by Pascoite

Chapter 1: Maud-lin

“Yeah!” Spike shouted as he pumped his fist into the air and leaned in for another slurp of his topaz milkshake. “Take that, Saddle Sore!” A few ponies in line at the counter turned to look at him, but Spike just flipped the next page of his comic. How would the Power Ponies defeat this month’s villain? Not too many could absorb a direct ice bolt from The Matterhorn, but the heat from his chapped hide had melted it straightaway, and now he still roamed free to cause chafing with his horribly itchy fake designer clothing. Rarity would swoon just thinking about it.

No! Spike pounded a fist on the table, earning him a few more looks, even from Mrs. Cake at the cash register. Why hadn’t he noticed that he was getting toward the end so fast? Another whole month until he got to find out what happened next!

“Something wrong with the milkshake?” Pinkie asked as she scooted by on roller skates with a tray of cupcakes for the next table.

Spike shook his head. “No, but why can’t they just tell me how it’s going to end? Why make me wait? Now I have to buy the next issue!”

“So you like the milkshake?” Pinkie sure had an odd squint to her eye.


“Well, the blender’s a bit big for the glasses we have. There’s still a little more in the back.” She leaned in with a sly grin and waggled her eyebrows. “Want it?”

Spike stirred the precious little in the bottom of the mug with his straw. “Well… yeah.”

“That’ll be another two bits.”

Spike stared open-mouthed for a few seconds, but Pinkie couldn’t keep a straight face. She burst out laughing and rolled onto her back, but somehow kept the tray balanced on her leg. Knowing Pinkie, she’d had a lot of practice.

“Not you, too,” he groaned.

And in a snap, she was on her hooves again. “Say, Maud’s coming to stay for a few days, but she’s getting in any minute now, and my shift doesn’t end for another hour. Do you mind if she sits with you while she’s waiting?”

“I could help you out… if I had some more milkshake to keep me busy,” Spike replied with a wink.

“I’ll whip you up a whole new one!” Pinkie said, flinging her forelegs wide. “On the house! Well, not on the house, since that would be messy. And the roof’s not the most comfortable place to sit, either—take it from me. Wait, who else would you take it from? I’m the only one waiting tables, which doesn’t make sense, ’cause they never do anything, so what am I waiting for?”

Spike knocked a fist against the side of his head to jolt his brain back in gear. “Pinkie.”

“Mrs. Cake always says I need to rein in my talking, but I’m no pegasus, so I can’t do much about rain.”


“Hmm?” Pinkie nearly toppled over, but she caught herself on the edge of the table.

“Just hit me with a refill—” A broad grin started at one corner of Pinkie’s mouth and took off at a sprint for the other. “I mean, just bring me a refill. I’d be happy to sit with Maud.”

Not five minutes later, Maud walked in, had a brief conversation with Pinkie, got a milkshake of her own—also topaz—and took the seat across from Spike. “Hello,” she said.

“Hi!” Spike said with a wave. “Did you have a fun train ride?”

“It was fine.” She blinked.

Spike took a long draw of his milkshake and waited. And waited. No more to say, he guessed. “So, do you like topaz, too? I find—” he pointed his nose upward and removed an imaginary monocle “—it has undertones of citrus while not overpowering the ice cream’s smoothness.”

“It’s cold. With crunchy bits,” she said with another blink.

Hm. That had him fresh out of ideas. Still… jeez, fifty-five minutes until Pinkie finished work. He tapped a claw on the table, and… blink. Such a regular rhythm. Blink. He tried anticipating it again. Tap. No, a little too soon. Tap. Early again! Faster now. He’d learned that trick from Sweetie Belle, who picked it up… from Miss Cheerilee, in music class, if he remembered right. If he tapped a claw four times for each blink, it’d be easier to keep it steady. Within a few minutes, he’d gotten the timing down.

He took a glance at the clock, and—wow, had he really been doing that for twenty minutes already? He had to think of something to discuss! “So… what’ve you been up to lately?” Get her talking. Yeah, put the ball in her court.

“Rocks.” Blink.

“Oh, really? What kinds? I want to hear all about them.” He forced a grin. But she didn’t take the bait. “Um… find any new ones?”

Maud paused halfway to her straw and missed a blink. “I should go,” she said, and without another word, turned and left. Right there, on the table, a perfectly good, untouched topaz milkshake, and she walked out.

What in the world?

He shot a glance back to the counter, where Pinkie gaped at him. “What did you do?” she said. “What did you do?

“I-I dunno. Did I say something wrong?” Oh, no. What had he screwed up? He thought back through the conversation, brief as it was, but nothing.

