Pound and Pumpkin had been walking aimlessly for a while. They were so lost in their own thoughts and pain that neither of them was being the leader. They were only partially aware of each other, unconsciously changing direction when they noticed the other did.
“Do you think they know yet?” Pumpkin asked in a small voice.
“Maybe,” Pound replied emotionlessly.
“What do you think they’ll do when they find the note?”
“Get mad and come looking for us so they can punish us and yell at us some more. They already hate our guts. They’ll only be mad that they have to waste their time getting us back.” A trace of anger entered his voice.
“Yeah. You’re probably right.” Pumpkin let out a sigh. “So where should we go? We can’t just wander around all night. We need to sleep eventually, and once its morning it will be easier to find us.”
Pound let out a weird, high pitched laugh.
“What?” Pumpkin asked, confused.
“This is great!” he said, a note of excitement in his voice. “Just think about it! No rules! No bed time! We can do whatever we want whenever we want and nobody can tell us what to do.”
Pumpkin looked uncertain. “I don’t know about that. We still need a place to sleep and what not.”
“We’ll figure something out.”
“We need to do that NOW!”
Pound rolled his eyes. “Don’t be such a killjoy. The entire world is open to us. Don’t you want to explore?”
Pumpkin looked behind her, her stomach still feeling tied in knots. “But… Mom and Dad…”
Pound glared at her. “Just shut up, Pumpkin!” he said nastily, and she looked back at him, hurt. “Forget about them! They don’t want us anymore! Don’t you get it? They hate us because we were horrible kids, so now they don’t have to worry about us bothering them anymore.
“I’m just trying to make the best of things and enjoy our new freedom. If you’re gonna be such a stick in the mud then I’ll just go off on my own and leave you too.”
He regretted the words the moment they left his mouth. The pained look and the tears forming in her eyes killed his bad mood in a heartbeat. He quickly hugged her. “I’m sorry¸ Pumpkin. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.”
She was shaking in his hooves, gently sobbing. “You’re-you’re all I’ve got left.” She sniffed a few times. “Don’t ever say that.”
He squeezed her tighter. “I understand, Pumpkin. I was just being a brat. I wouldn’t really leave you all alone.”
She hugged him back. “Don’t scare me like that.”
“I’m sorry,” he said again.
“Oh!” came a voice ahead of them. “Hello, you two.”
Their heads whipped around, seeing Fluttershy walking toward them.
The twins hearts began racing. Putting on a bright voice he said, “Hi, Fluttershy! How are you?”
Pumpkin forced a smile on her face, asking, “What brings you out so late?”
She turned a little, showing her blinking cutie mark. “I was summoned by the Cutie Map.” She shrugged a little, saying lightheartedly, “I don’t know why it couldn’t have requested us in the morning.” She raised her head a little higher and looked around. “Where are your parents?”
Pound did some lightning quick thinking. He turned his head, pointing with his hoof. “What do you mean? They’re right-” He broke off as he saw no one there. He turned back to Fluttershy. “Oh, no! We were on a nighttime stroll, and I guess we got too far ahead of them.”
Turning around and curling up he began to fake cry. “I’m scared! It’s so dark!”
Pumpkin hesitated before following Pound’s lead and freaking out too.
Fluttershy felt concerned over the two. The map may have something important it wanted her to do, but the kids were a higher priority right now. She walked up to them, pulling them both to her. “There, there,” she said comfortingly. “Don’t cry now. I’ll protect you.”
Stifling his noises Pound said thickly, “You will?”
“Of course I will,” she said lovingly. “After all, I’ve foalsat you guys a bunch and love you very much.”
Pound flinched, feeling like he just got struck in the gut. How was Fluttershy going to feel when she heard what they had did? She wouldn’t still want to hug him then.
Pumpkin was likewise flushing with shame and guilt.
Pound guiltily pulled away from her comforting hold, not feeling he deserved it. Forcing a sense of calm he said, “No one is going to be home at our house since our parents are out, and Auntie Pinkie probably got called by the map too. Do you think we can go to your house? You have a bunch of animals and even a big bear that can protect us and keep us company.”
“Hmm.” Fluttershy felt a little torn, still feeling the sporadic vibrations coming from her cutie mark. Did she have time to wait around for Cup Cake and Carrot Cake to come home? They would be expecting the twins to be around.
