• Published 7th Aug 2012
  • 5,024 Views, 164 Comments

Pride and Prejudice and Snails - Mudpony

A lost bet forces Diamond Tiara to ask Snails to a dance. But when Snails turns to Sweetie Belle for help with impressing his date, she develops feelings for him. And so what was to have been a simple victory for the CMC gets a bit more complicated.

  • ...

Chapter 6

"So have you decided what dress you're wearing tonight?" Silver Spoon asked.

"The one from Hearth's Warming Eve, I think," Diamond Tiara muttered.

Tiara had been a bit of a wet blanket all day. Silver Spoon hoped Tiara would snap out of it though. Her friend was not much fun when she was in one of these moods. It was to be expected though. Her friend could not be looking forward to tonight. Talking about cloths often cheered her up though, so maybe it would this time as well.

Silver Spoon racked her brain trying to recall the dress Tiara was talking about. Images whirled past, but none were quite right. Silver Spoon thought maybe the purple number with the stripes, but then recalled that she had borrowed that one a month ago and it was still in her closet, so she ruled that out. Finally, she just guessed. "That the pink and purple one with the white polka dots?"

"The one from my cute-ceaƱera? Like, eeew. I gave that one away at the school's Hearths Warming Eve's charity drive last year. I wanted to burn it but daddy wouldn't let me. Don't ever want to see it again. Probably wouldn't fit anymore anyway," Tiara sighed. "No, the purple one, with the silver trim."

The image of the dress snapped into Silver Spoon's mind. "Oh, that one. I like that one. Not as much as the new one though. I still cannot believe the tree sap trio would stoop so low as to ruin your dress."

"OMC! I know, right. It just wasn't enough for them to have won the bet. Making me go with Snails just wasn't enough for them," Tiara snarled.

Mentally, Silver Spoon kicked herself for bringing up the dress. Mentioning unhappy things, what a sure-fire way to cheer somepony up. Cloths were not working. She would need to change tack. When in doubt, make fun of the trio. "Well, for them, it probably would not be. It would almost be a step up. I bet they don't even have any dates for tonight."

Silver Spoon's mind wandered away from her friend's mood to her own date for tonight. She had everything all planned out. Dinner at the French place, followed by the dance. She imagined Heart Throb leading her across the dance floor, then a twirl, her dress spinning, shimmering in the light. At some point, a walk through the park, then some ice cream, before more dancing. All of it with Heart Throb, handsome in a dress uniform, at her side. It would be perfect. And not just because she had promised Tiara it would be.

"I heard from Twist that Sweetie Belle has to work at the punch table all night for ruining my dress. Serves her right." Tiara scowled, anger simmering just below the surface. Anger, an improvement over depression. Silver Spoon figured she could work with that.

"As long as she serves us right. We'd best be careful though, wouldn't want her to ruin another dress. She'd probably find a way to accidentally spill the entire punch bowl on us." Silver Spoon giggled, as a thought occurred to her. "They should totally, like, put up a warning sign nearby, to warn everyone."

"They should just hang signs on all three. 'Warning: mobile disaster zone. Keep locked up.'" An image formed in Silver Spoon's mind, of the trio wearing large, very large, yellow triangular signs on their backs, complete with a bell around their neck, to warn everyone of their approach. She started to laugh. Tiara glared at her a second, before the ridiculousness of the idea caused her to join in.

Once both fillies finished laughing, Tiara continued, serious once more. "I can tell you one thing though, Sil. They went too far. You don't mess with somepony's stuff. First our flowers, now my dress. So not cool."

Silver Spoon nodded. "They're probably, like, planning something even as we speak, you know."

"I wouldn't doubt it. And whatever it is, after this is over, we'll so totally make them pay."

Silver Spoon smiled. Her friend, the strong and determined filly, was back. And they would make the Crusaders pay.

"We have to do something," Scootaloo said yet again.

"No, we don't," Apple Bloom replied, for the umpteenth time.

"Yes, we do," Scootaloo said. She continued quickly, before Apple Bloom could respond. "Look, this is all my fault. If I hadn't suggested Diamond Tiara had to ask Snails to the dance, then Snails would be free to go with Sweetie Belle."

"Maybe, but we all agreed it was a good idea. And without that, Snails wouldn't have asked for dance lessons and Sweetie wouldn't have fallen for him."

Scootaloo gave a curt nod, as if that proved her case. "You see? All my fault."

Apple Bloom rolled her eyes at her friend. "Look, we both know Tiara is only going to the dance with him because of the bet. After the dance, she'll move on and problem solved."

"But what if she falls for him as well? What if he makes it all work?" Scootaloo pleaded.

"Oh come on. This is Tiara we're talking about. That's about as likely as..." Apple Bloom almost said chocolate rain, but stopped herself in time. "As crystal ponies bein' real," she finished.

"But if it does happen? And don't just tell me it won't. If it does, then what?"

Apple Bloom started to say something, then stopped. She thought of something else, started to say it instead, but again stopped.

"I thought so," Scootaloo said. "Look, you know I'm not one for all this sappy stuff. But if Snails does manage to win over the ice queen's heart and break Sweetie's in the process, I could never forgive myself. So I'm going to do something, with or without your help. Now the only question is this: are you going to help me or not?"

