Be a Man

by GentlemanJ

Chapter 1

This is a short story in The Journey of Graves.

The series begins with the first story: When the Man Comes Around.

IMPORTANT: If you haven't read the series, please head back to the beginning and check it out. While each story stands on its own, the character and relationship developments will build on each other as the series progresses.

And so, the saga continues...

Be a Man

By: GentlemanJ

Sailing through the air with the grace of a drunken pelican, Spike made an equally graceful landing and proceeded to introduce his face to the floorboards. Aggressively.

“Wrong. Again.”

Introductions over with, the Salamander boy pried himself off the ground for the… seventh time? Eighth? It was honestly getting hard to keep track, what with being smacked around like a harvest festival piñata, but it really didn’t matter. Up he went once more, trying to ignore his watery legs and leaden feet as he threw another wobbly punch at the marshal.

“Terrible,” Graves scowled as he slapped the blow away with almost painful disdain. “Pound Cake could hit harder than that. Pound Cake.”

Gritting his teeth in frustration, Spike tried once more and swung his arm for all he was worth. The marshal slapped it away again and replied with a particularly sharp knock to the boy's green-quilled head.

“You’re thinking too much!” Graves barked. “You’ve got instincts. Use them!”

Oh, he wanted instincts, did he? Fine then, he'd get his bucking instincts.

Shutting eyes and breathing out hard like he had over countless drills, Spiked worked to clear his head of all thoughts, seeking an emptiness greater than Pinkie Pie’s stomach after a week without sweets. It didn’t come easily, being so tired and irritated, but it did start to come. He could feel the heat in the pit of his stomach, that lava-like burning he’d come to associate with his dragon’s blood. He could feel the power seeping into his bones and suffusing his muscles. He could feel it making him stronger.

Eyes snapping open, reptilian slits fixed on the marshal as Spike lashed out a serpentine blow. It didn’t connect – he’d never expected it to – but it did get Graves to actually block for once. As the marshal knocked his arm aside, Spike use the momentum to swing up a clawed foot for a kick to the short ribs. Graves immediately shifted back to avoid, so Spike flowed right passed the marshal, maintained his motion, and brought a spinning heel right back up towards the grey-eyed soldier's jaw. Graves ducked back just in time to feel the wind tickle his chin, but Spike wasn't finished. Trusting in the dragon's blood that flowed through him, Spike abandoned reason, swung his foot down, and catapulted himself into the air to bring a somersaulting axe-kick straight down on the marshal's head.

Or rather would have, had a large, calloused hand not been in the way. Graves pushed, and Spike flipped back over to land in a crouch, where he sprang forward to renew his assault.

“Good,” Graves nodded as he fended off another series of lashing strikes. “Time to rein it in. Focus.”

To the casual eye, the next claw strike would have seemed much like the kicks from before: large, wild, and savage. But a trained observer would have noticed the multiple subtle differences. Feet solidly rooted even from precarious positions, core and sides engaged to support the limbs, tighter arcs to each and every swing, the Salamander had made a subtle shift from rampaging beast to clever hunter. Well, mostly at least. His technique was still rough and nowhere near perfect, but they were enough to elicit a small smile from the steely-eyed soldier.

“Very good,” Graves called out as he even deigned to launch a few counter blows of his own. “You've go the fire. You've got the form. Now, let’s see some magic.”

Reaching out to his primal side once more, Spike focused back inwards to the glowing ball of heat at his core. However, instead of simply letting it flow out as he usually did, this time he channeled it as he'd been taught, drawing its molten might through his body, through his arms and into the tips of his fingers.

“Focus!” Graves snapped, accentuating the word with a strong cuff to the jaw. “This is the tricky part. You lose control now and it’s all over, so focus!”

A tight grunt was all the reply Spike gave as he redoubled his efforts. He molded the heat, shaping it as it continued to flow. He sharpened the fires till they matched the shapes of his talons, now longer and harder for the dragon magics that enforced them. But even as Spike forged the flames, he fought them and struggled to hold them fast like wayward animals. Dragon magic was fierce and only granted power to those strong enough to force its submission. Thus, Spike was careful not to give even a single ounce of slack to those tightly held reins.

