class to participate in a group experiment. All he had to do was spend the hour completing said experiment, wait for the ending school bell to ring, then there'd be nothing stopping him and his two friends from taking the train from Canterlot High back to Ponyville.
With cautious motions, Ebony licked his lips nervously as he reached forward, securing beaker C with his hooves before slowly raising it off the table. He didn't know what a bat pony looked like beneath all its fur, and for his own sake, he wasn't hoping to find out anytime soon. Gingerly, he neared the fur-eating chemical to a larger glass filled with a concoction that was set above a lit Bunsen burner, his assignment partner spurring him on the entire time.
"Alright...you got it. Niiice and easy," said Sweets, standing a good distance from Ebony and the flask. From the way it appeared like she was trying to hold back a smirk, Ebony began to suspect if their earlier coin toss was rigged...
With the beaker's lip near the container's, Ebony took a calming breath, then began the motions of carefully pouring the liquid in. However, right was he was about to do so, Ebony's ears perked to the sound of a familiar little giggle coming from the opposite end of the classroom. Immediately turning to the source of the noise, the young bat stallion saw Cinnamon Bun, her hoof over her mouth in mid-chortle as she stood next to her own assignment partner, Swain Paramour, who was also struggling to keep his laughing fit down.
Swain was a unicorn stallion, about the same age as Ebony, yet he had a more athletic figure than the bat pony. He had a dirty white coat, a blue mane styled in a crew cut, and had a bit of blue stubble on his chin for a beard. His cutie mark was that of a frisbee, which was fitting since he happened to be captain of the school's frisbee golf team.
Watching the two continue to suppress their laughter, Ebony couldn't help but scowl slightly at the sight of Swain. Ebony didn't know why, but, in that particular moment, he wasn't very fond of the stallion. He couldn't see a reason as to why that was, as it wasn't like there was animosity between himself and Swain. Honestly, the most interaction they had would be when they'd pass each other in the locker room after P.E., and even then that was saying something.
If Swain left any lasting impressions in Ebony's mind, then it'd be how strange Swain was the only one he knew who actually used the showers there; quite regularly, in fact. He even took the time to lather his mane with some fancy shampoo he'd bring, though Ebony wasn't one to comment on such things.
Still, there was no solid reason for Ebony to dislike the guy, so he merely chalked it up to simple, innate jealousy stemming from the fact that he was paired with Cinnamon and not him.
"Yeah, I don't like it either," Sweets said suddenly, shaking Ebony from his stupor.
"Hmm, what?" Ebony blinked, then turned to Sweets. There, he noticed that, just like he was, she was looking at Cinnamon and Swain, her head cocked to the side and fore hooves crossed over her chest in a disapproving manner. "Uh, what don't you like?" he asked for clarification.
"Cinny being paired up with Swain," she answered simply with a shrug. "Of all the ponies it could have been in this class, it just had to be him."
Ebony had his own reasons to agree with that sentiment, sure, but he had no idea why Sweets would think so.
"Why?" he asked. "What's wrong with Swain? He seems like an ok-ish guy...I guess."
With a roll of her eyes, Sweets huffed in amusement. Moments later, she looked to Ebony, back to Cinnamon and Swain, then lightly shook her head before instantly double-taking to Ebony.
"Wait, you honestly don't know? You're not playing around right now?" she asked, almost gawking at him in disbelief.
Ebony would have scratched his head in confusion, but seeing as he was still holding onto the beaker, he opted to just shrug his shoulders.
"Huh," Sweets uttered, pulling her head back in amazement. "Must have been some rock you were living under. Bit slow on the upkeep, aren't cha?"
Rolling his eyes, Ebony countered snidely with, "Yeah, well it's a pretty nice rock; lots of hoof room. Now, about Swain?"
Sweets nodded. "Right, right... So, remember Beg--"
"Ms. Tooth... Mr. Star... I hope you two aren't talking during class time, especially while in the middle of an experiment involving some highly volatile chemicals," their teacher warned.
With the entire class going quiet, Ebony and Sweets froze, then turned to the front of the class. There, they saw Mr. Anode, looking over the rim of his glasses at the both of them, a stoic yet patient expression plastered on his face.
"Well?" Mr. Anode drawled, awaiting a response from either of them.
"Ugh, I'll tell you after school," she whispered through her teeth at Ebony before putting up a smile and answering their teacher. "Sorry, Teach. Ebony here was trying to distract from the lesson with pointless jibber-jabber."
"Hey..." said Ebony, voicing his apparent displeasure of being thrown under the bus. Regardless, and without missing a beat, Sweets continued.
"But I was like, 'Nuh-uh, Ebony; when our handsome and very smart teacher gives us an assignment, we shut up and do it.' Ain't no slackers in Mr. Anode's class. No distractions here. No siree--no siree, Potpourri." Sweets held a poker face with Mr. Anode for a few seconds, then finished with, "Eh, suffice to say, though, Mr. Anode, you kind of interrupted me when I was in the middle of telling him all that...and now you're kind of the one distracting us from the assignment." She tsked. "Bad show for an educator, Teach, really bad show."
His eyes locked on Sweets, Anode maintained his impassive expression for a moment or two before finally sighing.
"Just...just keep the chatter to a minimum and return to your assignment. That goes for you as well, everypony."
And with that, the students redirected their attention back to their own assignments, with only a few hushed whispers inquiring on what just transpired.
"Right," Sweets said to Ebony as she clopped her hooves together. "Let's get back to the thing, I guess. Ebony," in one flair motion, she gestured to her assignment partner, "do the thing."
"Doin' the thing," Ebony replied before carefully pouring the substance from beaker C into the larger, stewing glass.
Nearly instantaneous, there was chemical reaction within the beaker. The mixture within fizzed, then bubbled intensely before finally ebbing. With the very last drop of beaker C's compound added, Ebony let out a relieved sigh as he set the glass aside on the table.
