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Chapter 7: A Night At The Spleen

Opening Comments: For once, I don't really have anything to say. Planning a wedding is hard. Enjoy the chapter.


        "Has anyone seen Spike?" Twilight asked as she looked up from her Applied Physics textbook. He had left to get her a drink quite some time ago, and she hadn't seen him since; of course, she had been wrapped up in her studying, so it was possible that she had somehow missed him. There was a test after lunch, and though she was already over-prepared she figured a little extra studying couldn't hurt. Across the group of desks Rainbow Dash shook her head.

        "Nope, I haven't seen him since he went to get your water. Maybe he decided to run away," she said with a laugh as she finished off her can of cola.

        "Rainbow Dash, that's not a nice thing to say!" Rarity snapped. "I'm sure Spike is on his way back. He's still new to the school, so perhaps he just got a little lost."

        Twilight drummed her fingers on the cover of her book, thinking about what to do. I really want to get some more studying in, but I'll feel horrible if he doesn't get to finish his lunch because he ran an errand for me she thought to herself. With a resigned sigh, she slid her chair out and stood up. "I'll go find him. Whether he likes it or not he still has to take this afternoon's test too, and he shouldn't take it on an empty stomach."

        Across from her, Rainbow Dash began to rise while saying, "I'll help you out."

        Twilight shook her head and motioned for Dash to sit back down. "You don't have to do that. Go ahead and finish your lunch; I have a good idea of where he is, anyway. He only had two options for where to go: the cafeteria or the vending machine on the way to our specialty courses. The vending machine's closer, so he's probably there." She moved away from her group of friends as she finished her explanation, disappearing through the door at the back of the classroom. Once she was gone, Dash began to smile mischievously.

        "So, she's worried about Spike and wants to go find him all by herself. That sounds a little fishy, don't you think?"

        With a sigh, Rarity replied, "If it was anyone else, I would be willing to entertain what you're suggesting, but this is Twilight we're talking about. All she thinks about is books and research; I don't think the idea of love is anywhere in that girl's mind." She paused for a moment as she contemplated her thoughts. "Still, if it was true I suppose Spike wouldn't be a bad choice. He's not the type of guy I would choose, but he certainly isn't horrible."

        "I think it would be wonderful if Twilight fell in love with someone," Fluttershy squeaked from the other end of their makeshift table. Applejack let out a loud laugh in response, causing Fluttershy to shrink down in her seat out of shock.

        "It would be wonderful, wouldn't it? But it ain't goin ter happen, sadly. We all know Twilight too well," Applejack commented, still chuckling at the notion. "I don't suspect we'll ever see Twilight hook up with someone."

        Pinkie Pie sat at Fluttershy's left, completely oblivious to the conversation until Applejack had let out her laugh. She paused from the party planning that had so distracted her to say, "I don't think that's very nice. Sure Twilight has her faults, but it's not like she doesn't have feelings. Friends should encourage each other, and you're not being very encouraging right now." The rest of the girls tried to maintain straight faces as they received Pinkie Pie's scolding, but it was a challenge. She was the last person they would ever expect to seriously lecture them, after all. "Now I want you all to think about how mean you're being while I finish planning Spike's party." As she said that, Pinkie Pie felt something tug at the back of her mind, a nagging thought that wouldn't quite surface. "Spike... Spike... why do I feel like I'm forgetting something?" she muttered to herself, scratching her head. After a few moments with no results she shrugged her shoulders, said "Oh well" and went back to her planning.


        Twilight was getting ever closer to the vending machines, and still had seen no sign of Spike. She was starting to wonder if her guess had been wrong; after all, Spike should have at least been on his way back by this point. As she prepared to round the corner to the vending machines, the sound of loud voices reached her ears, causing her to stop. Slowly, she peered around the corner to see Spike cornered by two rather large high school boys. Twilight recognized them almost immediately: they were the top two members of the school's wrestling team. More importantly, they were known for harassing new students. Probably some sort of primitive dominance thing Twilight thought to herself.

        "Yo man, what's wrong with you? Just give us the money and we'll let you go," the slightly larger of the two was saying. He towered over Spike, almost a foot taller than the younger boy. His hair was buzzed close to his head, and his muscles were almost unreal--then again, you didn't become the top wrestler in school without spending plenty of time at the gym.

        "Hey, maybe he thinks he's too good for us," the second boy chimed in. "He's from Casterly, so he's probably thinking, 'Oh, I live in the royal city. I'm too good for you.' Something like that, you know?" This guy was a stark contrast to his companion--short where his companion was tall (but still taller than Spike), a head full of hair where his companion was almost bald, and lean where his companion was muscular. Twilight found herself wondering how he could possibly be number two on the wrestling team, and suspected that his friendship with the number one had more to do with it than any actual skill.

        "Look, it's not like that," Spike finally replied. "If you had any idea what my life was like in Casterly you would feel a lot different. And like I've already told you, this isn't my money, so it's not my place to give it away. You'll just have to rob somebody else." He motioned to move between the two boys, but was forced back against the wall by the bigger student.

        "I already told you, I don't give two shits who the money belongs to, hand it over! Don't make me take it by force."

        Twilight watched as Spike's eyes narrowed. Don't do anything stupid, Spike she thought. She chewed at her thumb knuckle and thought, I should do something; but what could she do? She certainly wouldn't be any match for two members of the wrestling team, and she doubted she could find a staff member and bring them here before things turned violent. As she began to formulate a plan, she watched in horror as Spike's right arm shot out in a right-hook aimed at the bigger student's face... unfortunately for Spike, his punch fell short and landed on the larger student's chest. Whether it was a result of Spike's height (or lack thereof), a lack of skill, or a combination of the two, Twilight didn't know. She had a feeling it didn't really matter, either.

        "Wrong move, kid," the number two wrestler commented as he landed a blow straight to Spike's solar plexus. The two wrestlers took turns hitting Spike for several seconds before prying the money from his left hand and walking away. Twilight darted across the hallway to his side.

        "Oh my gosh, Spike, are you okay?" she asked, kneeling down next to the now sitting Spike.

        Spike looked up at her and laughed. "Yeah, I'm fine." He moaned and gripped his lower ribs, where he had taken most of the blows. "Okay, maybe I'm not so fine. But it's a really my fault for throwing that first punch. Of course, I could have held my own if I had to, but I'm not supposed to hit other students, you know? Bodyguard rules and all." Twilight saw right through the lie, but decided to bite her tongue and allow Spike to preserve some of his dignity.

        "I feel like this is my fault," Twilight commented as she helped Spike to his feet. "If I hadn't asked you to get me a drink you never would have run into them. On top of it, they took all of your money."

        Spike let go of Twilight's hand and leaned against the wall. "Don't worry, they didn't get all of my money; that was only what you gave me to get the water. I wonder how long it will take them to realize they only got me for two bucks." This time his laugh was genuine. He lifted up his right foot and removed his shoe. Reaching down into the toe of it, he pulled out a wad of bills. "This is where I keep most of my cash."

        Twilight wrinkled her nose and let out a low, "Ew", at Spike's revelation. She could only imagine what that money looked--and smelled--like after a long, hot day. Her disgust didn't seem to bother Spike, who simply pulled off a few ones, placed the wad back in its hiding place, and then put the shoe back on his feet. He hobbled over to the vending machine, put the money in, and selected the water. As he went to reach for the bottle that was dispensed, Twilight said, "I'll get it," and quickly approached the vending machine to retrieve her drink. "No offense, but your hands were just inside your shoe. Who knows what kind of germs are on them."

        Spike gave her a blank stare for a moment and then began to chuckle. "You really are an interesting one, Twilight." He winced as pain shot through his ribs. "Well this is going to make the rest of the day interesting," he muttered.

        "Do you want to go back to your room?" Twilight offered.

        Spike shook his head. "No, that would defeat the purpose of me hanging around you to protect you." Twilight opened her mouth to speak, but Spike cut her off before she could. "And don't even think about offering to come with me. There's no way I'm going to cause you to miss that test. You've been studying your butt off for it."

        Defeated, Twilight simply hung her head. He's going to regret this. It is a thoughtful gesture, though, she thought. With a resigned sigh she approached Spike and placed her arm around his waist. "Come on, then. I can at least help you get back to the classroom." Spike threw his arm around Twilight's shoulders and together they began making their way back to the classroom.



        The end of the school day had come at last, but Twilight had needed to make a quick stop before leaving the building. Simply put, she drank too much water during the day, and couldn't wait to get back to her dorm room. So, she stepped into the girls' room and left Spike waiting outside. As she was finishing up and preparing to walk out of the stall, though, she heard two girls talking outside of the door.

        "You know that new guy, right? The one who just joined our class this week?" asked the first girl.

        "Yeah, you mean the one with the long hair?" her friend replied.

        "That's the one.  Have you ever noticed how he's always staring at that one girl? I mean, he's fixated on her. He couldn't be any more obvious if he wrote 'Date Me' on his forehead," the first girl laughed.

        They're talking about Spike, Twilight realized. Looking at a girl? She could only assume they meant her; after all, Spike was her bodyguard, and he had been paying her a lot of attention. I should go out and clear this up, she told herself. I don't want anyone spreading bad rumors about him. She stopped just before she opened the stall door, though. What if they get mad about me eavesdropping? Well, it was just an accident, right? Still, they might get mad. She ended up staying in the stall.

        "I think it's cute," the second girl replied. "He's too nervous to admit his crush, so he just stares in silent admiration. It's like something out of a romance novel." She squealed and shouted, "Hey, don't splash me with water!"

        The first girl chuckled. "Sorry, but I had to get you out of those daydreams of yours. If you keep reading those romance novels your brain will turn to mush. Come on, let's get out of here."

        Twilight listened for the door to open and close before finally stepping out of the stall. She approached the sink and began to wash her hands. Geez, why does everyone have to gossip in the bathroom? she said to herself. Still, what if they're right? Spike having a crush on me? Wouldn't that make things awkward? She reached for a paper towel and dried her hands. Still, I can't say that anyone has ever had a crush on me. It's kind of... flattering? Oh come on, Twilight, you have more important things to worry about than romance! She chuckled at her own inner monologue and tossed the paper towel away before walking out of the door. Despite her quick dismissal of the situation, though, she still found it a bit awkward to look the waiting Spike in his eyes.


        "No, no, that banner is supposed to go over there," Pinkie Pie said, frustrated. She had been at Cranston Bakery for three hours now, trying to get everything set up for Spike's welcome party. When a group of girls from her event planning classes offered to help her out, Pinkie Pie was delighted. However, she was now starting to think of them as more of a hindrance. Something piqued her interest from the corner of her eye. She turned, and then shouted, "Stacy, no! You can't use those kinds of adhesives! They'll pull the paint off the wall!" Damages to the shop were the last thing she needed. Cranston didn't usually rent out its space for private parties, but since Pinkie had spent so much money in cakes over the past year alone they had decided to make an exception. Any damages were likely to impact her reputation with the shop, and that was something she certainly couldn't afford. She continued to watch Stacy, who was now staring absently at the adhesive squares in her left hand and the banner in her right. After several moments, it was clear that she didn't know what to do, so Pinkie Pie sighed and approached the bottom on the ladder on which Stacy stood. "Climb down, I'll take care of it," she said.

        This is ridiculous. We still have a bunch of decorating to do, and I still need to hide the random pranks. Everyone seemed to love it the last time I did it... or the last time the other me did it... ah, this is confusing she thought to herself as she ascended the ladder, grabbed the roll of scotch tape that was lying next to the adhesive squares, and taped the end of the banner to the wall.

        She descended the ladder to examine the banner, which had been inspired by the logo for Spike's old band. The logo he had shown her had a dragon weaving its way through the band's name, 'The River Dragons', with the letters done in a watery font. Pinkie Pie had removed the band name so that the banner simply showed a dragon over a field of water. As she admired her handiwork a thought raced through her mind. As it began to settle in her eyes began to grow wide, and after a few seconds she shouted, "That's it!" before darting out of the shop, leaving the rest of her crew completely bewildered.

        Spike was lying on his bed, completely engrossed in the ridiculously large fantasy novel he was holding. The book was the fifth in a series, and had taken several years to come out, so Spike intended to spend his Saturday savoring the long-awaited story. As he was reaching the climax of a particularly brutal fight scene, he heard his door slam open as someone screamed, "You're Spike!" Out of instinct, he sat up and cocked his arm, prepared to launch his book in defense. Only the sight of bright pink hair stayed his arm.

        "Geez Pinkie Pie, you almost took eight pounds of epic fantasy to the face!" he exclaimed, lowering his arm and placing his free hand over his palpitating heart. "Now what's so important that it couldn't be preceded by something like, oh, I don't know, a knock at the door?"

        "Sorry, it's just're Spike!" Pinkie blurted out, though much quieter this time.

        "I...realize I'm Spike. We established that on Monday. Not quite sure why that was worth the invasion of my privacy." Pinkie Pie shook her head.

        "No, I mean you're THE Spike, the dragon! Twilight's little helper! Why didn't I see this before?" She walked over to him and put her hands on his shoulders. "Why didn't you say something before?"

        Spike pulled away from Pinkie Pie and gave her a quizzical look. "Pinkie Pie, I have to be honest. You're starting to freak me out a bit." A thump overhead caused him to pause. "Well, we're about to get our butts handed to us."

        Pinkie didn't need to ask what Spike meant; it was fairly obvious. Twilight's room was located directly above Spike's, which meant any loud noises from Spike's room would easily carry up into Twilight's room. Given that it was the weekend, it was safe to assume that Twilight was deep into her studies, which all of the loud noise had undoubtedly interrupted. Put all of that together, and it was only logical that they were about to face the wrath of Twilight. The thought to book it out of the room occurred too late, for when Pinkie turned to make her exit she found herself face-to-face with a red-faced Twilight.

        "You two do realize you're in a library, right? On top of that, you do realize that there are people trying to study don't you?" Spike and Pinkie both nodded in unison. "Then why, might I ask, are you down here making so much noise?" Twilight fumed, her glare bouncing from Pinkie to Spike and back again.

        Stone-faced, Spike raised his hands and shook his head, as if to say 'It wasn't me'. Before Twilight could say anymore, though, Pinkie cut in with, "Twilight, don't you realize? This is SPIKE!"

        Twilight cocked an eyebrow at her eccentric friend. "Yes, Pinkie, I'm well aware that this is Spike. He's my bodyguard, after all. It would be pretty messed up if I forgot his name."

        Pinkie shook her head. "Nooooo, you don't get it either! This is Spike! Dragon spike! Purple dragon, green spikes, with a tail?"

        Twilight's mind shot back to a dream of a rainy day spent in a tree library with a short, bi-pedal dragon. She shook the image from her mind. "Pinkie, I thought we had moved past all of this pony and dragon stuff. You were sick and hallucinating or...something. Yes, I will admit that it is an odd coincidence that we would meet someone by the nickname of 'Spike' a few weeks later, but that's all it is--a coincidence."

