As soon as Pound got outside he started running. He headed towards an empty part of the schoolyard, and just ran. The exercise focused his mind on the moment. He felt the slamming of his hooves on the grass, heard his panting as he tired. He kept running in large circles until he was gasping for breath and he was forced to stop.
He lay on his back, sucking in large breaths of oxygen, feeling the rapid beating of his heart. He felt a bead of sweat travel down his nose.
The exercise helped him feel a little better. He had worked off his nervous energy.
Pumpkin’s head came into his vision. “What was that all about?” she asked.
Pound was still getting his breathing under control. “I… I…” He huffed a bit, unable to properly form a sentence.
She sat next to him, pulling him to a sitting position. “You dolt. You’re just gonna make yourself more sick.”
He leaned against her, closing his eyes. After another minute he felt he had recovered enough to talk. “I just… needed a good run, is all. Sometimes you just feel all cooped up, and need to run.”
“If you say so.”
Pound glanced over at Masky, who was keeping his distance, and felt some of his tension return. For the time being he couldn’t decide what was the right thing to do. Pinkie was right. He didn’t know anything about matters of romantic love, so he didn’t know which would hurt Pumpkin less.
Even if his love was a lie he hadn’t hurt Pumpkin. Directly, at least. He had set up the circumstances that led to her being hurt and being bad, but she wouldn’t have any reason to do anything like that again. That being the case, he saw little reason not to allow their relationship for one more day while he gathered his thoughts.
He threw a leg around Pumpkin. “Thanks for being concerned about me, but that run was just what I needed. I’m okay now, but I’d still like to take it easy, so you two go have fun.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’m sure. If I start feeling worse I’ll just call a teacher and go to the nurse.”
Pumpkin stared at him uncertainly. Finally she said, “Alright, then. But stay somewhere visible.”
She gave him a big squeeze, and he returned it. “I love you, Pound.”
“I love you too, Pumpkin.”
This time when he glanced at Masky the colt was looking downtrodden. It was almost like he was jealous or something, but he bounced back quickly when Pumpkin turned to him.
As the pair headed off to play Pound sat against a tree observing them for a minute, before he began to think. He had to get his jumbled thoughts under control.
He thought of everything Masky had said in their conversation. Masky was a fantastic actor, as he had demonstrated when recounting his story of how he had met Princess Celestia. That being the case everything he said was suspect. It was going to be nearly impossible to determine what was true and what was just another lie.
Was there anything he believed right off the bat about Masky’s words? ‘Yes,' he thought. If nothing else he believed the first thing Masky had told him: he didn’t love Pumpkin. That he could believe without difficulty.
He also believed that he had told Pumpkin to do what she did. He supposed, in a twisted way, that it fit. Even if she got in trouble that wouldn’t interfere with their relationship. He retracted that thought immediately. If she was found out she’d get suspended or expelled, and then she wouldn’t be able to see him at school, so she’d be heartbroken anyway from missing him.
As much as he disliked what Masky had done, he believed that this was something the colt just hadn’t considered rather than indifference. He noticed that Masky had a somewhat adult vocabulary, or at least used several big words, but he was still a kid. He couldn’t take every factor into consideration.
The problem came from the rest of what he had said, some of which was contradictory. He had claimed to pretend to love her to keep her happy, but then later claimed to have manipulated her for his own amusement, not caring if she got in trouble or not.
He put a hoof to his head, feeling a headache coming on, but he had to press on. Masky’s backstory; he had said something like lies are all one has to hold onto for some ponies. He pretended to be cool and confident to cover up his insecurities. His parents spend a lot of time working, so he’s alone most of the time. And while that would make it an ideal time to have friends over, or go to their houses, he knew that he’d lose those friends once they moved.
He debated over that for several minutes. He thought back to when his first friend Tree Leaf had betrayed him by throwing sand in Pumpkin’s eyes. It had freaked him out, causing him to question whether he could trust anyone. How could someone claim to be a friend, yet do something that blatantly went against what you stood for?
He had ‘tested’ his family then, to see if they were trustworthy. It was hardly a fair test, as there was no way to pass. He had been destructive and foul-mouthed, pushing them until they broke and got mad at him, thus ‘proving’ he was right.
