• Published 17th Jan 2012
  • 39,882 Views, 958 Comments

It Takes a Village - determamfidd



Spike only wants things to stay the same. Time, however, has other ideas. He's going to need help...

  • ...
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Chapter 11

Chapter Eleven

"Name?"

"Spike."

"Oh, it's you..."

"Start writing, constable, and leave the talking to me. Now, can you tell us about the incident, lad?"

"Uh..."

"Go on, Spike. Just tell him."

"Just give me a moment, Twi... Sorry, Detective Inspector, I'm still..."

"Understandable. Just take your time."

"Breathe, Spike."

"... uh, okay. Well, I was giving rides to everypony who wanted one this afternoon..."

"What were the nature of these rides?''

"Huh? Oh, flying. For the earth ponies and unicorns and all. A friend suggested that I show those ponies who'd never get the chance otherwise to see what the sky can be like."

"I say, do you plan to do it again? Love to have a crack at that."

"Not...not anytime soon, Detective Inspector."

"Just call me Parker, lad, everypony else does. And what happened?''

"It was the last group. There were four ponies..."

"Can you name 'em all?"

"Yeah. Two are good friends of mine, Macintosh Apple and Sweetie Belle."

"That's Big Macintosh and that singing filly, ain't it?"

"That's right. The other two were a couple of ponies I've seen around the place, but haven't really had the chance to get to know. Their names were Bon-Bon and Lyra... Lyra – I can't remember her other name."

"That's okay. So you were carting these four ponies on your back?"

"Yeah. I was taking off from the cliff's edge at the bottom of that steep street to the west of Ponyville, you know the one?"

"Do I ever. Half the road accidents in this burg happen on that street."

"Well, mostly I'd been flying over the ravine, but I decided for the last flight to take them over the dam. It must have been around four-thirty or five o'clock at this point..."

"Closer to five."

"Thanks, Twilight. Anyway, as we're gliding over the lake, this... this harpoon comes out of nowhere and almost takes my head off!"

"Hmm. We've secured that harpoon, lad, and it's no new piece of equipment. Looks old."

"It still works, that's for sure."

"That it does. Now, no harpoon like that can actually come out of nowhere, so we've got some of my best ponies combing the ravine and the lakeside for the launching equipment right now."

"Would it still be there?"

"A weapon that heavy'd take a long time to set up and launch. Doubt they'd stick around to pack all their gear up neatly once the thing'd been fired."

"Good point."

"What happened after the shot?"

"Well, I flew as fast as I could back for the clifftop, and everypony got off my back. That's sort of everything relevant that I can remember about it, Detect... uh, Parker."

"Well, that'll do for a statement, son. Got several more eyewitness accounts as well. Don't you worry none, lad, we'll find out who did this."

"Thanks, um, Parker."

"Come on, Spike. Let's get you to Applejack's."

~**~

Dear Princess Celestia and Princess Luna,

I'm a bit shaky right now, so please excuse the claw-writing. Somepony made an attempt on my life this afternoon. It'll probably be in all of tomorrow's papers.

I was giving air-rides in the ravine from three o'clock onwards. For the last ride, I decided to turn towards the dam, and as we were gliding over the water somepony shot a harpoon at me. It missed my head by only a pony-stride, and I was able to get my passengers back to Ponyville safely.

I know I'm going to see you both tomorrow, but first I have to get through tonight. Wish me luck.

Sincerely,

Spike

~**~

Dear Spike,

We will be sending a contingent of Palace Guards to escort you to the Gala. They will arrive tomorrow afternoon. We have made a joint announcement proclaiming this attack to be utterly deplorable and against everything equine, draconic or otherwise, and furthermore declaring you under our personal protection from all Equestrian citizens. Should anypony attempt to harm you, they will be met with the full force of our displeasure.

Before you ask, I am afraid the above declaration will not be effective against dragons. They consider themselves subject to their own traditions first and foremost. Even She of the Wyrmstadt cannot gainsay them. – P.C.

Don't allow yourself to give in to fear and despair, Spike. We are thinking of you. I will protect Ponyville tonight, you have my word on it. – Luna.

We were so shocked to hear your news, Spike, and so very relieved to know you are safe, my dragon. – P.C.

We must find the culprit behind this as soon as possible, not just for your sake, Spike, but for Equestria's. You see? I am being greedy for my responsibilities again. - Luna

With the anti-dragon unrest within our borders and now this attempt on your life, the Wyrmstadt ambassador will no doubt be calling this a breach of treaty. For my sake and the sake of my little ponies, please speak to him at the Gala. He is so incensed he will not listen to me. - P.C.

