Growing Pained

The sun had finally set, and Luna's night had finally, thankfully, blanketed Ponyville. The small dragon staring out from the balcony could no longer make out the specific details of the day's destruction, but here, where the silhouette of the water tower wasn't, or there, where the lines of Sugar Cube Corner ended so unnaturally, still gave silent testimony to the rampage. And even if they didn't, it wouldn't matter to Spike. He knew they were there. He remembered. The screams of the town's ponies as he raged and plundered. The despair in the Crusaders' voices as he tried to steal Scootaloo's precious namesake. The sounds of splintering oak as he tore his way out of his own home – couldn't forget that, with the night's wind now whistling through the hole. Pinkie Pie – Pinkie Pie – at the Corner's new... sun roof. Where was she staying tonight? And what about the Cakes, who just that morning had specially baked for him a delicious, unique, sapphire muffin?

His eyes were drawn unwillingly to the Carousel Boutique. Even by the pale starlight he could make out the massive hole in the wall where he'd reached in and grabbed... her. He cast about, trying to find something, anything, else to think about. There, leaning against the corner of the balcony, was the broom from earlier. Even now, he still felt a certain pull towards it. A lingering effect of the draconic avarice perhaps, or maybe Twilight had cast a "Want It, Need It" spell on it. It wasn't important. He snorted, recalling how getting the broom, hoarding it, had, for a brief moment, been the most important thing in the world to him. As if causing all that mayhem, as if confessing to her wasn't enough, he'd made a spectacle of himself, all over a dumb broom. At least Big Mac wasn't alone now. What would Mr Smarty Pants have made of all this? No wonder Spike was messing up, without his sage advice. Musing, he subconsciously clutched the broom to himself, and almost didn't notice the soft hoof steps behind him.

"Spike, I was worried." Twilight's voice was soft, filled with quiet concern. "It's not like you to be up so late, and I – is that the broom from earlier?"

"Oh, hey Twilight. Yeah, me and Sir Cleansweep here are just hanging out, ya know? Doing some male bonding." Spike laughed awkwardly, scratching the back of his head, trying to bluster his way out of it.

"Sir Cleansweep?" she responded, in that sceptical tone of voice he knew and loved. A violet glow encased the good knight and sent him flying back into the library. Spike had half a second to protest before he too was bound by magic, only instead of a trip into the library of his own he was pulled into the embrace of the unicorn's forelegs.

"Wanna talk about it, big guy?" she asked, resting her head on his back and closing her eyes. Spike settled into the hug, wrapping his short arms around her and hiding his face in her mane. Anyone who didn't know the dragon, didn't know how tough, how strong, how manly he was, might have mistakenly thought he was trying to hide some powerful despair. The moon slowly crept above the horizon whilst Twilight held him in her forelegs, waiting patiently until he was able to speak.

"I... I messed up, Twi. I really messed up. The library, the town, even AJ's orchard, they're all messed up and it's all my fault." Spike's voice broke slightly on that last word, and he buried his face in his best friend's mane once again.

"Oh, Spike." breathed Twilight. "Don't you realise none of this was your fault? You're the only one who thinks it is." An unbelieving and muffled snort answered her.

"I mean it, Spike. And not just because you're my Number One assistant, not just because I love you, but because of logic!" Twilight's voice changed from gentle and loving to triumphant over the course of the statement.

"Logic?" asked the dragon.

"Logic!" replied the unicorn. "You know, there was once a young filly who accidentally caused quite a large amount of mayhem, madness and property damage with her growing pains. Wrecked the tower of the Academy of Magic in Canterlot. Even transmogrified her parents. And she turned out OK. And in case you've somehow forgotten, there's also the case of the Cutie Mark Crusaders. They don't even have promethium in them like you, and look at all the trouble they cause!"

Something between a laugh and a sob came from the small dragon.

"Besides, look at it this way, Spike" said Twilight, warming to the subject, "This is Ponyville. Look at the rest of us! Fluttershy stampeded a horde of animals into the Galloping Gala! Pinkie Pie's peace song helped start a war! AJ catapulted Rainbow into the library! And don't even get me started on the amount of property damage Rainbow's caused over the years. I asked Major Mare, and let me tell you, it's a lot, even when you don't factor in Sonic Rainbooms. Apparently, Sparkling Glaze isn't sure whether he should love her or hate her, considering how many windows he has to repair. And... well, you remember the snow plough last Winter Wrap Up. And that time I accidentally made the Parasprites eat the town. And that unfortunate incident with Mr Smarty Pants..."

This time it was definitely a laugh. Twilight smiled to herself.

"You know, when you put it like that, I wonder if we're a bad influence." she mused.

"Never." replied the dragon emphatically "Aside from maybe all that fru fru girly stuff." He paused a second, then hesitantly asked "Are you sure? That they don't hate me? Don't want me … to go?"

"Positive!" Twilight reassured him. "But, if you like, tomorrow we'll go around and visit everyone, so you can see for yourself and apologise. Not that you have to, it not being your fault and all, but it might make you feel better."

"I'd like that," Spike smiled. "Maybe help out with the repairs. I am Ponyville's Number One assistant after all!"

"That you are, Spike! Never forget it for a second." Twilight held out Spike before her, and looked him in the eye. "Feel better?"

