• Published 17th Jan 2012
  • 40,095 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 9

Chapter Nine

"I did it!"

Spike tore over to the edges of the Everfree Forest in the falling night. His wings flapped joyously every few moments, and he soared upwards briefly before bounding to the ground once more, his momentum never halting.

"I did it! I did it! Wooo-hoooo!" he cried, launching himself skywards and beating his wings twice, then sweeping them back against his body to speed horizontally for a few moments. His feet hit the ground running, and he threw back his head in delighted laughter.

"Hey, Razorfang! Razorfang! Were you watching?" he called in exhilaration. "Did you see that? Did you see me?"

A snarl rumbled through the forest, echoing strangely. The trees rustled, their canopies trembling, and birds flew out calling mournfully as great heavy footsteps approached.

Not even such an intimidating entrance could dampen Spike's spirits. He shifted excitedly from forefoot to forefoot, his wings half-unfurled and quivering.

The smell of smoke and fire grew closer, and the green dragon's huge muzzle finally protruded from the trees, breaking off branches as it emerged. Spike didn't wait for Razorfang to speak.

"I did it," he said breathlessly. "I flew. I saved somepony!"

"I saw," Razorfang snapped.

Spike threw his chest out, dizzy with pride. "Whatcha think?"

Razorfang gave him a look filled with detestation. "I was trying to sleep, hatchling."

"Spike," Spike corrected, rolling his eyes.

Razorfang growled thunderously. The echoes took some time to dissipate. Spike's blood froze momentarily, but his excitement was too enormous to be squashed for long and he began to bounce on the balls of his feet.

"Seriously, whatcha think? Wasn't it cool? I saved Fluttershy, and Rainbow Dash said-"

"You risked your life to save some pathetic mammal," Razorfang hissed.

Spike blinked, and then his eyes narrowed. "Yeah, I did. What do you care?"

Huge fangs gritted. "I find it intolerable that a dragon should risk his life for one of those... those..." Razorfang broke off, lip twisting in disgust.

Spike jutted his chin forward stubbornly. "You want to kill me," he reminded the great dragon. "You keep saying you're going to kill me! So what do you care what I do with my life?"

Razorfang reared up angrily, smoke billowing and flames flickering behind gritted teeth. Spike was given a sharp and chilling reminder of how mammoth the grown dragon truly was. "And you will deserve it, hatchling!" he bellowed. "You deserve death and more for that miserable stunt!"

Spike tucked his chin back in, reeling back against the blast of hot air, one eye squinting closed. Then his brow furrowed and he pulled himself up. "Now wait a minute," he said crossly. "That was my pony, and she was falling, and I saved her. I protected what was mine, I rescued my friend, and I flew. I finally, finally flew. What part of this makes me deserve being barbecued?"

Razorfang panted through his nose, orange eyes slits of anger. "You could never understand."

Spike set his jaw. "Explain it, then!"

The great dragon landed back down on his forepaws, and the booms as they touched the Forest floor were heard not with the ear, but rather rattled the teeth and bones. "No," he said flatly.

Spike lifted his head challengingly. "Are you scared?"

The green wings unfurled, and Spike was treated to yet another display of Razorfang's vastness. He shied away as the older dragon roared at him. The cavernous mouth glowed before him, the oily sheen of gas in the air, and Spike rubbed the sweat from his brow when the dragon had finished.

"You done now?" he asked, his sardonic tone not quite hiding the trembling of his voice.

Razorfang was breathing heavily, and his chest rose and fell in anger. "I will enjoy killing you!" he bellowed in rage, his neck soaring skywards. "Scared, indeed!"

"Ah," Spike said shakily and defiantly. "So you are scared."

Razorfang seemed to expand even further with outrage and fury, and Spike swallowed hard before saying in as firm a voice as he could muster, "You don't get to intimidate me, just because you're bigger."

Razorfang leaned forward, neck snaking closer to Spike. "But I do, don't I?" he whispered cruelly, and Spike had to force his limbs to stay still. Every muscle wanted to bolt for the safety of Ponyville.

"Look, what's wrong with admitting you're scared?" Spike managed, waving a claw randomly. "I can freely admit that you scare the living daylights out of me. Why can't you admit that you're scared of explaining yourself?"

Razorfang paused, before sitting himself back onto his haunches. His head towered over all but the very tallest of trees, and he utterly dwarfed the younger dragon. "I am not scared of explaining myself," he said contemptuously.

Spike also sat back onto his haunches. "Then explain! Why do I deserve to die for saving Fluttershy?"

Razorfang ignored that, and regarded Spike for a long moment. "You need to work on your landings," he sneered.

Spike huffed smoke through his nostrils in frustration. "Do you always ignore questions you don't like?"

That was blithely ignored as well. "You dragged your hind feet, tripped, and ended up snout-first in that little lake." Razorfang smirked. "You have to stretch out your forelegs to land neatly."

Spike scowled. "It was my first landing! I think I did okay!"

"You would have done better without those useless creatures clinging to your back," muttered Razorfang.

"We're not going to agree on that," Spike said through clenched fangs.

"Evidently not," Razorfang said sourly.

"But what did you think?" Spike blurted, half-standing again and his wings unfurling slightly. "Did you see me dive? And I caught her and didn't hurt her at all!"

Razorfang sighed heavily, anger still lighting his orange eyes. "It was... acceptable," he said.

"Oh, don't hurt yourself or anything," Spike groused. "I thought it was awesome, and Rainbow Dash said so too."

