• Published 18th Jul 2014
  • 18,699 Views, 548 Comments

Their Knight of Scales - Radiant Dawn

Spike spent much of his young life trying to find his place in the world, only to realize it was with those who had become his family. Now, he must decide what to do with new emotions and desires.

  • ...

Chapter 1

Ever since I was old enough to understand who and what I was, I knew I was more than a little weird. After all, even though dragons might physically mature differently than ponies do, my mind matured about as fast as it should have for someone my age, and it was helped along by the fact that I had great mentors and friends early on. Still, I always knew I was different, but came to terms with that fact pretty easily. Different didn’t mean less, after all.

I never had a problem fitting in either, since Twilight always eased the tension wherever we went (although that wasn’t much, seeing as how until we left Canterlot, we rarely even left Princess Celestia’s castle). The idea of a dragon living among ponies was made more acceptable when the friends she made in Ponyville all vouched for me, even after I went on a greed-rampage and started snatching up anything and everything I could. All supernatural things aside (and a few draconic issues I had to work through), I became as much a part of our society as any pony, and I was happy.

Years passed and we all matured, growing closer as our bonds strengthened through mutual trials. I grew physically to more readily match my mental and emotional age, which meant I didn’t get treated like a little kid anymore (thank Celestia for that), but that didn’t mean life got any simpler. Quite the contrary: it got more complex.

- 22/4/1012 P.N.M. (Post Nightmare Moon)

Chapter 1

I idly kicked my clawed feet in the liquid rainbow as it flowed toward the cliffside, waiting for the sun to rise. It was quiet, with only a few ponies being out and about before daybreak, which meant I could simply enjoy the feeling of dewy grass on my bare scales. It was something I spent more and more time doing ever since my wings had finally come in (for which I was infinitely thankful for), since as a “baby” dragon, Twilight had never let me go anywhere without her. True that it had taken some doing to convince Twilight that I was a big boy now and could take care of myself, but it had been worth it in the end. Besides, she needed to learn how to clean up after herself sometimes.

Don’t get me wrong: I love my friends. I love being around them, I love hanging out with them, and I love spending time with them doing whatever came to mind, but sometimes I needed some time to myself. Before my independence was granted to me with a larger body and wings, I’d always needed a chaperone whenever I wanted to go anywhere outside of Ponyville; thankfully, things were different now. It was now not uncommon for me to be gone before Twilight woke up, only leaving a short note to let her know what I was doing before I left. Sometimes I felt a little bad at the fact that Twilight seemed so morose if I wasn’t there to cook her breakfast, but a wise pony once said, “Positive change is never easy; doubly so when dealing with the heart.”

I’d make it up to Twilight by swinging by and picking up some breakfast from the Cakes and Pinkie; muffins and coffee always put a smile on her face in the morning.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity of waiting, the very tip of the sun crested the horizon, spilling light across the landscape. The ocean shimmered like it was made of quicksilver, and the land glowed orange like hot iron. It was a beautiful sight, and one I never got tired of seeing, no matter how many times.

With my morning reverence complete, I stood from the bank and shook off the errant drops of liquid rainbow from my legs before standing and grabbing my shirt. Tossing it up in the air, I used the technique Rainbow Dash had taught me to put shirts on with wings: wings first, then arms, then head, all in one fell swoop. Besides being easier than fighting with four limbs and a head and stretching the shirt, it also looked pretty cool to do.

Rolling my shoulders once, I practiced a takeoff taught to me by Rainbow Dash herself; I crouched low to the ground on all fours and extended my wings before leaping and flapping at the same time, rocketing into the air as if I were shot out of a cannon.

It was still early morning by the time I got back home to Ponyville, and I was able to see young colts and fillies pointing up at me as I wheeled in the sky, looking for a safe place to land. I was pretty well-known in town (and pretty hard to miss, with a wingspan double that of your average pegasus), which meant that I could comfortably fly around town without causing an uproar. The only problem was that I had to watch out for-

“Spike, think fast!”

I had no time to react before a smaller, furry body plowed into me, which would have knocked me out of the air if I hadn’t been halfway expecting it. With a practiced maneuver, I used the momentum from the hit to swing my attacker around and throw her into a nearby fluffy cloud, causing the pegasus to disappear with a comical *POOF* of white fluff.

I slowed to a hover next to the cloud and smirked as a rainbow-maned head poked out, grinning at me. “Heya, Spike!”

I rolled my eyes with a grin. “Good morning, Rainbow. Do I want to know why you’re up so early?”

She shrugged and hopped out of the cloud, patting herself down to remove the small puffs of cloud that remained. “It was nothing serious, if that’s what you’re asking. Scoots just had a bad dream is all; she’s been having them ever since she watched that movie two nights ago with her friends.”

I raised an eyebrow. “She’s still staying with you?”

Rainbow crossed her arms and huffed. “What are you trying to say? Her parents get back tomorrow, and I think I can handle a little filly for a few days.”

I smirked in response. “Says the pegasus who found a way to set her kitchen on fire -- which is made of clouds, need I remind you.”

“I’m just an overachiever like that.” she snarked, slugging me in the shoulder playfully. “Besides, that only happened once.”

I grinned. “Didn’t you also set your hair on-”

“Finish that sentence and I’ll have a raincloud following you around for a month.” Rainbow warned, though I could tell it was in good humor. She then dropped her annoyed facade and swooped in close, giving me a big hug, as had become common nowadays. “It’s good to see you, Spike.”

A hug or friendly touch here and there was pretty common from the rest of my friends, but only recently had Rainbow become so tactile as well. Not that it bothered me -- quite the contrary, actually -- but I had found it a little strange until I got used to it. Then again, Rainbow had grown a lot from the brash, tomboyish pegasus I had met twelve years ago. Frankly, we all had done a lot of growing up (which made sense, seeing as how they were just little preteen fillies when we first came to Ponyville), so I guess I could readily accept that Equestria’s coolest pegasus had started to slow down and enjoy the finer things in life. I still didn’t expect to see Rainbow Dash all dolled up on a fashion runway anytime soon, but that was okay. Baby steps.