He had never felt so lonely as he did during those days. He was feeling such inner turmoil, but when he faced his family he smugly smiled. He laughed, even though he wanted to cry. Much like Masky, he had been playing a role.
While there was no way to know for sure, he did believe that part of Masky’s story too. The kid had forgotten how to trust and love, and was just a big fake, knowing no other way. Maybe that explained the look on Masky’s face when he and Pumpkin had hugged before and told each other they loved them. Except when they had some big fights like the recent one they were never lonely at home because they always had each other. Masky had no one.
As for telling the truth… that was too big an issue to think about at the moment. Pumpkin was so happy with him, and he didn’t know if he could ruin that for her, even though it might be better in the long run.
He pushed himself forward, and then leaned back against the trunk of the tree, his hooves behind his head. He glanced up at the cloudy sky above, feeling like he didn’t know anything anymore.
Life was so complicated lately. It had been so simple before they went to school. Right and wrong were easy concepts. He had no doubts about which were which, even though he chose to ignore it sometimes. But it was about nothing major. Just stuff like sneaking a cupcake at night, or staying up past his bedtime to read a comic book with a flashlight.
Now… now there were deep secrets, and hard questions that didn’t pose an obvious solution. Was it wrong for Pumpkin to frame Drill Bit? Absolutely. Was it just as wrong for him to keep the truth a secret to protect his sister? He tapped his hoof against the ground a few times, thinking of how Masky told him he was lying too.
Pinkie Pie came up with a solution for the issue, which would include another lie, but she acknowledged it as being the wrong thing to do. She only came up with it to spare him from pain, so that would make him keeping quiet wrong.
She had posed to him the question that wouldn’t it better for Pumpkin to get in trouble with a teacher than get into trouble with a student burning with a need for revenge? Even though Drill Bit deserved punishment all he had been doing is teasing him. The teasing hurt a lot, but it wasn’t the sort of thing he should be kicked out of school for.
And wouldn’t Drill be justified in seeking revenge? If someone had set him up he knew that would hurt him and anger him and make him want that pony to get in trouble, even if he had to do it himself.
Pumpkin was talked into framing another student for not changing his ways of being a bully. She justified it as saying she wasn’t getting him in trouble for no reason, which would definitely be wrong, but because he had always escaped punishment for his actions. Was it bad for Pumpkin to take on the role of being the one who enforced punishment, sneakily finding a way to have him caught for his past actions?
Masky had confessed to him his love of Pumpkin was false, but she was content with the act. Masky himself had mused on whether it would have better to just reject her from the start, or to let her hold onto her love until he was forcefully separated from her when he moved.
He hadn’t forced her to love him. She had done it on her own, and he made the decision he thought would make her happy. If he, Pound, was in the same position, would he favor a painful honesty over sparing someone pain?
He wondered if Pumpkin ever had these kinds of thoughts, or if she found no difficulty in these kinds of difficult choices of right and wrong.
Pinkie had told him that no act makes a pony good or bad. It’s how they feel about an act that determines whether they’re good or bad. At the time he was being horrible he didn’t feel guilty for attacking Pumpkin or breaking his parent’s stuff, but after Rainbow Dash talked to him he felt horrible about it.
He sighed. He wanted to be a good pony, he really did, but he wasn’t sure what being good really meant anymore. There seemed to be no right answers, only a choice between two equally morally gray options. They both contained some things that didn’t fully agree with his conscience. So what was ‘right?’ Should he just try to choose the one that felt the least worst?
He felt like he was just running around in circles mentally. He didn’t think he had the knowledge or experience to decide this sort of thing for himself. He needed an adult. His mom, or Auntie Pinkie, or Twilight. Without some kind of guidance, someone to really talk his thoughts and feelings through with, he just felt overwhelmed with questions.
For the time being, he would put them aside. He felt ready to go play with Pumpkin and Masky. He felt calmer now, now that he had a plan of action.
He stood up, looking for the pair, and his heart went into overdrive. On the other side of the playground the two of them were right across from Drill Bit’s lackeys.
He hopped up immediately and started running, cursing himself for not talking to Pumpkin earlier. The last thing he wanted was for her to frame them too. ‘Go, legs, go!’ he screamed inside his head, trying to make himself go faster.