Spike struck again, only this time, not just with hand and arm, but with the dragon's might held in his hands. He slashed with his claws, a hand of burning daggers that glowed a brilliant, emerald green from the ancient fires they contained. Graves moved to dodge, but he wasn't quite fast enough and the whole room filled with the acrid smell of burning linen. A faint moment of surprise flashed across his hard-hewn face. Then he smiled.

Catching Spike by the arm, the marshal gave a sharp tug to knock him off balance, kicked his feet out as careened forward, seized opposite shoulder as the boy hung in midair, and then spun him around to plant him on the floor like a spiky, green petunia. All this happened in a split second, and as the Salamander boy sat dazed for a split second longer, he gave Graves all the time needed for his next attack – a flick to the ear, a pinch to the nose, and a good, hard, scruffing of Spike’s pokey, green mop.

The boy blinked in confusion as he fixed large, much more human eyes on the marshal’s satisfied face.

“… What was that for?” Spike asked as he hesitantly brought hand to head. The marshal was a tricky one, and it wouldn’t be hard to imagine him rubbing chili powder on the scalp as some sort of time-delayed trap, a lesson in vigilance, or what not.

“You actually got it right for once. Wanted you to stop and remember the feeling before you went and screwed it up.”


It wasn’t until Spike looked up and saw that slight smile that he cracked a smile as well.

Rolling out his neck with a series of snaps, crackles, and pops, Graves walked across the cleared out living room floor and made for the kitchen. A moment later, and he was walking back with two glasses of water and a spell gun.

Spike received one glass with a grateful nod and began downing its refreshing contents even as the marshal opened fire. The familiar burst of green petals appeared, latching on to every bruise and aching muscle with a sweet, cooling touch. By the time the Salamander had finished his water, all his pain were gone and quite nearly forgotten.

“Thanks as always,” Spike smiled up, toasting the marshal with his now empty glass. “Twilight would have a fit if she saw me coming home all black and blue like that.”

“No worries,” Graves nodded with a wry smile as he took a seat as well. “I’d probably end up a whole lot worse if I didn’t.”

Though the two of them shared a hearty chuckle, there was more truth to the words than either cared to admit. Twilight may have been a rational and well-read girl, but that didn’t stop her from treating Spike like the baby brother she’d always known him to be. It was just as well, because those worries hadn’t stopped Spike from asking the marshal to thump him in the first place. That had been several months ago and they were still at it, Graves dishing out heaping piles of abuse and Spike always ready for a second helping.

“Hey, Graves?” the green-haired boy began.


“I was wondering… I mean, not that I doubt you or anything, but… why exactly are you teaching me to fight?”

A flash of amusement sparked across gunmetal grey eyes.

“Weren’t you the one who said you’d beat me up if I didn’t treat Rarity right? Thought you’d be dying to learn after that.”

“Well, yeah I guess I did,” Spike mumbled as his cheeks hued a crimson that had nothing to do with exertion. “But what I really wanted to learn was how to handle being part dragon and all, which isn’t exactly easy when I get riled up. I mean, you already saw how hairy things got when I tried to duel you, and that time I almost flattened Ponyville certainly didn’t help either. I’m just wondering if I get all crazy when I’m riled up, then why are we doing something that’s pretty much guaranteed to rile me up?”

Graves considered the question as he slowly drained his glass.

“It’s because you get riled up that we’re doing this.”


“You’re a Salamander," the marshal began, "human with the blood of dragons in your veins. That makes you a natural warrior, gifted with the senses, focus, and aggression of a born predator.”

“Those things don’t really sound like gifts to me,” Spike frowned. “After all, being all aggressive ends up hurting people, doesn’t it?”

“Only when it’s uncontrolled," Graves corrected. “Like most things, it depends on circumstance. Aggression's bad if it pulls you out of rank, but it also creates surprise and initiative if used correctly. That make sense?”

“Uh… sort of,” the boy nodded. He wasn’t exactly big on military theory and strategy.

“Point is, things like that can be good or bad. Even anger can be useful at the right times. You just have to learn to control them, which is what we’re doing.”

“By getting all hot and bothered on purpose?”


“But… wouldn’t the best way to deal with it be to not get all upset in the first place?” Spike asked, now thoroughly confused. “If I’m a person that naturally gets all hot and bothered, shouldn’t I learn not to let it get to me in the first place?”