Since I was now holding Rainbow’s weight as well, I was forced to flap with a little more strength to keep us aloft; not that it bothered me much, since she was so light compared to me, and I think she finds it cool that my wings are so huge compared to hers. Even though Rainbow didn’t use like twenty different conditioners like Rarity did, her fur was still very soft to the touch, and I enjoyed the feel of it between my claws as I held her.

All too soon for my liking, she pulled away with a bright smile. “So, whatcha up to?”

I shrugged. “Just got back from Rainbow Falls, so I figured I’d swing by Sugarcube Corner and get Twi and I some breakfast.”

Rainbow nodded before gesturing to the sky. “Well, I’ve got some work to do, so I’ll see you later, kay?”

I nodded. “Sounds good, Rainbow. Take care.”

I watched Rainbow Dash jet away in a burst of prismatic color, taking great pleasure in the way her shorts hugged her hindquarters. Let it be said that while I was a gentledrake to all the girls, I was still a male, and so I afforded myself a few pleasant things here and there so I could keep my sanity around so many beautiful mares...and there were a lot of them. Beyond the Element-bearers, I got on well with almost everyone in Ponyville, and with Ponyville being a mare-dominated town in Equestria, that meant I was often surrounded by friendly mares who didn’t seem to realize just how pretty they were.

I’d gotten over my single-minded infatuation with Rarity (though I could admit I still liked her), which meant that I was more than aware of how handsy some of the girls could get when I was around them, especially when I was forced to take off my shirt to work. Yet again, I didn’t mind, but it was also a hard thing to miss. I knew why things happened that way, of course; in a town of about three-hundred, only around forty of the population were males, which meant that mares had to be a bit more obvious with their affection if they wanted to attract a male.

Now, I’d learned a lot about dragons during a brief three-month long journey through the dragon lands to the north, which meant that I knew that while ponies and dragons looked and behaved very differently, there were still a lot of things the two races shared.

First and foremost was the fact that both dragons and ponies were magical beings, able to cast spells of all sorts. This meant that if I could find a dragon to teach me draconic magic (or Drakespeak, for that matter), I could cast spells like Twilight could. We were also similar in the sense that we both held reverence to the Two Sisters (Princesses Celestia and Luna), and preferred peace to war; sure, dragons could be temperamental, but they weren’t the warmongering monsters most ponies made them out to be. It was kinda weird that ponies saw me as a pony, but I couldn’t complain.

As I had come to find out though, one thing that ponies and dragons didn’t share was polyamory. For dragons it was strange and downright taboo for one to have more than a single mate, but for ponies it was completely normal. Big Macintosh’s herd is a fine example: two stallions, twelve mares. I honestly never thought such a quiet pony like Mac would get the attention of so many mares, but I guess stranger things have happened.

I was glad I didn’t have to worry about all that, though. I had dated a bit here and there, but more often than not found myself being a bachelor who spent his free time reading and enjoying time with friends. Besides that, I enjoyed my privacy. I knew that Twilight and the others missed me when I would go ‒ even if just for a day -- but I also knew that I wouldn’t be missing any date nights or anything if I left.

I pushed my thoughts away for the moment as I approached Sugarcube Corner, its frosted cake-like appearance one of the things that hadn’t changed, even though the size of the building had. With the younger Cake twins being teenagers and their business growing, the entire place had been renovated nearly seven years ago to accommodate the need for space. Though Pinkie’s antics were the main attraction (besides the masterfully-baked treats, of course), the Cake twins had taken after their surrogate older sister, mixing work and play.

I placed my hand on the wooden door that led to the interior and pushed, hearing the polished brass bell chime to announce my arrival. Pound Cake was manning the counter while his sister energetically trotted around the many tables of the establishment, helping customers. Pumpkin and Pound Cake had been downright ecstatic to take over the family business, which meant Carrot and Cup were free to meander about the store, making sure the customers felt not only welcome, but like friends. It was the warm and family-like atmosphere of Sugarcube Corner that made it so popular (yet again, besides the wonderful baked goods), so fostering relations between the workers and customers was of paramount importance.

Pound had just finished serving a customer when he noticed me in line, and waved excitedly to me. I chuckled to myself and waved back, adjusting my wings as I waited patiently. After a little over five minutes, I was finally standing at the counter, and offered my fist for a bump to a friend.

“G’mornin’, Spike. Fancy some breakfast?” Pound asked jovially.

I nodded before looking down at the glass case, examining what was for sale. “Umm...let me get two Razzle-Dazzle raspberry tarts, two pumpkin spice muffins, and two coffees -- one mint chocolate, the other black with two sugars.”

Pound nodded and told me my total, so I fished a few bits out of my coinpurse and paid before standing to the side to wait for my order. As always, morning was one of the busiest times of the day for Sugarcube Corner, which meant most of the town was either actively in the establishment, or would be passing through soon enough.


That was the only warning I had before a fluffy pink projectile proceeded to glomp me, bringing me to the floor and causing all eyes to stare at me and my attacker for a moment before the patrons went back to their business. As I said, we had all grown and matured with time, but one thing that (thankfully) hadn’t changed was Pinkie’s overly-affectionate-ness. I guess if you were the type of pony who wasn’t too keen on hugs, Pinkie could be a bother, but I happened to like it. Much as I would never tell Twilight or the others, I was a bit of a cuddler, and loved to get hugged and things of the sort.

So instead of doing what most would have done and yell at my assaulter, I just brought my claw to the back of her wild mane and briefly massaged her scalp gently.

