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A Matter of Perspective · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
Show rules for this event
An Old Coot
“Um, mister dragon?”

The filly’s voice echoed in the airy room, breaking a silence that had held for years. For the next moment, the air itself seemed to hold its breath, waiting for a response.

When none came, the girl stepped the tiniest bit closer and spoke the tiniest bit louder.

“M-mister dragon, sir?”

The slumbering drake’s slow snores stopped mid-breath. A reptilian eyelid fluttered open, blinking from the light of the sunbeams that fell into the room through holes in the ruined ceiling. The eye’s gaze wandered lazily across the room, like an wild animal acquainting itself with its surroundings.

With a sudden, focused flick of motion, the eye locked unto the unicorn filly. Its vermillion iris widened, and the shining blackness of the eye’s center reflected the image of a frightened, pale-coated foal back to her.

Shrieking, the girl tripped over her own hooves and fell backwards. She hit the wood floor with a sharp thud.

The sudden commotion made the dragon leap to his feet, crying out in surprise.

“Oh, blast it!” His legs shook beneath him, and he stumbled. In a magnified repeat of the filly’s tumble, the drake fell over, cracking his head on the ground. Easily several times larger than a full grown stallion, his fall was proportionately louder.

There was another minute of silence, as the both of them nursed their sores.

The dragon was the first to stir. He coughed and sputtered.

“Hasn’t anyone ever told you not to startle sleeping dragons?” With slow, pained movements, he untangled his legs from his great, leathery wings. One hand rubbing his head forehead, he finally turned himself upright. “I mean, I would assume that it’s obvious that it’s not the smartest thing that—”

The drake stopped mid-sentence when he finally got a good look at his unexpected visitor. The girl was curled into a little ball on the ground.

Brows arched, the dragon said, “Hold on a minute. Have I grown, like, a heck of a lot bigger as I slept, or are you just a little girl?”

Her only response was to break into tears, pained sobs wracking her small form. A little streak of crimson dripped down from her matted blonde mane, leaving a bright red trail on her white coat.

“Oh gosh. Oh geeze, you’re hurt.”

Gently, he scooped her up into his wings and arms. “There, there. You hold on for a minute; I should have some bandages around here, somewhere.”

When the filly was snugly secured in the little divot on his back between his wings, he gingerly stepped to a stone box the size of a closet. A tug on its lid didn’t budge it.

“Sorry, pretty much everything here is made from granite,” he babbled, mostly to himself. “It’s basically the only thing that’ll last when I take a nap, but it can get real stuck sometimes. The preserving magic doesn’t really help either, you know.”

Changing his approach, the dragon gripped the top of the box with both hands and gave it a twist. The low groan of stone grinding against stone filled the air as the lid finally gave up its long-lived hold on the rest of the box.

“There we go. Let’s see if the keep-it-new spell was any good.”

A quick rummage produced a roll of heavy, white cloth and an over-sized potion bottle. With a flick of his razor-sharp claws, the dragon cut a thin, long strip from the cotton.

“Here, hold still.”

Tiny, careful movements guided those same claws as they wrapped the bandage around the filly’s head. When there were enough layers to stop the bleeding, he tied a messy little knot to hold the cloth in place.

“Sorry, I’m a bit out of practice. But you’re lucky that it wasn’t your horn.”

As his hands worked, his wings picked up the potion flask and brought it to his mouth. Uncorking it with his teeth, the dragon took a sniff of its contents.

“Still fresh. This’ll help with the pain. It’s a dragon-sized dose, so just take a sip or two.”

Nodding, the filly swallowed a mouthfull of the dark, sludgy liquid as the dragon held the heavy bottle for her. When she was done, she wiped her mouth with the back of her hoof.

“Thank you, mister dragon.”

“Don’t call me ‘mister dragon,’ that’s my dad.” The drake chuckled at his own joke. “I’m Spike. Pleasure to meet you, little miss…?”

The filly stared, befuddled, until comprehension dawned across her features.

“Oh, it’s Magnolia. My name’s Magnolia Morning.”

“Well, little Miss Magnolia, I’ve got a couple of questions for you. First off, could you tell me what date it is today?”

“It’s, um, the third of September, I think. Eleven hundred and three.” Magnolia rubbed her forelegs together, shyly.

The dragon did a little counting on his fingers.

“Eleven and a half years this time. And I was woken early. They’re getting longer and longer,” he said to no one in particular.

“Y-you slept for eleven years?” Magnolia stammered.

“Yeah, and I feel like a lazy oaf thinking about it. Just a natural part of growing up, though. If you are a dragon, that is.” Spike shook his head. “Anyways, one more question for you, and this one’s important.”