        "B-but Spike...dragons...I..." Pinkie stammered, unable to find the words to form an argument. Spike patted her on the back and smiled at her.

        "It's okay, Pinkie. It's probably my fault for letting you listen to my old band's album. I didn't realize you were having hallucinations like that. I'm sure the song about the woman finding a dragon's egg coupled with my nickname probably contributed to it." He walked over to the laptop sitting on his desk and brought it out of sleep mode before opening several folders. Twilight still stood in the doorway, analyzing the situation. While Spike's theory seemed to have a solid logical foundation, she couldn't help but notice that there was a hint of forced assurance in Spike's voice, as if he wanted Pinkie to accept that as the answer. Could he be hiding something she thought to herself. She quickly shook the thought from her head. Come on now, Twilight, you're getting as bad as Pinkie. Next you'll be thinking that he's a dragon or something, too. The sound of heavy drums and loud guitars pulled her from her thoughts.

        "Gah, Spike, what is that?!" Twilight snapped, covering her ears.

        "Oh, sorry, I guess I should have turned the speakers down some," Spike replied, adjusting the volume to a more comfortable level. "This is the song I was talking about. Pinkie was asking about the album the other day, so I gave her a copy."

        Twilight found herself paying attention as the vocals came in. True to Spike's description, the song was about a young girl who stumbled upon a dragon's egg and took care of it, eventually hatching and taming the dragon within. Slowly but surely, her attention became focused on something else--the production value of the song. While it wasn't anywhere near the quality that she would expect from a professional band, it was still fairly decent, especially considering that Spike's band had only been a local group. "Hey, Spike, how did you guys record this?" she found herself asking.

        Spike, who was caught up in memories from his singing days, didn't process the question right away. After it sunk in, though, his attention snapped to Twilight and he responded, "Oh, our bassist, Matt, was going to college for music production. He had some recording equipment that he had gotten at a liquidation sale, so we recorded it in his basement, or as I liked to call it, his BASSment." Spike began to laugh at his own joke, but quickly stopped when he noticed Pinkie and Twilight rolling their eyes at the weak pun. He cleared his throat. "Anyway, I think that should clear up the issue of Pinkie's dragon dreams." He paused and reached into the second drawer of his desk, producing a CD. "Here, Twilight, why don't you take a copy for yourself? Give it a listen." Spike walked over and pressed the album into Twilight's hands.

        "Well...okay, I guess it won't hurt. I'll listen when I have some free time. Should you really be giving these away like this, though?"

        That seemed to amuse Spike. "Relax, I have two boxes of the darn things back home. We barely sold any of them at our shows, so we got stuck with a surplus that was divided amongst the band. We were supposed to hand them out to promote the band, but then some things happened, I had to quit, and who knows what happened with the rest of them. We basically fell out of touch. I've been trying to get rid of these things since then, so you're doing me a favor."

        Content with the explanation, Twilight excused herself and turned to leave. "Wait!" Pinkie Pie cried out. "You guys are trying to change the subject and avoid the situation! I know the situation looks weird, but can you really say this is just a coincidence?"

        Twilight sighed and began to speak, "Pinkie, you had a fever hallucination or dream or something that we were all ponies and that there was a dragon named Spike. You got over the fever and everything was good. Then we met someone who uses the name Spike who happened to play in a band that wrote a song about a dragon. Your mind took the name "Spike" and the word "dragon", dredged up that hallucination, and that's how you got to this point. That's all. Perhaps you're subconsciously insecure about the whole situation and think that we're still judging you for the fever situation, so you thought this would be proof. Trust me, though, we are not judging you." She finished her thoughts and watched Pinkie, who seemed to slowly digest everything.

        "You don't understand, on the other side of--nevermind, you're right Twilight. Your explanation makes perfect sense, or at least it sounds like it does. You know more about that kind of stuff than I do." She slumped her shoulders in defeat and made her way to the door. "Anyway, I'm going to go finish what I was doing before. Remember to be there by five." With that, she was gone.

        Twilight turned to Spike and said, "Well, you heard her, I have to be somewhere at five, and since you're playing the whole bodyguard role you'll have to come with me. If you want a shower or anything I'd suggest you consider taking care of it soon." Without another word she walked away, headed for her own room.

        Spike crossed to the doorway and pushed the door closed, leaning against it with a heavy sigh. "That was crazy," he thought aloud. "I'd better keep an eye on Pinkie. Things could get complicated."


        A few hours later, Spike found himself standing in the center of Cranston Bakery, surrounded by faces new and familiar alike. He had to admit to himself that he was quite nervous, but he was used to dealing with the nervousness thanks to his time in the band. The welcome party had been a complete surprise, and he hadn't known how to initially react. Besides Warrel, an old friend from Casterly, no one had ever done anything this nice for him before. Rainbow Dash had joked that Spike looked as though he was about to cry, and though he laughed it off as a joke the truth was that he had been fighting back tears of joy. Once his emotions subsided he began to take in the atmosphere around him.

        To say that Pinkie Pie had outdone herself would have been an understatement. The crowd was incredibly huge, with faces both new and familiar in the crowd. She had decorated the entire space with an assortment of banners, balloons, and ribbons, all somehow connected to him. There were even hints of his old band logo on some of the banners. Even the music playing had been tailored to his tastes, which explained why Pinkie had been so interested in his music library all week. For someone who's supposed to be a bodyguard you sure are bad at picking up obvious clues, he chided himself. He felt truly bad for all of three seconds, and then he found the boneless hot wing platter.

        It was some time before he realized that Twilight was no longer with him. With a sinking feeling in his stomach, he began making his way through the crowd of people, calling her name. It was almost impossible to hear anything, though, between the music and the endless chatter. After a few moments he found Pinkie Pie standing at the center of a group of girls he didn't recognize, smiling from ear to ear while she was discussing something that he couldn't quite make out. If she was still bummed about the situation earlier she wasn't showing it.

        Spike squeezed his way into the circle of girls until he was at Pinkie's side. He tapped her on the shoulder and she turned to look at him. "Oh hey Spike!" she said happily. "How do you like the party? I really went all out for this one!"

        "It's great!" Spike replied. "But I seem to have lost sight of Twilight. Have you seen her?"

        Pinkie pointed to her left and said, "Yeah, she's right over at the drink table with Applejack! You shouldn't worry so much, though! This is your party, have fun!"

        After thanking her and assuring her that he would, in fact, have fun, Spike made his way out of the gaggle of girls and over to the indicated drink table. Sure enough, Twilight and Applejack were standing there talking, just like Pinkie Pie had said. He waved and called out to them, until he took a good look at Applejack. She was dressed in a pair of cut-off jeans and a button down shirt; much less than he was used to seeing her in. Her down-dressed appearance, combined with a lack of experience with girls, caused him to blush. Twilight and Applejack had already noticed him at this point, along with his blushing.

        "Well lookee here. Spike's got himself all flabbergasted!" Applejack laughed, patting the boy on the back. "Not used ta seein' girls in casual wear?"

        "W-well, not that kind of casual wear," Spike commented, looking to Twilight, who was dressed in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt.

        "Aw, yer just used to that city girl look. This is how we farm girls do casual, though. You'll get used to it." She ruffled his hair and chuckled again. "So whaddaya think? Does it look good on me?" She teased.

        "Um, yeah, well, sure," Spike stammered. "I mean, it's not necessarily my type but does you" He fumbled around for words that just wouldn't come to him. The more he flailed, the more Applejack seemed to be amused.

        "Ah, so ya have a type, then? Well come on, spill it! What's your type?" She patted him on the back and shot him a huge grin, making it all too obvious that she was enjoying this.

        Spike blushed and looked at his shoes. "W-well, I always thought girls with glasses were cute. Not those big coke-bottle glasses, mind you, but smaller glasses. A-and I like girls who don't try to hide who they are, you know, girls who are just honest and straightforward." His face was bright red at this point.

        "So that's what ya go for, eh?" Applejack smiled and stroked her chin. "Ya wouldn' happen ta have yer eyes on--" Twilight cut her off before she could finish.

        "Come on, Applejack, haven't you teased him enough? You're even starting to make me uncomfortable now," she commented, laying a hand on Spike's shoulder. "Don't make him feel so embarrassed at his own welcome party."

        Applejack chuckled and waved her hand in the air. "Alright, alright, you win. I was just havin' a bit o' fun is all. I'm gonna go check out the food table. You guys have fun now!" With that she wandered off into the crowd, leaving Twilight and Spike alone.

        "Are you okay now?" Twilight asked, turning to look at Spike.

        He turned his eyes to her and smiled. "Yeah, now that the pressure's off me I'm good. Geeze, what was that all about, anyway? You think Applejack's got a thing for me or something?"

        Twilight laughed and then quickly apologized. "Sorry, but trust me, you're not Applejack's type. She's more into the handyman type than the musician-bodyguard-schoolboy type. Actually, by that description I think you are your own unique type," she teased, sparking a chuckle from Spike.

        With the previous tension finally dissolved, the two began making their way through the crowd again, stopping to talk with people that they recognized. At one point, Pinkie Pie announced to the whole party that she was going to play a "special song", which turned out to be one of the songs from Spike's album. He found himself blushing again when she revealed this, as the entire party seemed to turn its attention on him. A few people complimented the work, but most seemed to quickly go back to what they were doing, allowing Spike to breathe a sigh of relief.

        "You know, for an ex-singer you sure don't like having a lot of eyes on you," Twilight commented.

        "Well, it's different when you're on stage. With all of the lights in your face it's really hard to see much of anything, so my focus isn't really on the people watching me. Plus some things have...changed...since then."

        Twilight was curious as to what he meant by 'things have changed', but before she could voice her question Spike had motioned for her to follow him and then walked off. When he finally stopped, he was in front of the shop's main counter, waving hello to Rainbow Dash. "Hey guys, this is a pretty awesome party, huh?" she asked, smiling and turning back to the shop's owner. "I have to say, it was really cool of you to let Pinkie hold this here."

        The shop owner, an older, portly gentleman, chuckled and replied, "Well how could I say no to Pinkie Pie? She's my best customer! Besides, with all of these kids here, there's a good chance that I'll attract some future customers as well."

        Rainbow Dash nodded her agreement and then turned back to Spike and Twilight. "Oh yeah, guys, this is Mr. Cake. Mr. Cake, this is Spike and Twilight."

        "Mr. Cake? Well, I don't know if my cake is good enough for that kind of a nickname, but I think it is pretty good," he laughed, patting Dash on the back.

        "Mr. Cake? That's not what I said, is it? I could have sworn I said Mr. Cranston," she thought aloud, looking to Twilight and Spike for support, but they only shook their heads. "Huh, I guess it was just a slip of the tongue. Oh well." She began to turn back to Mr. Cranston, but then quickly snapped her head back around to Spike. "Hey, Spike, what's up with the tail?"

        Confused, Spike turned to look at his backside, thinking that someone might have put something there as a joke. When he saw nothing, though, he looked back at Dash with a confused look and asked, "Are you feeling alright, Rainbow Dash?"

        Dash blinked and rubbed her eyes. "Wow, I must be going crazy. Too much training, I guess. We have a lot of indoor meets coming up, so I've been putting in a lot of extra practice time." She chuckled nervously and rubbed the back of her head. "Well, I'm gonna go get something with a lot of sugar. Maybe that'll wake me up for a bit, huh?" With that she sauntered off into the crowd, leaving her now confused friends behind. After a moment, though, they shrugged it off and went back to enjoying the party.

        The rest of the evening continued on in a blur of music, cake, and dancing. Rarity had humored Spike by dancing with him to some old heavy metal ballad while Twilight watched. She wasn't much of a dancer and preferred to not embarrass herself in front of all of these people. While Rarity clearly wasn't into the style of music, she still danced elegantly--or at least as elegantly as one could dance to such music. I'm a bit jealous,  Twilight had to admit to herself. She had read about dancing, sure, but her feet didn't seem to like the actual application of the dance moves.

        The sound of breaking glass and flesh connecting with flesh ended the revelry, though, as a fight broke out between students from the local public high school and students from Perryville Academy. Apparently, the public school students had invited themselves to the party, and had started goading on members of the Perryville Academy football team. After a few choice words, the situation had quickly devolved into a full-blown fist fight, and the rest of the party goers were in full retreat mode. Spike had to throw his arm out to prevent Twilight from trying to get involved. "Trust me Twi, it's safer to not get involved," he said sternly.

        Twilight tried to push past him as she said, "Fighting is strictly against school rules, whether on or off campus. Someone has to stop them!"

        In response, Spike produced his cell phone and held it out to her. "If you really want to intervene, then call the cops. No offense, but they'll be more effective than you or I could hope to be."

        Seemingly satisfied with Spike's solution, Twilight quickly dialed the local emergency number and reported the incident. It didn't take long for two police cars to show up and drag the dueling high schoolers away. Unfortunately, the police also put an end to the party for the 'sake of public safety'. Slowly but steadily the partygoers dispersed, until only Spike, Twilight, Pinkie Pie, Applejack, Rarity, and Fluttershy were left at the bakery.

        "Hey, where's Rainbow Dash?" Pinkie asked, looking around to see if she somehow missed her.

        "Oh um...she left a little while ago. She said she wasn't feeling too good...she kept seeing weird marks on people or something. I think she was really tired," Fluttershy replied in her usual soft voice.

        "Well poo," Pinkie spat. "I wanted all seven of us here for a private after party." She gave an exaggerated pout, which only served to amuse her friends.

        "Well, Spike, I hope you will enjoy your time at Perryville Academy. It really is a wonderful school," Rarity commented.

        "Yeah, this was really fun. Well, minus the fight that ended it all, of course. I haven't done anything like this in a long time," Spike replied. I just wish the rest of my life could be this laid back and casual, he though. Damn my luck.


Afterword: Well, that about wraps up Chapter 7. I wanted to use the chapter and the party setting to integrate Spike into the world more. Along the way there were some small advances, as well, but nothing too earth-shattering. If you're starting to wonder when something big is going to happen, though, then you'll definitely want to stick around for Chapter 8. Well, that's all for now. I hope you enjoyed Chapter 7, and I hope you stick around for Chapter 8.

Chapter 8: The Duelists

Opening Comments: Chapter 8 is upon us. This chapter starts the events that will inevitably bring this story to a close. If you've been waiting for answers and/or action, it starts here. I consider the event at the end of this chapter to be "big", so hopefully those of you who have been waiting for something "big" to happen will think so, too.

I’d like to extend a very special thank you to my pre-readers for taking the time to provide me with their feedback!


        It had been four days since the party, and two days since Rainbow Dash had slept. Her concentration was shot, her track performance almost non-existent, and her attitude abysmal, but it was the only way to avoid the hallucinations. If she slept, she had the pony dreams. If she had the pony dreams, she saw elements of them everywhere she went. When the incident had first occurred at Spike's party, she had written it off as an odd phenomena. Now she didn't know what to think of it. All she knew was that she could not sleep. She mentally re-affirmed this fact as she chugged yet another energy drink on her way to her locker. Her friends had already beaten her there.

