Spike was grateful he didn’t have any other duties beyond carrying the rings. He had nothing to do during the three hours when the real wedding was being put together. That meant he didn’t have to be in contact with Twilight. He couldn’t bear to be.
The second ceremony went off without a hitch, leaving the loving couple happily married. As Twilight returned to her suite momentarily, the others followed her to give their apologies. He hid. They called out for him a few times, but decided not to let their window of opportunity slip.
He dashed outside, into the garden. He remained off to the side, hopefully unnoticed. He didn’t want Twilight to see him. He didn’t want Celestia or any of the others to ask what was wrong. He just wanted to be left alone.
The others came out, all gathering to watch the dancing couple, waiting for Vinyl to finish hooking up the sound system. Spike watched, wishing he was willing to join them, to join Twilight.
The dragon gave a small jump and turned around. Sweetie Belle was standing there, looking at him with concern. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” he said with such quickness and defensiveness that she instantly knew it was a lie.
“You’re lying. You’re acting the same way you did after,” she paused and looked around, knowing Spike wouldn’t want this overheard, “after your birthday. Come on, tell me!”
Spike cringed at the memory. After it was over, he’d locked himself in the library and refused to leave for weeks, even to welcome Applejack home from the Canterlot Rodeo. Only when the group left for Canterlot to perform in the Hearth’s Warming Eve pageant did he accompany them, feeling he could be safe away from what he was sure to be judgmental eyes, even though Twilight had assured him that many were kept in the dark about the rampaging dragon’s true identity.
Over those weeks his friends had tried everything to cheer him up, to little avail. Sweetie had overheard Twilight tell Rarity that the dragon had slept with her the first three nights after out of sheer need to be comforted. When the adults failed, Applejack hit upon the idea of asking the Cutie Mark Crusaders to spend time with him, in hopes that ponies his own age would bring him out of his shell. While he still refused to leave his home, he eventually relented to a few games of cards and checkers, if only to mollify Twilight’s worried state.
“I said it was nothing,” he said sharply. He wanted to yell at her, but that would attract unwanted attention, namely Twilight’s.
“You’re lying. What’s wrong?”
“Just go away,” he snapped, beginning to walk away.
By that point, Twilight had started singing. Thinking quickly, Sweetie spoke. “So you wanna dance?”
Spike stopped, looking at the unicorn with a bit of confusion. “What?”
She blushed. “I mean, you’re upset, maybe dancing will help you get your mind off of it.”
The dragon thought for a moment. He felt no attraction toward Sweetie, all thought of romance were reserved for her older sister. Still, maybe it would be good to be distracted for a bit, even though he didn’t think it was possible. At least he could convince the others he was okay.
“Sure, why not?”
So they took to the dance floor and began dancing. They followed no particular dance, though they both knew some. Being raised in Canterlot, Spike had experience with upper class behavior, and Sweetie naturally picked certain things up from Rarity, but they both preferred to simply move in time with the music with whatever they improvised.
Eventually Octavia took the stage with some songs for slow dancing, and while neither dance partner subscribed to the idea that the opposite sex carried “cooties”, it still became rather awkward. After just a single dance they decided not to carry on. So they excused themselves from the dance floor and headed off to the side.
“Do you feel better?” Sweetie asked.
“...a little,” he admitted. “Thanks.”
“So what’s wrong?”
“I told you, nothing,” he said, getting defensive again.
“Then how could you be ‘feeling better’?” she smirked.
Spike winced, realizing his slip-up. Still, he persisted. “Mind your own business, Sweetie. Or are you going to write another article about me?”
Sweetie winced at the memory, and he instantly regretted his words. “I...I’m sorry Sweetie. I shouldn’t have said that.”
“It’s okay,” she said quietly. I...well, all three of us just don’t like to remember it too much. We really hurt everypony.”
“To be honest, I think most of them were too hard on you guys,” he said. “Everypony loved your article before they were getting gossiped about.”
“It was still wrong,” she said sadly. “I mean, you and Twilight were pretty mad. And we never even wrote an article about you.”
Spike rubbed the back of his head. “Well, Twilight’s had some bad experiences with gossip.” Wisely, he didn’t go into detail. The last thing she needed right now was a full-on guilt trip. “I was mad enough that you wrote an article on Twilight, but you also said I said those things.”
“I’m real sorry.”
“We already forgave you, remember?”
“Is Twilight why you’re upset?” Sweetie pressed again. “Rarity told me they were all going to go apologize to her for not listening about the fake princess, I thought you were going with them.”
“I...I can’t,” Spike stuttered.
“Why not? You didn’t do anything worse than my sister or any of the others.”
