Dames. If I live to be a million, I'll never figure them out. I've got nothin' but dames in my life, and everyone of them is trouble.
I set my jaw against the early cold and tugged my collar higher on my neck. The first few hints of fall were nipping at the breeze as I trudged toward Pinkie's. I loved fall. Apple pie, marshmallows, everything. Nights were longer, meaning more time indoors, meaning less time away from troublesome broads. Well, all but one really troubling broad.
Twilight. Twilight, Twilight, Twilight. Now there was a heck of a mare. Smart, pretty, and one of the most irritating people I know. She always had this sense of being a know-it-all, like you could almost hear her correcting you out loud as you talked. But she rarely did. She just gave you that same eager smile and asked you to continue. At least when she was talking to anyone but me, that is. And then she'd leave a note for you somewhere about 'suggestions' that were worded a bit too imperiously to take seriously and too good not to. I pushed her out of my mind. I was nearly there.
Three steps down from the street brought me to Pinkie's door. Pinkie's was a great place. Best place to go after dark if you were thirsty and underage. Or if you needed a safe place to stay for a night or two. Pinkie operated out of the back of Sugarcube Corner and ran a tight ship: anyone who messed with anyone inside, besides simple stuff or pranks, was kicked out. Anyone who had trouble behind them was welcome. Anyone who brought it in was kicked back out to deal with it. Adults, kids, princesses, didn't matter. Nobody messed with Pinkie's house.
Music greeted me as I walked in, carried to my ears on the voice of an angel. Sweetie was singin'. She was crooning out a song I didn't recognize. Might have been Louis Armstud. It wasn't a piece I'd heard before. Somethin' she'd written herself? Sounded new.
Eyes greeted me, too. A couple of thick-necked hoofballers and their cheerleader dates with their fake, peroxide smiles. Hated that bunch; always too loud and too obnoxious. They quieted a bit as I walked past, none of them eager to repeat what happened the last time they messed with me. I may be half their size, but I'm tougher than I look. Doesn't hurt that I breathe fire, either.
There were a couple apprentices there, too, surprisingly. Even a go-fer and an errand-filly I knew from Canterlot. My people. Tonight must be special if they got a chance to come out. I gave them a nod as I headed for the bar.
"Been a while, Spike. What's your poison?" Dinky Hooves was behind the bar tonight. Weird. Pinkie never took a night off.
"Applejack's. And leave the bottle. It's been a long day."
"You gonna be wantin' your usual, too?"
Usual. Now there was a loaded word. It made me think of
wait, Twilight? What are you doing in my head? Go away. It's supposed to make me think of Rarity. "
Dinky paused and put a dainty hoof on my claw. I let her. Dinky was good folk. "You alright, Spike? You look kinda peaked." She put the mug down in front of me with a bottle of Sweet Apple Acre's finest apple juice, brought in by none other than Ponyville's finest bootlegger: Apple Bloom.
I put the bottle to my head and closed my eyes. The cold glass felt good. "Yeah. Just a lot on my mind, recently. Where's Pinkie at? Not like her to take a day off."
"No one's seen her. Not for a while now. Last anyone saw of her was three days ago, at the Spa. But no one seems to be worried yet, so there's been nothing official done."
"Then it's probably nothing. I'll look into it in the morning."
Dinky frowned and pulled her hoof back. "
I'll go get your bath ready, then." She sounded disappointed. Let her be, I'd had a long day.
I didn't watch her go. It was probably a failing of mine, not keeping closer eye on the mares in my life. But there were too darned many of them! Besides my client and her boss, (who was the boss of all bosses) there were five more broads, and then three miniature ones, and then a whole host of others I had to rub elbows with. And of course there was Dinky. Another guy might count himself lucky to know so many mares, and cute ones, too. Not me. Dames were nothing but trouble.
Speaking of trouble, here it came now, in the form of that sweet-faced little filly Apple Bloom. She was hard to figure, sometimes, so unlike her friends. She was rough, tough, could out-wrestle most of the colts in her class, and loved pink. She loved frilly dresses and princess fairy tales and sparkly ribbons and mud. She had eyes you could lose yourself in and a devious mind lurking behind them. It was no wonder she was the area's number one candy smuggler. She could have any colt she wanted if she put her mind to it, but she kept latching on to me, who knew better than to get tangled with a broad who wore trouble like a badge.
