• Published 6th Jul 2012
  • 13,522 Views, 874 Comments

Cutie Mark Catastrophes - Wintergreen Diaries

Cutie Mark Crusaders find their marks and look to new horizons; taming colts for themselves.

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Cracked Walls

Chapter 8: Cracked Walls

Small orange wings folded as the days events caught up with a filly who landed amongst the long, golden stalks of grass, waving like a golden ocean in the autumn breeze. They were tall, sometimes reaching above Scootaloo’s head as she aimlessly wandered through the rustling sea until she broke through to a small, cliff-like plateau where the foliage thinned and she could see for miles. It was there that the last remnants of her walls were allowed to crumble, her facade of indifference and strength no longer needed nor wanted, and it was there that Scootaloo allowed herself a luxury she rarely indulged. With the spring rains long since past, the thirsty ground soaked up the filly’s tears with gratitude, though it couldn’t know at what price it was receiving its bounty, nor could the quietude of the countryside fully muffle her soft cries.

How could I be so stupid, running in there and spouting all that stuff? I never even stopped to consider that Storm and Rainbow Dash were probably just teasing me like always, but now... The memory of her outburst at Pipsqueak flashed through her mind, and she cringed as the trickle dribbling down her cheeks became a stream. I’m sorry, Pipsqueak. I was totally the one at fault, shouting like that when I didn’t even stop to ask until it was too late. A sudden gust of wind sent a shiver through Scootaloo’s body, though it barely registered as she lifted her eyes skyward, longing for blue skies but seeing little but gray.

Her head drooped back down, her thoughts a convoluted mire all swirling around but a single question: what now? Sure, she hadn’t bawled back in class, but she was now, and for all intents and purposes, any semblance of her being anything close to “cool” was eliminated. While she feebly tried to convince herself that it was stupid to think Pipsqueak would just give her the boot, she couldn’t help but be afraid that she had indeed pushed a colt she hardly knew too far with her hot-headed tirade. I’m the worst, wanting him to come after me when it’s me that should be begging for forgiveness. Pipsqueak... I...

“Special Move #2: Pirate Tackle!” At the sound of a voice she’d been longing to hear, yet not expecting in the slightest, elation flooded the filly as she whirled just in time to have Pipsqueak bowl into her, knocking them both from the short cliff and sending them tumbling downhill. Dirty, breathless, and utterly disoriented, they came to a rest in a heap at the bottom, and after taking a few moments to let the world stop spinning, Scootaloo found herself atop Pipsqueak and maintaining an unprecedented level of body contact. Suddenly, “guilt” and “remorse” were magically transformed into “burning sensation in cheeks” and “uncanny levels of happy threatening to burst a filly’s heart.” However, Scootaloo still had something she needed to say, and so, for the sake of her own clarity of thought, she stood and looked at the grin of a pirate with shining eyes.

“Pipsqueak, I’m... really sorry for freaking out like that. It was really dumb, and... I hope we can still be friends.” Stop... looking at me like that. You should be mad at me, not... Unable to bear his kind gaze, devoid of judgement or anger, Scootaloo averted her eyes, quaking lightly as the rush of emotions threatened to overwhelm her.

“Scootaloo...” Pipsqueak began, his accent there but his tone soft, “ye’ll... always be my deckhoof.” His words were salve to the soul, and as she slowly lifted her eyes to a pony who was regarding her with all the same exuberance as always, despite her laying among the shattered remnants of her facade, she felt that strange, wonderful, terrifying burning sensation once more light her ablaze. “Ye’ve got a lot t’ learn. Aye, pirates love a good adventure, but what do you think they're riskin’ their lives t’ find, eh? Treasure. Adventure and treasure, lass, and yer full o’ both.” It was the single most romantic thing Scootaloo had ever heard ever, and she was defenseless against it.

I don’t get it! What’s... what’s going on? I should be totally miserable right now, and I was up until he said that, mushy... mushy, sweet, romantic stuff that’s totally the best th... No! Stop it, I don’t want to hear those things, and I really don’t want to like it! But I do and it drives me nuts! And yet, no amount of denial could ward off the acute shortness of breath and increased body temperature she was experiencing. Each second felt a minute long, and after an agonizing three minutes by her count, she realized that it really wasn’t so bad. In fact, the sensation was, she would admit to herself later in the solitude of her own room, oddly enjoyable, though for now, a kiss would do.

Wait, what?!? No, stop! Stop, face! Not another inch closer! Scootaloo was released from her introspection to find her muzzle was indeed moving towards a forbidden destination, and she pulled back on the reigns with all her might, though that only managed to stop her forward motion; their snouts were still touching every so gently. Scootaloo was mortified, Pipsqueak was paralyzed, and Lady Luck sat watching with great amusement and anticipation for what was next to come. Come on, Pipsqueak! You’re the captain! Order me to stop!

I didn’t know that my newest crew member was a Siren! This disrupts the chain of command, Scootaloo! I can’t... can’t move... Mutiny, I say! If fate were, by some odd happenstance, a sentient being, there was little doubt in either pony’s mind that he would be having himself a merry time yanking their heartstrings, but this changed little. Scootaloo was hopeless before the dashing rogue, who, in turn, couldn’t resist the allure of the Siren.

