Heart of Scales
Turn 8a: Confirm
If there's anypony to blame, it would be me...
I'm afraid I've made a terrible mistake and don't know what to do next.
I can't, Spike. I can't be with you. You do understand, don't you?
Does it hurt?
You've done… too much for me already.
In that case, I'm glad you came along.
The day after the dinner at Twilight's Spike had heard that she had sent her owl for one last trip across town to deliver it to Rarity, moments after they left. It was a blessing that he had gotten to read it himself and was included in the circle of ponies who were obliged to read it themselves. He had found a good spot in their group, a nice place to settle into the space that he had left as a dragon. Maybe now he'll be able to enjoy a stable life as Ruby in Ponyville. Spike wanted to deliver it to Rarity personally, but he wasn't in any position to do such thing. It was a shame. He really wanted to watch Rarity read the letter, see how she reacts to what it read.
There were so many questions that he would never be able to ask. Things he could only tell from her subtle movements, perhaps discreet clues underlying the small talk he could have possibly shared with her afterwards. For the most part, one "magical" letter from the Princess had stabilized everything that Spike had been concerned about all this time. His mind was now allowed to enjoy some moment of peace.
The first part of the letter dealt with Rarity's career. The news spread fast in Canterlot about Rarity and Spike, being held under quite the spotlight among the designers. They were well known for the unique team that they were. The point was that everypony was now able to draw some sort of connection between him and Rarity. Even the smallest leak of gossip could set in stone the rumors that would ultimately ruin Rarity's reputation in the designing community. There probably wasn't a pony there who didn't have some idea of where the dragon had come from that night. It would be too easy for some. However, it was nothing that the Princess couldn't handle, apparently. How exactly she had gone about repairing the damage wasn't clarified. What was clear was that Rarity would have no problems with her career and reputation among the ponies in the future.
Spike felt his guilt ease, but only the slightest. He had once thought it impossible to redeem even a drop of it. Rather than dwell on his own feelings, he quickly put it out of it his mind and sighed in relief. She was still able to chase her dreams, and that was all he needed now. Thank goodness for the Princess.
While the first part had been direct and obvious in what it was trying to get across, Spike couldn't say the same about the second half of the letter. It was about him, about what had happened to Spike, his current condition, and location.
His disappearance after his rampage, nobody but a small number of Celestia's Guards knew that he was on the tower that night. After he had taken the potion and fell off, only the Princess would have known. Unless he personally says otherwise, whatever scenario she explained in the letter was what everypony was going to believe. In that case, he could only hope that it would be something that doesn't work against him.
According to the letter, Spike was safe and was in a good condition. He was in no way injured from the events of that night, physically at least. It stated that Spike didn't want anypony to know where he was and that it was likely that he would return after he had finished sorting out his feelings.
It sounded simple on the first read. It certainly would've to an average pony, and it sounded so even to Spike on the first read. However, there were many things to take into consideration. The Princess had kept Spike's secret, not telling everypony outright that the baby dragon had transformed into a full grown stallion. There wasn't anything keeping her from doing so. Why lie to Twilight and everypony for the sake of protecting his dishonest secret?
This part of the letter gave him the strange feeling that a part of what the Princess meant to say was for him exclusively. Was that her intent? It would well be in the bounds of reason to suspect her for doing so. She was the one who put him in the same train as Rarity, on his way to Ponyville. It would seem like a long shot, but for somepony of Princess Celestia's level, it would be stupid not to predict that Spike was going to make some effort to get close to Twilight. When she got the letter, he would make an effort to find out what it had said about him. Why not add some underlying message in the letter, one that Spike was sure to pick up on? She knew Spike was going to hear of it one way or another. For sure, the Princess's omnipotent eyes observing him carefully and on top of that she knew him all too well.
The Princess had bought him much time to be "Ruby". His friends were less likely to worry now that they knew he was safe. Him not wanting them to know his whereabouts clearly means that he wanted to be alone and wanted nopony to come looking for him. Spike had a hard time trying to decide how he should feel about what came after. It stated that Spike would return after he had sorted out his feelings. That implies that he was going to return. Was this some sort of ultimatum? No, there can't be a limit. He didn't even know how much time he had… left.
He still had to sort out his feelings first didn't he? But what did that mean?
"Maybe I just wasn't ready to make that kind of decision," said a familiar voice in Spike's head.