I will meet you tomorrow with the Palace Guard, and fly with you back to Canterlot. My sister must stay here and greet all the fine fillies and gentlecolts. It is sometimes a blessing being the lesser-known one.- Luna

Keep your chin up, Spike. – P.C.

Remember, we will endure. – Luna

~**~

It was a very quiet group that camped inside the barn at Sweet Apple Acres that night. Twilight was adamant that Spike should not be sleeping alone and unprotected out in the square anymore, and the barn was the only building in Ponyville he was able to get into. He bedded down in the scratchy straw, his mind churning. Twilight, Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy stayed with him, nestled against his warm side and sheltered from the chill night air by one wing. Their soft breaths told him that they had fallen asleep long before it came to claim him. He stared at the barn's wooden walls, his fear shrieking in his head.

He didn't want to die. He didn't want to. He was so young, just a child, and he had so much to learn and so much that he loved. But it appeared that his whole life was barrelling towards its end – either at Razorfang's teeth and claws, or at the hooves of rabidly prejudiced ponies. Did dying hurt, he wondered morbidly, heart pounding. Or was it like falling into the blackest of black sleeps?

Worse than the fear was the constant howling of his rage at the back of his psyche. How dare they try to touch his ponies. How dare they try to hurt them. How dare they try to make his good intentions the instrument of their deaths. How dare they - how dare they. His fury tore at him, tugged at him. Every instinct in his body wanted to storm into the night, roaring flame and retribution. Only that crippling fear stopped him. He felt like he was some sort of bone to be torn into pieces by two ravening dogs, neither of which would relent.

Eventually he fell into a troubled, restless sleep.

The next morning began in equal silence. The four of them moved slowly as if any gesture might shatter the moment. Fluttershy seemed unwilling to let go of him, her wing or her hoof reaching out to brush against him every few seconds as though checking to see whether he was still there. Pinkie Pie was strangely solemn and her curls had loosened from their usual tight springiness to a wavy mass that somehow seemed more forlorn than her sullen poker-straight style.

Twilight stared out of the barn door for ages, her gaze unfocused.

When she finally turned back to them, her voice was curt and her face full of panic and desperation. "Okay," she said, "we need answers. Fluttershy, can you please ask Rainbow Dash to check Cloudsdale for anything suspicious? Pinkie, take a walk around town and see if your Pinkie Sense can't pick anything up."

Pinkie looked apologetic. "It doesn't work that way, Twilight..."

"Just try!" she barked, and then slumped a little. Spike reached out a forepaw, gently touching her side. She stiffened and drew herself up carefully. It was like watching a fragile puzzle piecing itself back together. "I'm going to check my books," she said grimly.

"Would there even be anything in there about something that happened only yesterday?" Spike asked, his voice muted and dull.

"I don't know!" she snapped as she rounded on him. Her eyes looked terrible, and her face began to crumple as she gazed at him. She visibly steeled herself, though tears began to well as she repeated in a softer, slightly quavering voice, "I don't know. But it's worth a try. Dragon-hunting has been banned for a hundred years, so somepony either has a huge problem with dragons that goes even further than the protestors'..."

"Or a harpooning cutie mark," Pinkie interjected.

Twilight gritted her teeth, blinking her glossy eyes. "I'm going to find out, anyway."

"And me?" Spike lifted his gaze to meet hers. There was an empty, hollow feeling in his chest.

"You should stay here," Twilight said harshly, her eyes sliding away from him. "Stay here... and read. I'll bring you some books or something..."

"I promised I'd go to the Boutique to see Rarity today," said Spike, his eyes downcast and his tone uninflected.

"You'll do no such thing!" Twilight declared in a ringing voice, eyes flashing angrily, before her poise deserted her and she slumped heavily against his foreleg, her hooves wrapping around it tightly. "No, you just can't," she said brokenly. "I won't risk you."

"Bring the books, then," Spike sighed, his other forepaw rising to circle Twilight softly. "I'll stay here."

"I couldn't bear it if somepony..." she began, and stopped, her breath hitching. She buried her face against him, hiding her eyes.

He nodded slowly, and tucked his chin over her head again. "Twilight," he mumbled wretchedly.

She drew her breath in loudly at the sound of his voice saying her name, and whirled for the door. "Just... stay here," she said, her eyes wet and her face blotchy. "I'll be back. Don't go anywhere. I'll be back in just a moment."

She winked out of existence with a flash, and Spike flinched away from her teleporting. "Twilight..." he repeated dejectedly, lost and afraid and furious.

"She's a very scaredy-pony right now," Pinkie said softly. "She's a big old scaredy scared scaredy-pants."

"She's not the only one," Spike whispered, throat tight.

The morning dragged on and on. Spike sat in stiff, miserable silence as the fear and the rage hissed and muttered in his ears. The barn walls felt like they were closing in on him, shrinking slowly to trap him there forever.