"And who is this Rainbow Dash?"

Spike's chest puffed up once more, and he tossed his head proudly. "Only the fastest flyer in Equestria, that's all! She's one of the Wonderbolts, and the only Pegasus ever to do a sonic rainboom!"

"Ah." Razorfang glowered. "One of your precious ponies."

Spike bristled. "Yeah, she's mine. Claws off."

"With such praise from such a source, why do you require my opinion so badly?" asked Razorfang mockingly.

"You see any other dragons around here?" Spike threw back. "Of course I wanted to tell you! Anyway, I thought you'd be interested. You're the one who told me about the chest thing!"

Razorfang seemed to rock backwards for a moment, eyes stricken, before he fixed Spike with a long, cool stare. "It would have been dishonourable to kill a..."

"Oh, leave off," Spike interrupted with a snort. "I know you've been watching me. And you just admitted it."

The great green dragon lowered his vast sinuous body down to the ground, and crossed his forelegs with arrogant nonchalance. "You afford me some amusement," he said. "I have not been so diverted for nearly a century."

Spike wrinkled his snout. "I don't dance on request, you know."

"Pity."

Spike sighed. He should have known better than to expect more from a dragon who continually stated his intention to kill him. He sat back onto his haunches and glared at Razorfang. "You're a bit of a jerk, you know that?"

Razorfang chuckled darkly.

"I was so excited about finally flying," Spike continued, his voice growing more heated. "I was obviously an idiot to expect you to care about that. I bet you've never cared about anything. It's all distant and dragony and killing with you, isn't it?"

Razorfang's eyes widened, before they slitted in anger. "You have no idea of what you are talking about," he growled.

"Then for Celestia's sake, explain!" Spike exclaimed.

"Fine!" Razorfang stood, abruptly immense and threatening once more. "You protect those foolish creatures! You are proud of it! You have even claimed them as territory! Have you any idea of what they have done?"

"Yes," Spike said. "They used to hunt us."

"We were numerous! We were powerful! And we hunted them, oh yes!" Razorfang bellowed. "We hunted the wretched mammals in return! And why not? They called us rogues and monsters, and forced us from our territories. They drove us away! They sent their tricks and their avalanches and their ambushes, smashing in our heads with boulders, piercing us with their harpoons and killing us as we took our century-long sleep! And you! Here you stand, swearing by their gods, saving them and calling them yours!"

"They are mine!" Spike retorted.

"They will use you and discard you," Razorfang hissed.

"They won't."

"If they cannot drive you out, they will kill you!" Razorfang raged. "As they have always done!"

Spike swallowed. "They're not all the same," he said, and to his ears it sounded weak, even if it was the truth. "They're my family. They'd never hurt me." The horrible death-threat from that morning flickered to mind. He dismissed it roughly.

Razorfang bared his teeth. "Your family were dragons," he snarled. "Imagine if they could see you now, little mammal in a dragon's skin..."

"Well, they can't, can they?" Spike said furiously. "Because they're dead!"

"And who killed them, little hatchling?" Razorfang demanded. "Who killed them?"

Spike held his gaze for a moment, and then his eyes dropped to his feet.

"I thought so," Razorfang rumbled in vicious, joyless victory.

"It was a long time ago," Spike mumbled.

"A long time to a pony is no time at all to a dragon," Razorfang said with silky menace.

Spike squared himself. "It doesn't matter," he said. "They are my family now. They're raising me and helping me, and they're the ones that love me. What else makes a family?"

Razorfang glared at him, breathing heavily.

Spike regarded the furious older dragon, his mind racing, and abruptly realisation struck. "Oh," he said blankly. "Oh, this is personal, isn't it?"

Huge green claws raked at the ground. "You will leave," Razorfang grated.

"Who died?"

Razorfang's slitted pupils expanded in shock. "What?"

"Somepony... somedragon died. Somedragon close to you." Spike tipped his head and studied Razorfang – his heaving chest, his wild eyes. "Ponies were behind it, weren't they?"

There was a long, loaded silence full of hatred.

"My mate," Razorfang eventually ground out. "My two children."

Spike bowed his head. "I'm sorry," he murmured.

"As you say," Razorfang bit sarcastically, "it was a long time ago."

"No time at all..." Spike said quietly, "to a father."

Razorfang's eyes slid shut with dreadful finality at that word. His mighty body seemed to stiffen with pain and a low moan escaped him.

Spike squeezed his eyes closed as well, unable to bear the sound of the dragon's mourning. It was purest agony made audible.

"They were so strong, my sons," Razorfang said in a rasping voice. "I was so proud of them. They grew to be such fine dragons... My boys, my two boys..." He swayed slightly, his mammoth head hanging low. "It has been so long, so long, so very, very long..."

Spike understood something then. Razorfang... was lonely. He was old, alone, sorrowing and angry – and utterly weary of being old, alone, sorrowing and angry. He peered up at the fierce, hooked face with a great pity welling in his heart. "You stayed with their mother, then?" he asked.

Razorfang snorted softly. "She had to chase me off. I returned as many times as I could to watch our boys grow, and to pay court to her again and again. Oh, but she was lovely... lovely... lovely. Her eyes sparkled red as rubies, she knew all the old songs and chants by heart, and she loved to fly." He opened his great orange eyes, and they were soft and longing. "She so loved to fly."

"How did it happen" Spike asked, his voice hushed.

