In the morning Cup Cake came into the twin’s room. “Morning, everyone!” she said loudly to the sleeping children.
Pound mumbled something.
“Mornnnnn-” Pumpkin only got out half the word before she let out a sleepy groan.
“Who’s ready for some breakfast?”
Masky slowly sat up. “Food sounds good,” he muttered, scratching his head.
Peppermint let out a loud yawn as she sat up and stretched. “What’s for breakfast?”
“Pancakes,” Cup replied.
Pound already felt his mouth watering. “Mom makes the best pancakes.”
“Well, thank you, Pound.” She started heading for the door. “I’ll leave you to wake up.”
“Excuse me?” said Flurry.
“Yes, Princess?” she replied, stopping and turning.
“Is pancakes our only option?”
“You don’t like pancakes?”
“I do, but I’m kinda in the mood for some French toast.”
“I can do that. Anyone else want something a little different?”
Tree Leaf raised a hoof. “Do you have waffles?”
“Sure do. At least you’re all asking for things you can put syrup on.
“Well, I’ll be downstairs. Come when you’re ready.” With that she left.
For the next two minutes the children shook off sleep, getting up and stretching.
“So how’d everyone sleep?” asked Pound with a yawn.
“Like a rock,” said Masky. He walked over and hugged Pound. “Thank you so much for being my friend.” He squeezed a little tighter. “It’s so nice to have friends that I don’t have to leave.”
Pound grinned, hugging him back. “Well, we’re happy to have you too.”
“Speaking of,” said Pumpkin, “how are things going with your housing situation?”
“Pretty good,” he replied, letting go. “Their boss was pretty disappointed that they couldn’t travel around anymore, but he still really appreciates them for all their years of service. They’re going to be the head of the Ponyville branch of the business, which should create a lot of jobs. Right now we’re still living in a hotel, but their boss pays for that as a business expense.
“They told me that it could take a while before everything gets settled. Things are still a little lonely right now, but that’s okay. I can take it.”
Pumpkin frowned slightly. “I hope you’re not just saying that.”
Masky grinned. “I mean it, Pumpkin. When I finally worked up the courage to tell my parents how I was feeling they immediately changed their actions for my sake. Right now they’re still working a lot, so I can’t have my parents the way I want to, but just knowing how much they want to be there for me is enough.
“And besides, I have all of you. If I ever get too lonely, I know all of you are there for me. In another month or two maybe I’ll be inviting you to sleep over at MY house.”
Pumpkin didn’t look quite convinced. “And we’d definitely come, but I just feel bad.”
“If I asked my parents to stick around me it’s only going to make it take even longer before everything is fixed and I can have them more often. Besides, my problem wasn’t only with my parents. I also felt like I couldn’t make friends. I mean, I got to experience my first sleepover, and it was a total blast.”
He walked up to Pumpkin and hugged her. “Thank you for worrying about me, but I can take a little bit of loneliness now for a lifetime of happiness later. As long as I have my friends I don’t have anything to worry about.”
“Alright,” Pumpkin said, hugging him back.
Flurry sniffed the air. “Mmm. I think a batch of French toast is calling my name.”
Mayhem bounded for the door. “Let’s go eat!”
“Don’t have to tell me twice,” said Tree Leaf.
The children all sat down at the table, Cup Cake setting down damp cloths for them to wipe their hooves on.
She got their food preferences, as well as a choice between apple juice and milk, and after everyone had a plate and drink they all began to dig in.
Flurry speared a piece of toast, putting it in her mouth. After she swallowed her first bite she said, “Delicious!” It didn’t take long before half the plate was gone.
“I guess it’s to your liking?” Cup asked with a giggle.
Flurry gave a big nod. “It’s great. I think you make it even better than our royal chef.”
Cup blushed slightly. “I’m glad you enjoy my cooking. There will be more if you want.”
“I’m definitely having seconds… if you don’t mind. I don’t want to seem greedy.”
Cup patted her head, grinning. “It’s a pleasure and a delight to bake for someone that appreciates my cooking. Eat to your heart’s content.”
The bell rang on the front door.
“Good morning, everyone,” Twilight said cheerily as she walked into the kitchen.
“Hey, Twilight!” Pound called out, raising a hoof to her and waving. “Would you like some pancakes?”
“Sure,” she replied, then looked at Mrs. Cake. “If, that is, you have some to spare?”
“Of course, Princess,” said Cup Cake. “What flavor would you like?”
“Hmmm… blueberry sounds good.”
“Coming right up.”
