Pound and Pumpkin kept looking behind them as they walked, a continuous feeling of guilt smoldering in their stomachs. Both of them were quietly crying.
It hadn’t been easy deciding to leave. Even after everything they had done, even though everyone else had turned against them, Fluttershy took what they had done without any anger or judgment. She had told them she still loved them and held them close as they had sobbed and cried. She still cared for them very much.
To leave her house, knowing that it was going to hurt her, was painful. They knew she was going to worry, to be scared, to cry, to panic. They were fully aware a simple note wasn’t enough to convey just how sorry they were. They had betrayed her, throwing her kindness in her face, and neither of them were proud of it.
Pound sighed. “This stinks!” he said in a down voice.
“You said it,” Pumpkin agreed.
“But we didn’t have a choice. We couldn’t stay. Fluttershy isn’t even part of our family, and she loves us more than our parents and Auntie Pinkie. H-how does THAT happen?” He sniffed.
Pumpkin had trouble swallowing, her mouth dry. “Parents are supposed to love their kids. And Auntie Pinkie has ALWAYS been nice to us, even when our parents were mad at us. We can’t go back. We can’t go see them.”
“If she had taken us back they probably would have just pretended to be understanding, and then when she was gone they would have yelled at us again and locked us in our room for a month.”
The two of them sighed. While they didn’t like to hurt Fluttershy they couldn’t deny that their hearts weren’t sitting so heavy on their souls. Just knowing that there was one pony out there who still loved them, who was understanding and kind and accepted them even for all their faults, meant a lot to them. The shame, the feeling of being completely worthless, that no one could love them, had faded greatly. Their heads were a little clearer than before.
Closing the distance between them so that their bodies were touching they put their heads against each other, gently nuzzling each other for comfort.
“We’ll make it through this, Pumpkin,” Pound said encouragingly. “Together. Fluttershy… she’ll understand one day. We’ll make it up to her.”
Pumpkin nodded. “We will.” A hint of a smile crosses her lips.
Fluttershy slowly came downstairs, tears already coming down her eyes. Each step felt like an eternity. She already knew that the rest of them were going to be upset about the twins disappearing again, but that wasn’t the main source of her discomfort.
She reached the bottom of the stairs. feeling the heads turning towards her.
“Uh-oh,” said Twilight, seeing the expression on her face.
Pinkie jumped up. “Don’t tell me they’re gone again!”
Fluttershy just nodded, tears coming down her eyes. The life in the room died instantly.
“I thought you said they were over their issues!” Cup Cake said in a scolding voice. “My babies…”
She went to the couch and sat heavily on it. “How could I have let this happen?” she said to herself. Where had she gone wrong? She had been so patient, so understanding. She had given them their space and given them gentle encouragement to talk. She had made sure they knew that she still cared for them no matter what. That had both broken down crying like there was no tomorrow. She gave them a place of safety for the night, so they wouldn’t have to confront their family until the morning. She thought that it would be enough.
She gasped, a hoof going over her mouth. Her eyes grew dull. “I… I don’t believe it,” she said thickly. “How did I miss it? It was so obvious.”
“Miss what?” asked Twilight.
Fluttershy curled up, holding her legs as her crying grew a little heavier. “They left because I didn’t do a good job of caring for them.”
“What do you mean?”
“They finally broke down and opened up, releasing a lot of pent up feelings inside themselves, but I began to give them new stress before they had properly recovered. I hadn’t gotten them to smile or sleep, and I set them down when they still really needed me.”
She buried her face in her legs as the image flashed in her mind. “When I had set them on the bed the two of them instantly clung to each other. There was no delay. They were still in sore need of encouragement and hugs.”
Her head lifted a little before she set it on a hoof. “I should have done more! I should have seen that they still needed me. Then they’d still be here.
“I-I-I was too distracted to notice it at the time. My cutie mark kept buzzing and I knew you guys were waiting for me to show up. And then when they confirmed to me they had run away I knew Cup Cake and Carrot Cake were probably going crazy looking for them.
"I only wanted to set your minds at ease, but I wound up driving them away and letting them get swept up in their childish emotions again. How could I have been so stupid?” She began to gently sob.