"Pipsqueak..." Scootaloo managed, her voice trembling and soft. Succumbing to her fate, her eyes began to close before being blasted back with all the force of a cannon as Pipsqueak rallied behind a sudden influx of sheer force of will, or at least terror of becoming a hoof pancake should Scootaloo’s father discover anything pertaining to everything that had happened in the last two minutes.

"Mutiny, friendly fire, hull breach an' abandon ship! Fall back, retreat, an' hit the deck!" Pipsqueak cried, scrambling upright and bolting up the hill, back towards town. “There’s a Siren among us, lads! Every pony fer themselves! Run fer yer lives!” Crestfallen that she had missed her opportunity with pathetic hesitation and relieved that she’d been spared by her captain’s sudden lapse of cowardice, Scootaloo responded with equally mixed emotions.

But... he... no kiss? No kiss! Dangit it... Woohoo! Woo...hoo? Wait just a minute, here... Wait, no waiting, that’s why I didn’t get kissed in the first place! Ewww, kissing, I... “Gah, what the hay is wrong with my brain?!?” Scootaloo cried, rearing up and stomping down with all the force she could muster before tearing after her mark, her captain, and the one pony that could fill her heart with fire, though given her temperament, she’d admit it was better than the idea of feeling butterflies. “Pipsqueak, get back here! We need to talk!”

“That wasn’t talkin’ ye were thinkin’ ‘bout usin’ yer mouth for, temptress!” he all but wailed, frantically pushing his little legs for all they were worth, and with good cause; Scootaloo was hot on his trail, not having the faintest idea what she’d do when she caught up but definitely sure it wasn’t anything mushy or romantic, and double definitely not kissing.

Once a place of laughter, Applebloom slowed to a stop before a house she’d only ever entered once, and under much more pleasant circumstances. It struck her how much more imposing the door seemed, looming over her and threatening to turn her legs to jelly. Even with the widespread humiliation and outrage over the Gabby Gums column, the shame she felt as she lifted her hoof was almost tangible, though she couldn’t say if the horrible taste was just her mind’s way of coping or if it actually was regret manifest in physical form. She couldn’t leave, though. Rumble was hurt, it was mostly her fault, and be it fence, barn, door or pony skull, she fixed things, especially if she was the one behind the damages. Unfortunately, as she swallowed back her fear and gave the door a few solid knocks, it wasn’t the exuberance of two mares acting like fillies, but one stallion who she could only assume was the older brother Rumble spoke so highly of.

“You must be...” Thunderlane began, just barely beginning to break into a grin before finding a grimace to be much more fitting as pent up guilt exploded in a nearly tearful apology.

“Ah’m sorry, Thunderlane!” Applebloom wailed, desperate to garner his mercy and prostrating herself before the bewildered stallion. “Ah didn’t mean t’ knock yer brother senseless, or run ‘im into that cart, or... or anythin’ else that happened! Please, don’t hate me; ah’ll do better, ah promise!” Soft laughter, gentle and soothing like Rumble’s, dared Applebloom to raise her eyes, finding neither anger nor disdain upon the stallion’s face. Is this stallion all right in the head? Ah whacked ‘is brother! Ain’t there some kind o’ rule that generally, when somepony hauls off and brains one o’ yer family members, ya get angry? Well, come on, say somethin’!

“It must run in the family...” Thunderlane stated, confusing the filly further with a warm grin as he opened the door wider and motioned inside.

“Uh, beg yer pardon?” Applebloom replied, slowly rising to her hooves and tilting her head to the side.

“Cloudchaser hit me with a skillet once,” Thunderlane explained with a rueful grin. “I was out for two whole days, and trust me, she looked about as miserable as you do right now. Doesn’t make me happy that you whacked my little bro,” he assured her, noting with approval that the mere mention of the fact bid her look away. “It’s pretty clear you’re torturing yourself just fine without my help. Rumble wouldn’t be too happy with me if I turned you away at the door, now would he?”

He put everything together that fast? That ain’t right. “Is it really that obvious, or are you just smarter than the average stallion?” Applebloom inquired, warming to Thunderlane faster that she’d have thought she would, given how much Applejack had drilled caution with colts into her.

“Smarter than average?” he replied with a good natured laugh, beckoning her inside as he trotted in, taking a seat on a far couch and stretching out. “Don’t be misled, I’m not incredibly gifted in the intelligence department. What I am, however, is well trained. Two mares, twice the painful lessons learned,” Thunderlane laughed, entirely serious. “Making a relationship with two mares that are nearly complete opposites work is only possible if every failure is learned from.”

Ah can see so much o’ him in Rumble already. Rumble’s a little more reserved, but ah can see why he looks up t’ you, Thunderlane. “Give yerself a little credit,” Applebloom quipped, already feeling at home enough to tease. “Ah’d say the fact that yer teachable puts ya head an’ shoulders above a lot o’ ponies, filly an’ colt alike. Ah can’t say ah understand datin’ two mares at once, but it sounds like a right load o’ work, an’ ah can respect hard work.”

“You’re pretty cool, Applebloom. Perfect for my awesome little bro,” Thunderlane quipped, standing upright and trotting over. “Now then, I see you have a get well gift, so let me show you to his room. Keep your voice down, though. Seems his - what'd he call her... mallet angel? Gave him a fun-filled morning and a dreadful headache.” Chastised, encouraged, hesitant and excited all at once, Applebloom grabbed her gift, followed the stallion over, and peered into a dark room with the blinds shut and the lights out. There was really very little remarkable about the room, with a few pictures of Thunderlane, his fillyfriends, and two ponies she assumed were his parents adorning his walls and a bed clad in red.