Spike leant down, coming to Magnolia’s level. Turning his head to the side, he fixed another single-eyed gaze at the filly.

“What exactly is a little girl like you doing in the middle of Whitetail Woods?” said Spike. “Don’t lie to me, ‘cause I’ll be able to tell; I was friends with the old Element of Honesty, and she taught me more than a few tricks.”

Magnolia wrung her hooves and chewed her lips.

“I—um… I’m from Ponyville. I was trying to find the friendly dragon my uncle was talking about, and then I got lost for a while until I found your treehouse, and I think the dragon might be you.” The filly turned her face away as soon as the words had left her mouth.

Spike’s brow creased. “Your uncle knows a friendly dragon? Mind explaining that?”

“Well,” said Magnolia, “he’s an amba—. An embasadron—”

“An ambassador?”

Magnolia nodded.

“He knows about dragons, and griffins, and stuff. Once he showed me a big map that me made with little dots for where every dragon who was a friend to ponies lived,” said Magnolia. “I asked him why there was one dot all alone in the forest, and he said that the dot was for a very special dragon. I thought you might be lonely so I thought I could find you and we could be friends since you’re a friend to ponies.”

Magnolia shirked away as Spike gave her a top-to-bottom glance.

“So,” he said, “You came into the forest all by yourself because you thought you could make a friend?”

Another weak little nod.

“Are you lonely, Magnolia?”

After a long moment, Magnolia replied with the softest of voices. “A little, I guess…”

“How come?” asked Spike, gently.

Magnolia hugged her tail and spoke in halting stammers. “I don’t know a lot of ponies my age. A lot of the girls are mean to me, because I don’t go to school and I have my own teacher. They act nice because our parents are friends, but when dad’s not there they say mean things.”

“Well, phooey on them,” said Spike. “A private education’s a great thing; it’s only a shame that not many families can afford it.”

The dragon scratched his chin.

“Say, who are your parents anyway?”

“Um… My dad’s a botanist. His name’s Oak Leaf. My mom works for Princess Luna so she’s always in Canterlot with my uncle. Her name’s Moon Pearl.”

The drake blinked in surprise. “Moon Pearl? Moony married a professor? Moony had a kid!?”


Spike made a quick sketch of a pony’s shape in the air with his claw.

“‘Bout that tall and that wide at the shoulders? White coat, black mane and eyes?”


“My gosh.” He ran a hand down his face. “That means your uncle’s Firm Line. He’s gonna slay me for this.”

“Why? It’s not your fault.”

“Oh, trust me, Line’s got a way with words. He’ll have me convinced that it’s my own fault faster than a Wonderbolt does a hundred yard dash. We need to get you home, pronto.”

Spike stood up and walked back to his stone box. After a moment, he retrieved an elaborate harness with a saddle on it. Both sides of the seat were embroidered with a lavender starbust symbol.

“Let’s see if this old thing still fits,” said Spike.

He tugged and pulled at buckles and belts with his claws and teeth. Within a few minutes, the saddle was on his back, held firmly in place by straps that went around his middle and sides.

“A little tight, but it’ll do. The flight to Ponyville isn’t that long, anyways.” Spike turned back to Magnolia. “Moony does still live in Ponyville, right?”

“Yes...” Magnolia gave an uneasy look at Spike’s saddle and its implications.

“Good.” Spike smiled. “The sooner we’re in the air, the better. Hop on.”

Magnolia scrambled up Spike’s outstretched wing and got all four of her hooves in the stirrups that dangled off of each side of the saddle. Spike helped her buckle herself in, lending a hand or a word when she needed it. When she was all set, Spike grinned reassuringly.

“Did you ever get a pegasus-back-ride before? It’s just the same, I hear.”

Magnolia only gulped in response.

“Close your eyes if you’re scared; it’s a bit better that way.”

The filly complied, screwing her eyes shut and pressing her face tightly against Spike.

“Okay,” chuckled the dragon. “Here we go!”

In a rush of motion, Spike made a running leap out of a high-set window made for just this purpose. As soon as he was out in the open, his great wings shot open to catch the air. Several powerful strokes of his wings sent him in a wide, rising spiral over his treehouse.

“Good golly, there are a lot of holes in the roof,” said Spike over the sound of the wind. “Gotta fix those when I get back.”

He took a moment to check on his frightened passenger, who still clung to his neck with eyes welded shut. Turning away from the setting sun, he put the distant sight of Canterlot Peak to his left before launching himself forwards and upwards.