“Hey Pinks,” I greeted with a smile, “it’s good to see you. Can you let me up now?”

Pinkie giggled and nodded against me before pushing herself to a standing position, and offering her hand to pull me up.

As I matured over the years, I had become acutely aware of the bodies of the mares I called friends, and with their mutual assurance that they didn’t really mind me looking, I would often find myself casually admiring them from time to time.

For example: Pinkie, to put it simply, was voluptuous. Whether be it because of a natural body style she had been born with or some strange workout she did to keep in such good shape, she was the definition of “curvy”. She was a little thicker than the others, but made up for it with a solid figure brought about from so much time bouncing and running around everywhere, as well as helping Dash train from time to time. Even as I cradled her smaller hand in my own, I could feel the strength within the digits, and was already quite aware of just how graceful she was for an earth pony. Yes, I just called Pinkie graceful...for an earth pony.

Also, to my eternal shame, I had once or twice purposefully “slipped” a hand and groped her hindquarters.

As I said, I’m still a male; don’t judge me.

Thankfully for me, Pinkie was known to borderline-molest nearly everyone she considered a friend, so she was certainly fine with a friend being a bit more handsy than most...even if he was her only close male friend...a-and a young adult who’d been sexually repressed through his adolescence because his body was that of a young child instead of a teenager.

Pinkie didn’t seem to mind though, and contrary to what ponies thought of her, she wasn’t just some ditzy innocent little filly. She knew how things in the world worked, and I’m quite sure she knew I probably really liked it when she’d tackle-hug me, or squeeze me tightly at random intervals.

Back to the matter at hand, though…

“So what are you doing today, Spike?” Pinkie asked, bouncing in place just enough to draw the eye of every pony with a pulse.

I shrugged, motioning to Pound. “Well after I get breakfast for Twi and I, I’m not sure. Probably just mosey and see what I can do around town. I might go and see what Fluttershy’s up to before you all come over later.”

Pinkie let out one of her exaggerated gasps as she clutched my hand firmly with both of hers. “How is Shy-Shy? I haven’t seen her in FOR-EV-ER!”

I couldn’t help but grin at her exuberance; it was cute. “She’s fine. Fluttershy’s just busy this time of year since most of the animals are either getting ready to hibernate for winter, or fly somewhere warmer until spring comes.” I released a loud sigh, making my displeasure known. “Must be nice to have someone take care of you during winter. I might not be cold-blooded, but I still can’t stand the cold.”

Pinkie frowned just slightly. “Twilight doesn’t take care of you during the winter?”

I chuckled and shook my head. “I’m grown now, Pinkie. My day consists of something like this:” I cleared my throat as I prepared to speak in falsetto, “Spike, can you get me some hot chocolate? Spike, can you make dinner tonight? Spike, can you light a fire?” I rolled my eyes good-naturedly. “Celestia knows I love her, but ugh, would it kill her to learn to cook?”

Pinkie giggled and shook her head. “Twi might be all smartsy, but not even she can do everything! I mean, she even gets to fly now; how cool is that?”

Princess of Friendship...more like Princess of I-have-mastered-the-art-of-burning-soup.

Pound interrupted our conversation by holding a bag of pastries in front of my face, which I took with a grateful nod before reaching over and grabbing my carrier of two coffees. “Well Pinkie, I gotta head out. Come and see me after work if you’re not doing anything; we’ll hang out or something before the sleepover.”

She nodded vigorously as her smile grew to cover her entire face. “Sure! See you later then, Spikey!”

As I made my way out of the bakery, I couldn’t help but smile at just how easy it was to talk to the girls. Some of my childhood friends like Snips, Snails, Pipsqueak and Featherweight had grown up into fine young stallions, but they would still get a little nervous talking around a pretty mare if I wasn’t there to lend support and keep them from sticking their hooves in their mouths. I suppose if I hadn’t been raised around six national heroines, I would likely react the same, but my experience with being comfortable around pretty mares made me the subject of quite a few rumors between them. I didn’t mind, really, though I did thoroughly correct them when they started talking about how Twilight and I seemed a little close for just living together. Anyhow, the point is that talking to a pretty face was no big deal to me, as I’d had over a decade to become desensitized to it.

Such a point is important for this very reason: to anyone else anywhere else, it would look like I was the town playboy.

After about a month of trying to stop the rumor mill on that specific track, Twilight and I gave up on it and just let it go. After all, save for anything remotely sexual, I was about as close to Twilight and her friends as any special somepony could be, so much so that some of them -- Rarity and Pinkie, in particular -- had taken to calling our outings “dates”, even in public. As Rainbow Dash had put it, “If everyone’s going to believe something that’s not true, no matter what you say, you might as well have some fun with it.”

Dash did have her moments of insight from time to time.

Besides all that, as stated earlier, I enjoyed the attention I got from my friends. I suppose my desire to have closeness between me and those I cared about stemmed from the time when Celestia raised me as a hatchling, during which she would often fall asleep with me on her chest, where I could hear her heartbeat as I snoozed. While I no longer needed a warm body nearby to sleep, I couldn’t deny that I was addicted to physical contact. As a young drake wanting to step out into the world on his own, I used to shun the contact, since said attention was often in the realm of “babying”, but ever since my previous growth spurt, things had evened out for me rather nicely. Nowadays, I felt more like a stallion than just “Twilight’s assistant”, and I have to admit that it was a rather nice change.

Speaking of my purple pony friend…

“Twi~light!” I sang as I opened the front door to the common room in the living quarters of the castle, closing and locking it behind me. I halfway expected her to be asleep between the pages of a book, seeing as how she had been very keen on studying a new spell lately. It wouldn’t be the first or even hundredth time I would have found her in such a state, but what I actually found was just as common an occurrence.

