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”Why can’t I go to kindeygarden?” Spike pleaded.
Twilight sighed. “Spike, kindergarten is meant especially for ponies. Magic Kindergarten teaches unicorns like me how to control magic, Flying Kindergarten teaches pegasi a few basic wing movements, and Strength Kindergarten teaches earth ponies the self-control they’ll need to handle themselves once their strength bucks in.”
“But you said I’d grow wings and become really strong!” Spike protested.
“Yes, you will, but you can’t very well learn to fly until you grow wings. And an earth pony’s strength comes from his connection with the earth. It’s different for dragons.”
“Then… how will I learn?”
“I have a few ideas, don’t you worry,” Twilight assured. “Now please, I need to finish this essay. Why don’t you go play?
That had been another lie, he realized. At a certain age he began to pick up on the fact that she never specified on exactly how she would help him. She was just as lost about his development as he was.
He eventually started going to public school. He ended going to public school the same day when, midway through lunch, the collection of ponies assembled began throwing what they weren’t going to eat at him, chanting and calling him a freak. He ran from the cafeteria, then from the school crying, covered in bits of hay fries and dandelions.
He ran to the castle, locked himself in his room, and sobbed. Twilight had been pulled out of her classes to see to him. She held him close for what felt like hours, promising him he didn’t have to go back. Princess Celestia offered to go to the school and lecture the students there, but the experience made him too afraid to ever set foot there again.
”What’s wrong with me?” Spike sobbed, his face in the crook of Twilight’s neck. “Why do they hate me?”
“Oh Spike,” Twilight said sadly. “There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re a sweet, intelligent, wonderful little dragon. You’re just… well…” She struggled to find the right word. “You’re unique. And ponies can be afraid or feel threatened when something is different from them.”
“That’s stupid!” Spike wailed, his sobs coming out anew.
“I agree, it’s ridiculous,” she said sympathetically. “But that’s their problem, not yours.”
“I… I saw a few donkeys and griffins there… they weren’t getting laughed at…”
“You’re even more special than they are,” she explained. “There are plenty of ponies in Equestria, and there are hundreds of donkeys and griffins, but there’s only one of you.”
“I don’t wanna be special!” he cried. “I wanna be a pony like ev’rypony else! Can’t you use your magic to change me?”
“Spike, shapeshifting magic is impossible, at least at the level you're talking about. A skilled unicorn might be able to change an apple to an orange or a rock to a hat, but nopony can permanently transform another living creature. Not even Princess Celestia can change you into a pony for more than an hour. And besides, you shouldn’t be ashamed of being a dragon, that’s who you are.”
“I… I don’t wanna be me,” he muttered weakly. “I don’t wanna be alone.”
“Spike, look at me,” she said gently as she slowly pushed him back. She brought a hoof under his chin and made him look her in the eyes. “You’re not alone. No matter what happens, or how bad things get, I’ll be here for you.”
Twilight grinned warmly. “With Celestia as my witness.”
Spike swept the floor with frustration and anger, nearly breaking the handle of his broom. She had kept that promise, though everything. Dwelling on the fact that he didn’t return her kindness only hurt him more, but he couldn’t help it.
There were times he regretted not facing up to pressure and returning to school, as Celestia suggested. As time went on, he found prejudice against him lessened. Soon, the ponies of Canterlot were used to him, if not friendly then at least civil enough to ignore him. Still, he never truly belonged. He received stares even from ponies who saw him daily. By the time he and Twilight left for Ponyville, he was practically a tourist attraction.
He was quite surprised, then, when the ponies of Ponyville were just the opposite. On his first day, none of them even seemed to acknowledge his species. As he later found out, many assumed that dragons were a common sight in the big city and acted like he was nothing unusual to avoid appearing ignorant. Only Fluttershy, being better versed in the creatures of Equestria, was vocal about his uniqueness, and her warmth and affection made him all too willing to accept it.
Even once the misconception wore off, however, the citizens still treated him with kindness. Mayor Mare was kind and cordial whenever Twilight sent him to her office. The Cakes treated him like any foal, with warm smiles and a free cookie every time he visited. The Cutie Mark Crusaders played with him on the rare occasions when they weren’t crusading and he wasn’t working. Only Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon ever seemed to treat him cruelly, and even that was a comfort, in a way. Not even they treated him any differently.