"She would not leave her cave," Razorfang said, rage flickering in his tone. "The mammals asked and threatened and pleaded, but she would not leave the place that was hers - had been hers for centuries - had been her clans' for time out of mind. They bided their time, and when it came, they took their chance. They waited until she began the Long Sleep, and they collapsed the cave. A... a boulder crushed her skull."

Spike's breath stopped entirely.

Razorfang continued haltingly, his deep, sonorous voice the very sound of grief. "My sons... my sons flew back to their hatching-place when they heard of it, and killed all responsible. Then the mammals rose up... and destroyed them as well."

He lifted his chin, his snakelike throat convulsing as he swallowed laboriously. "They were so young," he rasped. "They were barely grown."

"What about you?" Spike whispered, horrified.

The booming, rasping voice dwindled to a rough whisper. "I awoke sixty years later."

Spike took a hesitant step towards the giant creature. Razorfang's eyes flicked towards him warily, and Spike sat down once more. "Razorfang..." he began, and then stopped.

"There is nothing you can say," Razorfang rumbled painfully. "I told you before, you cannot possibly understand. You are barely hatched."

"But I can sympathise," Spike said, remembering Zecora's words. He bowed his head again, his shoulders slumping. "I'm so sorry, Razorfang. I'm so, so sorry."

Razorfang grunted, shifting his shoulders. He looked somehow perturbed by Spike's apology. "Well. Enough. It is done and gone and they are lost to me forever. But you? You have discovered something, I take it?"

Spike gave a half-shrug. "I... don't know how to feel about it," he said, feeling uncomfortable and slightly exposed. "I never knew them."

"What happened?"

"My mother died while I was still in the egg," he mumbled unhappily. "My father had left. An explorer killed her, and took my egg for a trophy. There were two others. He left them there alone."

Razorfang snarled in an undertone. "Your dam, your clutchmates. Stolen from you. And yet you still protect them."

"They're not all like that," Spike insisted. "Some are, sure, but not all. Are all dragons alike?"

Razorfang frowned. "Of course not."

"There you go, then," Spike said, nodding. "Neither are ponies."

"Surely you must wish revenge?"

"That explorer has been dead for eighty-seven years. Would punishing everypony else bring my mother back? My... clutchmates?" Spike tested the unfamiliar word.

"They were your family," Razorfang persisted.

"They were," Spike allowed. "But my family is made of ponies now. I'm not going to turn on them for the mistakes of the past. Not ever."

"I think you are foolish, little one," Razorfang sighed, "but I cannot fault your loyalty."

"Like I said," Spike stood, stretching, and looked up at the night sky. Stars were beginning to wink within its depths. "They've raised me and helped me and loved me. I know they'll never hurt me. They have faith in me – why shouldn't I have faith in them?"

Green eyes met orange, and this time Spike didn't drop his gaze. He steadily returned Razorfang's stare. Finally, the older dragon shook his head slightly, before lowering it to his forepaws.

"We will never agree," he rumbled darkly.

"Probably not," Spike said sadly, and turned to go.

Razorfang's voice made him pause. "Spike," he said in a distant rumble, "It was a fine first flight."

"Thanks for the help," Spike said in a subdued voice. "Good night."

"Good night."

Spike turned and began to lope back to the village, wings spreading for the downbeat. As he climbed into the air, orange eyes watched him go with sorrow lingering in their depths.

~**~

The next morning dawned cold and crisp, and Spike was treated to another bundle of hate-mail. He incinerated each horrible, abusive letter after reading it, and that made him feel somewhat better. As before, there were several declarations of support as well. He smoothed them out carefully, wondering if it would be the polite thing to answer them.

One in particular made him pause. It was unsigned, but the envelope was a familiar dusky blue.

'Don't let anypony tell you who you are or aren't – but don't pretend to be somepony you're not, either. You're lucky to have a pony like Twilight Sparkle who isn't too proud to tell you what you mean to her. The day I lost my dragon was the day I lost my only friend.'

He stared at it reflectively for a moment, before getting to his feet and trundling over to the library. He knocked very, very cautiously, wary of his claws on the wooden door. Even so, it rattled on its hinges as his knuckles struck it. "Twilight?" he called hesitantly. "You awake yet?"

There was no answer. She must be still asleep, he reasoned, tucking the letters under the door carefully. Looking up at the rosy dawn, he squared his shoulders and went to start another day.

~**~

"Here's the hero of the hour!"

Applejack clapped her hoof against his shoulder as he approached the group in Sunnybank Park. He grinned sheepishly down at her.

"Sorry if I frightened you, Applejack," he said.

"Don't you go apologisin' now," she said sternly. "Y' scared the everlovin' apples right off my flank, but I'm mighty glad y' did. Poor Fluttershy'd be in a right state if you hadn't decided to shock us all silly."

He smiled awkwardly, feeling both proud and bashful. Applejack chuckled at his expression before shooing him towards the main body of the group. Twilight looked up from the punch, her eyes lighting up.

"Spike!" she called.

"He's here?" Pinkie squealed, her wide blue eyes (and she could hardly miss him, he thought wryly) darting here, there and everywhere. "Oh! He's here!" she crowed when her roving gaze finally locked on him.

Streamers and balloons were strung up in the trees, and tables covered with brightly-coloured cloths and heaps and heaps of food had been set up. Blankets were spread upon the ground, and he noted with gratitude that several had been pulled together to form a square large enough for him to lie on. Two apple barrels were set nearby. Bouncy music filled the air, and a banner was stretched over the little gathering that read, "CONGRATULATIONS SPIKE!"