"A ton yeah, thanks! Well, about decimating the town anyway." Twilight couldn't work out whether he was exaggerating and using decimate wrong or had seen how much damage the town had endured and got it right for once, but sensed this was probably not the time to ask which it was.

"Back when I shrunk back down into me, when me and R-rarity were falling, I didn't know if we were gonna make it or not, and I... told her about my crush on her!" Fear and horror filled his every word. Twilight's eyes teared up, and she crushed him into a hug once again.

"Oh my brave little stallion! Dragon! You're growing up so fast – even factoring out anomalous greed-induced growth spurts!" she bawled, which was answered by a yowl from Opalescent, a whine from Winona, and the distinctive reptilian cries of Tank and Gummy.

"Geez, Twi, calm down!" sputtered Spike, awkwardness momentarily overriding all other emotion. "I don't want the whole town to know!"

"Sorry!" she cried and, through great effort and mental control, calmed herself down some. "So, what did she say?"

"Nothing. I got as far as "For the longest time now, I've had a crush on -" and she smiled, got all teary and put her hoof on my mouth. And that was it. Didn't say anything about it at all, even when she talked to me on the bridge afterwards. What do you think that means, Twilight?"

"...You're asking the wrong pony, Spike. The worst pony, probably. Haven't the foggiest." Staring over her young friend's shoulder out towards Carousel Boutique, a look of steely determination crossed her face. But I sure mean to find out.

Trudging down the road to Sweet Apple Acres, ("She's bound to be up first, naturally!") Twilight leered blearily down towards their eventual destination. Spike, not much better due to his late night ("You are only a baby dragon, after all!") was riding on her back, sipping idly from a morning cup of dandelion and burdock ("It'll give you energy, Spike!"). The birds were singing in the benuded trees, Celestia's sun was gently warming the ground, and the pair were almost coming round to appreciate being awake to enjoy it when a wanna-be Wonderbolt-from-the-blue crashed into the dirt next to them.

"Gwaaaaah!"

"Holy Guacamole!"

The chromatic pegasus slowly stood up and shook her head to clear it, before turning to the dynamic duo. Spike was staring blankly at her from underneath Twilight where he'd instinctively gone to cover, whilst Twilight's visage, surrounded by wet bangs from a jettisoned drink, was somewhat less sanguine. Rainbow Dash laughed nervously.

"Well if it isn't my favourite book worm and her number one assistant! I thought that purple blur on the ground was you two! Er... sorry about the landing, when you're this fast, sometimes it's hard to slow down, you know?"

"Right..." drawled Twilight, who sighed and decided to let it go. For now, anyway. It was amazing how a pegasus asleep and apparently safe in a tree could get hit somehow by a drink from absolutely nowhere. Then something seriously wrong occurred to her. "Wait, Rainbow Dash? What in Sleipnir's fetlocks are YOU doing up? It's like ten o'clock! A M!" she said, in case the pegasus had somehow gotten confused by the ambiguous nature of the 12 hour time system.

"Yeah, Rainbow, isn't there a cloud somewhere with your name on it?" piped in Spike.

"There sure is. And I was just on my way there, but I saw you two and thought I'd say hi before hitting the hay." Rainbow let out a huge yawn as she finished talking, and Spike and Twilight's jaws mimed in sympathy. They noticed the glazed look in her eyes, and the dark circles beneath them.

"Late night?" Twilight asked happily, Rainbow's tiredness somehow seeming to steal away her own.

"You know it! When you need to organise a repair effort for a whole town, when you need to contact repair crews all around Equestria, when you need the fastest pony in town, when you, in short, need Rainbow Dash, the Dash will never let you down! Even, no, especially if it means flying all night!"

Twin blank stares looked at her, their minds no doubt unable to cope with her awesomeness, as far as she could tell.

"Wow Rainbow, that's really …dedicated" said Twilight, finally.

"Hehehehe, isn't it? You know me, when someone needs me, I'll never leave them hanging!" replied Rainbow happily. "But what brings you two out at this hour? All night study session or something?"

"Well, after what happened yesterday, I thought it would do Spike some good to talk to everyone, see that no-one blames him or hates him or anything." Spike nodded behind her, looking serious. Rainbow Dash on the other hand looked confused.

"Why would you think anyone blames you, Spike? It's not like your the first pony... dragon to go on a rampage after some weird magical doohickey or something. And that minor bit of devastation was nothing compared to the parasprites. Besides, trust me, don't sweat the small stuff, small stuff. Now when you're shattering windows from Trottingham to Manehatten with one Sonic Rainboom..." Rainbow Dash paused, savouring the memory. She still had the petition, signed by every member of the Equestrian Fenestrator's Guild asking the Princesses to banish Rainbow Dash to the moon, in pride of place on display in her house. "Well, maybe then you'll start to equal me in the property damage charts." She frowned, wondering if the mail mare was encroaching on her placement again.

"Well... not everyone's as good-natured ("Reckless" muttered Twilight) as you, Dash" said Spike, in a small voice. Rainbow Dash frowned, and pulled Spike into a tight hug, and proceeded to noogie him, which was mutually understood by both to offset the sentimentality of the moment.

"Element of Loyalty, remember? But if anyone gives you any trouble, you just leave them to me!" Mid-noogie, she spun into a quick double-kick with her hind legs to illustrate her point. Spike smiled widely.