Pinkie dashed out after her sister and called back over her shoulder, “Mrs. Cake! Please cover for me!”

Should he follow? Make a hasty exit and go hide? No, then he’d get in trouble with Twilight for not taking responsibility. Stay here and see if Pinkie came back? Everypony was staring at him…

Fine. He slumped forward in his seat, rested his chin on a claw, and traced circles on the table with his other claw. At least all the customers in line eventually left, but the Cakes kept glancing at him. He didn’t mean it! He didn’t even know what he didn’t mean!

So he sat and sat and sat some more. In fact, it was getting close to dinner time, and if he missed that… well, at this point, he’d probably get in trouble with Twilight either way. Finally, Pinkie returned, sat where Maud had been, and slid that completely melted, completely wasted milkshake to the side.

“I think I got her calmed down,” Pinkie said, “but why’d you say that to her?”

“I don’t know what I said!” Spike hissed through his panting.

Pinkie took a slow breath, rested her forelegs on the table, and gave a short nod. “Okay. Start from the beginning. What happened first?”

Spike picked a claw at his lip. “I asked her if she had a fun train ride.”


With a shrug, Spike replied, “And nothing. She said it was fine.”

Pinkie sighed, pulled her forelock straight, and let it spring back into shape. “Did she say it was fine, or did she say it was fine?”

“Um… both?” Spike smiled weakly.

Pinkie clicked her tongue. “No, no, one or the other. Which was it, fine or fine?”

“I can’t tell the difference,” he said slowly while preparing to duck.

One of Pinkie’s eyes narrowed. “One’s fine. The other almost has two ‘i’s, like fiine. Except not that long. Halfway in between.”

“I don’t know.” Now Spike understood what the little germs under Twilight’s microscope felt like. “I’ll say whatever keeps you from getting any more mad.”

I won’t get mad!” Pinkie said, her chest heaving.

“I’m sorry,” Spike squeaked.

Pinkie closed her eyes for a moment and swallowed. “Then what?”

Pointing at the empty mug in front of him, he continued, “I told her I liked the flavor of topazes, and she said her shake was cold and crunchy.”

“But she didn’t eat any.”

“Um… no.” Pinkie nodded the same way Twilight did when mentally marking something off a checklist. “Then I sat there for a long time. Just quiet.”

Pinkie rolled her eyes. “And I suppose she didn’t do anything.”

“No, she-she… No.”


Maybe Spike shouldn’t have eaten all that ice cream. His stomach sure was churning. “She blinked.”

“She blinked.”

Spike scratched his head. “Yeah? I mean, doesn’t everyone?”

“How fast? Like six times a minute, or closer to twelve?” Pinkie had gradually leaned forward through the whole conversation, and now her nose hovered mere inches from Spike’s.

“I-I don’t…” Spike tapped a claw on the table, counted four beats with his toe, on the floor where Pinkie wouldn’t see, then tapped again. “About that fast.”

Pinkie ran a hoof down her muzzle. “See? I just don’t get how you could miss all those signs!”


“Okay, okay.” Pinkie rubbed her temples. “What did you say after that?”

“I tried to get her talking. About rocks, y’know? I asked her if she had any new ones.” He flicked a claw as if tossing his words over his shoulder. What possible harm could that do?

Pinkie held her breath for a moment. “Spike, Maud lost Boulder. Either on the train or right after getting to the station. I-I’ve never seen her this sad before. And then you go talking about finding new rocks. How could you?”

“I’m sorry! Honest, I didn’t know! How would I have figured that out?” Well, now that he’d gotten the whole story, of course it sounded bad. But that would take some kind of psychic to untangle.

At least Pinkie relaxed her posture. “I’ll go talk to her again. I guess you’re right, but you should have seen something was wrong. It was written all over her face!”

“But nobody can read her except you!” Spike said. And Pinkie fell silent. He—he wasn’t used to winning arguments. No, this wasn’t an argument, just… whether his fault or not, Maud needed someone.

Now Pinkie’s mouth had drooped, and she looked on the verge of tears. “Alright, Pinkie. I’m sorry. Go help her, and if you can get her to come back here tomorrow, I’ll apologize to her. In the meantime, I think I have an idea…”

“Do you really think this will work?” Rarity asked.

“Yes.” Spike let out a sigh. “I dunno. Maybe.”

Rarity had run at a full gallop for a while, but her magic kept turning up more and more places to check for gems, and they just couldn’t keep up much of a pace. So they zigzagged from one spot to the next to the next. At least they didn’t have to dig much, only enough to verify that his nose wasn’t fooling him. And with each new clump of gems, Spike could fine-tune his sense. “Too sharp,” he said, waving her on. “Where’s the next one?”