She looked over at them, and she felt a pain in her heart. There was something… off about them. They just didn’t seem their usual cheerful selves. She could tell it was about something more than just losing their parents. She had watched them enough to be able to tell that, at least. They both had a thousand yard stare, looking like the weight of the world was on their shoulders. They were far too young to look so old. “Pound, Pumpkin, are you two all right? You don’t look well.”
The two of them just kept staring off into space. “Hey!” she said a little louder, and still nothing.
She walked up to them, pulling them close again. “Come on, you guys. I know something is troubling you. Talk to me.”
This time when she pulled away the two of them were looking at her like they were about to begin sobbing. Their mouths opened and closed a few times, like they were struggling to say something important. She leaned down to their level. “Come on. You can tell me.”
Pound and Pumpkin felt like they were about to explode. Both of them wanted so bad to just cry and fall into her hold, to tell her everything, but they were too scared… too afraid. Fluttershy was the kindest pony they knew… even more than Auntie Pinkie Pie. If she found out, and she gave them the same kind of look Auntie Pinkie did… it would only mean that they were completely unlovable, and that was completely unbearable. It was more than they could take. They both wanted comfort at the moment, and they didn’t want Fluttershy to know their secret just so she could hate them too.
Something came to Fluttershy then. She recalled a similar scenario a few months ago where she had seen the twins on their own, scared and anxious. That time they had come to her to hide because they had ruined Pinkie’s big cake and didn’t want to get yelled at. They had panicked, unsure of what to do.
This was a little bit different. They didn’t seem scared. They looked disheartened and emotionally exhausted, holding in something far too big for them to handle. A sympathetic tear came down her eye.
Making up her mind she picked the two of them up and began flying back toward her house.
“H-hey!” Pound complained. “What are you doing?”
“You said you wanted to come to my home, right?”
“O-oh,” Pound said dully, sighing heavily. Neither of them protested the rest of the way.
When they arrived she shifted the twins so she could get her door open. Most of her animals were already asleep. She flew up to her room, setting the two down on her bed before turning on the light. She helped them out of their saddle bags so they'd be more comfortable.
“There we go!” Fluttershy said cheerfully.
Pumpkin feebly waved with her hoof. “Well, goodbye, then,” she said in a grim voice, her head on a hoof.
“Y-yeah,” said Pound, tears brimming in his eyes as he curled up. “Thanks.”
Neither of them were looking at her.
Fluttershy felt a few more tears come down her own eyes. She couldn’t stand to see how heavy the weight was crushing them. She shook her head. “I’m not going. I’m staying here with you.”
With mild interest they turned slightly toward her. “But you have to go,” said Pound. “That’s your job.”
“Yeah,” added Pumpkin, “The map sends you places so you can spread friendship across Equestria.”
She shook her head again. “I understand that, but I wouldn’t be worthy to teach others about friendship if I could just ignore those who need my help right in front of me. Whatever the situation is it can wait until I’ve helped you solve your problem.”
The two of them finally looked directly at her, starting to shake as her words washed over them. “Y-y-you really mean that?” Pumpkin asked, having trouble catching her breath.
“Of course I do,” Fluttershy said tenderly, “because I love you two. I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself if I abandoned you now when you’re both screaming out for help.”
The two of them threw themselves at her, squeezing her tightly as they gently cried. Fluttershy had basically just told them she considered them more important than the rest of Equestria. In their pain and despair it was like a breath of fresh air, making them feel like maybe things could turn out alright after all.
Fluttershy hugged them back, closing her eyes as she put all her love and kindness into her hold. “See? You’re starting to feel better already.” They looked up at her, tears streaming down their eyes. She knew there was more work to do. These were only little cries. They had a huge cry inside them wanting to come out. She hadn’t yet truly reached into their hearts, but she was at least thankful that the blank, expressionless faces they had were gone. If she kept gently pushing them she was sure they would gradually open up.
After a few minutes she gently sat them back on the bed. “Are you ready to talk to me yet, or do you still need some time? When I found you two you looked like you were crying.”
The two of them looked at each other, before Pound looked at the floor and began kicking his legs restlessly. “Me and Pumpkin got into a fight. She got me mad, so I said if she didn’t stop bringing me down I was going to leave her all alone. When I saw how sad that made her I got sad too, and I apologized.
“T-t-that’s all that happened.”
“I see.” Fluttershy noticed that the new information he had just shared contradicted their earlier story about being out with their parents. If they really had thought their parents were close behind them as they walked then saying he was going to leave his sister all alone didn’t add up. She didn’t dispute the inconsistency. They were starting to open up to her, and she didn’t want to lose the momentum by doing something that would cause them to shut themselves away again.