She was floating a few feet off the ground, suspended in a sphere of her own magic aura as she meditated to more easily control her immense internal power. Also, seeing as how the throne room wasn’t set to open for another three hours, she was quite shamelessly doing so in nothing but a tank top and pajama bottoms. To any other red-blooded stallion, the image of one of their princesses in a thin top and silk bottoms would send them into a lustful frenzy; for me, it was something I’d seen so many times it may as well have been expected. You live with somepony long enough, you’re going to see them naked...often.

As I quietly sat down at the table and waited for Twilight to finish her weekly session, I turned my thoughts toward my oldest friend.

Twilight was -- quite literally -- my first friend in the world. She was the first pony I saw when I came into the world, and for years afterward the last thing I would see before I went to sleep at night. I owed my literacy, script, and vocabulary to her, as well as my life many times over. We had saved the world together and weathered storms, both metaphorical and literal. Life for us had been downright deadly sometimes and we walked a path that was far from typical, but we survived because we stuck together. With the help of our friends and most of all each other, we knew we could overcome anything the world threw at us.

As a pony, Twilight had grown and matured beyond the sequestered bookworm who was obsessed with pleasing Princess Celestia. Now, she was wise and confident, and valued the friends she had made in life more than anything else in the world. While she was still rather high-strung and a bit anxious at times, I knew I could count on her no matter what if life came crashing down around us. I had learned early on that a constant of life was, in fact, its inconsistency, but knowing Twilight had my back was something I knew would never change. Sure we bickered and fought sometimes -- more, it seemed, ever since I had grown -- but besides Celestia, she was the closest thing to family I would likely ever have.

Growing up had some interesting effects on my perception of her, though. First of all, I came to realize that Twilight was no longer just a pony I knew, but a mare...yes, I realize that sounds stupid, but bear with me. All of my life I had lived with the same pony, and as such, had been exposed to every facet of her being. I knew about her worries and fears, her dreams, and even her nightmares...but she had always just been Twilight to me. Now, with the eyes of an adult, I had begun to see her for the beautiful mare she had become over the years. It was disturbing at first, feeling the desire to look at Twilight’s body and admire it when she would bend or stretch certain ways, but I found it within myself to endure. When it came right down to it, what I thought when I looked at Twilight could be summed up in three words:

She’s so beautiful.

I wasn’t so shallow to focus solely on physical beauty, though that was nice too. No, it was who Twilight was that made her so attractive. She was intelligent, loving, kind, and a host of many other things that just made her an amazing pony. More than that though, I had come to know Twilight as no one else had; I had seen her in her darkest moments, and had more often than not been the only one to help her through trying times in her personal life. I had been there during her first relationship, and the fallout that followed soon afterward, for example.

It was all those memories and trials that made Twilight who she was to me, and it only made her more beautiful as a pony. It was that beauty within her that allowed her to transcend what was thought possible to become an alicorn, and it was that love and care for her friends and fellow ponies that made her such a great princess.

I glanced over at Twilight as she began to slowly lower to the ground after at least a few hours doing her meditation, and smiled. I don’t think Twilight realizes exactly how important she was to me all these years, and I’m not articulate enough to explain it in words.

Twilight had once asked me why I was always there for her when she needed me most; well that was why. She deserved it, because she made me feel like someone should be there for her, since she was always available for everypony else. She was a princess without a knight, as it were.

“Raspberry tarts and coffee? Spike, you shouldn’t have.” Twilight commented with a grin as she slowly walked to me.

I nodded, returning her smile. “I figured I should get us breakfast, seeing as how I left early this morning. I know you don’t like it, so I thought I’d-”

“Bribe me with baked treats and minty nectar of the heavens.” she finished, smirking as she took a bite of one of the tarts and swallowing. “Good idea.” Her smile then faltered a bit as she said, “All kidding aside though, I would really prefer if you didn’t just leave like that. You know I worry about you, Spike.”

I chuckled and shook my head as I stood. “Twi, I’m a big drake now;” I used my hand to visually compare our heights as my smile grew, “bigger than you, actually. I’ll be alright.”

Twilight huffed before stepping forward and resting her forehead on my chest, shifting her wings in what I had come to recognize as a nervous pegasus response. “I know Spike, it’s just…” she sighed and wrapped her arms around me, hugging me tight, “I still worry about you. We live a dangerous life sometimes, and I don’t like it when you go off alone. If something were to ever happen to you, I…” Her voice broke as she trailed off, and her grip tightened.

I brought my own arms up around her smaller form, taking care to keep my claws away from her wings as I did so. I then rested my head beside her horn and released my own sigh as I explained, “I’ve had to see all you girls in the hospital at least once each, so I’m really the only one left. Sooner or later Twi, I am gonna get hurt somehow,” I brought one of my clawed hands up to run fingers through her hair, “but I’m also in no hurry to end up in a cemetery under a headstone. I’m always careful, and I never go looking for trouble.”

“Like Rainbow Dash.” she mumbled good-naturedly.

I chuckled softly and nodded. “Like Dash.” I released her and held her at arm’s length for a moment before jerking my head to the table. “C’mon, breakfast is gonna get cold if we wait much longer. If you’re having a slumber party today, you need to be awake enough that you won’t fall asleep when we’re cleaning this place up.”

Twilight furrowed her brow as she followed me to the table. “When was the last time I fell asleep during cleaning?”

“Last week,” I answered immediately, “when you didn’t get any sleep the night before because you were convinced Discord was behind the hurricane that hit Fillydelphia.” I shrugged and took my seat, digging a pumpkin spice muffin out of the bag. “Turns out it was just a rogue storm from the sea.”

Twilight sat down as well, but crossed her arms and pouted cutely. “Hey, it was a perfectly reasonable explanation since we haven’t had an unplanned storm in Equestria for nearly two hundred years. What else was I supposed to think?”

