Starlight Glimmer sat in the midst of the destroyed toolshed, simply staring at the remains of it strewn around her. She knew that there was only a matter of seconds before she’d hear Twilight’s voice, before the world would start to move again, and she’d have to begin feeling the consequences of her actions. But for a moment, she was caught there in the stillness, with time utterly stopped. In that moment, she was completely wrapped in her own failure.
“Starlight, what have you done!” Twilight’s voice came.
The moment passed.
“I…I…” she stammered out as she looked around her at the remnants of farming equipment, shattered boards, and gardening tools. “I… didn’t mean to.”
“What did you do?” Twilight simply said again, shaking her head in open disbelief.
Starlight tried to put her thoughts into words, but they were so jumbled and disjointed that she still stuttered as she spoke.
“I was… trying to organize Applejack’s shed. You… you said I should try to help ponies before they even ask for help. And… Applejack was saying that she was so busy, and she didn’t have time to clean up, so I thought I would… you know… help?”
“But how did it become, well,” Twilight gestured broadly to the ruins. “This?”
“Well, I tried putting everything away by hoof, but it was taking so long, so I made a spell that was supposed to have the tools put themselves away, but instead they all just tried to do their jobs all at once and… they destroyed each other.”
“Starlight,” Twilight said in a groan, pressing her hooves over her face. “What have I told you, time and time again about overusing magic for simple tasks! What will Applejack say when—”
“What in the hay is this?!” Starlight heard Applejack shout from behind her.
She winced and turned very slowly to find the orange pony standing here, open-mouthed, expression wavering between horror, anger, and sadness. Starlight knew she should be the one to say something, but as she opened her mouth to speak, she heard Twilight talking instead.
“AJ, I’m so sorry! She was just trying to follow my advice.”
“I was trying to help, that’s all! Things just went wrong!” Starlight Glimmer said emphatically.
Now Applejack’s expression fixed onto one look: Anger.
“Of course it went wrong!” she snapped. “Whenever ya try to do anythin’ with magic, it always goes wrong, and ya keep doing it anyhow!”
“My family built this shed! Back when my mama was alive!” Applejack was shouting now. “And it took ya just minutes to destroy it.”
“I-I can fix it!” Starlight said quickly, and reach out for the nearest broken board to her.
Applejack trotted forward, and ripped the board from her grasp, glaring.
“You’ve fixed quite enough, thank ya very much,” she said coldly.
Starlight looked on, hooves and heart empty, as Applejack turned her back. Her form was shaking, but then Starlight saw the other pony’s shoulders rise and fall once. When she spoke again, her voice was much calmer.
“I know you’re trying to learn to be a better friend,” she said, gently but firmly. “I get it. But can ya do it someplace away from me? Someplace where your mistakes won’t hurt anypony or anything?”
With that, Applejack began to walk away. The words hit like a dagger between Starlight’s ribs. She sat there, body sagging, and stared again down into the wreckage she had caused. Once more, she felt swaddled in the blanket of her mistakes, present as well as past.
“Applejack,” Twilight said softly. “I don’t think—”
“No,” Starlight said hollowly. “She’s right.”
She stood up, keeping her head down and refusing to look at either pony. She could feel her legs shaking slightly, and she resisted the urge to run out of there at top speed for just a moment longer.
“No matter what I do, it’s never going to be good enough, is it?” she asked, not really expecting or wanting an answer. “I’ll always screw it up somehow, I’ll always find a way to upset you. And in the end… you’ll never trust me.”
“Why would you? Why should you?” Her voice was rising in tone, and the tremble was increasing. “It’ll just never be enough. For anypony. Even me.”
“You can’t just give up on friendship, on trying to redeem yourself!” Twilight said, and Starlight felt the princess’ hoof touch her shoulder. She violently shied away, and shot the purple pony a sharp glare.
“Watch me,” she snapped.
She was suddenly so angry. Angry that Twilight had convinced her to try, angry that she’d proven herself to be a failure over and over again. She’d failed as a leader, failed as a friend, and failed at redemption more times than she could count. She was tired of trying. She was tired of not being good enough for these ponies who had proclaimed themselves her friends. She was tired of trying to force herself into a mold that felt so unnatural. She was just tired of trying to exist in this life and in this body.