It reminded him horribly of his long, shuttered life in the library, frightened of himself and of being seen. He couldn't go back to that. He'd learned too much; he'd outgrown it.

Fluttershy and Pinkie left, to be replaced by Applejack and Apple Bloom. Big Macintosh stopped by the barn to deliver a few barrels of apples and to wordlessly grip Spike's shoulder with one shaggy hoof.

It was probably around eleven or so when Twilight returned, her mane still unbrushed and a fierce fury snapping in her eyes. Applejack stood immediately. "What's been goin' on?"

"They've found the launching equipment," Twilight said, her tone steely. "It's definitely made for unicorn use, and it's at least a hundred and thirty years old, from before the treaty was put into place. Something like that will have been recorded somewhere, so the policeponies are checking museum records and antique listings now."

"What else?" Spike asked, his heartbeat beating against his ribcage.

She turned to him, and her anger was so palpable that Spike was vaguely amazed that she wasn't sporting a mane made of fire. "There's graffiti all over the library," she replied, her jaw clenching.

Spike's heart dropped, and then began to burn.

"I don't want you to see," she continued. "You're still a child. You shouldn't be exposed to that sort of... of..." She broke off in disgust and anger.

"Twilight," he muttered, "I don't know if you've noticed, but I got shot at yesterday."

"All the more reason!" she retorted angrily.

"Twilight!" He stood suddenly, his fury coalescing into something icy and implacable. He didn't even notice that he was towering over her. "This isn't solving anything! I have to go out, I have to live my life while I..." he paused, breathing rapidly.

"I can't let you," she said. "I can't risk you."

"Did you even find anything in those books?" he demanded. Her face said it all. "No. So what's the point of hiding here until I have to go to Horsefall Mountain?"

"You'll be safe!" she cried, her bangs swinging into her eyes. "You won't be subjected to all this... this..."

"I'm a dragon," Spike stated flatly, his forepaw thudding impatiently against the dirt floor of the barn. "This is going to follow me my whole life – and however short it may be, I don't want to spend it hiding in a barn!"

"But there's less than a week left!"

"I know!" Spike exclaimed. "Do you think I don't know that? I don't want to waste it! It's only some stupid graffiti, Twilight!"

"It was a lot more than some stupid graffiti yesterday!" she snapped.

"You're not listening!" he said in frustration. "I don't want to hide anymore! That's what they want – these ponies with their harpoons and their graffiti and their protests – they want me to disappear! They want me to give up my life one way or another... Well, I'm not going to give them the satisfaction!"

"Spike, you're only a child still," she said in a half-commanding, half-pleading voice. "I'm your sister, I have to protect-"

"You can't protect me from this!" he bellowed, smoke rising from his jaws.

She rocked backwards in shock and refusal, her eyes filling once more. "Yes, I can," she gasped. "I will."

"Twilight," he said, "I can't stand it. I can't stand this. I'm going crazy – I'm so afraid and so angry I could burn the barn down. I need to get out of here, I've just got to."

"You spent all those months – years - hiding in the library!" she threw at him. He bowed his head.

"I know," he said heavily. "But Twilight - it isn't for me, not anymore. Macintosh was right. I can't hide who I am. I've...I've grown too much since then to start hiding again now."

Her breath caught. "You're not talking about size, are you..."

He shook his head, never taking his eyes from her.

Her hooves planted themselves more firmly, and she raised her tear-streaked face. "I won't let you," she said.

"You can't stop me," he said sadly.

She held his eyes for a few moments, her lower lip quivering. Then she threw herself against him once more, impacting against his chest so violently it hurt. "I won't lose you," she breathed angrily through her tears.

"You won't," he whispered. "Come with me?"

She raised her head. "Rarity's?" she mumbled.

"Yeah. I promised."

"And you... keep your promises," she managed through her hitching breath. "I wish you'd just..."

"Twilight, I mean it... I have to live."

She sighed explosively. "I suppose I knew that... but..."

"I get it," he said, wondering at their strange role reversal as he comforted her. The clamour in his head had retreated as he held her shaking body tenderly, snaking his neck around her to clasp her closely. "I'll find a way, Twi," he swore. "I promise."

"There's less than a week," she whispered.

"I keep my promises," he said, swallowing hard.

~**~

"I cain't believe you two had that big ole fight... just to come here," Applejack said sourly.

Spike lay outside the Spa, feeling rather ridiculous. "Well, Rarity insisted," he mumbled.

Twilight snorted bitterly, turning her head away.

The Spa Twins were clambering all over him, their hooves busy with sandpaper and polishing cloths. "Now darlings," Rarity sniffed, her face covered with some sort of greenish mud that smelled rather like avocado, "Spike should look his best at the Gala tonight. I've been planning this surprise for a fortnight."