I rolled my eyes as I swallowed a bite of muffin and sipped some coffee. “Oh, I don’t know, maybe since Discord was here it was just a freak storm. You know he can’t be in more than one place at once unless he splits himself, and then he just gets smaller. Besides,” bite, swallow, “Discord might like playing pranks still, but he’s never downright malicious, and even he agrees that purposefully hurting or killing ponies isn’t funny.”

“So the only reason he doesn’t hurt or kill is because he doesn’t think it would be funny?” Twilight asked incredulously. “I hate to think that a global collapse of everything we hold dear hinges on whether or not Discord’s sense of humor is morbid enough.”

I sighed and shook my head. “You worry too much, Twilight. Fluttershy’s assured all of us that he’s reformed, and you should trust her. Regardless of what you might think, Fluttershy is not as naive as most ponies think she is, and Discord’s been her friend for ten years now. If Discord’s up to something, he’s not patient enough to set something up for that long.”

She raised an eyebrow. “What about the black vine seeds that took over the Everfree that one time?”

I prepared to retort, only to realize I had nothing to say. Instead I just took another bite of my muffin before answering, “Alright fine, you got me there. Still, that was Discord in the past, not now. If Fluttershy says he’s reformed, you need to trust her on that.”

Twilight was silent for a moment before sighing and nodding. “You’re right. Fluttershy would be upset if she knew how I felt about that, but I can’t help it. I guess I’ll just have to trust them.”

Silence then enveloped us as we ate breakfast across from each other, and I smiled to myself as I enjoyed the comfortable atmosphere in our beloved home.

Two or three hours later found me tired on the front steps of a meticulously-cleaned tree-like castle, and it was at that time I thanked whatever force created the dragons that we didn’t sweat. Twilight, on the other hand, was collapsed in a heap against my shoulder, her fur and mane mussed and tangled in quite a few places. Still, the ground floor had been polished to a near mirror sheen, and the rest of the place was cleaner than the day we moved in. The sad part was, Twilight pretty much forced me to help her clean it like this anytime our friends would be over for any longer than a few hours. It didn’t really matter to me though; the soreness I felt was more than worth it just to see Twilight smile.

My feelings for Twilight were...complicated. On the one hand, she had helped raise me, and taught me many life lessons that would normally make her a mother or older sister figure in my life. However, whether it be because of the subtle changes of the dynamic between us or some other unknown reason, I no longer saw her as such. We were only two years apart in age after all, and there were a lot of times when I sometimes felt I was the mature one in our little group of two. The point is, Twilight was more important to me than I could ever express to her in mere words; I loved her, and we both knew it. The type of love I held for her had slowly changed over the years though, as was evidenced by the fact that I would sometimes find myself subtly checking her out when she wasn’t looking.

Brothers aren’t supposed to do that to their sisters.

That fact alone should have bothered me more than it did, but in our decidedly-crazy life that we lived, I had learned pretty quickly to just go with the flow and adapt quickly to changes. It had served me well thus far, so I wasn’t going to stop following that plan. Nonetheless, I was still reluctant to cross any invisible boundaries with such an important pony in my life; Twilight’s happiness and wellbeing meant more to me than some recent desires I had.

Twilight began to mumble in her sleep and gnaw on my shoulder, which likely meant it was time for her to get cleaned up so we could prepare for the arrival of the other girls. No doubt she would kill me if I let her be seen so disheveled by the others, so I nudged her gently with the tip of one of my claws.

“Twi…” I cooed gently, “Twi, it’s time to get up.”

“Mmrf, don’t wanna…” she whined before snuggling deeper into my grasp.

I sighed and stood, pulling her roughly up with me, righting Twilight on her hooves and giving her a good shake. “Twi, you need to go shower and stuff. Applejack likes to be early which means she’ll probably be here within the next thirty minutes, so go and get ready while I make up some snacks for you all.

Awake but still a bit out of it, she mumbled a few things before hugging me and whispering, “Thanks Spike; love you.”

“Love you too, now go on.” I returned, nudging the drowsy princess through the door.

Voicing “I love you” to each other was something Twilight and I only did in private, as other ponies would likely get the wrong idea if they heard us. We had been doing it since I could speak, and were not going to stop simply because I was nineteen -- or twenty-one, in Twilight’s case. Why she had started in the first place I’ll never know, but it was such a habit that the days felt empty if we hadn’t heard the other speak the words. It made trips spent away from each other (which thankfully were rare) a bother, since we both literally lost sleep over it.

As I waited for Applejack or one of the others to arrive, I observed the ponies of Ponyville as they went on their daily errands and such. Many of them would offer me a smile and wave as they passed the road leading to the library, though those that were in a hurry still gave me a nod of recognition.

I knew many of them as personal friends, including a unique addition to our town: the changeling soldier named Lyla.

One of the first things Twilight did when she was given control of some of the foreign affairs of the kingdom was search for and find those from her past that she felt had more of a story to tell than what was readily apparent. Trixie Lulamoon was one of them, as was the gryffin, Gilda, but Twilight wasn’t satisfied with half-measures. One of the things she felt didn’t add up was why the changelings had attacked Canterlot during her brother’s wedding.

Twilight and I left on a year-long expedition across Equestria and the neighboring territories, searching for any trace of changelings. Much to our surprise we didn’t need to look very long, as they were found dotted around small settlements throughout pony lands, which made sense since they needed ponies to live. Upon forcefully capturing and interrogating a changeling we found, she came upon some very useful information regarding changelings as a whole.

First of all, just like ants, there were multiple nests (or Hive Clusters, as the changelings called them), and multiple “queens”; this meant that Queen Chrysalis was just one of many, but we were surprised to find that many of the other changelings apparently disagreed with her methods. It turned out that Chrysalis’ hive was starving, and so she attempted to solve her race’s nourishment problems permanently by enslaving the ponies of Equestria. Truthfully, I understood her desperation, but couldn’t condone the enslavement of an entire race of people.