"Gee, thanks Rainbow Dash. And... thanks again. For yesterday. You really saved our lives." Twilight laid a hoof on Rainbow's shoulder, and added her own thanks.

"Yes, thank you Rainbow. If something had happened to my Spike, or Rarity, I.." the unicorn broke off, not having the words. Rainbow Dash blushed, and turned away from the beaming dragon whelp in her arms and librarian staring at her with grateful, teary eyes.

"Ahahaha, well, you know, saving people, it's what I do. Besides, the Wonderbolts will have to take me now! Helping save the day whilst they were trapped in some dumb water tower!" Abruptly dropping Spike on the road, the pegasus jumped into the air, hovering nervously. "Well, as I said, long night, and I've got an express ticket to Dreamsville. Later!" And with a lightning fast nuzzle for Spike and a hearty pat on the flank to Twilight, Rainbow Dash was speeding off into the air.

"Awww, think we flustered her, Twilight?" Spike asked the unicorn, smiling slyly.

"Maybe just a little, Spike. Rainbow Dash sure does respond strangely to praise sometimes" responded Twilight, not noticing Spike's level stare. "Still, for saving the lives of two of my very best friends, she deserves as much praise as she can stand and more!" Her horn was surrounded in that familiar purple glow as she magically amplified her voice, so that no-one, even and especially a chromatic pegasus blazing away, couldn't hear what she "said" next.

"YOU'RE THE AWESOMEST, YOU HEAR ME RAINBOW DASH? WE LOVE YOU!"

The echoing words of her shout soon had their reply as with a might roar, Rainbow Dash performed her first ascending Sonic Rainboom, tinted rather pink.

"I can't believe I got a nuzzle from Rainbow Dash of all ponies!" exclaimed Spike as the pair approached Apples' family home. "I mean, she never nuzzles anypony!"

Hence the reason for your disbelief Twilight thought to herself. She smiled slyly down at her companion.

"I think I know why she nuzzled you, Spike" she said in a sing-song voice, which Spike completely missed. "Why's that, Twi?"

"Because you're just the cutest dragon in Ponyville, that's why!" sang Twilight, sweeping a protesting Spike into her forelegs and proceeding to nuzzle the poor dragon mercilessly.

"Gwa ha ha – C-cut it out Twi – bwa ha ha ha – enough with the mushy stuff already – quit it!" gasped Spike, whose pleas went unheard as the unicorn proceeded blow raspberries on his soft underbelly.

"Now ain't that the sweetest thing that ah ever did see." At hearing that familiar twang, Twilight looked up sheepishly from Spike's stomach, the owner of which quickly vacating her legs, blushing a furious shade of violet. "A mighty fine mornin' t'you both." Applejack's emerald eyes twinkled as she took in the impromptu tableau of embarrassment before her.

"Morning, Applejack" replied Twilight, with Spike adding his own muttered pleasantry in with hers. "Spike and I were just on our way to see you... and now we're here." she finished lamely.

"Ah can see that, Twi. Ah had a slight inklin' you pair were on yer way. Now what in tarnation did poor Rainbow Dash do to deserve such public sentimentality? Poor filly's probably grinning like Pinkie Pie and blushing like Fluttershy..."inquired Applejack, smiling widely at her sometime-rival getting embarrassed at such a sweet proclamation.

"Well, she did save Spike and Rarity yesterday, and besides, Rainbow Dash could probably do with learning to appreciate being loved, as well as loving." explained Twilight. Applejack eyed her strangely, and Twilight sighed. "Yes, I read that in Egghead's Guide to Emotional Barriers..."

"That one never leaves your bedside table, huh Twi?" chipped in Spike helpfully, who received a hoof in the ribs for his trouble.

"Well, ah just hope you don't plan on thankin' Fluttershy the same way. Between your hollerin' and Rainbow Dash's Sonic Rainboom, poor Winona's had a devil of a time, and ah can't imagine Fluttershy's taking it much better." Applejack tossed her mane in the direction of a nearby hay bale, where Winona's head was cautiously peeking out. "Now ah told you girl, was all just Twilight and Rainbow Dash playin' together. Ain't nothin' to be scared of."

Twilight walked over to the hay bale slowly, and lowered her head to the nervous dog.

"Sorry Winona, I guess I got a bit carried away back there. I didn't mean to scare you. Forgive me?" she apologised, getting a happy bark and a lick to the face in reply, which caused the unicorn to giggle. "Guess I'm forgiven!"

"Looks that way to me!" said Applejack, smiling widely. "Now then, unless ah'm very much mistaken, you two didn't get outa bed early this mornin' just to embarrass Rainbow Dash, though ah'd have the greatest respect for you if you did."

At this, Spike suddenly looked sombre, though a far cry from the actively morose expression he'd been convinced his face would get frozen into the night before. Shuffling a few steps towards the Earth pony, he cleared his throat loudly, claws twiddling furiously.

"I-I-I'm sorry, Applejack!" the little dragon said in a rush, eyes firmly on his naval, or at least where a non-oviparous species would have one.

Applejack looked at Spike bemused. "Come again?"

