Hi ladies and gents. You may have seen this story on FFN or Equestria Daily - but I have been told in no uncertain terms that this is the place to post ponies, and I absolutely must share it here! Apologies if it feels like oversaturation.
A note on spelling: I am not of the US-persuasion, though I do hail from an English-speaking nation. As a result, I don't spell certain words the same way as ponies of the US do. Sorry if it is jarring.
I have linked to some pictures throughout the course of the story, and you can find the artists/sources by clicking the images. My absolute and profound thanks to all artists!
Not mine, no money, no sue.
It Takes a Village
Spike pulled his tail back between his claws and held his breath as the table skittered precariously towards a bookshelf, before it teetered to a halt. He let out the breath with a gusty sigh of relief. Nothing broken this time, thank Celestia. For once.
"Spike?" Twilight's voice floated down the stairs from her room. "Not again?"
"Nope, everything's okay this time, promise!" he called back up to his foster-sister and best friend. He pulled anxiously at his tail a little, eyeing the distance between himself and the bookshelves behind him. He was still finding it hard to judge how much room he required.
He could hear Twilight's yawn and the creak of her bedsprings as she got up to begin the morning. It was the first day in quite some time that she hadn't woken to find a dragon-created disaster in the library. Yesterday morning he'd knocked over all the pans in the kitchen whilst trying to make her some breakfast as an apology, and it had taken half an hour for her eyes to go from stark-raving-crazy back to normal.
Glancing at the shelf behind him again, he debated whether to try to turn around to greet the pony now trotting down the stairs. It was with an unhappy resignation that he decided against it. He'd had too many successive disappointments when it came to his clumsiness lately, and it would surely be a nice surprise for Twilight to enter to a catastrophe-free zone for once. He crouched down on the library floor, still holding his tail in with one claw, and tried to bunch himself up as tightly as possible.
"Morning," Twilight mumbled as she squeezed past him.
"Morning," he mumbled back, his eyes darting to the table and then to the floor. She followed the glance to the table, and her lips quirked wryly.
"Ah," she said dryly. "Well, it's better than the pans, at least."
"I'm sorry," he said meekly, and she rubbed a hoof on his head.
"Shhh," she soothed.
"Twilight," Spike began, but she shook her head.
"Just... Spike, it's okay. It's not your fault, just... it's fine, okay? We'll talk about it, but first," she said around another yawn. "I need coffee."
"Oh, oka-" Spike turned from long ingrained habit towards the kitchen, mind already planning coffee and biscuits, and absently released his tail. It swang around and slammed directly into the table he'd shunted before. Flying woodchips and ink cut off the sound of Twilight's cry of alarm.
"Oh NO, no, no, Twilight, oh no, are you okay? I'm so sorry... are you okay?" Spike blurted, green eyes wide, as she spat ink and wiped her face. Splinters of the table were caught up in her mane.
"Uuuurgh," she growled, and splattered ink from her face onto the ground. "No," she grumbled.
"NO. No. You just..." She held up her hoof. "Just stay there, okay? I'll wash up and then we'll go to Sugarcube Corner. I'll get a coffee there. Have you eaten?"
He shook his head mutely.
"Then we'll both eat there," she concluded. "Or I will, or we'll stay outside. Or something," she added under her breath, and Spike winced.
"Twilight," he pleaded, and she sighed, raising her stained face up to meet his eyes.
"I know, Spike," she said, and rested her ink-smeared hoof on his cheek for a moment, before squeezing past him again to get to the stairs.
Spike sat motionlessly for a while, his heart in his feet. He examined them idly, the broad pads, the thickened claws, and closed his eyes in resignation. Heaving himself to all fours, he looked around him as thoroughly as possible before carefully, carefully backing out of the library doors to the main thoroughfare. His spines caught the upper doorjamb and scraped a thin groove into it, and he flinched slightly, trying to duck lower. Unfortunately that caused the scales at his elbows to dig into the sides of the doorframe and his wings to catch painfully against the wood, rendering it impossible to get out at all. He stifled a scream of frustration, and resigned himself to scraping the upper doorjamb rather than tearing the frame out altogether.