"Seems a silly reason to risk your life," Twilight growled.

"Twilight," Spike began wearily.

"Now, do not move your 'ead," said one of the twins sternly in her Maresailles accent. It was the pink one; Spike thought her name was Aloe.

"Thees is veree delicate," the other twin, Lotus, said, concentrating as she moved her ultra-fine sandpaper over his face.

"You're using sandpaper," Twilight said.

"Each scale is being booffed to a perfect shine," Aloe said reprovingly. "Eet is precise work."

"Booffed?" Spike repeated to himself, eyebrow raising.

"The face is the most feenicky part of the treatment," Lotus continued, her tongue poking out slightly as she followed her sister's work with the polishing cloth. "We are almos' done 'ere."

"Well, I'm glad you didn't talk me into any o' this frippery," Applejack sniffed.

"Oh, I learned that lesson long ago," Rarity said liltingly.

"We should go and get ready," Fluttershy said.

"Yeah, we've only got like, six hours," Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes.

"Well, I'd hate to be late," she said meekly. "It's so rude."

"How we gettin' there this time?" Applejack asked, leaning back on the bench.

Five mares had accompanied Spike through the village to Carousel Boutique to meet with Rarity, and from there all six had escorted him to the Spa. Ponyvillians had all stopped them on their way to commiserate and share their anger over what had almost happened the previous afternoon. It went a little way towards assuaging Twilight's fears for his safety in public.

A little way – but not much.

"I'll fly us," Spike mumbled as a polishing cloth was pushed against his cheekbone.

"And spoil all that work on your scales?" Rarity gasped, before her eyebrows lowered. "Spike! For shame!"

"Well, fastest way," he managed as Lotus scowled at him for talking.

"What if..." Twilight started.

"There's not going to be another mad harpoonist hidden along the road to Canterlot," Spike said sharply. "Nopony even knows I'm going to the Gala."

"They could have guessed," Twilight said darkly.

"Princess Luna and the Canterlot Palace Guard will be with us," he pointed out, and Twilight gritted her teeth.

"I still don't like it," she snapped.

"C'mon, Twilight, lighten up," Dash scoffed. "Nothin's gonna happen."

"Aren't you supposed to be at rehearsal?" she retorted.

"Nah," Rainbow Dash waved a hoof airily. "We got all that over with yesterday. Today and tonight are mine."

"You're not performing?" Fluttershy asked.

"Nope," she said with satisfaction. "Tomorrow morning we've got a show, but tonight is about workin' the crowds."

"You haven't missed a Gala since you became a Wonderbolt, have you, Dashie?" Pinkie nudged her.

"Not this Pegasus," Dash said smugly. "Gotta make sure I talk to all those hopefuls, after all."

When she realised that everypony was looking at her with a touch of surprise and pride in their expressions, Dash cleared her throat.

"You never did forget that first Gala, huh?" Applejack asked.

"Well, did any of you?" Dash challenged, slightly embarrassed at being caught with such an altruistic reason for attending for all those years.

Fluttershy shuddered. "Never," she said fervently.

"Am I done?" Spike asked.

Twilight stood abruptly. "You'd better be," she said.

"Non, non, non, we must yet clean your teeths, shine your claws and straighten your spines!" protested Lotus.

"They're straight enough," said Twilight mulishly.

"Loosen up, y' silly filly," Applejack hissed. "Y' being more saddlesore than a train pony after the overnight flier to Appleoosa."

"Well, don't I have reason?" she hissed back.

"It's setting everypony on edge, an' we've had just about enough o' that," Applejack said.

"And for some strange reason, nopony could ever guess why and it's a total mystery to me but it seems that it isn't helping Spike very much," Pinkie said brightly, tipping her head.

Spike tried to melt into the ground as six pairs of eyes turned to him once more.

"Well, I'm going inside to take an herbal bath," Rarity eventually said. "Girls, your dresses are back at the Boutique. Meet me there this afternoon if you're leaving now... oh, I did hope we could all walk together. I'm sorry this didn't quite turn out as I'd planned, Spike."

He looked up at her as Aloe smoothed some sort of stuff over his claws. "No, it's fine," he said, "thanks for organising this for me, Rarity. What can I do in return?"

He was abruptly smacked with a polishing cloth. "Thees is free," Lotus said sternly. "Our dragon is going to the Gala, and we weesh for him to make a good impression."

"Eet is just our way of helping." Aloe smiled up at him as she worked the shiny polish into his claws.

"Oh," he said dumbly, taken aback. "Wow. Uh, thank you – thank you so much!"

Rarity gave Twilight a very pointed look, before flouncing into the spa, the smell of avocado trailing behind her.