"Right," he started as he turned to Sweets, wiping his brow of sweat that had gathered there. "What's next?"
The mare leaned over the table, a gleeful glint in her eyes as she examined the remaining chemicals.
"Now we just mix in the stuff from beaker F, H, and X. Good ol' chemical X."
Ebony pulled his head back, his brow arching. He looked to the other tables, noticing that everypony else was only adding one chemical into their mixtures and not three.
"You sure?" he asked, feeling a bit disoriented. "I could have sworn earlier that Mr. Anode told us to--" With Sweets still looking over the various beakers, her hoof suddenly jutted out towards Ebony, silencing him when the flat of it pressed gently against his lips.
"Stars, Stars, Stars," Sweets said in an a low, assured tone. "Did you read ahead in the chemistry book?"
Ebony swiped her hoof away from his face, then shook his head.
"Well...no. Mr. Anode told us not to."
Sweet's mouth firmed into a subtle smirk.
"Heh, that's because Mr. Anode just wants to feel smart when all he's doing is reading what's already been written for us. Mm, 'nother question for you, my fine, leather-winged friend: Do you want to complete this assignment?"
In response to such an absurd question, Ebony directed her a steely gaze.
"Uh, duh," he answered plainly. "Would have pretended to be sick or something, otherwise."
Flashing a large, toothy smile, Sweets then secured one of the beakers in her hooves.
"Perfect! Take the other two chemicals I mentioned and follow my lead. Trust me, I know a shortcut to finish this thing faster!"
"I don't think that's how chemistry works...and it's not a race," mumbled Ebony. Nevertheless, he did as was asked. Regardless, he couldn't shake off the gut feeling that Sweets had intentions other than completing the assignment. The option to follow that instinct was there, but, seeing as she was (surprisingly) one of the top students within the class, he choose to ignore it.
"Right." Sweets positioned her beaker over the main mix. "On the count of three, nice and steadily, we pour all three at the same time. Got it?"
Readying his chemicals as well, Ebony gave a single, affirmative nod. "Got it."
"One... Two... Three!"
At three, they poured into the larger beaker. Just like before, the resulting chemical reaction was immediate. The mixture bubbled, this time more violently; the liquid started changing into a multitude of colors (red and white being more prominent) before giving off what appeared to be some sort of thick, cloudy white vapor.
"Uh..." uttered Ebony worryingly, still pouring alongside Sweets. "Is it supposed to be misting like that?"
Appearing unconcerned, Sweets shrugged.
"I don't know...probably. Hey, uh...in about three seconds, we should stop pouring and hit the deck."
Balking, Ebony blinked once, then twice before looking to her.
"Hit the deck!"
Suddenly, before he even realized what happened, the mixture exploded in Ebony's face with a boom, momentarily disorienting him. His eyes shut, Ebony carefully set his beaker aside with his shaky hooves, then sat down onto the floor. He took hold of his unsteady head, trying to piece together what just happened.
Save for the painful, deafening ringing in his ears, he was completely fine, though his front half did feel a little warmer than usual. Later on, others in the class would tell him that they saw his face engulfed in a miniature mushroom cloud when they turned to him at the sound of the noise. It took him several moments, but he soon realized that he was coughing. As to why that was, he wasn't quite sure just yet.
When he finally gathered enough of his scrambled senses to open his eyes, Ebony saw that his vision past the safety goggles was shrouded in a heavy, unnatural fog. Stranger still, the smokey veil had a slight minty scent to it, and was so dense that Ebony couldn't make heads or tails of what was past a few feet ahead. All he could make out were vague silhouettes of what he assumed to be the tables and other students.
Slowly, though, the ringing in Ebony's ears lessened and, in turn, his hearing gradually returned. Eventually, the noise subsided to the point where he could identify the distinct coughs of his classmates.
"What just happened?"
"What's going on?"
"Is everypony alright?"
That last voice was Mr. Anode, who hurriedly opened the windows before attempting to fan the smoke outside with a sheet of paper. With the help of some students who came to his assistance, a majority of the smoke had been aired out in a matter of minutes, allowing the occupants within the room to see each other once more.
Coughing into his hoof, Mr. Anode then strode through the classroom, making his way towards the one beaker in the room that was giving off a lingering waft of the white smoke: Ebony's. Stopping right across the table from Ebony, he cleared his throat, then stood in a tall, imposing manner before staring down at the younger stallion.
"Mr. Star," Mr. Anode uttered in a surprisingly calm, collected tone. Despite his teacher's apparent composure, Ebony was paralyzed with fear; he could practically sense the concentrated ire loaded behind his name being addressed.
"Yes...Mr. Anode?" said Ebony, unable to break eye contact with his teacher, visibly shrinking all the while under his gaze.
A contemplative expression gracing his features, Anode then fanned his hoof over the beaker, hoping to disperse the last of its smoke.
"You know, Mr. Star...somehow, I just get this sneaking suspicion that you're not responsible." He leaned over the beaker, then blew into it, dispelling the very last of the smoke that had gathered within. His eyes peered into the glass, then scanned left to right. "Yup, seems like her M.O. Now the real question is, where is--"
"Oh cool, it worked!" exclaimed Sweets, springing from under the table where she had taken cover earlier.
"There she is," Mr. Anode finished with a slow nod, his lips pursing to the side.
Her hooves rapping over the table in clear excitement, Sweets leaned forward and stared into the beaker. What she saw had eyes widen and grin double in size. Curious, Ebony peaked into the glass as well, only for his jaw to drop at what he found.
There, piled at the very bottom of the beaker, where tiny, crystalline rocks, each about half the size of a bit. The stones were red and white, forming stripes that swirled in every which way. Upon closer examination, and inadvertently catching that same minty scent from before permeating from the stones, Ebony realized what exactly Sweet Tooth had done.
