It's hard to believe, but this is it. The final chapter!

I'd just like to take a moment to thank you all one final time for your continued interest in this story and for all of your support along the way. This thing never would've been completed if it hadn't been for all of your encouragement and enthusiasm.

I would like to point out that this is the end of this story. There will be no epilogue. I may write another fanfic or two in the future, but for the moment, I'll be taking a bit of a break from fanfiction and delving back into my own, original writing.

Alright, here we go. Thank you for all for helping me to renew my confidence as an author. Writing this fic has been a blast. I hope you all enjoy the last chapter!

...I don't own My Little Pony.

Chapter Ten: Step Nine

Now that you have successfully completed one date with the mare of your dreams, it is time to up the ante:

You must ensure that you continue to date.

Going on a single date is not your ultimate goal, stallion! Yes, it is a major milestone, but this is your dream mare. The mare you may wish to spend the rest of your life with! You need to plan for the long haul.

Therefore, the final chapter of this book will discuss how to go about securing at least a second date, if not more. The entire Nine Step process will have been useless if this final step is overlooked.

You must get your mare to agree to another date. And then, another. And yet another after that. Become a forward thinker, carefully lay down the groundwork for a long term, permanent romantic relationship, and you will not be sorry!

This does require additional work on your part, but remember, you have already come this far. Have faith that you can accomplish Step Nine, and read on without fear.

Spike pulled at his bow tie. He'd worn the one Rarity had made him, along with his black jacket from the Grand Galloping Gala. He hoped Rarity wouldn't think he was underdressed. He didn't have much else that would be fancier than those clothes, anyway, unless he really did go for his full-on Grand Galloping Gala outfit. But he feared that if he did that, he'd look too formal and then Rarity might wonder if he was trying to turn this into a date, which he was rapidly realizing it already looked like.

His panicky train of thought was cut off when Rarity opened her door.

"Hello, Spike," Rarity said.

"H-hi…Rarity." Spike's jaw dropped wide open. For a moment, he couldn't help but gawk. The setting sun made it just dark enough so that Rarity was backlit in her shop doorway by the lights inside, giving her an ethereal glow.

Rarity was always beautiful. But this night…this night she was gorgeous.

Okay, Spike, keep it together. You've been doing good so far today, don't blow it now by gaping so long you start to drool!

He quickly shut his mouth. "Shall we…get going then?" Spike asked, swallowing.

"Yes, let's," Rarity replied, stepping out gracefully. Her dress flowed along just above the ground, almost like a shimmering cloud.

Spike concentrated on keeping his eyes forward and walking straight. "I've never been to Chez Delicious before, have you?" he asked, striking up conversation.

"Oh, once or twice," Rarity said. "With…well, it doesn't matter who it was with. It was a while ago."

Spike didn't know exactly how to reply to that. "Oh. Well…how was it?" he finally asked, hoping he didn't sound too awkward.

"The food and the atmosphere were simply exquisite," Rarity replied. "It's wonderful to have a chance to go back. Especially with such an agreeable dining companion."

Spike looked up at Rarity, relieved. She's happy to go back. And she's happy I'm going with her!

Rarity smiled down at him, and his relief faltered. It may have been his imagination, but her smile seemed…sad, somehow. It was something in her eyes...

"Rarity…?" Spike started, tilting his head. "Is everything okay?"

"Everything is fine, Spike," she said, and Spike suddenly realized what was off:

Her smile didn't reach her eyes. There was no telltale crinkle at their edges. It wasn't a real smile at all.

"You're…sure?" Spike asked, double-checking.

"Yes," Rarity replied. But it was painfully obvious that everything was not fine. Not by a longshot. "Let's just enjoy tonight. Okay?" Her voice sounded a little strained, but she kept up the smile anyway.

"Okay…" Spike said slowly, not really sure what else to say.

They continued walking, and Spike's nerves grew. She…she's had a good time today, hasn't she? She's not mad anymore, is she? She must see how sorry I am. I'm doing my best to fix things…so what could she be upset about?

"So," Rarity began. "Any idea if the Cake's have sold any of our cupcakes today?"

Spike shook his head. "I haven't talked to them, or to Pinkie. I'm sure at least yours sold."

"Oh, I'm sure yours were selling today, too!" Rarity said.

Spike hung his head as they walked, remembering his mess of a job. "Yeah. Maybe. If they gave customers enough of a discount."