"I'm sorry! I'm sorry I stole all the apples and leaves! I'm sorry I got giant claw prints all over your land! I'm sorry I made you accidentally tie you and Twi to a tree! I'm sorry I -" Spike paused for a breath, panting hard after his apologetic diatribe.

"Heavens to Betsy, Spike, ya don't have t'apologise for any of that none. Ya weren't ya self, remember? Why, if ah had a bit for every time some pony round these parts when on a mad rampage, ah could buy ol' Granny Smith a hip for every day of the week!" said Applejack fondly, if with a touch of exasperation.

"Yeah, that's what Rainbow Dash and I said" interjected Twilight.

"Really? You're not mad?" said Spike eagerly, eyes wide.

"Ah said as much didn't ah? Element of Honesty, remember? Got the shiny necklace t'prove it and all!" laughed Applejack. "Hey, you scrumpin' all them apples of the trees saved me and Big Mac havin' to buck them all off. They're all in the middle of Ponyville, ready to sell!"

"Gosh Applejack, I never thought of it like that!" said Spike wonderingly. "Can he really take the credit for that and not the blame for trying to steal them?" Twilight decided to not say. Another, less snarky, thought struck her.

"What about the leaves, Applejack? I'm not sure I could reattach them all magically." Not without some other magical mishap happening, anyway.

"Don't ya worry none, Twi. Princess Celestia said Luna would be moseying down tomorrow to help out with the repairs, especially with things that ain't so easily fixed." replied Applejack with an easy tone. Twilight and Spike both breathed out a sigh of relief. Even if the Apple family's livelihoods hadn't been dependent on the health of the trees, Applejack's love for them was renowned.

"That's good to hear." said Twilight happily. She'd love a chance to spend more time with the eccentric and scholarly alicorn. "Celestia busy with court business?"

"Nah, she just said Luna was the second one to put her hoof on her horn and say "Not it.""

A cold wind blew though Sweet Apple Acres, carrying away another shred of Twilight's illusions about her beloved mentor's seriousness.

"Is that dragon back again?" shrieked a voice from behind them. Tottering out from the farm kitchen was Granny Smith, wearing a saucepan on her head and wielding a pitchfork in shaky hooves. Her eyes latched on to Spike, and she hobbled towards him menacingly, as only the Apple clan matriarch could. Over Spike's shoulder, Twilight stared, torn between wondering whether to step in or not, and wondering what the hay was going on.

"There's the varmint! When ah saw ya making off with all our produce yesterday, ah swore ah'd be ready to spring into action if ah ever saw you sneaking round these parts again! An' here you are, bold as brass the very next day!" said the elderly pony angrily. Spike's eyes widened dramatically, and Twilight's horn began to glow protectively. Applejack on the other hoof seemed strangely unperturbed.

"Why, ah thought to myself, that there dragon's clearly as hungry as high heaven, grabbing all those apples! So here, don't you dare leave a crumb left now!" and with that, Granny Smith pulled a gigantic pie, smelling strongly of apples, from behind her, eyes twinkling. Twilight would of bet her horn that Granny Smith couldn't of carried it, let alone hide it about her person. Possible relation to Pinkie Pie? Be sure to ask Pinkie – no, better make that Applejack – later on.

Spike stared at the pie for a long second, before looking back at Granny Smith.

"Not a crumb, ya hear me?" Seeing the smile in her eyes, Spike saluted smartly, and fell to with a vigour even Pinkie Pie would of applauded.

Smiling, Twilight looked at Applejack and Granny Smith, who were in turn watching the young dragon's surprise morning repast, and then took in Big Mac and the other farm hands a little way away, watching the group fondly. All the ponies in this town are crazy.

With a groaning young dragon clutching a very full stomach on her back, Twilight Sparkle cantered up to Fluttershy's cottage on the outskirts of the Everfree forest. The trees were filled with the morning's birdsong, whilst the shy pegasus's other charges could be heard merrily going on about their business. Little of yesterday's chaos seemed to have left much mark; the image of peace was marred only by a set of large clawprints torn into the earth, which were now being sniffed curiously by a pair of bewildered badgers, and of course the chicken coop in the small paddock was conspicuous by it's absence. Taking all this in, Twilight gently lifted her small friend of her back and deposited him on the doorstep, before tapping the door smartly with a hoof.

A sudden cacophonous squawking shattered the blissful atmosphere, followed by the sound of something hitting the floor hard. Twilight was fairly confident of the source of the latter occurrence, and sure enough, the door was soon opened just far enough for the delicate face of her friend to peep out at her unexpected guests, with a small bruise forming above her left eye.

"O-oh, it's you, Twilight! And Spike! G-good morning!" said the soft-voiced pegasus, as she opened the door the rest of the way. Following her inside with Spike in tow, Twilight could see a group of hens in one of the corners of the cottage, being emphatically lectured by a stern-looking Angel Bunny.

"Good morning, Fluttershy!" returned Twilight, with Spike groaning something incoherent. "We didn't mean to startle you."

"Oh n-no, you didn't! But, um, the chickens are still a little n-nervous about sudden noises after, um, yesterday, and since I was grooming their feathers when you knocked, they j-jumped up all of a sudden... and I f-fell." Fluttershy trailed off, and Twilight couldn't hold in a slight chuckle as the pink-maned pony went cross-eyed trying to stare at her bruise.

