Masky slowly walked toward his hotel. He felt like at any second he might just collapse to the ground, but he held himself in check. He was aware of Rainbow Dash hovering in the air about fifteen feet behind him, keeping an eye on him to ensure he got ‘home’ safely. He had never had a home. Not a proper one anyway.
He spotted the hotel after about ten minutes.
When he reached the entrance he stopped and turned around. “This is it,” he said.
Rainbow landed in front of him. “You live in a hotel?” she said skeptically.
He went into his saddlebag and showed her his room key. “We travel a lot, so we never have a house to live in.”
“Whatever.” She leaned her head downward until it was in front of his. “Twilight is my friend as well as a princess. She told me not to get involved in all this, and I trust her judgment to handle it when she’s ready. However, I just want to make things clear that you hurt a lot of people I care about today, starting with Pumpkin and moving outward to Pound, their parents, and my friends. I don’t forgive such things easily, so you better smarten up and knock off this garbage that you’ve been up to, or else.”
She moved her head a few more inches until they were snout to snout. “I’ll let you fill in the blank on what that ‘or else’ is. Do we understand each other?”
Masky shook a little. “You’re threatening to beat up a child?”
“Did I say that? I certainly feel like breaking that camera of yours, as I don’t want to be in a picture with you like we’re best pals.”
Masky quickly put a hoof over his saddlebag.
She backed up. “However, that would be immature of me.
“I think we understand each other. I did what I was told. See ya.” She took off into the air to rejoin the rest of the gang.
Masky let out a deep breath. He supposed that was the best he could hope for.
When he settled himself he went to his room. Opening the door he saw his parents sitting at a table. They both looked at him with relief.
His father, Net Worth, was a yellow coated stallion with brown eyes and a light brown mane. He was still wearing his suit, tie, and hat. His cutie mark was a briefcase.
His mother, Swift Deal, was a green coated mare with a dark blue mane and eyes. She wore a decorative flower in her mane, along with a bow tie. The blue-tinted glasses she usually wore sat on the table. Her cutie mark was a contract waiting to be signed.
“Masquerade, honey, there you are,” said Swift.
“Hi, Mom,” he said quietly.
“I think you could have done better than to just leave a two word note saying ‘Going out.’ Next time, give us some more information, okay?” She gave off an air of command inherent in her line of work.
“That’s right, son,” said Net. “A location would have been nice. We had no idea when you’d be back.”
They were paying attention to him, which was nice, even if it was scolding.
“Sorry. I went to a friend’s house,” he responded.
That made both of his parents smile. “Would you look at this kid?” said Swift, hitting the table. “Just a few days in and he’s already a close enough friend with someone to get invited to their house.”
“No kidding,” Net said, “He’s got the instinctive power to draw others in. If you grow interested in business like us you’ll make a killing on the market.”
Masky also enjoyed the praise, but he didn’t want to tell them that he had botched the friendship and was probably due for a scathing lecture from their resident princess. “Look, I’m feeling tuckered out. I think I’m gonna turn in early.”
“Without any dinner? I could whip you up some mac and cheese.”
“No thanks. I’m not hungry.
“How was work?”
Swift’s eyes twinkled and she puffed up with pride. “Well, let’s just say they don’t call me Swift Deal for nothing. With a bit of prodding, some healthy persuasion, and a bit of flattery I got one of my biggest deals yet.”
Net laughed. “We knew we weren’t going to get any better than that, so we decided to pack it in for the day.”
“Mmm.” Masky shrugged. “You don’t have your usual mountain of paperwork.”
“Of course not. We were too worried about you to work.”
He felt a sting in his heart. They had been worried? But it wasn’t enough. “Well, thanks, but as you can see I’m alive and well.” He yawned. “I’m gonna hit the hay.”
“Are you okay, Masquerade?” asked Swift. “You’re looking kinda down.”
He turned away, walking toward his bed. “I’m… I’m just tired. I’m sure I’ll be better in the morning.”
“Goodnight, my little Masky. Tomorrow afternoon we should go see the sights. After closing this deal my commission should allow us to have a jolly old time. I wonder what you’ll get for your scrapbook this time.”