Rarity laughed, and Spike's spirits lifted. He glanced over at her, and finally saw the real smile he'd been waiting for. Maybe things aren't as bad as you'd thought.

"Seriously," Spike continued, regaining some confidence. "They'd have to have like a buy one, get three free sale just to get rid of them."

Rarity continued to laugh. "Spike, I think you're being a little harsh on yourself."

"I don't think I'm being harsh enough!" Spike said. "I bet they didn't even put a price on them. They probably just gave them away as fast as they could! Those cupcakes were a disaster."

"Oh, Spike." Rarity shook her head. "You just need more practice, that's all."

Chez Delicious was straight ahead by that point, and they walked towards the restaurant's hostess together.

"Yeah. Maybe we could go back sometime and frost more cupcakes, then," Spike suggested hopefully.

Rarity's elegant stride was broken by the briefest of stumbles. "That…that would be nice…"

There it was again. Spike frowned. Something is bothering her…but what?

Before he could ask, the hostess spoke up.

"Good evening," the auburn mare said pleasantly. "Do you have reservations?"

"Yes," Spike replied, stepping up. "Party of two. It should be under 'Spike'."

"Oh yes," the hostess smiled. "Here you are. Classy will show you to your table."

A waiter trotted over, using unicorn magic to levitate two menus by his side. "Good evening. My name is Classy Prestige. Welcome to Chez Delicious. I will be your waiter this evening. Please follow me," he said, bowing slightly.

"Erm…'kay," Spike said. Why does this place feel like it's trying a little too hard to be Canterlot?

They walked through the candlelit tables, past several pairs of dining ponies, all dressed extremely elegantly. Waiters and waitresses moved around gracefully, pausing only to inquire after how their guests were doing.

Spike straightened up. Even when they lived in Canterlot, he and Twilight didn't go to many of the fancy events. Still, though. He had some idea of how to act.

They paused upon reaching a table set for two. Their waiter pulled out a soft pillow, and Spike waited for Rarity to have a seat on it before he sat down himself across from her.

"May I start you out with some refreshments?" their waiter asked. His thin moustache bobbed up and down as he spoke.

Spike looked at Rarity. "What would you like?"

"Oh, nothing fancy," she replied. "Whatever you order will be fine, I'm sure."

"You choose," Spike insisted.

"Well, alright then," Rarity said. "We'll take a bottle of sparkling cider, chilled, please."

"A fine choice," Classy replied. He levitated a menu to each of them. "Our two specials tonight are grilled sunflower seeds on a slow roasted heather grass roll, as well as our signature shredded carrot platter with hayseed accents. The soup du jour is our cream of strawberry rhubarb. For dessert, we are featuring our famous honeysuckle pastries and our cocoa fudge cake topped with whipped ganache. Please, take your time in deciding."

After Classy left, Spike flipped open his menu, and Rarity did the same. Of course, there wasn't anything with gemstones. There never was. Spike slumped slightly where he sat.

He looked up at Rarity to see if she'd decided on anything, and was surprised to find her staring straight back at him.

As soon as their eyes met, Rarity looked away quickly. "So, what are you thinking of getting?" she asked, hiding her face behind her menu.

"Well…" Spike hadn't really decided. "The shredded carrot platter sounds alright, and that's supposed to be the signature dish here and all, so maybe I'll get that. Did you want to start out with an appetizer?"

"That sounds nice. How about the baked artichoke?" Rarity suggested. Her face was still hidden, and Spike sighed.

"Yeah," he said. "That works."

Classy came back, and they placed their orders. The waiter took the menus away, leaving Rarity without anything to hide behind anymore.

She looked so…sad. Spike furrowed his eyebrows. What could be wrong?

Perhaps she realized her expression, because she suddenly changed it. The fake smile returned. "Fluttershy has really come a long way with her bird choir," Rarity started. "It's been ages since I've been able to hear them perform, and they just keep improving, don't you think?"

She didn't even wait for Spike to answer.

"Of course, with somepony like Fluttershy guiding them, it's no wonder they've become so talented. I mean really, she just has this wonderful way with woodland creatures that nopony could ever hope to emulate. Those birds are some of the luckiest in all of Equestria, and I'm sure they know it!" Rarity rambled.

Is she…nervous? Spike tried to figure the unicorn out. She's acting like it, but…why?