"Enjoyin' the juice, Spike?"
She tugged a lollipop out of her pocket and tucked in her mouth. "I haven't even opened it, Bloom." I twisted off the top and poured myself a glass before she could offer to, and pushed away the lollipop case she held out. I knew her game: butter me up by acting all neighborly and then try and wheedle a favor out of me. Not tonight. I couldn't afford it. Snips had doubled his rates, putting me two weeks behind on my cootie insurance. Something about a shortage of shots.
Before I could take a sip, the mug was snatched away from me by Sweetie Belle. She hadn't even finished her song. I glared at her as she took a sip and handed it back. "Keep it," I said as I pushed it away. All she did was bat her eyes and smile at me. She was trying to be sly tonight, something she normally wasn't. Sweetie was many things. Sweet? Definitely. It was even in her name. Pretty? That, too. She echoed her sister that way. Sly? I would hesitate to even call her 'average'. She wasn't dumb, really. Just slow on the uptake. Something was up, then, if she was playing at being sly.
"Why thank you, Spike! Such a gentlemanly thing to do," she said coquettishly. THAT put my scales on edge. Sweetie Belle flirting was a definite sign that something was up.
"What do you want, you two?"
"Oh, nothin', Spike. Just wondered if you'd be interested in doin' a little favor fer us." Apple Bloom leaned back against the bar and smiled around the lollipop in her mouth. Her smile was too tight for that pretty face. Like she wasn't happy about something. Wonder what.
"We'd be ever so grateful if you would." I felt a shiver crawl down my spine when Sweetie batted her big, doll-like lashes at me and grinned. "Please, Spike? For me?"
I could hear Bloom's lollipop crack. So she didn't like Sweetie's flirting, either? Weird. I figured they'd be trying to tag-team me; hit me from both sides with their girly wiles. But if Apple Bloom didn't like what Sweetie was doing, then it meant they weren't playing on the same team. I could use that.
"Weeeell, I could be persuaded."
Time to take a risk, Spike. Time to put your manliness on the line and break out of
this. I leaned in closer to Sweetie and waggled my eyebrows, kept my voice low.
"For a kiss."
Bloom's lollipop shattered. Bullseye.
"Ah don't think a kiss would be appropriate." Heh. She was mad now. I could almost feel the daggers she shot Sweetie. "Let's just stick t'business fer now."
Sweetie stared for a moment. I could hear her think, those rusty gears grinding away in her head. Should she go for it, or stick to the original plan, whatever that was? "But Apple Bloom, surely a kiss," She shot her partner a quick smirk. She was going for her new plan. Spike, you sly old devil. "Is a small price for the favor we're asking?"
Crunch crunch crunch, went the shards of Bloom's lollipop. I didn't need to look at her to know she was grinding her teeth pretty hard. "But Spike hasn't even agreed to th'favor yet, so keep yer lips to yerself." There was heat in her voice. A lot of it.
Time for another gamble. I turned back to Apple Bloom and cranked the charm up full blast. "Soundin' a little jealous, Ms. Bloom. Maybe you'd like to give me the kiss instead?" Eyebrow waggle, check. Confident smirk, check. Flustered Apple Bloom? Check and double check.
" She turned away to try and keep me from seeing her blush, but it was too late. I'd already seen everything. Putty in my claws. Only problem was that I was digging myself deeper. Exactly the opposite of what I wanted.
I saw Dinky coming back out of the corner of my eye. Good. I could pull myself out before I got any more stuck. I grabbed the bottle of Applejack's and tipped my hat. "But I'm afraid it's gonna have to wait. I've got an appointment with a bathtub to keep."
And with that, I left the three fillies at the bar without a further thought. I could feel Apple Bloom fuming at my back, but didn't pay it any mind. Wrong move.
I settled into the bath with a sigh. The mud was nice and hot, just the way I liked it. Smelled a bit, too. Miss Dinky always did know how to spoil me. She even used the good mud from behind Mrs. Hook's Bait and Tackle, the one with all the worms wiggling in it. Who needed fancy imported mud when you could get the good stuff right here in Ponyville?
I took a moment to savor it. It was rare that I got to treat myself like this. Twilight hated it when I filled the bathtub with mud, saying it was 'gross' and 'dirty'. Which was true, but was half the reason I liked it. The other half was because the grit kept my scales nice and shiny. Speaking of which, I couldn't see my scale-brush around anywhere. Oh well. Steel wool worked just fine.