They began to do it again, looking at her and opening their mouth like they wanted to say something, but they didn’t have the courage to.
Fluttershy knew she needed to phrase her words very carefully. The right words might help her get to the bottom of the matter, but the wrong ones would get them defensive or angry. “Do you guys trust me?”
“Of course, Fluttershy!” Pumpkin responded instantly.
“Yeah!" said Pound. "You’re the nicest pony around, and you never try to hurt anyone.”
“Do you remember some time ago, when you guys ran away from home?” There was a jolt from the twins, and they suddenly grew stiff, their eyes growing wide. Their reaction was all the confirmation she needed. They had definitely done a repeat of the last time.
Continuing as though she hadn’t noticed their response she said, “When you came to me you asked me for a Pinkie Promise to not tell anyone you were here. When Pinkie Pie came to my door looking for you I felt stuck. I didn’t want to leave Pinkie freaked out, but I had given my word to you that I wouldn’t tell you were there, and I considered your feelings and emotions as important as an adults. I don’t feel it’s right to treat children as less important or valuable as someone older, just because they’re not as mature or intelligent.
“I want to help you two, but I can’t help you solve your problem if you won’t tell me what it is. I promise you that I’ll be understanding. Whatever it is you’re going through we can work through it together, but only if you’re willing to put some faith in me. I kept my word to you the last time, didn’t I? Will you trust me again this time? I can understand if you’re not ready to tell me yet, though. I’ll wait up the whole night until you ARE ready.”
It was getting to be too much. The pain was becoming overwhelming. They didn’t know how much longer they could endure. Fluttershy was giving them such an empathetic expression. Maybe… if it was true… then perhaps things could get better. Fluttershy could put in a good word for them.
She patiently waited while they struggled, shivering in fear as they slowly worked up the nerve.
After about ten minutes Pumpkin finally began talking. She was staring hard at the floor. “M-m-me and Pound had our first day of school today.”
“Magic Kindergarten,” Pound added.
“That sounds lovely,” Fluttershy said serenely, still not wanting to talk much.
“M-m-most of the day was a lot of fun, but me and Pumpkin got into a big fight because I did something stupid. She was really mad at me, and she wouldn’t accept my apology.”
“We both got into a shouting match,” Pumpkin continued. “We started saying the meanest, worst things we could think of to hurt each other, and we would have begun hitting each other if our teacher didn’t come in right then.”
They were quiet again. Fluttershy held back from saying anything. The two of them weren’t crying yet, so she knew they hadn’t yet reached the big event, the thing weighing them down so much.
Minutes passed, and still Fluttershy didn’t intrude upon the silence. She was going to let them come to her on their own. She had done as much as she was able. It was up to them now.
The both of them were breathing heavier, their breaths coming in sharp little gasps. “F-F-Flut-t-t-tershy?” Pound stuttered, his eyes filling with tears. “D-d-do you promise you’re not gonna hate us?”
She gave a nod. “I give you my word.” She kept her response simple, doing her best to hold her emotions in check. She didn’t want them to hold back because they were upsetting her. This was about them and their pain, not about her. Such a question made that hard. She so wanted to just grab the two of them and tell them she loved them a million, billion times until they believed it, but there was a poison in their souls they needed to relieve, and all the kind words in the universe wouldn’t make a difference until they got it out.
Pound wiped his face as the tears came down. “After we separated we both started talking about how annoying our siblings are. Our classmates agreed, talking about how annoying THEIR siblings were. I started feeling better until they began making fun of Pumpkin.”
“Same with me,” added Pumpkin, “When they started calling him stupid and other stuff I got really mad.”
Both of them were being quiet again, those blank expressions coming back. Fluttershy saw they needed a little push. “Okay, then. So you two began fighting in school, and then you split up and were upset at each other. But when some other kids started talking bad about them your anger transferred over to them.” They both gave small, jerky nods. “Okay, so what happened next?”
She saw them both clench up a little, moving away from her a bit. “I made a promise to you two that I would listen without judgment. I need you both to trust me not to lash out. You’ve spent enough time with me to know I’m not like that, don’t you?”
She could see the fear flitting across them, looking up hesitantly at her. Not for the first time she could tell how badly they wanted to just let it out.
Pound put a hoof over his stomach. It was hurting, feeling like worms were crawling around in it. His head went down, slowly curling up into a ball to protect himself. “We… we… I…”
As Pumpkin saw him getting close to spilling it she moved her body so far away she was almost horizontal. She sputtered out a few incoherent words herself.