“Well,” said Net, “from what I’ve read about Ponyville this is where the Elements of Friendship live. It’s hard to miss that castle in the middle of town. Maybe we can get you a visit with Princess Twilight.”
Masky almost tripped over his hooves. He turned around, awkwardly smiling. “Uh, well, you’re too late for that. The aunt of my friend is one of the Element bearers, and we went on a picnic with the six of them. I already got those pictures.”
They looked at him a little wide-eyed. “What did I tell you?” asked Swift, chuckling. “His instincts are remarkable.”
“I doubt it was just a coincidence that led you to her,” said Net, tapping his head. “You were drawn to each other for a reason. You just didn’t realize it at the start.”
He spun around, feeling like crying again as he was reminded of his failures. He had lost both Pumpkin and his only opportunity to fix the problems in his life. He didn’t trust himself to speak without his voice giving him away. Let them think he was being rude.
He hopped onto his bed and slipped under the covers, shivering slightly.
In a hushed tone Swift said, “Net, do you think Masquerade is alright?”
He whispered back, “No, to be honest. He didn’t seem himself. He’s always been a strong kid, but I saw that pained look on his face like I’m sure you did.”
“Seems like something about his get-together went sour.”
“And he’s trying to cover it up. What do you think we should do?”
“Let’s give him a little space for now. If the feelings are too raw he’ll just get defensive and deny anything’s wrong. We can try talking to him tomorrow when he’s ready.”
Net glanced toward Masky, only seeing the back of his head. “Agreed.”
Opening his briefcase he pulled out some documents and a pen and started writing.
Swift likewise took out some papers and began to write several different proposals. She had already cleared the sale, but there was no reason not to bargain for a little more. The better news she had for their boss the better commission they received. They got covered hotel stays with room service as part of their roving employment, but their leisure activities primarily rested on how good of a sale they could make.
Even through his misery Masky could make out the scratching of pen on paper across the room. It was such a familiar sound. It was the sound of them not caring as they ceaselessly pursued their jobs. It was the sound of neglect as they went about their own business. And, worst of all, it was the only sound he was likely to hear the rest of his youth now that he had failed.
He had gotten Mayhem’s agreement to lend some of his powers. He had talked the draconequus into giving him exactly what he needed to fix things. Silent tears came down his eyes as he lambasted how close he had come, only to fall so close to the finish line.
Pound stared up at the ceiling of his room, his hooves behind his head. With everything that had happened they had decided to leave soon after Twilight. The mood was ruined. There was no going back to fun times after that.
He turned his head and saw Pumpkin sitting on her bed, curled up with a look of despair upon her face.
She was being quiet now, but it wouldn’t last. For the past few hours her emotions had been intermittently explosive. At times she would be a sobbing wreck, burning with loss. At others she was a raging demon, cursing Masky’s name and calling him every foul name she knew. After a while she’d burn out her feelings and become quiet and her expression would become like it was now, like she had given up all hope.
Every so often his parents or Pinkie would hover at the door, seeing if there was any change. All of them understood that Pumpkin would need some time to process things, and that too many ponies around her would only irritate her, so they left Pound to keep an eye on her.
He had made the mistake of trying to comfort her while she was in one of her angry moods, and it didn’t turn out well. All he had done was put a comforting hoof on her shoulder. Before he could come up with anything reassuring to say she had given him a death glare, and her anger became focused on him.
“Don’t touch me!” she snapped before hitting him in the face and then shoving him to the ground.
He realized then that she needed to just have her space, and he returned to his own bed to wait.
His fears from earlier seemed to be confirmed when Pumpkin started talking under her breath. “Don’t play with me. Like he really cares. Probably just using me to make himself look good.”
He remembered that time so strongly after what happened with Tree Leaf. He had experienced his first betrayal, and it had shook his world to the core. He lost himself, and began doubting everyone and everything, fear ruling over him. He was destructive and violent, miserable and sad, and yet all he really wanted was to come back to the way things used to be. When Fluttershy took him to Rainbow Dash she talked about her own experience with a betrayal by a friend, and how they had made up later on.