"Well, looks like I owe you and the ladies an apology. Anypony would be a touch jumpy after everything that went on." The chickens waved a dismissive wing in unison at Twilight's cheery words, whilst Fluttershy hurriedly denied that the unicorn had anything to say sorry for.

"S-so, is there something I can do for you, Twilight? N-not that I'm not happy that you two stopped by or anything..." Twilight raised a hoof to cut her off, with an understanding smile.

"Well, Spike here..." was as far as she got, as Fluttershy finally noticed the worse-for-wear condition of the small dragons, and with a burst of motion she flew across the room and swooped up Spike in her forelegs.

"O-oh no! Spike, you look terrible! What happened? D-did somepony d-do something mean to you?" cried Fluttershy, checking Spike's temperature with a hoof to his forehead, concerned eyes staring into his – checking for dilation no doubt, thought Twilight. Spike's condition seemed to worsen dramatically under all the attention, his head hanging loosely from his neck, with his tongue lolling out between his fangs. Like the littlest war hero, he coughed twice, illiciting a snort from Twilight, and managed to give Fluttershy a name.

"Granny... Pie..."

"Granny Pie? B-but... what... how...who..." spluttered Fluttershy. "Oh Spike! What did she do to you?"

"She..." Spike's strength seemed to flag, causing Fluttershy to move in closer. Twilight contented herself with rolling her eyes.

"She made me a pie." Spike's voice was now a contented whisper. "It was a large pie. I ate it all." Fluttershy's expression of concern froze on her face, and it was all Twilight could do to suppress under a hoof. Spike sighed once more, dreamily. "It was... so golden delicious..."

"O-oh. I, um, see." said Fluttershy, relieved, though momentarily with an expression that Twilight thought resembled that time Applejack had found half a worm in an apple. "Well, that's a relief. Um, not I'm relieved that your stomach hurts or anything..." Fluttershy's voiced tapered off, and she tapped a hoof on her chin thoughtfully. "I have some medicine somewhere if you'd like? It's for reptiles who've, er, indulged on candy a bit too much." Spike nodded, letting out an apple-scented burp as he did.

"Pinkie Pie?" asked Twilight.

"Pinkie Pie." confirmed Fluttershy, who hovered about the various medicine cabinets which were placed safely out of her charges' reach, the terrestrial ones at least. "Poor little Gummy does have a tendency to get his stomach a little achy." Fluttershy grabbed a dull green vial from a shelf and darted back to the dragon.

"Should I get a glass of water?" Twilight's horn glowed at the ready. Fluttershy looked confused for a second, before realisation spread across her face.

"Ah, um, it's kind of you to offer, but no, that's ok, Twilight. Zecora introduced me to this medicine. It's very effective, but..." Fluttershy's quiet voice dropped to a whisper. "It's not administered orally." Twilight nodded to herself. Scaleshine the Luminous had written much about the use of various skin ointments in dealing with various draconic ailments. Had Fluttershy borrowed her copy of Sharp Spines and Sharper Tongues? She'd have to check the ticket stubs later.

"Hmm. Would you mind taking care of Spike for a bit? I needed to talk to Rarity about, um, socks, and I don't want Spike getting over-excited in his, um, weakened state." said Twilight. Nice and smooth, Sparkle! Luckily for Twilight, Fluttershy didn't notice her evasion.

"He does get a little silly around her, doesn't her?" the pegasus giggled softly. Spike just groaned and muttered something, of which Twilight could only make out the word "pastry." "That's no problem, Twilight. I'll take good care of him. He's in safe hooves." she said, smiling down at the dragon, before running into the bathroom where she started rooting through a small cabinet.

"I know he is, Fluttershy." Twilight followed Fluttershy into the small room, and decided not to comment on the toilet seat cover with a butterfly motif. "I haven't forgotten that you helped save his, and Rarity's, lives yesterday. I'll never forget." Twilight pulled her surprised friend into a tight hug, which lead to poor Fluttershy banging her head off sink. "I love you, Fluttershy. You're our hero!" Twilight swiftly pecked the pegasus on the cheek, and darted off with a giggle. "I'll be back for Spike later! 'Bye!"

After a few seconds to compose herself, Fluttershy got to her feet somewhat unsteadily, and stared at herself in the mirror wonderingly. Her hoof touched the spot on her cheek which still felt tingly, and then somewhat more gingerly the new-born twin of the bruise she'd gotten earlier.

"Did you hear that, Angel Bunny? I'm a hero!" she said proudly. Angel Bunny sprang up onto the cabinet and saluted her smartly. Fluttershy turned to her companion, and Angel allowed her to nuzzle him for a few seconds before tapping her with an item he'd pulled out of the cabinet's drawer.

"Oh, why thank you, Angel!" Fluttershy pulled on the item with a rubbery snap, and returned to the main room. "Now hold still dear, this might feel a teeny bit uncomfortable..."

Angel Bunny folded an ear down over his eyes.

As Twilight approached what remained of Carousel Boutique, she was surprised to see Rarity and and Applebloom together, seemingly immersed in a large scroll one of the two must of weighed down on a little table on the street outside. Applebloom seemed to be sketching something, scribbling hurriedly in response to Rarity's dramatic gestures.