Contrary to what we initially believed of changelings, they were predominantly a peaceful race that thrived more from peace than strife. Also, strange side-note, those holes we had all seen on the changelings of Chrysalis’ swarm were only there as a physical manifestation of starvation; a healthy changeling’s carapace-like hide was solid.

Anyhow, once Twilight took the reigns, things progressed rather quickly.

Twilight set up a meeting between all three Equestrian princesses and a few changeling queens that were brave enough to meet them, and in doing so formed an alliance and pact with them; changelings would be allowed to slowly integrate into Equestrian society with her personal help, and in doing so, the race’s sustenance needs would hopefully be solved. It was slow going and took nearly a decade for the prejudice to die down, but it was now not uncommon to see one or two changelings in a town of ponies, though the younger generations were more friendly than those that were old enough to remember the attack on Canterlot. That being said, it was made clear that any and all prejudicial actions toward changelings -- physical, verbal, or otherwise -- would not be tolerated, and depending on the severity, would be dealt with harshly to the full extend of the law. Luckily, most issues were headed off by Twilight’s charisma as she made frequent visits around the kingdom and preached her teachings of love and friendship to doubting ponies. Twilight succeeded where many others would fail, and the changeling queens and their subjects were eternally grateful to the youngest princess.

Unlike ponies, changelings matured very quickly, often living on their own by their fourth birthday. Lyla, by this rule, was allowed to come and live in Ponyville at only five years old, which put her a good six years younger than me. Twilight had paid for and helped build a home for Ponyville’s first changeling resident, and had asked me to become friends with Lyla. As the years passed, Lyla was readily accepted by the town as much as I was; different, but someone that still belonged.

Another thing that was a misconception for ponies: not all changelings -- even drones -- looked the same. Lyla, for example, had eyes just like a pony’s, and hair as well as a tail. The only thing that marked her as a changeling were her fangs, hairless black carapace and insectoid wings. She acted just like a pony did (though she didn’t need to eat as much physical food), and her close contact with me and Twilight helped her quickly fit in with others. It was a huge step forward for changelings as a whole, and it just worked further to help them live more comfortably in a changing world.

Like the rest of my friends, Lyla’s behavior around me changed a bit when I grew to fit my age, though in a much different way than Pinkie or any of the others. True to her name (which meant “dark beauty” in an ancient changeling language), Lyla was eye-catching with her polished obsidian body and deceptive grace. I say deceptive since even though she had spent so much time around ponies, she was born to be a soldier, which meant she was far more powerful than she appeared. Her personality, however, did not match the fact that she had been born as a soldier-caste changeling, since she was as flirty as Rarity was, and almost as smart as Twilight. Sure there were some ponies that were still a little put off by the fact that she was a changeling, but I just saw a friend who was kind and affectionate...like all my other friends.

Overall though, I ignored it. Ponies as a species were instinctually very physically affectionate towards close friends and family, while dragons typically were not. True that as their respective species both dragons and ponies had evolved beyond mere creatures of instinct, but our base primal instincts remained intact; we could no more escape our innate instinctual behaviors than we could cause time to flow in reverse (the latter of which had been tried before by Twilight...more than once), but that did not mean we had to become slaves to those same base desires and actions. Dragons, for example, felt an instinctive desire to hoard, which was a desire that I had succumbed to once before, and consciously battled nearly every day in small ways.

All that having been said, I found that the friendship and love that ponies readily gave to be something I wish dragons could learn. Be it my childhood surrounded by ponies or another reason I didn’t know of, I had no desire to join any of the dragon clans, even those that were at peace or allied with Equestria; I liked the life I had with my friends, and had long ago decided I belonged with them rather than my own kind. I was blessed to find my place in the world so early in my life, and was secure in my choice.

I was brought out of my brief introspection by the sight of another of my friends, and by far the cutest: Fluttershy.

She was daintily flitting along the path leading from the outskirts of Ponyville toward the Friendship Rainbow Palace (ugh, what a mouthful), offering a smile to anyone and everyone. The years had been kind to her, and a comfortable atmosphere and friends had done wonders for her confidence. While she was still wary of strangers and avoided crowds, she no longer jumped at the slightest movement or sound. She was the second youngest of us all, being only seventeen years old, but her observant eyes and tendency to be a wallflower meant that she was wise in ways many others were not. While she would never outclass Rainbow Dash in confidence or assertiveness, those that assumed Fluttershy was a doormat would be surprised.

Fluttershy and I had always got on well, from the very first moment we met. Her deep connection with nature and animals meant she was always interested in meeting new and exciting creatures, and apparently that included cute baby dragons. Most of the coddling I received when I was younger came from Fluttershy and Rarity, but thankfully they had both stopped such behavior when I stopped looking like a baby. Still, that didn’t stop Fluttershy from fawning over me from time to time.

Fluttershy’s eyes lit up with happiness when she spied me on the front steps of Ponyville’s castle, and she gave her wings a powerful flap, landing in front of me only a second later.

“Good morning, Spike.” she greeted warmly, aquamarine eyes following me as I stood. “How are you doing today?”

I stretched and shrugged, gesturing behind me. “I’m alright; just getting everything ready for you girls.” I then motioned to her. “What about you; everything alright with your chores? I can help if you need it, since I don’t have anything to do today.”

Fluttershy seemed to consider my words for a moment before shaking her head. “No thank you, I have things handled. Angel has become a big help in his old age, so things are going quite smoothly this year.” Her smile then fell as she sighed sadly. “I’m going to miss him when he’s gone.”