“The worst of it’s over, now,” Spike said as his flight leveled out into an even glide. “We’re still above Whitetail, if you want to open your eyes. It’s real pretty this time of year.”

Slowly, Magnolia cracked first one eye open and then the other. A little gasp leapt from her throat when she took everything in.

The trees were painted in bright, fiery hues of yellow and red that caught the sun’s last rays with a shine that seemed very nearly magical. A sea of orange leaves and brown branches stretched out before them, seemingly endless in its breadth.

“Why do you live in a tree?” asked Magnolia as soon as she mustered enough courage to take her face far enough off of Spike’s back to talk. “My teacher says that dragons always live in caves or old buildings or anywhere else with a lot of rocks.”

“Heh, force of habit I guess.” Spike gave another toothy smile. “I used to live with a friend who had a penchant for treehouses. Never grew out of it, I suppose.”

“Does your friend still live in treehouses, too?”

The smile disappeared from Spike’s face. A long pause followed, and just when Magnolia opened her mouth to repeat her question, he finally answered her.

“I… I haven’t seen her in a really long time.” A smile forced its way back onto the dragon’s face. “But tell you what, I bet if she were here, she’d definitely still be living in some magical tree. It’s totally her style.”

The little filly didn’t seem to notice the odd upset in his voice. Hoof shading her eyes, she focused her gaze on the silhouette of Canterlot Castle on the horizon.

“I want to live in the palace when I grow up, like my uncle does,” she said.

“Ha,” Spike laughed gruffly. “The palace isn’t exactly the place for me.”

The filly raised an eyebrow. “What’s wrong with it? I think it’s really pretty.”

“Oh, the building itself is just fine and dandy. Prettiest thing on this side of the ocean. It’s the person living in it that I have a problem with.” Spike waved a hand dismissively. “That’s neither here nor there, though. Look, we’re almost home.”

Sure enough, the forest had fallen away into a grassy meadow that was cut up by the blocky shapes of houses in the distance. With a careful twirl of his wings, Spike smoothly landed in a clearing just outside of the town’s limits.

“If it’s all the same to you, I’d like to avoid meeting ponies right now,” said Spike. “I’m a very busy dragon when I’m not asleep, and a lot of people would be very happy to give my responsibilities back to me. Honestly, I’d like to take a day or two off before that happens if I can.”

“Okay,” said Magnolia. She unbuckled her straps and carefully took a few steps on legs that hadn’t gotten used to solid ground again yet.

“One more thing before you go...” said Spike.

The dragon took in a deep breath before gently breathing a sparkling spigot of green flame from his lips. The fire’s smoke smelled sweetly of grass and lime leaves. Ashes and vapor coalesced into a small paper scroll that fell into Spike’s waiting claw.

“Here, take this,” he said, offering it to the filly. “It’s a map for the path from Ponyville to my treehouse. Whenever you’re lonely, feel free to drop by. But tell your mom first!” he quickly added.

“Thank you,” said Magnolia Morning. She clutched the scroll so tightly that it crinkled against her chest. “Goodbye, Spike!”

“Goodbye, Magnolia.”

Spike smiled as he watched the little girl run back into town with one hoof hugging the map to herself. When she was out of sight, he turned and leapt back into the air.

The pitter patter of little steps drew Spike’s attention as he opened the third box of the day. The preserving spell broke with a faint little pop, and Spike easily removed the lid. As he shuffled through the books, scrolls, and papers the granite container held, the footsteps had paused near the door. A moment of hesitation later, the person on the other side knocked the wood quickly and politely.

“Come on in,” said Spike.

The door creaked open to reveal a little blonde-maned filly. Spike smiled.

“Hey, Magnolia. Didn’t think I’d see you so soon.”

“Oh, um….” Magnolia stammered and trotted uneasily in place. “I’m sorry.”

“Naw, don’t be.” Spike motioned her to come inside. “Just watch out a bit: Yesterday I made some quick repairs to the floor that aren’t exactly permanent in a few spots. Don’t step on anything that doesn’t look nailed down yet.”

“Okay,” Magnolia tip toed inside until she was just a few feet away from where Spike was working.

“Just one minute,” said Spike, “and I’ll be right with you.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed that Magnolia’s hooves were empty. She didn’t seem to be wearing a saddlebag either.

“Say, how did you make it here without the map I gave you? I thought you got yourself lost the last time you—”

A faint ripple of magic from somewhere in the room made Spike freeze. Widening his dragon-senses, he took a deep breath and felt the magic in the air. With a flick of his forked tongue, he tasted a presence of familiar energies.

“Oh,” he said to Magnolia. “You didn’t come by yourself, did you?”

