“I really am sorry, AJ,” Spike said for about the tenth time that afternoon.
Applejack laughed as she climbed up the ladder in the back of the old shed. “Heavens to Betsy, Spike, I already told you you’re forgiven. Didn’t we sit down an’ write that letter to the Princess about all this?”
Spike chuckled sheepishly. “Yeah, yeah, I know. I just got carried away, with that whole Noble Dragon Code and all...”
“Ya sure were puttin’ a lotta stock in that musty ol’ tome ya found,” AJ commented. “Y’know you don’t have to do all that just ‘cause a book says so, right?”
“No, I know, I’m no Twilight! It’s just...” She could hear Spike kick up a bit of hay. “I thought I’d finally found something that... that connected me to other dragons. Real dragons, wise dragons, not like those jerk teenagers I met.”
Applejack paused in her digging through old boxes, turning around to peer down at the little dragon from the upper floor. Concern was clear on her face and in her voice. “You still worryin’ yourself over that, sugarcube? You should’ve told us...”
“It’s not—!” Spike held up his claws defensively. “It’s not like before. You girls are my family, and I’m glad! But I still wish I could know about my birth family too.” He sighed and forced a smile. “Guess I better get used to wondering, huh?”
AJ smiled sympathetically. “Aw, try not to let it get to ya, li’l guy. There’s always a chance, right? Maybe you’re gonna find yer blood ties some day, an’ maybe not. But either way, you still got plenty of love ties, right here in Ponyville.”
Spike swallowed, eyes suspiciously bright. But his smile was far more genuine this time. “Thanks, AJ.”
“Don’t mention it. Now—” She suddenly grinned, teasingly. “If you can handle it without goin’ hogwild, I could use just a little bit of help with this box here.”
The dragon rolled his eyes, but he took the jab with the good humor that was intended. “You got it! What do you need?”
“I’m comin’ down the ladder with it backwards, so just keep an eye on it. Try an’ catch it if it slips, but don’t go gettin’ yourself hurt.”
The trip down went smoothly, Spike’s vigilance ultimately unnecessary (though certainly appreciated). He helped Applejack get the box up onto her back, and then the pair headed back to her house with it in tow.
“What’s in here, anyway?” Spike finally asked, once the box had been settled in the Apples’ living room.
Applejack tugged the top open. “Somethin’ like... old papers and photos, I think. From before the family founded Ponyville! Granny got all nostalgic after the reunion last week, so she said I oughtta go through ‘em and see what’s what.” She tipped the box over, allowing a stack of yellowed parchment to spill out onto the floor.
And right on the top of the pile was a black and white photo of a handsome stallion in a ten-gallon hat, snuggled up next to a dragon half-again his size.
Spike’s jaw was nearly on the floor, and Applejack could feel hers drop as well. “Wha... What the heck is that?” Spike stammered after a few seconds.
“My goodness, and here I thought that was just an old mare’s tale!”
Applejack’s head whipped around like an overactive lasso. “Granny? You know about this?”*
“I sure do!” Granny Smith replied, walking around her granddaughter to look at the photo. “Oh, gracious, it was before even my time. Rumor had it one of the Apple stallions was shacked up with a dragon for a few years! Never believed it myself, but it looks like my ol’ grandpappy was tellin’ the truth all along!”
Applejack flipped the photo over, mind still foggy with disbelief. Time had left whatever was written on the other side completely illegible. But Spike dug through the papers with a passion, claws finally capturing a sheet of parchment that looked as if a stiff breeze would dissolve it on the spot.
He read aloud: “I suppose I shall always wonder what could have been if things had worked out for me and dear Violet. But I don’t imagine society is ready for such a star-crossed love. Still, our time together was well spent. Wherever she and our adorable little purple eggs go, I hope they will always be well.”
Silence fell over the Apple household for a few seconds.
And then a pony and a dragon flung their forelegs and arms (respectively) open wide. “COUSIN!”