For someone with Fluttershy’s personality, most would assume she would break down in tears at the mere thought of one of her animal friends dying. That, however, was sadly untrue, since animals didn’t live anywhere near as long as ponies did. Fluttershy had become desensitized to loss at a young age because of her work with animals both wild and domestic, but that didn’t mean she didn’t still feel sad from said losses.

I placed my hand on her shoulder and squeezed firmly, smiling gently. “We’re all here for you, ‘Shy; never forget that.”

Fluttershy took a deep breath before looking up at me again, smiling softly. “Thank you, Spike. I appreciate that. So, what are you going to do tonight then?”

I shrugged. “I don’t really know. A single guy hanging around six pretty mares sounds great, but it might send the wrong message to the town.”

Fluttershy shook her head with a smile. “You’re always welcome around us, Spike; you know that. You don’t have to leave if you don’t want to.”

I thought about it for a moment before shaking my head. “Twi doesn’t get much girl-time with me around, and that’s besides the fact that you all don’t hang out as much as you used to. You all need this to make sure your friendships don’t fall apart as the years go on.” I smiled and rubbed her shoulder gently. “I’ll find something to do tonight; don’t you worry.”

Fluttershy looked unsure, nodding hesitantly. “If you’re sure…”

I nodded. “I am.” I then leaned in close and whispered, “Besides, I don’t think Rarity’s forgiven herself for Canterlot yet.”

She giggled softly and shook her head, playfully smacking my arm. “Silly Spike. Equestria’s never been around dragons before as much as we have you; how was she supposed to know you were allergic to blackberries?”

We were of course referring to a nasty oversight on the parts of Rarity and I, brought about by our ignorance of my race. It seemed that much in the same way that dogs and many other animals were violently allergic to chocolate, dragons were similarly upset by blackberries and raspberries. While I ended up being fine in the end, my throat had closed up from a cake Rarity had bought for me during a short jaunt we took together to the capital, and she blamed herself for it all. For the first week after we returned to Ponyville, she couldn’t even look at me without breaking into tears, often wailing about how she’d “nearly killed Equestria’s greatest treasure”...

Whatever that meant.

“I don’t blame her,” I answered in annoyance, “and I’ve told her that multiple times. For a businesspony who makes her living off of creating unique dresses and suits, you’d think she’d be a little better at listening.”

“One of her closest friends almost died, Spike.” Fluttershy admonished gently. “I know that you’re grown now, but she took you on as her responsibility that day. Be a little more sensitive to that fact; you know how she can get.”

I rolled my eyes. “Yes, I know how she can get. I’ve only known her for like ten years, after all.”

Fluttershy stared at me for a moment before asking, “Have the two of you ever actually talked about it at length?”

Just as I was about to answer with an immediate affirmative, I realized that, “...No, I don’t think we have.”

She smiled again, grasping my hand in both of hers this time. “Then I know what you’re doing tonight: you’re spending time with us. I know you think that tonight is supposed to be just us girls, but it’s a night meant for our closest friends to spend time together all at once;” Fluttershy punctuated her statement by poking me in the chest with a finger, “that includes you, Spike.”

I raised my eyebrow as the small pegasus began pulling me toward the marketplace. “B-but it’s girl time-”

“It’s friend time, Spike.” she corrected.

I sighed and answered, “Alright fine, so why are you leading me to the market?”

“Because I still have some things to do, and since you don’t have anything to do, you’re going to help me.” she answered firmly.

Did I mention that Fluttershy became more confident over the years?

I just nodded dumbly and followed the normally-shy mare into town.

After nearly an hour of shopping, hauling, and distributing, all of Fluttershy’s animals were fed and taken care of, just as the sun began to fall from the sky. I was amazed at just how much work went into Fluttershy’s daily life, and though I knew her to be hardworking, I often forgot just how in shape she must be to get everything done and still have time for her friends.

While this wasn’t my first and probably not the last time I’d help her with her chores, I had a strong appreciation for just how much she did every day.

“Aaaand done!” she announced clearly, flitting down from a tall tree after tending to the birds and squirrels within. “How are things on your end, Spike?”

I stood and stretched from my place beside her small garden. “Everything’s all set; nocturnals have been provided for, as have the carnivores. I think they’re good for another day.”

Fluttershy landed quietly beside me and glanced around, nodding approvingly. “Good job, Spike.”

I nodded just before scrutinizing my shy friend. “I thought you said you didn’t need my help when I first asked you.”

She giggled softly and nudged me with her shoulder. “I didn’t, but it gave the girls time to prepare for another guest tonight.”

I raised my brow skeptically. “How would they know? You’ve been with me the whole time and-”

I was interrupted by a bluebird flying over and landing on her shoulder, holding a small scroll in its mouth. Fluttershy simply smirked at me and unrolled the scroll. “They said it’s fine, and they’re happy to have you.”

Thank Celestia someone like Fluttershy is a friend to animals and not someone like...well, anyone else.

“That’s...borderline awesome and creepy.” I replied after a few seconds of silence, then added, “Although for you, we’ll go with awesome.”

She smiled gently before turning away and picking up her satchel. “I think Rainbow Dash said the exact same thing when she first realized I could speak to animals.” After turning toward me again and placing her finger on her chin she added, “I think most ponies are under the assumption that I’m some crazy pony when they first hear about my skill with animals.”

I shrugged. “I thought it was cool. Besides that fact, it made you want to talk to me, and you were the first real friend I made outside of Twi and Princess Celestia. I don’t know if you noticed it at the time, but Twi and I were pretty sheltered when we came to Ponyville.”

“And I wasn’t?” Fluttershy questioned rhetorically, looping her arm in mine and beginning to lead us back toward town. “Before we all became friends, I only left my cottage to get groceries, and then, only early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid other ponies. Applejack and I lived in the same town and even saw each other now and then, but I never spoke to her.” She pointed to me and said, “If it weren’t for you and Twilight coming to Ponyville, I don’t know if we would ever have been as close as we are now. So,” she began, only to glance out of the curtain of her pink mane at me, “you’re more important to us than you know.”