Somehow--and he couldn't stress that 'somehow' anymore than he already did--using chemicals from a classroom...Sweets made candy. Peppermint candies, to be exact.
"Oooh yeah, come to mama," Sweets uttered, wasting no time to plop one of the candies into her mouth. "Mm," she moaned in delight, her eyes closing as her lips occasionally smacked. "Nice and cool. Refreshing, too."
Moments later, when she then reopened her eyes, she noticed that she was directly under Mr. Anode's apathetic, watchful gaze. She blinked, and what followed shortly afterwards was an audible crunch as she bit down on her peppermint.
"Oh hey, Teach!" Sweets then said enthusiastically before extending the candy-filled beaker to him. "Want one? They're a bit jagged but should melt into a more rounder shape if you're careful."
Completely ignoring the beaker, Mr. Anode narrowed his eyes sternly. Seconds after Sweets gave the container a shake, he then spoke.
"Ms. Tooth," he started, his tone even and collected, much to Ebony and other observing student's surprise and worry. "As much as I would like to admit how impressed I am with your...confectionery prowess, not only have you disrupted the class with such an excessive manner, you've also blatantly ignored several lab safety measures. Do you have anything to say in your defense?"
Sweets pulled the beaker to her chest, her free hoof rummaging through its contest.
"Mm. So...what I'm getting is that you don't want one, right?" She smirked. "Heh, sweet. More for me."
Mr. Anode's eye twitched. He faced the ceiling, his hoof rubbing at his forehead. Either he developed a sudden headache, or he just couldn't comprehend the young mare; both were a viable possibility.
He took a deep breath, sighed, then turned and walked back to the front of the class. On his way there, he muttered out loud, "One hour here after school...for the entire week starting today--that's what you've earned yourself, Missy." Just then, the bell rang, signalling the end of school for the day. "Ah, scratch that--starting now. Everypony else, you're excused; tomorrow we'll pick up where we were interrupted. Ms. Tooth, pull out a pencil and a sheet of paper, for I expect a full page essay on what you did and how you'll learn from it."
"Ah, so you're wantin' me to give you a few chemistry pointers, eh?" Sweets jabbed. "I don't know, Teach, aren't you supposed to be the teacher here, not me? I mean, I'm flattered, really, but--"
That, naturally, earned her a swift response from Mr. Anode.
"Two pages, front and back." He rested his elbow on his desk, his head on his hoof, then smiled coyly to her. "Want to go for a third?"
As the rest of the students rushed to funnel out the two doors, Ebony tapped Sweet's side.
"What are you doing?!" he whispered through his grit teeth. "You're making it worse for yourself!"
"Pfft," Sweets sounded, blowing one of her bangs from her face. "Mm. Yeeeah, you're probably right. But hey," she gave the beaker a light shake, causing the peppermints within to clink against the glass, "at least it's not a total waste, eh? Ain't science grand?"
Ebony's face fell flat.
"Sweets...they're just candy...peppermints... Actually, do peppermints even count as candy? They don't feel like they do to me. But, uh, whatever--they're nothing special; certainly not worth getting in trouble over."
Her eyes widened as she gasped in disbelief. Sweets then turned away from Ebony, hugging the beaker close to her chest as if it were her very own child.
"Blasphemy!" she yelled. "All things sugary and sweet are special!"
The right side corner of Ebony's lips curled southward.
"Peppermints aren't sweet, though," he muttered, shaking his head softly.
"Semantics!" Sweets tossed two peppermints into her mouth, then angrily chewed them. After a few loud crunches, she looked over her shoulder to him. "Oh, uh, by the way; seeing as I'll be staying here for an hour longer, don't wait up for me."
"What about that thing you were going to tell me earlier?" Ebony asked. "You know, about Swain."
"Oh, right. Well about that--"
"Ms. Tooth," chimed Mr. Anode. "I'm seeing a disturbing lack of writing from you... Mr. Star...you're still here, chatting with the accused. Am I to assume that you wish to join her?"
"Hey," Sweets whispered to Ebony. She gestured towards the open door, and through the open doorway, Cinnamon Bun could be seen waiting patiently out in the hallway. "Just go. You know how Cinny doesn't like taking the train home by herself. Meet me later at Sugarcube Corner later so I can tell you that thing I heard."
Ebony looked to Cinnamon Bun, then to Sweet Tooth.
"Alright. Later, I guess," he said, unfastening the goggles from himself and leaving them on the table. After bumping hooves with her, he then exited the classroom. There, out in the hallway, he stood face to face with Cinnamon Bun.
"So," she started, her brow raised knowingly as she look over Ebony's shoulder to Sweets still at the table. "Sweets' staying over after school?"
"Sweets' staying over after school," he promptly answered with a nod.
With that concluded, the two then walked down the bustling hallways together.
"I don't know... I mean, they look like them, and they're even wrapped like them, so I guess peppermints can be considered candy? I'm, like, not gonna have to choose friendships between you and Sweets now, am I?"
Inputting the combination to open his locker, Ebony grinned.
"Yes, Cinny. Sweets and I are going to war over this, and if you're not with me, then you're against me."
Levitating her books out into her bag, Cinnamon closed her own locker, then returned Ebony's playful smile.
"Huh...well in that case, I guess I'd go with Sweets. No offense to you, of course; I'm just more afraid of her than you."
"Ha. None taken. Celestia knows that Sweets isn't the kind of mare you can just trifle with without her retaliating in some way," Ebony said, opening his locker before rummaging through it with a wing. Once he hooked his wing's thumb through the strap of his book bag, something taped to the inside of his looker door caught his eye.
It was a pink flyer, the kind that was simple and cheaply photocopied for distribution around the school. Two ornate masks were depicted in its center, overlapping a heart. Typed beneath that was an announcement encouraging students to take part in the school's upcoming annual Hearts And Hooves Day masquerade ball. The event was in the night after tomorrow, and Ebony was clearly interested, seeing as he had fixed the flyer somewhere where he'd obviously see. He had hoped that it were serve as a later reminder, which it did.