As I scrubbed, my mind wandered back to the ladies in my life.
Twilight. Why did my mind always wander back to her? She was so annoying, always barging into my thoughts and taking over. I wanted to think about the sweet curl of Rarity's deep violet mane, not Twilight's impossibly straight hair, or that goofy grin she got when she thought she was being subtle. She was such a terrible liar; it was no wonder I always beat her at cards. Not like Rarity's practiced pout.
Darnit, Twilight. Can't I have some alone time even in my own head?
Apparently, she figured it was fine to let me be after that, because Rarity trotted into my head the next minute. I sighed in relief.
Sometimes I think I thought about her too much. Weird, I know. Thinking about your crush too much was par for the course, wasn't it? I couldn't help myself, anyway. She was just so beautiful and could be the sweetest thing on the planet when she wanoh hey a bug! Cool, it's still wiggling! It's huge! I'm gonna eat it. Yes I am. I'm gonna eat you, little bug. *cronch* homfgromnf nom homf oh Celestia that's good.
...wait, where was I? Oh right, Rarity.
Rarity was everything I said she was and more. There were depths to her that
I hadn't plumbed yet, beyond the image of the fashion-obsessed pony everyone saw. Even at a glance, though, she was smart and beautiful and had charm for days. Knowing her as well I did (at least I think I do), I knew her beauty went to the bone. She'd given up a lot for others just to make them a little happier and their lives more beautiful. Even mine! And I was just a kid with a crush, I think. I leaned back against the edge of the tub. Who wouldn't be at least a little in love with her? No one, right?
So why did I say "kid with a crush" instead of "love-struck he-dragon"?
I knew who I wanted, and it was
no, no not Applejack! Oh sweet merciful gemstones what the heck was AJ doing in my head? Ugh. I ground the heel of my hand against my head. It was just an almost kiss, AJ! I like you, but as a friend. Yeah, you're pretty, almost as pretty as Twi Rarity. But I've got a crush on Rarity, not you!
I bit my tongue mentally to stop my brain from babbling. Yes. I did like AJ. She was dependable and loyal and... not Rarity. She was pretty, like Rarity but in a rougher way. It was just an almost-kiss. I hadn't betrayed Rarity by almost-doing something on accident. She didn't seem to think anything of it at the time, either. She was a friend, and that was that. There.
I sighed as Applejack smirked at me and galloped away from my thoughts. Stupid brain. Get back on track.
You know the worst thing about liking older dames? They never treat you like an equal. As deeply as I felt about Rarity, I had to be honest. She still thought of me as a baby. The best that could be said was I was a particularly affectionate pet to her. But that was fine, I could change that. I just needed to show her I was the mature, responsible older dragon she surely wanted deep down. Applejack probably thought I was some weird little brother or cousin or something. Or a neighbor-kid from down the road. None of them saw me as anything more than a kid, though.
Come to think of it, so did Fluttershy. Weird how I didn't seem to mind when she did it. She treated me like
well, a baby dragon, with a heavy emphasis on 'baby'. It was sweet on her, though. She gave me all the mooshy gooshy snuggly wuggly attention I could handle and then some, but I never minded it in the least. As much as it hurt my manly pride to admit, I did like the attention, even when she'd come over just to tuck me in at night. Reminded me of when I was little and
Darnit, there she was again.
Quick. Think of someone else. Pinkie Pie, or Rainbow Dash. Yeah, them two.
I licked bug goop off of my fingers and frowned. If all the others made me feel like a kid, then Rainbow and Pinkie made me feel old. Both of them were just too bubbly and boisterous, and always messed up all the work I put into the library. Especially Rainbow Dash. Pinkie Pie was silly, and made of nonsense and bubblegum, but she could restrain herself unless she got her hooves on raw sugar. When (and it was always "when", never "if") she got into the stuff she'd go berserk and turn into a pink tornado that left disaster in her wake. And you couldn't get mad at her, oh no. When she'd crash she'd be the most adorable thing ever and Twilight would just throw a blanket over her and keep going, saying something flippant. And when she woke up, she wouldn't remember a thing.