Magnolia fidgeted with her hooves.

“She said she wanted to talk to you,” said Magnolia. “She said it was really important and that it’ll be best if she went with me.”

“Don’t worry about it, kiddo. I kind of saw something like this coming, anyways.” Turning, he faced a corner of the room that was angled away from the sunlight. “You can come out, Luna. We’ll talk.”

The outline of a pony shimmered darkly as Luna unwrapped the shadows from herself. Horn glowing and mane billowing, her appearance immediately set a new atmosphere in the room.

“Hello, Spike.” Luna’s voice was smooth silver and clear water and candlelight. Her eyes were soft, but there was no smile on her lips.

“Hi, Luna.” Spike turned to address Magnolia. “The Princess and I need a little time to talk about grown-up stuff. Why don’t you take the basket by the door outside and go gather some sunflowers for lunch? I saw a good patch of them just outside when I was coming back from dropping you at home the other day. There’s a wild autumnberry bush somewhere over there too.”

“Okay. I’ll bring back a lot of berries. They’re my favorite.” She trotted carefully back to the door.

“That sounds great. Call for me if you need anything.” Spike gave her a thumbs up as Magnolia shut the door behind her.

A moment lingered before Luna spoke.

“I’m sorry for the deception.” The Princess of the Night was never known to look uncomfortable, but this came pretty close. “We didn’t part well the last time we met, and I wanted to see how you were before we had any sort of important discussion.”

Spike waved a hand. “Smoke in the wind. Consider it forgotten.”

“I am glad.” Calm, cool relief bedewed her words.

“Anyways, how exactly did you learn I was awake?” Spike stretched his neck as he talked.

“The filly told her mother. Her mother told me.”

“Of course. Well, it’s good to see you, regardless,” Spike said leaning back. “Anyways, what exactly is it that you needed to tell me?”

Luna frowned and said, “I suspect it’s not something that will leave you very pleased.”

“Do it like a bandage. Quick and clean.”

“This has been your longest sleep to date,” said Luna. “It has been hard for the Courts to accommodate your extended absences before, but this time it has been simply impossible. Many of your responsibilities have been permanently sequestered to qualified individuals.”

Spike let out a long breath and rubbed his temple with a claw.

“Which ones?” he said.

“Your spot among the High Judges has been filled by His Honor, Fair Trial. A young but sharp mare named Meadowlark has assumed the role of head of the Ministry of Environmental Preservation. And your responsibilities in the Ministry of Foreign Relations has been passed on to Firm Line.”

“That’s all of my jobs, Luna.” Spike groaned. “I’ll take my papers and turn them in first thing tomorrow.”

“Thank you.” Luna nodded. “And I’ve already reached out to ponies who could use an experienced administrator like yourself. It might take a bit of time, but I’m sure you’ll find yourself in a fulfilling place again. I’m just sorry that we had to set you so far back.”

“I know.” Spike ran a claw through the spines on his head. “I totally understand that it’s important to keep things running, but losing everything I have is a bit of a shock.”

“Not all of your responsibilities have been taken,” said Luna carefully. “Your oldest one is still yours to keep.”

Spike shot a glance at the cutie mark-embroidered riding harness that sat on its peg off to the side of the room. He let out a deep, hollow sigh before he could talk again.

“Knight Protector and Number One Assistant,” he said wistfully. “I still can’t believe she put that down as my official title. Court declarations were always fun with her around.”

“Yes,” said Luna with a sigh of her own. “She was very, very special. Everyone knew that.”

A pregnant silence hung in the room for a long minute.

“You know,” said Luna, “my sister misses you.”

Spike immediately stiffened, but Luna continued, nevertheless.

“She isn’t one to show it, but she’s deeply upset these days. I haven’t told her that you’ve awoken yet, but she’s bound to find out very soon.”

“I don’t want to talk about this,” snarled the dragon.

“I know it pains you,” said Luna. “But this is important. Celestia has her own way of—”

“I said I don’t want to talk about it!”

Luna bit her tongue as Spike blew black, acrid smoke from his nostrils. His lips were curled back to reveal sharp, angry teeth the size of a pony’s hoof.

Growling, the drake stomped and paced back and forth across the small room to calm himself. Finally, when the smoke had cleared from his throat, he spoke again.

“Let’s not have this conversation a second time, Luna. It didn’t end well last time, and it won’t end well now, either. And I won’t have a ten-year nap to clear my head this time around.”

“Alright, Spike,” Luna said softly.

The princess walked forward and placed a feathery wing over Spike’s scaley one. Spike brought his head down to let her muzzle it. The two embraced for a long time before Luna broke away with a chaste kiss to the top of his head.