"Hello! Ruby!" Applebloom called out to Spike as he was lost in his thoughts. "Pay attention, will ya?"
Spike was pulled back into the scene around him after having spaced out again, something he had been doing quite often recently. To where, from his deep thoughts, did he return to? He had a scroll in his hand, taking notes with a crayon in the other. Yes, a crayon. He was seated on a polished wooden floor. There was an open window beside him letting in a pleasant breeze while he had, up to now, been starting out into the distance of apple trees and beyond. There were three young fillies sprawled out idly on the floor, passing back and forth information of absolutely no use for the good of the world under the guise of an organized club meeting.
He was in the Cutie Mark Crusaders Club House, dragged here after having been pursued by its members for the past week. It was because of the sole reason that he did not have a cutie mark, not because he was interested in gaining one and finding his talent. He thought that somepony had to first be interested in a mark to have a reason to join. He was talented enough to his own knowledge, and certainly didn't need a mark on his behind to prove it. Who was he kidding? It's going to be a green flame anyway.
He was here because three fillies were the resident trouble makers of the town. It turns out that he was the answer to their problem. Everypony's seen him, avoiding them whenever he made trips to the town. He was the perfect bait. The plan was perfect. Keep Ruby and the CMC locked inside their little clubhouse for most of the late morning, keeping them from disturbing the peace with their antics. What else would Applejack put him to on this special day?
"I need you to keep the fillies busy for a while. Can you do that for me?" Applejack asked, drying her untied wet hair, coming out of the bathroom while Spike was waiting outside for his turn at the crack of dawn.
"Of course, no problem. I'll do that for you," Ruby replied like an idiot. Then again, he really didn't have a choice.
Indeed, that's how he was going to remember his first Summer Sun Festival as a pony, spent babysitting Applejacks cantankerous little sister and her equally troublesome associates who would otherwise go to and forth, trying to "assist" the townsponies in their preparations for the event. They would be ruining their work and leaving their dreams in pieces, if he wasn't keeping them busy here.
It wasn't all that bad, he thought. These fillies looked up to him in a way. Asking him to be their record keeper and all, taking down lists of pointless stuff they have to do, take down notes of their meetings, and not much beside all that. It reminded him how calming and peaceful making lists used to make him feel. He was surprised at their reaction after seeing a stallion without a mark. In their innocent little minds they were probably overjoyed that they were not alone in this society of marked ponies. While on the other hand, Spike would have been in despair, knowing that you can reach the peak of your years without ever getting a mark.
"Aren't you going you going to add anything to the list Ruby?" Sweetie Belle asked in an admiring tone. "You've done all kinds of fancy work that you can't find here in Ponyville!"
"I don't think that'll cut it for Ruby, Sweetie Belle," Applebloom said. "I've seen him do all sorts of work, and he hasn't messed up once. If he's found his actual talent, he would've had his mark by now. Whatever his talent is, it must be something much bigger than boring old chores."
"I always thought you just get a mark when you're good enough at something." Spike didn't know any more than the CMC did, nor did he ever sit down to ponder it deeply. "Or it could be as you say. It's decided from the start and we have to find it, instead of earning it."
"That's a way of looking at it," Scootaloo said deep in thought. "If Ruby's right, then instead of doing all sorts of stuff, it'll be better if we just keep practicing one thing. That is what you're saying, right?"
"You don't have cutie marks because you do too many things at once?" Applebloom asked.
"Not for long," Spike chuckled. "I might have spent too much time with apples. It won't be long before I wake up to find one on my rear. I might have to find other work for a while, just to shake things up."
"You're leaving?" Applebloom suddenly asked with a touch of panic in her voice.
"Calm down, I was just kidding," Spike replied with a playful smile glad to know how much he was needed around the farm. "I personally have nothing against an Apple."
"Good, who else is going to soften the blow for when Applejack scolds me?" Applebloom sounded relieved.
"Oh, so that's why you don't want me leaving." Spike grinned. "Soften the blow, huh? I don't remember seeing her do anything of the sort. So what does that have to do with me?"
"That's exactly what I mean." Applebloom nodded. "When did you see her scolding me? Never! That's because she hasn't been in a better mood since you came to stay. I can't remember the last time I've seen big sis this cheerful."
"That must be wonderful," Sweetie Belle said with a classic mix of sarcasm and envy. "My sister barely sets hoof in her inspiration room. Not to mention she spends most of her time reading magazines, sighing, and… eating. Maybe you could come over once in a while to help her get back into designing again. Work your magic like you did with Applejack."