Apple Bloom and Scootaloo were racing around the park kicking a ball, whilst Big Macintosh and Soarin' seemed to be having an in-depth discussion about pie-making. Twilight, Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash were clustered at one of the tables, and Rarity was reclining demurely under a large sun-umbrella with Sweetie Belle and the rather bored-looking Spitfire. Zecora was amusing a small group of younger fillies and colts with her amorphous shape-changing powders, and Mayor Mare was sitting amongst them, watching avidly and clapping her hooves more enthusiastically than any. Cheerilee looked on indulgently, occasionally speaking to Mr and Mrs Cake.

All eyes turned to him at Twilight's call, and he ducked his head under a branch carefully as he approached. "Hey, everypony!" he said, grinning self-consciously.

"Spike!" Everypony immediately left off what they were doing and rushed to him. He laughed happily as Apple Bloom tackled one of his forelegs, and Scootaloo fluttered up to his face and 'body-slammed' his nose. Twilight beamed proudly as they all clustered about him, patting his sides, cheering and congratulating him.

"... and that dive, Spike," Scootaloo was babbling. "I mean, whoa. You have got to teach me that one!"

"Well, I don't think I did anything all that differ-"

"... for your house, Spike!" Pinkie Pie was saying, "Because it's a Foundation-Finishing Party, but we're making it a Spike Can Fly Party as well!"

"I hear you have made quite the splash," Zecora congratulated him, "up in the air, with Rainbow Dash!"

"It finished with a splash, yeah." He smiled ruefully. "Landings are not my strong..."

"Darling!" Rarity trilled. "I was so thrilled when I heard! Oh, you must be over the moon! Flying – and in such dramatic circumstances...!"

"I'd be happy to take..." Spike began, only to be interrupted by Rainbow Dash.

"It was all my teaching, you know," Dash said cockily. "I'm only the most awesome teacher ever!"

Spike smirked at her. "You're the most stubborn..." At that moment, a pink and yellow blur threw itself against him, and he jerked backwards a little.

"Oh, Spike," Fluttershy gasped, "Oh Spike, oh Spike, oh Spike, oh Spike..." And she flattened herself against his chest.

"Are you feeling..." Spike started, concerned. He'd only seen her for a few moments after they'd hit the lake before she was whisked away by tender hooves.

"Hey, Spike, would you mind toasting the marshmallows?" Pinkie asked brightly, bouncing gently.

"Sure, no..."

"...finished in no time flat!" Apple Bloom exclaimed. "I bet yer gonna be glad when you don't have t' sleep in the square no more!"

"Well, yeah, but it's really not that..."

"Dude, I hear you can cook!" Soarin' said eagerly. "You got any pie recipes?"

"A few, but not any apple..."

"Oh, Spike!" the Mayor said, "remind me later, I have some news to give you!"

"Okay, Mayor M..."

"... yer hungry later, I got y' some apples over there," Macintosh said, jerking his head.

"Thanks, Macin..."

"I really am sorry about my attitude yesterday," Spitfire said. "You saved her life."

"Oh, all in the pa..."

"... so when Pinkie invited me, I took the liberty of inviting some of the children." Cheerilee smiled. "They were so excited about meeting you, you should see the artwork from that day!"

"I'd love..."

"Psst! Want some help?"

Spike turned to see Twilight smiling slyly at him. He nodded desperately.

Twilight put her hoof to her mouth and whistled sharply. "Everypony, one at a time!" she called.

"Thanks, Twi," he said gratefully.

"You were starting to look sorta panicked there." She smiled, reaching over Fluttershy's head to rub his face fondly. "You could have done that yourself, you realise."

"Can't whistle," he said innocently. "Fangs, you know."

A click and flash from the bushes made the congregation turn their heads sharply, and Spike stifled a groan.

"They still botherin' you, Spike?" Applejack asked.

"Uh, yeah," he said, rubbing the back of his neck with one forepaw and looking around at everypony reluctantly. "I can't really stop them. I've gotten used to them following me everywhere. You'd think they'd get bored – I mean, I spent the whole day practising. Not exactly thrilling photo material."

"Perhaps we could get you a disguise?" Pinkie suggested.

Spike gave her a long look that spoke volumes.

"We'll just ignore them," said Rarity firmly.

"Sorry," Spike sighed.

"Now, it ain't your fault, Spike!" Applejack stamped her hoof. "You cain't be held responsible if some ponies have their heads stuffed firmly up their..."

"Applejack!" Rarity hissed.

"Never mind all that, it's time to party!" Pinkie exclaimed, throwing her hooves up in the air. Streamers flew from them in a colourful waterfall, and everypony laughed and cheered again before moving towards the food, the games or the blankets once more. Happy chatter filled the air.

"Great party, Pinkie!" Spike said appreciatively. "Thanks so much!"

"Well, you're the most specialest, hard-workingest, nicest and flyingest dragon I know!" She beamed.

"Pinkie Pie, he's the only dragon we know," Rainbow Dash pointed out in an undertone, eyeing the punch.

"You've done a heck of a lot in a short time, sugarcube," said Applejack.

"I've sort of had to," he replied ruefully, and sat on the picnic blankets spread out for him, bracing Fluttershy against himself carefully. Something began to patter up his tail, and he jumped, startled. Turning, he saw three or four of the small foals frozen in the act of clambering up his back.