Slinging the book bag over his shoulder, Ebony swung his locker door closed, then turned to Cinnamon Bun.
"Uh...h-hey," he started, nervously rubbing at the back of his head.
"Hm?" Cinnamon hummed, her head tilted cutely to the side.
Already, Ebony's eyes began to look in every possible direction but her. "So, um...y-you hear about that ball thing the school's having?"
Ears perking, Cinnamon raised an inquisitive brow as she tilted her head in the other direction. She seemed confused until her face lit up seconds later.
"Oh! Right, that," she said. "Yeah, I heard of it. Seems kind of interesting."
"Y-yeah, it does," Ebony replied with a nod, his mouth forming a timid smile. He could feel an uncomfortable warmth gathering in his cheeks, and he had to force himself to continue speaking. "So uh...I'm thinking of going. You know...see what it's like and all. Eh, you?"
She gave another tilt of her head, coupled with an ear flick.
Wanting to hide what was definitely a blush creeping onto his face from her, Ebony coughed dryly to the side.
"Yeah, you," he said, looking at her from his peripheral. "Uh...are you going, or...interested in going?"
Eyes widening and ears splaying back, Cinnamon's mouth formed into a timid, contained smile as she lowered her gaze.
"Mm...maybe," she uttered, her hoof pawing at the floor. Ebony turned back to her, a hopeful expression on his face.
"Really? Well I was thinking that--" Ebony clamped his teeth down, silencing himself.
Finally, after years of secretly pining over his friend Cinnamon Bun, an opportunity for him to admit his true feelings for her presented itself to him in the form of the school's masquerade ball. The festive scenery, the romantic atmosphere, the dancing--oh he couldn't forget the dancing! If anypony his age were to confess their love for another, then the ball would be the most ideal scenario.
Ever since he first learned of the ball, Ebony replayed the would-be events over and over in his head. The things he had planned for Cinnamon were perfect, simply perfect! The night would start with them meeting just outside the ball, her in her loveliest of dresses and him in his tasteful, debonair, suave suit. Due to the nature of the party, they'd have their masks on, so hopefully the two would decide on a way to recognize each other by then. Being one of the few batponies at the school, he could just flare his leathery wings to make it easier.
Next, once they enter the ball itself, they'd find a table together, where he would pull her seat out for her like a proper gentlestallion would. Once that was done, they'd then wine and dine (not with actual wine, of course, seeing as they're still underage) for a short while, having yet another of their joyous talks. He'd particularly wow her with some choice jokes he's been saving for just the occasion.
Naturally, the night would then guide their hooves towards the dance floor, where he would impress her with his moves. Ebony was embarrassed practicing ballroom with his mother, but for Cinnamon Bun, it'd be worth it. He hoped a slow song would play. Several, in fact.
Ebony could already envision it. The ball is near its end, and they'd be surrounded by dancing ponies, yet their eyes would remain fixed solely on one another. The last song would play, a slow one, and a spotlight would turning on, shining its light on them. They'd raise onto their hindlegs, taking the other's forehooves as they waltzed in tune with the music.
Then, right as the song begins to fade away and the crowd disperses, Ebony would lean in close to Cinnamon's ear, whispering how he's felt for her for such a long time.
"I love you..."
"Eh...what was that?"
Ebony's eyes snapped wide open, utter horror etching itself into his face as he saw Cinnamon staring back at him. Her head was tilted to the side, her brows furrowed in confusion.
Trying to avoid full panic mode, Ebony sucked in his lips, his eyes scanning the floor and sides as he scratched nervously at his neck. Soon realizing that he was acting suspiciously, Ebony swallowed dryly before looking back to Cinnamon.
"Uh...what was what?" he asked, his fangs showing as he smiled a little too readily.
"You muttered something... Something about loving...well, something," Cinnamon Bun said. "You alright, Ebony? You kinda looked like you were out of it there for a second." When he instead chose to bite his lip and glance away rather than answering, the corner of Cinnamon's mouth lowered worryingly.
She narrowed her eyes, then leaned forward, prompting Ebony to pull his head back. She didn't stop until their muzzles were mere inches away from each other. She then spoke after sizing him up.
"Say...you haven't slipped back into your night cycle again, have you? Spent one-too-many nights reading those cheesy old romance novels of your mom's like before?"
Ebony rolled his eyes with a huff, then placed his hoof on the tip of her nose.
"Hey, if you have any better recommendations," he said as he gently guided her face away from his, "I'd love to hear them. Anyway, I'm fine; I only zoned out like that because I was thinking about..." His brain immediately worked into overdrive, looking for anything that closely rhymed with 'I love you'. Unfortunately, all he could come up with was, "...about how much I love juice."
Cinnamon responded by pulling her head back, perplexed.
"You...love juice?" she questioned.
"Yeah, who doesn't? Anyway." Ebony ran his hoof through his mane, making himself more presentable as he looked into her rose-colored eyes. "So, since you're sort of interested in the ball, I was thinking that maybe...we could go. I mean, I've got nothing better going on that night, and last I heard, neither do you, so...yeah."
Suddenly feeling more bashful than seconds before, Ebony lowered his gaze from her and coughed into his hoof, awaiting her answer. Moments later, much to his elation, he got it.
"You know what, sure, sounds fun!"
Ebony looked back to Cinnamon Bun, his lips quivering as he tried to suppress the giddy smile that was trying to form. Right as he opened his mouth to express his excitement, however, Cinnamon cut him off with,
"So you'll go with Sweet Tooth as your date and, hopefully, I'll be able to go with my secret admirer as mine."
Like a balloon that was quickly losing all its air, Ebony's smile deflated.