Finally, Pound couldn’t take it any more. In a rush he said, “MeandPumpkinattackedtheotherkids.”
An eyebrow went up. “What was that, Pound?” she asked gently.
He buried his head into her knees. In a muffled voice he repeated, “Me and Pumpkin attacked the other kids.”
Pumpkin flinched as the words finally came out, looking anywhere but at Fluttershy as her body filled with fear. Quietly she added, “We both got kicked out of school.”
Fluttershy looked curiously at the pair. While she didn’t condone violence a part of her couldn’t help thinking, ‘Is that all?’ The pair had got into tons of fights, both physical and verbal, in her house or when she had visited. What made this one so special?
Holding his legs he closed himself up as much as possible. “The principal got really mad and yelled at us.”
“Then Mom and Dad and Auntie Pinkie came to pick us up. They got mad too. When we-we-we got home Mom and Dad yelled at us too.”
Pound’s head popped up, tears pouring down his eyes. “Auntie Pinkie didn’t yell. She didn’t say anything at all. She just… just…”
Pumpkin was crying now too. “She gave us this look. She was so disappointed. She wouldn’t talk to us all day.”
“She wouldn’t even look at us.”
“And when she did it was always with that look, like she wanted to yell at us.”
“And-and then Princess Twilight came to visit, and she was REALLY mad, even more than our parents.”
“And she yelled at us too.”
“EVERYBODY was yelling at us.”
“Everyone hates us now, and we don’t know what to do!”
“How do we make things right when nobody wants to talk to us?”
Fluttershy felt sympathetic tears coming down her eyes. Now she understood. It wasn’t the fight that had got to them. It was the repeated negative reactions that had overwhelmed them. Without anyone to turn to for comfort they had felt out of options and lost.
She lifted her front hooves, pushing their chins until they were both looking up at her. They didn’t put up any resistance. “Listen to me, you two,” she said gently. “Are you listening?” They both gave little nods. “I don’t approve of your actions,” she started, and both of them jerked away from her. They both clung to each other, shaking like she was about to attack.
She let out a little sigh. That was not the reaction she was trying to invoke. Maintaining the distance between them so as not to scare them further she said, “I understand that you made a mistake. You lost control of yourselves. Actions have consequences. When you do something bad there has to be a consequence.
"However, the consequences for this were too much for you to handle. I just want to let you know that no matter what kind of hijinxs you get into, or what you do when you misbehave, I will still always love you at the end of the day.”
Just like before, when she had put her duty on hold to care for them instead, her words had a powerful effect on them, cutting through the layers of fear and defenses. It was just what they needed to hear. They had stopped shivering so badly, and they slowly released each other, half-hopeful looks on their faces.
“Do… d-d-do you really me-me-mean that?” Pound asked.
“You still-still love us, even after you heard what we did?” Pumpkin asked.
“Yes!” she said firmly, nodding. “I still love you very much, just as much as before.”
Finally, finally, they broke. Standing up they both threw themselves at her, wailing and sobbing and clinging to her. Fluttershy knew this was the big one. All they were looking for was to feel they were still lovable despite their unsavory behavior.
She held onto the two as she flew to a rocking chair she had in the room. The twins sobs grew in escalation as they released all the pent-up feelings within them. It almost felt like a contest to see who could be the loudest.
Fluttershy could feel the moisture soaking her coat, the twins desperate clinging, the feel of their fur against hers. She closed her eyes, rocking back and forth with them, not saying a word. They probably wouldn’t hear her over their crying anyway.
She didn’t know how long they kept on, but it was probably around ten to fifteen minutes before they finally peaked and burned out their emotions and truly began to settle down. Their grip slowly loosened as their bodies relaxed.
She began to slowly and gently rub their backs as she continued just rocking. “There now. That’s much, much better, isn’t it?”
Their breathing was still shaky and jerky, but it was slowly returning to normal. It felt so wonderful to just be in some comforting hooves, to know there was still someone out there willing to accept them for their faults.
Making sure to keep an accusatory tone out of her voice she said, “You two weren’t really traveling with your parents, were you?” They both tensed up a bit. “Scared and feeling down and unsure of what to do you chose to run away from home just like the last time, right?”
Lies and excuses began running through their minds, but Fluttershy had been so understanding and compassionate that they didn’t want to lie to her.
“Yes,” Pound admitted.
“We left a note,” Pumpkin added.
“I see,” Fluttershy said. “I have an idea I’d like to run past you two.”
“What is it?” Pound asked.