"Oh, are they annoying you?" Cheerilee asked. "Children, come away from there..."

"Nope, they're fine," he answered, smiling at them. "They just surprised me, that's all."

They grinned back impishly, and one immediately began to slide from his back all the way down his tail.

Fluttershy had not stopped hugging him the whole time. He rubbed her feathered back gently. "Are you feeling better?" he asked her. "I tried to ask before, but everypony was sort of talking all at once."

She made a little noise of assent and nodded, before she looked up at him with wide eyes. "Oh, thank you so much, Spike," she said fervently. "Thank you, thank you, thank you!"

"Well, I guess you're not afraid of me now, if you ever were," he joked.

"Oh no," she shook her head and smiled shyly. "I'll never be afraid of you, Spike, even when you're a huge, gigantic, terrible, enormous, teeth-gnashing, sharp scale-having, horn-wearing, smoke-snoring, could-eat-a-pony-in-one-bite, totally-all-grown-up dragon."

He blinked. "O... kay."

She hugged him again, her wings spread to plaster against his chest. "You're my friend," she said simply.

A soft smile crossed his face, and he lowered his head to nuzzle against her mane. "Thanks, Fluttershy."

He looked up to where several ponies were dancing along to Pinkie's jam. There was Pinkie, naturally, and Soarin', Apple Bloom, Rarity and Sweetie Belle - and watching at the edges was Big Macintosh. He seemed a little uncomfortable, and Spike remembered that the laconic pony didn't really attend many parties. An idea dawned.

"Hey, Fluttershy, you wanna dance?" he asked.

Twilight's head turned faster than light, her eyes wild. "Uh, Spike, you probably shouldn't..."

He huffed. "Not me! Fluttershy! Just because I'm not going to doesn't mean that everypony shouldn't!"

Twilight looked apologetic. "I shouldn't have said that – you can dance if you want to..."

"I don't wanna even think about how ridiculous I'd look," he snorted. "No way, Twilight, especially when there's a camera in every tree."

She laughed. "You have a point."

He batted his eyes mockingly. "Do you think I'd make the front page? I'm giving myself ten points every time I do."

"You're pretty ahead on points, then. What's an editorial worth?"

"Eight. And any lifestyle piece is worth three."

"I wouldn't mind dancing," Fluttershy spoke up timidly. Spike raised his eyebrows meaningfully at Twilight.

"Great! You two go have fun, I'm going to stay here and eat some apples," he said cheerfully. Then he glanced back, and added, "Also, I'm working on a career as a playground slide."

Twilight shot him a look that demanded an explanation, and he returned with one that said, 'later!' She sighed gustily, before taking Fluttershy's hoof and dragging her over to the grass where the other ponies were dancing.

Spike craned his neck to see Macintosh's reaction. Initially awkward, lumpen and out-of-place, the red farmpony abruptly drew himself up straight, dark green eyes zeroing in on Fluttershy immediately.

Spike grinned to himself in triumph. Bingo.

"What are you looking so happy about?" Sweetie Belle asked in a muffled voice as she flopped down before him, her mouth full of candy.

Spike schooled his face hurriedly. "Oh, just happy to see everypony," he lied brightly. "So... how's that production coming along for Miss Can Belto?"

She wrinkled her nose. "It's Bel Canto."

"Oh." Privately Spike thought 'Can Belto' suited Sweetie better. "So? How's it all coming along?"

Sweetie Belle seemed to quiver with suppressed excitement for a moment, before she launched into a detailed, enthusiastic and candy-garbled description. Spike listened, nodding, even as he kept one eye on the dancing ponies and the circling Big Macintosh.

"Oh, come on," he said to himself. He hadn't thought Macintosh would be so nervous!

"Sorry, what was that?" Sweetie Belle asked, peering up at him.

"Nothing, nothing," he said hastily.

Pin-the-tail-on-the-pony was being set up against a big old oak. Spike glanced casually over Zecora, Rainbow Dash and Spitfire setting it up, his eyes not really taking it in. Then he had to look again, double-taking to see that the picture wasn't a pony, but a dragon, and it was at least four times larger than it usually was. They must have made it especially so that he could play as well.

His heart constricted with happiness. This was what he had meant. Razorfang could never understand this.

As Sweetie Belle went to fetch more candy (he'd asked for anything made by Twist, if available) he dragged one barrel of apples closer and began to deftly pick them up one by one. He could toss them quite easily from his claws to his mouth now, and munched away contentedly.

"Whoa," he heard from a nearby bush.

Spike smirked to himself. Let the whole of Equestria know it: He was an expert at eating apples.

He checked the dance floor once more, and had to bite his tongue (which really hurt) to stop himself from cheering when Macintosh finally screwed up the courage to ask Fluttershy to dance. Twilight caught his eye, shook her head and smiled.

"Meddler," she mouthed at him. He shrugged, before grinning merrily, popping another apple into his mouth.

"Twist made some canes! I grabbed a bundle," Sweetie Belle said, trotting back with a basket floating before her. "And look! Somepony got you this!"

Spike peered into the basket to see a pile of jewels topped with (his mouth began to water) a couple of black opals. "Oh, wow..." he said, staring at them with huge eyes.

She laughed at his expression. "You should see your face!"

He reached into the basket as carefully as he could. His index claw got caught in the straw, but he unhooked it easily and drew out one of the iridescent, lovely-looking rare gems. "They... look... delicious," he drooled, staring at the flickering colours, the trapped fire in its dark depths. It was almost hypnotic.