"My secret admirer, remember?" said Cinnamon, rolling her eyes mirthfully. "You know, he...she leaves a well-thought-out poem with a white rose for me to find every year on Hearts and Hooves day?" She reached over and punched his side, scoffing lightheartedly. "Gosh, have you not been paying attention for the last few years?"
"Oh...right, that," he said blandly, rubbing where she hit him while putting up a forced smile.
Cinnamon nodded excitedly.
"Mhm! Like, I know my admirer's been wanting to stay secret this entire time, but, I just get this feeling, you know, that this time, they're finally going to reveal themselves to me!"
"O-oh?" Ebony uttered. He tilted his head, saying, "And you're sure this'll be because...?"
"I don't know," she said with a shrug. "Like I said: it's just a feeling. I haven't gotten another poem from them just yet, but if I'm right, then they're going to give me the next one in person, then ask me to the ball! I mean, it's the Hearts and Hooves day ball; if anypony were to pick a more romantic setting, it'd be that, right?"
"My thoughts...exactly," he forced through his toothy smile.
Much to his surprise, Cinnamon began tapping all four of her hooves atop the floor, practically dancing in place. "Ooh, this'll be so exciting! I'll finally meet my secret admirer after all these years and go to the ball with them--and you and Sweets, my bestest of friends in the entire world, will be there!"
In that moment, Ebony, watching Cinnamon as she pumped her hoof into the air, found maintaining his false smile strenuous. Internally, he gave a long sigh.
Of course... Cinnamon Bun only saw Ebony as a friend, and was completely enamored with her secret admirer, even though she never met them...despite the hidden fact that she actually did. Funny that the pony who'd get between him and Cinnamon Bun having any chance of getting together was himself.
Still, her gut feeling was right: he was going to give her the next poem in person. In fact, its latest draft was in the very same book bag he was holding, deemed worthy enough to give to her once she accepted his invitation to the ball. The idea was that it'd be sort of a last hurrah to his anonymity. However, with these new turn of events, he'd have to hold off on that until some edits were made to the note.
Without the ball, Cinnamon would think that him being her secret admirer for so long was just a ploy from one friend to lighten another's spirits during Hearts and Hooves day. Or, perhaps even worse, depending on how she took it, she'd think that it was all one long-running joke. At least, that's what Ebony thought, anyway.
No, Ebony would just have to make alterations to his plans, starting with the poem. It'd have to express how the admirer would never be worthy of her and that she should look towards somepony she already has more of a connection with, or...or perhaps he'd strongly hint that it was him all along before asking her to the ball once more. Yes, perhaps he would do that. He'll lock himself in his room and work on that all night if need--
Ebony's planning was interrupted, however, when somepony suddenly slid in the space between himself and Cinnamon Bun. It was a stallion, leaning against the lockers as he faced Cinnamon. He was wearing a frisbee golf letter jacket, and reading the name embroidered on the back, Ebony realized it was Paramour.
"Phew. Pretty hectic test at the last minute there, wasn't it?" said Swain.
Leaning to the side, Ebony locked eyes with Cinnamon; he could tell by the subtle look in her expression that she didn't like the abrupt interruption either. Nevertheless, she looked to Paramour and flashed him a patient, cordial smile.
"Hey Swain," she said simply. "And yeah, pretty crazy stuff with all that smoke. Think we'll be able to pass it when we redo it tomorrow?"
Smiling confidently, the unicorn nodded. "Oh yeah, definitely. I mean, yeah, grade's were sort of slipping in chemistry before we were assigned together, meaning that I would have ended up kicked out of the frisbee golf team, but thanks to your lessons, I've gotten more of an idea of what I'm doing. Thanks for that, by the way."
Smirking, Cinnamon Bun scratched the side of her face. "Well I kind of had to--we are lab partners. No sense in me doing all the work."
Swain lowered his head, chuckling towards the floor. After raising his gaze back to Cinnamon Bun, he took a quick breath and opened his mouth. Right as he was about to say something, however, he noticed Ebony in the corner of his eye.
Realizing that he had been spotted, Ebony whistled an inconspicuous tune to himself as he unslung his book bag and reopened his locker. Once its door was ajar, Ebony partially hid behind it, placed his bag within the locker, then made himself look busy by pretending to be organizing his things. Unbeknownst to the unicorn, Ebony's ears were perked readily.
After a brief pause, Swain turned back to Cinnamon Bun.
"Anyway..." Swain ran his hoof through his mane, then planted a foreleg against the lockers. He beamed a toothy smirk, leaning forward towards Cinnamon Bun. "So uh," he started. "You're a smart mare; no doubt about that." He quickly eyed her up. "Pretty easy on the eyes, too."
Flattered, yet perplexed, Cinnamon backpedaled a bit. Ebony, on the other hoof, raised a brow curiously.
"Oh, really?" she said, her eyes cast downward as her face took on a slightly reddish shade. "That's uh...nice of you to say? But uh... Er, wh-what brought this on? Kind of...kind of a sudden jump from 'Hey, you're smart' to 'Hey, you're sort of nice-looking,' if you ask me."
"Heh. Just something I've been thinking about ever since we became lab partners," Swain replied. He then tilted his head to the side, his smile growing cocky. "Mm, you know what else I've been thinking?"
Cinnamon Bun was getting uncomfortable--that, Ebony could pick up on; he would have been a terrible long-time friend if he didn't. Still, as much as the young bat pony wanted to intervene, Swain was chosen as her lab partner, not him. As such, Ebony chose to merely stand by and wait for Swain to get on with whatever assignment-related thing he was surely leading towards. The faster that was done and over with, the faster he and Cinnamon Bun could go to the station and await the train back to Ponyville.
What Ebony then heard from Swain, however, was not associated with any course.
"I was thinking that you and I would make a cute couple."
"Wha-wha-what!?" both Ebony and Cinnamon exclaimed, surprisingly in unison.