Pinkie walked over, putting a comforting hoof on her shoulder. “Come on, Fluttershy. Not you too. We’ve had enough negativity and self-hatred today. Like Rainbow Dash said to me earlier now is a time for action. Save the tears for if the worst happens.”
Fluttershy looked up into her face, tears still blurring her vision. She wiped her face, taking a deep breath. The truth of those words was impossible to ignore. “You’re right. Crying won’t get them back.”
Twilight spoke up. “This is actually a little bit better than earlier, as we now have a center point of reference.”
“Huh?” said Cup Cake.
“Before when we began our search we had no idea when they left or where they went, so we left from near the center of town in all directions. Now we’re leaving from Fluttershy’s cottage, limiting the amount of directions they can go. The majority of land around her house is comprised of the Everfree Forest. I don’t believe they’re foolish enough to enter the forest, especially in their state.
“We also have a better timeframe of just when they departed. Between Fluttershy leaving and returning was roughly about fifteen minutes. Concerned for Cup Cake and Carrot Cake she rushed as fast as she could over to Sugarcube Corner, then to the castle, where it took us about five minutes for all of us to gather.
“I highly doubt the twins left immediately after Fluttershy did. Once she left they were probably thinking about how thankful they were for Fluttershy’s assistance, hence the note. 'Thank you, Fluttershy.' And then 'We’re sorry.' That and the tear stains makes me think they really hadn’t wanted to leave, so it probably took a while to debate their choice. They may have been gone as little as five minutes. In which case there’s still ample time to catch up to them.
“Let’s all split up and go searching. Whether you find them or not let’s all meet up back at Sugarcube in an hour.”
There were nods all around.
Fluttershy went up to Cup Cake and Carrot Cake and hugged them both. “I’m sorry. I’ll do my best to find them again.”
They held her back. “Just do what you can, Fluttershy,” said Cup Cake. “You’re not to blame.”
“Thank you,” she responded, letting them go.
The five left the house, splitting up in all directions away from her house. As she flew into the sky to scan the area she couldn’t help looking behind her. She sure hoped that Twilight was right, and they hadn’t headed into the forest. Time after time she had warned them to stay away from it at all costs. She told them about the monster turning Twilight to stone, the timberwolves nearly killing them a few times, and the other crazy creatures they had encountered. They seemed to have taken her words to heart, never straying too close to it.
“Oh, Pound… Pumpkin. Please be safe.” She turned away, flying around and scanning the ground.
“So you got any plans?” asked Pumpkin.
“Well… I’ve got one…” Pound talked slowly, uncertain.
“Well, you said before that we have to think of something now and we can’t wait for later.”
“We know we can’t stay in Ponyville, so we find the train station. If there’s a train there we’ll hide in a rear car or something, and get some sleep. In the morning it will get loud and wake us up when they’re preparing to leave. We’ll just wait for the first stop in a new town and sneak off.”
“Okay,” she replied, nodding. “That sounds good.”
“It’s a plan, then.” There was a brief flicker of joy in his eyes. There was a funny feeling of excitement going through him, of getting to experience something brand new, and the uncertainty of it all was a bit wondrous.
“The train station is near Rarity’s house.”
“Ooh!” Pound squealed, the feelings getting stronger and stronger. “That’s brilliant!”
“What?” Pumpkin asked, his feelings starting to infect her. “What’s got you so excited?"
He smirked over at her, a devious smile on his face. “We’re gonna go to Manehatten.”
“Hey, it’s like you said. We can’t just go on without a plan. Do you remember who lives in Manehatten? Applejack’s family. Her Aunt and Uncle Orange, and Bab’s Seed. We go to their house, knock on the door, and act all bright and cheery, asking if they’re ready for a fun time. They won’t be expecting us, so we get all sad and scared.”
Getting all dramatic he continued, “What? What do you mean you didn’t know we were coming? Applejack sent you a note.” He giggled loudly, feeling very satisfied and still with his conceited grin. “Of course that never happened, but we’re just little kids. They can’t just leave us out all alone.”
Pumpkin gave him a flat look. “Pound, you’re so stupid sometimes.” She let out a huff. “I can’t believe I expected you to come up with something clever.”
Pound gave her a dirty look. “Oh, yeah?” Giving her a light shove he said, “Then YOU tell me what’s wrong with it.”