“You know,” Thunderlane began, speaking softly and standing by the bed, “he’s never shown a strong romantic interest in anypony, despite having to live with me and my fillyfriends. Take care of him, and I know he’ll do the same for you.”


“That... wasn’t what I was expecting,” Thunderlane murmured, watching as Applebloom slowly lifted her gaze and answered as matter-of-factly as one could hope.

“Mah hearts all crazy from dealin’ with stuff ah ain’t ever had t’ even think about, mah sister would lose it completely if anythin’ save ‘oh, ah’m sorry fer bumpin’ into ya’ happens, yet everypony is already actin’ like we’ve planned a weddin’, an’ ah don’t even know fer sure where ah stand on the subject! So... ‘huh.’ What part wasn’t clear? It makes perfect sense!” Slightly indignant with the chuckling stallion as he quietly left the room and gently closed the door, Applebloom approached the bed slowly, climbing up beside Rumble where she sat watching him sleep.

How can a pony so gentle an’ peaceful lookin’ show a “strong interest romantically” in somepony as “uncouth” as mahself, as Rarity might say? Ah always thought girls were supposed t’ be the confusin’ ones, but you, Rumble... you’ve got me confounded in the worst o’ ways. An’ you know what’s worse? Ah... ah don’t think ah even mind... Permitting just a little of her defensive perimeter to be breached, she allowed herself a smile in the dark as she let just a tiny flame flicker within, her hoof slowly reaching out and finding that even after all the strife of the day, Rumble’s mane was still soft.

“And this here is their clubhouse! As you can see, it’s been through a lot recently.” Silver Spoon nodded quietly, acknowledging Ruby’s words and looking around at the dust and patched up roof. “It was really something. Pipsqueak burst in, shouting some gibberish and waving his wooden sword around, and then Rumble came plowing through the roof and took out Scootaloo. It was hilarious!” Turning around, Ruby eagerly awaited some sign that mirth still lived.

“I see.” It didn’t.

That’s it? You know, Silver Spoon, you’re making it really hard to keep smiling. I mean, you’re not being mean or snobby, which is nice, but you totally left me hanging, won’t explain what’s going on, or what your secret is, or... or anything! You’re a filly! You should know how much it drives us nuts when somepony hides things like that!

“Why are you doing this? You don’t like me.” It wasn’t even stated as a question, but as fact, and yet, there was no discernible malice. Ruby turned around slowly, giving a demure Silver Spoon her full attention and surmising that the filly really did just want to know.

“After spending so much time with Diamond Tiara, I guess it makes sense that my actions would be confusing, even suspicious.” Silver Spoon hesitated, mostly at having to hear the name, but confirmed Ruby’s suspicions with a nod. “It’s really simple; I don’t need a reason to help somepony.” Silver Spoon blinked once, but was otherwise unresponsive. “Helping others is what brings me happiness, and I couldn’t stand seeing you so upset. But... I can only help if ponies let me, and... Diamond Tiara was...”

“A prissy parvenu halfwit?" It was glorious to hear, and from Silver Spoon of all ponies, it was music to Ruby’s ears, but it was as jarring as it was cathartic. "Hardly does her justice, does it...”

“Y-yeah, more or less,” Ruby replied, stunned for a moment at the vehemence in Silver Spoon’s words. Those two were best friends, but now... what the hay could possibly have caused such a terrible divide? Nevermind, it’s not important right now. “As angry as her attitude made me, and as cutting as her words were, I’d... still help her, if she’d let me. It’s just the kind of pony I am. I think the word is, um... altruistic. Selfless to a fault...” Ruby chuckled softly, glancing away.

“...better than being talented at treating everypony around you like pawns.” Silver Spoon was breaking apart Ruby’s preconceived notions of her persona not with a proverbial chisel, but glorious trinitrotoluene.

What the... are you even the same pony, Silver Spoon? Geez... “Uh... that’s true, I guess. I mean, for sure, but...” Ruby was rather at a loss as to where to steer the conversation after that, but Silver Spoon left the subject alone, choosing rather to test the telescope as Ruby led her up to the second story. Unfortunately, clouds and sunlight made stargazing a moot point, so Silver Spoon quickly abandoned the notion and turned back to Ruby blank faced.

“I should probably be going home now. My parents will not be happy if I arrive home too much later.”

“Oh, ok...” Ruby replied slowly, dropping her gaze. I said I’d meet her on her own terms, but dang it, why are you running? Even if what you just said is true, you’re still avoiding me... Letting it go was hard, and went against everything Ruby stood for, leaving the problem unsolved, but there really wasn’t another option; if Silver Spoon needed space, then it wasn’t her right to deny her that. But if there was any chance she could yet draw a smile from a filly who needed it more than anypony she knew, she’d find it. “I don’t want to get you in trouble, but would you... like me to walk home with you?”

“...if you want to,” Silver Spoon murmured, turning away and heading down the stairs. Ruby didn’t really need to give it any contemplation, and Silver Spoon glanced over as the filly cheerily bounded up beside her before she even made it down the ramp. “Hmph. Persistent, aren’t you...”