Pumpkin levitated a chair towards the table between Flurry and Masky. “Have a seat,” she said as she shoved another piece of pancake in her mouth.
“Don’t mind if I do,” Twilight replied.
When she was seated Flurry said, “Good morning, Aunt Twilight.”
Twilight put a hoof around her. “Good morning, Flurry. Did you sleep well?”
She nodded. “It was the best first sleepover ever.”
“You said it!” said Tree Leaf.
“Right on!” said Masky.
“Mmm-hmm,” agreed Peppermint.
“I loved it,” said Mayhem.
“Well, well,” said Twilight. “Unanimous approval on all sides.”
Flurry swallowed a bite of toast. “I’m ready to go home, Aunt Twilight.” She speared another piece. “After I finish breakfast, of course.”
“Oh?” Twilight said curiously. “I thought for sure I was gonna have to fight you tooth and nail to get you to agree to go.”
“I’m not afraid anymore, Aunt Twilight. I know that no matter far apart we seven are we’ll still always be friends. So I’m not worried. Our hearts will always be united.”
“I see.” She smiled warmly at her niece. “I’m glad you understand that.”
“Mayhem made us all those magic connected journals so we can talk to each other whenever we want.”
“Besides, I miss Skyla. She slept through the whole party.”
“Yeah,” Pound said, setting his head on his hoof. “We never did get to play with her like we wanted.”
Flurry let out a little sigh. “I just wish that the kids in the Crystal Empire could be more like you guys.”
“I got an idea,” said Mayhem. “Open your wings, Flurry.”
She looked at him questioningly, then shrugged and unfurled them to their full extent. As always she felt a little self-conscious about them.
Mayhem lifted his claw into a snapping position. “With my magic I can change things for you. I can shrink your wings down to a normal size, then nobody will make fun of you for that anymore.”
“You can do that?” she asked.
“Mayhem,” Twilight said in a stern voice, “I don’t think you should be messing with someone’s body like that.”
“Why not?” he asked. “I’m not forcing her into it. She can decide for herself, so what’s the problem?”
“The problem is that her parents may not approve of you permanently changing Flurry’s appearance.”
“But her parents said that all they cared about is Flurry being happy,” said Pound, “so why would they be mad at her doing something to not be picked on?”
“Yeah,” said Pumpkin. "And if it really bothers them he can always change it back.”
Twilight looked between the children for a few moments. “I guess you have a point. If Flurry is making the choice of her own free will then I guess I can’t stop her. I just don’t think such radical changes to one’s appearance should be done without thinking about them first.”
“I have been bullied a lot.” Flurry got a melancholy look on her face. “I remember it. I remember the pain of everyone looking down at me, or being jealous or afraid.”
“Hmph! Alicorns already have more magic than the rest of us. Do they have to show off with their wings now too?”
“Big winged freak!”
“Look, today was okay, I guess, but I don’t want to be your friend. I only did this because my dad told me to, and he thought it would get him in the Royal Guard.”
“What, are you part dragon or something? Why are your wings so huge?”
“L-l-look, I’m sorry I spilled grape juice on you. Let’s just pretend today never happened. We never met, okay? OKAY?”
Flurry set her fork down. “So many kids never saw Flurry Heart. They saw an alicorn. They saw a princess. They saw gigantic wings. But for everything they saw… they never saw ME.” A tear came down her eye. “I tried to make friends, but it never went anywhere. And because I was so afraid, thinking that I had to become strong enough to protect an entire empire at only six, when other ponies pulled away from me I didn’t even try to fight to keep them.”
She looked up. “My parents dragged me out here, but even though I was rude and dismissive you didn’t abandon me.” She flapped her wings a few times. “And when I showed you my wings you didn’t laugh at them, or think it made me too weird.”
She turned to Mayhem. “And that was the worst part of it. Even though I felt horrible when other ponies called me a freak I still called you one. I’m really sorry about that.”
Mayhem shook a claw in her direction. “Well, I am pretty different. It hurt, sure, but we’ve already made up.”
“The point is…” She sniffed, tears coming down her face. “When I showed my whole self to all of you, it didn’t matter. Like Aunt Twilight said, when you saw me you saw a pony. You didn’t see just an alicorn, or a princess, or an enormous winged oddball. You saw ME. It was such a relief.”
She closed her eyes, taking a few deep breaths. “I… I made my decision. I want to keep my wings exactly as they are.”
It was what Twilight hoped to hear, but she couldn’t help but be curious. “And why is that, Flurry? Don’t you think the teasing would slow down or stop if you had normal sized wings?”