“Yes I did!” he snapped. “I...” he stopped, out of frustration or an unwillingness to say what was troubling him.
Sweetie sighed, placing a hoof on his shoulder. “Rarity says it’s best to talk about your problems,” she said. “You can tell me...”
“Sweetie!” Apple Bloom’s voice called out. The pair turned to see the remaining two members of the Cutie Mark Crusaders coming toward them. The young farm pony was about to say something when Sweetie cut her off.
“AB, whatever it is, we have something more important now.” She turned back to Spike who, as she predicted, wasn’t too thrilled at the prospect of sharing what was on his mind with two more fillies.
“You’re not going to leave me alone until I tell you, are you?” the dragon sighed.
Sweetie nodded as Scootaloo asked, “Tell her what?”
Spike placed his head in his hand. “Fine. But can we talk somewhere more private? I...I don’t want Twilight to accidentally overhear.”
Apple Bloom and Scootaloo gave each other quizzical looks, but Sweetie just nodded. “Come on, we’ll go to our room in the castle.”
The three underage fillies were all sharing a suite at their insistence, wanting a chance to crusade every evening. They were extremely grateful for that now, since it meant less of a chance to be interrupted.
“All right Spike, spill the beans. What’s wrong?” Sweetie demanded.
“Before I tell you, I want a Pinkie Promise that you won’t tell Twilight.”
Scootaloo rolled her eyes. “Spike, come on...”
“No! I can’t let her find out. You can never break this promise.”
At that point, the nearby wardrobe burst open, and a certain pink earth pony flashed a dramatic pose.
“Never!” Pinkie said dramatically before backing into the rack of clothes.
Befuddled, Apple Bloom trotted over to the wardrobe and climbed in, finding only some clothes and a hardwood back. “How does she...”
“I wouldn’t recommend trying to find out,” Spike sighed, though there was a bit of a grin on his face. “Twilight drove herself crazy trying to figure her out.” He chucked in remembrance, and then his face returned to its solemn expression. “Anyway, I want a Pinkie Promise, or I’m not talking.”
The Cutie Mark Crusaders gave signs of exasperation, but performed the actions nonetheless. “There, now will you tell us?”
The dragon sighed, slumping his shoulder and hanging his head. “It’s...well...I let Twilight down today.”
Scootaloo rolled her eyes. “So has everypony else. Rainbow Dash was all mopey and stuff before the reception...”
“It’s different for me!” he snapped, causing the three fillies to flinch in response. Spike sighed. “It’s not the same as the others.”
“Why?” Apple Bloom dared ask. “’Cause you’ve been her friend longer than they have? Or ‘cause you live with her or somethin’?”
“...Kind of,” he admitted sadly. “I mean...I kind of messed things up.”
Sweetie shook her head. “Spike, you’re just overreacting. The others were all expecting Twilight to yell at them and be angry, but when they came back down Rarity told me she forgave them easy. I’m sure it’ll be the same for you...”
“I told you, it’s different for me...”
“How?” Sweetie demanded. “You’re just as much her friend as any of the others..”
“That’s the problem,” Spike shouted exasperated. “I don’t...I don’t want to be friends with her.”
That statement effectively silenced the three fillies. Wide eyes were their only answer for a few moments.
“Spike, what the hay are you talkin’ about?” Apple Bloom demanded.
Then Scootaloo gasped, bringing her hooves up to her mouth. “Spike...are you in love with Twilight?”
Now Spike looked shocked. His purple scales turned green as he placed a hand over his mouth. Obviously, the pegasus’ theory was incorrect.
“Ew! No! I mean...that’s just too weird to think about,” he shook his head in disgust.
“Then what is it?” Scootaloo demanded.
Spike shot her a glare, then sighed. “You guys know I went to join the Dragon Migration a few months ago, right?”
The all nodded. “Rarity told me you went because you were feeling lonely without any other dragons around,” Sweetie spoke.
“I was, but after I got back I didn’t. I decided I was perfectly happy being with ponies instead.”
“Then what’s wrong?” Scootaloo asked impatiently.
“Well...I started thinking about how I grew up. Twilight hatched my egg the day she became Celestia’s student, and ever since then she’s raised me.”
“Wait a minute,” Scootaloo interrupted. “Twilight told us this story, and she was our age when it happened. They let Twilight raise you that young?”
“Yeah. I mean, Celestia was there to help her, but she let Twilight do everything. She wanted her to learn responsibility since she had all that magic in her.
“Anyway, Twilight raised me from the day I hatched. She fed me, and taught me to talk and write, and took care of me. And no matter how busy she was with studying, she always took time to play with me.”