“Hey, there’s a little bit of that attitude coming back!” Ruby quipped, sullen eyes meeting a cheeky smile with the radiant grin being the victor. “I saw that!” Ruby cried leaping in front of Silver Spoon and cutting off her advance.

“Saw what?” the filly replied, finding enough energy to tinge her voice with exasperation, though she couldn’t even say if it was feigned or not.

“That was almost a smile.” Ruby grew slightly uncomfortable as Silver Spoon did exactly the opposite, frowning and furrowing her brow as she fell into deep thought, mystified by Ruby’s utter focus on her needs, rather than her own.

I’ve been... giving nothing all day, fighting your efforts to make me happy with what little strength I have left, and yet... all you want in return is a... a smile? Is there really so much worth in something so simple? “...was not.”

“Don’t even try to deny it! You nearly smiled, Silver Spoon!” Ruby defended, not budging an inch and grinning even wider to combat the severe case of mugwump that seemed to be afflicting her friend, tentative though the title was.

Stubborness too? It’s almost comforting. Something I’m used to, at least... “So what if it was?” Silver Spoon replied, attempting to move around the unbearably perky pink unicorn of obstruction but failing as the mobile roadblock repositioned herself. “Is that really such a big deal?”

“Uh, yeah? When I’ve been trying to squeeze one out of your uptight little face for the last hour or two, then yes, Silver Spoon, it is,” Ruby chuckled. “Come on, you know you want to.”

“...fine. Here.” Not a single tooth wasn’t shown in the most ridiculous, borderline creepy, smile Ruby had ever seen. It was not befitting a classy mare like Silver Spoon, and though it lasted but a moment, the deranged grin succeeded in causing no end of mirth for Ruby, who promptly fell to the ground in a heap of giggles. With the living barrier taken care of, Silver Spoon continued on her way, but from eyes that barely managed to crack open, so great was the life-giving relief of laughter, Ruby could see that which she’d been pulling for all afternoon. It was faint, it was small, and it was definitely reluctant, but it was a genuine smile, and it was all Ruby needed to make the last few hours worth her while.

Rumble slowly opened his eyes to a dark room. Disoriented, he shifted ever so slightly, planning to sit up until a throbbing pain lanced through his head, starting at the center of his forehead and shooting through to his spine, and he remembered why it was that he wasn’t at school, even though it was well into the afternoon. His eyes remained closed as he lifted a leaden hoof to his head, even the slightest pressure from his exploratory touch increasing the pain while simultaneously alerting him that falling off the barn had left him with a soreness all along his back and legs, and that’s to say nothing of his snout. There were good days, and there were bad days, but Rumble couldn’t remember the last time he felt so close to crippled.

“Ugh... I wish my head would just do me a favor and fall off,” he murmured with a groan, draping a hoof across his eyes and wincing as the headache intensified in proportion to his wakefulness. “Thunderlane, you always warned me that dealing with girls would be a lot of work, but I never thought it’d be so hazardous to my health...” He paused, falling silent as a rueful smile slowly grew. “I wonder... if it makes me crazy that I’d still like to see her...”

“Yer... way too... too nice t’ me...” Rumble hadn’t had a reason to keep his eyes open before, but at the sound of his angel’s voice, soft, timid, and gentle enough not to spurn the throbbing in his skull any further, he slowly removed his hoof eyeshield to find Applebloom sitting at the edge of the bed, averting her gaze. Ah’d ask how he feels, but it’s painfully obvious. Ah’d ask if he forgives me, but ah know he’d say he already has. Ah’d... offer t’ let ‘im whack me back, but ah know he wouldn’t dream o’ doin’ somethin’ like that, so... what can ah say? Ah can’t hardly stand t’ look at ‘im, after everythin’ that’s happened ‘cause of me...

“Applebloom?” The filly glanced over her shoulder briefly before turning away again, too ashamed at having bedridden her newest friend after only a day to dare maintain eye contact. Rumble couldn’t help but let a soft grunt escape as he dragged himself into a sitting position, closing his eyes as the room spun. I’d ask how she feels, but it’s clear she’s upset. I’d ask why, but I think I know... I’d tell her it isn’t her fault, but... it is. But I have to say something... Summoning his strength, he opened his mouth to speak, to comfort, to find some way to ease the filly’s guilt, but as she slowly turned to face him, he noticed something clutched to the filly's chest, and he remained silent as she made her offering.

Without a word, Applebloom set down the card she’d made upon Rumble’s lap and turned away, knowing that even if she had made it the most flashy, dazzling paper in all of Equestria, it couldn’t properly convey her truest feelings. And yet, in that she was, perhaps, quite mistaken, because the final touches she’d made caught Rumble’s eye, his heart, and reaffirmed within the colt that the wracking pain making it hard for his eyes to focus was well worth the cost. A pink lace border formed a frame for something more profound than any message Applebloom could have scrawled within; drawn in glitter glue was a single, large heart that contained two names, one sign.

“Applebloom + Rumble...” Rumble could have tried to stave off the blush that rose to his cheeks as he read the inscription aloud, but what would that accomplish? He slowly opened the card and silently read over the contents, the blush deepening at the blunt honesty infused with an affection to match.