"I'm sorry, but I don't know any magic of that kind." Spike shook his head. "I also don't know much about how Applejack was before I started working here, but I'm sure the changes in her mood have nothing much to do with me."
"In all seriousness, Ruby, we're convinced that it's because of you," Applebloom said with agreeing nods with the other two fillies. "Applejack's told me herself, that it's been great having you around."
"It could be because I've taken some off the farm workload," Spike reasoned. "That's an excellent reason to be in a better mood."
Applebloom's good mood seemed to be deteriorating. Perhaps it was because of what Spike thought about Applejack. Of course it was. She'd been trying her best to make such things happen.
"I think we've spent enough time in the tree house, don't you?" Spike asked deciding to move on to another subject, looking up at the clock hanging on the tree house wall. "Why don't we head into town? I'm not sure if they've quite finished yet, but I guess they should be nearly over with the big preparations. You've got to stay out of trouble, all right?"
It wasn't as much as Spike wanting to bring the CMC into town than wanting to escape them by doing so himself. What exactly did he and Applejack look like together to give Applebloom the idea that there was anything going on between them? Spike didn't know, and he believed that it was better to keep it out of that area. Spike was the first one out of the tree house. He looked back after having walked a good distance away from it.
The rest of the CMC took a moment to finish putting their things away in the club house and locking up. As much as he wanted to go by himself, Spike couldn't forget that he was the one that suggested they go into town as a group. He waited until they were all out and was headed his way and gave him enough time to catch up until he felt that they were close enough. He really didn't want them tagging along if they were going to be so intrusive in his personal matters. Why was he obliged to open up to some filly who has no idea what she's talking about.
However little and short their legs were, they were still able to catch up to Spike walking at full speed. He found it hard to believe that they, or Applebloom, at least, were stuck to his flank like a securely bolted side car. The other two were sharing their own conversation behind them. Regardless, they weren't going to fall behind any time soon.
"I know what you're thinking, that there something between me and Applejack." Spike spoke without turning to Applebloom, thinking hard for something to say that would allow him to move on to put this matter to rest. "You're right, there is, but it's not what you're expecting. We're just really good friends. Two similar ponies working together, it's no surprise that we get along the way we do."
"Why are you so nice to Applejack if that's all it is?" Applebloom asked. "I haven't seen any other stallion treat her as well as you do. She's not uncomfortable with it either."
"I don't treat Applejack any different than I do other ponies."
"Then why are you so nice all the time? What if she actually believes that it's because you like her? What're you going to do then? I'd be nice if you did. What's so bad about my sister? It is possible, you know. She'd be great for you."
"I'm not asking for more than a place to sleep, regular meals, and a chance to settle in one place for a while. Working on the farm is a way that I can make all this possible. I'm not asking for any more, and I shouldn't expect anything more. Applejack should understand this about me by now."
"How can you assume that if you're the one who don't understand anything about Applejack? What if she expects you to ask for more? What if she wants you to?"
"What if?" Spike frowned at the phrase. "Whatever it might look like, what we have now is more than I can ever ask for. I don't want to ruin it by acting on some vague assumption you made from something you saw. We don't know anything."
She shouldn't have much to say after hearing that. Spike was glad she didn't say another word until they were crossing the bridge over the river, approaching the town. He had no idea why she was pushing him into trying anything with Applejack. It's not like Applebloom would get anything if they did have a relationship.
"You mean that you don't know anything." Applebloom said firmly.
"Just me? Why? Do you know?" Spike stopped and turned around, brow raised. He intended to finish this conversation before setting one hoof into town. He stood at the edge of the paved stones that lead into the streets. The other members noticed that they had stopped, cut their own chatting short, and were listening intently.
"I've got a good feeling." Applebloom nodded with confidence. "I know there's something between you two."
"A feeling, huh? And I guess that's why you're so sure that you 'know'?" Spike raised his brow. "What do you know?"
Applebloom didn't say. She stood with her eyes narrowed and mouth in a slant. Perhaps she knew she didn't have a good answer for Spike. By feeling alone wasn't enough. Even Applebloom realized that. However young, you can't ever consider age in the matter of mare's intuition.
"Fine! I don't!" Applebloom finally said. "I'm don't know a thing!"