"And for the roof, I'm thinking a – a crown! Yes, a crown, covered in gems! Emeralds, sapphires, rhinestones! And, pride of place, on the central prong above the doorway, a sparkling fire ruby! Just like the one dear Spikey-wikey gave me!" Rarity sighed heartily, and briefly touched a hoof to the necklace she was wearing. "Only, um, bigger." Applebloom nodded as she drew, splashing a little ink on her face. "Not that size is important darling, of course, but it does pay to advertise." Applebloom stared blankly up at the fashionista, who smiled sheepishly. "Never mind, darling."

"Well, you two seem to be working hard." said Twilight cheerily as she approached the two.

"Why good morning, Twilight darling. Applebloom is being kind enough to help me design the new and improved Carousel Boutique!" exclaimed Rarity dramatically. Applebloom put her quill down in the ink pot calmly, and looked up at Twilight.

"Howdy, Twilight. Ah'm helping Rarity with architecture an' stuff! Scootaloo always said ah had carpentry 'mad skillz', which ah didn't really understand none, but maybe ah can get a architect cutie mark!" The two unicorns smiled fondly as the little filly paused for breathe.

"And where is Scootaloo? And Sweetie Belle? I'd of thought they'd love to help out here, too." asked Twilight. The young earth pony and the older unicorn's faces froze, and they stared at each other for a second, before looking back at Twilight.

"Well, um, Rarity here said that architectin' was really only a one pony job, so, um..." started Applebloom.

"And little Applebloom had the most marvellous idea that her fellows might be better helping out where they'd" Rarity paused, apparently stuck for words.

"Cause less damage?" Twilight finished for her. Applebloom winced.

"Twilight Sparkle! What a thing to suggest!" said Rarity in a tone Twilight found somewhat less then convincing. "No, no, where their talents would prove most useful!" she finished, with a faltering smile. What, they're helping out the demolition team? Said a voice in Twilight's head that sounded rather like Spike. She bit down on one lip and decided not to press the two further.

Meanwhile, in the sorting room, Derpy Hooves and her fellow mail-mares and stallions had all backed into a corner, staring in horror at the two fillies who had so suddenly burst through the door and dived into the pile of unsorted letters and packages.

"CUTIE MARK CRUSADERS MAIL MARES! YAY!"

"So, darling, what brings you up and about at such an... unscholarly hour?" said Rarity with a smile. Twight shot a glare at her friend.

"Hah hah. I can get up early, when I have to, you know." growled Twilight. Applebloom's eyes flicked back and forth between the two, as if she were at one of Ace's tennis matches. Rarity's smile grew wider, and she prodded Twilight joshingly with a hoof.

"Of course you can darling, I'm just teasing you." said Rarity. " One wouldn't dream to imply you were like dear Rainbow Dash." Rarity's head cocked to one side. "Who certainly seemed rather more... rambunctious then usual this morning. Who'd of thought a Sonic Rainboom could look embarrassed?"

"Ah reckon all of Ponyville musta heard you hollerin', Twilight." added Applebloom happily. "That was real sweet of ya."

"Well, she did save two of my dearest friends yesterday" said Twilight, which caused the indigo-mained unicorn to blush prefusely.

"Oh Twilight. You really do say the sweetest things!" Rarity replied, waving a hoof in a hushing motion. "I do hope you weren't as effusive with dear Fluttershy. If you've embarrassed her, I'll be sure to hear about it at our weekly spar meets." Rarity said, her voice pseudo-threatening the other unicorn, who rolled her eyes good-naturedly. "Well, once the spar is rebuilt anyway. But yes, I do seem to have something of a habit of plummeting to my doom. Maybe I should have a sky diving cutie mark!" The elder ponies chuckled, before noticing how Applebloom's eyes had lit up eagerly.

"Don't even think about it!" they said in unison.

"Awww..." cried Applebloom, drawing a little circle in the dirt in disappointment. "Never get to do anything cool..."

"I shall definitely have to do something to show them my gratitude. Ah! A dress! I know just the look that would look simply stunning, and..." Rarity cut off abruptly. "Well, I'm sure I could make something for Fluttershy that she'd just love, but I can't help feel that making Rainbow Dash a dress would be, well, a little self-serving. But, oh, I have to make her something! Oh, this is the. Worst. Possible. Thing!"

"Uhuh." said Twilight, long used to her friend's theatrics. "Why don't we go get some brunch and see if we can come up with any ideas?"

"Like apples!" suggested Applebloom happily. "Everypony loves apples!"

"Oh, that's a wonderful idea!" cried Rarity. "Elevenses sounds wonderful, darling."

"Elevenses?" asked Applebloom. "Ah shoot, ah need to be makin' trails. Me and the girls are meant to be helping Zecora re-decorate her hut. Can ah take a rain-check?"

"Of course, darling!" exclaimed Rarity. "You've been such a help with the designs. Do give my love to Zecora and the girls."

"Ah'll be sure to, Miss Rarity. See ya'll later!" said Applebloom, and headed off in the direction of the Everfree forest. Twilight and Rarity waved, before heading off to what the latter called a "modest but chic little establishment." As they walked, Twilight glanced at her friend curiously.

"Do you think Zecora's really thought have the girls help her redecorate through?" she asked. Rarity's response was simply a dainty shrug.