“The whole point of running away is so that our parents and Auntie Pinkie can’t find us. So even if those Orange ponies take us in they’re going to send Applejack a note asking about us being there, and then she’ll tell Auntie Pinkie and we’ll be caught.”
Pound shook his head, rolling his eyes. “Duh! Of course they’re gonna do that. We just have to watch the mail, and rip up the note when they try to send it. Problem solved.”
Pumpkin let out a thoughtful, “Hmmm.” She couldn’t find a fault with that idea. “So long as we don’t miss the note then we’ll be safe and they’ll have no way to find us.
“Okay. I take it back. This is a great idea.”
Pound got his cocky expression back in a hurry. “Thank you, thank you. I try.”
The night was quiet as they continued walking. There were the usual sounds of crickets and the occasional breeze, but they encountered no one else as they walked. Having traveled back and forth from Fluttershy’s house on numerous other occasions they had no trouble finding their way back towards the center of Ponyville. They just had to be sure to avoid their house so their parents couldn’t spot them.
“Hey, Pound,” started Pumpkin.
“We can’t stay at the Oranges forever, you know. No matter how many letters we rip up they’ll eventually try to just take us home themselves.”
Pound skipped a step, nearly tripping flat on his face before recovering. Pumpkin had a real good point. Adopting a show of bravado he said, “Well, duh! Obviously I already knew that. This is just to buy some time for us to make a better plan for what we’re gonna do. We can also send Fluttershy some letters to let her know that we’re okay.”
He sighed, the excitement draining out of him. “It really was crummy what we did to her, wasn’t it?”
Pumpkin nodded. “We wouldn’t have done it if there was another way. She couldn’t have kept us a secret forever.”
“Once we’re grown up a little more and can defend ourselves we’ll come back. By that point it won’t matter if our family sees us. We’ll be big and independent and we won’t have to listen to them. Maybe Fluttershy will let us move in with her and we can make everything up to her by doing her tons of favors.”
“I sure hope she forgives us for hurting her like that.”
“She will,” Pound said confidently. “She brushed off everything else we did. That’s why she’s the Element of Kindness.”
Pumpkin nodded again. “Yeah. I guess you’re right.”
The pair continued to walk, feeling relatively normal. Having talked with Fluttershy and releasing most of their feelings had freed them from a lot of the shame and guilt they had been feeling. They had one pony who they knew would always be there for them. That was enough to give them hope.
It was a couple of minutes later when they heard it: Off in the distance came the sound of the clopping of hooves. They heard a voice that made their blood run cold, wiping away that feeling of security. Someone was calling out their names.
“Oh no!” said Pound, panic written across his face. “It’s Auntie Pinkie.”
“Oh, great!” Pumpkin replied glumly. “They’re looking for us now.”
They quickly looked around, knowing time was short. There wasn’t much around suitable: a fence, a thin bush, a tree, a mailbox. They were completely exposed. Even if they hid behind the tree she might look back and see them.
Pound suddenly got an idea. He pushed Pumpkin toward the tree. “Go!” He took off his saddlebag, scattering the contents around, before joining Pumpkin behind the tree.
“What did you do that for?” Pumpkin asked in a hiss. “Now she’s gonna know we’re nearby.”
“She would have spotted us otherwise,” Pound nastily replied back. “Run when I tell you to.”
Their little hearts were racing as Pinkie closed the distance, looking frantically around for any sign of them before her eyes caught the saddle bag and the cupcakes and sweets on the ground. She came to a stop in front of it, temporarily distracted. “Oh, what a waste of good treats,” she mused, before her eyes caught the design of the saddle bag, and she let out a huge gasp.
She picked it up. “Th-th-this is Pound’s. I bought it for him. I…I hope he hasn’t been…” She didn’t want to finish the sentence. She hugged the bag to her, tears coming down her eyes.
“Now!” Pound said, and the two quickly slinked away to a more secure spot. Once they were a few houses away they slumped against a house, letting out sighs of relief.
“That was too close,” Pumpkin said, wiping her forehead.
“If Auntie Pinkie is out here that means Mom and Dad must be too, and maybe even Twilight or her other friends. Oooohhh, this could make getting to the train station impossible.”