Spike nodded smugly and turned away into town, not caring if the CMC followed him in or not. They weren't his problem anymore.
"So we'll just have to ask." Spike heard Applebloom whisper to the other members from behind.
Spike quickly turned around, deeply concerned with what he thought Applebloom had just murmured to her friends. He mopped the scene with his line of vision, trying to locate the yellow filly and her two associates only to find that they had evaporated into the wind and by now, were most likely in another part of town.
The path became dimmer and dimmer as Spike and Applejack crossed the bridge that separated the town from the country side. The street lamps of the roads discontinued, leaving the path illuminated only by the waning moon. Spike had no need to look where he was going. All he had to do was keep his eyes on the tip of Applejack's tail as he walked behind her to the farm.
Only their soft hoofsteps mixed in with the sound of nature's orchestra of wind, tree branches, and assorted crickets. Neither of them spoke. Applejack couldn't find the right words to start a conversation. Mostly because she noticed that Spike wasn't exactly in the mood to chat and making small talk wouldn't be of any help to him. Spike was orally occupied with a knot of cloth between his teeth. The knot tied the rest of the cloth into a sack, a sack that held a container of food from tonight's dinner.
While this would be a good reason to explain Spike's silence, Spike himself had almost forgotten that he even had something in his mouth to begin with. It was what was on his mind. The things he had heard and felt today became a kind of viscous matter that jammed the gears of his mind.
Applejack stopped after a while of walking. Spike looked up to check if they had arrived yet. Indeed, they were at the gates of the farm. Applejack pushed it open and passed through as Spike followed and shut it closed behind him. From there he returned to looking down at the tip of Applejack's tail, going to wherever it led, which he expected to be the barn where he slept.
They had walked a good distance before Spike realized that they were no longer going in the direction of the farm, but had left the path completely and were going up a grassy hill. Spike was curious to find out where she was taking him, but rather than to stop and ask, it would be best to find out when he got there. Applejack probably thought so too, because she didn't say anything about their detour either.
There were no trees on the hill, only grass covered its surface. It was large and unusually circular for a hill. Spike was expecting to have a good view of the farm when they reached the top, which it did. He found that the hill was not only covered in grass. There was a particularly large stump, right in the middle, a stump that told Spike that it had been quite a large tree in the past.
Applejack stepped on to the stump and sat, leaving just enough space on the stump for Spike to join her. She sat on one side of the stump, leaving the other half empty, which was an indication that she intended him to sit with her. Spike climbed on, next to Applejack and looked out onto the night orchard.
They were just above the treetops that shone a silvery dark green in the moonlight. It seemed to be brighter on the hill than anywhere else he had been tonight. Maybe it was because they were higher up, thus, closer to the moon. It was a stupid idea, but seeing how adequately lit everything around him was, it just might've been true. Applejack's house was visible, with a few dim lights in the windows.
He had spent about half a minute looking out at the scenery before remembered about the container in his mouth. He set it down on the grass in front of him and stared downwards at nothing in particular.
"There used to be a huge apple tree here." Applejack spoke the first words between them since they left Twilight's place. "The roots of this stump go down the core of this hill, that how this big mound of dirt keeps its shape. It's a shame that it was cut down."
"Why was it cut down?" Spike asked. Applejack made a subtle smile, glad that Spike was speaking.
"I haven't heard what exactly happened to it, but I hear it was for the sake of the farm." Applejack rubbed the surface of the stump with her hoof, It was aged and worn. The rings of the trunk were faded, but the wood was still very sturdy and firm.
"For the sake of the farm?" Spike repeated. "Why? Was it a bad tree?"
"I don't think so at all. If it was, we'd be sitting on a smaller stump. I doubt the Apple family would let a bad tree grow on the farm for long. This tree must've filled entire carts at a time. From what I can tell, this was a good tree, an important tree."
"If it was a good tree, then why cut it down?"
"I wish we knew."
"If it was such an important tree, why does nopony remember?"
"We do remember."
Spike replied with a curious look.
"This tree was given for the sake of the farm. Granny Smith, who's too old to remember all the details, can tell us that much. She remembered that much about the tree because it was the most important thing about the tree to remember. We forget things, even important things, but we can't ever completely forget the most important things."
"The most important..." Spike whispered to himself.