“Some of it would, but that’s not the point. When I went up to Pound and Pumpkin’s room with everyone they all talked to me like an equal. They weren’t afraid of me, and they didn’t look down on me for being different.
“Pumpkin, you said last night that even if Mayhem didn’t use his magic to make the party so random it still would have been just as enjoyable, because you valued him for him, not for what he can do.”
Pumpkin nodded. “Yeah, I said that.”
“I could ask Mayhem to make my wings smaller, or just remove them entirely, and look like just an ordinary pony to other people. However…”
She looked around at all of her friends, smiling widely. “All of you love me for me, just like Mayhem. We became best friends despite our differences. Changing my wings or getting rid of them might make other ponies like me more, but if I have to change myself THAT much just to be loved like the ponies that accepted me for everything I am already, then THEY’RE not the kinds of friends I want to have.”
Standing up on her chair she began flying. “I’m Flurry Heart, the freakishly big winged alicorn princess, and I’m proud of it! And if someone can’t accept me for ALL of me like you can then who needs them? They’d never be as good friends as all of you.”
“Awww,” said Pumpkin. “We love you too.”
Twilight was beaming as Flurry got back in her seat and started eating again, looking calm and happy. “That was a very mature thing you decided, Flurry. Peer pressure can be a big problem growing up. Sometimes we are so invested in others approval that we’ll sacrifice who we are just to continue being liked.
“That being said, however, you aren’t completely in the right.”
“What do you mean, Twilight?” asked Peppermint.
“There are two things Flurry said that are very significant. The first is that Flurry said she did the exact same thing to Mayhem that others did to her. Others have called Flurry a freak because of how big her wings are for her age, and yet she called Mayhem a ‘mix-and-match freak.’”
“But why does that matter now?” asked Pound. “You said to us during one of our talks that even princesses and adults can make big mistakes, so shouldn’t she be forgiven for her mistake?”
“Very true. The point I was making is not to make Flurry feel bad, but to understand that a first impression can play a big part in how we perceive one another. When Flurry first saw Mayhem she thought the same thing about him that others thought about her. When she got to know Mayhem her initial bias against him vanished and she grew to like him.
“The reason I invited Flurry here is so you other children can help her open up about her issues. In other words, I set things up for the best chance of success. I was involved in most of your conflicts, so I knew all of you and your personalities beforehand. You won’t always be so lucky to be in that situation.
“Now, the second thing, and the point I’m making, ties directly to the first. Flurry also said that when she ran into conflicts with potential friends she just let them go because she was too busy worrying about being forced to save the world as a preschooler. Now that you know that won’t be the case, and your parents have already planned for all your fears, I believe you can give friendship a true chance in the Crystal Empire.”
Flurry looked down. “But what’s gonna change?” she asked.
“Things can change now because YOU’VE changed. You feel more confident in who you are, and you know what you will and won’t stand for. However, just like with what happened between you and Mayhem, you also understand that sometimes it takes a little while to warm up to someone that looks different.
“The point is that you can’t expect everyone else to do the work for you, as friendship is a two-way street. Just like you and Mayhem, a pony might not accept you for you right away, so it falls on you to show them it’s worth it to change their mind about you. If a pony thinks you’re going to blow them up for making a mistake in front of a princess then it’s your job to reassure them that it’s okay to screw up. If someone thinks your big wings make you just a freak then show them that there’s more to you than just that one quality.
“It won’t always work. There are those close-minded kinds that still won’t be able to look past your outer qualities to the great inner you that shines inside, but it falls on you to cultivate and pursue those that look like they will be able to do so. Out of a hundred children you may only find three that see the true Flurry and appreciate you for all you are, but you’ll treasure those three far more than three hundred pretenders.”
Flurry looked around at the friends she had made. Among the children she had played with she could definitely think of five or six that she probably could have become true friends with if she had put in the effort and hadn’t been so deep in a river of terror.
She nodded. “Alright. I’ve got a couple of ponies in mind that I might be able to win over. And even if it goes horribly wrong and none of them give me a shot I know I’ve still got all of you waiting here for me.”
“Very good, Flurry,” said Twilight.
After breakfast all of them hugged Flurry and wished her well.
On the way towards the train station Twilight couldn’t help but let out a few happy tears at the pep in Flurry’s step. All of the children were on their way. Things had gone better than she could have ever dreamed. Her belief in the twins had not steered her wrong.