Pumpkin groaned. “Maybe we should just give up.”
“GIVE UP?” Pound said a little too loudly, slapping his hooves over his mouth. He swiftly looked around, before lowering them and saying in a quieter voice, “We can’t give up now. Do you know how much more trouble we’re gonna be in for running away after we were grounded?”
“We could always… just go back to Fluttershy’s house. “
“No!” Pound said firmly. “We can’t stop now. We just have to be more careful, make sure we always have a hiding spot ready." He looked behind himself, feeling annoyed. “Ugh, I had to give up my saddle bag. I really liked that thing. We only have one more distraction like that left, so unless you want to lose yours too then lets go quickly. The sooner we’re there the sooner we’ll be in a safe place and then we won’t have to worry about anything else until the morning.”
Pumpkin shook her head. “I definitely don’t want to give mine up.”
In a wistful tone Pound said, “Auntie Pinkie got that for me. On our sixth birthday’s she each got us our saddle bags so we could travel places with stuff easier.” Though he couldn’t see anything but a wall he still turned toward the direction they had left Pinkie from.
“Come on,” he said quietly, slowly plodding away. “Let’s just go.”
They slunk around houses, trees, and bushes, still hearing Pinkie’s voice from time to time. They spotted their house after another few minutes. Although they wanted to avoid it their house was their reference point for how to get to Pinkie’s friend’s houses.
“Okay, from here we have to get behind our house and go at a diagonal,” said Pumpkin.
Being even more cautious than before they made a wide berth around their house before heading in the direction of Carousel Boutique. They did spot one night owl walking around, and they hid until he had passed.
They could still hear Pinkie’s voice calling for them, but it was off in the distance, allowing them to relax. Heading past Rarity’s house they could see the tracks, shadowy outlines even with the moonlight shining upon it.
They both looked at each other, giggling to themselves. They had done it. They were home free. Foregoing caution they both began running toward the train station.
They ran up the set of stairs to the platform, rounded the corner, and… they both came to a halt, their hearts sinking along with their enthusiasm. There was no train sitting in the station.
“W-where is it?” Pumpkin asked.
Pound let out a groan. “I guess the conductor leaves the train at the last stop for the night, or maybe it has a place they’re stored-“ he gave a humorless laugh “-so that ponies can’t do exactly what we were thinking."
Pumpkin began to walk rapidly in place, her hooves out of sync. “Well, now what? What do we do?”
Pound eyed the tracks. “I guess… I guess we’ll just have to walk it.”
“WALK?” Pumpkin replied incredulously. “Do you not get why ponies takes trains? It’s too far to walk.”
“Umm… oh!” he exclaimed, eyeing her horn. “Magic!”
“Magic?” She glanced upward, though she couldn’t see it that well. “I’m not like Twilight. I can’t just teleport us there. I would die if I tried to use that much magic.”
“Let’s look around. All we need is a few things we can use as wheels and something to sit on, and your magic can do the rest. It’ll be just like sitting on a train, only breezier. That sounds like a lot more fun, anyway.”
Pumpkin envisioned them flying along the tracks, their manes being whipped back by the night air, and she got a slowly expanding smile on her face. “Yeah! Let’s do it!”
Pound recoiled a bit. “Say it, don’t spray it.” He wiped his cheek of the moisture.
“That wasn’t me!” she complained.
“Whatever! Let’s just look around for some stuff that can get us moving.”
They split up, searching for some scrap wood or something they could use as a wheel.
Pumpkin gave a sarcastic laugh. “Why don’t you follow your own advice?”
“What are you talking about?” Pound replied before again feeling moisture on his cheek. “This isn’t funny, Pumpkin. Knock it off!”
Pound rounded, intending to start arguing, but he saw that Pumpkin was too far away for her to be spitting on him. He looked up at the alcove, wondering if a bird or something was above them. Was it just his imagination, or was it getting darker?
There was a rumbling of thunder in the sky, and Pound froze stock still.
Pumpkin looked up as well, more annoyed than scared. “This isn’t good.”
Pound looked over at her as the raindrops began to come down heavier, the gaps between them getting shorter and shorter. He was shaking, but he couldn’t let his fear stop him. He trotted over to her. “Don’t be scared, Pumpkin! I’ll p-protect you.”