Zecora waited outside her hut, tracking her young friends' progress towards her by startled birds taking flight over the tree line. A breeze blew through the trees and shrubs, gently rattling the masks, chimes and other personal artefacts she had brought from her faraway home.

"All of a sudden the wind has turned chill; perhaps to bring me tidings ill?" she mused to herself.

" and whilst I could make her some simply magnificent curtains, with the aid of your magic of course darling, I rather doubt she'd care for them any more then cushions, or bedsheets, so it's back to the drawing board once again I'm afraid. Still, the idea of cloud-based upholstery is so intriguing! Why, everything was so gloriously soft in Cloudsdale, it would be so wonderful to bring that to the homes of every earth pony and unicorn!"Rarity sighed softly to herself happily, lost in her vision. "Twilight... Twilight?"

Twilight snapped out of her own reverie, and realised her friend seemed to be expecting something of her. Rarity's eyes narrowed slightly as she stared at her startled dining companion.

"Is there something on your mind, darling?" Rarity asked. Twilight realised this was finally her chance to change the subject.

"Well, actually there is. I wanted to talk to you about yesterday..." Twilight began hesitantly. Rarity's eyes widened in surprise.

"Yesterday? Honestly Twilight, I'm fine." the pale-maned unicorn interjected. "Or at least I will be once the spar is back on form. And the Boutique of course!" she laugh. Twilight shook her head.

"Well, that's good, that's great of course, but it's not you I'm still worried about." explained Twilight. Rarity looked puzzled.

"Not me? Then – oh no! Not little Spikey-wikey! Is he feeling bad about yesterday?" asked Rarity concernedly, raising a hoof to one cheek.

"Well, he was pretty upset about what happened, so I've been taking him around Ponyville, making sure he knows everypony isn't angry and doesn't blame him. Which is why I was up so early." said Twilight, finishing with a pointed glance, which Rarity waved away with a hoof.

"Oh, Spike. Such a sweet, considerate, gentledragon! Who could possibly blame him?" Rarity said. "Why, anypony that dares accuse our little Spikey-wikey had better be prepared for the consequences!" Rarity's horn sparked menacingly, drawing startled looks from the other diners. Twilight smiled at the idea of her friends all stepping up to defend Spike.

"Mmm, exactly. And I think he's pretty much realised that now." Rarity nodded approvingly along with Twilight's words. "But there's something else that's really bothering him that happened yesterday, and I must admit I've no idea what to do about it."

"So you've come to me for help? Oh darling, I'm flattered!" Rarity twilled happily. "But what else could be bothering the poor dear?" she said thoughtfully. Twilight simply stared steadily at her friend, who stared back blankly. Then, realisation dawned.

"Oh..." she said, softly.

"Oh." confirmed Twilight. There was a long, silent pause, unbroken even by the other diners, who were enjoying the impromptu cabaret.

"He, um, told you about that?" asked Rarity hesitantly, eyes not making contact with Twilight's.

"Yes." said Twilight. Not for the first time, it occurred to Twilight that the two of them should of talked about this a long time ago. She sighed, with gusto. "How long have you known, anyway?"

"About his... feelings for me?" Twilight nodded. "Oh, from the start, darling. Dear Spike's not the first colt... dragon to fall for me, and not to sound immodest, but I have come to recognise the signs. Well, he probably is the first dragon, but you know what I mean. But yes, Spike's never been exactly subtle... not that the rest of our little social circle seemed to have 'cottoned on', as t'were."

"Thank you!" cried Twilight heartily, causing a small uproar of tinkling cutlery as the other patrons were startled by her outburst. "I mean, is everypony around here blind ? I mean, sure, I understand Pinkie Pie not realising, but Fluttershy checks out all those Mares and Boon novels out from the library, and Rainbow Dash... Rainbow Dash..." Twilight trailed off, as it suddenly dawned on her that she might actually be in the top three of her friends when it comes to recognising someone with a crush. This was most unprecedented, and required further thought. "Huh."

"What about Applejack?" asked Rarity, curiously. Twilight shrugged.

"I hope she knows, but she's never said anything either way. She's not one for talking about romance." Rarity nodded gloomily, bemoaning the lack of juicy gossip in the group.

"But to return to the matter at hoof. Obviously, dear Spikey-wikey was infatuated with me from the start, and it was the most adorable little crush. I didn't have the heart to say anything, and besides, I thought it would clear up soon enough, like most foal-hood crushes. And..." Rarity paused dramatically, and Twilight waved a hoof at her to continue.

"Well, at first he was just your dragon. Cute and adorable, yes, and his little displays of admiration were good for the ego... but, as time passed, I started to see him less as your assistant, and more as my friend. And I also saw... that it wasn't just a crush. He wasn't just attracted to my impeccably-kept mane, or" The unicorn blushed, and lowered her voice, causing the eaves-dropping diners to edge their chairs closer as surreptitiously as possible. "flanks, nor even my delightful mastery of etiquette. He was attracted to me." The diners sighed in unison. "And the gems were a big clue, of course."

"The gems?" asked Twilight, who was feeling distinctly out of her depth.

"Mm. I remember that sapphire I gave him, shortly before that ghastly incident with the Diamond Dogs. Spike looked like Doctor Whooves in a clock shop, but he kept it instead. At first, I thought it might just be part of some dragonic hoarding instinct, but I soon noticed that he quickly devoured any gems other pony gave him."