When he finally squeezed himself out onto the street, he stretched as fully and luxuriously as possible. It had been quite some time since he'd attempted the door. His back had cramped fiercely from trying to compress his full length, and his legs felt sore and rubbery from constant muscle tension. He shook out his shoulders, feeling the armoured scales shift over his shoulderblades and the heavy flop of the spines from side to side. Even his tail seemed to have a kink in it from continually holding it back. He whipped it lazily to loosen it, before drawing himself up onto his hind legs and balancing with it.
Ponyville was quiet this early in the morning. The only ponies he could see about were Ditzy the mailmare, flitting from house to house like a grey bumblebee, and Mrs Cake, sweeping out the front of the bakery. He stretched his neck even taller, trying to see over the houses to Sweet Apple Acres where he knew the Apple family always arose with the dawn. Not quite tall enough yet, but the tops of the houses were getting ever closer.
"Whoa," he heard an awed and yet dismayed voice say from below. "How are you fitting inside the library at all?
Spike looked down gingerly to see a slightly dampened Twilight staring up at him. "Um," he said, biting his lip. And then, "ow!" as his fangs dug into his mouth.
"Are you okay?" she asked him, and he nodded his head sheepishly.
"Yeah, uh, just forgot about them," he mumbled. "Are you okay? I'm really sorry, Twilight, I didn't mean to..."
"I know," she said, "I'm fine, it was an accident. Now, come on. Breakfast. I still haven't had that coffee, and we need to talk about this."
"Uh," Spike scratched the back of his neck. "Can you back up a bit? I don't want to land on you, and I can't..."
"Walk on two legs anymore," she finished with him, before moving to one side of him.
Spike allowed his upper body to fall under its own gravity, and there were two distinct booms as his forepaws touched the combed dirt street. He winced at the noise, and looked sidelong at his foster-sister.
She shook her head in amused resignation. "Come on then, big guy."
He followed her up the main street, wishing he was still small enough to be carried on her back like the child he was.
There wasn't enough food in the whole of Sugarcube Corner to feed Spike anymore, but the citizens of Ponyville had acknowledged his contributions to the town as a debt to be repaid. Thus, a couple of barrels of apples and vegetables were delivered to the library every few days. Occasionally a few gems were included in his haul. Spike liked those days. The whole arrangement made him feel inexpressibly guilty about taking food from the village, but Twilight had put her hoof down.
It was too early for his food to have been delivered this morning, however, and Spike resigned himself to going hungry for a few hours as Twilight ducked inside the bakery to order her breakfast. She soon reappeared and sighed gustily as she sat down on the stoop, blowing a strand of wet purple-pink mane from out of her eyes. Spike lay down beside her and placed his head over his forepaws, trying to keep his body from out of the main thoroughfare.
"So," Twilight began in her customary brisk research voice. "You don't fit in the library anymore."
Spike closed his eyes. The library was home. Home meant the library. "I don't want to go away," he muttered rebelliously.
"Who said anything about that?" She sounded genuinely surprised. Then her eyes opened very wide, and her hoof travelled halfway to her mouth. "Spike! You didn't think that we'd get rid of you, did you?"
"Well..." Spike squirmed against the knot in his throat.
She simply stared at him, her mouth open.
"I don't..." Spike began, but quietened as Mrs Cake bustled outside with a serve of banana bread and a mug of coffee. She placed them on the ground beside Twilight, and smiled kindly at them both.
"Good morning dears!" she trilled. "My, Spike, I don't see you around very much any more. How you've grown!"
Spike could tell that his answering smile was a little sickly, and no doubt a little intimidating now that his adult teeth had grown in. "Uh, thanks," he said awkwardly. Yes, I've grown. And that's the problem!
"Call me if you need anything, dears." Mrs Cake beamed. "Pinkie should be in soon, no doubt she'll be thrilled to see you!"
"Thanks, Mrs Cake," Twilight said, her magic scooping up the coffee as the sonsy pony bustled back inside. She took a large gulp, before firmly setting it down and leaning forward to glare at him. "Spike, how could you think..."
"But... I just..." Spike interrupted, rearing back onto his elbows and haunches, before settling. "Look, I don't want things to change!"
"Nor do I, but this simply isn't working anymore." Twilight sighed. "You're growing up, Spike. In another few months you won't even get through the library doors. We're lucky you've grown longer than bulkier, otherwise I doubt you'd have made it outside today without ripping a hole in the wall."