“Scared?” she replied in a perfectly even voice. “I’m not scared.”
Pound saw her calm face, and that she wasn’t trembling like she always did during storms. “Y-you’re not?”
She shook her head. “I don’t care about thunderstorms anymore. It just stinks that we’re gonna be stuck in the rain. Like it or not we need to go back to Fluttershy’s. The rain isn’t THAT bad yet. If we hurry we might not get totally soaked.”
Pound felt crestfallen. When had Pumpkin suddenly stopped being scared of thunder? When did she suddenly take charge and be the leader? As another round of thunder started Pound shuddered, feeling disgusted with himself.
“What’s wrong, Pound?” Pumpkin asked, concern in her voice.
He was glaring at her, a very sour look on his face. His body tensed, before he shoved her hard, knocking her over. “Just shut up, Pumpkin!” he said nastily before running off, tears in his eyes.
Pumpkin gasped as she hit the floor of the platform and pain shot through her side. “Pound!” she called after him as he took off. Now she was really getting afraid. She didn’t want to be all alone in the dark. “Wait! Come back!” She ran after him, following the sound of his sobbing.
She could already feel the moisture seeping into her coat. She took a quick look up, feeling like it was only going to get worse from here. They had a nice, dry spot before. Now he was running off to who knows where.
“Pound!” she yelled, not caring if anyone else heard her anymore. She just knew that she didn’t want to be alone.
The sporadic lightning bolts were the only real illumination. How long she ran she didn’t know. In the almost total darkness she nearly ran straight into a tree until a lightning bolt lit up the area. She pulled to a stop, taking a few breaths to steady herself before realizing that she had lost Pound.
She was all wet, alone, and no idea where she was. It couldn’t get any worse.
She slowly plodded along. The rain felt kinda good. It was a warm night, after all. She told herself over and over if she just kept walking everything would be okay. She hoped and hoped and hoped, knowing it was the only thing that was keeping her from freaking out.
Her prayers were answered a short time later. She could hear the distinct sound of crying nearby, and she knew it was him. She followed the sounds until she spotted him curled up against a tree, sobbing into his knees.
“Pound, you dummyhead! Why did you run off like that? You scared me.”
He looked up at her, giving her a dirty look. “Good!” he said remorselessly.
She wanted to smack him one, but held himself back. “Good? So now you like hurting me? You SAID that you weren’t going to leave me behind no matter what. You broke your word.”
Pound just let out a huff, turning his head stubbornly away. “So what? Just go. I don’t-EEEEKKK!” He squealed as the sky seemed to explode right above him. He felt a flush of embarrassment at Pumpkin’s lack of reaction. He stood up and began hitting the tree. “Darn it, darn it, darn it!”
“What’s the matter with you, Pound? Why are you acting like this?”
He spun around at her, his eyes on fire as he tackled her to the ground and began to hit her.
“Hey!” Pumpkin cried out, putting her hooves up defensively but not retaliating. “Knock it off!”
“Not gonna… make a fool of… not better than…” He kept spitting out half sentences, totally out of control.
Focusing her energy her horn glowed blue, grabbing his tail and roughly pulling him off of her. He fell onto his back, and Pumpkin jumped on top of him, pinning his hooves with the aid of her magic. Pound struggled fruitlessly, straining his back off the ground but unable to free himself. Unable to attack her physically he began to use his vocabulary, spitting out the worst words he knew.
When his nasty words failed to get him the reaction he wanted he stopped fighting, grumbling for a bit as he lay still. Pumpkin sighed, believing the worst was over. She could feel the soreness from being knocked down twice and being hit.
Pound looked up at her arrogantly, giving a mirthless laugh. “You got me good, Pumpkin. I can’t move. Better be careful with that magic, though. You wouldn’t want to, you know, almost KILL ME again, right?”
Pumpkin felt like she had been socked in the gut, tears brimming in her eyes. The distraction weakened her focus, dispelling her magic, before she got hit in the stomach for real as Pound jammed his back legs into her stomach and flipped her over him.
Now she was mad. Three times she had been knocked down. “WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM?” she yelled. She hated when he brought up the accident, especially when he used it to hurt her.
