Fluttershy was sitting on an armchair in Sugarcube Corner, a raincloud over her head. She was soaked, but she didn’t even care. She welcomed the chill; the sadness. She deserved it for failing the twins so bad.
None of them had seen hide nor hair of Pound or Pumpkin. Pinkie had found Pound’s saddle bag, abandoned and the contents scattered all over. She couldn’t help but feel a sickening twinge in her stomach, hoping against hope that they hadn’t been abducted. If anyone had hurt them or taken them she didn’t think she would ever be able to forgive herself.
She kept thinking over and over about the obvious sign she missed in her distraction, the sight of the two holding each other for relief the instant she set them down. If she had only waited ten… maybe even five minutes, it might have been all over. They would have felt secure enough to stay, sleeping contentedly and unafraid. Now, maybe it was too late. It was raining hard, none of them had any idea where the kids were, and she could only imagine how scared and miserable they had to be. Even if the worst hadn’t happened and they weren’t abducted they were still out there all alone.
Twilight, Pinkie, Cup Cake, and Carrot Cake weren’t faring much better. Each of them was thinking about how they could have acted better, and how they drove the kids away with their attitudes. The storm probably wouldn’t blow itself out until the morning, and finding them in the dark, and in the pouring rain, was going to be next to impossible without some sort of direction, even if they did go wake up their other friends. They were all at a loss at how to proceed.
There was a sudden frantic knocking on the front door. The sounds were coming in an odd rhythm, not in sync at all. The banging on the door barely penetrated their consciousness, so lost all of them were in their own thoughts.
Dimly, Fluttershy felt a need to do something. Forcing herself up out of the chair she slowly plodded toward the front door, still hearing the punctuated pounding.
Opening the door she said in an unfocused voice, “Hello?” But there was no one there.
Pound and Pumpkin almost wept with relief. It was Fluttershy! If anything could have made things better it would be her.
Before they could convey their joy they each felt a pit of guilt at the dead look on her face.
Fluttershy suddenly felt two weights clinging onto her front legs, and as she looked down her eyes widened in surprise.
“We’re sorry!” Pound said, looking up at her with tears in his eyes.
“Me too!” said Pumpkin, squeezing her leg harder.
“We didn’t want to hurt you.”
“We were just so scared.”
Fluttershy took some shallow breaths, disbelief on her face. It was them! They were both alive and well. It was beyond anything she could have hoped for. Pulling her hooves free she sat back on her haunches, grabbing the two of them and pulling them hard to her, crying in happiness that they looked none the worse for wear beyond being a little muddy.
“Oh, you guys are okay! Thank goodness!” she said thickly, tears pouring down her eyes. “I forgive you. I’m just happy to see you aren’t hurt. When Pinkie told me she found your saddlebag I feared the worst.”
She snuggled with the two, feeling them shaking with their emotions. After a time she tried to pull them away, but they wouldn’t release her. “Come on, guys. I’m happy to see you too, but there are things we have to do.”
“I-I-I-I’m c-c-cold!” Pound said, his teeth chattering.
“M-m-me t-t-too!” Pumpkin agreed.
“Oh!” Fluttershy said in mild surprise. “I should have guessed that. I’ll get a fire started. Now that we’re all here it’s the perfect time to settle up all the issues you’ve been having.”
They didn’t look too thrilled with the idea, but they were too focused on wanting some warmth they didn’t fight it.
Holding them tight she flew to the living room. “You guys!” she called out brightly. “Look who showed up.”
A distinct lack of interest met her statement. After a few seconds they sighed, glancing over. Once they saw the twins each of them perked up.
“Pound! Pumpkin!” said Twilight.
Even through their needs a distinct chill went through them knowing that Twilight was there.
As they saw the others approaching they began to shake hard in fear, clinging even harder to Fluttershy and pulling themselves up by her head, looking at her imploringly for aid.
Realizing that they were getting overwhelmed by everything Fluttershy said loudly, “HOLD IT!” The three of them paused in their steps. “These two can’t take all this at once. Let’s take one thing at a time. Please go sit down for now.”
She could see that none of them cared for that idea, but seeing how badly the twins were shaking reluctantly they went back to the couch.
“Thank you.” Turning to face her friend she said, “Twilight, these two are freezing. Do you think you could…?”
“Oh, right,” Twilight said. They began to freak out when Twilight lifted them into the air, losing the security of Fluttershy’s embrace, but they couldn’t deny it was such a relief when she used a spell that pulled all the water and mud out of their coats, leaving them as dry as if they hadn’t been in the rain at all. She similarly did the same for Fluttershy and the rest of them, wanting them to be at their best for their talk with the twins.
As Twilight set them back down they immediately sought out the safety of Fluttershy’s hold. She shot a blast of magic at the fireplace, and a comfy fire lit up the room.
“Cup Cake,” said Fluttershy, “would you be so kind as to get a blanket for us? Twilight may have gotten rid of the water, but these poor things are still ice cold."
“Oh, right. Of course,” she replied, leaving the room and coming back a minute later with a blanket to wrap around the two of them. Seeing her children shudder and looking so fearful as she approached made her feel terrible inside. She sighed as she returned to her spot on the sofa.