"Did you hear her tell them that she'd put out extra birdseed for them today? Such a dear. I simply must think of a venue for her to show off their chorus to more ponies. Though, Fluttershy being Fluttershy of course, will likely be against the idea initially, but I'll just have to explain to her that the birds would love the chance to show off, and perhaps then she'll come around – "

"Rarity?" Spike interrupted. Their baked artichoke had arrived, and Spike noticed in alarm that Rarity was having trouble levitating a piece of it towards her plate. Her whole body seemed to be shivering.

" – and see that – er…yes, Spike?" Rarity asked. "What is it?"

"Rarity, you're…shaking." Spike had to point it out. "You know you can tell me if there's something wrong, don't you?"

Rarity tensed up from across the table. "There's nothing wrong, Spike."

"Yes, there is," Spike said. He was getting tired of her evading the issue, whatever it may be. "Just tell me what's wrong. Maybe I can help."

Unless the problem is me. Spike gulped. Then I don't really know what I'll do.

Rarity sighed. "Oh, Spike."

She was quiet for a moment, and Spike stayed quiet, too.

Eventually, she spoke up again. "I just…I had such a lovely time today, and I…we…"

"Yes?" Spike prompted.

The unicorn looked at him. "I want to say thank you," Rarity said softly. "And that you're forgiven for everything. I can see now that you really do care."

"Wow, Rarity." Spike stared at her. "I don't know what to say." And he really didn't. He'd been waiting for her forgiveness all day, but now that he had it…something didn't feel right.


And there it was. But. She had more to say, and Spike couldn't help but get the feeling he wouldn't like it.

"Yes?" Spike asked reluctantly, crossing his fingers it wasn't anything too bad.

Rarity looked off to the side. "We can't do this ever again."

Spike's heart jolted to a stop.

"Today has been amazing, and I've loved every moment, but we simply cannot make a habit of it."

Spike opened and shut his mouth, trying to find his words. "Wait…why?" he asked, finally getting at least one thought out. "If you had a good time, then…I don't understand. Why?"

Rarity shrank back, looking terribly miserable. "Because if we keep this up, ponies will start thinking that we're more than just friends."

"They will?" Spike asked. And is that so bad?

"Just look around us, Spike," Rarity pointed out. Spike did as he was told, and noticed that almost every single table was a table set for two. And at every table, was a happy pony couple, dining together.

"Oh," Spike said. "I see." He drooped his shoulders, crestfallen.

"Yes," Rarity continued. "So after tonight, we really must go back to just spending time together in a strictly friendly sense. Just as you would with any other pony. We probably shouldn't be alone together with any frequency, and should refrain from treating each other in any sort of a special way. For instance, if you feel like doing something nice for me, first stop and think: would you do the same for Pinkie Pie? Or Rainbow Dash? Or – "

"But I wouldn't," Spike interrupted. Now he was shaking. "I wouldn't do the same. Because you are special. You're different, Rarity. You mean a lot to me, and more than just as a friend."

"I know, Spike," Rarity said quietly. "But – "

"Don't say it. I know. Trust me, I know by now." Spike shut his eyes, unable to look at her as the truth he'd always feared finally bubbled to the surface. "I don't mean more than that to you."

"Oh, Spike…"

"No, that's alright," Spike swallowed. He took a deep breath and opened his eyes back up. "I understand that you only see me as a friend. I guess what I don't understand, is why we can't spend time together anymore, away from other ponies. Why we can't do things like today. You had fun, you said you did!" Spike realized he was sounding desperate, and shut himself up.

Rarity remained silent for a moment. "Spike, this isn't easy for me, either. But if we keep treating each other in special ways…that is, if we keep spending extra time together…other ponies wouldn't see this as just a friendship. I mean, really, look at us right now. All dressed up, in a fancy restaurant – "

"But I like treating you special!" Spike burst out before he could stop himself.

Rarity didn't answer. Instead, she just stared down at the table.

Spike dug his claws into his legs, doing his best to hold back tears. She doesn't like you. Twilight was right all along. She just sees you as a friend. There's no chance for you to be together.

He took several raggedy breaths.

Come on, Spike. You knew from the beginning how little of a chance you had at winning her over. That's why you got that book in the first place. And then the book messed it all up…

Spike set his shoulders as he remembered what their day today had originally been about. At least you managed to salvage your friendship.

"Alright." Spike brought his emotions back under control. Time to grow up, Spike. And not in the greedy way this time. "I guess if being friends is what you really want, then that's what I'll do." He released his hold on his legs and folded his hands together to stop them from shaking. "I suppose when it comes down to it, I'd rather have you in my life a little bit than have you upset with me forever." As he spoke, his heart crumpled in his chest. But he knew it had to be said.