Twilight flopped onto the bench and put her head in her hooves. "I'm sorry, girls," she sighed. "I'm just all over the place. I haven't felt this frantic in years."

"At least you haven't gone all crazy-eyes!" Pinkie said.

"Oh, you can talk," Rainbow Dash snorted.

"Thank goodness that Smarty Pants doll is still with Big Macintosh," Applejack muttered.

There was a rumble in the distance, gradually becoming louder. Pebbles began to rattle on the ground. Spike's head jerked up.

"What's that?" he asked, dreading the answer.

"It's... it's hooves," Applejack said slowly.

"A stampede?" Fluttershy quavered.

The farmpony shook her head. "S'too... focused," she said, her brow furrowing. Then she turned back to regard them with wide green eyes. "An' it's headin' this way!"

The seven ponies and Spike all stood slowly as the sound of hooves approached. Rarity appeared at the salon door, dripping wet with her mane plastered to her forehead. "What's that?" she yipped.

"Shh!" the others hissed in unison.

She looked ready to protest, but subsided as the sound of hooves grew closer. Finally, a veritable sea of ponies rounded the corner at full gallop, headed by the Mayor, Cheerilee and the rocketing Scootaloo.

"Spike!" yelled Scootaloo. "You gotta come and speak to him!"

"Tell him to go away!" the Mayor panted, her galloping hooves skidding on the ground. "Tell him to go back to the Forest!"

"What?" He jerked his head back, a dreadful suspicion dawning in his mind.

"It's the dragon," gulped Cheerilee. "That dragon, the one from the Everfree Forest. He's at the edge of town and he wants to talk to you..."

"Razorfang's here?" Spike blurted in amazement.

"Go!" the Mayor implored. "Ask him to leave us in peace!"

"Didn't you try that?" Spike asked, his thoughts now teetering precariously.

"Of course we did!" Cheerilee blurted. "He won't leave until he speaks to you!"

Spike immediately turned and began to march through the crowd, who parted obediently to let him pass. Twilight and the others gaped for a moment, before racing after him, the crowd then surging behind them.

"Why's he here? Why'd he come here? Why's he here?" Spike muttered to himself. "Why would he leave the Forest? That's his territory... why invade mine? What does he want?"

"Are you okay?" Fluttershy asked tentatively.

He gave her a sharp look. He could feel the fire building in his belly, feel the rage building again, once more out of its temporary cage. "He's in my territory," he growled.

"I thought Cheerilee said he was at the edges of the Forest," Rarity asked, cantering to keep up.

"He's threatening my ponies!" Spike spat.

"I don't think this is a topic we really oughtta pursue, guys," Dash said slowly, eyeing him.

"Whoa," gulped Pinkie as they turned to the main street, and the great green bulk of Razorfang came into view. "You weren't lying about how big he is. He's extra super-duper big."

"No..." Applejack gulped noisily, "... kiddin'."

They were abruptly accosted by a familiar greenish-blue unicorn with a peach-coloured flyaway mane and tail. "Make it leave!" she screeched in terror, her hooves banging on Spike in a loud, terrified tattoo. "Make it go away! Make it leave! You're supposed to protect the town – make it leave! You said you'd protect us! Make it go away! Please, please, PLEASE make it leave!"

Spike had to stop to avoid crushing her. Her hooves continued to rattle against him, but they slowed as she became aware of his furious eyes and the disgusted expressions of his friends.

"I'm going to go see to that," Spike said through very clenched fangs. Fire was flickering in his mouth - he could feel it. "Now if you'll just get out of my way..."

The blowsy leader of the 'Parents for a Peaceful Equestria' stared up at him for a moment, her jaw slack in fear and humiliation. Then she turned her face away and scurried as fast as she was able through the crowd packed behind Spike.

"Hypocrite." Rarity scowled after her, flicking her wet mane over her shoulder.

"Forget that loser, and let's go sort out this big jerk," Rainbow Dash said with a set expression, thumping one hoof against another.

"You're not getting involved," Spike snapped. "Stay behind me."

Spike led the crowd to the end of the main thoroughfare, forging ahead of them like a spearhead. They faltered and stopped at the edges of the village, hugging to their buildings as though houses could protect them should Razorfang decide to turn upon them. Spike knew that was a false hope. A dragon could smash its way through wood and thatch like matchsticks – he'd even done it himself. Razorfang could flatten Ponyville in moments.

He kept up his pace as the rest of Ponyville dropped away. Twilight and the others kept walking or flying with him, however, as did Macintosh, Scootaloo, Sweetie Belle, Apple Bloom and surprisingly, the Mayor.

Razorfang had definitely noticed him. The orange eyes were slitted with anger. Spike was glad of that. It matched how he himself was feeling.

"Stop here," he said curtly to the small group who had followed him.