"Yeah," said Swain, sporting a lopsided grin while giving Cinnamon a few inviting eyebrow wiggles. "You're a cute mare. I'm a, let's face it, handsome stallion. During our time as lab partners, I'm sure you've felt a bit of, heh, chemistry between us." His smile doubling twofold, Swain gestured to the space between them with a twirling motion. "Ha. You uh, you see what I did there? Thought of that just now!"
Cinnamon's response was that of an immediate, wide smile, one which clearly pained her to maintain. "Oh, uh. Yes, yes!" she answered, nodding quickly a few times. "Clever. Pretty clever, uh, joke you got there." Rubbing one foreleg with the other, she look away and finished with a quiet, "Yeah..."
"Joke?" Swain replied, followed by a shake of his head and a low chuckle. "Nope, no joke here. I'd like you to be my mare, Cinnamon Bun. Oh, also, would you like to go to that Hearts and Hooves thing the school's planning with me?"
"The school ball?" she said.
Promptly nodding, Swain pointed a hoof to her. "Yeah, that thing. So what'ya say? It's a yes, right?"
After breathing in through her clenched teeth, Cinnamon's ears folded as she hissed out, "Yeeeah, no..."
"Perfect! We'll make a--" It took Swain half a second for Cinnamon's response to get through to him. At the moment it did, his once cheerful expression faltered. "Wait, what?"
Her head hanging low, Cinnamon visibly winced when she looked up and forced eye contact with him. "Sorry, I'm sure you're a great guy, but we hardly know each other. Besides, I'm sort of waiting for somepony else to ask me."
"Whoa, hold up. Is it that--"
"Again, I'm really sorry," Cinnamon interrupted, bowing her head apologetically to him before turning tail and all but running down the hall. Once she reached a certain distance, without even stopping, she turned back and shouted, "Ebony, could you hurry up there!? Train, remember? Oh, and the usual spot!"
"Usual spot! Gotcha!" Ebony shouted back, leaning from behind the locker door. He had to suppress his giddy smile that just wanted to make itself known, lest Swain realize how ecstatic Cinnamon's rejection made him.
Ebony slung the book bag back over his side, closed his locker, then turned to head in Cinnamon Bun's direction. Once he took a few steps, however, Ebony was stopped by Swain, who stood directly before him, blocking his path.
Naturally, Ebony tried to walk around him, but was intercepted by the unicorn when he moved in front of him again. Ebony tried once more around the opposite side, only for the same result to occur.
Initially, Ebony believed it to merely be one of those scenarios where ponies had difficulty getting around each other, but, with how purposeful Swains actions seemed, Ebony realized there was more going on.
"Uh..." uttered Ebony, staring Swain in the eyes. "Can I help you?"
Swain stared back with a straight face, but soon adopted his cocky demeanor before answering.
"Yeah, actually," he said. "You're uh, Cinnamon Bun's friend, right? Eh, Ivory, was it?"
"Yeah, that." Swain then placed his hooves over Ebony's shoulders, much to the bat pony's surprise and displeasure. "Listen bro, I need your help getting with Cinnamon. I was thinking that, since you're tight with her and all, maybe you'd know something that can make that happen. Whaddya say?"
"What do I say?" asked Ebony, seconds before calmly swatting the unicorn's hooves from his person. "How about no? She's clearly not into you, man. Oh, and don't 'bro' me if you don't know me."
"Jeez, sorry; was just trying to be friendly," said Swain, rolling his eyes dismissively. Straightening his posture, he then beamed with pride as he placed a hoof to his chest, continuing with, "And of course she is. Probably just doesn't know it yet."
"Yeah, I'm sure it's that," quipped Ebony, maneuvering around Swain. However, moments later, Swain once again blocked his path.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa. Ya gotta have something I can use!"
"Sorry, buddy. Nothing's coming to mind," Ebony quickly dismissed. He attempted to step around Swain, but the unicorn proved his persistence once again.
"Well, what about this one rumor I heard about her?"
Rubbing his temple to alleviate the headache that was starting to develop, Ebony said under his breath, "Well from what I hear, there's rumors about you too, apparently..."
"What was that?" asked Swain.
Ebony shook his head. "N-nothing."
Realizing that simply going around the stallion was out of the question, Ebony sighed before turning around. If Swain was going to prevent him from using the front exit, then Ebony would just have to go further down the halls and use one of the school's other exits. The detour would have him reach the train station a few minutes later than usual, what with the hordes of other students he'd have to ford through, but that was more favorable than helping Swain get with Cinnamon.
His mind made up, Ebony began to walk away from Swain. Once he took a a few steps, though, Ebony jolted to a sudden halt when his book bag's strap suddenly tugged at his neck.
"What the--?" said Ebony.
He looked over his shoulder, seeing Swain with his horn alight, holding on to the book bag with his magical grip.
"Hey, let go!" Ebony shouted, fighting to free his bag from the stallion's magic.
His face showing strain, and his teeth grit, Swain pulled his head to the side, which in turn dragged Ebony along on his hooves as well.
"Come on, man!" begged Swain. "Anything, anything can help! Her favorite food, favorite book--something!"
Ebony flapped his wings, his hooves scrapping against the tiles as he fought against Swain's pull. Their little game of tug of war made quite the show for any and all passing students. Some gave them a quick, albeit puzzled glance before continuing on their merry way, while others chose to stick around and see how things unfolded.
"Dude!" Ebony exclaimed. "Even if I wanted to help, I really don't know what to tell you!"
That was a lie. He knew Cinnamon Bun since they were foals, which meant that he knew just about everything about her. Not that he was going to share any of that with Swain, though.
"Well...th-there is one thing you might be able to help with!" replied Swain.
Ebony shut his eyes and produced a short, manic chortle before responding with, "Oh for the love of--what is it!?"
"Well, there's this rumor floating around..."