Sympathetic tears rolled down his eyes. He knew just how deeply it had to sting for her, given she had assaulted Twilight simply to continue her attack on Masky. Given how scared she had been that Twilight would banish her for accidentally sending him to the hospital, the fact she was so focused on revenge she would do whatever it took to hurt him was a little scary. It was like she was willing to risk banishment or whatever else would come her way.
He let out a slow breath. Was this really the way he used to be?
She continued her grumbling for a short while, but she caught his attention when her breath grew short and she fell into hiccupping sobs again.
His stomach clenched. He couldn’t stand to see her like this. When she hit a lull in her tears he got up and walked in front of her bed and stood there.
“I love you, Pumpkin,” he said. Simple words, but she wasn’t going to listen to grand speeches in her condition.
Pumpkin’s head shot up. “REALLY?” she yelled. “SOMEONE ELSE SAID THAT TO ME, AND HE TURNED OUT TO BE A BIG FAT LIAR!” Her eyes narrowed to slits. “Why should I believe you?”
“Pumpkin, you were there during those few days after Tree Leaf threw sand in your eyes. I’ve been where you’ve been.”
She glared at him, but didn’t respond.
“I did some terrible things back then. I ripped the head off your favorite stuffed animal and hit you so hard into a display case that I gave you a bruise. I said horrible things to everyone. I accused Fluttershy of planning to push me to my death off Rainbow’s house. And all because a person I thought I could trust, that I thought was going to be my first and best friend, turned out to be a jerk.
“When I asked Rainbow Dash how I could know who I could trust, she said that you can’t always know, but you should rely on experience. My whole life you and Fluttershy and Auntie Pinkie and Mom and Dad have always been there for me when I needed you, so I know I have nothing to fear from any of you, even if we sometimes fight with each other.” He put a hoof out to her. “Haven’t I always been there for you, Pumpkin? I’ve always loved you, now and forever.”
Pound waited, but Pumpkin just kept staring at him. She just looked for so long he thought she wasn’t going to respond to him. As he was preparing to talk he saw her gaze soften, and tears brimmed around her eyes again.
“I’m the biggest idiot in the world!” she said miserably. “You and Auntie Pinkie were right. I let my feelings get the better of me and was acting so stupid the past few days. I fell for everything he said and became a pony I didn’t even recognize. You must find me disgusting after everything I’ve done.”
“NO, PUMPKIN!” he said loudly, leaning forward. “I don’t! Weren’t you listening? I was just as stupid and moronic and destructive as you, but you forgave me for all of it.” He took in a sharp breath, tears streaming down his eyes. “Do you think I couldn’t do the same for you? I love you, Pumpkin! I had no idea if I was doing the right thing or not when I told you the truth, but I can’t be mad at you for what you’ve done because I was the same way. I went through this already myself, and I fully understand what happened with you.
“I felt so lonely during those days, and I don’t want to see you stuck like that. I want to help you through it.”
Pumpkin wiped her face. She hesitated, looking around uncertainly, before she tapped the space next to her on the bed. Pound quickly moved to sit by her side.
Pumpkin grabbed him tightly. “It hurts!” she said sadly. “I… I really loved him. I thought he was the best thing ever, but it was all pretend.
“Why?” She looked up at him, again looking on the verge of sobbing. “Why didn’t he love me back? Am I just ugly? Or too stupid? W-what’s wrong with me that he couldn’t return my feelings?”
Pound sighed. “I… I don’t know anything about romantic love, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you. He just didn’t feel the same way about you as you did about him. Not everyone gets lucky their first time.” He rubbed her shoulder. “You’ll get them the next time.”
Pumpkin’s eyes grew dim. “And what if the next one also doesn’t care about me?”
“Then you’ll just have to keep trying! Eventually you’ll find your special somepony that’s perfect for you.”
“Eventually… and while I’m searching I’ll be rejected by everyone until I get there. I don’t know if I can take all that pain until I find the right one.”