Apple Bloom sighed. She swore Scootaloo could be as stubborn as Applejack at times. "Fine. But if this doesn't work out, Ah'm so going to tell you Ah told you so."

"Looking good, buddy," Snips said, nodding with approval. "You're going to impress all the gals, for sure."

"Only want to impress one," Snails replied. Still, he could not help but check himself out in the mirror, fidgeted nervously, trying to look at various angles.

"You have never looked better. Tiara cannot help but be impressed. Just wish I could be there to see you shine."

Snails started to check himself out again, then he shrugged. There was not much point. He would be nervous until he picked up Diamond Tiara. Probably until the dance started. Okay, to be honest with himself, probably until it was over. But he was as prepared as he could be.

He just wished Snips could be there. That was not possible, however. Snips's grandparents were celebrating their thirtieth wedding anniversary tonight and no amount of pleading could get him out of it. Not that he wanted Snips at his side all night, definitely not. No, just that knowing that Snips would be nearby, ready to swoop in if he needed help, would make a nice safety net. It would ease his worries that something might go wrong. He looked at the mirror again, then reached up to adjust his bow tie, wondering yet again if he should have asked for a regular tie instead.

"Relax. Miss Rarity sure knows what she's doing. If she says bow ties are in this year, it is so. And don't forget our favorite secret agents wear bow ties. How much more do you need to know, secret agent man? Take my word for it, bow ties are cool."

Snails laughed, feeling some of the nervous tension drain from him. Once again, his thoughts turned to how lucky he was to have a friend like Snips. Turning, he gave Snips a spontaneous hug.

"Whoa there, Snails. Save it for the ladies!"

Snails laughed again. His mind struggled to formulate words to adequately express his gratitude to Snips. As usual, it failed to come up with anything worthy of the feelings he felt. But he knew that Snips would understand all the same. "Thanks. Thanks for everything."

Snips blushed, turning away from the praise. "Nothing more than what you'd do for me. Now, you'd best get going. And I need to get home."

Snails turned to go, only to be stopped as Snips asked, "Aren't you forgetting something?"

Puzzled, Snails tried to figure out what Snips meant. He quickly checked himself over, everything still seemed correct. He looked over at Snips, who tilted his head toward a small package wrapped in silver foil paper, embellished with a pink bow.

Snails could hardly believe he had almost forgotten that. Quickly, he slid it into a pocket. "Thanks again."

Downstairs, Snails's mom insisted on having one of those motherly scenes. Pictures had to be taken, some punch drunk and a snack eaten, and comments made about how her little boy was all grown up. The type of thing one tolerated with a mixture of equal parts of love and embarrassment. The type of thing that one's friends either ribbed you about later or else made an excuse to leave the area. Usually both. Snips did the latter, and would no doubt do the former later.

Snails's father was more gruff than his mom, but Snails could tell he approved as well. The bits his dad had slipped Snails when he thought mom was not looking were proof of that. She noticed, of course. She always noticed. But, in this case, she pretended not to, and Snails's love of his parents swelled in response. It was surprising how often it was the little things, rather than the big ones, that cemented the place of somepony in one's heart. For all that his life was not perfect, he at least had this, a good family. And, truth be told, he would not trade that away for anything.

He managed to extricate himself from his parents' grasp, setting out toward Diamond Tiara's house. That being his destination, it was only natural his thoughts were of her, of why he liked her. Others might think it was the big things: her popularity, how cute she was, how wealthy her family was. But is was the little things about her that so appealed to him. Tiara's confidence when she was sure of herself, and the way she faked the same confidence when she was not. Her drive to succeed. The loyalty between her and Silver Spoon, and the way the two supported each other. The way she adored her father, on those rare occasions he saw them together. These were the things that made him smile when he thought of her.

It kept his mind occupied as the houses changed from the rundown buildings of his neighborhood to better maintained ones and finally to the top of the hill on which sat the houses of Ponyville's richest citizens. None of those were bigger than Mr. Rich's. Snails paused to collect himself, examining the house. A low, grey stone wall surrounded the place. An open iron gate, monogrammed with the letter 'R', offered entrance to the estate.

Tentatively, Snails stepped past the gate, onto the tiled path that led to the house. The path was lined with bushes, each trimmed to look like an animal. A few Snails knew by name, while others he knew of from biology class, although their names eluded him. A few though he had never seen before and he was not altogether sure they even existed. By each of these, he paused, examining them, trying to remember every detail to describe to Snips, before moving closer to the house.

The house now loomed over Snails, looking larger than the entire block he lived on. A splendid white building, with marble pillars by the front door. Three stories tall, Snails saw, looking up at the windows. Was one of those Tiara's room?. Snails felt a moment of doubt. What was he thinking, that this could actually work? She was way above him. She lived here, in this mansion, while he lived down below. His body took a step backwards, then another. He almost turned and fled, and would have, if not for a thought of Snips. Snips would be disappointed if he did not see this through. Besides, a pony was a pony, no matter what size building they lived in. Even one as large as this.

Gathering his nerves, he strode up to the front door and knocked. Almost immediately, the door opened to reveal an aging grey stallion.

"Well, hello there, young master. You must be Miss Tiara's date," the stallion said.