But Rainbow didn't even have that much going for her. She'd barge in, make a mess, never apologize, then rush out to do something else. Sounded an awful lot like another mare I wasn't going to think about. Both her and Pinkie acted like they were my age, while I was stuck lecturing them about responsibility and proper use of library resources, which did not include "kindling". And Rainbow would try to play cool, act like she didn't hear me, but we both knew I was right, and just who the cooler one was. Me, of course. Yeah, it was harsh, but the truth hurts, baby. She was still pretty cool, though. Not many broads can pull off a rainbow hairdo and make it look good. She had a ways to go before it was as cool as my spines, though.
I smirked and scrubbed a rough patch under my armpit. That felt good. First good feeling all night. Between dizzy dames looking down their muzzles at me and screwy fillies trying to get their girl germs on me, on top of my job, and my side-job, I was pretty pooped.
I patted the pocket of my coat to reassure myself my spitball gun was still there and looked around. Looked as good a time as any to take a quick nap. I shuffled down until my head rested against the back of the tub, and was asleep before I could close my eyes.
I was being chased. That horrible space-bear Twilight had chased off was back, and was hungry this time. I didn't know how or who put it up to this, but it was coming for me, intent on turning me into its first appetizer. My spitball gun was useless against its starry hide, and my stubby legs were too short to outrun it. I had seconds before I was eaten.
A muzzle jabbed me in the ribs. I was scared, couldn't make out who it belonged to, and slapped at it. It did it again and called my name. No longer caring, I wrapped both arms around it and let it pull me away. Anything was better than getting eaten by an Ursa. Its jaws closed on air, then evaporated, along with the rest of it.
I opened my eyes to find a pair of deep violet ones looking back at me. They were huge and worried and a little red around the edges. I looked down. My arms were wrapped around Twilight's muzzle. My heart was racing, and all I wanted to do was curl up and hide. The dream had felt so real.
"Spike, are you alright? You sounded like you were having a nightmare." She didn't pull her head away. She did the opposite, and nuzzled my stomach. She sounded as worried as she looked.
I swallowed and closed my eyes again. That terrifying space-bear was waiting on the other side of my eyelids. I was afraid. You would have been, too, if you were chased by a three-story star-monster. I looked her in the eye and shook my head. "Come here, then," she said quietly, pulling me close.
Don't get me wrong, I liked Twilight just fine, but when she picked me up and held me, it was different from any other time. I felt like everything was going to be okay. No Ursa Minor could touch me, so long as I held onto her. She lifted me onto her bed and wrapped her mane around me, and I curled up next to her with my face in her shoulder. I was warm and safe, and I'm not too proud to say it was the best, most confusing thing ever.
I yawned and closed my eyes. The Ursa wasn't waiting for me this time, just sleep.
I woke up again. How did I manage to do that twice? I was back in the tub, and my arms were wrapped around something. I looked down. Dinky's muzzle was squashed against my chest. Her cheeks were mushed together and bright red. I coughed and let her go with a pat on the head. "Uh, hey again." Oh man. Awkward.
She backpedaled a bit and fidgeted. "I uh, I-I came to see if you needed anything." She looked nervous.
"Well, thanks, Miss Dinky. I'm okay, though." Something wasn't right. I checked the pocket of my coat again. When I looked up, Dinky was pointing a perfume bottle at me. There were tears at the edges of her eyes. "Dinky? You wanna put down the piece? We can talk this out. Whatever I did, we can work through it."
I'm so sorry." Her grip on the bottle wavered for a moment. "I-I can't. I just can't." She shook her head. I moved slowly for my gun, but a voice from the door stopped me.
"Hands awff da spitshoota, flatfoot."
Bloom's hired muscle stood in the doorway. Two feet of trouble in a purple and orange wrapper, with a cute face and a name you'd never associate with thuggery: Scootaloo. I'd tussled with her before, and came out on top only half of the time. Maybe a bit more. I did not want to throw down with her. Not with Dinky in the room.
She popped her hooves and strutted up to me, motioning for Dinky to keep the bottle on me. "You's been breakin' a lotta hawrts lately, big boy. My bawss, Miss Belle, even powr Dinky heeyahr. Th'bawss thinks it's time you's learned a lesson in mannahs." She took a step closer and nudged me across the cheek. "An' there ain't nuttin' yew c'n do about it, tough guy. So keep ya yap shut an' we'll go easy on ya's."
Oh dear Celestia in Canterlot her accent was terrible. She shot for downtown Broncs, missed, and wound up somewhere inside of a bad Fillywood production. It would have been funny if she hadn't been grinning like a fiend. Or if Dinky hadn't been pointing the perfume bottle at my face.