“Might as well tell your hair to stop being green,” the young man laughed. “Everyone gets upset, even people like Fluttershy.”

“Yeah, no kidding,” Spike shuddered as he relived the last – and only – time the demure little lady had given him The Stare. Once had been more than enough, thank you very much.

“Anyway, it happens to everyone, some more than others,” Graves continued. “You’re one of those 'more than others.' And yes, you’ll learn to feel it less, but that’s more growing up than anything. In the meantime, I'll teach you control so even when you do get a little fire in the lung, you’ll know how to handle it.”

“So… when we fight… it’s like when I get really upset or angry or something… and that’s when I learn how to control the dragon side on my terms, right?”

The marshal’s small smile said it all.

“Wow, that’s some deep thinking,” Spike breathed as he looked upon the marshal with new-found respect. “And here I was thinking you were just a trigger-happy gunslinger with a mean look.”

“That’s me,” Graves replied with a roll of his eyes, “always thinking with the hairs on my chest.”

“So how’d you figure stuff like that anyway?” Spike continued, oblivious to the ramifications of his last statement. “Did you always think two steps ahead like that, or was it something you learned to do?”

“Hm, not quite sure,” the marshal intoned as he stood up to clear the glasses. “Guess it’s just life experience or something.”

“Life experience, huh?” the boy repeated, his youthful expression innocent enough. “So… does that mean you have life experience in other areas? Maybe enough to give me some advice perhaps?”

“Possibly,” Graves shrugged from the sink. “What is it you want to know?”


Spike paused for a moment, scratching his chin in contemplation.

“How’d you get Rarity to like you?”

It was only with a very quick grab that Graves avoided losing a quality piece of glassware.

“What kind of question is that?” he asked, eyebrows raised in confusion as he turned to face the green-haired boy.

“A pretty obvious one if you ask me,” Spike replied. “Come on, we both know Rarity’s the prettiest girl in Ponyville, on top of being super nice and smart and fun and all that. So how exactly did you get her to like you?”

Raised eyebrows lowered as Graves narrowed his eyes into silver pinpricks of suspicion.

“You’re not just asking this so you’ll have a chance to steal her back one day, are you?”

“Please, you really think I have a chance of doing that?” Spike retorted with a flat look.

“I’m a marshal. I don’t do chance.”

It was only when both parties realized the absurdity of the situation that the tension cracked and they smiled once more.

“No, I’m not trying to do anything like that,” Spike conceded. “I know Rarity’s really happy with you and I’m glad about that. I just… don’t want to walk around feeling like there’s something wrong with me, you know?”

Honestly, Graves didn’t know. Girls had never been a concern of his till one swooped in and got his life all flipped-turned upside down. But the furrowed brow and intent fire in those sharp, green eyes were more than enough to convince him that in Spike's mind, it was a pretty big deal. That made Graves feel even lousier about the lousy answer he was about to give.

“… I wish I could help,” the marshal shrugged. “But I honestly don’t know.”

“Aw come on!” Spike cried out. “Do you have any idea how hard it is to get any help around here? Big Mac’s like, the only other guy I could ask, and he’s about as chatty as a potato. Don’t leave me hanging like this!”

“No, I seriously don’t know,” Graves repeated, holding both hands up in a gesture of peace. “I honestly can’t tell you how many times I just stop and wonder how it is I got so lucky. Problem is, every time I do, that’s the only answer I can come up with.”

“Luck?” the spiky haired lad repeated with obvious skepticism. “Really?”


“… Man,” Spike sighed, “and I thought I might actually get somewhere with this.”

“Sorry,” Graves grimaced. “Best I can tell you is do what you know is right. Things’ll work out eventually. Probably.”


The marshal could only shrug.


Out in the fading evening sun, Spike kicked at a nearby snowdrift as he trudged along back towards the library. He shouldn’t be upset. After all, from the little Twilight had told him about Graves's and Rarity's tumultuous courtship, it really did seem like pure luck everything had worked out. Or maybe divine intervention. One or another. Anyways, the point was that Graves probably didn’t have any idea how things worked out. It probably just… happened.

“Man, some guys have all the luck,” Spike muttered as he kicked another innocent snowdrift into fluffy powder. “Just because he’s older, and bigger, and stronger, and has a cool job, and always does the right thing, and is always so freaking awesome, and–”

His internal ministrations were interrupted by a loud and unexpected cry.