Spinning around, Snails stood ready to face down whoever this master the stallion was referring to was. No way anypony was going to steal his date. He saw nopony though, just an empty walkway. Sheepishly, he turned back to find the older pony standing there amused.

"Sorry," Snails offered. "Not used to be talked to like that."

"It goes with the job. With this line of work, social courtesies are very important. And speaking of which, won't you please come in?" The stallion stepped aside to clear the entryway.

"Thanks," Snails said, as he wiped his hooves on the doormat and entered the house. "I'm Snails."

"Pleased to meet you, Snails. I'm Praiseworthy, the butler." Praiseworthy stated this as if having a butler was something normal, something every family had. "The young miss said she would be down momentarily, so you might want to make yourself comfortable." Praiseworthy gestured to a nearby couch.

When Snails hesitated, he added, "She could take a while." When he followed that up with a conspiratorial wink, Snails decided he liked the old stallion. There was an earthiness to him that helped to offset the house. At least what of the house he could see.

Framed paintings hung the wall. A coat rack by the door. Chairs on one side of this entry room, with a mirror between them. The couch on the other. The whole place felt formal, more like a museum than a home. That sort of made sense, he figured. This whole big house for just Tiara and her father. And any servants, of course, but their stuff would most likely be limited to whatever room was theirs. Hard to make a place homely when there was so much space. Something Snails had never considered before, the idea that having more could mean having less.

Praiseworthy spoke up. "Now, Snails, that is an interesting name for a pony."

"Huh? Oh, yeah. They sorta call me that 'cause of my mark. I'm used to it though." Snails paused a couple of seconds before adding, "Also beats my real name."

Praiseworthy chuckled and admitted he knew what that was like, launching into a tale of his youth. And so the old and the young conversed, until at last Diamond Tiara appeared.

She was resplendent in her purple dress, offset with shades of lighter purple and pink, with silver trim. Purple stockings covered her legs, ending in dark purple shoes, with a single silver bracelet around the upper part of the left foreleg. Completing the effect was a band of purple cloth around her neck, patterned with silver. Snails shut his mouth, which had seemingly opened of its own will at the sight of Tiara. Tiara tilted her head slightly and smiled.

He watched as she appraised him. Her eyes squinted and she peered at his shoulder, before reaching out and brushing off something. Snails assumed it was something anyway, because brushing off nothing would not make much sense.

"It fits well," Tiara commented. "And no punch stains, that's a plus."

How had she known his mom had given him some punch before he came here? Best not to ask, he decided. "Yup, no punch stains."

"Ready to go?"

"Yes... Um, no," Snails replied. With Tiara's face veering toward a scowl, he quickly continued, "I got you this."

Reaching into this pocket, he got out his present and presented it to his date. His date. He liked the sound of that.

"Oh?" Tiara took the box and opened it, revealing a silver necklace with a pendant.

"It's a tiara. I had it made," Snails said proudly.

"I can see that. It is... nice."

Snails beamed. She had called it nice. She liked it. Things were going well.

Tiara held the box up to Praiseworthy. "If you would be so kind, Praise?"

"Of course, ma'am." His horn glowed with a silvery aura and the necklace lifted from the box, settling around Tiara's neck.

Diamond Tiara looked at her reflection in the mirror before nodding. "Come on. Let's get going. I don't want to be late. See you tonight, Praise." She gave the old stallion a quick hug.

Snails ponder why, if she did not want to be late, she had not been ready on time. He himself had made it a point to arrive early. A good thing, since he had not figured on the parental ambush. Even with that, he had arrived early, but all that time and more had been spent waiting on Tiara. He almost asked, but some inner voice suggested that asking would not be a good idea. Instead, he just nodded, gave a slight bow to Praiseworthy, and followed Tiara out the door.

Sweetie Belle looked around the dance again, searching for some sign of her friends. And, to be honest with herself, some sign of Snails. He still counted as a friend though, even if she was sweet on him, right? So she really was just looking for her friends. She saw a few of her classmates, but not the ones she was looking for.

As was tradition, the dance was held in the town's main square. The entire area had been cordoned off. The colorful nature and the large quantity of streamers used indicated that Pinkie Pie had been involved in setting up and decorating the area. Even the lamp posts, outfitted with extra lamps for this occasion, were outfitted with pink and white streamers.

Up on the stage, Vinyl Scratch had set up her gear on one side and was merrily cranking out some 'tunage', as she referred to it. A large banner emblazoned with "DJ Pon-3" hung over her head. The other side was set up for a quartet from Canterlot the mayor had arranged for after Rarity had insisted that the dance should have actual live music and not just a record-player player. Not that her sister had anything against the DJ, just that she felt that a proper Heart and Hooves Day dance had live music. The musicians were probably backstage, hiding from Scratch's sonic assault, until it was their time to go on.

Her own table, as well as other refreshment related tables, a photography booth, and a couple of vendors lined one side. Across the way, the other side had some tables as well, and someone had arranged for the ones along the outside edge to be separated from each other and anything outside the dance by cloth walls and ceiling, creating booths. Candles inside red glass jars on the tables added to the atmosphere.