Rarity smiled a little. "Thank you, Spike. You are a true friend."

"Yeah. I know." Spike looked away.

Their main course arrived, and Spike poked his fork at the shredded carrots, unable to muster up the enthusiasm to try and take a bite.

He sighed. "I guess it would've been better all around if I hadn't tried changing anything between us from the start."

"Whatever do you mean?" Rarity asked, tilting her head.

"I mean this stupid book I ordered. It's called…" Spike blushed. "Well, it doesn't matter what it's called. But that's where all those steps that I was following came from. It had me change the way I acted around you, to try and get you to like me back. But all it ended up doing was making you upset. And now…now we're just back to where we were before. Or…at least we will be, after tonight."

"Yes. After tonight," Rarity replied. It could've been his imagination, or a trick of the candlelight, but Spike swore he saw her eyes shimmering.

Spike pushed his dinner around his plate. Stop being desperate. Seriously. Just accept this for what it is. "It's okay. Really, it is. It was pretty foolish to think you'd ever go for a guy like me. I'm just happy you at least enjoyed today, and that in some ways, we can still have time together. Even if it's just with the whole group." Spike took a deep breath. "I…I'm glad I'm not losing you completely."

"So am I," Rarity whispered.

They ate the rest of their meal in silence.

One step closer. One step closer.

Rarity repeated the words over and over in her mind with every hoofstep she took towards her shop.

Spike had insisted on walking her home after dinner, which only served to extend their evening of awkward silence.

All in all, the dragon was taking the news better than she'd thought he would. Rarity had to admit, part of her had been a little concerned that he might go all giant-dragon-rampage-monster again, but he was actually quite calm, and had even put a positive spin on the situation.

He's taking it better than you are, a voice inside Rarity's head pointed out. She shushed it, raising her head up loftily.

"So this is it," Spike said, as they arrived at Carousel Boutique.

"Yes," Rarity replied. Yes, this is it, isn't it?

Spike shuffled awkwardly on his feet. The moonlight provided just enough light for Rarity to notice that the dragon's eyes were watering ever so slightly.

Her lower lip began to tremble, and she knew she had to get inside before her own waterworks started up.

"I…I just want to say thanks," Spike said. "For giving me the chance to prove myself today. And for staying my friend. I'll try not to make anything uh…weird. With us."

"Thank you, Spike," Rarity said softly.

"You'll be…treated just like the others. I'll do my best. I will," Spike promised, looking up into her eyes.

"I know." Rarity's eyebrows knit together. "And thank you again. For reminding me how lucky I am to have a friend like you in my life."

Spike nodded. They stared at each other for another moment.

This really is it, Rarity felt tears spring to her eyes. After this moment…we're…we're just…friends. And Spike won't ever look at me this way. Ever again.

Her breaths came quicker, and Spike blinked at her sadly.

"Good night, Rarity," he said, his voice sounding a little hoarse.

Rarity opened her mouth to say good night in return, but nothing came out. Instead she stood, staring at the dragon in silence. Since when did a simple good night become so hard to say?

Since it became a goodbye.

A tear spilt down her cheek. Spike shoved his hands into his jacket pockets and turned away, clearly giving up on waiting for a reply.

"I'll see you around," he said. And then he left.

Rarity watched him go, as tear after tear continued to trickle from her eyes.

Why are you crying? You got what you wanted. Spike showed you how much he cares, and proved that he wasn't the jerk you were scared he might've become. And he even agreed to keep everything between the two of you as just casual friends.

You got what you wanted.

He's going to stop treating you special.

You got what you wanted.

"I…" Rarity said aloud, to nopony in particular. She was alone. The night was silent. "I got what I - "

She couldn't finish the sentence. A sob escaped her and Rarity collapsed against her door, tears flowing freely. Her dress billowed down around her as she sank to the ground. "I don't want this," Rarity choked out. She buried her head under her hooves, blocking the starlight from her eyes. "Oh dear Celestia, I don't want this at all." Rarity gasped for air between each sob. "I…"

Everything she'd been fighting, each hint she'd purposefully shoved aside and ignored…it all came flooding back into her in that moment.

"What was I thinking? What have I been doing?" Rarity asked, blinking rapidly to push the tears away. Her blue dress lay around her in bunches, and Rarity felt like she was melting away into a puddle of her own lies. The ones she'd been telling herself for a long while now. They floated around her, taunting her. The lies she'd told to avoid the feelings she hadn't been prepared to face. The lies that had kept her at a nice, safe distance from the dragon and his terrifying fountain of emotions for her.