Spike steeled his courage. "Um, yeah... about that..."
The coffee cup stopped halfway to her lips. "I didn't see a hole...?"
"I tore the top of the doorjamb," he admitted very quietly.
She groaned. "That's that, then. You really don't fit in the library anymore."
"I don't," he said woodenly. There was an awful pause.
"Well, let's think of something," Twilight said in a brisk voice to cover the awkward silence. "I suppose you're not much into caves..."
Spike made an inelegant noise of derision, before pressing his forehead against his claws. "What am I gonna do?" he burst out.
"We, Spike," she corrected him absently, waving away the cloud of smoke that had accompanied his exclamation and taking another sip of her coffee. "Perhaps..."
He swallowed, and then it all seemed to come pouring out of him. His head reared to his full height, his lengthening neck snaking skywards. His claws viciously raked the ground once in pent-up frustration. "Twilight, I hate this! I don't fit anywhere in Ponyville any more, not just the library! And I'm just going to keep on getting bigger and bigger, and I can't stop breaking things, and I don't even know how to stop! I don't know how strong I am, and I can't use these stupid things," he flapped his wings once, before letting them fall uselessly against the dusty ground by his sides. He could feel his eyes stinging, and blinked hard. "I'm not good for anything anymore. I can't write because I can't hold a quill, and I can't send messages unless I'm twenty pony-strides from a wooden structure, and... and..."
He could feel a hissing tear sliding down his face, and rubbed it off hurriedly lest the boiling water scorch his best friend. "...can't even cry..." he managed bitterly, and closed his eyes once more.
"Spike!" Twilight sounded horrified, and her hooves began to smooth down the spines beside his face.
"I'm a disaster! It's... only a matter of time before I hurt somepony," Spike spat through his hitching breath. "Maybe I'll hurt them... bad, Twilight... I don't want to, I don't, I don't wanna go, I hate this..."
"Oh, Spike!" Twilight gasped softly, and leaned her head against him, her whole weight pressing against the feathery scales at his jawline in an attempt to comfort him. It only brought up bittersweet memories of being cradled against her when he was unhappy, once so much bigger than him, so much stronger. He tried to get his heaving breath under control. His lower lip quivered against his wicked teeth as he slumped to the ground in misery.
"I'm dangerous," he said dully as his lungs burned and burned with more than green fire. "Only a matter of time... and I'll be asked to leave..."
"Shhh," Twilight implored in a whisper, "Spike, please, it's okay, shhh, it's okay..."
"It's not okay," he grated. "How can you say that? This is my home and I don't fit!"
"It is okay," she insisted. "Or it will be. Why didn't you tell me you felt like this?"
Spike opened one eye to give her a sardonic glare.
"Right." She smiled weakly. "The leaving thing, right. But, Spike... we love you. I love you. I'd never ask you to leave. You're my number one assistant, remember?"
"Number one at not being able to do anything," Spike said, and then flinched as Twilight's hoof batted his cheek.
"Now stop that, Mister," she said sternly, before relenting and holding his head as close as she could, carefully avoiding his smoking nostrils and brimming, boiling eyes. "I'd never ask you to leave. I'd do whatever I needed to do to keep you here, little brother. My great big little brother." She chuckled sadly and stroked the crested scales on top of his head.
He stifled another sob, and sniffed noisily, desperate not to let his tears slide onto her. She leaned back to regard him, and her face grew affectionate and rueful. "Oh, look at you," she continued softly, fondly, "we forget how young you are, don't we? You're still just a kid, considering how large dragons grow and how long they live. Shhh. That's it. It's okay."
"Twilight, it's not okay," he insisted, his tone anguished. "Didn't you hear me? I can't do anything anymore! All I do is break things and eat other people's food!"
"Didn't you hear me? I said 'whatever I needed to do'," Twilight retorted, sitting up straight and eyeing him almost challengingly. Her horn flared, and her saddlebag opened to permit her notepad and quill to float before her. She gnawed at her lip for a moment, before nodding.
"What are you..." Spike began, but Twilight was already beginning to write.
