Pound was in a sour mood. Pumpkin had just blown him off for no reason. Okay, so there was a new student. So what? She could have introduced them to each other and they all could have eaten together. Or at the very least she could have told him politely that she was getting to know the new kid and she didn’t want to eat lunch together. She didn’t have to treat him like the scum of the earth.
“You alright, Pound?” asked Starry Sky.
“No!” he replied. “My sister is a complete jerk!” He jabbed angrily at his mashed potatoes, squashing them flatter and flatter. “Now that someone new has come along I guess I’m just yesterday’s news. I’m not good enough to hang out with anymore.”
She put a hoof on his shoulder. “Look, I know you’re upset, but there’s no need to get jealous.”
“I’M NOT JEALOUS!” he said fiercely, jamming a spoonful of food into his mouth, barely tasting it.
“Are you sure?”
“If she wanted some privacy she could have just asked for it like a normal pony. She didn’t have to push me away like that. That’s all!”
He kept stuffing food into his mouth, not even tasting it. When he was finished he went outside for recess, practicing his wing-ups again.
Starry Sky followed him, concerned for him. She kept quiet, though, giving him some space.
Pound was aware of her presence, and he was fully ready with an ‘I’m not a baby’ speech, but her silence kept him from using it.
“Aww, wook at da widdle baby,” came an all-too familiar voice. “Crying as usual because even his own sister doesn’t want to hang out with him. I guess she finally smartened up.”
Pound gave Drill Bit a dirty look, but otherwise ignored him.
Starry Sky felt bad for laughing at Pound in the past, who was trying so hard to improve. Even if she did it to fit in it didn’t agree with her conscience. “Aw, why don’t you leave him alone for once?” she snapped. “Don’t you have anything better to do?”
Pound’s glare cracked as he turned to Starry. She was sticking up for him?
“Oooh!” Drill Bit replied with interest. “Young love! It’s so adorable.”
Starry blushed. “It has nothing to do with love!”
“No, no, no.” He put a hoof out. “It’s okay. I understand. I’ll give you two your privacy.”
Starry growled as he walked away, laughing to himself. “Hmm?” she said as she felt a hoof on her shoulder.
“Thank you,” said Pound gratefully. “You didn’t have to do that.”
“Yes, I did,” she replied. “I hate him too, and I couldn’t just stand around and watch anymore. I don’t know why he always focuses on you. I’m not much better than you.”
Pound shrugged. “Who knows? But now you stuck up for the ‘flightless wonder,’ so you might get to be ‘lucky’ too.”
“If I do then I do.” She looked at the ground. “I’m sorry for laughing at you when you’ve been struggling so much.”
Pound gave her a hug. “Aw, don’t worry about it. Let’s go play some soccer with the other kids.”
“Okay,” she replied, and together the two of them ran off.
Pumpkin had filed outside with the other kids who had finished their lunch, and she had watched Pound’s latest encounter with Drill Bit. He seemed to have handled it well, especially once Starry got involved.
Until Masky had brought it up she hadn’t even thought about getting involved with Pound’s bullies. She’d support him when he was upset, but that was all. From what Pound said Drill was the leader, and the others just joined in with him. If she could get Drill to change his attitude then the others would likely follow suit.
There was no way she could take them five on one, and she wasn’t talking about fighting. Pound had a stubborn streak a mile long, and she’d seen how prideful he could be. She had to find a way to get Drill alone.
She thought about the other half of the equation. Talking things out would be best, but if it didn’t work? She’d seen Pound getting teased and Drill escaping punishment before. Was Masky really so wrong to suggest she take things into her own hooves? It wasn’t like she’d be getting him in trouble for no reason. He’d just be getting what he already deserved, right?
She glanced over at Masky. His face was like his name, a mask. She couldn’t tell what he was thinking, but she could feel he was waiting for her to proceed.
She put a hoof to her lips, feeling a tingle on them as she pictured him kissing her before. She squirmed bashfully, feeling her heart fluttering. He was just so cool.
She was feeling really motivated now. She could help her brother and get another kiss in one fell swoop. It was a win-win for everyone.
She left Masky behind, heading to the other side of the schoolyard where Drill Bit and his friends were hoof-wrestling each other.
Drill Bit was straining with a brown-coated colt, Sandstorm, both of them sweating as neither wanted to admit defeat. If she wanted to get through to him the best way to start was to appeal to his ego. That was one lesson she had learned long ago with Pound.
And so, even though she wanted to see him lose, she let out a whoop and said, “Come on, Drill Bit! You got this!”
All five of them turned to look at her. Drill recovered first, taking advantage of his opponents lapse to slam his hoof to the table. “Oh, yeah!” he said, pumping his hooves. “The winner!”
“Because you cheated,” Sandstorm complained.