The worst part of it all, was that deep down, some part of her had known exactly what she'd been doing. That's where the lies had come from. The excuses. They'd come from inside her. But why? Rarity pinched her eyes tightly, tears leaking from the sides.

She couldn't remember why. Had she ever had a reason? Had it just been her own pride? Or had she just been greedy? She took and took and took from Spike, but had she ever stopped to give?

Rarity's heart ached inside her.

"Oh Spike…there's never been anypony like you in my life, and I've gone and…" Rarity sniffled loudly. "I've gone and pushed you away. Why?" Rarity sobbed, burying her head even further.

The night remained silent.

You've only yourself to blame, her inner voice accused. Spike…he…he made it so easy. So easy to just take. But the moment he asked for something in return…Another sob escaped Rarity, and she squeezed her hooves against her head as if by pushing hard enough she'd be able to squash out the anguish. You're terrible.

"Don't leave me, Spike," Rarity begged, her voice muffled in the ground. "I know I've messed everything up, but don't leave. Please." Her voice dropped to a whisper, and she found herself hoping deep down that Spike was still near…perhaps just around the edge of the shop…maybe he'd have heard everything, and would come and help her up off the ground and…

Rarity looked up, blinking tears away.

Spike wasn't there.

Of course he wasn't there. What had she been thinking?

Rarity took a deep breath and dragged herself upright.

"Alright, Rarity," she said to herself. "You've made a mistake. This isn't..." she shook her head rapidly. "You can fix this. You can make this better. You just need to go to Spike and tell him that you've changed your mind, and that…"

Her eyes widened. …And that you do like him as more than just a friend.

At that thought, Rarity scrambled to shove her shop door open and dart inside. Once in, she slammed the door shut and leaned up against it, her heart fluttering in her chest.

Talking to was she even supposed to go about that? What would she say?

Hi, Spike, sorry about this evening. Turns out I actually do want to be more than friends, and all those things I said at dinner were just me trying to convince myself that I didn't see you that way. Silly, isn't it? I know. And yes, it would've been much nicer for you if I'd come to these conclusions sooner, rather than hurting you so badly this evening. I do apologize, ever so much.

Rarity groaned. It all sounded terrible. But somehow, she'd have to find the right words. She was the one who had to fix things now.

Rarity sunk to the floor, her emotions weighing her down. It was late. Perhaps if she slept for the night, she'd have a better grasp of things in the morning.

Spike rolled over in bed, blinking his eyes slowly. The sun was up. It was morning. He'd done it. He'd actually managed to fall asleep at some point.

He wasn't sure exactly how, but that wasn't important. What was important was that he stood a far better chance of getting through the day now that he had a bit of sleep behind him.

Last night had been awful. Spike had come home to find Twilight waiting up for him. She'd asked how things went, and he'd broken down, explaining everything. Reliving it all.

His cheeks burned just remembering it.

You're such an idiot. Thinking Rarity would ever like you. Spike climbed out of bed, heading downstairs. It's time to put that behind you and move on. Just like you promised. Come on now, one foot in front of the other.

He didn't make it halfway down the steps before he slunk down to a sitting position, desperation clawing at him. But she's…she's… Rarity. How in the name of Celestia can I ever move on? Spike curled up into a ball, squeezing his eyes shut. Maybe he should just give up. Live his life on the stairs of the library. It wasn't so bad there. He was mildly comfortable. And even if Rarity visited, she never went up the library stairs, so he could forget about her in peace.

Clunk. Clunk. Clunk. Clunk.

Alright, so Rarity never went up the stairs, but somepony else did. All the time. Spike opened one eye just a crack, and saw a purple hoof in front of his face. Twilight. She'd found him.

"Hey, Spike," Twilight said gently, nudging him in the side. "I know things are rough for you, but I don't think sleeping on the stairs is going to help you any."

Spike sat up, sighing. "I'm not sleeping. I'm just…hanging out here. I guess."

"Right," Twilight said. She sat down next to him. "Can I hang out here then, too?"

"Sure," Spike said, resting his chin in his hands and his elbows on his knees.