"First things first," she said in a businesslike tone, though her eyes were a little too shiny for it to be convincing, "It'd have to be near the library. We've got nothing behind the tree, so that's a start. You're likely to end up roughly five times the size you are now, and that's not including wingspan or your adult tail-length. Let's see... and room enough to turn around... and hmm... Yes, that field's easily big enough."
"What is? Big enough for what?" Spike asked, bemused. His unhappiness was still twisting in his belly and shrieking in his ears, but Twilight's behaviour was throwing him utterly off balance.
"We'll make you a house," she said matter-of-factly. "Not wooden, obviously. Stone would be better for you. It would have to be big enough for you to be comfortable, even when you're fully grown. Oh, there's a thought, what if you decide to have a hoard one day? Or a mate? Nope, better be twice that size..." She ducked her head as the magic-infused quill began to scribble furiously once more.
Hoard? Mate? Spike's mouth dropped open in astonishment, before he began to blush violet. Words were lining up in his brain ready to be spoken – words of protest, of embarrassment, of gratitude... but he was too stunned to give them voice. His jaw simply worked uselessly as he stared at Twilight.
"Hmm." She squinted at the paper. "We may have to clear some trees, but that should work. Lucky that plot of land's unoccupied. You could pull those trees up and replant them, no problem. And that brings us to the next point... controlling your strength." She peered up at him consideringly. "Hmm."
"I could help 'im," came a soft-accented voice from the road beyond Spike's body.
Both Twilight and Spike jerked slightly in alarm, the notepad and quill clattering to the ground. Their heads whipped around to see Big Macintosh hitched to his hefty wagon. Within it were the piled barrels and crates that constituted Spike's meals for the next couple of days.
"Mighty sorry for scarin' y'all," Big Macintosh continued in his slow, deliberate voice, "but I couldn't help overhearin'."
"Macintosh, oh..." Twilight blew out a breath of relief, before her ears perked forwards. "You can help? Would you?"
"Well, yes'm." Macintosh ducked his large red head. "Y'see, when I was a colt, I had a similar sort o' problem, bein' that I was taller an' stronger than all th' other colts. Took me a long time t' control mah strength. I could help there, I reckon. Show you what I learned."
Spike eyed the farmpony dubiously. "I'm a whole bunch bigger and stronger than you already," he said doubtfully, and Macintosh snorted.
"Y' ain't more stubborn, though," he said.
"That's a given, you're related to Applejack," Spike said. All these shocks were making him blunt, he realised dimly.
Twilight tsked even as she lifted a hoof to cover her smile. "Manners, mister," she scolded, before her face grew serious. "It's up to you, Spike. Your decision."
Spike looked at her helplessly, his eyes darting between them. "Um," he managed.
"Oooh! Oooh! I can help too! I can! I can! I –ulp!" Pinkie Pie had abruptly appeared behind the cart, and just as abruptly tripped over her hooves. She tumbled awkwardly to land in a candyfloss pile at Spike's feet, her legs an interestingly complicated jumble. "What am I helping with?" she asked dazedly.
"Uh, Pinkie..." Twilight began, as Spike tried to prop the party pony up again. His forepaw pushed too fast, and she sat back on her rump heavily.
"Hi Twilight! Hi Spike!" She beamed from within another complicated tangle of pink limbs as Spike began to splutter apologies.
"Y'see, you're movin' too fast," Macintosh said critically. "Cain't do that when you got some size on yer. Gotta move slow an' steady, give all these l'il folk time t' see y' comin'."
Spike glanced over at the stallion and nodded despite himself. Then he reached out his foreleg and very, very slowly pushed Pinkie back onto her feet.
"There, now," Macintosh said with quiet satisfaction.
Spike looked at his forepaw, at the long, curved claws and the large pads, and then at the knowingly grinning Pinkie Pie. "Huh," he said blankly.
"So, that's a yes?" Twilight pressed him, and Spike swallowed, before simply nodding once more.
She gave him her most brilliant smile, before the notepad and quill floated before her again. "So, for strength training, Big Macintosh. Sundays okay?" She smiled her thanks at the red pony, who gave his slow smile back as he began to unhitch himself from his wagon.
"Eeyup, Sunday mornin' be fine with me, Miz Twilight."
"Th.." Spike cleared his throat. A pony he barely knew was offering to help him, after all. A vast sense of stunned amazement was beginning to overwhelm him like a new dawn. "Thank you. Thank you."