Sweetie giggled. "So eat 'em!"

Almost hypnotic - and very definitely delicious.

The afternoon filled with laughter, fun and games. Spike proved that he was still terrible at pin-the-tail-on-the-pony (or dragon). A purple-and-green-frosted cake was brought out, and Spike blew out the candles very, very cautiously as Mr and Mrs Cake looked on with baker's pride. His water-barrel had been pranked – somepony had added green food dye. Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie both looked rather too ingenuous to be innocent.

He was talking to Spitfire about some sort of harness for the air-rides he would give when the Mayor bustled up to him. "Oh, Spike," she said briskly, "Congratulations, my dear! I've been up to see the foundations, and I must say work seems to be going well!"

"Thanks, Mayor Mare," he said, relaxed and happy. Then he remembered that she had some news, and he tensed a little.
"Did you need to tell me something?"

"Oh, of course," she said, a hoof swiping at her eyes. "Yes, oh, thank you for reminding me! Now, it's not the best news..."

"And the crowd is shocked," Spike muttered sarcastically.

"...but never you fear! We'll refute these silly ponies yet!" The Mayor stamped her hoof down. Spike regarded her a little wearily.

"The 'Parents' group again?" he asked.

"Why, how did you know?"

"Maaagic," he drawled.

She gave him an odd look, before continuing. "Well, they've started rallies in the surrounding villages, I'm afraid. A petition is being circulated through Equestria as we speak, and they have repeatedly stated that they intend to continue their vigil in front of the Town Hall. That really is terribly inconvenient, you know," she remarked, and Spike sighed.

"I can imagine," he agreed.

"The worst-case scenario would be if these rallies surrounding Ponyville decide to converge on us at the same time," the Mayor said thoughtfully. "The policeponies of Ponyville have been made aware of this possibility, and are on maximum alert."

Spike winced. "And how do they feel about it?"

The Mayor looked surprised. "Why, Spike – they're as much a part of Ponyville as the rest of us, and they're just as adamant that you should stay."

Spike blinked, astonished. "Wow, really? But I'm making so much work for them..."

She snorted. "To hear Detective-Inspector Nosey Parker tell it, it's about time Ponyville stopped being the dullest beat in Equestria."

"Ponyville, dull?" Spike raised an eyebrow sceptically.

"For the policeponies," clarified the Mayor. "Parasprite infestations, Ursa Minors and major magical incidents don't tend to come under their jurisdiction."

Spike thought about that for a moment, and then shrugged. "So, we just wait and see whether all these rallies join up and head here?"

The Mayor inclined her head. "That's about all we can do at the moment," she said. "That petition worries me more than the rallies, though. That will circulate throughout the whole of Equestria, far further than our little corner of unrest."

"I'm going to the Grand Galloping Gala this year," said Spike. "Princess Celestia thinks that if I can influence all those important ponies, they might swing the situation for me."

She gasped. "The Princess!"

Spike nodded. "Yeah," he said, a little in awe himself. "I know."

The Mayor frowned then. "Well, I hope it works," she said dubiously. "I really do."

Spike gave another gusty sigh. "Me too."

Pinkie flopped down before him, puffing from her exertions on the dance floor. "Pheeeeew!" she panted. "That was super-duper! You should really..." She stopped, her eyes narrowing. "You were happy before. Why aren't you happy?"

Spike shifted a little. A foal skidded down his tail, whooping. "Uh, well..."

Pinkie rounded on the Mayor, her eyes flashing. "Why did you have to do that?" she said indignantly. "He was happy - and now his smiles are all topsy-turvy!" She blew at her curl in exasperation. "A-gain!"

"Pinkie, it was important news," he said reluctantly.

"I am terribly sorry for springing it at your party," the Mayor apologised. "I should have told you earlier, perhaps."

"No perhapses, sort-ofs or maybes about it," Pinkie said, curls bouncing as she shook her head. "You know what'll cheer you up?"

"A party?" Spike suggested, his lips quirking.

"Oh, look! Here's one I prepared earlier!" she giggled, and tugged a little at his forepaw. "Come on! It's time for marshmallows! You get to show off with your fire, and we'll all be 'ooooh'!" She pressed her hooves against her cheeks in comical amazement.

He laughed. "Just like that, huh?"

"Ooooh," she repeated solemnly, eyes round and earnest, tugging at his forepaw again.

His laugh grew a little louder. It was hard to stay down when Pinkie was around. "Okay, point me in the direction of these marshmallows," he said, standing slowly to allow the last few foals to skid down his tail. "And prepare to be amazed," he added, pointing a claw to the sky.

"That's the spirit!"

Marshmallows were roasted in no time, followed by apples which were then smothered in cinnamon. It was actually a lot of fun to toss the apple in the air, blast it, and catch it, and Spike was surprised to find that he was enjoying himself immensely. "You know, I've really missed cooking," he told Twilight.

"Well, what's stopping you?" she asked, leaning against his side and licking cinnamon off her hooves.

"Uh, I can't fit in the kitchen?" he said pointedly.

"Spike, you can cook without a kitchen," she scoffed. "Come on, I'll show you."

She made him dig a little pit, and then she lined it with rocks and twigs. Bananas were sliced into two lengthways, sprinkled with chocolate and wrapped in foil. Then she made him blast the rocks until they glowed, and the foil-wrapped packages were nestled amongst the ashes.

