"Careful now, Apple Bloom," said Scootaloo.
Apple Bloom held a beaker of orange liquid in her mouth very precariously, ready to drop it over a flask filled with a bubbling purple liquid.
"Easy, easy, and… NOW!"
Scrunching her eyes shut, Apple Bloom tilted the beaker and let the liquid fall into the flask. A spark lit up the room for a split second as a faint green cloud arose from the flask, before fading into the air. The liquid, which had now turned a deep red, bubbled furiously for a few seconds before quickly subsiding.
"Coooooool!" exclaimed all of the Cutie Mark Crusaders.
"Your turn now, Sweetie Belle!" said Apple Bloom, nudging Sweetie Belle.
"Okay!" With a wide grin on her face, she grabbed another beaker full of green liquid and poured it in.
"No, wait! Don't—" Scootaloo began.
But it was too late. A violent explosion rocked Twilight's library, sending books and shards of glass everywhere in a flurry of dark smoke. Luckily, nopony was hurt in the blast, but all the beakers and flasks were shattered and the library was left covered in deep gray soot.
The Crusaders dusted themselves off and examined their flanks with hopeful smiles beaming. Nothing, as usual. They all groaned in disappointment.
"Oh, no! My library!" cried Twilight Sparkle. "It's going to take me forever to get this stuff off of my books!"
"We're really sorry, Twilight," said Apple Bloom. All three of the Crusaders looked down in guilt.
"Ohhhh…" Twilight looked around at the mess with a hoof to her chin, but then she saw the guilty looks on their faces. "Don't worry, girls. It wasn't your fault. I'll get this place all cleaned up… eventually."
"Sounds like my cue," muttered Spike as he enthusiastically got to work sweeping the dust.
"I guess it was my fault for trusting you girls with my old chemistry set," said Twilight. "At least it wasn't one of my more advanced sets, or else I might have some much bigger problems around here!"
"Looks like we're not getting our Cutie Marks in chemistry, then," said Scootaloo dejectedly as the three of them all began to walk towards the door, hanging their heads low.
"Don't worry girls, I'm sure you'll find your special talents, eventually," Twilight said with a reassuring smile. She paused for a moment, and then added, "Maybe you should all take a good, hard look at all the things you're good at already. Maybe then you'll—"
"But that's what we're doing!" Sweetie Belle replied. "We're doing all sorts of crazy things and seeing what kind of stuff we're good at…"
"…so we can find our Cutie Marks!" added Apple Bloom.
"And we're not going to stop until we get them!" exclaimed Scootaloo. They proudly high-hoofed each other in their moment of pride.
Twilight sighed, and decided to tend to the broken equipment. All the shattered glass on the floor made it look like somepony had just busted through Twilight's window.
"Thanks for the help anyway, Twilight," said Apple Bloom. "Goodbye!"
Scootaloo and Apple Bloom both walked out the door. Sweetie Belle started to leave as well, but she noticed Spike cheerfully humming to himself while he swept. She tried to resist staring for long, but she just couldn't help but gaze at him.
Her eyes met the purple dragon, adorned with green scales along his back, and became lost in his image. They followed his tiny dragon feet as they side-stepped in place, almost in a dancing sort of motion. His tail swung around in tune with his hips, in a motion that mesmerized her. But most of all, it was his smile that just made her hooves tingle. Her smile grew into a warm grin as she walked over to him, but when he turned to look at her for a second, her whole face flinched away.
Why do I still keep wincing up like this whenever I go to talk to him? Spike and I are really good friends, so why do I always feel nervous like this? Why won't my hooves stop tingling?
She hesitated to speak, and even flinched again before she finally drew up all her courage to utter those two simple words.
"Huh?" replied Spike, looking up to meet the filly's eyes. "Oh! Hey, Sweetie Belle. I… thought you guys were leaving."
Sweetie gulped, her hooves tingling so much that they were beginning to tremble. "I just wanted to— I was— I was, just wondering if you… needed any help cleaning up?"
"Oh! Um, not really. I think I can handle it by myself."