        "....and then I said, oatmeal? Are you crazy?" Pinkie was saying as Dash approached the group. As soon as Pinkie saw her she ran over and threw her arms around Dash's shoulders. "Good morning Dashie! You're running late today!"

        Dash gave a small laugh and shrugged out of Pinkie's embrace. "Y-yeah, I guess I am," Rainbow Dash replied with another laugh. "You're energetic, as always." In her sleep-deprived state, Dash found that she had little tolerance for Pinkie's hyper antics. She had to fight to keep her composure; after all, it wasn't Pinkie Pie's fault that she hadn't slept for two days. Dash glanced around at her friends, trying to find something to talk about. After a moment, she noticed that two people were missing. "Hey, where are Twilight and Spike?" she quickly asked.

        Rarity spoke up first. "Twilight had to drop off some extracurricular work before homeroom, and Spike, being her ever loyal bodyguard, went with her." She paused for a second and then continued, "Of course, that was about ten minutes ago. Now they're right behind you."

        Dash turned to look behind her, and sure enough there were Twilight and Spike approaching the group. She began to greet them, but before the words could leave her lips Spike cut her off by saying, "Holy crap, what happened to your face?" From the corner of her eye, Dash caught Rarity covering her face with her hand.

        "Well, we weren't saying anything about that in an attempt to be respectful, but now that Spike has so graciously blurted out what we were all thinking..." Rarity allowed her sentence to trail off as she eyeballed Dash.

        "W-what do you mean? Nothing's wrong," Dash stammered. "I've just been... you know... putting in a lot of practice at the track, what with the meet coming up and all." She could feel her friends eyes boring into her, as if they were weighing her words for truth. Before anyone could comment, though, the morning bell rung and spared her any further inquisition. After quickly stashing her bag in her locker, Dash grabbed her books and bolted into the classroom, leaving her friends to follow in her wake.

        She entered the classroom and took her seat, fighting the urge to lay her head down on the desk. Caffeine could only sustain her for so long, and she was reaching her limit. If this kept up, she wouldn't be able to run in the upcoming track meet for which she had worked so hard. You've gotta pull it together Dash, you just gotta... she thought to herself as her eyes fell closed and her head bobbed forward. A tap on her shoulder sent her jolting upright. "I wasn't asleep, I promise! Look I'm wide awake!" she shouted, drawing the entire class' attention. She blushed and sheepishly turned to see Spike standing behind her, his eyes wide with shock.

        "For the record, I don't really care if you sleep in class or not," he commented. "I just wanted to tell you that my friend Warrel finally got my GameStation 3 to me, and I also picked up a copy of Soul Render 4. Twilight said you like fighting games, so I figured I'd ask if you wanted to help me break it in after school."

        Despite his attempts to act casual, Dash could tell that Spike was trying to read her for any signs of what was troubling her. Play it cool she told herself. "S-sure, I'll take you on! You'll be sorry when I kick your butt, though," she replied, puffing her chest out with false confidence. The gesture seemed to amuse Spike, who chuckled before returning to his own seat. Good, if you have something to do you won't want to fall asleep she thought. For now, though, she had to get through the school day. That was the real challenge.


"..ash? Dash? Rainbow Dash!"

        Dash felt a hand shaking her shoulder and snapped her head around. Twilight stood behind her, a perplexed look plastered on her face. "Are.... you okay?" her friend asked after a moment.

        It took a moment for Rainbow Dash's brain to take everything in. She was standing at her locker with the door open. How long have I been here? she wondered. Then another, more horrifying thought crossed her mind. "Twilight, was I asleep?!" she blurted out, turning to fully look at her friend.

        Twilight seemed to pull back slightly, as if she were afraid of being hurt. "No, you were just kind of... standing there staring into your locker. I guess you could have been sleeping with your eyes open." Twilight replied slowly. "Is everything okay? You've been acting really weird lately."

        Dash didn't immediately reply. Her eyes began to dart around to the few people still left in the hallway. No hooves, no horse ears, no weird little tattoo thingies... alright, I'm good she thought to herself before finally returning her attention to the conversation. "Yeah, I'm fine, never felt better!" she lied. "Hey, where's Spike? He's due for a butt-kicking on Soul Render!"

        As if in response, Spike stumbled around the corner of the hallway, with a large number of books stacked precariously in his arms. "Did you really have to make him carry all of those himself?!" Dash asked incredulously, as she silently celebrated the change of subject. Twilight sighed in response.

        "He insisted that I let him carry all of them. 'Oh, I'm here to protect and assist you! Let me get those!'" Twilight said in a mocking tone.

        Rainbow Dash smiled mischievously and patted Twilight on the shoulder. "It's okay Twi, you don't have to hide the fact that you like it. After all, it's not often that you have a guy doting over you."

        Twilight's face flushed red as she retorted with, "I do not!" Dash simply burst into laughter as Spike, who was oblivious to the whole exchange, finally made his way to them and managed to set the books down.  Dash watched silently as Twilight started to pick through the books, dividing them into two separate stacks. One stack she lifted and placed in her locker; the other was divided between her and Spike.

        After that business was settled, her friends began to walk away from her. When he realized that she wasn't following them, Spike turned his head and hollered, "What, are you chickening out of our match?"

        Dash snapped fully back into consciousness, laughed, and said, "Heck no! You're going down!" as she rushed to catch up to them.



        "Oh that was a cheap shot!" Dash shouted as Spike backed her character into a corner before executing a special move. She watched her health gauge drop to just a sliver, which Spike happily stripped away with a simple weak kick. The game announcer happily declared his character the winner before beginning a replay of the match.

        "What happened Dash? I thought you were going to kick my butt," Spike goaded as he stood up and walked over to his mini fridge and extracted a soda. Technically students weren't supposed to have fridges, microwaves, and the like in the dorm rooms, but technically he wasn't in a dorm room. He withdrew a second can and tossed it to Dash, who barely managed to catch it. "Alright Dash, something's not right. You have the best reflexes of anyone I've ever seen, and yet you almost got bonked in the head with that can. What's wrong? And don't feed me that 'nothing, I'm fine' crap, either."

        Dash sighed and sat the can on the small, low sitting table in front of her. "Spike, I'm serious, I'm f--" she stopped when she noticed the evil glare he was giving her. With another sigh she hung her head and began to explain everything--what she had seen at the party, what she had been dreaming, and what she would see after waking up. It embarrassed her to admit it, but it also felt good to finally get some of the stress off of her shoulders. To her surprise, Spike didn't seem to be overly shocked about the whole situation. He didn't try to speak until she had finished her story.

        "So basically, if you could sleep without dreaming then it wouldn't be a problem, right?" he finally said after she was done. She nodded her agreement, which set Spike to digging through one of his desk drawers. After a moment he pulled out a small bag of what appeared to be small leaves and offered it to her. "That's a herbal remedy that I found online a while ago. You simply boil them and then drink the result. It represses your REM cycles, which is where you dreaming occurs. It's fairly effective, too. Granted, you won't get as restful a sleep as you're used to, but it's still better than no sleep."

        Dash stared at the small bag curiously for a moment. Several questions popped into her mind, such as why Spike would ever have a need for this, and if he was sure it was really safe. She ultimately decided to keep her mouth shut, though, for fear of offending him. Instead she just thanked him and excused herself so that she could finally try to get some sleep. As she was about to walk out the door, though, Spike stopped her.

        "Is everything okay?" Dash asked, her hand resting on the door knob.

        "Yeah, it's fine, but you told me your secret, so I figured I should tell you mine," Spike said. He was looking at his feet and rubbing his hands together nervously. Dash couldn't help but want to know, despite her exhaustion. After a moment's hesitation he began to speak again. "I'm... going to ask Rarity to go out with me."

        "You sly dog!" Dash responded. "I thought I caught you checking her out a few times! Well, good for you!" She didn't have the heart to tell him about Rarity's comment the other day. With a good luck wish Dash walked out of the room, closing the door behind her.

        Spike watched the door closed, then walked over and locked it before returning to his desk. He pulled a spiral notebook from one of the drawers and placed it on the desk top. Inside, he had an equal number of pages tabbed for each one of the girls. He opened to the Rainbow Dash section, where he already had 'Inexplicable increase in speed' and 'Hallucinations at party' scribbled down. Below those, he added:

Dreams of ponies, with images carrying over into the conscious world. I gave her a sleep aid. Deterioration may be occurring faster than previously assumed.

        He sat back and stared at the page for a moment, lost completely in thought. I may need to request permission to execute our plans earlier than expected. A knock at the door brought him back to reality. "Who is it?" he called.

        "It's Twilight. I'm here to help you with Physics, like you asked."

        Spike quickly stashed his notebook in its hiding spot before crossing the room and unlocking the door. His pondering would just have to wait for now.


        "So, how has that herbal treatment been working for you, Rainbow Dash?" Spike asked as the seven friends sat down to lunch. It had been two days since he had given her the medicine, and she was looking considerably better. Still, he wanted to hear it from her mouth.

        "I feel great!" Dash exclaimed, pumping her fists into the air. "Whatever was in that stuff you gave me worked great. It tasted horrible, though." She stuck her tongue out to feign disgust.

        The rest of the group looked at the two with perplexed stares; understandable, since they had not been included in Dash's confession. When Twilight inevitably questioned them, Spike quickly responded with, "Well, Dash was telling me that she was having trouble falling asleep thanks to the stress from the upcoming meet, so I gave her a herbal remedy for relaxation. I went through a phase a few years ago where I obsessed over herbal remedies and such, so I tend to keep a few of the more useful ones on hand." He shot Dash a quick wink as if to say 'you're secret's safe with me'. Twilight seemed to be satisfied with explanation, for she returned her attention to her chicken salad sandwich and whatever book she had brought with her.

        Spike was glad for the easy diversion. While he was truly concerned with Rainbow Dash's situation, there was something else he needed to do that he was much more concerned with. Now that he knew Dash was doing fine, he could focus his attention on his own interests. He kept stealing glances at Rarity from across the table, trying to gauge her mood. She seemed to be fairly content, which put him at ease for what he was planning. He watched the clock with nervous eyes, never before so anxious for lunch to end so that he could get through his afternoon classes. His own thoughts began to consume him, until he heard Twilight begin to speak next to him.

        "Oh, Rarity, I wanted to ask if you're free this Saturday," Twilight stated, looking up from her book.

        "This Saturday? Well, I didn't have anything planned. Why do you ask?"

        "I need to have my highlights touched up," Twilight commented, pulling at her hair to indicate the shades of pink and dark purple running through her hair. "They're starting to grow out and fade."

        Rarity clasped her hands together and rested her chin on them, her eyes searching Twilight up and down. "Well now, this is a pleasant surprise. I had to fight with you for weeks before you'd let me put those in, and then I had to harass you to maintain them. I guess all my hard work has finally won you over."

        Twilight's face flushed slightly red. She looked away from Rarity's studious gaze. "Y-yeah, something like that," she replied. "So will you take care of it for me?"

        "Of course! Design may be my calling, but cosmetology is my passion! How does Saturday evening at five sound?"

        "That will be just fine," Twilight confirmed as she went back to silently reading her book.

        The rest of the lunch period passed with the typical high school chatter. When the end-of-lunch bell rang, the group re-arranged the desks into their proper positions and then dispersed to their specialized afternoon courses. Spike could feel his stomach knotting up with a combination of excitement and tension. Now he just had to get to the end of the day.

After school

        Spike stood by the lockers, nervously checking the time every couple of seconds. He had arranged to have Rainbow Dash escort Twilight back to her dorm so that he would be free to do what he needed. While it was a clear violation of his duties as a bodyguard, he felt that he could trust Dash to at least do that much. Besides, Shame on the Night would be stupid to attempt any sort of attack in broad daylight. That was how he justified it to himself, anyway.

        Time felt like it was standing still. Students filed by him, extracting their belongings from their lockers and leaving for the day, never giving him a second thought. He started to wonder if he had somehow been too slow, if he had missed her...until he saw her round the corner.

        Rarity was walking by herself, her books and binder clasped under her arm. He rushed over to her. "Hey, Rarity, let me help you with those." She seemed to be surprised by his sudden appearance.

        "Spike? What are you doing here? Shouldn't you be with Twilight?"

        "I have Rainbow Dash keeping an eye on her for me," he explained as he took Rarity's books from her. The two of them walked silently back to the lockers, where Rarity began to input the combination into the lock.

        "Say, Rarity, there's something... I want to ask you," Spike began, his heart pounding so hard he feared it might burst through his chest.

        "Yes, what is it?" Rarity asked, matter-of-factly, as she began to take her belongings from Spike and stuff them into her backpack.

        "Well, you see, how do I put this..." he trailed off for a moment, unsure of how to continue. This was a new experience for him, after all. Finally, completely frustrated with himself, he quickly blurted out, "Rarity, will you be my girlfriend?"

        Everything seemed to freeze around him. The look on Rarity's face was clearly one of surprise, and it seemed that she didn't quite know what to say. An eternity seemed to pass, the two of them simply staring at each other, before she finally replied with, "I'm sorry Spike, but no."

        Spike began to jump up and down. "Yes! I knew you'd say that! I promise I won't let you--wait, did you say 'no'?"

        Rarity sighed and closed her locker door. "I'm sorry, Spike, but yes. You're a nice guy, but you're just not my type." She reached out a comforting hand, but he pulled away.

        "No, it's alright, you don't need to apologize. It's not like you did anything wrong, after all." He kept his gaze locked on his feet; he just couldn't bring himself to look up at her. "Anyway, I should probably get back to Twilight. I've shirked my duties long enough." He could feel the tears beginning to well up behind his eyes. Rarity couldn't see him cry; he at least needed to have that shred of pride remain with him. Without giving her a chance to say anything else, he took off down the hallway.

        The cool air hit him full on as he burst through the school doors, but it didn't seem to faze him. At this point, the tears were beginning to flow down his cheeks. Why did I even try? I haven't even known her that long he thought to himself. Besides, it's not like I'd get to see her anymore after this is all said and done. Those thoughts didn't help to stem the sadness that was boiling over inside of him, though. He turned his face downward in an attempt to keep his fellow students from seeing his tears. It felt like an eternity had passed before he finally reached the library doors. He paused for a moment to collect himself, drying his eyes on the sleeve of his blazer. Get ahold of yourself, Spike. Crying over this is ridiculous! Be a man for crying out loud! he mentally berated himself. When he finally managed to collect himself, he entered the library and found Twilight hard at work organizing the books. Rainbow Dash was helping her, but it was obvious that she wasn't enjoying it. Spike tapped her on the shoulder.

        "Hey Dash, thanks for helping me out. You can head out now; I can take it from here."

        Dash looked at him silently for a moment, as though she were studying him. Finally, she said, "Are you okay, Spike? Your eyes look a little red."