“You’ve got instincts. Use them!”

Unbidden, the marshal’s words sprang to mind and before conscious thought could enter, Spike’s body sprang into action. Leaping into the air, the Salamander boy spun around to face the direction the cry had come from, a direction not determined by logic or reason, but from a vague, animal sense of presence. A flash of purple and orange was all he saw before he was hit in the chest by a large, flying object. Body relaxed to absorb the blow, arms wrapped instinctively around the unidentified object, and Spike carried it and himself into a soft patch of snow that awaited below.

It wasn’t till after landing that he realized the object was not an it, but was in fact, a she.

“Scootaloo?” he sputtered as he looked up and spat out mouthfuls of frosty cold. “What was that all about?”

“Ugh,” she groaned, removing her knit cap to rub at her shock of purple hair. “That’s the last time I try a ten-eighty aerial spin without a decent drift to land on.”

“You all right at least?” Spike groaned as he lay back down in the soft snow. “You must’ve been at least ten feet in the air.”

“I think so,” she winced. “Head’s still foggy on account of the landing, but I think I should be…” She stopped. “Hold on a second. How did I land?”

“Oh, that?” the lizard boy smiled. “Looks like those lessons paid off. Managed to catch you in the nick of time.”

Looking down, Scootaloo’s already big eyes widened even more as she realized that she, resident firebrand and tomboy extraordinaire, was still safely wrapped in the arms of Twilight’s library assistant.

“Yeesh, you can let go now,” she cried, jumping up and shaking around as if she’d gotten snow down her shorts. “You didn’t have to go jumping around like that ‘cause of me. I can take care of myself!”

“I know that,” Spike laughed as he stood up and dusted himself off. “I just heard you calling out and… I don’t know, my body just sort of moved on its own.”

“Is… is that so,” the purple-haired girl intoned as the frosty air colored her cheeks a rosy red.

“Pretty much,” the Salamander nodded as he patted the last remnants of snow from his behind. “Anywho, I’ve got to get going, but try to be careful okay? Wouldn’t want you really getting hurt or anything.”

“Yeah, I’ll… keep that in mind.”

With a final smile, Spike headed back on his way. As he did though, he failed to notice that the little BMXer gave him one last, inquisitive look before turning with cheeks downright crimson from the icy wind and running off as fast as her booted feet could carry her.


Spike continued his walk through the now dim Ponyville streets. The little run-in had done a marvelous job clearing his head – much like many of the marshal's education enhancements – so he could really start trying to figure out just what it was that made Graves such a success.

Maybe it was because he was a hero. Twilight had made him read enough books to know that if there’s one thing girls really like, it’s a knight in shining armor that swoops in to save the day. But that didn’t really help the lizard lad, now did it? After all, he wasn’t a marshal or anything. He couldn’t really do any random feats of greatness to wow the ladies. He was just a kid.

“But maybe it’s not just that,” Spike said as he walked. “Maybe it’s something else, like–”

So engrossed in his thoughts was he, that the Salamander failed to notice the person right before him.

“Oof!” Sweetie Belle squeaked as the boy collided with her.

“Oh geez, sorry about that,” Spike apologized as he took a step back. “I was thinking about some stuff and didn’t pay attention to where I was going.”

“It’s okay,” the little lady smiled pleasantly even as she struggled with the bags she dragged behind her. “I do that – hrrng – a lot to, and Rarity’s always telling me to – grr – watch where I’m headed and stuff…”

Spike said nothing as the fluffy-haired girl took another struggling step with her bags.

“Uh, you need help with those?”

“Oh, I couldn’t ask you to – grah! – do that,” Sweetie Belle grunted out. To this, the Salamander could only smile.

“Yeah, let me get those for you.”

Taking ahold of a sack in each hand, Spike relieved the little lady of her burdens. However, emerald eyes widened as he suddenly found himself holding a lot more weight than expected.

“Geez, Sweetie Belle. What do you have in these bags?”

“Not much,” the cotton candy girl intoned innocently, “just a couple of gallons of paint, some modeling clay, and some tools. I was gonna try to get a pottery cutie mark, but I didn’t have the right stuff.”

“I see…” Spike murmured. “Does uh… Rarity know you’ll be bringing this stuff over?”