For a moment, Spike’s anger was forgotten. For all the bad things that had happened to him over the past two years, his life in Ponyville was much happier than it was in Canterlot. Yes, he missed Moondancer, Donut Joe, and the handful of servants that were genuinely nice to him, but they were worth the trade of a whole town of friendly ponies. He probably could have gone to school here. They didn’t break kindergarten up in small towns, so he might have been better accepted here.
He shook his head. Another could have been. Nothing he should be dwelling on.
”Well, shoot, you just love my pie, don’t’cha?” Applejack said happily as Twilight helped herself to her fourth slice.
“Actually, I had my fill two slices ago,” she admitted, already sounding sounding ready to eject her entire meal out her mouth.
The cowpony cocked her head at a curious angle. “Then why’re you eatin’ yourself sick? You love it over here that much?”
“It’s not that,” she said weakly. She pointed a hoof over to a field where the Apple family foals were playing, with Spike joining them.
“Ah, I see. Your dragon is enjoyin’ himself. I guess you figure he could use a bit of pony company instead of dragons.”
Twilight gave her an odd look. “There are no other civilized dragons in Equestria.”
Applejack blushed. “Oh...’scuze me...I just figured dragons must be a big city thing...”
“Hey, you haven’t treated him like an animal, that puts you ahead of several ponies on my list.”
Applejack blinked. “Th’ city ponies don’t like him?”
“I had to pull him out of public school because of all the bullying,” she sighed. “I think this is the first time he’s been able to play with foals his own age.”
“I’m sorry,” Applejack said awkwardly, not exactly sure what to say. For a few moments, the two mares simply watched Spike playing with the foals, looking happier than he ever was.
“…Maybe I should stay in Ponyville,” Twilight said at last, earning a look from the cowpony. “I’d miss Canterlot, and my family… but Spike’s so happy here. This is what he’s always wanted.”
Applejack couldn’t help but smile. “What are you, his mama?”
The unicorn blushed. “Well… I hatched his egg… and I’ve cared for him since then… I guess I am the closest thing to a mother he has. I just… I want what’s best for him.”
“I understand that feelin’. Me an’ Big Macintosh have been takin’ care of Apple Bloom ever since Ma an’ Pa…” she trailed off a moment. “I want what’s best for her, too. And I’d put that over what I wanted.”
Twilight looked back at her baby dragon. “…I guess I have something to think about.”
“You mean you moved to Ponyville for Spike?” Rarity asked, a little surprised. Breakfast had ended, which left the two unicorns and Applejack to head for the spa.
“He was what got me thinking about it,” Twilight nodded. “Meeting all of you was what really convinced me. Still, even if it wasn’t for that, I was already considering moving here. The entire time I was meeting the rest of you, I was thinking of a whether or not I should do it… really, it should have been no contest.”
“I always wondered why the poor dear never seemed to attend school,” Rarity noted. “Why haven’t you enrolled him here? I’m sure Miss Cheerilee would welcome him.”
“His tutor already taught him everything he could learn here. He always got good grades, I guess… I guess he felt like he wanted to upstage everypony who got to go to ‘real school’.”
Applejack blinked at this revelation. “Really? Spike don’t seem like an egghead to me.”
“Well, he’d have to be to be my assistant. But he never really enjoyed learning any of it,” Twilight looked at the ground. “In fact, I was worried about him sometimes. He seemed like he was doing something he hated that whole time.” She was quiet for a moment. “Do you two think I was right to pull Spike out of school?”
Both of her companions couldn’t help but gape at that. “After the way he came home cryin’? How could you think otherwise?” Applejack demanded.
“I didn’t want to… it would have killed me to send him back there… but I kept wondering if I was doing the right thing. I always wondered if I did the right thing. Maybe I should have told him he needed to stand tall against ponies like that. But… he just looked so heartbroken, I couldn’t bear to…” She was tearing up now as well.