She squinted and brought a glow to her horn. Soon, a spot on the ground answered with its own light, and Spike dashed over. He’d tried sitting on Rarity’s back and reading her magic’s aura from the source, but it turned out he could smell the gems much stronger down where she’d illuminated them in the earth. And once he’d figured out how it made each kind smell, he could rule those out.

Except they didn’t even know if Rarity’s spell could find anything other than gems. If it lit up just any old rock, the whole landscape would blaze like a wildfire. So… maybe it only worked on precious rocks? And maybe Boulder would qualify? Just granite or basalt or something else pretty ordinary, but what made gems so special? Just because ponies decided they had value, and to Maud, no rock had more.

“Nothing new here,” Spike said.

Rarity shook her head and gave him a weak grin. “If Maud left him on the train, this won’t help. Twilight said she’d alert the station agent to pass word around, but that could take days.”

Scratching a foot through the dust, Spike clasped his hands behind his back. “Th-thanks, Rarity. For helping, I mean. You didn’t have to.”

“Of course I did, dear,” she replied, holding a hoof to her chest. “She means so much to Pinkie, and she’s our friend as well.” Rarity started her magic up again, but let the soft glow die after a few seconds. “Pinkie really thought you should have been able to figure out all this from a few blinks on a blank face? Seems a bit much.”

Spike couldn’t help chuckling. “Yeah. I feel bad that she got upset, but… how was I supposed to tell?”

Rarity pulled her forelock straight and lulled her normally lilting voice into a dull monotone. “I’ve placed my dishrag-shawl three millimeters to the right today, and my eyes are open a little wider. I’m wearing my utter despair on my sleeve.”

His laughter growing into a snort, Spike stifled the noise with a fist, but a wry smile soon crossed his face. “Still, here we are.”

With a nod, Rarity cast her spell again and started toward the next glowing patch of dirt. “Yes, here we are. Why do you think that is?” she said with a playful smirk.

“Because we like her.”

“Hm. Yes.” Rarity scratched a mark on the ground and kept her magic focused on it. “And we like Pinkie, too. Maud must think the rest of us are just as strange.”

Spike sniffed at the dirt and shook his head. No luck. They’d started by the tracks and had gotten almost halfway to Sugarcube Corner already. And the sun had settled pretty close to the horizon. “Heh. Yeah.”

She crouched down to offer him a ride while she cast about for more gems, and when no new clumps illuminated, she trotted off to await another hit. “I wore gray instead of gray today, so I need a friend,” Rarity said. “I like rocks and I dress like one and I write poetry about them and I eat them sometimes.”

“Hehe! Though that last one’s actually really tasty.” Spike’s toothy grin faded into a gentle smile. “Yeah. Maud’s our friend.”

“I wish I could read her as well as Pinkie does,” Rarity said. “I think I’m starting to get the hang of it a little, though. She seems sweet. Apple Bloom certainly speaks very highly of her.”

Soon enough, Rarity’s horn glowed again. “Something different this time,” Spike said as he sniffed the air. “Kinda smoky. I’m feeling good about this one.”

Another pair of topaz milkshakes, and again Spike and Maud sat across the table from each other. She hadn’t tasted any yet, so… he couldn’t remember. Was that bad?

“Maud, I didn’t mean to upset you yesterday. I didn’t know about Boulder, but I hope you’ll forgive me.” He tried a smile, but who knew whether she cared about appearances like that.

“I’m sorry you had to see me like that,” Maud replied. Like… what? She looked exactly the same right now! “I didn’t mean to be a volcano of emotion spewing hot despair out my fumaroles and ashy loneliness from my caldera. You must have felt terribly embarrassed to sit here next to that raw a display. I’ll endeavor to control myself from now on.”

From all he could read off her face, she might have just enjoyed an unexpectedly ordinary bran muffin. So… turmoil, huh? “Well, I have a surprise for you. If you remember, Rarity can cast a spell for finding gems. And since I know how they taste, I can sniff out what leads she gets, and long story short, we practiced a little to fine-tune it. So in an unprecedented unicorn-dragon collaboration—” he added a little twist of the wrist for a visual flourish “—we went on a search-and-rescue mission.” Maybe this wasn’t quite the moment for humor.

So he just pulled his arm from under the table and opened his claw without any further ado.

“Boulder,” she said. Then she blinked. She didn’t reach for him, didn’t smile, didn’t do anything. “I thought you might have run away to meet a nice pegmatite and raise some pebbles of your own. Of course, I’d never refuse you the chance, but I would miss you terribly.” Another blink.