"Yeah, right," Rainbow Dash said, her forelegs folding as her wings held her aloft. "Like we'd let you face that guy alone!"

"I'm coming with you," Twilight said.

"Twilight," he growled in frustration.

"No buts," she said flatly. "We're coming, Spike. Lead the way."

He glowered at her, and she glowered back. "No," he snarled. "Stay. Here."

"You didn't like it when I said that to you," she challenged.

"That was different," he said. "This could get you killed!"

"So not that different, then," she said with the air of somepony laying down the winning card.

He let his head fall back in exasperation. "Twilight," he began.

"You do realise I can hear every word you are saying."

Spike froze.

Twilight's pupils had shrunk to pinpricks as she continued to stare into Spike's face. They both turned slowly to see the giant green dragon staring quizzically down at them. "Um," said Twilight lamely.

"You are unharmed," Razorfang said slowly, eyeing Spike over.

"Yeah." Spike pulled himself up straighter. "Yeah, I'm fine - except for the minor issue of you waltzing up to my village and terrifying everypony in it!"

The green dragon appeared to slump in relief, but the moment was so fleeting that Spike wasn't quite sure he had even seen it. "You are unharmed. Well. So these are your ponies." Razorfang smiled slowly, showing each and every ferocious tooth. Spike bristled.

"Yeah, these are them. What do you want? Why are you here?"

"Calm yourself, hatchling," Razorfang rumbled.

"SPIKE!" Spike shouted, his anger slipping out of his control. "Great galloping goddesses, my name is Spike!"

A huge great eyebrow quirked slightly. "Tense, aren't we?"

Spike stifled a roar. "Why are you here, Razorfang?" he repeated.

Razorfang leaned forward, his eyes abruptly snapping with furious intent. "I saw you," he said, enunciating each word clearly and dangerously.

"Saw what?" Spike snapped back.

"I saw," Razorfang said with deadly menace, "one of their despicable hunting harpoons fired at you whilst you played at being some sort of servant to these..." he glanced down at the ponies with utter disgust, "... these things."

"Who're you callin' a thing!" Rainbow Dash shouted indignantly. Spike shot her a warning look.

"They're not things, they're my friends, and I'm no servant," he said, turning back to Razorfang.

"You were carrying them about like some beast of burden," snarled Razorfang.

Every pony bridled with offence at the choice of insult. "You wanna be careful which phrase you use," Macintosh said stiffly.

Razorfang looked briefly surprised, before leaning forward once more, his long hooked face cruel. "They have tried to kill you, little one. What will it take for you to recognise that I am right?"

"You're wrong," Spike stated.

"Is your memory so poor? Can you not remember my words?"

"I remember every last one," Spike bit. "They stabbed us with harpoons, sent avalanches, smashed our heads in with rocks, killed us in the Long Sleep. I get it, all right? I've been thinking about it over and over ever since a harpoon actually came at me. In case you hadn't noticed – it missed."

"They will try again," Razorfang said. "These pathetic pastel things, they will turn on you."

"Now jest hold on an apple-buckin' minute," said Applejack crossly. "Who're you to say that t' him? You're fightin' him to the death in under a week!"

"I've tried that angle," Spike grunted. "He ignores it."

"See here," said Mayor Mare hotly. "I am the Mayor of this village, and I can assure you, dragon, Spike is as full a citizen as anypony else!"

"Stupid, pathetic ponies," Razorfang said with scorn, drawing himself up onto his haunches and towering over them. "You know even less than the hatchling."

"Spike," snarled Spike.

"You see? He even gives his name out," Razorfang continued harshly as though Spike hadn't spoken.

"Why shouldn't he give his name out?" Pinkie asked, her head tipping. "Are they supposed to be a big special super private secret?"

"They are a covenant, a bond between dragon and clan," Razorfang said inflexibly. "They are for family, and family alone."

"I gave him his name," a clear voice said, and Twilight stepped forward, her head held high and proud. "I'm his family."

"Twilight, no," Spike breathed.

"You... are his family," Razorfang repeated slowly, his head snaking downwards once more to peer at Twilight. "You... a short-lived mammal. You... named a dragon."

She lifted her chin higher. "I did."

Razorfang whirled on Spike. "This mammal is your family?" he demanded disbelievingly.

Spike extended a wing, curling it around Twilight and tugging her back against his side. "She is."

"These creatures tried to kill you yesterday!" Razorfang bellowed.

"Twilight would never hurt me!" Spike shouted back.

"It is only a matter of time, hatchling! They will kill you as they killed your mother and clutchmates! Why do you persist?"

"I love them!" Spike roared, his fire escaping him as a blossoming green rose.

"Love will see you dead or alone!" Razorfang thundered.