"I wouldn't be thankin' me just yet," Big Macintosh drawled, his smile still in place. "Y' gonna be workin' mighty hard to get yerself under control, same as I did. But you'll get there." The large farmpony nodded approvingly.
Twilight frowned at her list. "So, for flying..."
"Somepony mention... ME?"
A swirl of colour announced Dash's arrival, and Spike had to stop himself from flinching. He didn't like the idea of learning to fly like Rainbow Dash. She was so nimble, so fast and light and speedy. He'd no doubt rip himself in two if he tried to learn her way.
"Well, we mentioned flying..." Twilight said with a note of irritation in her voice.
"Which means you totally mentioned me, because hey, I AM flying," Rainbow Dash said smugly, flittering around their heads. "So what do you need to know? Super Speed Strut? Cloud Roulette?" She winked. "Sonic rainboom?"
"I'll be the biggest crater you ever called brother," Spike whispered in a panic to Twilight.
"We don't need trick-flying," Twilight said, elbowing him. "We need somepony to teach Spike."
"Ohhhhhhh," Dash said in sudden comprehension.
"Me, meeee, I can help, me!" Pinkie bounced, before stopping dead still in petulant realisation. "Aw, no fair, I can't fly!"
"Pinkie, I appreciate the offer..." murmured Spike.
"Hey, I'll help you out," said Rainbow Dash, settling on the ground before him, her wings flipping back neatly. "No problem! Like I'd leave you hangin', no way!"
"I..." Spike gulped. "I can't do all the stuff you can, Rainbow Dash... so, can you just teach me to fly? No... trick stuff? I mean, I'd make a really big mess if I hit the ground, so..."
"You got it." She grinned. "Easy peasy kiddie stuff, I promise!"
"Nothing like the crazy stuff you teach Scootaloo?"
"Cross my heart and hope to fly," Rainbow Dash said solemnly. Pinkie gasped in outrage that Dash didn't finish the 'Pinkie-Pie-Swear', and so continued with the rest of the actions herself. "You are gonna love it," Dash continued enthusiastically. "Just you wait! When you're up there, the wind in your mane, the current under your wings, the whole sky yours to own!"
"But Spike doesn't have a mane." Pinkie tipped her head, squinting at him.
"Oh...uh, hello, Spike," came a soft, nervous little voice, and Fluttershy inched tentatively beyond his body to see the rest of the collected ponies. "Oh! Oh, I see... I'm so sorry, I don't mean to interrupt, I'll just be..."
"No! Fluttershy, wait!" Twilight suddenly squawked and grabbed her meekest friend. "Perfect!"
"Oh, hello there Twilerk," Fluttershy squeaked as her breath was entirely cut off.
"Fluttershy, you've got that stare and you've had experience with dragons before... Oh! You can be the one to help Spike with his flame!" Twilight rejoiced, hugging the shy Pegasus even tighter.
"But Twilight, I can already flame," Spike protested, confused. "I've been able to flame since I was hatched!"
"But Fluttershy can help you refine it!" Twilight turned to him. "You see? Knowing how much to use, and when! You've always given it your all – but now you don't need to, and it's become a problem, sooooo – ta-dah! Fluttershy!"
Spike cocked his head. "I don't think she likes the idea all that much," he said dryly. Fluttershy was trembling violently in Twilight's stranglehold.
"Fire!" she managed in a tiny voice, shaking her head so fast it became a peach-coloured blur.
"I hope I'm not bein' too forward if I suggest somethin'?" Big Macintosh ventured.
Pinkie furrowed her brow, before her face lit up with utter glee. "Ooooh! Me too!"
"No Pinkie, no party just yet," Spike said impatiently. "Go ahead, Mr Apple."
Macintosh looked amused. "Call me Big Macintosh, hell, ever'pony else does. How's about Miz Fluttershy takes these firin' lessons after I done the strength lessons? You'll be a bit more tired, an' less likely to produce as much fire, I'm guessin'?"
"Well..." Spike scrunched up his face. "I guess? I don't really know, to be honest."