“I’m sorry to make such a scene,” Maud added. Spike glanced around, but they hadn’t attracted anyone’s attention. Just by her tone, anyone catching a bit of conversation probably would have guessed she was advising him on the advantages of retirement planning. “I didn’t mean to spill raw emotion all over the room today.” Blink.

How many now? He’d lost count! Six blinks, maybe seven, since she’d sat down. Spike rolled his eyes up and counted them out on his fingers. “I couldn’t keep track! How many times did you blink since you sat down?” She blinked again. Oh, no! It was getting worse! “Eight now? Twelve? I didn’t keep track! Are you okay?” Spike grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her, but she only watched him as if he were a documentary on toothpaste.

“I appreciate your concern, Spike, but I’m fine.”

No! No, no, no! “A-are you fine or fine? I can’t tell the difference!” Spike buried his face in his hands.


“Like ‘fine’ or ‘fiine’ with a little less?” He spread two fingers apart so he could peek through with one eye.

Maud’s mouth moved a little. At least he thought so. “Spike, it’s sweet of you to ask. But I’m fine. Really.”

Spike wiped the sweat off his brow and reached under the table, where he had something else hidden. “Good. Because Rarity and I found more than just Boulder.” He slid another rock onto the table, and Maud’s eyes widened a little. He was certain of it!

“Boulder, you made a friend. Is that why you ran off?” Maud cocked her head. “Of course he can stay with us. We’ll call him Mica.”

Funny, Spike hadn’t heard anything. “Mica, huh? You sure he’ll make a good friend? I hear he’s kind of flaky.”

Maud’s withering indifference stabbed into him, but just when he thought he might buckle and take shelter under the table, she finally blinked. Tenth time, or… eleventh? No, more!

“So… only twelve blinks?” Maud blinked again. He was falling behind on counting them! “How about your milkshake? I don’t want it to go to waste. Won’t you have any?”

For a long minute, she stared back at him and said nothing. Then she leaned forward and took a slurp of her topaz milkshake. She held the mouthful a little while, swallowed the ice cream, and ground her jaw back and forth as she crunched the bits of gem between her teeth. “Tastes like topaz,” she remarked. “With ice cream.”

“So you’re enjoying your milkshake, you’re not blinking too much, and… you’re better than ‘fiine’?” Spike raised his eyebrows and watched her gape at him. Well, “gape” in the sense that a raging hurricane could be described as “did someone just cough on the other side of the continent?”

“I should go.” She stood, leaving another perfectly good milkshake, scooped up the two rocks, and walked out.

Dashing over to the table, Pinkie shrieked, “What did you do!?

Oh, jeez. Not this again! But like before, he’d better sit here and stew instead of risking even harsher consequences. Pinkie rushed out after Maud, but no way would Spike let his milkshake melt this time!

He shoveled in spoonful after spoonful until his head felt like it might split and his fire might go out forever, but if Pinkie intended to kill him anyway…

But she returned a lot more quickly than he’d expected. Still rubbing the pain out of his temples, he watched Pinkie sit in the chair Maud had used, flinch toward the unfinished shake, and take a deep breath.

“Spike, Maud wants you to know that your attentions flatter her, but…” She placed a hoof on his shoulder. “She thinks you’re a sweet little dragon, and she said she’s sure you’ll find just the right mare or dragon or… whatever for you.”


Pinkie giggled and gave Spike’s shoulder a squeeze. “She noticed how you kept track of her blinking, and whether she had an appetite, and if she felt fiine. But she’s a little too… old for you.”

Really? Spike shook his head. “Okay. Fine.”

“Fine or fiine?”

“Either one. Whatever. I’ve learned my lesson.” He flopped onto the table and tapped a claw on the empty glass. “Can you at least get me a refill?”

Pinkie shot him a warm smile. “Sure, Spike. Hang in there. You’ll find the one for you.”

“I agree,” Rarity said from behind him. Spike hadn’t even heard her come in, but she stood there with a box of petit fours balanced on a forehoof and a receipt levitating into her saddlebag. “You’ll make a fine young beau for just the right pony. Good luck to you.”

Now she left as well. That just completed the perfect day.

At least Twilight strolled by, spotted him through the window, and walked in to join him. He could always count on her to bring things back to normal. Their brand of normal, anyway. She’d probably stay quiet and get lost in her thoughts, so Spike could sit and stew in his own.

“So, Spike,” Twilight said, settling down beside him, “you were out pretty late with Rarity last night. Have a good time?”

“Gaah!” Spike shouted, slamming his palms on the table. He shoved his chair back and stalked toward the door.

Behind him, Pinkie galloped over, screeching at a gaping Twilight, “What did you do!?

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