"The treaty-"

"How much worth did they put on the treaty yesterday?" sneered Razorfang.

"One pony!" Spike thrust Twilight away from him as he stalked towards the larger dragon, vibrating in anger, his fire issuing from his jaws in gusts and billows. "One pony attacked me! Not mine, not my family!"

"All ponies are the same!" Razorfang jeered.

"You're wrong!" Spike screamed. His anger had full rein. His wings were half-extended now, and a small corner of himself not consumed by his fury knew that he must look a fearful sight.

"You know I am right," Razorfang boomed.

"Go back to your stupid Forest!" Spike raged. "You're wrong, you're so wrong you don't even know how wrong you are!"

"Poor, poor hatchling," Razorfang crooned pitilessly. "It is hard to face the truth."

"That's not truth! You're lying!" roared Spike, his fire wreathing around him. "Get out of my village, you filthy, filthy liar!"

"They are using you," came the insidious whisper, stabbing relentlessly into Spike's ears, "and one day they will turn on you."

"You," Fluttershy said suddenly, her eyes hard.

"F-f-fluttershy!" choked Rarity as Fluttershy took off from the ground like some missile of vengeance.

Her wings beat until she was level with Razorfang's head, her face almost incandescent with fury and outrage. "You...big... jerk! You are wrong! We love him!"

Razorfang jerked backwards. "Love him? He is a dragon, and you are ponies!"

"He's - our - friend!" she fumed. "We would never, never, NEVER turn on him! How dare you stand there, you big bully, and suggest that Twilight would ever hurt her own brother! How dare you tell him his own family would turn on him!"

Spike's breath had been robbed, his maddened anger utterly derailed. A warm glow began to build in his chest as he watched his shyest, meekest friend take on her biggest fear once more – and this time all in his defence. "Wow," he said stupidly.

"I know, right?" Twilight agreed, sounding equally bemused.

Razorfang regarded the tiny Pegasus with something resembling amazement. "I..." Razorfang began.

"You might be powerful, and lonely, and angry, but you have no right to say those things! How dare you spout off about something you know absolutely nothing about!" Fluttershy raged. "Ponyville is Spike's, and Spike is Ponyville's, and there's nothing you or anypony else can do to change that! Now go back home to your Forest, and think about what you've done!"

Razorfang's gigantic jaw worked uselessly.

Fluttershy settled to the ground, and stalked back to the group, her wings trembling in anger. Big Macintosh gaped at her for a few moments, before he said admiringly, "Aw, the hay with it."

With a yelp, Fluttershy was yanked into a tight red-furred embrace, and Macintosh lowered his head and kissed her thoroughly.

"Uh, time and place, guys?" Rainbow Dash suggested weakly.

"I never wanted t' see mah own brother do that," Apple Bloom winced.

"Oh." Rarity touched the corner of her eye delicately and sniffed. "That's so romantic!"

"Yes!" Spike crowed, before remembering where he was. He cleared his throat. Razorfang's eyes slid back to him, wide and perplexed.

"What... what about that harpoon?" Razorfang rumbled, his composure somewhat shaken by Fluttershy's scolding.

Spike levelled a long look at the great green dragon. "Can't you ever just let me enjoy a moment?"

"Spike," said Razorfang warningly. At his tone, Fluttershy tore her gaze away from Macintosh to shoot him a stern look, and he snorted fire through his nostrils haughtily.

Heaving a great sigh, Spike reluctantly turned his mind back to the matter at hoof. "There's a faction amongst the ponies who want me gone," he said.

"They are willing to break the treaty to do so?" Razorfang pressed. "They are willing to kill their own along with you?"

Spike huffed, feeling his anger bubbling below the surface. "I don't know," he admitted in a low voice. "We're trying to find out. I don't think that even those protestors would stoop so low."

Razorfang grunted.

"Why did you come here?" said Spike plaintively. He felt wrung out. He'd barely done anything, and yet he was utterly emotionally exhausted.

The green dragon glanced to where Twilight stood. She squared herself, and ducked under Spike's wing to press against his side once more, her returning gaze challenging. "That is your... sister," Razorfang said in a perplexed, slightly repulsed tone.

"She," Twilight said pointedly.

"She is my sister," Spike confirmed.

"You... were fighting." Razorfang tilted his head, still staring at Twilight. "I heard you. You wished her to stay behind."

Spike dropped his head. "Yeah."

"We've been fighting all day," Twilight admitted, her hoof lifting to touch Spike's face apologetically.

"About the stupid harpoon," Spike said darkly.

"Ah." Razorfang's lip curled. "Then she no doubt pleads to be kept out of danger."

"No." She scowled. "I was trying to keep him safe."

"Him?" Razorfang blinked.