        Spike gave a forced laugh and shrugged. "I guess it's just the autumn chill getting to me. I'm fine, I swear. Hey, why don't you come over for another round of Soul Render on Saturday?"

        "Sure thing," she replied, setting down the book she had been holding. As she walked past him she said, in a voice only loud enough for him to hear, "Maybe then you'll be honest with me."

        Spike watched her leave, and then turned to see Twilight descending the bookcase ladder. "She's right, your eyes do look bad. Are you sure there's nothing wrong?" She too began to study him, though her gaze was much more intent. He knew that Twilight wasn't as easy to fool as Dash, so he quickly set himself to organizing the books on the book cart.

        "Everything's fine. Seriously. Now let's get this over with so I can play vid--I mean, study."

*** Saturday

        "Come on, again?!" Dash yelled as Spike's character delivered its finishing blow. The character turned its back to the screen and bent over, making rude gestures at its back side. "That's so messed up," she muttered. Spike rolled with laughter.

        "I thought you said you were good at fighting games," he teased, exiting the game back to the character selection screen.

        Dash shrugged her shoulders. Once upon a time she had been good at fighting games, but she hadn't had a lot of play time ever since she started seriously focusing on running. It appeared that her gaming skills had gotten rusty. Well, testing her ability to mash multi-colored buttons wasn't exactly why she was here, anyway. She sat her controller down on the low sitting table in front of her. "Alright Spike, spill it. I already knew you were asking Rarity out the other day, and you haven't said anything else about it since. The two of you aren't acting all lovey-dovey; in fact, it looked like you were avoiding looking at her at all. I may not be the smartest girl in school, but I can pick up on something that obvious. Still, I'd rather hear the truth from you."

        Her straightforward approach seemed to catch Spike off guard. He stared at her, mouth opening and closing as he tried and failed to utter some form of protest. Finally, he sank back against the side of his bed, defeated. "Yeah, you're right, she turned me down. It hurt, too. It hurt like hell. I'm not really sure why, either. It's not like we knew each other very well. Hell, my attraction to her was mostly physical." He shook his head and drew his knees up to his chest. "I'm so screwed up."

        Dash felt a pang of guilt in her stomach. She knew that this was most likely going to happen--Rarity had flat out said that Spike wasn't her type, after all. Even with that knowledge, though, she had chosen to stay silent so as not to interfere. As a result, Spike was upset and his friendship with Rarity had become awkward. This is your fault she told herself. "Say, Spike, have you ever tried asking a girl out prior to that?" She finally asked.

        "No, this was the first time. Sure, I saw some cute girls at the shows we used to play, but I never really felt compelled to pursue them. I guess you could say Rarity was my first crush." He laughed, though at what Dash could only guess.

        "Well, there's your answer, then. It has you so upset because it's a new emotion. You can't expect to handle it like a champ." She reached out and playfully punched him on the arm. "Buck up! The right lady is out there somewhere!" That seemed to bring a smile to Spike's face. He opened his mouth to speak, but whatever he was going to say was cut off by a knock at the door.

        "Spike, are you almost done? We have to be at Rarity's in an hour," Twilight said through the door.

        Well, isn't that awkward Dash thought to herself. She rose to her feet and walked over to the door, opening it and quickly stepping out. She closed it behind her.

        "Dash? Oh, that's right, you and Spike were playing that game again," she commented. She was dressed nicer than Dash was accustomed too. Dressed in a long-sleeved purple tunic and jeans, Twilight looked more like she was going on a dinner date than to a hair appointment. What was extra surprising was that she was wearing her glasses. They were half moon and set in a black frame.

        "Someone's dolling herself up today," Dash commented.

        Twilight looked down at herself, as if she was surprised that Dash was talking about her. She looked back up and shrugged. "W-well, you know, Rarity is always berating me about not taking care of my appearance, so I thought I should make an effort." She cleared her throat and continued, "Anyway, do you know if Spike is ready, or if he was planning to change before leaving?

        The mention of them leaving snapped Dash's attention back to the situation at hand. She laid a hand on Twilight's shoulder and looked at her seriously. "Listen Twilight, it's really not right for you to drag Spike to Rarity's house. I don't know if you know this, but Spike has a crush on--"

        "Yes, yes, I know, Spike has a crush on--" Twilight started to say.

        "Rarity," Rainbow Dash finished over top of her.

        "Rarity. Right. Wait, what? Rarity?" Twilight looked completely flabbergasted at the thought. "Where did you hear that from? I mean, she doesn't even match his type. He said he likes girls with glasses who are straightforward!"

        Dash shrugged her shoulders. "Rarity does wear reading glasses, in case you haven't noticed. And she's not exactly shy about hiding her personality," she began to explain. Then something clicked in her mind. "Wait a minute. Twilight, are you... are you jealous?" Dash began to grin widely as the thought played through her mind. Twilight began to blush.

        "What? Jealous? No, of course not! You know I don't have time for trivial thoughts of dating and crushes!" she blurted out, turning to look away from her inquisitor. "Anyway, why should that stop him from going to her place?"

        Rainbow Dash sighed, realizing that she wasn't going to be able to tease Twilight. "Well, he asked her out, and she rejected him. That's why he looked so upset the other day. You can't tell him I told you this, but I just thought that this could lead to an uncomfortable situation, so I figured it was best if I said something."

        Twilight sighed and began to rub her temples. Dash could only guess what was going through her mind at that moment. "Well it's too late for me to cancel now. Rarity would never let me hear the end of it. And there's no way Spike will let me leave the campus without him." She paused for a moment, clearly deep in thought. Then her face lit up with obvious realization. "Of course! Rarity's family is filthy rich! They put a bowling lane in their basement! He can just do that while we're there. That way he'll never have to see Rarity!"

        The idea made sense on a basic level, but Dash couldn't help but feel that it somehow wasn't fair to Spike. Still, she got the feeling that nothing she said could stop this whole thing from going forward. After all, Twilight was right: Rarity was a stickler for keeping appointments, and she tended to lecture like a doting mother whenever one of them broke an appointment. She just prayed that things wouldn't be too awkward. "I guess that will have to do. Just try to make sure he's not too uncomfortable, okay?" Dash patted her friend on the shoulder. "I'll see you guys later."

        An hour later Spike and Twilight were standing in the main hall of Rarity's home. This was Spike's first time here, and he couldn't help but be amazed at the sheer size of the place. "This has nothing on the royal palace, but for a civilian home, this is huge," he commented. Rarity's butler seemed to be greatly amused by Spike's comment. The old man covered his mouth with a gloved hand and chuckled.

        "Well then, if you are ready I shall lead you both to Ms. Rarity," the butler finally stated, gesturing towards the double staircase near the back of the room.

        Twilight raised her hand and shook her head. "That won't be necessary. I know where Rarity does her hair work. Could you please show Spike to the bowling lane, though? I don't think he really wants to sit around and listen to girl talk."

        "Of course, madam," the butler replied, bowing to Twilight before gesturing for Spike to follow him. Spike watched as Twilight headed up the staircase and out of sight. The idea of leaving Twilight alone for so long unnerved him; but then again, what could really happen to her here? The butler cleared his throat and spoke. "May I show you the way, sir?"

        Spike's attention snapped back to the situation at hand, and he nodded in response to the question. The butler led him behind the double staircase to a door set in the back wall of the mansion. The old man opened the door to reveal a long, twisting staircase, which he lead Spike down. Despite his service in the royal palace--which was much more grand than even this home--Spike couldn't help but be amazed at what he was seeing. At the bottom of the steps was a long hallway, stretching away in either directions. The hallway was lined with doors on either side, with large paintings in between. Spike didn't recognize the small signature in the corners of the paintings, but painter had been stellar, whoever he or she may have been. The figures in the paintings almost seemed like they could jump out of the canvas at any moment. It was awe-inspiring and unsettling at the same time. He felt a shiver go down his spine. Suddenly, without warning, the spell was broken by the butler's voice.

        "Here we are, sir," he said with a low bow, indicating a door to his left. He opened the door as he explained, "This is the bowling lane. You shall find all of the equipment you need inside--ah, it appears the younger mistress is already here. Well, I suppose you shall have some company, then."

        Spike entered the room and immediately saw to whom the butler had been referring. A young girl, no older than ten, was already using the lane, rolling gutter ball after gutter ball. He turned to ask the butler who the girl was, but the old man had already disappeared. Well that's strange he thought to himself. The old man hadn't so much as made a sound as he left. Or perhaps Spike had just been too preoccupied. It made little difference either way, he realized, so he simply closed the door behind him and approached the girl. "Um... hey there... mind if I join you?" he asked. She didn't seem to hear him over the sound of yet another ball crashing into the lane and rolling into the gutter, so he tapped her on the shoulder.

        The girl let out a loud shriek and turned, her small hand balled into a fist aimed right at his stomach. Spike threw his hand down reflexively and grabbed her wrist. He stopped himself from following through with the rest of the maneuver. "Calm down, I'm friends with your sister. One of her other friends, Twilight--I'm sure you know Twilight," he paused and the girl nodded, "okay, well, Twilight's getting her hair highlighted, and they sent me down here to entertain myself in the meantime. I'm not here to hurt you, I'm just here to have fun." She lowered her head and stared at her shoes.

        "Um... I'm sorry 'bout that," she said softly. "You just scared me. My name's Sarah, but my mom calls me 'Sweetie Belle'."

        Spike couldn't help but laugh at her sudden change in character. That inevitably drew a disgruntled look from Sarah. "Sorry, sorry," he apologized. "I'm Spike. Would you like some company while you bowl?"

        Sarah's eyes widened as Spike mentioned his name. "Oh, so you're the guy whose heart my sister broke!"

        The muscles in Spike's face tightened in embarrassment. He could feel his face beginning to get hot. "So Rarity um.... made it a point to talk about that, huh?" he asked, as rage started to mingle with embarrassment.

        With a shake of her head Sarah replied, "Oh no, Rarity would never do that. I uh... peeked... at her diary."

        There was a part of Spike that wanted to remain mad. After all, this girl had inadvertently violated his privacy. Despite that, though, there was something about the puppy dog eyes she was giving him that seemed to disarm him. Well, that's typical little sister stuff anyway, right? he rationalized. Yeah, that was right. Little sisters read their big sisters' diaries. That's all there was to it. He sighed and, without really thinking, patted her on the head. "Just don't go telling all of your friends about that. I'd like to reserve some of my dignity."

        Sarah nodded vigorously. "So do you want to bowl with me? We have shoes over there," she pointed to a small rack of shoes in the corner. "It's just like a normal bowling alley, only with one lane."

        Spike approached the rack and searched it until he finally found his size. He slipped his tennis shoes off and slipped the bowling shoes on. "So, I couldn't help but notice that you're not much of a bowler," he commented. That made the young girl blush. "I'm not exactly a champion myself, but I can at least help you keep it out of the gutter." Sarah nodded in response.

        He walked over to her and placed a ball in her hand, then lined himself up behind her. He grabbed her hand and showed her how to line up her swing with the arrows on the floor, and how to time her release of the ball. On her next try, Sarah managed to knock down half of the pins. And so went Spike's evening.

        "Honestly, Twilight, I must say that I was pleasantly surprised when you willingly asked me to touch up your highlights," Rarity commented as she pulled the highlighted chunks of Twilight's hair through the small holes in the highlighting cap. "I usually have to hound you endlessly to keep up with them."

        Twilight didn't respond. Instead, she glanced around the small room, which had been set up with all of the equipment of a hair salon. Unlike most people, who had to make concessions when pursuing their passions, Rarity was able to go all out. It must be nice to have so much money Twilight thought, a pang of jealousy shooting through her. She mentally shook off the feeling; after all, Rarity hadn't done anything wrong.

        From the corner of her eye, Twilight looked over at the other barber chair in the room. It was empty, and she couldn't help but feel that something was missing. "Hey Rarity, where's Fluttershy? You two are usually attached at the hip on the weekends," Twilight asked off-handedly.

        "Hm? Oh, didn't I tell you? She's with her mother again this weekend. Apparently she's had a lot of business in the area lately." Rarity slid a small hook through one of the holes in the cap and pulled it back through, bringing with it a chunk of Twilight's hair. "It's a shame, too. We could have had a girls' beauty night."

        Twilight chuckled at the thought. Once upon a time it would have seemed like a huge waste of time, but now the idea was almost tempting, even if it did mean she'd have to be away from her studies for an entire night. "I can't imagine Spike being too happy with that," she finally stated with a smile.

        The mention of Spike's name seemed to pique Rarity's interest. "Speaking of Spike, where is he? The boy usually follows you like a loyal puppy. It's weird not seeing him here." She paused to set down her hook and retrieve the bowl of dye that was sitting on the small bench in front of the chair. She continued while mixing the dye around with a brush. "Granted, I'm almost relieved that he isn't here. That could have been... shall we say awkward?"

        That comment snapped Twilight's mind back to her earlier conversation with Rainbow Dash. She felt an unfamiliar feeling surge through her. "Actually, he is here. He's using your bowling lane," Twilight commented. Somewhere deep inside she felt a sick satisfaction at the uncomfortable look that shot across Rarity's face. A heavy silence settled in the room for a moment before Twilight continued. "Rainbow Dash told me everything. So why did you turn him down, if you don't mind me asking?"

        Rarity had begun rubbing the dye onto Twilight's hair when the question was asked. Twilight felt her friend's hand come to a complete halt. "That's quite the personal question, Twilight, but I guess there's no point in hiding it." Rarity paused, and for a moment Twilight wondered if she was reneging on her decision. Finally, she said, "It's just that Spike's not really my type. Besides, I wouldn't feel right taking him away from you, even if he was."

        Pure frustration set into Twilight, and before she could stop herself she had thrown her arms in the air, completely startling Rarity. "First Dash, and now you. Why does everyone insist that I have a thing for Spike?" At her side Rarity began to chuckle. "What's so funny?"

        "When did I ever say you had a 'thing' for him, Twilight? It's painfully obvious that you do, though. I can't believe you're so oblivious to your own emotions. I mean, we've all noticed you paying more attention to your appearance lately." Rarity placed her dye on the bench and shook her head. "You need to be more honest with yourself. I turned Spike down, but eventually someone will swoop him up. I hope you learn to be more honest with yourself before that happens."

        Twilight felt the heat rushing to her face. She had never bothered with romance before--when had she ever had the time? Maybe they're right about your feelings. You're different around him she thought to herself. The thought settled on her brain like an oversized bird settling on a thin branch. Her head began to hurt. At some point Rarity began to work on her hair again, but Twilight wasn't really sure when. The rest of their evening passed in silence.

        "Wow, it sure got chilly," Twilight commented, hunkering down in her coat. Cooler weather was to be expected since autumn was well underway, but that night's weather was practically frigid. She was starting to regret the refusal of a limo ride back to the dorms, but she had a ritual that she tended to stick to after her hair sessions, and she was determined to abide by it. It probably wouldn't hurt to spend some time alone with Spike, either, given everything that's happened she had told herself. So here they were, huddled in their coats as they traversed Perryville's main drag.