"We got two fallow fields out on the farm fer you t' practise in, no trees or nuthin'. Y' stay behind him, you should be safe as houses. An' might I say, AJ'd be a right help on this too. Her aim 'n' concentration when it comes t' ropework 're second t' none, after all. Might be that translates over t' dragonfire lessons too, leastways the part about hittin' targets."
"That'd be fantastic!" Spike exclaimed, that overwhelming sensation beginning to fill him up again. "Fluttershy, would you...? Would you please? I'll ask Applejack right away! Wow, to be able to control my flame, that'd be..."
"Now he's excited." Twilight shook her head. "Boys."
Fluttershy had slowly relaxed as Big Macintosh spoke, and she smiled tremulously up at Spike. "Well, if Applejack and... uh, Mr... Big Macintosh are okay with that, then... well." she ducked her chin and whispered, "I'll try."
"Thank you, Fluttershy!" Spike beamed, really beamed down at them. It made Twilight realise how long it had been since she'd seen it. "Big Macintosh, everyone, thank you all!"
"Oh, we're not finished yet," she said cheerily, scribbling some more on her notepad.
"We're not?" Rainbow Dash blinked. "Twilight, that's flying lessons, strength lessons, fire lessons..."
"Yes, yes, and we're building an enormous stone house too." Twilight dismissed this rather large undertaking somewhat airily, "and I'll work out how to spell some quills and parchment larger for him... but we still need to find a way to get him to stop feeling guilty about the food he's eating..."
"Ohmygosh, you GUYS." Pinkie's eyes went huge. "I. Can. HELP!"
"Pinkie... Oh Celestia, of course! Pinkie! You're a baker and a cook!" Twilight skittered over to her most enthusiastic friend. "What can you do?"
"Me? Bounce, of course!" And she looked at Twilight as though she were the crazy one.
Twilight sighed in disappointment. "Right. Obviously." She began to turn away, but Spike carefully and slowly put out a forepaw to stop her progress.
"Hang on, sometimes there's something in those things she says..." he whispered as softly as he was able. Then raising his voice, he asked, "Pinkie, what good does bouncing do?"
She rolled her eyes." Silly billy dilly dragon! It's good when I bounce because it's super duper fun, but it's good when you bounce because all the apples will fall off the trees just like that!"
"Shoot, she's right," Big Macintosh said in startled surprise. "Get him jumpin' in the orchard an' applebuckin' season'll last a day, tops."
"And with your fancy new fireskills you could roasty toasty them all up!" Pinkie shrugged. Big Macintosh choked, and then stared up at Spike in amazement.
"That'd save us three weeks when autumn rolls around," he said in an awed voice.
"Say what now? An' where you been?" Applejack's strident tones demanded, and the farmpony in question came storming up to her brother and poked him in his massive chest with one hoof. "You were supposed to come back an' take Apple Bloom an' her friends to school if I mucked out the pigs, y'lazy varmint! You know I cain't stand all that teenager talk first thing in the mornin', an' ulp-" Applejack's tirade was cut off as her brother's great shaggy hoof hooked her close and dragged her over to Pinkie, speaking faster than anypony had ever heard him speak.
"AJ, you got to hear this – Miz Pie's got her some ideas that're gonna get Granny that new hip!" Macintosh grabbed his little sister's head and turned her to face Pinkie. "Listen to all this!"
Pinkie gave him her shiniest smile. "Oh, I'm just getting started! Rarity could magic up one of his claws so he can find his own jewels to munchy-crunch on, and I could ask him to roast all the coffee beans in the whole shop which would be one heck of a selling point, and it'd take a great big dragon no time at all to pull up trees or lift up rocks or fight off nasty ole diamond dogs, and he could warm up water for Lotus and Aloe, or do AWESOMELY scary things on Nightmare Night, or protect Ponyville from all the creepy silly funny nasties in the Everfree Forest, OH! And he could learn to do barbecues for parties, and S'mores, oh YUM, and dig furrows in the fields with his claws and melt the ice and thump all the snow off the houses at Winter Wrap-Up..."
"Pinkie, you should really breathe..." Fluttershy said worriedly.
"...or help with all the cooking on festival nights, or give air-rides to all the earth ponies and unicorns..." Pinkie blinked as Fluttershy's words sank in, and then dragged in a huge breath. "Ooooh, that's better..." she giggled light-headedly.