They were quiet for a moment, and then Twilight spoke up again. "I'm sorry, Spike. I know no matter what you said last night about being okay with just being friends, you're upset that Rarity doesn't like you back. I am glad you're choosing to concentrate on the positive. I know being 'just friends' probably doesn't seem like much right now – "

Spike shook his head. "No, it actually is a lot. I mean, I was scared of losing her completely. At least this way…I'll get to see her." He sighed again.

"That's very mature of you, Spike," Twilight replied. She went quiet again, but only briefly. "I uh…" she hesitated for a moment before continuing. "I wasn't sure how you'd be doing, and thought you might need some consoling this morning. So I invited a few ponies over."

Spike looked up sharply. "Exactly who did you – "

The sound of the front door slamming open interrupted Spike's sentence.

"WE'RE HERE! And we brought cake and ice cream and all SORTS of goodies for your Okay-So-Rarity-Only-Likes-You-As-A-Friend-But-That's-Better-Than-Her-Hating-You-For-All-Eternity Party!" Pinkie's unmistakably hyper voice sounded through the library.

Spike tipped his head backwards, holding in a groan. "Twilight…"

"Trust me, Spike," Twilight stood up, helping him to his feet. "This will help you feel better."

Spike reluctantly followed Twilight down the stairs to find Pinkie Pie, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, and Applejack all gathered in the library.

"Hi everypony," Spike said, not even bothering to attempt enthusiasm. "So I guess you all heard. Thanks for coming."

"We're ever so sorry to hear that you're upset, Spike," Fluttershy said.

"We jus' couldn't leave yeh to all yer sad thoughts all day," Applejack added.

"So we're here to cheer you up!" Pinkie jumped up and down, firing some sort of party cracker his way. Spike was showered in confetti.

It didn't do much to improve his mood.

"Hey, you wanna give me that dumb book of yours?" Rainbow Dash asked, flying over to Spike. "I could go drop it from a ridiculously incredible height into a lake full of alligators, or a volcano, or onto some pointy rocks, or whatever." She acted it out with one of Twilight's larger encyclopedias, dropping it from the ceiling to the floor with a loud THUNK.

"Hey now," Twilight frowned, yanking her encyclopedia away magically. "We treat books with respect around here. Even ones we dislike."

"Fine, take all the fun out of things," Rainbow Dash harrumphed.

Spike was sort of glad Twilight intervened, because he'd actually been considering taking Rainbow Dash up on her offer. But something about it bothered him, and he couldn't quite put his claw on it.

"Speaking of that book, though," Twilight said. She levitated a small slip of paper over, about the size of a postcard. "I found this in the back of it. It's the form you fill out if you weren't satisfied with the results. You could always get your money back, Spike."

Spike took the card from Twilight, reading it over. He'd forgotten about that promise. The book guaranteed positive results, or a full refund.

The ponies all crowded around him, to get a closer look at it.

"So, yeh gonna ask for yer money back?" Applejack asked. "Ah would."

Spike tapped his claws on the card, thinking. "I…don't know." The thing that'd been bothering him was becoming clear. "I…don't think it'd be fair. It's not Smooth Fox's fault that this all got messed up. It's my fault. I tried to push Rarity to feel things she didn't feel, and I used some pretty dishonest tricks to do it. It's not like Smooth Fox made me follow the steps. It was my choice all along."

He dropped his arms to his side, still gripping the postcard in one hand.

"I think right now, I'd rather just forget about all of this," Spike confessed. "Filling this out, and sending it in…and then getting a refund…that would just drag it out. I just want to put this whole thing behind me."

Twilight patted him on the back. "That's a fine decision to make, Spike. Just let us know how we can help you."

Spike looked up at each of his friends in turn. "Thanks."

Pinkie Pie began to trot in place. "So…do we get to start our party now?"

Spike smiled. "Yeah. Sure."

"WOOHOO!" Pinkie shouted, pulling a set of party hats out of thin air and plopping one on each of their heads. "HERE WE GO! Time for Spike to buck up and remember the fun things in life!"

As Pinkie began setting up a punch bowl, there was a knock at the door.

Twilight frowned. "Now who could that be this early in the morning? Did anypony here invite anypony else?" She looked around.

They all shook their heads, except Pinkie.

"I invited Gummy! But it would've conflicted with his scuba lessons, so he couldn't come."

Spike bit his lower lip. Could it be…? No, why would she be here?

Twilight walked over to open up the door.

Rarity stood outside the library, hoping her knock wouldn't go unanswered.

It didn't. It had taken a few moments, but eventually Twilight opened the door a crack.