        "You're right about that," Spike replied through chattering teeth. His face was hidden beneath the hood of his black coat.

        They walked in silence after that. Twilight wanted to talk more, but the cold just made it so hard to concentrate on anything. Still, she felt bad. Spike had recently been heartbroken, yet she had dragged him to the home of the very girl who broke his heart. Even worse was the fact that she felt some sense of satisfaction at knowing he was turned down, because it meant that she still had a chance. She'd tried to continue denying her feelings, but after being confronted by both Rarity and Rainbow Dash, she finally gave up on that front. If she couldn't fool the people around her, then there was no point in trying to fool herself.

        She tried to think back to her past to see if she had ever felt like this before--if she'd ever struggled with anything as much as she was struggling with this. There was that time when I just couldn't grasp the concept of Bell's Theorem... but that's when I was seven. I doubt that's the same she thought to herself. No, as far back as she could remember she had never held any sort of romantic interest. This was new ground she was treading on. No, it was more like she was walking on the edge of a cliff, and one wrong move would send her stumbling off the side. The problem was that she didn't know the right decision. Silence continued to hang between Spike and herself, broken only by the sound of the occasional passing car. Finally, after several more moments, she decided that nothing good would come from simply remaining silent.

        "Hey Spike," she began, "I'm sorry for dragging you to Rarity's tonight. I um... I know about the situation between you two. I shouldn't have made you go, given the circumstances."

        Spike's head snapped around, eyes wide and face red with embarrassment. "You know?" he said incredulously. Then, as suddenly as he snapped, he began to laugh. It was empty of any mirth, though. "Of course you know. Even Rarity's sister knows. I guess I'm a laughing stock to all of you girls now."

        Twilight shook her head. "No, Spike, you're not a laughing stock. Dash was concerned about the situation, so she brought it to my attention. Even Rarity scolded me for bringing you there. We care about you, Spike, despite what you may be thinking. We all really care about you, especially m--" the word stuck in her throat, and she couldn't seem to get it out. She sighed and finished with, "Trust me, we all care about you." Whether or not her words actually had any effect on Spike she couldn't tell; he was staring at the ground, his face obscured by his hood. Good job making the situation more awkward, Twilight.

        She looked away from Spike to take in their surroundings. If she was right, they should be getting close to their destination... yes, there was the telltale green and white sign of her favorite coffee shop. While she didn't make a habit out of drinking coffee, she did enjoy the occasional cup, and it was a mandatory treat whenever she had Rarity work on her hair. Something about a fresh look and a nice cup of coffee just seemed to go together. Without thinking, she grabbed Spike by his wrist and began to pull him towards the coffee shop. He began to protest, but she cut him off with, "Just trust me. This is the perfect pick-me-up." She felt his resistance drop, and could only assume he was willing to at least give her method a chance. It may not be much, but it was the best she could do for now.

        They reached the crosswalk with ten seconds left. The numbers continued to count down next to a flashing hand; they reached the other side with two seconds to spare. Past a few more shops and around the corner, and they were there. Twilight could see that the shop was still busy via the large windows; not surprising, considering the shop stayed open late, and therefore was a favored spot for college students to do some late night work/studying, not to mention all of the adults who came for their caffeine fix before hitting the town for the night. She remembered how hesitant she had initially been to try the coffee here, and now she was practically addicted. Well, we're all allowed some guilty pleasures.

        Twilight led Spike through the shop's door. Overhead, a small bell jingled to signal their entry. Unsurprisingly, there was a line at the counter, so the two friends filed into the back and began examining the menu. "Have you ever been to one of these places before?" Twilight asked. Spike nodded beside her.

        "Yeah, once or twice. They're a fairly big company. I usually just grabbed a muffin or something, though. Coffee's good and all, but it doesn't really give me much energy. I much prefer a Mad Bull energy drink for that," he paused as if he was considering what to say next. "Still, a hot coffee does sound nice on a cold night like this." He sounded fine, but Twilight couldn't tell if it was genuine or forced. At least he was talking to her, though.

        "I'd recommend the Pumpkin Spice if you haven't tried it before. It's really good," she suggested, trying to keep the conversation going. Again, Spike nodded.

        "Alright, maybe I will. You know, I never took you for a coffee person, Twilight."

        Twilight began to respond, but was cut off by an unknown voice from behind them. "Twiligh'? Twiligh' Sparkle?" She turned to see a grizzled looking man in a long coat. He was tall and thin, with dark stubble covering his cheeks and chin. His hair was cropped close to his head. There was something sinister about the look in his gray eyes. She wasn't sure whether to reply or not, but Spike seemed to make the decision for her.

        "I don't think it's any of your business who she is, sir. We're just here for some coffee. I'd suggest you leave us alone." The usual light-hearted tone was gone from Spike's voice, replaced with something resembling authority. It didn't seem to put off the stranger, though, who laughed at Spike's words.

        "Barkin' jus' like a good lil' guard dog, aincha?" the stranger replied. He spoke with a thick accent that Twilight couldn't quite place. "S'alright, I don' need ya to answer me. Not many people who'd use a nickname like 'Twilight' in the firs' place, anyway. Then yer right where tha lady said ya'd be. There's no mistakin' it." He started to move towards Twilight, extending his hand as if he intended to grab her. "Yer gonna need ta come with me, missy."

        Twilight wasn't sure what exactly happened next. All she knew was that one minute the man was reaching for her, and the next he was recoiling, grasping at the back of his hand. Spike stood between them, something black and cylindrical in his hand. Surprisingly, the man was laughing. "Well, looks like tha dog's gaw some bite." He shook his hand and flexed it, before reaching into his coat. "Look kid, I don' wanna fight. I jus need the little lass there to come with me. Tha lady said somethin' about needin her magic. Don' know anythin' about magic meself. It's all fairytales s'far as I'm concerned, but the lady insists. Now you can move outta tha way, or," he paused and drew a knife from within his coat, "we can do this tha hard way."

        There was a loud gasp, and it took Twilight a moment to realize she had been the one to make the noise. She looked around, and noticed that the other patrons had become aware of the situation. They were backing away from the confrontation, a few of them holding cell phones. Yes, call the police. For the love of everything sacred, do it she thought. She wanted to scream it, but her voice stuck in her throat. Spike didn't seem to be backing down from the confrontation, either. He flicked his wrist, and the cylinder in his hand extended to about three feet by Twilight's estimation. It ended with a small ball. "Twilight, get away," he snapped, his eyes not leaving the assailant. Numb, and unable to utter a word, Twilight simply nodded and ran.

        Spike watched from the corner of his eye as Twilight moved away from him. The would-be kidnapper tried to move past him to follow her, but Spike swung his baton around, aiming straight for the man's ribs. He blocked it with his knife. "Come now, kid. We don' need to do this. Jus move aside an' let me have the little lassie." The man tossed the knife back and forth between his hands. It was a short blade--no more than two feet--which meant Spike had the advantage of reach. Somehow he doubted that would matter much, though.

        "Go to hell," he spat at the assailant, rushing forward and thrusting the baton at the man's stomach. The stranger grabbed the baton with his free hand, pulling Spike towards him. His other hand began to bring the knife down towards Spike's back, but Spike allowed the combined momentum of his attack and the assailant's pull to carry him forward, bringing his shoulder into the attacker's stomach. The man crashed into the condiment stand behind him, cracking his head on the counter. Spike fell on top of him and quickly sprang back to his feet, baton at the ready.

        "Tha hurt, ya lil' bastard," the man cursed as he rose to his feet. He threw off his coat and took a fighting stance. "I ain't playin' whicha no more. You wanna die so bad, then let me make it happen."

        Spike quickly whipped his own jacket off, tossing it at his assailant. It hit the man in the face, blinding him for a second. That was all Spike needed. He brought his baton around for a low strike, catching the man in the side of the leg. He would have preferred to go for the ribs, but there was a lot of liability that could come from that. The man groaned and sagged to the side. He threw Spike's jacket to the floor, his face pure rage. Whatever pain he was feeling didn't seem to hinder him from rushing at Spike, blade at the ready.

        Spike brought his baton up to block the strike. He was surprised at how strong the strike was, given the man's injured leg and the difference in their choices of weapons. It was taking most of his effort just to hold the blade at bay. Spike concentrated his energy behind one powerful surge and pushed against the blade with his baton, sending the man staggering back. There's no choice, he's really trying to kill me. Against his better judgment, Spike brought the baton around for another rib strike. The assailant deflected the blow with a sweep of his blade.

        Quicker than Spike could react, the man closed the distance between the two of them, coming at Spike with short, quick slashes. The close range made it hard for Spike to move his baton fast enough to block--the man was using the length of Spike's weapon against him. Whoever he was, he was certainly no novice. Sparks flew as steel collided with steel, Spike's baton showing silver through the black where the pain was being scraped off. He had to do something, and soon; there wasn't enough space for him to maneuver his baton properly.

        The man seemed to sense that Spike was distraught, for he began to put more force behind his attacks. These powerful attacks were slower, though, and allowed Spike a split second to react. As the man brought his blade in for another strike, Spike slid his left foot back, turning his body sideways. The man's strike missed, and Spike grabbed his assailant's blade  hand by the wrist. Turning his body, Spike brought his knee up and into the man's stomach. He could almost hear the air rushing from his attacker's lungs. "I think it's best for you to give up now," Spike said through gritted teeth. The man replied by lunging forward and biting the arm Spike was using to subdue him. The boy cried out in pain, and against all instinct let go of the man's hand.

        That was all the time the assailant needed.

        Spike felt a sharp pain in his back as his attacker's blade found it's mark. Shit, I fucked up the boy thought to himself. He tried to bring his baton around for another strike, but the man had used his free hand to grab the weapon. With one hard tug he managed to break it from Spike's grip. He tossed it out of reach. How can he possibly move like that after having the wind knocked out of him? Spike thought to himself. The pain in his back was unbearable, and made it impossible for him to focus his thoughts. It felt as if the strength was leaving his body; he began to fall to his knees. He had to do something, though, or he would die, and Twilight... Twilight...

        "Ya put up a good fight, kid, but it's over now. Almost a shame I gotta kill ya, but yer one o' the queen's dogs after all." He raised the knife high above his head, and Spike knew the next blow would be the last thing he ever felt. Hopefully Twilight at least got herself out of here he thought to himself, closing his eyes. He couldn't bear to watch his own death come down on him.

        There was a loud scream, followed by a sick crunching sound, and then more screaming. Spike opened his eyes to find Twilight standing over him, his assailant on the ground. The man's arm was bent at an odd angle, the bone protruding from the inside of his elbow. "Wh-what the?" he stammered. He could feel the warmth of his blood as it ran down his back. Was he seeing things? Had the pain caused him to hallucinate? Twilight turned and offered him her hand, and he accepted.

        "I-I don't get it," he said, dumbfounded. Twilight let out something akin to a laugh.

        "I used to read a lot of self defense books. I guess some of it stuck. It doesn't hurt that he was distracted either," she explained.

        Spike closed his eyes and laughed at himself. "How do you like that? The bodyguard saved by the one he's supposed to be guarding." He let out a sharp gasp as pain rippled through his back.

        Twilight shook her head. "You did great, Spike. Actually, after what I saw in the hallway a while back, I was surprised that you could fight at all. No offense." Despite her calm nature, Spike could tell Twilight was shaken up. Her hands were trembling, and she kept glancing at his wound. After a moment, she kneeled down and threw her arm around him, providing him with enough support to stand despite the pain.

        "None taken," Spike responded. He shifted his weight and, with Twilight's help, rose to his feet. "I had more fight training with that baton than anything, and even that was sparse. I think it was mostly an instinct to survive that helped me keep up with him." He winced as another bolt of pain shot up his back. Twilight guided him to a booth, where he laid out on his stomach. He wasn't sure how deep in the knife had actually went, but it didn't really matter--all that mattered was that it hurt. Someone's hands began to lift his shirt up. Spike began to protest, until he realized it was Twilight.

        "It's alright, Spike, I just want to have a look at it." She fell silent for a moment as she inspected the wound. Finally, after enough silence to make Spike more than a little concerned, she replied, "Well, you'll definitely need stitches, but it's not bleeding as badly as I thought." Spike didn't reply. Something about the tone in Twilight's voice soothed him. There was concern, to be sure, but there was also a certain level of calmness that re-assured him that he would ultimately be okay.

        They didn't speak again until the police and paramedics arrived. Naturally they had to ask the usual questions; Spike was just glad they did it in the ambulance, where he was being given the pleasurable relief of pain killers. There was a lot of fuss made about the fact that he had been carrying a steel baton--at least until he managed to extract his wallet from his pocket and flash it open. Inside was his card identifying him as a member of the royal palace's staff. That seemed to reduce the questions to a simple series of events. Despite his clearance, though, they still insisted on confiscating the baton as evidence. "Take it," Spike finally spat. "You guys could have at least let them sew me up before you badgered me with your questions."

        The officers seemed quite taken aback by his sudden snippiness, but they didn't come back with any sort of reply. He was glad for that; the energy to argue was far removed from him. This is the longest ambulance trip I've ever been on he thought. Actually, this is the first ambulance trip I've ever been on. That thought amused him, though whether that amusement was genuine or simply the result of the pain medicine taking its hold on his mind he couldn't say. All he knew was that he had never been happy to see the words "Emergency" lit up in neon lights.

        Several hours later, Spike and Twilight were exiting the back of a police car and making their way through the gates of Perryville Academy. Upon arriving at the hospital, Spike had been seen almost immediately, but they had taken a while to actually get him stitched up. Apparently the blade had gone several inches into his back; fortunately, the angle of the strike caused it to miss anything important. Still, the doctors had insisted on keeping him overnight. Naturally he had refused. Guests weren't allowed overnight, which meant Twilight would have had to go back to the dorms alone, and he wasn't about to let that happen, not after a botched kidnapping. He declined to stay and simply accepted his pain medicine and the police escort.

        "Are you sure it was okay to refuse the overnight stay?" Twilight asked as they made their way along the pathway to the library. Spike nodded.

        "Yeah, it's more important for me to be here. Besides, if my health was in any danger I doubt they would have given me a choice in the matter. "Either way I'd be in pain. Might as well be in pain from the comfort of my own room." He felt a sense of depression wash over him. "Still, I failed to protect you. What kind of bodyguard am I? The useless kind, that's what." Beside him, Twilight shook her head.

        "That's not true. You held your own in that fight. That man was much older than you, not to mention bigger and probably more experienced at fighting. You did good."

        "Yeah, but what if you hadn't read those books? What if you weren't so lucky? Then you'd be injured too. You should have never had to help out like that!" Spike protested. Twilight simply shrugged her shoulders.

        "I hate to break it to you Spike, but we aren't living in medieval times. Girls aren't these dainty little things that need protecting. We can be just as strong as you guys, especially when we have something important to protect."