"There," she said in satisfaction.

"I would have added some butterscotch sauce in there," he said critically. "Maybe some nutmeg."

"Yes, oh mighty head chef. You see either of those at a party?" she huffed. "We're working with what we've got here."

"Okay, okay, touchy," he said, holding up his claws.

After ten minutes had passed, Twilight suggested he fish out the packages. The banana was smooth and softened, and the chocolate had melted.

"If you don't want the foil, I'll have it," he said eagerly.

"It's all yours," she said, shaking her head.

The bananas were a resounding success, even if they weren't the easiest thing to eat with hooves. Everypony ended up with a smudge or two of chocolate around their mouths. Rarity almost went into a hoofkerchief frenzy trying to clean them all up.

The sun had well and truly set by the time the party wound to its inevitable close. Spike sighed contentedly, full of apples, cake, gems, candy, marshmallows, banana and foil. "That," he said drowsily, "was awesome."

Pinkie burped. "Uh-huh."

"Manners," Rarity snapped, before covering her own mouth surreptitiously.

"I don't think I can move," Soarin' said.

"Where's Fluttershy?" asked Apple Bloom, yawning.

Spike grinned against his chest.

"She went for a walk," slurred Scootaloo, "with..."

"We've got to clear this all up!" Spike interrupted loudly.

Twilight rolled her eyes at him. "Subtle as a sledgehammer," she whispered.

"Working under pressure here!" he whispered back.

"Eh." Rainbow Dash waved a hoof dismissively. "Cleaning shmeaning."

"Yeah!" Pinkie agreed, flopped over on her back. "Cleaning shmeaning bleaning feaning cheening dreaning pleaning..."

"It has to happen, Pinkie dear," Mrs Cake said.

There was a collective groan from the rest of the party-goers. "I do believe I ate a lot," Zecora muttered, "and now I'm feeling not so hot..."

"Well, sooner we start, sooner we finish," Applejack said, hauling herself to her feet with a groan.

Pinkie made a disconsolate sound, and also got to her hooves. "Okie... dokie... lokie..." she managed, and started to pack the leftover food into one of the baskets.

Spike lurched upright, and then sat heavily on his haunches. His stomach was uncomfortably full, which was a rare occurrence these days. "If you hear a great big boom tonight," he remarked as he slowly began to pull down streamers, "don't worry, that'll just be me. Exploding. From too much food."

"Great party," Scootaloo agreed groggily.

All the tables, baskets and party paraphernalia were eventually stacked inside Big Macintosh's wagon, and the picnic blankets were piled on top. Sleepy foals were ushered away by the Cakes and Cheerilee, who softly called their goodnights.

"Where in the hay is that durn' brother o' mine," Applejack muttered. "He's got to get this thing back t' Sugarcube Corner."

Spike ignored Twilight's knowing look with lofty disdain. "I'll do it," he offered, and walked forward to the wagon. Heaving it under his foreleg again, he began a three-footed stagger back into the town.

"Landsakes, kiddo, I didn't know you could do that." Applejack tipped her hat back to watch him.

"S'how I get the wagon back to the farm," he puffed. Urgh, he was starting to feel a little sick. Perhaps the foil had been a bad idea? He considered it. Nah.

The walk back to Sugarcube Corner seemed a lot longer than usual to Spike. Of course, the fact that he was full to the eyebrows and hoisting a wagon could have had something to do with that.

They bade farewell to Zecora once they reached the Town Hall. The camped protestors watched them with glittering, malevolent eyes under their snapping banners and signs. They didn't attack, but neither did they say a word – which was almost more oppressive. Spike could feel their glares against the scales of his back as they turned down the street to the bakery.

Eventually Sugarcube Corner rose up before them, and Spike lowered the wagon with a sigh of relief. "That's a lot easier when I haven't eaten so much," he said.

"Well, that's that then," Dash said, yawning. "Night, everypony, and congrats, Spike! Now we work on landings, and gettin' you some totally radical moves!"

"Landings first," he said emphatically.

~**~

Spike was woken from his sleep by the sound of hooves approaching. He jerked himself upright.

"Who's there?" he called anxiously. The conversation with Razorfang and the death-threat in his mail flickered through his mind. He backed away a little, his wings unfurling unconsciously. "Who is it? Show yourself!"

"It is I, Luna," came a voice in the shadows.

Spike almost collapsed with relief. "Oh Princess... I mean, Luna... oh thank goodness. You scared me out of my scales!"

She was barely a suggestion in the darkness. Tints of light glanced from her silvery shoes, her cutie mark and her glossy dark eyes. "You are far more wary than you were last time I visited," she said.

"Well..." Spike sat down and tried to calm his racing pulse, "a lot of stuff has happened since I saw you, Pri – I mean, Luna."

The light of the waxing moon caught her smile. "I have been reading over my sister's shoulder."

Spike ducked his head. "I know."

"You have claimed Ponyville and its ponies as your territory," she said calmly, moving to sit gracefully beside him. "You worry about the challenge, and wished to know whether my sister or myself could affect the outcome with our magic. You have sought information regarding your egg. You have become an object of fascination and scandal for the press. The ponies arrayed against you have become more numerous."

"That's not even all of it," Spike muttered. She cocked her head, her crown glinting.

"There is more?"

He sighed, his head dropping forward. "Yeah," he said reluctantly. "But before we talk about it, could we pretend there's nothing wrong for a couple of minutes, and that we're just two friends saying hello?"