“Nope!” Sweetie Belle beamed. “I figure it’ll be a surprise!”

“Yeah, you can say that again…”

“By the way,” the little girl began, a touch of concern coming into her tone, “you sure you’re fine with those bags? They're really, really heavy…”

That they certainly were. Surprisingly so in fact, and the dragon boy was already starting to have problems keeping them lifted up. But he’d promised to help her out, and it’d be just plain wrong to hand one back to her. But his arms were already starting to get tired from holding them–

Time to rein it in. Focus.

Oh yeah. Duh.

Setting the bags down momentarily, reptilian eyes flashed and with a grunt, Spike heaved the bags high and grabbed them tight. They were certainly heavy, but closely held to his center of mass, with the weight well-balanced over a straight back and braced legs, they were no longer near the challenge they used to be.

“Don’t worry about it,” Spike grinned. “Got it all under control.”

The Salamander boy didn’t notice the stunned look Sweetie Belle gave him since he’d already turned around and begun plowing his way through the snowy streets. It wasn’t the easiest of going, considering the knee high drifts in some places, which is why he focused solely on shoving one foot in front of another. It may have been just as well. Focused as he was on moving forward, he couldn't spot the occasional, lingering looks a certain little lady turned his way as she followed in the cleared bath behind.

“There you go,” Spike grunted as he finally set the bags onto the front steps of Carousel Boutique. “I’d bring them in, but I’d probably just make a big mess.”

“Oh… yeah,” Sweetie Belle started, mind seemingly slowed from the cold as the words brought her from a contemplative fugue.

“Hey, you all right?” the lizard boy frowned as he leaned in to take a closer look. “You look a little red.”

“Just the cold!” she squeaked, jumping back and dashing around Spike before he could get in any closer. “It’s… yeah! Just the cold!”

“Oh… okay then,” Spike blinked in surprise. “Well, if you need any more help, just let me know.”

“Uh… okay, sure,” the little lady nodded furiously as the cold flushed her face even more. “But I should get in then, so… yeah, see you later!”

And with that, she huffed the bags inside and closed the door.


Only a little surprised by Sweetie Belle’s sudden departure, Spike shrugged and chalked it up to her being a girl. Probably about to sneeze or something and didn’t want people around to see it.

Anyways, where was he? Oh, that was right… something more than a hero. Now if there was one thing that Spike knew about the marshal, it was that he was butt-kickingly awesome. Tough as old nails and sturdy as raw leather, Graves was strong, the kind of straight up macho strong that ended up on the poster of westerns. That certainly had to have an impact.

“Well, maybe that’ll work for me someday,” he muttered on his continued, slogging path. It’d be a long while yet before he was anywhere near strong enough to get a girl’s attention. I mean, he was still a boy, barely able to carry a couple of bags full of clay and paint across town. Nobody was going to be impressed with that.

But then again… maybe that wasn’t it. Come to think of it, Spike could remember a whole lot of other guys who would also fit the bill as tough and macho. Take Roid Rage for example. He was pretty much a walking wall of testosterone-fueled fury, and he’d never had a cream puff’s chance in a parasprite swarm of getting Rarity. Not that there was anything wrong with Berry Punch of course, but let's be honest, the pretty seamstress was in a whole other league. So what was it, then?

Fortunately, the bright tones of a cherry red bow illuminated by the glowing street lamps kept him from walking into someone else.

“Hey there, Apple Bloom,” Spike smiled as he spotted the farm girl crossing his path. “Headed back home?”

“That’s the plan,” she grinned back, hugging the heavy flannel coat around herself a little tighter. “Ah jess wish it warn’t so blasted cold. Ah can hardly feel mah fingers, they’ve gone all numb. See?”

The freckled girl decided to emphasize the point by poking a frozen finger into the boy’s cheek.

“Yeesh, feels like you poked me with an icicle!” Spike started. “How far is it back to Sweet Apple Acres?”

“Probably half a mile or so,” Apple Bloom sighed. “I shouldn’t have any problems gettin’ back. It’s jess the gettin’ back part I ain’t lookin’ forward to.”

“I’ll bet,” the Salamander nodded morosely just before eyes sparked up with glowing green excitement. “But maybe…”


“Hold on a sec!” he called as he jumped off towards the side of the road. Digging around through the snow, the lizard boy smiled as he returned with the prize he sought.