“You are very dear to me Spike,” said Luna, “and you’ve got the biggest heart a dragon could have—one that is all the more pained by tragedy. Don’t let it harden; none of your friends would like to see that.”

“Yeah, I know. You’re a great friend, Luna. I love you.”

“And I, you.”

Luna stepped away and brushed her mane back into place with her hoof. As she shot a smile at him, there was a tapping on the door, which opened to admit a little filly with a basketful of flowers and round, ripe berries.

“Hello,” said Magnolia. “I’m back with what you wanted.”

“Perfect timing!” said Spike with a grin. “Join us for lunch, Luna. I’ve got some hay in the pantry, and I can whip up a mean autumnberry salad.”

“I’m afraid I cannot. I’ve still much work to do, and if I am to have any chance of retiring to bed at a reasonable hour, I must take my leave now. Tonight’s Night Court will be a long one, and I need plenty of rest beforehand.”

“I understand, Princess,” said Spike. “Have a good day.”

“You as well,” Luna said. Her eyes met Magnolia’s. “You, little filly, are in for a treat that nopony for ten years has enjoyed. His cooking is still talked about in the royal kitchens.”

Spike gave a bark of a laugh. “You tell your chefs that they need to find some new conversation material. I’m old news.”

“Not nearly as old as I am.” Luna smirked. Horn aglow, she covered herself in swirls of shimmering moonlight before vanishing from sight.

“Well then,” said Spike. “How about we have lunch now?”

“Okay,” said Magnolia.

“And afterwards? There anything you want to do?”

Magnolia bit her lip and shook her head.

“I don’t really care.”

“Hm,” said Spike as he tapped his chin with a finger. “How about I buy you dessert at Sugarcube Corner. Sounds like fun?”

“Yep!” said Magnolia.

“Cool, cool. Now, come over here and let me show you how to really toss a salad.”

The little filly bounded to the dragon’s side in the small kitchen of the treehouse.

“Hey, Spike!”

Magnolia Morning swung the door open and scampered in.

“Hey, Maggie,” said Spike. “Have I been shrinking, or have you been growing?”

“I’ve been growing! But not just that!” Magnolia swung around on her front hooves and kicked a hind leg out. “I’ve got my cutie mark!”

“You have? That’s great!”

Spike knelt down to put himself level with the filly. Sure enough, on each of her flanks was a white and gold blossom that curled upwards and onwards towards a sunny horizon.

“Yep, that’s definitely a good one,” said Spike, sagely. “Trust me, I’ve got a bit of experience in this area.”

“My dad was real excited,” said Magnolia. She turned a full circle to get a good look at her own mark. “He said that he’s gonna take me to see the Canterlot Gardens on the next Grand Galloping Gala! My mom just rolled her eyes at him and called him silly, though, so I don’t know if it’s really going to happen or not.”

“Heh, that’s Moon Pearl for you. Always the gentle cynic.” Spike smiled and used a claw to tap his guest sofa invitingly. “Why don’t you take a seat and tell me all about how you got it, Maggie.”


The little girl bounded unto the couch and lept up and down on its new, springy cushions.

“Well, I met this new boy named Bluejay at this get-together my mom had with all her friends and other important ponies. He looked kinda sad and lonely, so I thought I might ask him what was wrong. He talked about some things about his family and how he moved from Baltimare, and I told him that it was okay because I was his friend now. I found a geranium for him, ‘cause those are supposed to be for comforting ponies, and then I got my mark!”

“I can’t say I’m surprised,” said Spike with a toothy grin. “You’ve always known exactly what to say to other ponies. It’s a great gift to have.”

“Thanks, Spike!”

Magnolia scrambled up and hugged Spike’s muzzle like she always did. Her hooves were still a long way from going all the way around.

“Heh, enough of that now,” Spike chuckled. “Why don’t you get off my face tell me about this new boyfriend of yours?”

“Stop it, Spike!” Magnolia playfully jabbed at the dragon’s cheek. “Bluejay’s not my boyfriend!”

“I don’t know about that,” said Spike, giving the girl a sideways glance. “You’re blushing a bit too much over your not-a-boyfriend.”


“Okay, okay,” he said with hands raised in surrender. “We’ll talk about your boyfriend later, I guess.”


Magnolia flopped off of Spike’s grinning muzzle and buried her face in sofa cushions. Spike was content to let her stay sprawled like that for a while.

“Spike?” came Magnolia’s voice from underneath multiple layers of pillows.

“Yeah, Maggie?”

“Have you ever been in love?”

