“Hey, Pumpkin,” said Pound. “Could you help me out with something?”
Pumpkin set down the book she was reading. “Sure. What do you need?”
“I want to practice doing some loops, but I’m not comfortable doing it by myself.” He pointed to his face, where he had a nice black and blue from where he had crashed into the swing set pole. “So I figure you can use your magic to stop me from going out of control.”
“I can do that.”
The two of them went outside.
Pound took off, going about twenty feet before turning and heading back toward her. As he was about to pass her he angled himself upwards, staying in that position as he looped around. Or tried to, anyway. He tried making too big of a loop, and didn’t wind up making the full rotation, leaving him flying upside-down ten feet in the air.
Pound gulped, feeling slightly dizzy, unsure of how to correct himself so he just kept flapping before spinning around and heading straight toward the ground.
Pumpkin focused, stopping Pound’s momentum until he could regain control.
Pound let out a sigh of relief, giving her a grateful smile. Pumpkin returned it.
Pumpkin was patient with him, spending a full hour helping him with his practice. She didn’t want him to get another large bruise.
Pound went slower through the motions, counting on Pumpkin’s magic to keep him airborne as he got more used to the process.
When they were through he ran over to her and gave her a big hug. “Thanks so much, Pumpkin!” he said brightly, nuzzling her face. “I love you!”
Pumpkin hugged him back. “I love you too, Bro.” She let out a little sigh. “I’m glad that you’re doing so much better with your flying, but I'd appreciate it if you spent a little more time with us at school. Me and Masky feel kinda lonely without you.”
“Oh,” he responded, pulling away to look her in the eyes. “I didn’t think of that, but we spend our last class together.”
“I know, but it would be nice if you’d stop working until you drop during lunchtime. You spend the rest of recess exhausted.”
Pound bit his lip, looking away for a few moments before turning back to her, putting his hooves on her shoulders. “I’m sorry, Pumpkin, but this means too much to me. Now that I’ve gotten off the ground and I’m finally making real progress I can’t slow down now.”
Pumpkin mimicked his action, turning away before returning her gaze to him. “I understand, Pound. But why is it so important that you beat Drill Bit?”
“I don’t know. I just…” He looked down at the ground. “I felt like a total loser before I started flying. I was jealous of my classmates and jealous of you. I guess I’m just scared that if I slow down I’ll be exactly like I was before.”
“It’s good to take a rest to recharge yourself every so often, you know?”
“I know, but that’s not the only reason.”
“What else is there?”
He told her about his conversation with Drill Bit in the nurses office. “Something is off in his life, and I think I can get to the bottom of it. Just like you helped Masky to confront his parents over his real feelings I think I can do the same with Drill Bit.
“I felt terrible when Drill Bit turned me down about going to our birthday party and then said he didn’t get what his brother changed for. I went to Twilight because I felt like a failure again. She cheered me up by telling me she was proud of me for doing my best, but I feel like I’m going to get a second chance to do things right this time.”
Pumpkin chuckled. “You’re such a dork.” She hugged him again. “But that’s what I love most about you.”
Pound smiled. “Thanks for understanding.”
He let out a little sigh. “It’s not going to be easy. Drill Bit has a lot of pride. If I try to just ask him about things he’d say nothing was wrong. I have to wait for the right opportunity.”
“Well, if anyone can do it then I know you can, Pound.”
“Thank you, Pumpkin.”
Pound continued his training over the next two weeks, with Pumpkin devoting time after school to help him stabilize when he practiced his upside-down flying. Knowing Pumpkin was there as a safety net allowed him to put all his focus on mastering doing loops, because he knew she wouldn’t let him fall. It took the better part of a week before he felt he had it down.
Although he waited his prime opportunity didn’t come. Drill Bit hadn’t disclosed any more of his real feelings to him.
As unfortunate as that was he was still proud of his growth. As he thought of his ugly duckling philosophy again he reflected on who had taught him about it in the first place, and he knew there was something that needed to be done that was way overdue.
He went up to Pinkie Pie and asked, “Can you take me to visit Scootaloo?”
“Hey there, Pound,” said Scootaloo as she opened the door. “What’s up?”
“Are you busy?”
She shook her head. “No. Not right now.”
“Cool. Can we go for a walk?”
Pound was walking with his head held high, so Scootaloo didn’t think he was upset about anything. Still, she didn’t break the silence, letting him decide when to talk.
He looked up at her warmly. “I just wanted to say thank you.”
“Thank me? For what?”
“Do you remember the last time I came over?”