“Not my fault you stopped paying attention,” Drill replied. He hopped off the bench he was sitting on and approached Pumpkin. “Well, well, well. What do we have here?” He seemed genuinely interested. “Aren’t you the flightless wonder’s sister?”
Pumpkin forced herself to keep smiling, even though she was smoldering inside. “That’s right.”
“Well, thanks for the encouragement. It was a big help.
“And what brings you over here? I noticed he threw a bit of a fit because you wouldn’t eat lunch with him. I guess you smartened up and know who to associate with.”
She feigned embarrassment, looking away and toward the ground. “Could I talk with you in private? Like, say, behind those trees over there?” She pointed to a small patch of trees in the distance. “I need to talk to you about-” She stopped, covering her face and shaking her head. “Oh, I can’t even say it out loud. It’s too much. Just don’t keep me waiting.” She didn’t give him a chance to respond as she trotted off with a skip in her step.
She smiled smugly as soon as she knew none of them could see her face. Her acting had been so smooth. She knew he’d follow. The mystery would propel him to.
Drill Bit looked after the departing filly, confused but interested.
One of the other colts, Nimbus, snickered. “Wow. Looks like she has the hots for you.”
Drill Bit spun around, perplexed. “Really? What makes you think that?”
“Oh, come on. Isn’t it obvious? Wanting to talk with you in a secluded place and too shy and giggly to state it outright; could it be anything else?”
Drill Bit stared at him for a couple more seconds before he burst out into laughter. “Oh, wow! Now that’s rich. I wonder what her dear brother would think about that information?”
Another colt, Heavy Downpour, gave him a few shoves. “Well, go on. Don’t keep the poor thing waiting.”
“Yeah,” said the last, Cumulus, before making kissing noises.
He rolled his eyes. “Give me a break,” he muttered, pushing his mane back. He wasn’t interested in her, but he always liked attention. That she was Pound’s sister was just icing on the cake.
Pumpkin gently tapped her hoof as she waited. She looked through a gap in the trees and saw him approaching. She also spotted one of the teachers nearby. It was perfect. If he changed his ways she’d let bygones be bygones. If he didn’t, then… well, he’d face justice.
As Drill came around he saw Pumpkin waiting expectantly for him.
“There you are!” she said brightly. “I knew you’d show.”
“So what is it that’s so secretive, hmm?” Drill asked, unsure what to make of things.
“I heard that you’re really talented at flying. Would you show me some moves?”
Drill got a smug look on his face. How could he resist an opportunity to show off? He unfurled his wings and took to the air.
Pumpkin watched him as he strutted his stuff. He did several loop-de-loops before heading straight down toward the ground. At the last moment he twisted his body, flying upside-down a foot off the ground. After a few seconds he put his hooves on the ground, pushing off and using the momentum to do a few more flips before he landed.
She had to admit that he was good. The worst part of someone full of themselves was when they could actually back up their boasting.
She clapped her hooves a few times to keep up the act, and he bowed in response. “Wow. You are good.”
“Thank you, thank you.”
“I’m not a pegasus, so I have no idea how to measure flying talent, but my brother says you’re the best in the class. Pound, well… he’s just not there yet.”
“Well, he can dream. Maybe by the time he graduates high school he’ll have some talent.”
Pumpkin grit her teeth a little. His arrogance was growing tiresome, but she had to maintain a professional, polite demeanor. “So what is it with you and him, anyway?”
“And what does that mean? I don’t associate with the little brat.”
“I don’t know.” She shrugged. “You seem awfully focused on him. From what I heard there are several other ponies that aren’t much better, and yet it seems you only have stuff to say about him. What, because he’s the worst in the class?”
“He makes the rest of us look bad. All of us are taking the same class, so why is he the only one lagging so far behind?”
“But don’t all pegasi grow at their own pace?”
“Oh, boy.” He rolled his eyes and then shook his head. “You see what you did right there?”
“What did I do?” she responded, curious.
“It’s because of ponies like you that your brother is such a loser.”
Pumpkin’s body tensed, and she had to take a breath to keep calm. Even though she was mad, she was still curious. “How do you figure?”
He sat down. “Do you know what separates the weak from the strong?” He lifted his front hooves, slamming one into the other. “Courage, guts, and will! Pushing yourself as hard as you can. My family is very competition based. We strive to be the best, and failure isn’t tolerated. That’s why I’m talented at what I do.”
He approached her. “As for your dear brother, what do you do? What does your family do?” He lifted a hoof, and gently tapped her head a few times. With a high-pitched voice he continued, “Oh, it’s okay for you to not fly. Just take your time. You’ll fly when you’re ready. No rush. Just be a little baby as long as you’d like.”
He turned away dismissively. “All you’ve done is handed him a ready-made excuse tied up with a bow for him not to improve.” He spun around back to her. “News flash! Success doesn’t come on a silver platter, handed to you with no effort.”