        They reached the library doors which, unsurprisingly, were locked. This was of little concern to either of them; they both had a key to the grand double doors. Twilight did the honors of unlocking the door and opening it, allowing Spike to enter ahead of her. She entered and closed the door behind her, locking it as she did.

        The interior of the library was dimly lit by the back-up lights that were kept on at night. It was just enough for the two companions to make their way to the back of the library without tripping and hurting themselves--or, in Spike's case, hurting himself more. When they reached his door, Spike pulled out his key and unlocked it, turning the lights on as he opened it. He gestured for Twilight to follow him inside. The clock on his night stand read 2:13 a.m.

        "Is there anything I can do for you?" Twilight asked as she surveyed Spike's room. The boy shook his head.

        "Nah, I should be fine. It's not like they bound my arm up in a sling or anything. I have my pain meds and my bed. That's all I'll need for now." He picked up the large book on his bed and flopped down, wincing as pain shot through his back. Keep that in mind the next time you want to throw your body around he told himself. He watched as Twilight shifted uncomfortably.

        "Well, in that case, I'm going to head up to my room. I'm utterly exhausted. Good night." She turned and began to open the door. As she did, though, Spike got an idea.

        "Hey Twilight!" he called. As she began to turn, he lifted the book that was in his hand and hurled it straight at her head. "Catch!"

        Twilight's eyes widened in fear as she watched the book come flying at her. She threw her hands up to guard her face, bracing herself for the impact, but it never came. After several seconds she lowered her arms to see what was happening.

        The book was floating in midair.


End of chapter notes: Well, this chapter was certainly a long time coming. I hope you all enjoyed it! It's definitely the longest chapter in this fic so far (and will probably be the longest chapter, period). There were a lot of events I wanted to cover. Hopefully I've met your expectations for something "big" to happen. Spike fighting with a man who is talking about Twilight's "magic" and then the return of Twilight's levitation seem like big events to me, so hopefully you folks will share my sentiment.

A few thoughts: some might say that it's unrealistic for Spike to be allowed to go home after being stabbed. I'd have to disagree. When I was in high school a friend of mine was stabbed in the stomach by some would-be robbers he found in his house. They used a steak knife, and it went a good bit into him. The hospital stitched him up, confirmed that there were no vital organs injured, and sent him home with pain meds. I imagined Spike's injury to be similar in nature, just to the back instead of the stomach.

Also, Twilight's sudden ability to defend herself: I think she defends that well enough within the chapter. I've seen many girls and women in my life who, while seemingly "weak" or "frail" on the surface, have done amazing things to protect the ones they love. My fiancée is a shining example of this. If you were to look at her, you'd think she was this timid, quiet woman, but she got me out of some serious trouble back in high school. I'd gotten into a verbal argument with this group of guys, and it turned physical between myself and one of them. As I was fighting the guy, one of his buddies started to come over to jump into the fight. My fiancée laid him out (obviously we weren't engaged at the time, though). Never underestimate anyone, because even the seemingly weakest person can demonstrate feats of amazing strength under the right circumstances.

And if that's still not enough of a reason for you, well, there is something else behind Twilight's ability. You'll have to wait and see what that is, though. As always, you can find information on my blog: I'll probably make a post explaining the long delay in getting this chapter done, so if you're curious, feel free to check it out.



Chapter 9: Heal Me


This chapter is dedicated to my friend and fellow Coheed and Cambria addict Joel "Woff" Fletcher. It was an honor and a privilege to know you, Joel. Rest in peace, my friend.

Thank you to my pre-readers for always helping me out.




                Twilight stared in disbelief as the book hovered inches from her face, bobbing slowly up and down in midair. She wanted to scream, to say something, to simply react, but instead she just stared, her mind a blank slate incapable of processing what she was seeing. Every logical process in her brain failed to explain what was occurring in front of her face, and it felt as if her mind had simply given up on any hope of an explanation. She could feel her heart beat quickening. Her breaths started to come in short, quick spurts, and her head began to spin. If she continued down this path she was sure to hyperventilate. That was one thing of which her mind seemed sure. It was what she needed, though: one concrete thought to stabilize her mental processes.

                 She began forcing herself to calm down, collecting her thoughts as best she could. As she did, she began to recall details of this same phenomenon occurring once before, and she could feel her mind beginning to switch over to rationalization mode. Alright Twilight, you know this is impossible. Spike's obviously playing some kind of prank on you. But how?  That was the question. Maybe with some sort of string? She raised her hands and moved them through the air around the book, covering every possible angle. There was nothing to be found. While the rational part of her mind reeled at the thought that the book was actually floating by some telekinetic force, another part of her mind began to accept it. After all, this wasn't the first time this had happened, and she had been alone that first time. Well, Rainbow Dash had walked in during the event in question, but there was no way she could have manipulated the book. On top of that, her friends had all been experiencing some strange events over the past several weeks. Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash had both shown signs of similar delusions, and Rainbow Dash also had the unexplained increase in speed. Then there was Fluttershy's outburst in response to Pinkie's description of some unseen door. That meant that four of the six friends had experienced some inexplicable phenomenon. Despite her best efforts, Twilight's rationality slowly began to admit defeat in the face of the surmounting evidence.

                She looked away from the book and focused on Spike. He was still sitting up in bed, his eyes fixated on her. It was almost as if he was studying her, like a zoologist studies an animal in a cage, waiting to see how she'd respond to this abnormality. The problem was that she didn't know how to react. Part of her wanted to burst out in anger. Spike threw the book at her, so he must have known--or at least suspected--that this would be the outcome. He was her bodyguard, after all, so it didn't make sense that he'd do something to harm her. Another part of her wanted to break down into tears. None of this made sense, and she had no explanation for it. The whole situation was overwhelming, to say the least, and she had only managed to main strong through all of it because her life had remained fairly normal. The first incident of supposed telekinesis could easily be explained away by exhaustion, after all. Then there was a third part of her that was completely fascinated by the floating book. That part of her ached to study this untapped power, to see just how far it could go. Imagine all of the things you could do it whispered seductively. This would be the scientific find of a lifetime. Your name would go down in the history books. She shook her head to clear the thoughts before they became too tempting. While that scenario was certainly plausible, it was equally likely that she would be locked up in some room and experimented on for the rest of her life. That simply wasn't acceptable.

                The prolonged silence began to press on her mind, making it harder to think. Why wasn't Spike saying anything? Why was he just staring at her? She was going to go crazy if one of them didn't say something. But what could she say in a moment like this? Nothing that came to mind really seemed sane. Though she wracked her brain for something more intelligent, all she finally managed to utter was, "Spike... what... what is this?"

                "A floating novel of epic proportions," Spike replied with a smile, making it all too clear that he was enjoying the situation. That infuriated Twilight. She could feel her anger rising inside the pit of her stomach, growing like a wild fire. He had to know something, and yet he was treating it like a game! As her rage began to boil over, she began to lose control of her emotions.

                "Why are you treating this like a joke? This situation has been driving us all crazy! You obviously know something, so spill it! What's going on here?" She shouted, throwing her hands up in the air out of frustration. While she typically liked to remain calm and collected, she just couldn't hold back anymore. Her anger continued to grow as Spike continued to remain silent. She raised a finger and pointed it at him. "Say something Spike!"

                Before Twilight could even react, the book that had floated idly in front of her face began to zoom across the room, headed straight for Spike. If the boy was at all startled by this event he didn't show it, but rather reached into the air and plucked the book down, tossing it onto the bed. Somewhere in her mind Twilight felt something break, some kind of connection that she hadn't even realized was there. It was all too clear that it was whatever had bound her mind to that book. As fast as it came her anger subsided, and she suddenly felt weak. She collapsed to the floor and buried her face in her hands, her hair falling down to shield her as the tears began to flow. "None of this makes any sense," she sobbed.

                Spike's hand on her shoulder made her look up. In his other hand he held a tissue, which he used to gently mop the tears from her eyes. "I'm sorry for toying with you, but I needed to spur that reaction." He handed her the tissue and then walked over to his desk, opening one of the many drawers on its face. From within he extracted a large stack of envelopes tied together by a single string. "These are all of the letters you wrote to the queen concerning the recent events. She felt it pertinent that I be brought up to speed on the situation, and she asks for your forgiveness on divulging the information." Spike was speaking differently than Twilight was used to. His voice lacked the laid-back air that she was used to. He now sounded as if he were talking to a business partner instead of a friend. The feeling that he knew more than what was in those letters kept gnawing at her stomach.

                "What else do you know?" she asked, the question coming out much more bluntly than she had intended. In truth, she didn't expect him to tell her anything. He had refrained from telling her anything up until this point, so why would anything be different now? She watched him intently as he seemed to consider her question, his eyes drifting around his room in what she assumed was some process of thought. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, he walked back to her and kneeled down, looking her straight in the eyes. From this distance she could see the tiny flecks of gold in his green eyes, a minute detail she had failed to previously notice.

                "All I know is what I've read... and what I've seen," he explained, his voice low. "You broke a man's arm tonight, on instinct alone. I figured this telekinesis or whatever it is might also be an instinctual ability." He shrugged his shoulders, as if to dismiss the situation. Twilight felt another wave of anger wash over her.

                "So you threw a book at me over a hunch?! What if you were wrong, and it would have hit me? What kind of bodyguard does that?" she yelled at him, her eyes locking onto his, searching for some unspoken sign. Spike simply shrugged again and then made a gesture towards himself.

                "I would have given you as many free shots as you needed, but I had a hunch that I would be right." He rose to his feet and clearly winced, most likely from the wound on his back. "Besides," he continued, "a scientist like yourself should appreciate the need to take risks in order to make discoveries. Or is it only okay to take risks when you're personal safety is guaranteed?"

                Twilight opened her mouth to respond, but found that she couldn't think of anything that felt like a proper rebuttal. Spike was right--scientific discoveries did often require some level of risk. At the same time, though, most scientists would be wont to keep themselves from any risk of personal danger. She wanted to say that, but the hypocrisy of the statement sat in the back of her throat, leaving a vile taste in her mouth. The fact of the matter was that she hoped to work as a scientific researcher one day, and that meant that she may very well have to put someone else at risk for the sake of discovery, just as Spike had done only moments before. I guess he has learned something, after all she thought to herself. In truth, the risks of a real scientific experiment would have been much greater than the bump on the head that Spike had risked giving her, as well. Finally, after what felt like an eternity of silence, she replied with, "I hate to admit it, but you have a point." Under her breath she added, "It was still a stupid thing to do from a bodyguard's perspective, though." If Spike caught her little addition, he didn't make any indication of it as he moved back to his bed and began examining his book.

                "So what do we do now?" Twilight found herself asking.

                Spike looked up at her curiously but didn't respond. He began to chew on his lip thoughtfully, no doubt contemplating what would be the best answer. After a moment, he said, "We don't do anything. The decision is up to you. You can continue to ignore this ability of yours or you can explore it and try to harness it. If I know you, you'll choose the second option. Just do yourself a favor and keep this between the two of us."

                Twilight didn't need to ask why there was a need for secrecy. She had already seen her friends' reactions to the other strange phenomena that had occurred, and it had been less than favorable. The need for caution was clear, even as her mind began to cloud itself with a mixture of fear and excitement. On the one hand, she was afraid of what this meant. Had everything she'd known up until this point been a lie? Had the idea of psychics, telekinetics, and maybe even magicians--who were for so long debunked by the science that she loved--been real all this time? Or was she some sort of twisted mutation that shouldn't exist? On the other hand, this was a completely new discovery. She was living proof that the very things science denounced as cult fiction actually existed, at least to some extent. Life could become a lot easier if she mastered this ability. I could certainly carry more books; after all, my mind is much stronger than my arms she thought to herself with an approving nod. Yes, she would experiment with this new discovery like any true scientist would, and maybe one day she would be brave enough to present her findings to the world. Then she would inevitably become a world renowned scientist, with all of the greats seeking to collaborate with her. Gone already were here earlier fears of experimentation, replaced with visions of scientific splendor and grandeur. Her mind continued to delve further and further into speculative fantasy until a woman's loud, wailing singing pulled her from her thoughts.

                "I want your love, and I want your revenge..." was all she heard before the noise stopped, but it was enough to pull her from her fantasies. It took a moment for her to realize that the music was coming from Spike's cell phone, which the boy now held in his hands, a tint of red spreading across his face. That's the queen's favorite song Twilight thought to herself, waiting for Spike to answer the phone.

                He seemed to pick up on her intentions, for he looked at her and asked, "I don't want to be rude, but would you mind heading back to your room Twilight? This is going to be sort of a private call."

                Spike's sudden bout of secrecy only served to further pique Twilight's interest, causing her curiosity to war with her desire to explore her ability. After several seconds of intense mental struggle her scientific desires won out and she bid Spike good night, leaving the room as he answered the call. With a spring in her step she made her way up the staircase and through the door to her room, locking it behind her. She had no intentions of going to sleep until she figured out how to work this new ability of hers, and she certainly didn't want any distractions.

                "It's experiment time!" she exclaimed to herself.




                Something was pounding. Twilight couldn't put her finger on what it was, but she could definitely hear the pounding from somewhere outside of the darkness. Her mind swam through ideas, trying to place where she had heard that sound before. Could it be a drum? No, it was too monotonous and dull for that. Perhaps somebody dropped something? But then why would it be continuously repeating? She quickly ruled out that idea, as well. Whatever the noise was, it wouldn't stop, and she found herself vowing vengeance on whoever was causing the ruckus.

                As the pounding continued, she found the darkness receding. Slowly but surely light began to flood into her eyes, first as a small dot, then as a thin crack, until finally her eyes were open and she stared groggily around her bedroom. The place was an absolute mess. Books were scattered all over the floor, drawers were hanging out of her dresser and desk, and her sheets had been ripped from her bed and tangled up. She couldn't remember what happened; all she knew was that her head was killing her, and that that incessant pounding was driving her crazy. As her mind began to focus a little more, she finally realized that the noise was coming from her bedroom door. She stood up from her desk chair, stumbled, and caught herself on the edge of the desk. Whatever she had done had obviously drained her. Her mind seemed intent on holding that information from her, though.

                She reached the door, unlocked it, and threw it open, ready to throttle whoever was on the other side, but found her temper diminished when she saw Spike standing on the other side, his toiletry carrier in hand. Confused, she asked, "What are you doing here, Spike?"

                The boy cocked an eyebrow at her and slowly responded, "It's 6:00 a.m. Monday morning. I always come up here before school to take a shower at this time." He paused and began to study her face, his eyes darting across her features for any information. When that didn't turn up any results, he looked past her and into the bedroom. Those narrow, intense eyes quickly widened as he exclaimed, "Holy crap, Twilight? What the hell kind of experiment were you doing?"

                Twilight tried to focus her mind so that she could make sense of what Spike was saying, but her head felt like it was ready to burst. All she could manage to do was ask, "Experiment?"

                Again Spike cocked his eyebrow at her. "I came up here to check on you yesterday and you told me, quite angrily, 'Go away! You're interrupting my experiment!'"