Spike sighed as he thought back to his days in Canterlot. “I didn’t have many friends growing up. I mean, I think I’m the only civilized dragon in Equestria. A lot of the upper class didn’t want their kids around me...they thought I was an animal...”
When he trailed off, the three Crusaders looked at each other with worry. “Spike...you okay?” Apple Bloom said weakly.
“I think it’s pretty clear I’m not,” he snapped. “You remember me growing giant after my birthday, right? Well Twilight took me to the doctor about it. You know what he said? ‘Try a vet.’ A vet! I...I’m not a dog!”
His audience looked uneasy. They guessed this was one more reason that day was so painful for him.
Spike shook his head. “Anyway, even with all that, Twilight was always there. When ponies made fun of me for being a dragon, she cheered me up. She told me she didn’t care when ponies bullied her. I could tell she was lying, and she was only being strong for me, but I still felt better with her supporting me.
“And after we moved to Ponyville? Well, when I tried running away from home, she followed after me, even going right into a dragon’s cave to get me back. And this was after I had been a jerk the day before. She helped me get through how I felt after my birthday. She followed me right into an area filled with dragons to make sure I was safe on the Migration. She...she’s always taking care of me.”
At that point, Sweetie’s eyes widened in realization. “I think I get it,” she said slowly. “You don’t love Twilight as a friend or a special somepony...you love her as a mother.”
There was a pause from Spike. Then, he lowered his head and nodded. “Yes...I realized how I felt after the Migration. I...I wanted to tell her that. But...I really messed that up today.”
Apple Bloom walked up to him, hoping she looked as comforting as Applejack did whenever she talked to her. “Spike, Twilight forgave mah sister an’ everypony else for not believin’ her today, I’m sure she’ll forgive you to.”
“I told you, it’s different for me!” Spike snapped, exasperated that they weren’t seeing what he was seeing. “Twilight has gone up against dragons for me, but I couldn’t even stand by her when regular ponies were against her.” He stopped talking for a moment, a lump appearing in his throat. His eyes were misting over as tears started to prick his eyes. “She’s saved my life twice, and I couldn’t even believe that something she was saying was worth believing. She might still forgive me as a friend, but...she’d never want me as a son now.”
“Spike, I think you’re overreacting...”
“Don’t tell me that!” he yelled. He actually sounded angry rather than just irritated this time. His voice raised quite a few decibels as he continued. “Family’s supposed to stand by each other, aren’t they? But I didn’t! The moment it looked bad for her, I just didn’t bother! After she stood by me for everything, I couldn’t stand by her!
“You don’t know what it’s like! All three of you have families! You have parents, or older brothers and sisters, or both to go to. I don’t have anything except Twilight, and I threw her aside today! I don’t have a family! And now I never will!”
“Spike, c-calm down…”
“No! I…I…” he couldn’t get the words out in his anger. He turned around and punched the wardrobe. It split where he struck, the bottom hinge coming halfway undone. The three fillies jumped at this, their eyes wide with both fear and concern. The dragon looked at the damage he’d done, clenching his teeth and fists in anger. Then he looked to the floor, and the tears poured out freely.
“I go on a rampage and destroy half of Ponyville…she still stood by me. But…but when she…when she had one outburst…I turned my back on her. Even if she would want to be my mother, I…I don’t think I deserve it.”
With that, the last semblance of control left him. He fell to his knees, lowered his head, and sobbed, letting his heart succumb to its depression.
The Cutie Mark Crusaders looked at each other, unsure of what to do. Sweetie was the first to act. She trotted over to the weeping dragon and wrapped her forelegs around him. It had little in the way of visible effects, but it was all the young unicorn could think to do. Apple Bloom and Scootaloo soon followed, hugging their friend while feeling awkward that they couldn’t do more.
How long they stayed like that, they eventually lost track of. But eventually the sobs began to quiet, and the group broke their hug. It was Sweetie who spoke first. “Spike, I really think you should go talk to Twilight about this…”
“I can’t.” He no longer sounded angry, but strained, as if he was having trouble putting his thoughts together. “I told you, whether she’ll accept me or not, I…I can’t do it now.”
“But Spike…” Apple Bloom began, but she was stopped. Not by the dragon she was trying to comfort, as she was half expecting, but by Sweetie, who held up a hoof to silence her friend.
“Spike, look,” she said, trying to think of how to phrase her point. “During the last Sisterhooves Social, me and Rarity got into a huge fight. She yelled at me and told me she wished she didn’t have a sister. I was so mad at her I decided I’d rather be part of Apple Bloom’s family. We...both ended up saying hurtful things. But we both made up, and now we’re better sisters than ever.