"Hello?" Twilight peered out. "Oh! Hi Rarity. I uh...wasn't expecting to see you."

Rarity swallowed. "Good morning, Twilight," she said, doing her best to keep her composure. "Is uh…is Spike in?"

She winced. Her voice was higher than usual, as it got when she was tensed up. Maybe Twilight wouldn't notice.

"Is that Rarity?" Rarity heard Pinkie Pie gasp from inside the library. Half a second later, the pink pony had the library door flung wide open, knocking Twilight out of the way.

"It is Rarity!" Rainbow Dash shouted and Rarity blinked.

All of her friends were gathered in the library.

In party hats.

With Spike in the middle, covered in confetti.

Are they celebrating all this?

Rarity's jaw dropped open.

"Rarity, I can explain what's going on. Sort of," Twilight began.

Rarity shut her gaping mouth, shaking her head. She'd been expecting to find Twilight and Spike alone, perhaps sitting quietly and talking things over. Possibly she'd even find Spike crying. But this…she had no idea what to do with this. Everything she'd planned on saying…well, now…

"That's…quite alright, Twilight," Rarity said. She'd just have to adapt. Besides, she had the sneaking suspicion Pinkie Pie was behind the festive atmosphere anyway, judging by Spike's less than enthusiastic expression. "I really would just like a moment with Spike, if that's alright with all of you."

Everypony nodded slowly and Spike stepped forward.

"Yes?" he asked, nervously fiddling with some piece of paper in his hand. Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, Applejack, and Fluttershy all stepped in closer, their ears perked up.

Rarity took a deep breath. "Perhaps we could talk in private?" she asked Spike, hoping her friends would get the hint.

Pinkie Pie narrowed her eyes. "Okay, you heard the lady! Let's get out of here! Everypony, move!" She began ushering them all out the front door, pushing each one past Rarity.

Rarity jostled side to side, trying to avoid getting run into, but then –

"OOOMPH!" Rarity exclaimed, as Pinkie Pie booted her into the library.

"There you go!" the pink pony said. "Enjoy your private talk!"

Rarity flushed red and Pinkie slammed the door shut, leaving her alone with Spike. Pinkie's giggles were the last noise she heard from her friends, before the library was completely silent.

Rarity straightened up, trying to remember what she'd rehearsed the night before.

"Hello, Spike," she began. Good. You've got the first line…now for the next one. But then Rarity froze. She couldn't remember the next one.

"Hi, Rarity," Spike replied. Rarity couldn't even keep her eyes on his face. The extraordinarily tacky party hat stared back at her, blinding her brain with a nauseating array of crisscrossing neon stripes.

Rarity stared at it, blinking. "Could…you…that is to say, would you mind taking that hat off? Just for a moment?"

"Oh." Spike reached up and tugged the party hat off his head. "Sure."

Rarity's shoulders relaxed. "That's better," she said. But it wasn't. She still couldn't remember anything she'd rehearsed, even without the silly hat in the picture.

"So…what did you want to talk about?" Spike asked.

Rarity's mouth was dry. "I…wanted to talk," she managed. "About things."

"About yesterday?" Spike asked.

Rarity nodded. "Yes. Well, that, and…more. Spike, I…"

It was no use. Her words were all a jumble by that point. She sighed, hanging her head and staring at the floor. Okay, Rarity. You came here for a reason. It's time to give something back, just as Spike has offered so much up for you, darling.

"See…the thing is, Spike," Rarity began, courage building as she recalled all the generous things her dragon had done for her. "I…really did enjoy yesterday. And other days. Anytime we're together. I like spending time with you. And I've come to realize, that I really like spending time with you. More than anypony else. So I guess, what I'm saying is…"

Spike's breath caught in his throat. He scarcely allowed himself to believe where Rarity was going with her little speech.

"…is that I…you…" The unicorn heaved out a sigh, pausing for a moment. "Spike, I was wondering if you'd like to go out for lunch with me today?"

Lunch? Spike's brain ran in circles, trying to figure out what she was really asking. "For…lunch? As…as friends, right? Should I invite everypony else, like we talked about?" Spike asked, not wanting to mess things up. Rarity had made it pretty clear the night before what was appropriate in their future. But now…

"Er…no," Rarity said, shuffling one hoof over the other. "I didn't really intend to invite anypony else. It'd just be you. And me. It'd be…us."

Us. Spike's heart hammered in his chest. "You're sure?" he asked. "That's what you really want?"