                As Spike finished his explanation, Twilight found her mind suddenly exploding with images, as if someone had pulled the trigger on a gun containing her memories. She saw herself focusing on any object she could, concentrating until she could will it to rise and come to her with only her mind. At first the items would only slightly rise from their locations, but the more she tried, the further they would move. Eventually she had moved on to moving larger objects, such as her television stand, which she had managed to scoot several inches. The more practiced the more she was able to move, but at some point things had started to go wrong. What was it? she thought, straining her mind to finish putting together the memories.

                Various items had begun to swirl around her, moving from the power of her mind but not of her own will. Yes, that's right, I started to lose control she found herself thinking as she began to recall the incident in even more detail. Drawers were slamming in and out, clothes spewed from her dresser, and her mattress rose and fell, the sheets tossed from it. She had tried to control it, but the more she tried the worse the situation got. The last thing she remembered was something crashing into her head, followed by Spike's noisy wake-up call. Well, that explains the headache she thought to herself. To Spike, she finally said, "It seems things got a bit out of hand. I guess I pushed myself too hard."

                "How long did you practice?" Spike asked, his tone a mixture of concern and curiosity.

                Twilight had to think for a moment before answering. "Well, it was about 2:30 in the morning when I left your room... what time did you come up to check on me yesterday?"

                The look in Spike's eyes already told her that the answer was going to be absurd. "I came up here around two in the afternoon after finally waking up. Those pain pills put me out cold. You yelled at me to go away, so I went and took care of the book filing for you."

                Twilight had wondered how Spike had missed the noise she had apparently been making, but the pain pills seemed to provide that explanation for her. The headache was making another round of assaults on her, and she found herself grabbing at her temples. She needed some aspirin. "Well, come on in and take your shower. There's no point in me holding you up anymore," she commented as she turned and walked back to her desk. She began digging through the drawers hanging from the desk until she found a small white bottle buried under a mess of pencils, pens, and sticky notes. Grateful for the ensuing relief the medicine would bring, she said a prayer to whatever deities may be listening and turned to ask Spike for a glass of water. She found him staring at something on the floor. "Is everything okay, Spike?"

                The boy turned his head and looked at her with a small smile. "I have to say, I'm kind of surprised that you'd have something like that," he replied, pointing at something on her floor. Puzzled, Twilight followed the direction of Spike's finger to find that he was pointing to a small, raggedy stuffed horse that was lying on her floor. With a small wave of embarrassment she stood and retrieved it, along with the pair of underwear beneath it. Thankfully it seemed that Spike hadn't noticed that second detail.

                "There's nothing wrong with me having this," Twilight said defensively, cradling the toy against her chest. "You have that stuffed dog sitting on your desk, so I don't really think you have any room to make fun of anyone with a stuffed animal."

                Spike shrugged in return. "I never said there was anything wrong with it, just that I was surprised. You didn't seem like the stuffed animal type. So sue me."

                Way to over-react, Twilight she thought to herself as she watched Spike turn his back on her and head into the bathroom. Only the surge of pain that shot through her head reminded her of the two aspirin she held in her hand, and she quickly intercepted Spike for her glass of water. The boy complied with her request, filling the lone glass that she kept on the bathroom counter and handing it to her. After tossing back the medicine and downing the water, she handed the glass back to Spike, who closed the door and went about his business. She began to straighten up her room as she heard the shower kick on.




                "So anyway, the meet's this Thursday afternoon at five. You all better be there to root me on!" Rainbow Dash finished, the excitement clear in her voice. Spike had only been half-listening the entire time, so he wasn't exactly sure what was said before that, but he knew it had something to do with Dash competing in a big track meet against their school's largest rival.

                "Where's this at, again?" he found himself asking, looking up from the book he had been staring at. All six girls looked at him with annoyed, knowing glares that made him feel like a child about to be disciplined by his parents.

                "I just told you, it's going to be in the gym. The temperature's been dropping too much for us to have it outside," Dash explained. She reached out and lightly smacked Spike in the side of the head. "Pay attention next time."

                Spike played along and rubbed the spot where Dash had pretended to whack him. He couldn't help but feel a bit guilty, though. While he was happy that Dash would get to compete in such a big meet, he found it hard to have any real enthusiasm for the news. He just had no interest in sports whatsoever. While there was no doubt that he would be there--Twilight wasn't about to miss an opportunity to support her friend, and wherever Twilight went Spike had to follow--he wasn't exactly happy about it. On top of his dislike for all things sports was the fact that a track meet inevitably meant a large crowd of people, some of whom would inevitably outsiders there to support the other team. The idea of that many unknown people coming into the school made him nervous, especially after the events from two nights ago. There was no doubt now that Shame on the Night had members in Perryville, and this would be a perfect opportunity for those type of people to slip in. He grimaced as a twang of pain shot through his back. If anything did happen, that injury was sure to slow him down. Voicing these concerns wasn't an option, either; at least not here. Twilight had asked that he keep the events from the coffee shop a secret from their group of friends. Thus far, it hadn't appeared in any newspapers or news programs, either, which made him wonder how much damage control the queen's camp was doing.

                He glanced over at Twilight, who was listening to the rest of the girls recap their weekends. His stomach gave a slight flutter, catching him off guard. What was that about? he wondered. Was he seeing her in a new light? There was definitely something different about the way Twilight looked to him. She seemed more attractive now, more interesting. When did that start, anyway? he asked himself. The answer seemed to be at the hospital, where Twilight had finally broken down and began crying. She had hugged him and apologized over and over for the injury, even though he had only done what the situation dictated. It had been a long time since someone had ever shown any real affection for him, and it had changed something inside of him. Maybe it was just that--he felt grateful that someone actually cared. The fact that he was so out of touch with his own feelings began to bother him; after all, he had known how he felt about Rarity without all of this turmoil. But then she turned you down he told himself. You're just screwed up in the head right now. You're either looking for someone to latch onto, or you're too disheveled to make heads and tails of what you actually want. He wasn't sure where that particular nugget of wisdom had come from, but it seemed to make sense.

                The sound of the morning bell pulled him from his thoughts, its high-pitched shriek as annoying as ever. With a resigned sigh, he joined his six friends as they joined the throng flooding into their classroom.



After School


                Rainbow Dash cleared another hurdle, resuming her run as soon as her feet hit the ground. It had been a long school day, and it felt good to unwind by doing what she loved. The cool autumn air blew through her hair as she ran, cooling the beads of sweat that began to trickle down her thin, long face. Her hair streamed behind her as she ran, creating a dazzling effect as the sunlight reflected off of its many colors. Once upon a time she would have pulled her hair back in an attempt to increase her speed, but these days it seemed like her speed was already at a supernatural pace, so pulling her hair back just seemed pointless now.

                As she neared the finish line she glanced back over her shoulder. Only a small handful of the club members had joined her on the outdoor track, and they were all well behind her. A rumor had apparently arisen concerning Rainbow Dash's speed--namely that it was the result of her practicing outside no matter the weather--and as a result she had gained a small following during her practice sessions. In truth, she just enjoyed the fresh air enough to ignore the chill and gooseflesh across her skin.

                She crossed the finish line and immediately halted the stopwatch she held in her hand. A downward glance revealed that she had run a complete circuit in forty seconds. She shook her head and walked to the sidelines, where she retrieved her water bottle and took a long drink. If she hadn't looked at the number in her own hand, she never would have believed it. The whole situation was just too unreal, especially because it didn't even feel like she was running that fast. No matter how many times she did this, though, she always received the same result, even with different stop watches. Nobody had been able to come up with a reasonable explanation for her inhuman speed--not her teammates, not her coach, not the nurse... not even Twilight, and she seemed to know everything! One part of Dash's mind rejoiced at her new-found abilities; it would certainly make winning the upcoming meet a lot easier. The other part of her mind felt guilty, though. After all, there was no way anyone could keep up with that, and she couldn't help but feel like she was somehow cheating.

                Her team mates began to cross the finish line as she continued to contemplate her situation. While she didn't pay too much attention to the order in which they crossed, she did note that the first one across the line was a freshman by the name of Megan. A short, flat-chested girl with shoulder-length brown hair, Megan had only joined the team a few weeks prior, but she was already showing promise. Dash watched Megan leave the track and head in her direction, no doubt coming to retrieve her own water bottle.

                "You did good," Dash commented as she watched Megan drink. The younger girl shot her a look that was half shock and half annoyance.

                "That's easy for you to say, Rachel... I mean, Rainbow Dash. You're like some kind of machine. I've never seen anyone run that fast before." She took another drink from her bottle and then retrieved a towel from the small gym bag near her feet. As she wiped the sweat from her brow, she continued, "So is it true? Did you get fast from running in all kinds of weather?"

                Dash couldn't help but laugh. So far, she had only heard the rumor through the grapevine; this was the first time that someone had mentioned it to her face. She shook her head and wiped a tear from her eye. "I don't know who started that rumor, but somehow I doubt it's true. I have no idea how I got so fast... it just sort of happened one day a couple weeks ago. No one can explain it, and to be quite honest it freaks me out, but what can I really do? I love being on the track team, so it's not an option to stop running." She shrugged her shoulders and glanced at Megan, who seemed to be studying her face intently, no doubt trying to read her expressions. After a moment, she began to speak again. "Look, you made good time today. You beat several of our more seasoned members, and I'm willing to bet you haven't practiced in chilly weather like this much. Most coaches are really strict and require their members to move in doors when it starts to get like this. Ours gives us the freedom to choose, thankfully."

                Megan uttered an annoyed groan. "Look, I get it, you don't want to share your secrets. That's fine. But don't act like you don't know. People don't just suddenly get speed boosts." The younger girl groaned again, snatched her gym bag, and marched away from the track, leaving Dash alone.

                Sighing, Rainbow Dash walked to the bleachers lining the track and took a seat. She sat there and watched the rest of her team mates continue to practice, and continued to sit there even after they had gone, lost in thought. She wanted to be mad at the fact that so many people refused to believe her explanation, but the truth of the matter was that she understood where they were coming from. It was hard to believe herself. Of course, her boosted speed had earned her the top position in the upcoming race, which didn't help things at all. Maybe I should just resign she thought to herself. Then someone else can have the opportunity, and the eyes can finally get off of me. She chewed her lip and considered the option. It certainly seemed like the best way to save face. As she did, though, another voice seemed to pop into her mind.

                So you're just going to walk away? it said. People are jealous of you because you're better than them. That's never going to change. You want to be in the Olympics? Well you better toughen up first! You'll never get there if you keep giving up opportunities just to spare someone else's feelings! Dash found that liked the way this other part of her divided conscience was thinking. People were always going to be jealous of those who outperformed them, so why should she sacrifice her own happiness to appease them? It felt a bit harsh to think that way, but she had grand dreams, and to achieve them she would inevitably have to outperform other people. A harsh reality to accept, but a reality nonetheless.

                With a renewed sense of vigor, Rainbow Dash rose from the bleachers and began running more laps around the track, the sun dipping to the horizon behind her.




The Track Meet


                Thursday. The day of the meet. The gymnasium was packed with students, and the sound of their voices was deafening. Even the cheerleaders were having a hard time being heard over the voices. Twilight thought it weird to have cheerleaders performing at a track meet, but then again she didn't know much about the subject, either. While she had read about sports in the past, they weren't exactly her favorite subject. The only reason she was even here was to support Rainbow Dash. At present, she was keeping the runner company on the sidelines along with Spike, who looked like he was trying out for a cheesy spy b-movie in his black ensemble and dark sunglasses. She didn't bother to guess his motivation, though she was relieved that the gymnasium at least provided an excuse for him to wear the sunglasses.

                She glanced up at the ceiling, only to be met with a blast of sunlight to the face. While most of the ceiling was solid, the center was comprised of glass panels to allow natural sunlight into the gymnasium. The panels ran three wide for the length of the ceiling, allowing a substantial amount of light in--so much so that the school currently had the electrical lights turned off. It was a green initiative, and a fairly effective one at that. Spike, of course, had voiced concern about that design decision while they were shelving books a few days prior. He had envisioned swarms of terrorists swooping through the glass and descending only long enough to grab kidnap her. Twilight had laughed at the notion, thinking and hoping that Spike was joking. Judging by the deadpan look he had given her combined with his current attire, though, she had thought wrong. She shook her head to clear her mind. If this is what it took to make Spike feel secure, then so be it; who was she to stand in the way? After dispersing those thoughts, she began to survey the gymnasium, as she was very rarely in the building.

                It had been designed to host several different events. There were basketball hoops at either end of the building, though they were currently raised up via a mechanism on the wall. The floor of the building contained a number of different markings. Of course there were the obvious track lines, but in addition there were basketball boundaries along with other markings she didn't quite recognize. The school's emblem stared back at her from every wall, and even from the center of the floor. The whole scene was quite remarkable. Or maybe not. Twilight Sparkle knew a lot of things, but gymnasiums were one of the few things of which she lacked sufficient knowledge. She was pulled from her deliberation by a low groan from Rainbow Dash.

                "Is everything okay?" Twilight asked, turning to look at her friend. Dash shook her head.

                "No. Gilda is here." When Twilight's confused look made it clear that she didn't know to whom Dash was referring, she continued, "She's a runner from LaGuardia Academy. Well, I guess that much was obvious. We've competed against each other several times. Apparently she's into girls, and she always hits on me thanks to the rumor that I also swing that way. It's really frustrating." Rainbow Dash pointed to indicate a short, lean girl with short spiky hair who was currently making a practice round on the course. "I have nothing against her personally, but the constant advances get annoying, especially when I've already told her I'm not that way."

                Twilight wanted to say something, but she found that she was at a loss for words. Finally, after fumbling around for something to say, she said, "Well, at least you only have to put up with it on rare occasions." The look on Dash's face made it clear that she wasn't comforted in the slightest by that statement. An uneasy silence settled between the two. Finally, after what seemed like eons, Dash finally spoke again.

                "Well, I need to go warm up. Make sure you cheer loudly for me. And get off that damn phone, Spike!" She jogged out to the gymnasium floor, waving to them over her shoulder.

                Twilight waved back, although she knew Dash wouldn't see, and then turned to Spike, who seemed to be staring intently at the screen of his phone. "I guess you got bored of playing the vigilant watchdog," she teased, moving over to stand beside him. He looked up at her with gaze that instantly killed her good mood.

                "Shame on the Night's been active again. There were two attacks within moments of each other. One was in LaGuardia, which is only forty miles from here, but the other was in Springston, which is almost two hundred miles away," he explained, holding the phone up as if to provide evidence for his statements. Twilight felt her mouth start to go dry.

                "This is getting out of hand. These people need to be caught," she commented as her eyes scanned the bit of text on the phone screen. One bit in particular seemed to catch her attention. "Wait, it says that eyewitnesses at both locations described the same group of men. How is that possible?"