I’m not gonna say I like you, ‘cause that would be too easy, but since today has been hard enough for you, I’ll admit I couldn’t stop thinking about you in class. I still feel right horrible for hitting you upside the head, and if tomorrow goes any worse, I’ll whack myself good so we can both be miserable. How does that sound?

- Applebloom”

Ah can almost hear ‘im laughin’... What was ah thinkin’, writin’ all that? Doesn’t even... come close t’ showin’ what ah meant properly...

Applebloom, you... you showed exactly what you meant before you even wrote the words. Rumble couldn’t have guessed that a single piece of paper could mean so much, and he clutched his treasure to his chest for a few seconds before realizing that the true treasure was seated beside him. It was possible that what he was thinking would be too much or that it might land him in trouble with Applejack, but he couldn't simply do nothing as the one who never ceased to fill him with wonder sat alone, steeped in sadness while his heart was overflowing with gratitude.

Ignoring the aches in his limbs and pounding in his head, Rumble drew back the covers and sat down behind the filly, slowly wrapping his hooves around her waist and squeezing gently. Having been steeped in doubt, worried that his silence was his nice way of rejecting her feeble apology, Applebloom was midway through caving to the urge to run, but as she felt the colt’s kind embrace, follow shortly after by the sensation of his soft coat pressing against her back, she found herself unwilling to leave.

Soothed by the gentle beat of Rumble’s heart, awed by the colt’s forgiveness even in the midst of his own pain, and tired of suppressing an affection that seemed to grow by the hour, Applebloom accepted the forward act as the honest gesture it was, and slowly, hesitantly, placed her hoof over those wrapped around her. It was far more intimate than most would dictate acceptable, but Rumble could only emulate what he had seen, and his intentions were as pure as the tears beading in the corners of the eyes of a colt who was far more sensitive than most knew. And yet, as appreciation and pain mingled together, dripping from his muzzle and trickling down the filly’s back, a tender increase in pressure as the filly also dropped her facade and leaned back a little deeper reassured Rumble that he was not for his tears despised.

“So much fer... fer holdin’ hooves first, huh?” Applebloom whispered, both to herself and to Rumble who couldn’t help but let slip a small laugh, both of them blushing brightly in the darkness of the room. “You sure move fast, Rumble. Ah can’t say mah sister would approve o’ this, but...” she trailed off, pressing firmly as the colt’s hold loosened and threatened to pull away. “Ah never said ah minded it, so... just fer a bit.”

“As... as friends, right?”

“O’ course! You learn as fast as ya move, it seems...” she quipped, her false confidence melting away as she fell silent in his hooves. It ain’t right, hidin’ it like this. Ah mean, ah know it’s soon; it ain’t been more than twenty four hours! But ah... A sudden flux of body heat bid Rumble lift his head, and he soon found himself caught in the blaze as Applebloom turned, making eye contact for just a moment before the bashful filly averted her gaze, dropping the final barrier and laying her head against Rumble’s chest. “Unless... unless you wanted... t’ be, uh... ya know, somethin’ a little...”

Uncomfortable, stunned silence ensued due to one colt having his mind blown and one filly swearing she had lost hers. Whoa, nelly! Ah didn’t mean t’ go that far! A kind word, maybe a teeny little nuzzle or somethin’, that’s all ah was thinkin’! An’ then ah had t’ go an’... an’ ask that? What am ah supposed t’ do if he says yes, huh? Ah’m not ready, an’ Applejack would... Oh, ponyfeathers... ah wanna know what he’s gonna say, though! Don’t go all silent on me now... C’mon, Rumble, say somethin’! Anythin’!


Ok, anythin’ but that. Ah ain’t a scholar, but even ah can come up with somethin’ better than... Sadly, Rumble’s hesitation to find something slightly more articulate than the response that first came to mind cost them their moment, and left Applebloom in lack of an answer as Flitter and Cloudchaser, having watched most of the scene from the cracked open doorway, let their excitement get the better of them. “What’ n’ tar... ow, that’s bright!” Applebloom cried as her eyes, adjusted to the darkness, were blasted with the flash of a camera. Falling back as if shot, she fell in a heap atop Rumble, giving two gleeful sister’s a few more candid pictures before fleeing from the wrath of a filly bereaved of her special moment. Rumble lay dazed, listening to the shouts and crashes as Applebloom gave them both a good chase through the house, and as he shielded his eyes from the light filtering in through the open door, he couldn’t help but wonder how he hadn’t become friends with Applebloom before; she fit right in.

Not having anything else to do until the tavern opened, and fairly sure Spike would be busy helping Twilight catch up after having been out most of the previous day at the farm, Sweetie Belle simply decided to mingle after splitting with Ruby, not having any particular desire to head home. She made small talk with the ponies around town as she went, accepting praise for her performances and thanking them for their ever present support, even giving a few a capella performances simply for the fun of it and refusing the bits offered to her for her outstanding vocals. Charity was fine, and it wasn’t that she couldn’t use the money, but the smiles she received for her songs were a reward in their own right, and Rarity was the only mare she knew who could pull of selfish generosity. Sweetie Belle chuckled softly as she waved goodbye to the small crowd that had gathered in town before wandering off towards home, the sight of the front door bringing with it a flood of thoughts and memories of the morning.