It took her a minute, but the memory came back to her. “Oh, yeah. You were feeling down because you were being teased about not flying.”
Pound nodded. “I don’t actually want to go for a walk.”
She looked at him questioningly. “Then why did you bother asking?”
Pound giggled, unfurling his wings. “I actually want to go for a fly!” he said, jumping up and gaining air, hovering near the roof of a house.
Scootaloo’s eyes widened a bit before she returned his warm expression from earlier with one of her own. She took to the air, getting on his level. “So you finally did it, huh?”
He nodded. “I actually started flying the day after my birthday, but I’ve been working really hard to make something of myself. A lot’s been going on recently. I made sorta-friends with my bully, and now we’re sorta rivals with each other. He’s the one that helped me get the hang of things until I could start doing it on my own. And now that I’ve started flying he’s finally really interested in me.”
“Very cool. So you want to tell me about it?”
As the two flew around Ponyville he gave her the rundown of his history with Drill Bit, how Pumpkin had framed Drill, how he had impressed the colt with offering to take the beating he wanted to give to Pumpkin, and how Drill Bit accepted his offer to train him.
“It was a big mess for a while, honestly. Even with his help I didn’t seem to be getting any better. It felt like every time I tried to get into the air I just panicked because I was too nervous about falling. So one day he gets his friends to fly up in the air holding me above them, and then he had them suddenly let go of me.
“It worked… for a few seconds, but just that little bit of hovering by myself was all I needed to give me a huge confidence boost, because I knew now that my wings weren’t defective. I was just getting in my own way. It was all downhill from there. And then the day after my birthday it finally happened for real. I could hover and glide, but before that but I couldn’t gain air.”
Scootaloo chuckled. “I’m glad to hear that. Like I told you when you came to talk to me I was almost twelve before I started flying for the first time. I nearly gave up so many times, but you know Rainbow Dash. She wouldn’t let me quit. She told me that I just had to keep trying and practicing, and eventually I would capture my destiny, and she was right.
“The very first time I flew… it was one of the happiest moments of my life. Like with your story, just a few seconds of true success was all it took for me to get inspired to soar higher and higher.”
Pound landed, Scootaloo following. Pound’s eyes grew misty as he looked at her. “I owe it all to you, Scootaloo. That pep talk you gave me did more for me than you’ll ever know.
“You were right. I was an ugly duckling, and only I could make myself shed those duck feathers to become a swan. Whenever things started getting hard and I felt like quitting I just had to keep reminding myself that it was my responsibility to make myself grow.”
He threw his hooves around her. “I love you, Scootaloo!”
Scootaloo let out a breath, warm tears coming down her eyes as she returned the gesture. “Love you too, kid. Keep on kicking butt.”
He looked up at her with a toothy grin. “You got it. My classmate is running circles around me no matter how hard I try, but I know one day I’ll take him down.”
“I sure hope so.”
“Come on, Drill Bit,” said Sound Barrier. “You don’t want to be late.”
“Yes, Mother,” Drill replied.
“Shouldn’t be much trouble for you, huh?” said Finish Line.
“No, Dad. I’ll be sure to win the race.”
Finish looked at him oddly. “Something wrong, Son? You don’t look that fired up today.”
Drill just shrugged. “It’s boring to always win. And I’m just more interested in other things these days.”
“Nonsense!” said Sound. “Your future awaits, and it’s only going to be as great as it should be with those accomplishments on your record. Your brother will soon be going back to the Royal Guard, and not long after he’ll be the new captain. If you ever hope to take his place one day it all starts now.”
“Your mother’s right. Drill,” said Finish. “You’ve been a champion since you were a toddler, and the more you win the better your odds of attaining your dreams. Whether it be for a sports scholarship, the Wonderbolts, or the captain of the Royal Guard, it’s your resume that is going to catch their eye. It proves your determination and skills before you even walk in the door to apply.”
“And,” she winked, “it gives us plenty of opportunities to brag about you.”
Drill smiled a little at that.
His father rubbed his head. “Our son isn’t going to grow up a loser. You’re worth far more than that.
“We don’t have great wealth or connections to make things easier, so all we can do is help put you on the right track to achieve your dream on your own merits.”
“And honestly,” said Sound, “it’s better that way. Victory should be achieved through your hard work and nothing more. And you definitely have the skills for that.”
Drill felt conflicted. He enjoyed the praise, but something just felt wrong and he didn’t know how to explain it.
His smile became a little more forced. “I won’t let you down.”
Both of them beamed. “We know you won’t, Son.”
He let out a quiet groan as he headed toward the starting line.