"A- are you sure?" Sweetie inquired. "Cause I mean, I could—"
"Come on, Sweetie Belle!" shouted Scootaloo through the door. "We gotta get moving!"
"I'm coming!" Sweetie shouted back. "Bye, Spike!" She gave a gentle wave to him and ran out to join her friends, grinning wider than usual. Even her walking seemed to have that extra kick to it now.
"Well, that was another bust," said Scootaloo as she hopped onto her scooter. "Man, we're never going to find our Cutie Marks at this rate!"
"Aw come on now, don't give up," replied Apple Bloom. "There are still a million different things we haven't tried yet! I'm sure if we keep our heads up, we'll find out what we're good at eventually!" Sweetie Belle joined her red-haired friend in the wagon and strapped her helmet on, ready for a new adventure.
"There you are!" Scootaloo exclaimed. "What took you so long, anyway?"
"Sorry," replied Sweetie Belle. "I was just— just talking to Spike for a minute. That's all."
Huh. Sweetie Belle sure is nice. Nopony's ever asked to help me clean before, except for Twilight. Hmm, that's actually kind of—
"That's okay, Spike," said Twilight, levitating the broom out of Spike's hands. "I can take care of this. You'd better get going."
"Huh? Go where? Wait… holy guacamole, that's right! I promised Rarity I was going to come over and be her assistant today! How could I possibly forget that? Thanks, Twilight!" He waved goodbye as he ran out the door.
Ah, well. I'll just sweep for him here and… hmm, that is kind of puzzling, actually. How did Spike forget that he was going to see Rarity? He's never done that before.
"…and a few more beads here," said Rarity. She levitated some blue beads from a box that Opalescence was precariously balancing on her head. Today was an especially important day for her at the Carousel Boutique. She was preparing a very special dress, and had been so enraptured when Spike offered to be her personal assistant for the day.
"Let's see, four more ought to do it. Hmm, actually now that I think about it, five would look much better. No, I'm going to stay with my original instinct! There shall be four beads on this section! Ohhh—" As she contemplated her soon-to-be-brilliant work, the bell above the door rang and Spike walked in.
"Hi, Rarity! Sorry I'm a little late. I uh, kinda lost track of time." Rarity didn't respond however; she was focusing all of her attention on the dress. Spike walked up behind her. "Um, Rarity? Hello?" He poked her leg, however this startled the lovely fashionista and she slipped off of her stool.
"I gotcha, Rarity!" Taking the chance to be Rarity's hero, Spike made a bold dive and caught Rarity by the back just before she hit the ground. "Oh my gosh! I am so sorry, Rarity! I didn't mean to scare you like that!"
"Oh that's quite alright, Spike," Rarity replied. "I do apologize. I was so busy tending to this design that I didn't hear you come in. But I'm so glad that you're here now. Opal can be a rather clumsy assistant sometimes."
Rarity's stubborn cat just ignored the criticisms and climbed into her bed, purring in relief now that the tedium was over.
"That dress must be really important then, huh?"
"Oh, Spike," chuckled Rarity as she nuzzled his head. "I consider allof my dresses to be important. But yes, this dress is a little more special than usual. It was commissioned to me by a most esteemed client from Canterlot, the one and only Rachelle Ruby! Can you even imagine? THE Rachelle Ruby, the pony who—"
She continued talking, but Spike wasn't paying attention. He was lost in her absolute beauty. His gaze focused on her rich purple mane, bouncing up as she talked, and he watched her eyelashes flutter as she blinked. Just looking at Rarity was enough to send Spike's heart rocketing.
She's so beautiful. That gorgeous flowing mane, those delicately plucked eyelashes, and her rich, soothing voice. Oh, Rarity. How I wish you could see the way I really feel about you. How I just wish that we could be together forever, you and me, and nobody else—
The bell above the door rung again, silencing both Rarity's long-winded ramble and Spike's own thoughts.
"See you tomorrow, Sweetie Belle!" called Apple Bloom.
Sweetie Belle waved back to Apple Bloom and Scootaloo before fully entering what had recently become her permanent home. She still had a soft smile crossing her lips, but she stopped in her tracks when she saw Spike in the room.