As Swain talked, Ebony, who felt as if he were pulling a plow by that point, reached a hoof towards his bag.
"What I heard, Cinnamon Bun seems to..."
He was hoping to snag it from from Swain's magical grip, which would finally allow for his escape. He was starting to get a bit worried for his bag, though, as it's elastic strap had never been stretched that far before.
"...have eyes only for..."
Ebony chided himself. His hoof didn't reach fully around his bag, and as a result of his fumbling, he accidentally opened its flap.
"...some secret admi--"
Right as Ebony worked to close the flap, the strap finally gave way with a deafening 'snap!' Ebony's eyes widened as he fell forward, and time seemed to slow to a crawl for him while he watched his book bag with the now-ruined strap follow suit. It toppled onto the floor before he did, and he witnessed his school work and other contents spill out from the open flap, scattering onto the floor in every which way.
"Oh! Uh...I'm really sorry man!"
Ebony ignored him. Instead, he instantly shot back up onto his four legs, quickly stuffing all his books and papers back into his book bag. With everything seemingly accounted for, and not wanting to give Swain another chance to stop him, Ebony clenched his ruined bag with his teeth, then speedily walked down the hall towards one of the school's other exits.
Soon enough, though, Swain called for him.
"Hey, bro, you forgot... Wait, what's this?"
Refusing to acknowledged him, Ebony kept walking, pretending not to have heard him. Whatever it was that Swain found, Ebony was confident it wasn't his, as he was sure he had gathered everything.
Minutes later, Ebony finally arrived at the train station; the crowds of students funneling out the school's back entrance had given him a bit of a delay. Fortunately though, he made it minutes before the train to Ponyville was scheduled to arrive.
With his book bag held in his mouth, Ebony bounded towards the usual spot on the platform's waiting station; the platform's center bench. Once he got there, however, Ebony found it odd that Cinnamon Bun wasn't there waiting for him. She clearly stated that she'd be at the usual spot, yet there the bench was, completely devoid of anypony.
A tad concerned, Ebony turned to both sides of the station. He spotted a few students chatting amongst themselves, as well as some adults who were clearly in the middle of their commute either to or from work, but no Cinnamon Bun. Failing to find her after sparing a second look, Ebony began to worry. Perhaps he had taken too long on his way to the station, and Cinnamon, probably wondering what was keeping him, returned to the school to look for him?
If that was the case, he hoped she'd hurry back, as his ears could hear the train's far off wheels clattering down the track. Right as he considered going back for her, he heard her voice approaching from the left side of the platform, and with it, a sense of relief washed over him. By the sound of it, she seemed to just be climbing the steps and was...talking with someone?
He couldn't hear her exact words, due to the other nearby ponies' chatter and the approaching train making it impossible for him to focus on them, yet he could pick up her tone. She sounded cheerful, exuberant even. Ebony found that to be a bit strange, as the only ponies she ever talked to like that were Sweets and himself. Slowly, as her voice got closer and the very top of her head was coming into sights from the stairs, one question came to Ebony's mind.
If Sweets was staying after school, and he was at the usual spot...who was she talking to?
Moments later, the answer came. Cinnamon Bun playfully hopped up the stairs, reaching the platform proper. Soon enough, the second pony joined her, revealing himself to be Swain as he stood by her side.
Unsure of what he was seeing in the distance, Ebony stood stock still and cocked his head to the side. Just a few minutes ago, Cinnamon practically ran from Swain after rejecting him. Now...now he's speaking to her while Cinnamon listened with what seemed like rapt attention, a large smile on her face, and her body shaking with excitement as she occasionally nodded.
As bizarre as that all was, Ebony was unprepared for what happened next.
Cinnamon rose onto her hind legs, hugged him tightly around the neck, then kissed him on the cheek before swiftly departing. Ebony's bag dropped along with his jaw, Swain rubbed at his face with a grin, and Cinnamon smiled brightly as she approached her friend at the usual spot.
"Hey! Wake up, train's here!" said Cinnamon, jabbing at his side playfully before hopping through the train's open passenger doors. Ebony was so stunned by what had occurred, he didn't even realize that it arrived.
"Huh...uh, wha?" Ebony uttered, scrunching his face in confusion at her. He tried to move, but found that his hooves were refusing his will. To make matters worse, he also felt unsteady, as if he were reeling from somepony's devastating left hook.
Rolling her eyes in jest, Cinnamon lit up her horn. She took hold of Ebony's hoof with her magic, then guided him towards her into the train cart.
"Oh, you forgot this," she then said, retrieving his book back from where he dropped it. Right as she was about to hand it to Ebony, Cinnamon gave it's broken strap a curious look. "Huh, what happened to this?"
Ebony blinked once, then twice as he tried to focus on her.
"Eh. S...S-Swain," he answered.
Cinnamon's face lit up in excitement. "Oh, you saw that, huh?"
That wasn't exactly what he meant, but...
"Um. Yeah--yes," Ebony answered with a shaky nod. "What...what was that?"
Suddenly, a blush came to Cinnamon's face as she began playing with one of her mane buns.
She averted her eyes, her mouth cracking into a smile as she said, "Weeell... I was hoping to keep this secret until the ball, but I just can't keep this to myself! Here!"
Using her magic, Cinnamon unzipped her own book bag, quickly withdrew a folded piece of paper from it. She unfolded it, then presented it to him. It was a hoof written note, and at first, Ebony didn't realize what exactly it was until after he read the first few words.
His blood turning cold, he quickly swiped his bag from Cinnamon Bun's magic, then immediately began to search through it.
"Uh, Ebony?" Cinnamon asked. "Worried you forgot your homework or something?"
Ebony didn't respond. Instead, he continued to look though his bag, uttering "Where is it, where is it!?"
It had to be in his bag, it just had to. He refused to believe what was happening. Try as he might however, even after turning the bag upside down to fully empty its contents, he failed to find it.