So far, Sweetie had not been too busy. The night was still young. Ponies were still arriving, and the ones already here were not that thirsty yet. If someone did come over and wanted to chat for a bit, she gladly obliged them. Otherwise, she watched the entrance, the gap in the cordoned off area, hoping for a friendly face who might come over to relieve her boredom.

Unfortunately, it was not a friendly face that entered just then and spotted her, but Silver Spoon and her date. Sweetie Belle quickly looked away, switching over to watch Vinyl, hoping that Silver Spoon would not come over. Sweetie Belle was not sure how Vinyl could do it, being up there in front of all those people. Just the thought of everypony focusing on her was enough to make Sweetie shiver. But Vinyl not only did do it, she seemed to thrive on it. She wanted to be the center of all that attention.

"Why hello there, Sweetie Belle," Silver Spoon said. The way Silver Spoon pronounced her name made Sweetie wish that she was indeed up on stage, in front of everyone. It would probably be better than being trapped here with Silver Spoon.

"Hi." Sweetie pushed two cups of punch toward Silver Spoon and Heart Throb. Just take them and leave. No reason for them to stay here. She desperately looked over to the entrance for some sign of her friends.

Silver Spoon picked hers up and took a small sip, before setting it down again. "So, you volunteered for this, hoping to get a cutie mark in the service industry, maybe?"

In a panic, Sweetie quickly checked to see if her flank was still bare. Relief flooded through her when she saw it still was. Now that was a feeling she had imagined ever having. Not that she had anything against people who served others, just that, when she and her fellow Crusaders dreamed of their cutie marks, they were something more exciting. Better to be a blank flank for a while longer before giving up on those dreams.

She looked ahead to see Silver Spoon studying her reaction. She had probably already decided that Sweetie Belle was not doing this because she wanted to. With the scent of blood in the water, Silver Spoon would circle until she discovered what she wanted. Sweetie glanced at the entrance again, but no relief coming from there. Best to just get it over with. "My sister is making me do this."

Silver Spoon gave a cruel smile. "Well, If you do, like, get that cutie mark, you be sure to let me know. We might be looking for an extra maid this summer."

Heart Throb nudged his date impatiently. "Come on, Sil. This is boring. I'm not even thirsty. Let's go dance or something."

"Just a minute, I'm not done here yet. Done with my drink, I mean."

"Fine. I'm going. I'll be on the dance floor if you want to join me." Sweetie Belle watched as Heart Throb strode off.

"Boys. It always has to be about them. You know how it is, no?"

Sweetie Belle reflected on what she knew of boys. It was true that they liked to talk about themselves and their interests. She found that she did not really mind when Snails did that though. Something about his enthusiasm was infectious. But he also seemed interested in her, even if he did not appear to be interested-interested. She opened her mouth to disagree with Silver Spoon, only to have Spoon cut her off before she could even begin. "Oh, wait. You wouldn't. No date for you."

Sweetie Belle looked at her fore hooves as her head dropped. Her thoughts turned to Snails, no doubt on his way here with Diamond Tiara at his side. About to spend the night dancing with her, because of that stupid bet.

"Hey, Sweetie. How's it going?" Apple Bloom asked.

Sweetie Belle looked up in surprise to see both Apple Bloom and Scootaloo. They had arrived at last. She had missed their arrival in her moroseness. But now they were here and things would be alright.

"Oh hey, girls! Good now that you're here." She filled a pair of paper cups with punch and offered them to her friends. Sweetie Belle leaned over the table towards her friends and said as quietly as would still be audible over the noise, "I added extra sugar and flavoring when I made this. Nothing but the good stuff for my friends."

"Where's your dates? Wait, don't tell me. You two are an item now?" Silver Spoon asked Scootaloo and Apple Bloom, apparently determined to continue her sport. "Or is it that your list of interested parties is as blank as your flanks?"

Apple Bloom rolled her eyes. "Ooh, blank flanks. That's so original. Get some new material already. Besides, if we wanted dates, we would so have some"

"Yeah, but all that stuff is so icky, so we didn't want any," Scootaloo added.

"Okay, I totally believe you." Silver Spoon nodded her head slowly, just for the extra bit of emphasis.

"Well, if we did have dates, ours wouldn't be off slow dancing with Alula," Apple Bloom pointed out.

Scootaloo looked over to the dance floor. "Mushy stuff alert. Blech!"

"What?" Silver Spoon's head spun around, her eyes widening. Sputtering, she stormed off toward her date.

Scootaloo bumped hooves with Apple Bloom. "Score one for the home team!" She moved her hoof over to include Sweetie Belle, but there was no third hoof waiting to join. Sweetie Belle was staring at the entrance.

Sweetie Belle sighed as she watched him enter, Snails, with Tiara at his side. She'd seen him in his suit before, when he had tried it on that Thursday, but now, he looked even better. Perhaps it was the lighting, but she decided that that was wishful thinking. It was not that the suit looked better, but that Snails did. When he had tried it on at her sister's, he had fidgeted, unsure of himself. Now, he seemed calm and collected, the object of his desire at his side. The moroseness that had passed earlier returned in full force.

"Don't worry, Sweets," Scootaloo declared. She finished off her punch in one gulp and slammed the paper cup down on the table. "Apple Bloom and I totally have this."