"Wait," Twilight interrupted. "You knew about Spike's hoarding instincts?"

"Oh, not like that, darling. Just you know, generally, dragons being quite well-known for collecting gems. Not so much globe and scooters. Or dress-makers." she finished, giggling. Twilight nodded, with a smile of her own. "And of course, there was last week, with that star ruby. Spike-wikey's always been such a kind and considerate gentlepony... dragon, but for him to give a gem away? And not just any gem too, but such a rare and unique beauty like this?" Rarity sighed, a little dreamily, and stared at her necklace lovingly. "Well, clearly I was... very special to him."

Twilight stared at her friend, and then closed her eyes. With one hoof rubbing her chin, she tried to process everything Rarity had told her. She was still learning about friendship for Celestia's sake, this romance malarkey was too much for her! Adding to her mental checklist to take some of Zecora's strongest painkilling draught for the no-doubt agonizing migraine all this confusion was going to cause her, she exhaled slowly, and met Rarity's anxious gaze.

"Okay. So that explains that. But if you've known about his feelings for you for so long, why have you been... letting him do so much for you?" asked Twilight, trying for tact. Rarity,alas, didn't take it well.

"Are you accusing me of taking advantage of him?" she shouted, eyes ablaze with anger. "Twilight Sparkle, how dare you? Don't you know... don't you know me better then that?" her voice broke, and fire drained out of her sapphire eyes, to be replaced by tears. "Don't you trust me, Twilight?"

"Of course I trust you. But..." Twilight waved her forehooves about, trying to find the right words. " Don't you see how it's looked? Accepting all those favours, that gem, using him as a pincushion for Luna's sake! Not to mention soaking up all that attention, those compliments... help me understand!" she said heatedly. Panting slightly after her outburst, she stared across the table at her friend, who seemed to deflate slightly. Closing her eyes, Rarity groaned and rested her head on the table in front of her, covering her face with her hooves.

"Oh Twilight, darling." she began, her voice tired. "I'm afraid I don't understand either. I said that at first I thought Spike would get over it... me, and that this is the first time anypony... dragon has fallen for me." Twilight nodded, unseen. "Well, I wasn't lying. I'm not used to such heartfelt affection, let alone from a close friend. And I must admit, I have enjoyed the attention. Little Spikey-wikey makes me feel like the most beautiful and special pony on Equestria... it's hard not to let it all go to my head! As for the gifts, the favours, well, I must admit, it hasn't always occurred to me to refuse them, but when it has, it never seemed very generous to turn them away. I do appreciate generosity, and... I don't want to hurt him. Oh Celestia, I've never wanted to hurt him!" Rarity's words turned into a low wail. "But I don't know what to do, Twilight! I don't want to lose him as a friend! I won't lose him as a friend! But if we carry on this way, will I hurt him more? That's not fair to him! I. JUST. DON'T KNOW!" caterwauled the distressed unicorn, now open eyes staring around the room wildly as she punctuated every word with a stomp on the table. Opening her mouth wide for another keening wail, she was cut off as Twilight Sparkle dived across the table and pulled her into a hug.

"Oh, Rarity!" she said in a low, warm tone, as the discarded cups and dishes clattered on the floor. "I didn't think about how this might have been affecting you! I'm so sorry!"

"Quite alright, darling." Rarity whispered back. Twilight sighed, and pulled her head back far enough so she could look her friend in the eye.

"Do you... return his feelings?" she asked awkwardly, a faint blush appearing on her cheeks. Rarity shook her head, waving her magnificent mane in Twilight's eyes inadvertently.

"No. He is quite the dashing little gentledragon, and so sweet and generous, but he is only a little dragon, even if that makes him more mature then a colt his age." Twilight could not repress a snort at the idea of her number one assistant being called mature. "Maybe... maybe when he's older, if we're both unattached, if he's still partial to an... older mare. Maybe. But, I can't wait for him to grow up, at a natural rate anyway, and I can't allow him to spend years pining after me either. Not for a maybe." Twilight looked at her for a second, then abruptly struck herself on the head with a hoof.

"Ow. Oh Twilight, you are a silly filly at times. You know what to do when you don't understand something." Rarity stared up at her friend who had suddenly started talking to herself, three of her legs still tightly holding the two unicorns together.

"Books! There's a whole section devoted to romance, there's bound to be something to help in there somewhere! And... and the princess! Celestia's aeons-old, she's bound to have had some experience with this kind of situation. I'm sure there was something like this in volume 27 of her auto-biography, what was it now..." Twilight's face lit up as the ecstasy of study-planning consumed her, and thus she missed Rarity's face frowning at the idea of sharing her private life with such a public figure.

"Besides," the bookish unicorn continued. "you and Spike have certainly grown close these past months. You two will be fine, I just know it." Twilight smiled down at her friend. "You know, you both gave me a scare yesterday! I've no idea what I'd of done if anything had of happened to either of you. You've got to stop having these near death experiences, Rarity, if only for the sake of the ponies who love you." Twilight chuckled, though both ponies, not to mention the engrossed eavesdroppers, could both hear the note of fear in her voice.

"I don't know, darling. They do generate quite a bit of publicity for the Boutique and myself." she laughed softly, and nuzzled into her friend's mane.