"The wonderful thing about trees is that they're still useful, even as a stump. They make for a mighty good place to sit and rest. I come here in the evenings to relax, think about the important things to cheer me up. I was hoping it'd do the same for you. What's important to you, Ruby?"
Spike sat with his previously jammed mind hard at work, trying to consider what he considered to be important.
"My friends…" Spike muttered.
"So you're feeling homesick? Gone for a day and you already miss your friends, huh?" Applejack patted Spike on the back.
"C'mon now, the country ain't so bad compared to Canterlot!"
"Rarity…" Spike sighed.
"Rarity?" Applejack asked in a quieter voice. "What about her?"
Spike's eyes widened slightly, realizing what he had mistakenly uttered.
"I wanted to give this to her." Spike looked at the container, immediately going on to the next thing on his mind. "Didn't get the chance."
"So that was for her," Applejack said, still in her quiet voice. "You really wanted her to come to the dinner, didn't you?"
"I… don't know." Spike looked up at the sky, as if looking for a specific constellation. "I wanted what she wanted. If she wanted to pass on the offer, then so be it. I'll have to side with that."
"Ruby?" Applejack asked.
"Did you really first meet Rarity on the train?"
"In the first class car, just the way you've heard it."
"It might as well have been. Before that, I was just loading her luggage onto the train and other work like that. It wouldn't be wrong to say that I know her just as much as I know you."
"Oh." Applejack smiled.
"What's important to you, Applejack?" Spike asked.
"Family, farm, friends, you know, things like that."
"What a boring answer." Spike rolled off the stump onto his back on the grass.
"If you put it that way it might be." Applejack peeked over the edge of the stump at Spike.
"Then put it in a way that isn't."
"That's going to be hard." Applejack put her hat back on as if it would help her think. "I love my family. There isn't any other way to say it. I occasionally disagree with my siblings but we get over it together. The farm is our family's birthright, my birthright. It's all we have in the world and you can't put a value on that. My friends, this is the tricky part. I feel this happiness that I can't get from being with anypony else other than those handful of special ponies. Most of all, recently, I worry about my friends. Twilight, Rarity, especially Spike."
"Now that's an answer." Spike smiled.
"I've told you way too much, stranger!" Applejack said with her hooves over her mouth, blushing slightly, feeling that she'd confessed too much. "It's your turn now! You've said less than I did my first time!"
"I don't have a family, I don't have a single speck of gold to my name and I'm a wanderer without a home town." Spike boasted.
Applejack's smiled faded slightly, feeling sorry for Spike.
"I've left my friends, but I hope to find them again, here, in my new hometown, where I'll eventually have ponies to call family and possessions that are truly my own."
Applejack replied with a warm smile, looking down at Spike. The large brim of her hat shaded him from the moonlight, covering her face in dim shadow. Her eyes seemed to glow and reminded Spike of how sharp of a look she was able to give him, like that night at the party, the day before he left for Canterlot.
"You're quitting being a traveling work pony?" Applejack asked.
"Quitting after your first stop? Laughable, if you ask me." She chuckled.
"What should we do with the container?"
"We give it to Applebloom, of course." Applejack smiled. "She'll love having something other than the usual menu every night. She wouldn't care if it's leftovers or not."
Spike sat up and looked at the container, sitting on the grass, getting cold.
"You wouldn't want Rarity's first try of your cooking to be leftovers from some old container do you?" Applejack asked.
"Tonight's dinner wasn't the last. Since you're staying for sure, I'm certain there's going to be another chance ahead. She can try it then, fresh from the pot, oven, or whatever magic machine you use to cook your amazing food. Not to mention, all the while sharing some good conversation with her friends at the table. It's a good idea, right?"
"That's a great idea." Spike picked up the container in his hoof with less delicacy compared to his previous handling, now that he had decided what to do with it.
"So, you're feeling better now?"
"Much better." Spike smiled, telling the truth. "Thanks."
"Don't mention it." Applejack climbed off of the stump and stood with Spike, both ready to head to the house and barn. "It's the least I can do, for coming to my rescue today. I'm still tingly from all that action. I know who to call if I ever need a dragon taken care of."
"Anytime." Spike smiled jokingly.
Applejack and Spike both looked away in their own separate directions, one to the horizon, the other to the skies. There was a good silence.
"I can try and get a bed for you." Applejack rubbed the back of her head. "You're going to be staying here, aren't you?"
Spike looked back at Applejack, eyebrows raised, in pleasant surprise.