"Yup, let's go!" Apple Bloom slammed her own unfinished cup down next to Scootaloo's, causing the punch to fountain up. She flicked the drops off her hoof and headed off with Scootaloo, excited to put their plan into action and score another point for the good guys.

"Wait! Don't do..." Sweetie Belle called after them, but her voice was lost in the noise of the crowd. "Don't do anything I wouldn't do," she finished quietly to herself.

Diamond Tiara watched as Pinkie Pie bounced onto the stage and grabbed the mic. "Hello, Ponyville! Are you ready to party?" The crowd roared its approval. "Alrighty-dighty, but first, a few quick thank yous." Pinkie Pie proceeded to thank the various people who had helped to make the dance possible, calling some to the stage, pointing out others wherever they were at. The weather team, the mayor, the musicians , the volunteers, and ultimately the crowd itself, all got thanked. When the applause for the last one died down, she continued on. "And now, I don't just want you to party. I don't just want you to party hard. I just want you to be happy! I want you to party like...like..." The usually verbose pink party pony stopped, lost for words for once.

Luckily, her salvation came in the form of a blur of cyan and the colors of the rainbow. Taking the mic from Pinkie, Dash shouted, "like you're Pinkie on cupcakes!"

"Yeah, like me on cupcakes!" And with a loud weee, Pinkie jumped off the stage, as the DJ cranked up the music and the crowd exploded into a frenzied sea of dancing.

"Lame," said Diamond Tiara as she rolled her eyes. "I can't wait until I'm old enough to move to Canterlot, where there's some ponies with some class. I guess that explains why Celestia sent Miss Sparkle here though. Seriously, look at her; is she dancing or having a seizure?" She looked expectantly towards her companion, awaiting the usual matching snide remark she'd get from Silver Spoon. She looked expectantly at Snails and could see the gears begin to turn as he figured out she was expecting a response, and then a couple as he thought of something witty to say.

"Yeah, a seizure," Snails said. Or something not so witty, apparently. "So, um, you want to dance?" he continued.

Stupid bet. She contemplated going to get a drink instead, but it looked like they were serving ruby berry punch. She'd never particularly cared for that flavor. Plus Sweetie Belle was thee and the more she could avoid people she knew tonight the better. Well, she was going to have to dance with him at some point, so might as well get it over with. "Yeah, why not?" Better than talking anyway.

Together, they headed out onto the dance floor. Thankfully, it was a fast number, so at least she wouldn't be expected to have too much physical contact with the colt. She let her body move to the music freely, while her mind began pondering ways to pay back the Crusaders. She felt an idea coming to her, almost within grasp, when her train of thought was interrupted as somepony slammed into her, nearly knocking her to the ground.

"Hey, why don't you watch where you are--" she growled as she spun around on the offending party, halting mid-sentence when she saw who had crashed into her. Speak of the Draconequus and he, or in this case she, shall appear. "Scootaloo!" she hissed.

"Sorry," Scootaloo replied. "Guess I got a little too involved in my dancing." She turned and resumed dancing with Apple Bloom.

"Guess I got a little too involved in my dancing" said Tiara mockingly, the words lost in the music and the sound of the crowd. Guess dancing was another thing Scootaloo was a failure at. Can't fly, can't get a cutie mark, can't dance. Oh, and apparently couldn't get date either. Although that was preferable to her own situation. Well, back to dancing.

The song wound down and Vinyl Scratch seamlessly switched over to another fast paced tune, one of Tiara's current favorites even. Tiara began to dance more energetically, somewhat enjoying herself, as the song's pounding beat drummed some of the night's misery into submission. Someone slammed into her again.

She looked behind her as another pony helped Apple Bloom back to her feet. "Sorry, tripped," she said, followed by a smile that made the statement about as believable as a flying pig.

The song ended and Vinyl spoke up. "Okay, all you lovebirds, we're going to take it down a notch. Give you a chance to do some slooooow dancing. It is my pleasure to present to you, straight out of Canterlot, the Noble House Quartet. I've heard them play before and let me tell you they are amazing. So let me hear you give them a loud Ponyville welcome!"

Tiara pondered going to get a drink to avoid the slow dance. She turned toward the punchbowl, only to remember the third member of the Crusaders. With a sigh, she dismissed the idea. Two of Tree Sap Trio had already had accidents involving her. No doubt Sweetie Belle was just waiting for her own chance, after her successful trial run in the boutique. Suffer through the slow dance then. No doubt Snails would wind up stepping on her hooves repeatedly.

Surprisingly, that didn't happen. Snails seemed to actually have a knack for slow dancing. Well, she guessed it shouldn't be too surprising for Snails to be good at something slow. And she'd probably be safe from the graceless duo of Apple Bloom and Scootaloo, as they'd hopefully vacated the dance floor for this number. Around her, other couples danced hoof in hoof. She looked through them, expecting to find Silver Spoon and Heart Throb, but did not find them. Probably in one of the booths on the side, she figured.

As the song ended and a new, more upbeat song started up, most couples cleared off the dance floor. She started to follow them, only to be stopped by Snails. He can't seriously be thinking to dance to this, she thought. This was a swing dance number. She could to this, thanks to the lessons she had taken, but he would wind up screwing it up and embarrassing her. But, yes, she realized, it was his intent to dance to this. Grudgingly, she acceded. One more thing to pay the trio back for when the night was over.