"I wish you'd stayed hidden in that barn," Twilight said miserably.

"I can't do it," Spike mumbled.

"Of course not," Razorfang grunted. "You've been attacked in your own territory. Every instinct you have would be on fire. "

"Well, yeah," Spike said, raising an eyebrow down at Twilight.

"Oh, all right," she said.

"To be fair, I didn't really listen to her about being afraid for me," Spike said ruefully.

"No, you didn't!" she said indignantly. "Your life had just been threatened, Spike; were you expecting me to be rational?"

"I knew that I wasn't," he sighed. "I thought my anger and fear were gonna rip me apart. They still might."

"And so you began to move," Razorfang concluded. "You scouted through your territory."

Spike nodded. "That cooled me off for a bit. Then you showed up," he added sourly.

"Why did you show up?" Pinkie interrupted once more, bouncing gently on the spot.

Razorfang stood, his vast body turning back to the Everfree Forest. "I had to see," he rumbled as he began to leave.

"Had to see what?" Spike called after him.

There was no answer.

"I hate it when he does that," Spike grumbled.

Then the click and flash of cameras started, and questions were thrown at him like knives.

~**~

Re-entering the Ponyville Square in front of the library felt a little like coming home, even if the library was covered in awful graffiti and a large bundle of letters rested on the step. Spike picked them up with a sigh. "Ninety-ten?" he asked.

"Eighty-twenty," Twilight returned gloomily.

"What's that about?" Dash asked.

"We're guessing what percentage is hate-mail or fan-mail," Twilight answered, opening the library door. "Spike, stop looking at that."

But Spike couldn't stop gazing sadly at the words emblazoned over the trunk of his first real home, his first territory; Monster, Abomination, Get Out.

"I told you I wanted to protect you," said Twilight unhappily. "I'll get a bucket and sponges." She hesitated, before touching his paw once and trotting inside.

"I just stared down Razorfang for Ponyville," he muttered.

"You an' Fluttershy both," Applejack agreed. He huffed, before slumping down outside the library and looking at the bundle of letters in his claw.

"Are they always so awful?" asked Rarity, her mane still wet.

"Pretty much," he sighed.

"Hang on." Pinkie Pie squinted at them. "These would have been posted yesterday, right?"

"Yeah?" Spike wondered where she was going with this.

"Well, Spikester." She grinned, "I don't think they're going to be meanie-letters today."

He gave her a puzzled look, before beginning to slit open the letters one by one with a claw. Gradually Pinkie's meaning became clear; most of the letters were in response to that utterly awful song. They were extremely – in some cases unnervingly – supportive.

There was one letter, however, that chilled him to the bone. "Twilight?" he called.

"Just... getting... some sponges..." she called back.

"I think you should see this," he said shakily.

She appeared at the door, a bucket with suds slopping over the edge hovering before her, and a sponge in her mouth. She spat it out, and gave him an exasperated look. If he examined her eyes closely, he could still see traces of her desperation. "What?" she asked.

He held out the letter silently. Words cut from magazines and newspapers glared at them, glued to a sheet of paper.

'I WON'T MISS AGAIN.'

She looked up from it, and swallowed hard. "Which was the envelope?" she asked.

"This one," Rarity said in a subdued voice, her magic scooping up the envelope and hovering it before them. There was no stamp and no postal markings, not a single word.

"It's somepony in Ponyville," Spike breathed in horror.

"Now that don't mean so much," Applejack pointed out, her voice carefully rational. "There's plenty o' ponies here from out o' town right now – all them protestin' ponies, the reporters, the photographers..."

"I think you should take this to the policeponies," Fluttershy said, shifting as she stared at the letter.

"I'll do it," Rainbow Dash spoke up, scooping the letter from Spike's claw and tearing off into the sky.

Spike followed her with his gaze, still feeling somehow empty and wrung out. "Are you okay?" Twilight asked him.

He nodded wordlessly.

"You finished with them letters, Spike?" asked Applejack. Spike glanced down at them, before laying his head on his feet.

"Yeah, I'm done," he said tiredly. "I'm done."

"Come on, Spike," Fluttershy said gently, "let's get the library cleaned up, and then we'll go get ready for the Gala."

He closed his eyes for a second, before hauling himself up again. "Sure." He smiled at her, though he knew there was no warmth behind it.

~**~

Dear Spike,

The Great and Powerful Trixie is pleased with your message to her. Being as the Great and Powerful Trixie is the most spectacular and talented unicorn in all Equestria, she requires no such help from anypony else to m_ . . ..

Oh, ponyfeathers, I don't care anymore, I just don't care. Please, if you find out anything about my little Huffy, please, please tell me at once. I've missed her so much.

Thank you for trying to find her, and thank you for letting me know.

Trixie

~**~

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