"What's all these ideas in aid of?" wondered Applejack aloud. "Not that they wouldn't be a right help, y'get me... but what's brought all this on?"
"We're helping Spike!" Pinkie announced. "And he wants to help back, of course!"
"Oh, right," Applejack said, finally turning to him. "An' Spike needs help with whoa nelly."
Spike crouched a little as Applejack's green eyes widened, taking him in. "Landsakes, kid," she said a little hoarsely.
"Hi Applejack," he said a trifle meekly, but at Macintosh's steady look he pulled himself up to a more comfortable sitting position. The red pony's nod was approving, and he straightened his forelegs and shoulders unconsciously in response. "Haven't seen you in ages," he added, a little more confidently.
"Well now, ain't you a sight, sugarcube?" She whistled, tipping her head back to smile up at him.
"And by the way, you're teaching him to be accurate with his flame down in your fallow fields," Twilight added, checking her list, "on... Sunday afternoons."
"I'm doin' what now?"
Spike tried to take all of it in. There were a few things in that list of Pinkie's that he wouldn't be able to do until he got even bigger – but for the first time in Celestia knew how long, he didn't feel sad or bitter about the undeniable fact of his growth. In fact, he sort of liked the idea of helping out, being Ponyville's big scaly defender, keeping things warm, fixing things up, even showing earth-bound ponies the skies. "Wow..." he said softly. His whole mind was beginning to reel. He could do this. He could be himself, and keep his home, and still be useful!
Pinkie smiled sunnily. "Feel better?"
"I sure do! Thanks, thank you!" He darted a look back over at Macintosh, before lowering his face to Pinkie and carefully and very slowly touching her neck with the side of his head, which was the best he could manage at approximating a hug. She, of course, threw caution to the winds and threw both her forelegs around his whole head, heedless of his smoking nostrils. He sucked in his breath quickly and held it, worried about hurting her.
"Don't be silly!" She nudged his cheek. "This goofy little smoke isn't going to burn me, so just you turn that big ole shiny frown upside down!" She stuck a leg right over his nose. "See? It's not even hot..."
He swallowed, and tried to begin breathing again. "Whoops, a little hot," she corrected herself as the smoke began to coil once more. "BUT! Nowhere near burning hot," she said firmly, "so quit your worry-warting! Sheesh, like you'd hurt anypony! The whole idea just makes me want to laugh!"
She crossed her eyes, blew a loud raspberry, and yanked his head down into a hug again.
The lump in Spike's throat was now a boulder. His body was gently trembling with suppressed emotion.
He felt the shy touch of Fluttershy's hoof on his neck, and Twilight was stroking his crested spines once more. Rainbow was prodding idly at the fanned scales at his jaw, intrigued at their aerodynamic shape. Applejack gave his shoulder a hearty clap, and Macintosh even nudged his side in encouragement.
They weren't afraid, and they weren't abandoning him.
His brain was clamouring, different reactions tugging him in different directions. He barely knew what to think. He could really do it. He could stay, and be a dragon among ponies. He really, really could.
He closed his eyes and relaxed into the acceptance of his friends.
Rainbow Dash's voice broke his reverie. "We're really gonna build him a house?" she asked plaintively.
"I wonder where we're going to get that much rock?" Twilight pondered.
Rainbow Dash groaned. "I hate work that takes more than ten seconds."
"Colour me astonished," Applejack said dryly.
Spike cleared his throat and gently began to straighten his neck, pulling his muzzle out of Pinkie's sprawling embrace. His friends beamed at him and he smiled back, heedless of the appearance of his fangs. "I'll find it - the rock, I mean, and I'll bring it back," he said earnestly. "I'll build it."
At their dubious (and in some cases, challenging) expressions, his smile grew a little bashful. "I, er... could use some help though," he mumbled sheepishly, glancing over at Twilight. She shook her head at him smilingly, her eyes still faintly shaded with her concern.
"Worse than Applejack, you are." She nudged him affectionately. He gave her a giddy grin, feeling lighter than air. He barely needed a flying lesson at all...
"Hey Pinkie? I really like the idea of enchanting one of my claws to find jewels, you've got so many good ideas, I can't wait to hear the rest..." he burbled enthusiasically.
She laughed as she began to bounce. "Only had to aaaa-ask! Oh, and wait til you hear my ideas for your shed skins!"