But again, he surprised her. He not only knew the proper moves, but moved with an elegance she would not have expected of him. Well, she certainly wasn't going to be out-danced by him, and she put some effort into her own dancing. 'He can actually dance pretty good,' Tiara thought.

He gave one of his dopey smiles. "Thanks, I've been taking lessons."

Tiara nearly stumbled as she realized she had spoken her last thought out loud. She turned her head frantically, hoping nobody else heard her praising Snails. Her reputation was taking enough of a hit as it was. And nearly stumbled again, as she noticed they were the center of attention. Apparently the pony in charge of the spotlights had focused on them. Luckily, she recovered. Tripping would be even more embarrassing. This night was turning out even worse than the family appreciation day plus Zap Apple debacle. She put on a fake smile and danced her best. Better to put a good face on it. And all through it, Snails had his goofy grin on, enjoying what would likely be the highlight of his pathetic life.

The song ended, the watching ponies gave a round of applause. Neither Scootaloo or Apple Bloom joined in, Tiara noted. No doubt they were sorely disappointed that Snails had not screwed up and sent them both into a pile, while the audience laughed at her. Well, thankfully Snails unexpected prowess had saved her from that. A surprisingly good dancer, she thought again, as she gave a quick bow and headed off the dance floor, Snails following behind, both of them a bit short of breath.

She was thirsty, she realized. Time to get something to drink. She took a quick glance toward the punchbowl and noted that Sweetie Bell, as expected, wasn't applauding either. Unlike the other two though, she had a wistful, sorrowful look on her face, Tiara noticed, before their eyes made contact and Sweetie Belle quickly turned away. Tiara wondered what that was about, only to once again be run into as both Scootaloo and Apple Bloom blundered into her, knocking her fore hooves out from under her. She let out a slight screech as the ground zoomed toward her head, only to suddenly stop as Snails caught her with one hoof, striking a dance-like pose. As she looked at him, his face once again turned into a vacuous grin. She mumbled a thanks and got her four feet under her again.

Enough was enough. It was time to put a stop to this irksome meddling. "Snails, would you mind getting me something to drink?" she asked. With him away, she would not feel the need to pull any punches. Besides, this way she could save her dress from the impending punch ambush.

Snails nodded affirmatively and set off, leaving Tiara alone with Apple Bloom and Scootaloo. She grabbed both of them by the neck and pulled them close. "Don't you think I don't know what you are trying to do. Isn't it enough that you ruined my talent show performance and then forced me to go on this date with Snails? Do you really need to go out of your way to try and embarrass me further?"

She was expecting them to try and deny the charges, but something about their reactions didn't fit. A hint of guilt about something. "That isn't it, is it? What, is this some other stupid idea to try and get a cutie mark? Tree Sap Trio dance saboteurs? No, that's not it either. So what it is?"

She looked at their faces, searching for a clue as to what their motivation was, for they were obviously messing with her for some reason. Apple Bloom's eyes flicker to the side for just a second and she followed them, to Sweetie Belle. A Sweetie Belle who was pouring punch for Snails with a glowing look of adoration in her eyes.

Realization of what was happening dawned on Tiara, causing elation to coursed through her body. "She's got a crush on him, on Snails of all people. You're not trying to ruin my night, are you? You're trying to ruin his." Her mind pondered the implications and an evil smile crept across her face as she had an ingenious idea, a way to get some payback on the blank flanks. "Oh, this is going to be grand. I'll tell you what I'm going to do. I'm going to make this a great night for him. I'm going to make him believe I've enjoyed every second of it. And then I'm going to go out with him again. And again. Not because I want to, because Celestia knows I don't, but because she does. And as I toy with what she desires and her heart crumbles, you'll know that is all your own fault. You forced me to make this date. You brought this about in an attempt to make me suffer. And now it is you that will suffer." She laughed gleefully.

Snails returned with two glasses of punch. She took the one he offered and looked at the two dejected fillies in front of her, and took a sip of her punch, then watched as they turned and slunk off toward Sweetie Belle. Had she really thought this night would be terrible? It was turning into one of the best of her life. Guess something you were sure would be horrible could sometimes, just maybe, surprise you. Snails had moves on the floor, the dance was turning out good, and ruby berry punch had never tasted so good.

Sweetie Belle watched her two friends coming towards her. Throughout the night, she had watched them messing with Diamond Tiara. They were doing it for her, she realized, trying to make sure Diamond Tiara had the worst night ever. Possibly hoping she would blow her top and end Snails's interest in Tiara. But whatever they had hoped to accomplish, it looked like it had backfired. Both her friends' heads hung low, while Diamond Tiara just gleamed at her with a victorious smile plastered across her face.

Sweetie Belle figured she probably had not helped the situation any either. When Snails had come over for punch, he had been so happy. He was convinced that all his efforts were paying off and he had gushed his thanks at her for making it all possible. Having watched him dance with Diamond Tiara all night, wishing he was dancing with her instead had hurt. Then to have him tell her that that situation would be unlikely to change had pushed her too far. She had snapped back at him to just take his drinks and go. The look of hurt on his face made her instantly regret her action, and she attempted to soften it by trying to make it sound like she had meant for him to get back to Tiara as quickly as possible, to keep the ball rolling. His adorable grin had returned and he had nodded, picking up the two cups and returning to Tiara, but surely even Snails could not be that socially oblivious. No, she had probably convinced him that she was tired of spending time with him.