Spike, I really hope your plan to throw them off our tracks works, even if it will only delay dealing with the problem. Oh well... Ok, so greeting, room, solitude, music, in that order. Her plan was going smoothly right up to the point where she set hoof in the door, at which point she found herself halted by a scene most peculiar. Magnum and Garden Wishes seemed to be having a contest as to which of them could sit up the straightest and best imitate a statue, whereas Rarity, seated opposite, was daintily sipping tea while the young filly stood in the doorway.

“Welcome home, Sweetie Belle! Do come in, and be sure you shut the door. It’s a bit drafty out,” Rarity called out, her smooth voice only adding to the filly’s mounting confusion.

Ok, so much for THAT plan. What is Rarity doing here, why is she so happy, and what the hay has gotten into mom and dad? Knowing that keeping her sister waiting was the worst possible option, Sweetie Belle quickly closed the door and trotted over, sitting down beside her elder sibling and shooting her parents a disconcerted glance. “Rarity, what happened to them? They look like they’ve seen a ghost or something,” Sweetie whispered, peering up at Rarity. Wiping her mouth daintily with a napkin, Rarity set her tea down on the table and taught her little sister in a much gentler manner the lesson her parents had learned earlier that morning; nopony messes with Sweetie Belle and walks away unscathed.

“It came to my attention that our dear parents were being a mite too restrictive in their measures pertaining to your love life, and I took it upon myself to have a little talk with them. As you can see, they were quite receptive,” Rarity quipped, beaming across the room at two shell-shocked ponies.

“Are they even breathing?”

“Hmmm, that is a good question, Sweetie. It’s been awhile since I checked, really. They’ve been like this the better part of the afternoon, so I suppose it would behoove me to find out. First things first, though! Father, would you please repeat to Sweetie Belle what you so graciously told me earlier today? I would be ever so grateful...”

“B-but Rarity, you...” Magnum began after a few false starts before any semblance of amiability disappeared from Rarity’s voice as it dropped to a commanding growl.

“Ever... so... grateful. Father.”

“Sweetie Belle is free to be interested in whoever she chooses so long as she continues to pursue the continuance of her talents and adhere to standards befitting a proper mare!” Magnum replied automatically, shutting up as soon as the sentence had come to an end and all but begging for mercy as he clung to his wife.

“There, you see?” Rarity quipped, clapping her hooves together and levitating her tea back to her side. “There’s nothing a lady cannot handle. I do hope you didn’t worry too much over our parents’ little oversight, and you really should have come to me sooner, dear.”

Come to you sooner? You broke our parents! In a day! No, less than that! Still... “I’m sorry, Rarity. It’s just... you’ve been dealing with a lot too recently, and I didn’t want to burden you with any of my problems. After all, a lady has to stand up for herself, right? I’d have figured out something... eventually.”

“Oh, you make your sister proud, Sweetie Belle,” Rarity declared, pulling her into an affectionate squeeze before releasing her and taking another sip of tea. “However, every girl has her limits, and even the most generous pony will need assistance every now and again. Feel free to call on me anytime, alright?” Her sister’s shining eyes spoke volumes while her muzzle creased into a grin that spoke more than her words could have, the taste of freedom sweeter than honey.

“At any rate,” she continued, standing upright, “I must take my leave. Father, Mother, do behave yourselves. I would much rather our next get together to be somewhat more jovial, if possible. Oh! And thank you very much for the tea.” Pausing only to give Sweetie Belle a wink, Rarity made straight for the door where she stopped, giving her sister an apologetic smile at her forgetfulness. “How terribly silly of me. I cannot believe I almost forgot! Sweetie Belle, if your new arrangement with our dear parents pleases you, then be sure to say thank you to your special somepony. This was all his idea, really.”

“Wait, Spike was the one who...” Rarity nodded, smiling as the comprehension kicked in. Rarity chose to refrain from mentioning how it wasn’t proper to shove a lady aside, though had she not moved quickly, she would have been bowled over as the filly tore out the door with a new plan for her afternoon. Find Spike, tackle, give him a wet one, in that order. Ready... go!

Books. Spike lived with them, touched them, and had probably inhaled more dust from them than any baby dragon should ever be forced to, but the one thing he hadn’t done much of was reading them. However, upon the discovery, admittance, and acceptance of the irrefutable fact that he liked a filly, and she liked him, the dragon decided to do a little research, which would have been a splendid idea were it not for the fact that he had, regrettably, never gone to school. Thus, all of the relationship books that Twilight had lying around were about as comprehensible as, well, Twilight’s rantings when she was having a poison joke induced spaz attack.

It was because of this that Spike was actually somewhat grateful for the sudden disruption of his solitude, as even though the library easily made room for three more, one of them happened to be the librarian herself. All it took was the sight of Spike attempting to read to send Twilight into a non-poison joke induced spell of crazies, the good kind that usually ended in Spike basically getting to name his terms.

“Spike, are you... yes, you’re reading!” Twilight squealed, snatching him up and twirling a few times before tossing him back onto the couch. “Today just couldn’t get any better! Cerulean, Spike’s reading!”

“Whoa, all sorts of crazy things are happening today,” the blue stallion chuckled, trotting over and examining the title with unconcealed amusement. Hair as white as new fallen snow streaked with teal swished over Cerulean’s eyes momentarily as he laughed, but Spike was well aware that beneath an easy-going, borderline outright stupid exterior lay an undeniable love for Twilight, honed by the overcoming a painful past. This, however, was not the side currently on display. “‘Unraveling the Mystery: Mare Hearts, Volume 1.’ Nice choice, though when you get to the chapter titled ‘Estrus: The Dark Ages,’ you may want to skip it.”