“Once or twice, I guess. It was all a long time ago,” he said before blowing a wistful ring of smoke from his mouth.

“What’s it like?”

“Hm…” Spike got up and into his thinking position, with his hindlegs folded beneath him and his hands crossed in front of him. “I guess at some level, it’s just wanting to get to know somepony. At first, you want to make them like you as much as you like them. Then, you want to make them happy no matter what.”

Magnolia took his words in for a moment before surfacing from her pillowy dive.

“Who was your first love?”

“Heh, straight to the personal questions, I see.” Spike rested his head on an open palm. “How much has your mom told you about the old Element of Generosity?”

“She said that it was my grandmother’s grandmother, a pony named Rarity. I learned in school that she was a dressmaker before becoming one of Princess Sparkle’s closest confidants.”

Spike nodded thoughtfully.

“All of that’s not wrong, but it’s leaving out the best things about her. She was…” Spike searched for words for a second. “She was brilliant. And even though she was pretty smart, I don’t mean it that way. She had a bright, shining heart. It felt like you were being swept along by its light every time she walked into the room.

“I was about your age when I met her, and I could barely keep up with it. I think I always knew that I wasn’t the one for her, but I still wanted to be the best for her.”

“That’s… That’s kind of sad,” said Magnolia.

“Don’t worry about it; this old coot made peace with it all a long time ago.” Spike smiled. “There isn’t too much that gets me misty-eyed nowadays.”

Magnolia chewed the inside of her lip.

“But you are sad sometimes, aren’t you?” she said.

Spike’s smile was replaced by a confused frown.

“What makes you say that, Maggie?”

“Well, it’s just that you get this look sometimes.” She squinted in thought. “It’s hard to describe. But I saw that same look on Bluejay’s face when he was talking about the ponies he missed. Does that mean you have people you miss?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I do,” said Spike. “I was really close to Twilight. She practically raised me. Hatched me and took care of me and everything.”

“Twilight?” asked Magnolia. “Who was that?”

“Oh, that was her name. The Princess’s,” Spike added.

But Magnolia still didn’t understand. Spike sighed and elaborated.

“Her first name was ‘Twilight,’ after her mother. ‘Princess Sparkle’ was something she started going by when ponies thought her full name might be a bit of a mouthful.” Spike huffed. “I never did like it very much, but she was fine with it.”

Understanding washed across Magnolia’s features.

“Oh. Oh! Oh my goodness…” Magnolia blinked several times in quick succession. “So—so that means you knew her f-from before she d-dis… she dissap—”

“Yep.” Spike smiled sardonically. “I take it from your expression that I look young for my age.”

“Oh, I just—I mean I hadn’t really…” Magnolia stammered. “I’m sorry, Spike, I didn’t know.”

“There’s nothing for you to be sorry about, Mags,” said Spike. “But, yeah, I miss her. Every morning I kinda hope that she’ll just show up, outa the blue. Maybe with some crazy explanation for the last seventy—no—eighty years.”

“B-but…” Magnolia’s eyes skirted from side to side. “Will you be fine even if she doesn’t come back?”

Spike tsk’d his tongue and rolled his serpentine neck from side to side.

“Yeah, I’ve been thinking about that, too,” he said. “My answer would have been different thirty or forty years ago, but yeah, I think I can make it through. By the skin of my teeth, maybe, but I guess that matters less and less in the end.”

Magnolia did her best to reach over and throw her hooves around Spike’s neck. Spike, in turn, patted the top of her head with a gentle claw.

“I have to leave soon,” Magnolia admitted with her face still against Spike. “I told my dad I’m only going to stop by to show you my cutie mark. He wants me to come home soon so we can plan my cute-ceañera.”

“Yeah, that’s no problem, kiddo.”

Spike let her go, and she hesitantly made her way for the door.

“I’ll be fine, Mags,” he said with a playful shooing wave. “Go ahead and get outa here.”

“I’ll… I’ll send you an invitation as soon as I can!” said Magnolia as she lingered at the open door.

“I won’t miss it for the world.”

The treehouse door slammed open.

“What’s goin’ on, Spike!”

The dragon in question jumped in his seat and broke the pen he was holding. Sighing, he threw the ruined quill into the trash.

“Hey, Maggie.” Spike turned from his desk and faced the blonde mare, who had already sprawled herself on the ratty, old couch in the living room. “Have I been shrinking, or have you been growing?”

“Psshh, knock it off, big guy.” She waved an accusatory hoof. “It isn’t polite to talk about a mare’s weight, you know.”

“You know I meant nothing of the sort.” Spike grinned. “I’m too sweet and caring.”