“I hate you, Pumpkin!” he said in a rage. “You’re not better than me! Just because you got your little fancy magic and you don’t care-” he shuddered as thunder crashed nearby “-a-a-about the thunder. I-I-I’m still better th-than you.”
Pumpkin found it taking all her self-control not to just slam him into a tree, but his recent comment made her too nervous about being too strong with her magic. Something finally clicked in her mind. “Is… is that what this is all about?” she said cautiously. “Because of the thunder?”
He was holding back tears as he said shortly, “You can do everything! You’re talented with magic and you’re not afraid of something that I am. It’s not fair! If we hadn’t gotten into trouble Mom and Dad would have been so proud of you! They already were.
"You got trained by a princess. I didn’t get anything! I can’t fly and I’m scared and you’re just growing up too fast. It’s… it’s just not fair. I don’t want to be a loser! You’re just getting better and better and I’m getting left behind.” He turned away from her so she couldn’t see his tears. He laid down on the trunk of the tree, quietly crying into a hoof.
Despite all the pain he had just put her though over the past couple of minutes she found herself unable to stay mad, now that she understood him. He was jealous of her. It was a strange feeling. Pound was the go-getter of the two of them, the unofficial leader. Now he was scared of being replaced.
Pumpkin sat down next to him, not relishing the loose feeling of the soil slowly turning to mud. “The last thunderstorm we had I went to try to sneak into our parents room, but Auntie Pinkie stopped me. She took me up to her room, and she was the one who taught me not to be afraid of thunderstorms. It worked really well.”
“Good for you,” he said emotionlessly.
“Pound, you’re not a loser! Auntie Pinkie told me what you did that night.”
Pound responded indifferently, “Oh, yeah? What was that?”
She put her head on her hooves, looking out thoughtfully onto the rain pouring down upon the world. “Thunderstorms used to scare me so bad I couldn’t sleep. When our parents told us we couldn’t sleep with them anymore I was stuck with you.”
“I’m glad you sound so excited.”
Ignoring him, she continued, “You always annoyed me because you gave me such a hard time. You would laugh at me and mock me and make fun of me, because you weren’t scared and I was just a baby.” Pound shifted position a little bit, but didn’t respond. “Eventually you’d let me sleep with you, and I’d feel just fine as you held me, because even though I was really scared I had you to help me, and you would hold me nice and tight so I wouldn’t be so afraid. You were my hero.”
Pound turned his head a little toward her.
“That night Auntie Pinkie told me you were even more afraid of thunder than I was, and that you would go to sleep with her on the nights I stayed with our parents. I didn’t believe her at first, until she did a Pinkie Promise that it was the truth. She told me about how you would always pretend you weren’t scared at all so that I wouldn’t get even more scared.”
With a small smile she felt a happy tear come down her eye. “That meant so much to me. It showed me just how strong and brave and powerful you really were. You’ll fight much older ponies for me, and you won’t let anyone else hurt me. That’s why I know I can always count on you. It’s too bad you’re not a few years older. It kinda feels like you shoulda been my older brother.”
Pound fully turned himself toward her, a frown on his face. “Pumpkin,” he said gently, “I’m really sorry for hitting you. I’m…” His eyes filled with tears. “I’m just scared that everyone will start liking you more than me because you’re getting better than me, and then maybe you won’t need me anymore. Ow!”
Pumpkin gave him a solid whack on the head with her hoof. In a self-satisfied voice she said, “Apology accepted.”
Pound rubbed his head. “Ow. I guess I deserved that. I have been pretty bad to you tonight.”
Even huddled under their tree it wasn’t a perfect shelter. “P-Pound,” Pumpkin started.
“Y-yeah?” he replied, feeling thoroughly soaked.
“I-I-I do-don’t care if we get-get-get yelled at again. I-I wa-wa-want t-t-t-to go home. I’m fr-fr-freezing.”
Pound didn’t want to admit it, but they didn’t have much of a choice in the matter. “Flu-Flu-Flut-t-t-t-ter-sh-sh-shy still loves us. That’s go-good enough.”
Standing up, Pumpkin lit up her horn. A strong breeze passed by the area, making them shiver hard and hold onto each other. There was a flash of lighting. Unbelievably, their trek had led them right by their home. They began running without care. They only wanted relief from the elements.