“What, like it’s going to be anything I don’t already know about?” Spike replied with a sarcastic grin before turning back to his teacher. “Twilight, I kind of have a little favor to ask.”

“Anything at all for my student who has finally discovered the licentious wonders of laudable literature! Yeeee!” Spike and Cerulean both found themselves shaking their heads as the lavender unicorn bounced around the main floor like a bunny on a sugar high. Her daughter Dawn, just shy of a year old, eagerly joined in while paying close attention to her ample mane so as to not tread upon it, an oft repeated mistake that ensured a rather uncomfortable face plant.

“She never gets that excited when I read,” Cerulean murmured, looking at Spike with a fake pouting face that garnered nought but a teasing smirk. “Heh, it’s ok, though. You can make her crazy by reading, I just... have to quote the dictionary with graceful elocution. Your teacher is an odd one, you know that?”

“And you married her,” the young dragon countered, a line he often used but still remained valid. “Oh geez, she’s going into nuzzle mode,” Spike chuckled as Twilight ceased her hopping and instead clutched one of her favorite novels to her chest, rubbing her face against it like a pampered kitten looking for love. “Twi, as much as you seem to be loving that book, I really would like to have a serious conversation about, you know... Dating and stuff...” Twilight paused momentarily, blinked once as if coming out of a daze, and promptly gave her tome a little more love before levitating it back to the shelf with a dreamy look in her eyes.

“Sorry about that, I got a little carried away,” Twilight offered with a nervous chuckle, trotting back over and sitting on the couch next to her student. “Now then, would you like to talk in private upstairs, or down here where Cerulean can butt in at any time,” she quipped, casting a fond eye over at her stallion, currently faking chest pains due to indignation and tragically expiring on the spot. Dawn immediately chastised her father for sleeping during play time and piled a few books on his head in reprimand, which worked just as well as any defibrillator.

“Here is fine, I think,” Spike laughed, not having anything terribly embarrassing on his mind, though there was one question nagging at him more than all the rest, and it had far more reaching consequences than any boneheaded blunders he could make talking to Sweetie Belle. It was something he’d given a lot of thought about ever since the dragon migration, but upon finding himself falling for Sweetie Belle, it moved from the back burner to the forefront of his mind. First things first, though. Survival tactics! “Ok, let’s see, um... Top ten things you never say or do to a mare.”

“Well, since I’m pretty sure you’ve coined them all at some point, why don’t you answer that one, Cerulean?” Twilight replied with a warming smile, eliciting an exasperated sigh from her husband who just couldn’t seem to catch a break.

“Hmmm, at your age... Never comment negatively on their weight, mane, overall physique, or breath. Even if it smells like they spent all morning feasting on refuse, you do not, under any circumstances, comment on it. Unless, of course, they ask you to, in which case you’re already bound for trouble, so you might as well give it to them straight.” Spike caught the way Twilight was glaring at Cerulean, realizing he was clearly speaking from experience on the last point.

“I do not have morning breath,” Twilight muttered, folding her hooves across her chest.

“Yeah, you kinda...” Spike started, shuddering as a sudden burst of magic coated him in a fine layer of chilling snow, one of Cerulean’s specialties.

“And strike one, Spike!” Cerulean declared, cutting the dragon off mid-sentence. “Are you even paying attention? Seriously, this is important. Respect their boundaries and personal space, even if they shift on a daily basis, much like their temper. Mares are like... waves. You want to ride them, or you’ll get crushed by them, and...”

“Cerulean, choose your words carefully, please,” Twilight muttered with a sigh, giving the stallion a few seconds pause before he realized his analogy may not have come across as eloquent as he had meant for it to, for which he offered a cheeky grin.

“Duly noted. Let’s see, that’s what, five? Don’t lie,” Cerulean stressed, still smiling but his eyes conveying a seriousness that Spike couldn’t overlook. “For the sake of all that is good and right, do not lie, because they are smarter than you, they will find out, and oh, there will be consequences. Now is when things get tricky,” he continued, brightening considerably. “Fillies like to be complimented on their appearance, but not all the time and only pertaining to certain areas... mostly. Given your age, and the fact that you’re fairly bright, I’d say you know what I’m talking about.”

“Cerulean, if I wanted common sense, I’d have asked for it,” Spike sighed, rolling his eyes and expecting something a little more substantial. Sadly, there was no magical cure-all for being a male, as Spike had naively hoped, nor any magic known to ponydom; not even a physical change of body could cure the mind, and thus, Spike was forced to take what he could get, giving the stallion his attention once more.

“Uh, you did, Spike,” Cerulean fired back with a grin. “Listen, fillies are just like anypony else, but they require a little... ok, a lot of extra effort. Most of the time, the right option will be pretty self explanatory, but the difference lies in whether or not you choose to follow your own desires, or put their needs before your own. Ask yourself that simple question, and you’ll choose the right option more often than not, and the filly will likely find it fitting to excuse your other blunders. Not forget, but excuse.”

“Way to instill an aspiring bachelor with confidence, Cerulean,” Twilight replied in a droll tone. “Unfortunately, he’s being fairly honest, Spike. Celestia knows you’ve seen me have some... moments.”