“Yeah, and so are minotaurs on a nice day,” Magnolia retorted. “Hey, you’ve got any food? My lunch plans kinda exploded on me.”

“I’ve got hayfries and and daisies and garnets. Do sandwiches sound nice to you?”

“They sound absolutely lovely!” Magnolia didn’t make a move to leave the sofa.

Sighing dramatically, Spike stepped to the kitchen alone. As he opened the fridge, he called out over his shoulder.

“Not that I don’t appreciate the company, but why are you here? Isn’t the Summer Sun Celebration’s your favorite holiday?”

A grinding groan sounded from the couch.

“Bluey’s sick. He got the danged featherflu bug that’s been going around.” Her words gradually became more and more pillow-muffled. “So now, I’m officially dateless for the Midsummer’s Eve Dance. I d’wanna even show up there.”

“Ah, that really stinks.”

“Tch’yeah, it does.” Magnolia rolled up out of the cushions. “And you’ve got no plans as usual this year, am I right?”

“I’m a busy dragon, Mags.” Spike talked as he sprinkled olive oil and pepper sauce over a pan of sautéing daisies. “They’re talking about making the Department of Electrical Services its own Ministry. It sounds crazy to me, but things are getting really big.”

“Ha, I can see it now,” she said, spreading her forehooves wide as she pantomimed a headline. “Head Minister Spike the Dragon, in big bold letters.”

“I used to be a Head Minister, you know. It isn’t that big of a stretch.”

“Maybe, maybe not. It’s still a big step up,” said Magnolia. “You’ll be fine, though. The Department’s practically already been its own Ministry ever since they put up the Everfree Generator. You’ve been working hard.”

“Thanks, Magnolia.”

Spike slid a plate across the floor to her. It held a perfectly toasted daisy sandwich and steaming hayfries piled high.

“No, thank you, chef.” Magnolia scooped the sandwich up and took a big bite.

Spike dug into his own triple-layered, gem-studded sandwich. For several minutes, there was nothing but the sound of happy eating and the occasional crunch of a garnet.

“Absolutely delicious,” said Magnolia as she licked up the last of the fries. “As always.”

“Glad you liked it.”

Spike swept up the empty dishes with his tail and headed for the kitchen sink. A few moments later, the sound of splashing, running water filled the house.

“Hey, Spike?”

“Yeah, Mags?”

“I have… a bit of a confession to make.” Magnolia flopped unto her back. “It’s something that’s been bothering me for a while.”

Spike arched an eyebrow.

“Do I need to be worried or something?”

“No, not really,” said Magnolia. “It’s just… It’s a bit weird.”

“Sounds like the kind of thing you’d want off your chest,” agreed Spike. “Okay, let’s hear it.”

“Well…” Magnolia twirled her mane nervously with her hoof. “You know when I brought Luna over here for the first time? Back a few days after we met?”

“Yeah, I do.”

The dishes were done, and Spike joined Magnolia in the living room.

“What about it?” he said.

“Remember how you told me to step outside while you and Luna talked about stuff?” After Spike nodded, Magnolia swallowed down a lump and continued. “Well, I kinda heard your conversation. I didn’t mean to, but I got most of it.”

“Phooey,” said Spike. “That’s more of my fault, anyways. Should have known there were enough holes in the house for sound to carry. Nothing for you to apologize over.”

“Well, that’s not all of it,” said Magnolia. Her fidgeting grew more pronounced. “I remembered the things you guys said about Princess Celestia, so the other week I asked my mom for a favor. She got me a little bit of one-on-one time with the Princess, and I asked her about it. I think she told me everything… or at least everything on her side of things. She wants me to tell you something for her.”

“Maggie,” began Spike.

“No, no, wait! I know you’re probably still mad at her, and for a good reason too, but you need to hear what she has to say! She wants to—”

“Magnolia.” Spike was much firmer this time. “Let’s not have this discussion. I don’t handle this subject very well.”

“I know,” said Magnolia. “I can’t claim to understand, but I know I can sympathize. It hurts, and it’s rotten, and it’s full of bad, bad memories, but it’s something that you gotta work through.”

“Maggie, I know that you mean well, and that you might even be right.” Spike rubbed his palm across his face. “But this is not worth it. If anyone can say that, I can.”

“It’s different this time, believe me, Spike,” Magnolia pleaded.

“Different?” Something between a growl and a laugh slithered out of Spike’s mouth. “What could have possibly changed?”

“She says she’s sorry for not waking you up,” said Magnolia.

Spike didn’t move, but the tension in the room immediately shifted.