Her laugh chimed like silver bells. "Of course we can," she said. "Hello Spike."

"Hello, Pri-Luna – I'm sorry, I keep doing that..."

"You will become used to it," she assured him.

He was glad for the darkness that hid his blush. It was just so... presumptuous. He cleared his throat. "How have you been?"

She folded her hooves before her. "I have been well. And you?"

"Uh..."

"Is this couple of minutes not complete?"

"Not yet," he said hurriedly. "How's Canterlot?"

"Quite busy," she replied, obviously humouring his need to talk about something else. "A delegation from the Eyrie arrived earlier this week, and they are proving troublesome. The Griffons wish to secure a presence in Equestria. Their high mountain peaks are not as fertile as ours, and their population is expanding."

Spike remembered Rarity's words upon meeting Gilda. "I thought Griffons were rare?"

"They are compared to my little ponies." Luna smiled.

"I bet those are some complicated negotiations."

"You would be correct."

"That reminds me, actually," Spike said thoughtfully. "Where's Wyrmstadt?"

She looked at him, eyes narrowed. "You have had dealings with the ambassador?"

He shook his head. "No, but it was in your sister's last letter. The one everypony from here to Appleoosa has read," he added sourly.

"Wyrmstadt is beyond the borders of Equestria, high in the Firestorm Ranges," Luna said.

"And that's a dragon city? Where the government is?"

She tilted her head. "Very few dragons would lower themselves to shoulder such menial and selfless responsibility, and even fewer would ever consider leaving their traditional territory to do so," she said. "There is no formally recognised dragon government, and the Wyrmstadt is not a council, nor is it a city."

He frowned. "It's not? What is it then?"

"The Wyrmstadt is the oldest and the greatest of the ancient dragon caves," Luna said matter-of-factly. "It is inhabited by the eldest dragon living, the dragon of the Wyrmstadt. She is the source of the greatest clan in the world, and she is the one who looks after dragon interests, as it were."

He blinked.

"They say she has grown strange in her old age, and that is why she assumed the duty," Luna continued. "Yet her majesty and might is unchallenged. None would dare gainsay her. She has taken it upon herself to speak for all dragons – but always through her ambassador. She rarely ventures from her glittering caves. When she does, she blots out the whole sky."

"Whoa," Spike breathed, flopping back down onto his elbows. "That's... whoa."

"It was she who brokered the treaty with my sister." Luna raised her eyes to her starry night. "I saw it all from afar. Dragons ceased to be hunted as rogues and monsters, and ponies were allowed to live safe and untouched within a dragon's territory. It is still quite a recent treaty, only a century old, and not all dragons have adapted as easily as ponies. Their generations turn far, far more slowly."

Spike was silent, thinking. The clans – Princess Celestia had mentioned the clans. Magicians too. She had said they would be interested in him; a dragon raised by ponies undertaking an old and traditional challenge. She had said the Wyrmstadt's ambassador would want to convince him to leave Ponyville, leave Equestria. And go where? To the Wyrmstadt, to this ancient dragoness?

He gritted his fangs. Fat chance of that. He was never leaving Ponyville.

"Is this relevant to those things you do not wish to talk about for a couple of minutes?" Luna asked.

"I guess a couple of minutes is up," he grudgingly relented.

"Then would you please tell me what has happened?" She leaned forward, and the cool strange feeling of her mane brushing against his forepaws made him tremble.

"Uh..." he said, "I found out where my egg came from. It's... not a nice story."

She lowered her eyes. "Ah."

"I also discovered why Razorfang despises ponies so much," Spike continued in a subdued voice. "It's not a nice story either."

She raised her silver-clad hoof, and placed it comfortingly upon his. The metal was cold, and he shivered again.

"I've had it running through my head ever since," he sighed. "That awful letter made things ten times worse. I was finally beginning to forget about it at the party, and then the Mayor told me..."

"What is it she told you?" Luna asked.

"That the surrounding villages are also holding rallies," Spike said heavily. "Plus there's a petition against me... and it's circulating throughout all Equestria!"

She was still, her eyes closed and her face stony.

"Oh, but there's some good news," he added with a half-hearted show of optimism. "I finally got the hang of flying."

Her eyes opened, and she smiled at him. "Well done."

He smiled crookedly back. "Thanks. Oh, and the foundations for my house are finished."

"So the situation is not as black as you paint it," she said, raising her eyebrows.

"I think I'm beginning to realise that nothing's ever completely one way or the other," he said with another sigh.

She inclined her elegant head. "This is true. Very wise, Spike."

He blushed a bit more. "Um. Thanks, Pr-Luna. That's sort of what Twilight said too."

"Twilight Sparkle thinks you are wise?"

He snorted. "Mostly I think she thinks I'm growing up too fast."

"Everypony thinks their child grows up too fast," she said softly.

He stared at her for a long moment, and then asked hesitantly, "Luna?"

"Yes, Spike?"

"I...I keep wondering what my parents would have thought of me," he blurted in a rush. "And I don't want to care about it because Twilight is my family now, but still, I can't help but wonder. Would they like me? Would they be disappointed? Or angry that I'm not..." he swallowed, "not much like other dragons?"

She looked at him compassionately. "I am so, so sorry, Spike... but we will never know."

"I'll never know," he repeated in a small voice, and then bowed his head once more.

She leaned against him, offering the comfort of her presence. Above them, the cluster of stars she had called the Dragon twinkled against her glorious night.

~**~

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