Rarity nodded. "Yes. I've done some thinking, and I realized that what I thought I wanted…what I told you last night…well, turns out that wasn't what I really wanted after all."

Spike stared, not trusting himself to speak. This must be a dream. This has to be a dream.

Rarity took a hesitant step towards him. "So, would you please do me the honor of accompanying me to lunch? Just the two of us?"

The library door flew open with a BANG and a pile of multi-colored ponies collapsed in the doorway. Rainbow Dash managed to poke her head out of the pile first.

"Rarity, are you asking Spike on a DATE?"

Rarity gaped at the pegasus, and Spike's heart beat even faster than it had been beating before. He could feel his face go bright red.

"I, uh…" Rarity started.

"RAINBOW!" Twilight chastised, using her magic to push everypony apart and climb to her feet. "I told you to stop shoving, but did you pay any attention? No!"

"Well, it's not my fault nopony would give me a clear spot to listen!" Rainbow Dash flew up, putting her hooves on her hips.

"Were you…all eavesdropping at the door?" Spike asked, narrowing his eyes.

Twilight's eyes widened. "We, uh…"

Fluttershy's face went pink, Rainbow Dash got shifty-eyed, Pinkie Pie threw her hooves over her mouth, and Applejack coughed.

"I'll take that as a yes," Rarity said, sarcastically.

Spike walked up to stand by Rarity's side, crossing his arms and glowering. "Seriously. It's so nice to see how much our friends respect our privacy."

"Aw, come on, who cares! You still haven't answered my question!" Rainbow Dash said, pointing an accusing hoof at Rarity. "Are you or are you not asking Spike out?"

Applejack spoke up. "Rainbow, Spike's right. This really ain't any of our business."

"Yes," Fluttershy agreed. "I think it's best if we all just leave quietly and – "

"Hey, after everything we went through for these two yesterday, I think we've got a right to know if any of it worked!" Rainbow Dash said.

Twilight shook her head. "I have to disagree, Rainbow. Let's just all head back out. And this time, far away from the door to avoid temptation – "

"No," Rarity said.

Spike looked up sharply. No? Spike panicked. He was all for the entire group disappearing as fast as possible, so he could get back to talking to Rarity. He couldn't shake the gnawing fear that everything she'd been saying was going to be magically forgotten by her if they couldn't get back to talking. And fast.

"Rarity, don't you think – " Spike started.

"It's fine, Spike." Rarity continued, a small blush coming over her. "This shouldn't have to be a secret." She looked up at everypony. "Rainbow Dash is correct. I was asking Spike on a date."

Spike nearly fainted right then and there. Disbelief flooded him, quickly followed by waves of happiness crashing through his soul like sunshine after a storm. Rarity was…she's asking me…she…a DATE! His brain babbled at him faster than he could keep up.

"But," Rarity looked down at him, fluttering her eyelashes and furrowing her brow nervously. "He hadn't gotten around to answering yet."

Spike gaped at her. "Rarity…of course I'll go to lunch with you. I'll do anything you want to do. Did you really think I'd say no?"

Rarity's eyes melted in relief. "Well, after everything I said last night, I wasn't sure – "

Pinkie Pie's exploding party cannon cut off whatever the rest of Rarity's sentence was.

"ALRIGHT!" Pinkie exclaimed gleefully. "This calls for a brand new party!"

Streamers flew about the library, and heart shaped helium balloons covered the ceiling.

"Who's with me?" Pinkie asked, hip-bumping into a record player to start up the music.

Spike looked up at Rarity. She smiled tentatively at him, and he smiled back. Everything else in the room became muffled to his eyes and ears, except for her. Somewhere, he thought he could hear Twilight insisting Pinkie turn the music down, and Applejack challenging Rainbow Dash to a popcorn eating contest, and Rainbow Dash proclaiming Fluttershy as the judge, but barely any of that managed to actually register in Spike's head. All that mattered was the unicorn standing by his side. The unicorn who wasn't angry at him. The unicorn who wasn't ignoring him. The unicorn who didn't see him as only a friend.

The unicorn who had stolen his heart long ago.

The unicorn who was worth every moment he'd waited for her.

"You know," Rarity called to the other ponies, not taking her eyes away from Spike for even a moment. "I think Spike and I might head to lunch a bit early. We have a few things that we need to discuss."

Spike couldn't agree more.

He crumpled the refund postcard for How to Woo Your Lady in Nine Easy Steps, tossed it over his shoulder, and walked out the door with Rarity.

The End.