“Uh… is that a rock?” Apple Bloom blinked.

“Why yes, yes it is,” Spike smiled.

“So… what d'you need a rock fer?”

“Give me a second and I’ll show you.”

Taking a deep breath, Spike closed his eyes and held the icy stone between both hands. Reaching into the burning core in the pit of his stomach, the Salamander boy tapped into the primal fires granted by his ancient ancestors.

This is the tricky part. You lose control now and it’s all over, so focus!

Holding tightly to the fires, Spike slowly drew it out like sticky strands of hot, candy floss. Unlike the claws from earlier, this was delicate work, and Spike worked carefully as he channeled the mana into his hands and spun them out into magical threads of heat and light. Only when he'd gathered enough...


Apple Bloom watched in amazement as the stone began to glow a warm, verdant green that lit up the snow with all the lively hues of spring.

“Here,” Spike finally said, a drop of sweat appearing on his forehead even as the triumphant smile appeared. “Take it.”

Wordlessly, the red-haired girl took hold of the glowing rock.

“It’s… warm,” she breathed in surprise. “I didn’t know yah could do that.”

“Honestly, I didn’t either,” he laughed as he scratched his spiky, green head. “But I figured if there was something I could do to make your trip a little nicer, I might as well give it a shot, no? Oh, and before I forget…”

Apple Bloom’s eyebrows darted for the sky as she felt a pair of hands fold over her own. Icy though her fingers were, they quickly thawed from the combined heat of the stone and the Salamander’s warm touch.

“There,” Spike nodded. “That should keep you from freezing a little bit longer, right?”

“Ah reckon,” Apple Bloom nodded dumbly before giving herself a little shake. “Anywho, I should probably get goin’. Thanks for, um… thanks for everythin’, Spike.”

“Glad to help,” he smiled. “Have a safe trip back.”

And with a final wordless nod, the freckled farm girl dashed off, hands now warm but face still frosty as told by her bright, cherry red cheeks.

Spike took a moment to watch her dash off before sighing and trundling towards the library off in the distance, his steps weighed down by the sudden revelation he’d received. Sure, Graves was all sorts of awesome rolled into one, but Spike realized that there was one clear difference that set the marshal apart from just about every other person Spike had ever met.

Graves was just a really, really good guy.

Spike couldn’t remember a single day where the marshal hadn’t been on a mission or finding some way to help out around town. If he had the chance, he did the right thing, working himself hard to make sure the people around him were well taken care of. Course, he never made a scene of it, and he’d always get embarrassed something fierce when anyone pointed it out, but a smart lady like Rarity could pick up on that stuff from a mile away.

The only problem was… how do you get to be like that? Spike helped out around the library, but that was because it was sort of his job. How did one even get to being an all-around good person who watches out for others like the marshal?

Spike certainly didn’t have any idea.

“Welcome home, Spike!” Twilight grinned as she heard the door open. “How was your study session with–” She paused, staring in surprise at her dejected looking little brother. “Spike, what’s wrong?”

“I don’t think I’ll ever be popular with girls,” he sighed. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll take a hot bath and go to bed.”

Without a word, the sweater-vested scholar watched her baby brother trudge upstairs and head off to the restroom. Then still without a word, Twilight headed into the library to pick up every single book on puberty she could find.


The next day was unusually quiet in the Crusader Clubhouse as three little ladies sat around, each consumed in thought.

“… Yah know, I was thinkin’,” Apple Bloom finally began. “Know who we should hang out with more?”

“Spike?” the other two replied in instantaneous unison, a sort of cohesion that took the freckled farm girl completely by surprise.

“Uh… yeah,” she blinked. “How’d y’all know?”

“Oh! Well, uh…” Scootaloo stammered. “He just seems like a pretty cool guy, that’s all.”

“Yeah!” Sweetie Belle nodded furiously. “Plus, it’d be nice to have someone around to help us with our crusading, or… something.”

“So… we’re all good with havin’ Spike hang out with us some more?” Apple Bloom said as a very silly grin slowly spread across her face.

The expression was soon mirrored three ways by some suddenly very giggly girls.


To Be Continued

The Journey of Graves will continue in the next story: Delivery Directive: Do NOT Be Late