"Sorry, Sweetie. I think we have made things worse," Apple Bloom said. "Now Tiara is determined to keep Snails. And not because she likes him, but because she knows you do."

"I hate all this mushy stuff. It never works out right!" exclaimed Scootaloo.

"Maybe if we tell him the truth about Tiara?" Apple Bloom asked.

"Won't work," Sweetie Belle said. "He's sure she's starting to like him. He told me so. And, besides, we swore not to tell about the bet."

All three fillies stood in silence by the punch table.

Diamond Tiara slowly danced with Snails, but her attention was elsewhere. She was watching the activity by the punch table. Every line, the placement of every hair on the faces of the trio she did her best to etch within her memory. She did not want to forget the smallest detail. This was almost worth the last two weeks. She just needed Silver Spoon to share it with.

Silver Spoon. Where was she? She still was not on the dance floor. She pushed herself clear of Snails and scanned the crowd. No sign of her friend. A quick search of the booths revealed she was not there either. Seeing Snails look at her wondering why she had cut short the dance, she leaned over and asked, "Have you seen Silver Spoon or her date recently?"

She watched his eyes move as he tried to recall if he had seen them. Finally, he replied, "No. But maybe they went for a walk?"

"A walk, maybe." She considered for a second. "Come on, Snails, I'm tired of the crowds and could use some fresh air. Let's go for a walk of our own."

She led the way to the entrance, confident Snails would follow. She asked the volunteers working the entrance if they had seen her friend, describing her dress. None had, until one mentioned that might have been the crying filly. Once that happened, they all recalled her and Tiara took off in the direction they indicated Silver Spoon might have gone.

Snails raced after Diamond Tiara, not sure what to make of this turn of events. The evening had seemed to be going so well. His dance lessons had paid off and he had even managed to catch Tiara when it had seemed like she might fall. Dumb luck that, but he was not going to complain about it.

Then he had gone to get punch at Tiara's request. Something had seemed to be bothering Sweetie Belle, though he was not sure what. Normally, he would have asked, but she did not seem like she really wanted to talk about it and, well, he was rather busy with the most important night of his life. He would have to remember to ask her later though. Then he had brought the punch to Tiara and she had eagerly returned to the dance floor, only to suddenly interrupt the dance to go look for Silver Spoon. Looking out for friends was a good trait, one Snails definitely valued both in himself and others, but the timing seemed a bit abrupt.

But when she had asked about Silver Spoon at the entrance, they had talked about a crying filly. It made Snails wonder if Diamond Tiara was one of those ponies who cared so deeply about others that she could sense when someone dear to her was in trouble, and if that was why she had been so suddenly determined to find her friend. If Silver Spoon was in trouble though, he would be there to help her. She was Tiara's friend and therefore he would do anything for her he would do for one of his own friends. And so he raced through the night after his date into the park.

Tiara pulled up suddenly. He stopped beside her and started to ask what was up, but she silenced him. "Do you hear that?" Tiara asked.

Snails listened, hearing only the usual sounds of the night, the chirping of crickets, the croaking of frogs, and the occasional hoot of an owl. None of those seemed likely to be what Tiara was referring to, so he shook his head.

"This way!" Tiara took off again.

Snails followed her, and now he could hear what she had heard, the sounds of sobbing. He continued to follow Tiara as she homed in on the sound. The sounded ended at a bench, upon which lay Silver Spoon, her head buried in her hooves.

"Sil! Are you okay?" Diamond Tiara asked, putting a comforting foreleg on the distressed filly's shoulder.

"Tia, I... I'm so glad to- H-he... dumped me." Silver Spoon whimpered, as she broke down into sobs again.

Snails stood by as Diamond Tiara comforted her friend, unsure what exactly to do, and so decided to do nothing, to just stand and listen. Slowly, Tiara coaxed what happened out of Silver Spoon. Silver Spoon spoke about how Heart Throb had spent the entire evening talking about himself. How he had decided to go to the local diner rather than the nice restaurant Silver Spoon had made reservations for. How he had spent more and more time at the dance with Alula, until he finally told Silver Spoon to get lost. About how she had tried to have the perfect evening for them. As she told her story, Snails felt something building within him.

When Scootaloo, Apple Bloom, and Sweetie Belle joined them, all three inquiring what had happened, Snails snapped out of his inaction. Silver Spoon had mentioned Big Pete's Ice Cream shop, so that is where he would go. It seemed as good of a place as any to try and find Heart Throb and make him apologize.

In a haze, he stalked the streets. The distance passed unnoticed, as he relived every sob, every tear of Silver Spoon's story. And by the time he arrived at the shop and saw the cause of this injustice, calmly sharing a milkshake with Alula, as if nothing was wrong, it was barely contained. "You!" he called out as he galloped up to Heart Throb, faces inches apart. "What you did was wrong!"