Shoot! I didn't expect him to be here! Maybe I should just come back later… oh, what's the use? They already know I'm here. And I have to talk to Rarity sooner or later. I need to know that what I think I'm feeling for Spike is true.
She gulped for a second before approaching the both of them. She was braving her own nervousness now, trying to ignore her heart racing faster and faster the closer she walked to Spike and Rarity.
"Hello, Sweetie!" said Rarity. "Any luck on acquiring that Cutie Mark yet?"
"Not yet," replied Sweetie Belle. "Do you need any help with that dress?"
"Uh, no that's quite alright, but thank you for offering." Sweetie's head drooped in response.
"Oh, come on now, Sweetums. I know I usually let you help me out, and you've grown to be quite a competent little assistant." She nuzzled Sweetie's head, but she brushed her away. "It's just that I really can't take any risks today; this dress has to come out absolutely perfect. And besides, Spike already offered all the help that I need right now."
"Oh. Well, okay. But um, actually sis, can I ask you something… in the back room? It's kind of important."
"I'm very sorry Sweetie, but could you please wait?" she replied. "I am in the zone right now, as they say."
"Please? I really need to talk to you about something." She made a desperate puppy-dog face and quivered her lip. She'd been searching for answers long enough.
"Oh… all right. I suppose I can take a moment's break."
"Well, you see, it's kind of… hard to say, exactly. I, um…"
The two of them were alone in the back room now, free of Spike's earshot, but Sweetie Belle was still having difficulty trying to convey what she wanted to ask. After all, it was a very conscious subject for her.
How should I do this? I know what I want to say, but… how will she react?
"Have some tea, Sweetie," said Rarity. "It'll help you get your thoughts into order." Sweetie sipped the tea and made a heavenly sigh. Rarity's tea is just the best."There we go. Now you were saying?"
"So, well, the thing is, I have this friend, and she's worried because she thinks that she might like one of her really good friends."
"Um… well, I should hope that she likes them," replied Rarity with a confused expression. "Liking somepony is sort of what being a good friend is all about, Sweetie Belle."
"No no no," said Sweetie, shaking her head. "Not that kind of like. I mean, she like likes one of her good friends. Like, even more than usual. Like maybe, maybe she feels warmer or happier whenever he's around or when she talks to him, or even when she's thinking about him!"
"Ohhh…" replied Rarity. Sweetie almost thought she saw a coy smile escape her older sister's mouth. "Well Sweetums, the answer is obvious. Don't you see?" Sweetie remained motionless.
"Your friend fancies her companion, Sweetie Belle! Those strong feelings of warmth and longing, those are all feelings of love and passion! Destiny is making its mark, and it has decided that these two are fated to love one another and be in each other's hooves!"
"Right…" said Sweetie. Her eyes darted back and forth as the thoughts ran through her mind. That's just what I was afraid of. I can't run away from it any longer. I— I'm in love with Spike! I… I have a crush on a dragon!"Thanks for telling me, sis. I, um… I gotta go!" As soon as she left, a very sly smile developed along Rarity's lips.
"You know, Sweetie Belle, I sure hope that this 'friend' will eventually gather enough courage to tell her big sister the whole truth."
Sweetie Belle looked over to Spike again. He was moving around the room looking for Rarity's chest of jade green emeralds. Taking a good look at him erased all the doubts in her mind.
The way his legs and arms moved when he hustled was one of the cutest things Sweetie had ever seen. She watched as his tail wagged with excitement, influencing her own tail to start shifting slightly.
But what captivated Sweetie the most was the fierce look of determination on Spike's face. He was going to find that chest, no matter what. Her heart raced watching that face, that bold and heroic-looking face. Warm feelings coursed through her entire body.
Well, it's true. I'm definitely in love with Spike. Well… I guess, no. It's just a crush, or… No, no! I just like Spike a little more than any other friend, that's all! I'm just going to talk to him like a friend, and nothing else! … Oh no, here he comes! Act natural!"Hi, Spike!"
"Hey, Sweetie Belle… again. Gosh, you're just everywhere today!"
"I'm not following you!" Sweetie suddenly yammered.