He got in her face. “If he can’t even take a little bit of teasing how can he expect to take on anything greater?” He let out an annoyed grunt before walking away. “I mean, come on! How long did it take him to learn how to do a simple wing-up?”
He turned around again. “My brother is in the Royal Guard in Canterlot. He’s not the captain, but he’s working his way up to it. And WHY? Because he put in the EFFORT.” At the last word he stomped his hoof. “I work hard every day to grow and improve my skills, so it frustrates me beyond belief when I see your doofus of a brother flailing about like an idiot and then throwing a tantrum because it’s easier than actually working for success.”
Pumpkin slowly breathed in. She held it for a few seconds, then let it out. Although she didn’t agree with everything she had to admit that Pound’s method of handling problems usually involved throwing a tantrum instead of trying to work through it. She could almost feel the bump on her head from when he slapped her into a display case during one of his phases.
“Well, Pound does have his problems, sure, but if you’re so good why don’t you help him improve instead of criticizing him?”
“Why should I? I push him, hoping it will motivate him, but he just keeps running and hiding.”
She gave him a flat look. “So let me see if I have this right. You think that making fun of him is helping him or something?”
“Hmph. You don’t get it at all, do you? You think I’m the worst thing that can happen to your brother? There’s far worse than me out there, and if he doesn’t stop goofing off he’s just gonna keep getting left behind. And it won’t be my fault. It will be his.
“If he was tougher and not such a wimp what I have to say would make him work harder, not hide under the bed and cry about how pathetic and useless he is.”
Pumpkin was reaching her limit. Whatever reasons he had for his actions they didn’t justify his behavior, and she was getting sick of hearing him insult Pound. She crossed her hooves.
Her plan of peaceful conflict resolution was fading into the corners of her mind. “Whatever it is you think that you’re doing you’re wrong. Ponies need encouragement and building up to grow, not name-calling and insults.”
“Tch. What a waste of my time. You’re just as bad as the flightless wonder.” Drill Bit turned away, shaking his head. “I’ll leave you to that failure of a pegasus.”
She had tried talking to him, to get him to understand. If he wouldn’t listen to reason, then she would have to force the issue. She looked around the ground, spotting a small, thick tree branch and lifting it up with her magic.
She could always attack him, but that wasn’t what she after. That wouldn’t solve the problem. She walked until she reached the last tree, peeking around it and seeing the teacher still nearby.
She took a deep breath as she moved the stick into position. She closed her eyes tight, bracing herself. She hesitated a few moments, not looking forward to what came next, but it would help Pound as well as prove herself to Masky.
She groaned, shaking a little as she took in a last sharp breath, and swung. Her cheek exploded with agony, the impact knocking her to the ground. She let out a genuine wail of pain.
The teacher heard her crying and rushed over. “What happened, Pumpkin?”
Tears forced themselves down her eyes. Her cheek was throbbing now. She hadn’t intended to hit so hard, but it worked well for what she intended. “I-I-I w-was just talking to D-Drill Bit about being nicer to my brother, and h-he went and hit me with a stick.” She put a hoof to her cheek, sucking in a deep breath.
Drill paused hard, almost around the other side of the patch of trees. “WHAT?” he replied as he spun around. He had heard her start crying, but he thought she was just being a baby.
“Unbelievable,” said the teacher. “Let’s get you to the nurse and put some ice on that.” She glared over at Drill. “You can come too, young stallion.”
“I didn’t do anything!” Drill said strongly, stomping a hoof.
“I don’t want to hear it. Let’s go!”
He sputtered incoherently, incensed beyond words. The little snot had framed him. He grumbled under his breath as he followed.
Halfway to the door she called over an aid. “I’m going to deal with this one. Apparently Drill Bit here hit Pumpkin with a stick. Could you take Pumpkin to the nurse for me?”
“Of course,” said the blue-coated mare.
As Drill Bit walked by he turned and glared at Pumpkin for a moment before continuing on. He wasn’t going to forget this. That was for sure.
The mare, Blueberry Pie, examined her cheek. It was already swelling up. “Ooh, that looks like it hurts.”
Pumpkin grimaced, nodding. Pained tears were still coming down her face.
“Would you like me to carry you, or do you think you can walk?”
She shook her head. “It really hurts. I’d rather just sit on your back.” She wasn’t even joking. Maybe it was because she was so tense, or because her eyes were closed, but it felt like she had hit herself full-force. She could barely think for the pain.
“Alright,” she replied, laying down.
Pumpkin climbed up on her back, and then the two headed toward the door leading inside.
Pound hadn’t noticed anything unusual. He always played far away from wherever Drill Bit and his goons were, and screaming and sobbing were basically background noise outside since it was so frequent.