“How so?” I asked, my interest piqued. While I knew Fluttershy and the others considered me a close friend, I wouldn’t have said I was that important to them.

As we continued our walk, she began to explain her words to me. “There might be only six Element-bearers Spike, but the group includes seven of us. Twilight’s the leader, and makes sure to organize us and give us courage. Applejack keeps us honest and true to ourselves.” She stopped for a moment as we both spied a familiar rainbow contrail in the sky. “Rainbow Dash gives us the strength to be loyal -- to each other, and to ourselves. Pinkie Pie reminds us that even when we’re afraid or sad, there’s always a reason to smile.” She then pointed to the Carousel Boutique, which could just be spotted in the distance. “Rarity reminds us to be generous and welcoming, even to strangers. And me…” she paused, and offered me a shy smile, “I urge the others to be kind, even when sometimes we don’t want to be.”

“I don’t think I have to ask who number seven is,” I mused aloud, “but all the bases seem to be covered. What do I offer all of you?”

The arm curled around my own tightened its grip ever so slightly, and I felt as one feathered wing brushed underneath my own to lay against my back. “You Spike…” she started, trailing off and taking a slow breath, “you’re the heart of the whole group. You’re the peacemaker, and you’re the glue that holds us together when things get rough.” My confusion must have been clear on my face, since Fluttershy elaborated on what she meant. “Loyalty, honesty, and kindness are all well and good for keeping friends together, but sometimes things can happen that make us act and think unlike ourselves.” A small finger pressed just over my sternum as Fluttershy focused her teal eyes on mine. “You remind us of who we are -- both to ourselves, and to each other. You remind us of what’s really important when we lose our heads, and you make sure that no matter what happens, we remember to take time out of our daily lives to just be friends.”

When I really thought back to everything that had happened over the years, I realized she was right.

Calling in all the girls to help Applejack with the Annual Apple Family Hoedown; my idea. Having Rarity model her new designs on me and Twilight; also my idea. Convincing Rainbow Dash that joining a flight team that would throw aside one of their own if they found something better was a bad idea; me, me, me. While it’s true that Rainbow Dash had been more than a little reluctant to let go of her fillyhood dream, she had found in the years that followed that passing on her phenomenal skills to future generations would ensure her name lived on much longer than if she had been a stunt flier.

The point was, it had mostly been me making sure we all stayed close over the years. Growing up, they had become my family, and it terrified me to imagine them drifting away. It was because of that fear I made it a personal mission to make sure such a thing never happened. I made it a point to get them together in a comfortable setting whenever I could, ensuring the bonds that had been made remained strong as the years progressed.

“Do you see now, Spike?” she prodded gently. “It’s because of you that we stayed together all these years, and if anything, we’ve become even closer because of it. Without you, we all might have fallen apart.”

I frowned and shook my head slowly. “Now I don’t know about that-”

“Did Rarity ever tell you she received an offer from Hoity Toity to open shops in Canterlot and Manehattan?” Fluttershy interrupted swiftly. “I bet not, and I also assume Pinkie never said anything about being offered by the cakes to move to Bridleridge to open her own branch of Sugarcube Corner there.”

The breath seemed to leave my lungs for a moment as I became unable to respond. After a few moments of shock, I croaked out, “N-no, neither of them said anything about that.”

Fluttershy sighed softly before continuing. “You deserve to know, so I’ll tell you myself: both of them said in no uncertain terms that they couldn’t leave Ponyville, since it is and always will be home for them. Both of them also mentioned you in particular among the reasons they decided to stay.”

This time, I couldn’t respond for a very different reason than before: shame. I felt ashamed that these two wonderful mares had felt obligated to stay because of me. Granted that you couldn’t tell now just by looking at me, but I was only a few years older than Fluttershy and Pinkie; until my body grew, however, I was always seen as "little Spike", so that had always made me a bit of the kid-brother. It was things like this that made me feel like a burden instead of a constructive force, since I had just come to find that two of my closest friends had given up wonderful opportunities for me.

“Stop that, Spike.” Fluttershy scolded, gently slapping my upper arm with the palm of her hand. “I know what your face looks like when you feel guilty, so stop blaming yourself; it was their choice to stay here instead of leaving, so you’re not at fault.”

“But I kinda am, ‘Shy.” I retorted forcefully, pulling away to look at her directly. We stood for a few moments in silence in the middle of an emptying marketplace, just looking at each other before I added, “If I had been more responsible earlier on, you all wouldn’t have felt like you had to keep an eye on me so much, and you all could have gone off and done your own things. I mean...Celestia, I don’t want any of you to leave, but I also don’t want to be the reason you all feel like you have to stay.”

Fluttershy just stared right back at me, and her expression shifted from concern to...well, deeper concern. “You really don’t understand, do you?” Before I could ask what she meant, she again looped her arm in mine and continued leading me the rest of the short journey to Twilight’s castle-tree-thing. “I’ll let them explain for themselves, Spike; it isn’t my place to tell their stories in this matter. Just know that their desire to stay wasn’t done out of obligation. Instead, it was done for a very different reason.” She motioned to what had been my home ever since the battle with Tirek had destroyed Golden Oaks. “Now come on, our friends are waiting for us.”

I still didn’t think it was proper for me to be around a bunch of mares for a sleepover -- even if it was my home -- but I’d trust Fluttershy’s judgement for now. Besides, if they already knew I was coming and said it was okay, they wanted me there, right?

I breathed deeply of the late afternoon air and pushed open the crystalline wood doors and stepped inside with Fluttershy’s warm body by my side, having a bad feeling that I was woefully unprepared for whatever was to come, as innocent as it seemed.

Oh well; go with the flow, as always.