Maybe friendship just wasn’t for her.
She saw Twilight again reaching out to her, out of the corner of one eye, and she felt a sickening dip in her stomach at the prospect of even being touched. She felt nausea even thinking about physical contact or any show of affection or intimacy. She didn’t want it. Didn’t deserve it.
She began walking at a brisk pace away from the scene of her latest mistake. She didn’t give Twilight even another glance, she just kept walking in the opposite direction. Each step lined up with an individual heartbeat, and both felt painful.
“Starlight! Wait!” she heard Twilight shout from behind her, but she didn’t wait. She didn’t stop.
Enough was enough. It wasn’t, she wasn’t worth this fight.
“I’m done,” she said.
She’d originally meant to say it to Twilight, but it came out quiet enough that only she could hear it. The words tasted sour in her mouth.
As she entered her room in the castle, Starlight shut the door firmly behind her and turned the deadbolt. This was a place that had been her haven, her comfort when she felt like she was falling apart inside. Now, it offered no solace.
She looked over the room, seeing the gifts her new friends had given her to try to spruce up the place. A flower-lined mirror from Fluttershy. Glittering curtains from Rarity. A signed picture of Rainbow Dash. The cake Pinkie had given her was long gone. And, most of all, a comforting rocking chair from Applejack. They made her feel prickly inside, like she was being poked from all angles.
She’d assumed they were her friends, her first real and true friends that wouldn’t leave her. But were they really? She felt a sinking sensation that, in reality, she was a project. She was a means to making Twilight feel useful, like she was doing her job and bettering ponykind. She was a problem to be fixed, and one that was now becoming more effort than she was worth. She could see that now, feel it. They weren’t her friends, they were her keepers. There to make sure that she stayed on the straight and narrow, and proved that anyone could be redeemed.
“I’m sorry,” she told the gifts filling her room. “I have to let you all down one more time.”
She knew it couldn’t be done. And she couldn’t be their failed project anymore.
Wordlessly, Starlight went to her dresser and puller out her shabby suitcase, the one she had brought here herself. It was one of the only things in the room that was truly hers. In it, she packed her tea set, a few clothes that she’d bought with her own bits or brought along. She packed her brush, her blanket, a photo album of her time in Ponyville, and that was all. She shut the case, and turned the lock on it. It gave a soft, final sounding click.
She had to do this now, she told herself. Before she overthought it. She had to leave, had to find who she was outside of these ponies who watched her, waiting for her to slip up. No one trusted her, and she couldn’t even trust herself. She had to learn to do that.
With a deep breath, she opened the bedroom door and walked heavily down the stairs to the main hall.
Just as she reached the bottom of the staircase, she heard the front doors swing open with a scrape, and Twilight Sparkle was standing there, staring at her. A lump like a heavy stone began to form in Starlight’s throat, and it stuck there, choking her. The princess strode forwards, mouth opening to speak, and hoof reaching out for her bag. Starlight knew that if Twilight touched her, took that suitcase from her, it might break her resolve. she might crumble, might stay. But she had to do this. She had to leave. Now.
She swiftly sidestepped Twilight’s hoof, and kept walking past her without looking up. She focused on the next step of each hoof, zeroing in on the exact movement she needed to make next.
“Starlight?” she heard Twilight say. Her voice was almost pleading.
But Starlight didn’t turn. Didn’t reply. She knew Twilight needed her, in a way, needed her to be there so she had an issue to fix, a shabby stone to try to polish into a gem. But she couldn’t help her. She had to focus on herself now if she had any hope of finding any worth inside her. She doubted there was redemption to be had, but it couldn't come from somepony who couldn't trust her.
Before she knew it, her hoof steps were crossing the threshold of the castle. Then, she was standing on grass, and she was pulling the door closed behind her. As she heard the door latch, she shut her eyes and bit down on her lower lip.
“Well… at least I got to say goodbye,” she whispered to herself.
Only then did Starlight Glimmer finally allow herself to begin to cry.