                Spike pulled the phone away and holstered it on his hip. "That's why I'm concerned," he stated. "There's always the possibility of mistaken identity, but I can't accept that when multiple witnesses at both scenes described the same five men."

                "So what, you think they have some kind of teleportation ability?"

                "I'm not willing to rule anything out at this point, Ms. Telekinetic" Spike replied. He paused and surveyed the area around them before continuing. "The good news is that they're less likely to try anything here today. Police and military forces will be on high alert after two high profile attacks." It seemed to Twilight that Spike's shoulders relaxed as he vocalized this realization. She felt relief wash over her, not only for the fact that they seemed to be safe for the moment, but also for the fact that Spike was finally off edge. It was horrible to think that there were people hurt, but she couldn't even fathom the idea of something happening to one of her friends. If she had to choose she'd rather see her friends safe. Hesitantly, she raised her arm and put it around Spike's shoulder, causing him to jump.

                "Relax Spike. It's not good for someone your age to be so stressed all the time. Look, the track events are about to start."

                Spike seemed to regard her for a moment, his eyes staring intently at her face. After that moment passed, though, his face seemed to relax and a small smile played at his lips. "Yeah, I guess you're right," he responded.


                The Perryville side of the gymnasium erupted in cheers as their team brought home yet another victory. While Perryville definitely seemed to be the favorite to win, LaGuardia was putting up a decent fight. Perhaps that would have been different if Rainbow Dash were in every race, but from what Spike had been told the coach had wanted to give some of the younger runners a chance. Still, Perryville was leading by two points, and the next race--the relay--was the last. If Perryville won that, then it would be their win, and Rainbow Dash was holding the anchor position. There was no way they could lose.

                Spike glanced over at Twilight, who was standing to his left, clapping vigorously. He never thought he would see her get excited over a sporting event, but it seemed that friendship could drive people to do the unexpected. Still, it was nice to see her looking happy about something besides studying for once; in fact, it was kind of cute. His eyes moved from her to the surrounding area. While the threat of attack had certainly dwindled, he couldn't entirely relax. There was always the possibility that Shame would try to come after Twilight again. The good news was that they seemed to want her alive, so he just had to keep an eye out for suspicious individuals who were headed for Twilight. In an ideal world he would be able to protect everyone in the gym, but the world was far from ideal and Twilight was his mission. More importantly, she was his friend. The area seemed to be clear, so he turned his attention back to the track, where the runners were setting up for the relay. Something seemed different about the gym now, and it took Spike a second to realize that the interior lights had been turned on, albeit dimly. He glanced up at the paneled ceiling, surprised to see the orange and pink hues of sunset. Have we really been here that long? he thought.

                He was about to return his attention to the runners when something caught his eye. Among the pink and orange clouds there seemed to be a thin black line. Spike squinted at it, trying to figure out what it was. A jet, maybe? As he stared, though, the line seemed to widen, until it was as wide as a door's height. It's length seemed to extend well beyond the scope of the ceiling windows. His eyes widened as he stared at this black void that rent the sky. A thousand tiny lights seemed to dance within, all different colors. He thought he could make vague outlines of buildings and huts, but it was so far away he couldn't be sure. Impossible he thought. Another round of cheering erupted around him, startling him and causing him to tear his gaze from the celestial phenomenon. When he glanced back up, it was gone, but a look to his left made it clear that at least one other person had seen it. Wide-eyed, Twilight looked in his direction.

                "I've never seen anything like that," she stated, her voice distant as though she were speaking more to herself than to him. "What about you?"

                Spike shook his head. "Can't say I have." He wanted to say more, but was interrupted by Rainbow Dash.

                "We won! Yes! Did you guys see that?" She was jogging in their direction, and then she was throwing her arms around them, jumping up and down with excitement. "You can't beat this feeling. Oh man, I'm so glad you guys could see this!"

                Guilt gnawed at Spike's stomach as he realized that he had spent the entire race staring at the sky. With a nervous laugh he simply replied, "Y-yeah. I'm glad we got to see it."

                Dash backed away from them and wiped sweat from her brow. "There's nothing like the excitement of competition, although it would have been nice if someone didn't darken the lighting during the relay." The tone in her voice was one of pure annoyance, but it confirmed a question Spike wanted to ask: Dash had been affected by the sky anomaly. He felt a vibration at his hip and immediately recognized it as his cell phone. A glance at the girls showed that they had become engrossed in their own conversation, so he took a few steps from them and answered the call.

                "So I guess this means you saw it, too?" he asked.

                "Yes, I did," the voice on the other end replied. It was heavily distorted, making it impossible to tell whether the caller was male or female. A necessary security measure, to be sure, but also one of Spike's greatest annoyances. He forced himself to swallow the comment he wanted to make about it.

                "We're running out of time. If you needed anymore evidence, this is it. Continuing with your method won't provide the results we need in enough time. Let me implement the contingency plan," he said, trying to keep his voice level. He could tell that he was letting his emotions slip out some, though.

                "That plan has a lot of risks. If even one thing goes wrong, we'll fail," the voice argued.

                "If we continue to follow your path, we'll definitely fail," Spike countered. "I've explained what I know several times already. Put some trust in me, for once."

                There was a long silence while the other party presumably considered Spike's words. It wasn't until the voice spoke again that Spike realized he had been holding his breath. "Fine, you can use your method, but if it fails you can consider your life forfeit."

                "If we fail all of our lives are forfeit," Spike replied before hanging up the phone. He holstered it and glanced in Twilight's direction with a sigh. "I'm sorry for what I have to do, Twi," he muttered.




Friday Afternoon


                Twilight descended the staircase from her room. Spike had requested that she, Applejack, Rainbow Dash, and Rarity meet him in his room at six p.m. It was still a little early, but all of her tasks were completed so she had decided to change and just wait for her friends with Spike. Her attire was fairly simple: a purple v-neck shirt and blue jeans with tennis shoes. Of course, she was also wearing her glasses. How could she forget those? She had to admit that the idea of having some genuine alone time with Spike excited her. While she still had no idea how Spike felt about her, and while she doubted that he had gotten over his heartbreak from Rarity that quickly, she couldn't help but indulge in her crush.

                As she rounded the bottom step and headed for Spike's room, she noticed two things: one, his door was slightly ajar, and two, there was soft music emanating from the room. Curious, she approached the door and gently pushed it open just enough to squeeze her head in. As she peaked around the corner she saw Spike sitting at his desk, his back turned to the door. In his hands he held a black acoustic guitar, the source of the music. The tune was soft--almost hypnotizing--with a sound that struck her as an odd mix of happy and sad. He was muttering under his breath--the lyrics, she assumed--and she was able to just barely make out what he was saying: “The things I've done, the work I've seen, won't measure up to you my queen. And I'll take one for the other, and work my way through this machine”.  She felt herself being pulled in by it and began to zone out. As she did, she leaned forward on the door, pushing it further open and stumbling into the room. Spike quickly rose from his seat and turned, his guitar held in his left hand as a makeshift weapon. He seemed to relax when he realized it was just Twilight; he at least lowered the guitar.

                "You know, most people usually know, or say something like, 'Hey, I'm here' before coming into someone's room," he said, a slight note of irritation in his voice.

                Twilight blushed and replied, "W-well, the door was cracked, and I didn't want to interrupt you. That song sounded beautiful."

                Spike tossed the guitar onto his bed and sat back down at his desk, turning in his chair to look at Twilight. "That sounded like crap. I still can't play that song right."

                "Say what you want. I thought it sounded good. The lyrics sounded really good. Did you write that yourself?"

                "So you heard that, huh? Well, I didn’t write it. It’s a cover. I’m trying to get good enough at singing and playing, so I was just muttering the to words get used to doing both simultaneously. The song's called Iron Fist." His tone was rough. Whether it was irritation, embarrassment, or a combination of the two, Twilight couldn't quite say. All she knew was that this wasn't how she envisioned things going.

                "So, um... you were finger picking that, right?" she asked, trying to keep up the conversation.

                "Yeah, how'd you know? I didn't picture you as a guitarist," Spike responded, seeming a little less annoyed and a little more intrigued now.

                Twlight raised her hands to dismiss the notion. "Oh, I'm not, but I've done a lot of research on the subject. I've also listened to a lot of recordings, so I can tell the style of playing by the sound, that's all."

                Spike uttered a low grunt and rose from his chair. He approached her and placed his hands on her shoulders, startling her. Twilight could feel the warmth filling her cheeks. Her eyes seemed to lock onto his, and she couldn't break her gaze. "Do you ever actually do anything?" he asked. "All you ever talk about is how you've read books on this subject or that subject, but I never hear you talk about doing the things you read about." He spun her around so that her back was facing his bed. With a gentle push, he moved her in that direction and made her sit down.

                "What are you doing, Spike?" Twilight asked, her mind afire with all manners of scenarios, from the most innocent to the most perverse.

                "I'm going to make you finally do something," was his reply.


                Rainbow Dash casually walked through the library doors, her face still wet with sweat from her evening practice session. She had wanted to stay at the track a little longer, but between the setting sun and the looming meeting Spike had requested, she had called it quits and headed for the library. Technically she still had fifteen minutes before she was due to be there, but those could be killed with video games.

                She gave the crotchety old lady at the front desk a lazy wave as she walked by, and then began to wind her way through the rows of bookshelves. The school's library truly was a sight to behold, and it always made her feel a bit guilty that she wasn't much of a reader. People had worked hard to write these books, and they deserved to be read. Well, everyone has their own talents, right? You can't do everything she rationalized, increasing her pace. After a few moments, she finally emerged from the final section of bookshelves. She approached the lone door on the back wall and raised her hand to knock, but froze when she heard voices within.

                "Ouch Spike, can't you be more gentle? This is my first time," she heard Twilight say.

                "Sorry, sorry. Let's try this position instead," came Spike's voice in reply. A few seconds later he continued, "How does that feel?"

                "A lot better, admittedly."

                As she listened to the exchange, Rainbow Dash couldn't help but blush. She tried to tell herself that she had to be misunderstanding the situation, but with those kinds of phrases there wasn't much else she could imagine. What should I do? she wondered.


                Spike was kneeling on the bed with his arms wrapped around Twilight. She held his guitar in her hands, and he was taking the liberty of positioning her fingers into the shape of an F Barre Chord. As he pressed her index finger down over the first fret, she cried out, "Ouch Spike, can't you be more gentle? This is my first time."

                He grimaced as she scolded him. It was easy to forget how much this chord hurt when you first learned it, especially since it was now second nature to him. "Sorry, sorry. Let's try this position instead," he replied as he shifted her index finger to only cover the first two strings on the first fret. He positioned her middle finger on the second fret of the third string and her pinky on the third fret of the fourth string. "How does that feel?" He asked.

                "A lot better, admittedly, " Twilight responded. He could see that her fingers were quivering as they struggled to hold the shape, though. She tried to strum the chord, but only received a deadened sound. Frustrated, she removed her hand from the neck and laid the guitar across her lap. "This is harder than I imagined."

                Spike couldn't help but laugh. "See? Reading about something and actually experiencing it are two different things entirely. The guitar's a pain in the butt to learn, but it's rewarding when you do figure it out. I picked it up after leaving the band, hoping to write my own music."

                Twilight turned to look at him from behind those half-moon glasses. They were small, and they fit her face quite well. The look was undeniably cute. "I have to admit, I admire you, Spike. You've been put in an unbelievable position, and yet you still power through every day with a smile on your face and your own personal goals. It's... inspiring, really." She seemed to be leaning closer to him, and he wasn't sure how to react.

                Is she trying to... nah, this sort of thing only happens in movies he thought to himself. Still, her face was inching ever closer to his. Whether her intentions matched his thoughts he never found out, though, for a knock at the door caused Twilight to jump back and look away. With an annoyed sigh Spike rose from the bed and walked to the door, pulling it open. On the other side stood Applejack, with Rainbow Dash and Rarity behind her.

                "What in tarnation is goin' on in there?" Applejack asked. "Rarity 'n I showed up and found Rainbow Dash pacing by the door. She said she heard some weird things being said in here."

                Spike stared at her blankly for a moment. Weird things? I was just showing her how to play the guitar. What's so weird about... his thoughts trailed off as he realized how the exchange between Twilght and himself could be misinterpreted. He quickly raised his hands and said, "Hey, I was just showing her how to play the guitar. That's all. I swear!" He pointed at Twilight, who still had the guitar seated in her lap. Applejack looked from Spike to Twilight and back again. Then she turned to Rainbow Dash and gave her an aggravated look.

                "What? I just told you what I heard! Anyone would have misunderstood that!" Dash said in defense. Next to her, Rarity shook her head and cut in.

                "At any rate, we were invited here for a reason. Instead of standing around and making a big deal out of nothing, why don't we let Spike do what he needs to do?" As he listened to Rarity's comment, Spike felt himself snap back into reality. The reason he had asked everyone here suddenly snapped back to him, and he quickly ushered the three girls into the room.

                "Please have a seat at the table," he said to them, indicating the low-sitting table in the center of the room. He closed the door and then approached the end of the table closest to him. All four girls sat cross-legged on the floor, Twilight and Rainbow Dash to his left, Rarity and Applejack to his right.

                "Say, why aren't Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie here?" Applejack asked, drawing nods of agreement from the other girls.

                "They had... other things to do," Spike replied. "I'll fill them in later." Instead of sitting down, he walked around the table to the mini fridge he kept in the corner of the room. "This is going to take a while, so how about a few drinks?"

                He knelt down in front of the fridge and removed five plastic cups from the stack on top of the appliance. With shaking hands, he opened the door and withdrew a bottle of juice that, despite being completely full, had the safety seal cracked. He began to pour an equal amount of juice in each cup, being careful not to spill a single drop. When he was done, only a small amount of juice remained in the container. This remainder went back into the refrigerator. With that done, he began to hand the cups to the girls, until each of them had one. He then grabbed his own cup and returned to the head of the table, seating himself in the same fashion as the girls. They all seemed to be staring at him, and he fought to restrain the trembling that was arising in his body. They know he thought to himself. He gave his head a slight shake to clear his thoughts. No, that's impossible.

                "Well, aren't you going to try it?" he asked, raising his own cup to his lips. To his relief, the girls seemed to follow suit, each of them drinking deeply from their cups. As they finished, they sat their cups back onto the table. Several seconds later, all four of the girls' heads followed suit. They laid there, unmoving. Spike breathed a sigh of relief and spat the juice in his mouth back into his cup. "I thought that was going to blow up in my face," he muttered, rising from the table and circling around it, checking to make sure that the four girls were indeed unconscious. Upon confirming this information, he calmly walked to the door, opened it and exited the room, locking the door behind him. He reached into his pocket and withdrew his cell phone. Using the 7th speed dial setting, he placed his call. After a few rings, that distorted voice answered on the other end.

                "What do you have to report?" it asked.

                Spike's response was short and simple, "It's done."



End of Chapter Notes: Iron Fist is the property of Coheed and Cambria. All other notes can be found on my blog: Real Men Watch Ponies.