Rarity put a comforting hoof on her shoulder. “Darling, it was a hard decision to make. We can’t tell you made the right choice. But Spike seems remarkably well-adjusted for a dragon that went through what he did. And besides, if you recall, Spike stood up to those three awful dragons to protect that poor phoenix egg.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” Twilight said, perking up a bit. “I was very proud of him then. But… it’s a little more complicated than that.”
”So he absolutely refuses to go back?” Celestia sighed.
“Yes, your Highness,” Twilight said sadly. “I…please don’t make him. I don’t think he’ll survive going back.”
The Princess of the Sun sighed. “A shame…I was hoping Equestria was prepared for Spike. I’m disappointed in my subjects. As for whether or not I’m going to send him back…you are the one I left in charge of him, that decision will be left to you.”
“I understand, your Highness.”
“I want you to consider something, Twilight. Spike is in a unique position. He is the first dragon to be born amongst ponies in recorded history. Do you realize what that could mean?”
Most teenagers wouldn’t, but Twilight did. “Spike could change how ponies see dragons. He could lead to peace with dragons if everything goes right.”
“Indeed. I want what’s best for Spike, make no mistake, but I am keeping Equestria’s interests at heart as well.”
The young unicorn shifted uncomfortably. “I don’t like thinking of Spike that way.”
“Nor do I, my little pony, but you must remember that’s the burden that comes with power. That said, I feel torn on the matter. Should we force Spike to continue attending public school, it could speed up the public’s acceptance of him…or it could result in Spike resenting ponies, and becoming the very thing we are trying to prove he is not.”
Twilight put her hooves over her ears. “Please Princess, I don’t even want to think about that.”
“I am as terrified as you are, Twilight. I am merely telling you of the possible consequences of your actions. This is a situation that must be handled delicately.”
The unicorn kicked the ground in deep thought. “Princess…what exactly do you have in mind for Spike when he grows older? He can’t live in a pony home forever.”
Princess Celestia sighed. “Twilight…do you trust me?”
“Of course, Princess, more than anypony.”
“Then trust me when I say my plans for Spike are similar to my plans for you. The two of you are headed for greatness if I have my way. But I will not deny him a happy childhood to do so. As long as you live, he will be a child.”
“And…once I’m gone?”
Celestia sighed. “He will have it hard. It’s unavoidable, giving his upbringing, but I promise you, he will triumph…if he is raised correctly. What, for certain, will happen, I do not know. It will all depend on how our political and cultural landscape changes in your lifetime.”
Twilight was quite for a moment. “You said I was destined for greatness...that means I could change those things.”
Celestia smiled slyly. “Indeed you could.”
“Then I will. I’ll do everything I can for Spike before I go.”
“I have no doubt you will, Twilight. A unicorn of your raw abilities can do great things. You will leave Spike in good hooves, I’m sure. But don’t get ahead of yourself. The first step is to ensure Spike a proper childhood, and that includes an education.”
“Princess, what do you think is best?”
“That’s not my decision, it’s yours. He’s in your care, Twilight, you know him better than anypony. Have faith in yourself.”
“What do you mean, you’re busy?” Scootaloo demanded.
Apple Bloom paused from pushing a hay bale into the loft. “Sorry, Scoots, but Applejack heaped a buncha’ chores on me the mornin’. Say we got a lot of catchin’ up to do since it’s only been Big Mac on the farm while we was at the weddin’.”
“But...Sweetie says she’s busy today too! And weren’t we supposed to visit Spike today? You know, try and cheer him up?”
“Aw, you don’t have to worry ‘bout that. See, I told Applejack ‘bout it...didn’t tell her what’s goin’ on, just that we thought Spike was depressed and needed cheering up. She said that Twilight could tell somethin’ was botherin’ him, and she talked to him last night. I bet he’s already feelin’ better.”
“Well that’s good,” Scootaloo sighed. “But are you sure you can’t get out of chores today?”
“Positive. Applejack says these need to be done, and she’s gonna be gone all mornin’. Said somethin’ ‘bout helpin’ Twilight.”
The orange pegasus filly sighed. “Fine...I’ll see you tomorrow, I guess.”
“I promise,” Apple Bloom assured as her friend trotted away.