“She says she’s was proud and foolish to think she didn’t need your help. She wants you to know that it was a mistake, and one she will never commit again.” Magnolia swallowed again and tried to continue. “She says she’ll hear anything that you have to say to her. And she wants to tell you her side of things, if you’ll let her.”

An angry, hurt silence passed.

“Do you know what it’s like,” said Spike, “to wake up and find out that your best friend had been missing for three years? That nobody had woken me when I was needed the most, under order from the Princess herself?”

Spike stood on all fours, wings flared as far as they could within the treehouse’s walls. A trail of sooty smoke leaked from each nostril. He turned away from Magnolia, tearing at the floor with his great claws.

“Do you know what it’s like to lose one of your best friends, and to be able to do nothing about it?” he asked through clenched teeth.

“No, I don’t,” said Magnolia. “But Celestia does. She lost Twilight too.”

Spike gave no reaction to her words. With his back turned towards her, Magnolia couldn’t tell what he was thinking or doing. Only the even, slow sound of his smoky breaths gave any clue about how the dragon felt.

“Please.” Magnolia’s voice sounded pitifully inadequate, even to herself. “Please at least think about it. You’re my oldest friend, and I know you can do this, even if you don’t think you can.”

Quietly, Magnolia stepped off the sofa and made her way to the door.

“They’re having the dance down by the lake. I’ll be there, if you need me.” Just before the door closed behind her, she turned and said, “I love you, Spike.”

The first thing Spike did when he was sure Magnolia was out of earshot was to smash the dirty, old sofa into pieces with his tail. His desk was next—an unrestrained flick of his wrist turned it into splinters and dust.

With a sweep of his hind legs, he brought down the kitchen wall. A spray of water drenched him, and the realization that he had broken his water tank finally shook him out of his fury.

The dragon sat, wet and cold, in his ruined living room for a long time.

When the moon was high and and the stars were shining, Spike finally stirred. He stepped gingerly to the remains of his desk, with wings carefully stretched for balance. The damaged treehouse teetered and tottered at his movement, sagging in its place on the great oak it was built on.

Picking through the splintered, wet wood, he took the driest ream of paper he could find and gently blew on it. The heat of his breath evaporated the water on the paper, leaving it stiff and crinkled, but usable.

Again, the dragon searched the shattered desk, and this time he retrieved a fountain pen from an almost intact drawer. Putting it to his salvaged sheet of paper, he wrote a simple letter, signed it, and rolled it up into a small scroll.

Spike took a deep breath, and in his mind he recalled the first spell he had ever learned. It came easily to him, like a old, half-forgotten friend. Pursing his lips, he breathed life into the spell, and a vermillion flame consumed the letter and carried its ashes away to Canterlot.

He watched it go as long as he could, until it disappeared against the dark, starry backdrop of the sky.

“Hi, Spike.”

Celestia’s wings were halfheartedly held at her sides, as if she were too tired to either bring them up or let them down. The next thing Spike noticed was her mane; it was bobbed short and flat pink, resting on her head like any other pony’s instead of billowing in her own magical presence.

Her eyes were the same, though. Creased at the edges from smiling, and never without that gentleness that seemed reach out to hug whomever they gazed on.

“Hi, Celestia.”

Spike adjusted his position in his seat, and sent a nervous gaze around himself. He hadn’t been in the castle proper for nearly a century, but it almost didn’t show at all. The gardens were exactly as he remembered them: pristinely kept with a carefully crafted sense of inviting. The flower arrangements were a bit different than they were eighty years ago, but the only real change was the electric lamps that lined the walkways, showering the entire garden with a cool, otherworldly light.

“You’ve grown, Spike.”

“And you’ve changed your hair.”

Celestia gave a forced little chuckle.

“This is actually the original style,” she said. “I thought it might be time to bring it back.”

“It looks good on you,” said Spike, because he didn’t know what else he could say.

“Thank you,” Celestia replied.

She took her seat across from his place at a tiny little tea table that was far too small and delicate to be of any real use. Spike had mistaken it for a lawn ornament several minutes ago.

“Well, this isn’t going to get any easier with waiting,” said Celestia. She fidgeted in her seat before making careful eye contact, as if she were asking for permission. “I want to say that I’m sorry. What I did at first was foolhardy and misguided at best. What I said about it later was spiteful and inexcusable in every case.”

Spike only sighed and slumped further down into a chair that was already too small for him.

“Well,” said Celestia when Spike continued to stare at the table. “Do you have anything you want to say to me?”

“I don’t know, Celly.” Spike hated how a tear was already beginning to build at the corner of his eye. “I don’t know anymore.”

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