I glanced at Dinky, who wouldn't meet my eyes. "So you're workin' for the Cutie Mark Crew, now? I thought I taught you better than to get mixed up with them. I thought you liked me."
Dinky tightened her grip on the bottle. "I didn't want to do this Spike. I do like you. Like, like you-like you." She opened her eyes and locked them with mine. There was steel there, and tears. "But they've got my mom." That was two surprises in two seconds. I must be off my game if I missed that.
Apple Bloom's hoof came down on her shoulder. "Don't you worry none. You just keep 'im covered with that piece. Me an' my girls will take care of th'rest. And Scootaloo? Stop it with the accent. It's so bad even I can't understand ya."
I liked the accent."
"I'm really sorry about this, Spike." Sweetie Belle stepped out from behind Scoots lugging a huge makeup kit. "But Apple Bloom is kinda right. If you hold still this'll be over with quick." She opened it and pulled out a set of makeup jars. My heart began to beat faster.
I leaned backward, my hands in the air. I'd seen that kit before, and what had been done with it. Poor Snails got it last month, when he refused to pay his cootie protection. "What are you gonna do with that?" I kept my voice low, even. If I kept it cool, I could maybe bluff my way out of this.
Bloom's face, though, put paid to my delusions of getting out of this unscathed. That evil grin let me know they weren't going to listen to me. I clenched my fists and snorted back a loogie, ready to make a fight of it. Let 'em take me. I was gonna go down spittin'.
She pulled out a long, pink frilly dress with a silver tiara and waved it at me, causing me to lean away from the germs infesting it. Scootaloo tugged a pair of ribbon spools around her hooves and clapped them together. "You know exactly what I'm gonna do, Spike." Her voice was low, her eyes dangerous. "We're gonna teach you why it's a bad idea to toy with a girl's heart. We're gonna show you why it's a bad idea to mess with the Cutie Mark Crew."
Both Scoots and Sweetie punched the air. "Yeah!"
Dinky let out a scream and fired. Time slowed down. Drops of perfume hung in the air as I began to move. The Crew leapt on me, ribbons flying and lipstick bared.
I stumbled into the library some time later. I was battered, bruised, and covered in makeup. Half a dozen ribbons hung from my spines, partly-tied. A frilly dress hung off of one shoulder. I'd made it out alive, but only barely. I was covered in cooties and frou-frou junk. I could feel the girly germs working their way through my system, even with the mud on my scales. I smelled like a mixture of shame and girl. My pride felt like it was on fire.
I needed to get this off of me. I rushed into the bathroom, pushing the door open and stumbling to the sink.
Or at least that's what I was going to do.
I had to stop in the doorway. Twilight was there in the tub, her eyes as wide as dinner plates. The quiet noise of a tripped alarm spell jangled in my ear, mixing with the Cob Calloway on the record player. My Moonicron toy was floating in the air above her head, and my plastic submarine was doing donuts in a bank of soap-suds.
So that's where my toys kept disappearing to.
She broke the silence first. "Spike."
Long, awkward seconds ticked by. She looked at me, I looked at my toys. Neither of us felt like laughing.
"I won't tell if you won't."
I nodded and shuffled my feet uncomfortably. "Right."
"Neither of us has to breathe a word about being caught in an embarrassing situation."
"Of course not."
"We can keep this between ourselves, keep each other's secrets. Like friends do."
More long, silent seconds.
I scratched my neck.
She fiddled with a rubber duck.
You could cut the awkwardness with a knife.
She cleared her throat. "
do you want to play with the submarine? The Twilight October could use a new captain." She offered me a sheepish grin.
I could feel a smile cracking my face as I nodded and climbed in with her. "Yeah. Thanks, Twilight."
Her smile widened as she passed me the toy. At that moment, I didn't care if I couldn't stop thinking about her when I shouldn't, or if she confused me with being nice and motherly or sisterly or whatever she was when all I wanted was for her to stop being weird. It didn't matter if our work relationship wasn't entirely appropriate. And so what if every time I thought of Rarity, Twilight was there with her? I realized that she was my friend first, and always would be no matter what. I grinned and shook my head.
Dames. If I live to be a million, I still won't have them figured out. But I wouldn't live a minute without 'em.