Pound nuzzled his cheek against hers. “No one said it was going to be easy, but no matter how bad things get out there your family will always be waiting to comfort you at home.”
Pumpkin was quiet for a few minutes. She thought of what Pound said about trusting experience. Pound always threw himself between her and danger, no matter how bad the odds. Just a short while ago he had begged Twilight for mercy for her, and was even willing to take on her punishment just to keep her safe.
“I’m sorry I attacked you before. As much as it hurts I… I’m glad you told me the truth.”
“Well, Auntie Pinkie was the one that talked me into it. She pointed out how the benefits of continuing to lie didn’t outweigh the negatives.”
She snuggled up close to him. “It’s too bad that you’re my brother, because I think any filly would be lucky to have you as a coltfriend.”
Pound chuckled. “Oh, I’m only good for showing off and being protective. Outside of that I think I’d drive anyone else crazy.”
Pumpkin let out a tiny laugh as well. “So what? You drive me crazy all the time, but it doesn’t stop me from loving you.”
“I guess so.” He squeezed her a little tighter. “I’ll tell you what. Why don’t I weight train so much that my muscles grow super huge, and I’ll tell your next coltfriend how much he’ll regret breaking your heart if he tries to hurt you?”
That got a small smile out of her. “I thought you were done trying to beat up other ponies.”
“I am… but he doesn’t need to know that, hmm?” He winked at her.
Her smile grew a little wider as she laughed. “I guess not.”
“How are you feeling, Pumpkin?”
Her smile faded. “I… I don’t know. It still hurts, but having you here next to me is like a big ‘ol band-aid for my heart.”
Pound grinned widely. “It’s what I do. It’s my job as your big brother.”
Pumpkin rolled her eyes. “You’re never gonna let that go, are you?”
“Hey, I was born a few minutes before you, and that makes it my job to protect you, little sis.”
“Yeah, well… you’re doing a fine job of it.” She turned her head and kissed him on the cheek.
Pound gagged, releasing his hold on her as he pretended to collapse and then rolled off the bed onto the floor. “Ack! Girl germs! My one weakness.”
Pumpkin chuckled again. “You’re such a goof.”
Pound grinned as he stood up. “If I can make you laugh it’s all worth it.” He put a hoof out to hers. “Come on. Let’s go join the rest of our family. I think you can use all the support you can get.”
Pumpkin lifted her hoof toward him, then brought it back a little, looking uncertain. “I will… a little later. I don’t want everyone asking me questions about how I am or how I feel. Right now I just want it to be the two of us. I don’t know how I’m going to feel when I see him tomorrow, but I don’t want to think about him or what happened anymore today.”
“Okay, Pumpkin. I understand.” He went over to their closet, pulling out their favorite board game. “You ready to go down?”
“Bring it!” she said with a smirk that didn’t quite reach her eyes.
They played a few games, and Pound deliberately let her win when it wouldn’t be too obvious he was doing so. He could see Pumpkin was into the game, but every so often her face would grow melancholy.
When they finished playing Pound was getting hungry, and he could hear Pumpkin’s stomach rumbling as well. He dragged her out of the room to get some food. “Come on,” he told her. “You don’t have to talk about anything.”
Reluctantly she came downstairs with him.
Cup, Carrot, and Pinkie were all cleaning up the store and the kitchen.
“Hey, there!” said Pound brightly.
Carrot looked up from the table he was scrubbing of a stubborn stain. “Hey, Pound.” He noticed Pumpkin behind him. “Hello, Pumpkin. How are you-”
“Eh-eh-eh!” Pound put up a hoof before he said any more. “Pumpkin doesn’t want to answer any questions. We just came down here for a little dinner.”
Pinkie wiped some sweat from her brow. “Alright, Pumpkin.” She made a motion across her mouth. “My lips are sealed.”
Pumpkin relaxed. “Thank you.”
“What would you say to macaroni and cheese?”
Pound nodded. “Sounds good.”
“Coming right up.” She went into the kitchen.
After Pinkie went in Cup came out. She walked up to her children and gave Pumpkin a hug. “I love you, Pumpkin.”