"I… never said you were," said Spike, taken aback by her response. "Are you okay, Sweetie Belle?"
Oh wow, he just said my name! Why am I so excited that he said my name? "Um, nothing. Nothing. It's just— I-I'm just…" Way to go, Sweetie Belle. Now you're embarrassing yourself…"Hey Spike, can I ask you something?"
"Sure, Sweetie. What is it?" Even though it was obviously her name, she still couldn't help but blush when Spike called her 'Sweetie', and she desperately tried to cover up this blushing.
"Well, Spike, the thing is, we're… friends, right? Like, good friends?"
"Well, yeah. Of course we're good friends," replied Spike. He scratched his head, clearly confused by the way Sweetie Belle was reacting. As soft-spoken as Rarity's younger sister had been lately, she didn't usually stumble over her own words. But then again, she was now more aware of the truth behind her feelings.
"No, I mean like, really, really good friends. Really, really great friends." She leaned in close to him, even though she was feeling just as tense as Spike. Spike was even starting to blush himself. Sweetie noticed this and backed away from him a little, trying to ignore her hooves tingling.
"Well, I… yeah, I'd say we're really great friends," he replied. "Because well, ever since you moved in with Rarity, we've been seeing each other a lot more lately. I see you at Rarity's place all the time now, and you and the Crusaders are always crossing by. Now that I think about it actually, you've been talking with me just by yourself a lot lately."
"You're right, I guess I have. I didn't really notice," said Sweetie Belle, chuckling nervously. "Well, I guess I'm gotta go now. See you later, Spike." She only walked two steps before wincing to herself.
What am I doing? I can't just talk to him like he's just a friend, because… I lo— like, like him more than a friend now. I should be doing more than just talking to him, right? I have to do something nicer than that, but what? Something nicer, something nicer… Hang on.
"Yeah?" he replied.
"I— well, I've been thinking and I really want you to have this." What she then pulled out of her saddlebag made Spike's eyes grow wide with awe.
The gemstone was almost bigger than Sweetie's head, and it glistened in the reflection cast by the window. The blue shine that it cast was almost enough to make Spike want to cover his eyes.
"I-is that… for me?" asked Spike, his eyes dilating and his mouth watering. Sweetie couldn't help but smile at how adorable Spike looked as he fawned over the gem. "That's the biggest ocean sapphire I've ever seen!"
"Now… this should be just enough rolls of cloth for… huh?" Rarity was exiting the back room with more supplies for her dress. But she stopped and her eyes widened in surprise when she caught sight of the sapphire. It was such a large priceless stone, and… Sweetie Belle had been holding on to it the whole time?
Now, where in the name of Equestria did she obtain that?
"I found it once when our class went on a field trip to Cherry Bomb Mountain," Sweetie explained to Spike. "I kept it around all this time, because I really didn't know what I was going to do with it. And well, I was thinking, like I said, and… I really think that you should have it." She held out the sapphire to him. Spike was enamored, whilst Rarity bit her arm in a conflict of self-control.
'Didn't know what she was going to do with it', my flank! My dresses would be the absolute pinnacle of dresses in Canterlot if they were adorned with such a rare and valuable brand of sapphire! And there she is just handing it off to Spike, and he's probably going to thoughtlessly snack on it later!
Despite these mental objections, something in her heart told her not to intervene. Hesitantly, she forced herself to retreat into the back room again to look for more supplies.
"I- I don't know what to say." Spike accepted the sapphire, and embraced it in his arms for a moment, eying the glossy deep blue surface that adorned the gem. "Sweetie Belle, this is… the nicest, sweetest thing that anyone has ever given me. Thank you. … Huh? Is something wrong, Sweetie?"
Sweetie had turned herself away from Spike, trying to hide her intensely red face. Spike's compliment had made her feel extremely twitterpated, and now she was afraid that her whole body was going to flush red.
"Nothing! Nothing's wrong! It's just… I just… I really need to go somewhere else!" In a flash, she darted out the door. "See you later, Spike!"
"Sweetie Belle?" Spike gazed at the sapphire in his hands and then back at the door. What's wrong with her? He reached a claw out, as if to call after her.