"Somepony mentioned Spike needing jewels?" said a beloved voice. Spike whipped his head around, eyes wide and expectant, to gaze worshipfully and wistfully down at Rarity as she stepped daintily down the street. "Why, darling, you should have said they weren't enough!"
Spike blinked. "They...?"
"You mean you didn't find them?" Rarity's long-lashed eyes snapped in annoyance. "Ooooh, if I find that somepony's been stealing food from you, food I personally gathered with my very own hooves and very nobly and very selflessly did not use on my new spring collection for Hoity Toity, OH, they will Rue. The. Day. They will regret their very existence! They will curse the moment they ever crossed the one, the only, Rarity the Unicorn!"
"You... left them for me? With my food?" Spike was beginning to feel a little dizzy. It was too much.
"Uh-oh," he heard from Pinkie's direction. "Twitchy tail, twitchy tail... he's gonna FALL!"
"Eh, he's fine, let him," said Dash's voice. "We're all on the other side of him now."
Spike stared at lovely, tiny Rarity. She was all the way down there. "Thanks," he said, a little dopily. "I really appreciated it... never knew it was..."
He slumped to the ground, right in the middle of the street.
"Darling...? Oh the poor dear, it must have been simply too much, I have been known to have that effect. Ahem. On occasion. One of the burdens I must bear. Should we put a wet cloth on his forehead? Perhaps a wet towel, yes," Rarity's voice sounded rather far away.
"Here you are, Spike," came Fluttershy's soothing tones, and something cold was laid against his head. "Just sleep here. It's nice and warm in the sun..."
"Twiligh...?" he managed, and felt a familiar hoof press his face, before a purple blur swam into his vision.
"I'm here, you silly dragon," her voice said gently. "What did I tell you? It's going to be okay."
The last thing Spike heard before drifting off into black fuzziness was Applejack demanding "Why in the hay has this family never gotten a dragon friend before? An' why in the hay have I spent all them years buckin' apples when he can do the work o' twenty ponies by dancin' along with Pinkie Pie?"
Dear Princess Celestia,
Sorry for the claw-writing. It's Spike. Twilight suggested I try writing a letter to you now that I'm getting used to using a quill again.
I've been having a pretty difficult time lately. I haven't seen you for a couple of years, so I don't know if you're aware of how much I've grown. I don't fit in the library anymore. Actually, the only building in Ponyville I can get into now is the barn at Sweet Apple Acres. Sorry about the size of the letter – maybe you can magic it smaller?
Anyway, I was getting really sad. I thought that because I was getting so big I'd have to leave Twilight, Ponyville and all my friends. I was trying so hard to hide how big I was, and it wasn't working. Wow, you should have seen some of the messes I made in the library!
A few days ago, I learned some things about friendship. I learned that a friend is a friend no matter how different, how big or small or scaly or pony-shaped they are. I learned that even if you think you're useless, sometimes it takes a friend – or a few – to point out what you can do. And I learned that change doesn't always mean the end of everything.
Twilight's helping me with this letter, and I have a stack of quills that she's enlarged for me to use. I have permission to sleep in the square for the moment, but the whole town is interested in helping me build my house, behind the library. Tomorrow morning I have lessons in learning how to control my strength and my fire. Tuesday is my first flying lesson! I'm real nervous about that one.
All my friends are helping me, and I'm going to help back as well. There are stumps around the apple orchards I can pull up, and I'm going to try to move the big rock trapping the stream on Horsefall mountain. I'll donate my fire to the Sunday afternoon picnic in Ponyville Park, and donate my shed skins to Rarity. When I learn to fly I'll take the little fillies and colts on joyrides, and I'll scare away that old cockatrice from the Everfree Forest. I can't do a lot of the things I used to be able to do anymore – but I can do enough of them to get by. Besides, I've got a whole new set of skills to learn, and that's pretty exciting.
I can't remember too much about Canterlot any more. I can remember Pony Joe's, and the citadel, and the palace, but that's about it. It's all a bit blurry because I was just a baby. Ponyville is my home now, and I'm so, so glad I don't have to leave it.
For the interested/curious, HERE is a size-chart for Spike for this story, made by the incomparable PoisonDilu!!