“I love you too, Mom,” she replied.
“I heard what Pound said, so I’m not going to push you either, but I’m here to listen if you want to talk.”
The rest of the night passed by uneventfully. They had dinner and then spent some quiet time together as a family. Pound cuddled up with their mom while Pumpkin did the same with their dad on opposite ends of the couch. Pinkie sat in the middle.
Few words were spoken between them as they enjoyed the warmth of the fire. It was a time for bonding, and to show Pumpkin that their love was still there for her.
Pumpkin showed no desire to leave the comfort of the heat and companionship. She just let her brain shut off and focused on the feelings she had for her family. Like Pound said, she had way too many experiences with her family to doubt their affection for her. She had nothing to fear from them. She wasn’t sure about romance anymore, but honestly she wasn’t interested in it at the moment. She had her parents, her aunt, and her brother nearby. That was enough for now.
In the morning Pumpkin woke with a sense of dread. She would have to see Masky again, and she really didn’t know what she would do when she did. If she went ballistic again she’d be kicked out of school for sure, and she didn’t want that to happen.
Now that she knew his secret how would he react to her? Would he ignore her and pretend like she didn’t exist? Would he tease her and mock her and try to make her snap? Would he try and frame her for something? Would he try to start a relationship with a new filly? She didn’t like almost any of the possibilities she came up with, but she thought the one that would be best for her sanity is if he ignored her.
Pound and Pinkie were encouraging to her as they walked to school, but it did little to ease the tightness in her stomach. She was scared of him and what he might do to her.
She walked toward her classroom, each step feeling like it took forever. She walked inside, her face clenching up as she looked at his seat… and saw that it was empty. She wasn’t sure if that boded well.
She took her seat at her desk, looking at the empty seat as if he might suddenly materialize inside it. As upset as she was with him, she did wonder where he was.
Masky felt like a total wreck. He had spent most of the night crying, and had barely gotten a wink of sleep. In the morning his parents went through their usual routine before taking off. They had tried to wake him for school, but he told them he wasn’t feeling well. When they got a good look at his exhausted face they relented.
“You just lie down and rest, okay?” said Swift, leaning over and kissing his forehead.
“If things get worse then let us know, okay?” His father gave him an enchanted envelope. When the envelope was sealed it automatically sent the contents of it to his father’s briefcase with a similar envelope. When a letter was sent this way it would blink green and emit a low humming noise.
After a little more fussing they left. Once more he was left alone with his thoughts. Sure, he had a way to contact them, but what did it matter? If they really loved him wouldn’t they have stayed home from work?
He tossed and turned, but no matter what he couldn’t find any escape from the disquiet that plagued him. He felt broken, but who could fix him? His parents were too busy for him, he had ruined things with Pumpkin and Pound, and most likely all the Elements of Friendship and Spike hated him. Twilight might help him out of obligation, but most likely only after scolding him and punishing him for his actions.
He thought of Mayhem next, and he once again gave it up as a lost cause. But even if he had ruined things with the little draconequus his words echoed in his ear. ‘You haven’t experienced how incredible Fluttershy is until you’ve had one of her famous hugs.’
He could almost feel her hooves around him as he pictured her kind eyes. Even if she was upset with him he couldn’t stand staying in bed all day. He thought it would drive him insane.
He went into a cupboard and forced himself to eat some food, even though he had no appetite.
He then went to his parents side of the room and went into their drawers, pulling out a map of Ponyville. From talking with Fluttershy he knew her house was right in front of the Everfree Forest as well as near a river. If he could get the general idea he thought he could find it himself. Worst came to worst he’d just have to ask someone. As famous as she was he doubted anyone wouldn’t know where she lived.
He threw on his saddlebag, grabbing a bottle of water and his room key before heading out.
Each step he took felt like it might be his last. A part of him just wanted to collapse right there on the ground and stay there, but he persevered.
He felt a little better as the cottage came into view. He just hoped Fluttershy was home. As the Element of Kindness maybe she could provide a little comforting and care.