His ignorance faded when Starry Sky took notice of something. “Hey, Pound,” she said. “Isn’t that your sister being carried away?”
Pound spun around. “Where?”
“Look at the mare heading for the doors.”
He strained his eyes, and he did indeed notice Pumpkin being taken inside. It was hard to tell, but it looked like she was crying. Any anger he felt at her vanished as he ran full out towards the two of them.
He caught up just as they had reached the doors. “H-hey,” he panted. “W-what’s… going… on?”
Pumpkin glanced over at him. “Let me down for a minute.”
“Are you sure?” Blueberry asked. “The sooner you get that ice pack the better.”
Pumpkin got off Blueberry when she sat down.
As she turned toward him he let out a horrified gasp and jerked backwards as he saw the puffy, blotchy skin on her cheek. “Who-what-why?” A few tears came down his own face.
“Seems some pony named, um, Drill Bit hit her with a stick.”
Pound went dead still. He couldn’t even breathe he was so overwhelmed with his feelings. Bad enough that Drill constantly picked on him. Now his own family wasn’t even safe.
Pumpkin lifted her hooves. “I need a hug,” she said pitifully, sucking in a breath.
His eyes slowly clenched shut, his body not far behind. He wanted to be furious. He wanted to chase down Drill Bit for hurting his sister. However, he was reminded of the situation with Tree Leaf. He had wanted to beat the colt senseless for throwing sand in his sister’s eyes, but Pumpkin’s pain had taken precedence, his love for her outweighing his anger at him. Twilight had praised him for that.
He was in that same situation now. Pumpkin was in front of him, needing his love and support. Anything else could wait until later.
He threw his hooves around her, holding her tightly. “Oh, Pumpkin! I’m so sorry.” Tears came down his eyes. Why did Pumpkin have to suffer when she wasn’t even involved?
“I love you, Pumpkin,” he said genuinely. “It doesn’t matter that you didn’t want to sit with me at lunch. I don’t care about that anymore.”
“I love you too, Pound,” she replied, holding tighter as well. As much as she was hurting Pound’s concern for her already made the pain more tolerable.
Whispering now she continued, “That’s why I did this for you. I hit myself harder than I intended to, but that smug little scumbag won’t be able to pick on you anymore once he’s expelled, will he?”
Pound once again went stone-still. Had he heard right? He couldn’t have heard right.
Pumpkin pulled out of his grip. “Thanks for the hug, Pound. I needed that.” She grimaced as her cheek throbbed. “And now I really need that icepack. I’ll see you later when I get back from the nurse.”
Pound wasn’t even conscious of them leaving. He sat there speechless, just staring at the ground without even seeing it ‘I hit myself harder than I intended to, but that smug little scumbag won’t be able to pick on you anymore once he’s expelled, will he?’
Those were the words Pumpkin had just spoken to him. He certainly wouldn’t miss Drill Bit if he was expelled, but that wasn’t what was troubling him. Pumpkin had deliberately set Drill Bit up. In an earlier time he might have laughed and slapped hooves with her about it, but right now he just felt sick to his stomach.
This kind of behavior wasn’t like Pumpkin at all. He didn’t know what had possessed her to do such a thing. Wanting to help him was one thing, but even if Drill deserved some punishment for his incessant teasing getting him expelled was going too far. It wasn’t right.
He put a hoof to his face, feeling a little faint. He pictured the swelling, blotchy mark on Pumpkin’s cheek, and a part of him wished that Drill Bit actually had attacked her. Or at least that Pumpkin hadn’t told him the truth. At least that way he could fully get on board with getting the colt kicked out of school.
He let out a moan. He expected that she told him the truth because of his previous violent streak towards others that hurt her, and she didn’t want to risk getting him expelled along with Drill Bit.
He walked towards the wall of the school a few feet away and practically collapsed against it, holding his stomach. It felt like it was burning.
“Pound?” said an uncertain voice.
Pound didn’t respond. He was too absorbed in his feelings.
Starry Sky sat down next to him, putting a comforting hoof over him. “Is your sister all right?”
Pound looked at her, his vision blurring from the tears forming. He struggled with the words to say. He didn’t want to rat Pumpkin out, but he didn’t want to perpetuate the lie she had created, either.
“S-she’ll be fine,” he said in a trembling voice. “J-just got hurt and needs an ice pack.”
“Well, you don’t seem fine.” She pulled him a little closer. “What say I be your ‘emotional ice pack’ for now?”
Pound sputtered, unable to get out a complete word. There was so much he could say, but he didn’t know if he wanted to say any of it.
He was afraid of things getting worse. He was distraught at Pumpkin’s injury, even if it was self-inflicted. And that she had done it to herself to get someone else in trouble also bothered him.
He finally gave up trying to speak and just sank into her hold, quietly crying, glad that she was there for him.