One by one Peppermint, Tree Leaf, and Masky were picked up by their parents. Mayhem said his goodbye’s himself and teleported back to Fluttershy’s cottage.
Now that everyone else was gone it felt so quiet. “I miss our friends already,” said Pound with a little sigh.
“Me too,” said Pumpkin. “But we can always play again another time.”
“I know.” He hugged her. “Happy seventh, Pumpkin.”
“Happy seventh, Pound,” she replied as she hugged him back.
“Our sixth year was pretty wild. I wonder what this year will bring.”
“Who knows? All I know for sure is that as long as I have you to look after me I’m not afraid.”
“The same to you.”
Carrot grinned at his children. He always loved to see them getting along.
The two of them moved to their room. Pumpkin sat down to read a book, while Pound took Champ out for a walk, things feeling normal once again.
When it was close to their bedtime Pound realized that with the craziness of the past day and a half he hadn’t gotten any practice in. He thought of the wish he had made, wondering how long it would take to come true.
He unfurled his wings, stretching them and rotating them in their sockets to warm them up. He then sat on the floor and began doing wing-ups.
It felt just slightly off. Maybe it was just his imagination, but it felt like there was less strain as he pushed himself off. He also could have sworn he was ever so slightly higher above the ground at the peak than he was the last time he practiced. The difference was so slight that he quickly dismissed it and focused on his practice exercises.
When he had worked up a good sweat he stood up to catch his breath and give his wings a short break. After that he jumped and started flapping hard.
“Hmm?” He definitely felt the reduction of strain as he hovered… except he wasn’t hovering. As he looked down at the ground his eyes widened. His head shot upwards at the ceiling. It was definitely getting closer to him. He was propelling himself upwards!
“Heh. Heh heh. Heh heh heh.” He started laughing a victory laugh, slowly at first but it soon blossomed into a full-body experience where he was practically shouting his joy.
Pumpkin frowned at the noise. “Pound, do you have to be so loud over-”
She gasped, dropping her book as she saw Pound almost touching the ceiling of their room. She hopped off her bed. “Pound! You’re flying!”
“I’m flying! I’m fllllllllyyyyyinnnngg!”
He angled himself downwards in a small circle, then tilted his body upwards as he kept flying, his heart soaring as much as his body.
Pumpkin felt oddly emotional as she thought to her wish the night before. Finally, all of Pound’s endless hours of practice had come to fruition. He had been so miserable and jealous of her, but now he could finally stand beside her in skill. She felt so happy for him.
“I DID IT! I DID IT!” Pound just got louder and louder, too focused on his success to even think of controlling his voice. Joyful tears came down his eyes. “WOOHOOOOOOOOO!”
It didn’t take long to get the attention of his parents. “Pound, what is all that-”
Just like with Pumpkin, the words got cut short in their throats as they saw Pound flying around.
“Oh, my,” said Cup, her legs feeling weak as tears came to her eyes. “Oh, Pound!”
Carrot put a hoof around his wife, his head against hers as he started tearing up too. Not for an instant would they think of taking this moment away from him. After all his talk of feeling inferior to everyone, telling her he felt worthless and at one point even saying he’d rather just get his wings cut off than go back to school, now he had finally accomplished his dream.
Pinkie opened her door to see what all the yelling was about, and saw Cup and Carrot just standing outside his door as she came down the stairs.
As she got close Cup turned to her, a joyful look on her face and happy tears running down her cheeks. That got her even more curious.
She looked in the door, and just like the rest she was speechless as she first saw it before she dissolved into tears as well. “Pound, you did it!” she cried out as she ran inside.
Pound looked down at her. He beamed. “That’s right!” Angling himself he descended, landing right in her hooves as he hugged her. “I did it, Auntie Pinkie! I really, really did it!” That was all he could get out before he lost himself in his emotions, sobbing uncontrollably.
Cup and Carrot took that as their cue to join in on the hug. “Way to go, Pound!” said Cup. “We always knew you could do it!”
“All you had to do was believe in yourself!” said Carrot.
Pinkie moved her hoof a little so Pumpkin could get in and hug him too. “Now both of you have embraced your special talents. We’re so so so proud of you!”
Pound’s emotions got to them until all of them were breaking down right along with him.
A spider on the windowsill chuckled. “Took you long enough to figure it out,” it said as it phased through the glass, turning into the form of Discord.
He watched the happy family lost in their happiness for a short while, feeling some of their emotions infecting him as well. He’d seen enough. “Happy birthday,” he said as he vanished with a snap of his claw.