"Hold up there, pipsqueak." Heart Throb raised his forelegs and shoved Snails back, opening the space between them. "I don't know what has your horn in a knot, but I don't think it concerns me."

"You should be with Silver Spoon."

"Why? Did that stupid mud-pony send you after me?" Heart Throb sneered.

Snails ignored Alula's gasp as the racial slur and took a step forward, again getting in Heart Throb's face. "You take that back! You take that back and you say sorry!"

Heart Throb got to his feet, pushed the chair away, and drew himself up to his full height, while breathing in deeply. "Or what? You'll make me?"

Snails narrowed his eyes and flattened his ears. He widened the stance of his forelegs. And then he snorted, like a hero in the movies Snails loved.

Heart Throb laughed. "I'd like to see you try, scrawny. You wouldn't stand a chance. You sure you want to get pummeled for a mud-pony?" Heart Throb tilted his head and narrowed his eyes, waiting..

With a roar, Snails charged the larger colt, only to find himself connecting with nothing but the ground, as Heart Throb easily sidestepped and tripped him.

"All too easy. Are you part mud-pony or some-" Heart Throb's words were cut off as Snails connected with a rear hoof to the jaw. It had not been something he had planned to do. When he had heard the word yet again he had just lashed out. But it had connected and that felt good.

Snails got to his feet and stood before the larger colt. Heart Throb rubbed his jaw, wiping away some blood. "You know you're about to get severely pummeled now, right?"

Snails had indeed figured that was likely, but he was past caring. He also knew that was a price he was willing to pay. Heart Throb had agreed to go to the dance with Silver Spoon. To dump her in the middle of the dance was wrong. To call an earth pony such a term was wrong, a lesson Snails's parents had made clear with a bar of soap. And so someone had to stand to up for what was right. Since Silver Spoon was Tiara's friend and Snails was here, he would do so.

It was important that Heart Throb knew why Snails made this stand. Snails's brain, as if understanding the importance, did an even better job than usual of condensing into words all of his feelings and innate understanding of complex concepts. "Not right. Wrong."

Snails barely had time to curse his brain before Heart Throb attacked. Snails flattened his ears and pulled his head to the left as he heard Heart Throb's teeth snap shut where Snails's right ear had been a second before. Civilized ponies do not bite. To drive that point home, Snails swung his head back the other direction and the heads collided, knocking both ponies away from each other.

Warily, the two combatants circled each other. Heart Throb threw out some some kicks. Snails fended the attacks off easily enough. Too easily, he figured. Heart Throb was testing him. If Snails were to have any chance at all, he would have to end the fight quickly, hope for a lucky blow, like the earlier kick. Maybe a quick feint, and then Snails would attack, all out.

He lashed out with a quick punch, expecting Heart Throb to easily avoid it. His opponent, however, did not follow the script. He stepped into the blow, deflecting it just enough to rob it of what little force it had. And then he followed up with an all out attack of his own.

Snails never really had a chance. Between the size difference and the training, the blows pounded home mercilessly. Snails reeled back, trying to open the distance, but Heart Throb moved with him. Left, right, left, left, blow after blow slamming into his body. Through the thumps, he could hear the ripping of fabric. His suit, the suit Tiara had bought him, Heart Throb was ruining it. In desperation, he moved his legs to try and protect the suit. Too late, he realized that this is what Heart Throb had been waiting for, for Snails to try and protect his torso. He watched as his opponent spun around and buck, dual hooves coming at his face. Instinctively, Snails's magic flared, and he copied the spell Heart Throb had used on the playground.

Time slowed for Snails as he watched a small yellowish green shield blink into existence. He felt wonder at what he had created. And then a ray of hope as the hooves collided with his shield. A spiderweb of cracks spread across the shield. It occurred to Snails that the pattern was sort of pretty, before the hooves punched through like the shield was made of air and shards of the shield began to fall away. Pretty falling shards of glass, spinning through the air, soon to ring out as they collided with the ground. And then time sped up again, as the hooves collided with his head and the world suddenly got very unfocused and sideways.

"Weak," a harsh voice sneered. "Now to teach you a lesson you'll never forget."

Snails struggled to lift his head, to watch in fascination as a white pony shaped blur moved over him and reared. And then flew sideways as a fuzzy pink and purple shape with shiny silver patterns slammed into it.

"Nobody messes with what is mine. And you've messed with my best friend and my b- Date. My date," the shape declared. "Get out of here or I will have daddy ruin your father."

That voice, he knew that voice. Tiara. Tiara had come for him. And she had said he was hers. He reached out a hoof across the spinning world, past the receding hoof beats, desperately pushing back the blackness so he could say something that could not wait. Pain flared, bringing the darkness closer, as Tiara cradled his head in her hooves, but he hung on. He had to say this.

"Ti... Tiara. I..."

"Hush. Help will-"

"I'm... I'm sorry... about... the suit."

And he let blissful unconsciousness claim him.

Author's Note:

Just a bit of credit where credit is due:

Pinkie's speech at the dance includes some slightly modified lyrics from Hergest Ridge's Pinkie on Crack. One of my favorite pony musicians.

The dress Diamond Tiara is wearing is based on this design by lunarapologist, though without the long train or the silver part of the collar. My words don't do it justice.