“It’s true I don’t have to worry about Sweetie Belle plunging Ponyville into chaos by making it rain poison joke, at least...” I was planning on asking Twilight to help with Sweetie Belle’s parents, but that’s not an issue either. Still, I wonder who would have done better? Pfff, duh, Rarity, but I’d still like to know what she would have done. “What should I do if, say, the parents of the filly I like are somewhat less understanding than I’d hope, and let’s just assume for a moment that if they found out their filly had feelings for a dragon, she’d likely be forbidden to see him. What then?” There was a moment of silence as everypony took a moment to shift from good-humored to dead serious, during which time Twilight’s intolerance alarm initiated the fury klaxons while her core temperature began to rise, a little dash of bloodlust acting as the spoon that stirred her magic into a frenzy.

“Well,” she started calmly, “first, I would drop everything I’m doing, be it research, pleasure, or even a nice dinner with Princess Celestia. Second, I would march, not teleport, but march, to said pony’s house. Third, I would blast down their door and give that sorry excuse for a pony an incendiary lecture on the finer points of tolerance that would leave more than just their ears on fire!” There was a pause as everypony sat stunned a moment before lucidity seemed to make a temporary resurgence against the rage. “Hypothetically, of course.” Regardless of the calm tone she used to follow up her diatribe, the subsequent growl and flaring nostrils betrayed her true sentiments, and thus Dawn took the appropriate action and dove for cover behind her recently constructed book fort.

“Uh oh, mommy gonna go boom!” Dawn squealed, her astute analysis galvanizing her father into action.

“Skwoo dis, no wants!” Cerulean yelped, feigning foal speak and diving across the room in an attempt to take shelter with Dawn, who was none-too-pleased with the invasion.

“No room, dad!” Dawn strained, pressing with both hooves in an attempt to expel the invading stallion while Twilight took a few moments to cool down, watching the scene with reluctant amusement. “Make yous own fort!”

“Fine!” Cerulean pouted, trudging sullenly away before plying his skill with ice magic and sealing himself inside of an igloo. Dawn glanced at her feeble wall of books and then back at the all encompassing half-sphere fortress of ice before deciding that her father may have been a better ally than she gave him credit for. She was about to beg for entry before a short burst of magic from Twilight’s horn blasted away the front end, and Dawn chose to remain tucked away within her little castle, as it was clearly less challenging to the mare than an indignant Cerulean’s frosty barrier. “Bad Twi! Broked my fort!”

“Uh, hate to interrupt, Twilight, but aren’t we getting a little off topic?” Spike interjected before the amorous gaze became too strong to disrupt. After shooting Cerulean a sly grin, she returned to the couch and sat down once more beside Spike, mostly calm.

“Is that true, then? Sweetie Belle’s parents wouldn’t want you with her because you’re a dragon?” Judging by his teacher’s peeved state and not wishing to see Sweetie Belle’s parents tormented any more than they already had, Spike proceeded to try and wrap the conversation up.

“Well, they don’t want her with anypony from Ponyville, it sounds like. I know it’s not my place to butt in and try change everything, but...”

“But nothing! That’s ridiculous!” Twilight exclaimed, pounding the cushions with a hoof. “I’ve met some of the best ponies I know here in Ponyville. Why would they make her look elsewhere if she finds somepony she cares about?”

“Something stupid about her being famous someday and wanting someone who’s good enough and blah blah blah,” Spike replied, finding himself every bit as passionately opposed to the situation as Twilight was, if not more so.

“...you’re kidding, right?”

“Nah, but watching you freak out was funny,” Spike chortled, receiving an exasperated sigh and an eye roll from the excitable unicorn. “Rarity already gave them a dressing down they won’t soon forget. She gave me an out after they promised to let Sweetie Belle pursue romance on her own terms, and trust me, I did not wanna stick around for round two...”

“Rightfully so,” Twilight snorted, taking some comfort that, while she wouldn’t get to vent, the matter had most definitely been handled if Rarity was the one ranting. “So... you and Sweetie Belle will be official soon, then?”

“I dunno...” Spike mumbled, twiddling his claws nervously as he thought about having to actually ask. Just thinking about asking is hard enough, but having to say it out loud? And clearly? Yeah, I’ll say girls are a lot of work, what with their ridiculously high expectations. At least I don’t have to worry about it for a while. “She said she wanted to take it slow, and...” Spike began when the door slammed open and none other than one ecstatic Sweetie Belle stood in the doorway. Leaping to his feet, Spike trotted a few steps forward, shocked to see the filly but pleasantly surprised nonetheless.

“Sweetie Belle? What’re you doing here?” Her chest heaving from the run, her eyes crazed and shining with the fires of adoration laced with gleeful anticipation, and a heart full to bursting, Sweetie Belle repeated her mantra a few more times internally before galloping inside, her mind and heart pulsing with one accord.

Tackle, kiss, repeat. Tackle, kiss, repeat! “Tackle~!” Spike watched with wonder as the filly sailed through the air in slow motion, and he found himself acutely aware of her hooves as they wrapped around his neck. Her eyes slowly closed as her mouth drew closer, and as Spike fell back, he brought his claws around her in a mutual embrace, noted the sudden rush of heat flooding his body, and closed his eyes. It was finally happening.