“I’d like the two of you to sleep here tonight. I’ll go tell your parents and Pinkie I’ve got you, and then in the morning the three of us will go to Sugarcube Corner and talk things out.”
Pumpkin began to shake again, shaking her head. “No! I… I don’t want to go back.”
“Shhh,” Fluttershy said soothingly. “I’ll stick by you two while we resolve things. I’ll protect you, just like I did today.”
“You… you’d really do that?” asked Pound, sounding surprised. “You might get yelled at too.”
Fluttershy shrugged. “If I do then I do. However, if this issue isn’t resolved then everyone will just be unhappy.”
Pumpkin let out an uncertain sigh. “I… I guess so. It would be nice to see them again.”
“Great.” She pushed herself far back, using the forward momentum to hop out of the chair while still holding onto them, flapping her wings to stay upright as she set both of them onto her bed. Almost instantly they closed the distance between them and hugged each other. She pulled the blanket up around them, giving them each a kiss. “You two have a good sleep.” She went downstairs, bringing up a few of her animals, one of them her bear. “This little guy will protect you, won’t he?”
The bear let out a small roar, hugging her.
“Goodnight, you two. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
“Goodnight, Fluttershy,” they both said as she shut off the light.
She flew off towards the main area of Ponyville. As she neared the main square she became aware of her still vibrating cutie mark. She decided to go to the castle first. Everyone was probably wondering what was holding her up. She’d give them a quick explanation, then go to Sugarcube Corner to have a discussion with Cup Cake and Carrot Cake.
She flew towards the Crystal Castle, opening the front door and heading towards the throne room. When she got there she saw Spike was the only one there. She sat down on her throne, and the vibration finally stopped. “Hi there, Spike. Listen, I have to go do something real quick. Where is everyone else?”
“They all took off already,” Spike responded. “Twilight was the one who did the summoning. The Cake twins have run away. Everyone’s out searching for them.”
“Oh!” Fluttershy said, throwing a hoof over her face. “Well, call all of them back. They’re sleeping over at my house.”
“WHAT?” Spike said, jumping up. “Are you serious?”
“I ran into them on my walk over here. I took them back to my place and they told me about what happened. I got through to them.”
Spike let out a sigh of relief, wiping his forehead. Closing his eyes and focusing a beam came out of his throne, connecting to the other cutie mark symbols.
“I’m going to go get Cup Cake and Carrot Cake,” said Fluttershy. She went to Sugarcube Corner, assuring the panicking parents that their babies were just fine and encouraging them to come back to the castle with her.
It took a few minutes for all of them to assemble.
Once everyone was there Fluttershy explained what had transpired.
“I asked them to spend the night at my house. Right now they’re still uncertain and releasing all those pent up negative feelings inside themselves. I’ll bring them around tomorrow so we can work all this out."
Pinkie Pie’s face was heavy. She had been just a little too late in figuring out what they needed.
Twilight was likewise feeling pretty guilty herself. She had been angry, but her intention was never to make the twins hate themselves.
She stood up. “I think we should resolve this tonight. If they want you to be their shield then that’s fine, so long as they listen.”
Cup Cake nodded. “I agree. I don’t ever want my kids to think that I hate them.” Carrot silently gave a hard nod.
Twilight looked around. “Rarity, Applejack, and Rainbow Dash. You three can all go home. Thank you for your help.”
“Don’t worry about it,” said Rainbow Dash. “Night, you guys.”
“I’m just happy they’re safe,” said Rarity, touching her curlers. “Mmm. My mane is going to be a mess in the morning.”
“G’night, y’all,” said Applejack.
When the three of them left Twilight put a magic aura around the rest of them, teleporting to Fluttershy’s cottage. When they went inside Fluttershy could see Pinkie fixing to run right upstairs to them. She put a hoof out. “I think it would be best if I spoke to them alone right now. I don’t want them to start freaking out again. Remember, at the moment they think you don’t want anything more to do with them."
Pinkie sighed heavily, losing her spirit. “Right,” she said, her head down.
She went upstairs to her room, opening the door. In the moon light she could make out her sleeping animals. “Pound. Pumpkin. Are you guys asleep?” She flicked on the light switch, and she gasped, seeing the empty bed.
She quickly looked around, biting her hoof. On the bed there was a piece of paper that looked out of place. She flew over and picked it up, seeing a tearstained note.
A cold chill went through her. They had gone running off again. She really thought she had helped them over their issues. She didn't cherish having to tell Pinkie and their parents the bad news.