“My point is that family isn’t always perfect like you’re saying. I’ve let down Rarity and my parents, Apple Bloom has let down Applejack and Big Macintosh, and Scootaloo’s let down her parents.”
The two other fillies winced at this, a clear indicator their friend was being truthful. “You let down Twilight today, but it’s not as bad as you think. You haven’t done anything we haven’t done, and we still have families.”
“Have any of your mistakes ever left somepony you care about at the mercy of something like the Changeling Queen? Or nearly gotten Equestria taken over and everypony enslaved?”
“Then you haven’t messed up like me,” he said simply.
Sweetie sighed. “I don’t think we can convince you tonight,” she said with some disappointment. “So if you want to keep quiet on this, we will. But I want you to think about something. When my sister and everypony else went up to apologize to Twilight, they were expecting her to be angry at them, but she wasn’t. They were all convinced they were bad friends because of it, but they weren’t. I’m sure it’s the same thing with you. Just…think about it, okay?”
Spike looked at her wearily. “Fine,” he said, his voice betraying his exhaustion. “But remember, you can’t tell Twilight.”
“We won’t tell Twilight,” Scootaloo assured.
“Or anypony else,” he added quickly and angrily. The orange filly stomped her hoof. It was clear she had been thinking of that loophole.
“Fine,” she said angrily. “We won’t tell anypony about this, we promise.”
Spike rose to his feet. It was an effort, but he managed. “When we get back to Ponyville, I have something I want to give you guys.”
The trio looked at him with quizzical glances, and he picked up on the unspoken question. “It’s something I made for Twilight. I was going to give it to her for...for Mother’s Day. But that’s not happening now.”
“Well what are we supposed to do with it?” Scootaloo demanded.
“I don’t know, one of you give it to your mother...or Granny Smith,” he added to Apple Bloom.
“But...you made it for Twilight,” the youngest member of the Apple Family began. “It wouldn’t be the same if we...”
“Then throw it out, find some use for it, whatever! I just don’t want it anymore!”
“Spike...” Sweetie began, but she was cut off by Apple Bloom.
“Fine, we’ll take it.”
Spike seemed suspicious by the filly’s insistence, but he didn’t press the issue. “I think we better get back to the party,” he said, his voice having dipped to a completely neutral tone. “Twilight’s probably already suspicious that I’ve disappeared.”
The three fillies sighed. He was going to great lengths to avoid the one pony that could help him. Still, they said nothing as he walked out the door, trying his best to look normal, though his stance still gave him away.
“Why’d you stop me?” Sweetie demanded of her friend after she was sure the dragon was out of earshot. “I was going to convince him to try and hold onto it, in case he changes his mind.”
“’Cause I already know he’s gonna change his mind. But as long as he has that present, he might throw it out. So we’re just gonna keep hold of it until he stops bein’ dumb and goes and talks to Twilight.”
“That makes sense,” Scootaloo agreed. “You think we should do anything else about it?”
“Maybe we should start visiting Spike again, like we did back during...that last incident,” Sweetie suggested. “Something that’s going to pull him out of this faster.”
“I say we tell Twilight anyway,” Scootaloo said bluntly.
“No way!” Apple Bloom protested. “I made a promise, an’ the Apple Family always stays true to their word.
“Spike’s being an idiot, I don’t think we should have to listen to him.”
The red maned pony sighed and turned to Sweetie. “What do you think?”
“I think we should save telling anypony for last,” Sweetie said. “Let’s just try and talk Spike out of being this way first. If that doesn’t work...I think we may have to break our promise.”
Both of her companions looked annoyed by this, for what were obviously entirely different reasons. However, they both sighed. “I guess that makes sense,” Scootaloo conceded. “But I still say we’re wasting time.”
“Well, there’s nothing we can do about it now,” Apple Bloom sighed. “Let’s just get back to the party. We can worry about it tomorrow.”
“I guess,” the pegasus muttered as they left.
The rest of the party passed uneventfully for the group. Spike stayed off to the side until it was time to see the newlyweds off. He cracked a joke, all of them laughed. All of them thought everything was normal. Just what he wanted.
The Cutie Mark Crusaders mingled for a while, but it was clear that this was an adult party they had little interest in. Still, Pinkie and Cadence took enough interest to keep them entertained, at least for a short while.
Twilight didn’t return to her suite last night. Whatever Luna had wanted to discuss with her, it had taken all night. That suited Spike just fine, as he curled up in the secondary bed. He didn’t want to deal with Twilight’s probing questions. He didn’t want her to notice his emotional state. He just wanted to sleep.