"No," he silently uttered wistfully to himself, stooping to scan through the spilled papers once more in vain hope.
Within moments, Ebony realized there was no sense in denying it anymore. What happened, happened. He felt used, and more importantly, cheated.
The train's passenger doors closed as he rose back onto his fours. He looked out the window, and as the train began to move, Ebony locked eyes indignantly with Swain as it passed by him. The unicorn mouthed something to him before the train picked up speed, and Ebony didn't need his enhanced hearing to know what he said.
Thanks for the help, bro.
Biting onto his bottom lip painfully, Ebony then turned back to the note still suspended in Cinnamon's magic. There, he read the words carefully written on it. His words.
The red rose whispers of passion,
And the white rose breathes of love;
Oh, the red rose is a falcon,
And the white rose is a dove.
But I send you a cream white rose,
Flushed red at its tips;
For a love that is purest and sweetest
Has a kiss of desire on its lips.
"Pretty clever, huh?" said Cinnamon Bun. "When I asked him where's the white rose he said he got me in the poem, he paused dramatically before saying that he was the rose! Ebony, do you know what this means?"
Ebony swallowed dryly before answering with, "Wh-what?"
"It means that I've found my secret admirer!" she exclaimed, causing the other passengers to give her strange looks. "It was Swain all along! Who knew? Ebony," she said as she then wrapped him in an expectant hug, "we're...we're going to the ball together!"
If it weren't for his fur, everypony would have seen the color drain from Ebony's face.
Returning the gesture with the barest semblance of a hug, Ebony wore a faint smile as he said, "That's...that's great, Cinny..."
Hours later, Ebony sat by himself in one of Sugarcube Corner's booths, staring forlornly at the root beer float lying before him on the table. He hadn't touched his treat since ordering it, and truthfully, he didn't know why he even did in the first place. Maybe he thought it'd make him feel better; something sugary and sweet to drown his sorrows, even if temporarily.
Minutes felt like hours to Ebony, as he wasn't sure how long he sat there. Not that he cared, anyway. It was long enough for the ice cream within the soda to nearly melt, that was for sure.
After pushing the beverage further away from himself, Ebony crossed his hooves on the table, then burred his face in them. Moments later, as he produced his umpteenth sigh, he heard the sound of somepony sliding in the seat across from him, coupled with a voice he was all too familiar with.
"Heyyo! You gonna finish that float?" asked Sweets. When Ebony didn't respond, she automatically took that as consent. "Heh heh, gimme!" she said, rubbing her hooves together before pulling the drink towards herself.
Right as she began sipping loudly through the straw, Ebony, with his voice muffled by his forelegs, spoke.
"Anode let you out early?" he said, completely devoid of emotion.
Licking her lips after pulling away from the straw, Sweets gave him an odd look.
"Early? Dude, it's six. We said that we'd meet up here, remember?"
"Eh, you alright there?" Sweets then asked, now noticing Ebony's gloomy appearance. "You seem a little down."
Face still burred in his forelegs, Ebony answered.
"Eh, well I feel down."
"Hmm," hummed Sweets, stirring the float with her straw. "Wanna share? You got until I finish this off."
Feeling like he was in need of an outlet, Ebony did just that. He rose his head from between his hooves listlessly, then filled Sweets in on what happened after he left Mr. Anode's class earlier. Of course, he omitted who the real writer of the poem was. Sweets laid sideways into the booth, making herself comfortable with the float as she listened.
Minutes lather, though, once Ebony had reached the end of his tale...
"Wait, what!?" Sweets exclaimed, the emptied glass clinking as she slammed her hooves atop the table. "Cinny's going with Swain to the ball!?"
Ebony stared at her cautiously. He was leaning back in his seat, surprised by Sweet's sudden outburst.
"Eh, yeah," he admitted. "I'm taking that you...don't approve?"
"'Course I don't approve!" Sweets promptly answered, throwing a hoof up in annoyance while rolling her eyes. "Cinny is precious and must be protected! I'd rather that she go with you than him!"
Ebony blinked. "Uh...thank you?" he said. With the way she said it, Ebony didn't know how to take that comment...
"You're welcome," replied Sweets, seconds before leaning over the table. "Oh, and by the way, I'm pretty sure Swain isn't Cinny's secret admirer!"
Intrigued, Ebony rose a brow. "Go on..."
"Well, for one, the notes from the admirer started back when we were foals. Do you remember Swain attending the school here, 'cause I sure don't."
Rubbing his chin, Ebony nodded, prompting her to continue.
"Also, I've shared a few words with the guy before--almost all of which were about him. I asked for a pencil, not his life story and achievements, yeesh. Dude doesn't seem like the kind to write squishy, heartfelt junk that Cinny likes, you know? Self-centered is what he is, if you ask me. My guess for why Cinny believes him: she's so desperate to finally meet her secret admirer that she's willing to believe just about anypony at this point."
Ebony averted his eyes shamefully. If he knew it would all come to this, he would never have become her secret admirer in the first place all those years ago.
Sweets then reclined in her seat, rubbing her own chin in thought. "You know, now that I think about it, I might have a good idea why Swain would suddenly want to date Cinny. And funny enough, it actually relates to that rumor about him that I was gonna tell you earlier in class..."
Ebony straightened at that, his ears perking to attention.
"Really?" he asked, hope swelling within his chest. "Well, what were those rumors, then? If Cinny's with this guy, and he's no good, then we've got to do something!"
"My sentiments exactly!" Sweets said with a smirk, seconds before giving the table a quick tap.
She then leaned further over the table, and despite no other customers in the store, Sweets looked side to side for anypony who might be listening.
"So, remember Begonia? Remember that incident with her in the cafeteria last year that had her moving away just a week later? Now, if what I heard is true, this is why she got worked into a frenzy..."