Fluttershy bundled them up, holding them close. With the fire, the blanket, and her own body warmth the two quickly stopped shivering. Ten, twenty minutes passed with nothing happening but them all sitting quietly. Until the twins felt warm and comfortable they couldn’t proceed with resolving the issues between them.
Fluttershy was the only one who seemed completely comfortable. She was so happy her blunder hadn’t led to something terrible happening to the kids. She slowly moved back and forth, trying to set their minds as ease as they all waited, humming gently to herself.
Pound and Pumpkin felt relaxed on the outside, enjoying the heat and warmth and safety, but inwardly they were afraid. On the other side of the room were all the ponies that didn’t like them, and it was only Fluttershy that was keeping them from yelling and snapping at them.
After half an hour had passed and the twins began to fall asleep she knew it was time to begin the negotiation and mediate for both groups. “Pound, Pumpkin?”
“Hmm?” Pound said distractedly. He was so warm and comfortable that he didn’t want to leave that happy place yet.
“I know that you two are tired after your adventure, but you can’t go to sleep yet. There are a lot of negative feelings in the air that need to be cleared up first.”
Both of them suddenly went still. They knew exactly what she meant, and they didn’t want to face it. Pumpkin put on a very unconvincing act of being asleep.
She knew they weren’t going to cooperate easily, so she would have to push things along. Turning to the others she said, “Twilight, Cup Cake, Carrot Cake, Pinkie. I’d like all of you to go into the kitchen for a moment. I need to talk with you in private.”
They glanced at each other for a moment, before shrugging and getting up, leaving the room. Once it was down to just the three of them she could see the twins looked a little more relaxed. Moving her position so she was sitting on the edge of the chair she said, “I’m going to put you guys down now. I need to talk to you too.”
Getting up she set the two of them on the chair. She could see the fearful looks on their faces.
“Now, I need you two to listen to me very carefully, okay?” They both nodded. “I want to end tonight with everyone happy. And for that I need you to work with me and trust me. I need to go in the other room and talk to them and set up some rules about the best way to resolve your issues. Now, I’ll Pinkie Promise to protect you no matter what, if you do the same for me that you’re not going to run away again.”
The two of them looked at each other uncertainly, shaking just a little.
“You both know that I still care for you, and you really scared me before. It hurt me so badly that I hadn’t been able to truly help you past your fears. I don’t want to make that mistake again.
"Please? I don’t want to cry anymore.”
Letting out small groans they wordlessly went through the gestures. Fluttershy did the same. “Thank you,” she said, giving each of them a kiss on the forehead.
Going into the kitchen she addressed the others. “Okay, everyone. I have one important question: do you want to resolve this tonight?”
“Of course!” Pinkie responded.
“Naturally I want to put this behind us,” said Cup Cake.
“It’s gone far enough,” added Twilight.
Fluttershy looked at the four of them seriously. “Then it’s very important that you listen to me. Young children may not be as big or strong as older kids or you, but their feelings are just as big and just as important as yours. I was able to get through to them before because I was patient and listened to them without judgment. Right now they trust me more than any of you, making me their 'safe place.'
“I’m going to encourage them to open up and really speak their minds. When they do they’re probably going to explode emotionally and say a lot of things you’re not going to like hearing. I’m asking you to do your best not to respond at all and just LISTEN to them. They want to be heard right now, not lectured or scolded or given a shallow 'I understand.' You don’t have to agree with anything they say, but they need to vent.
"Also, stay put and maintain the distance. Let them come to you if they choose. Let them express their feelings and get them out, and once they’ve burned themselves out THEN we can work on resolving their issues.”
They each somberly nodded, Pinkie and Cup Cake crying slightly.
The five returned to the living room. Keeping to their promise the twins were right where she left them. They were both restlessly kicking their hooves, still shaking a little. They looked up at Fluttershy as she approached.
Picking them up she sat down, holding the two of them. They squeezed her back. “Okay,” she said in a quiet voice, like it was a secret, “I talked to all of them. You two have the floor. Just say whatever you’re feeling. Be honest and let out whatever is on your mind. I give you my word that they’ll do their best not to respond and just listen to what you have to say.”
Adopting a quiet voice too Pound asked, “What should we talk about?”
“That’s your decision. Tell them about today. Talk about your feelings and why you decided to run away. Tell them how you’re feeling about them.”
They both looked at each other again, shaking harder.
“Listen, you guys. I already Pinkie Promised you that I would keep you safe. If you start getting scared while you’re talking then just come back to me and I’ll hold you until you’re ready to start talking again. If things get too crazy or out of control then I’ll take you back to my house for the night, and we can try again in the morning. I’m asking for your trust, even though it’s hard after all you’ve been through.”
She held them a little while longer, until they stopped shaking. Not wanting to make the same mistake as before she made sure to ask this time, “Is it okay if I put you down?”
Almost in sync they each took a deep breath, nuzzled her one last time, then nodded.
Fluttershy set them on the floor. Taking a few tentative steps away their heads whipped back to make sure Fluttershy was still there. They looked around at Pinkie, their parents, and Twilight. Their expressions were cautiously neutral.
Pound started off, hesitant in his words. “We… I, um… we… we’re not… happy.”
“Y-yeah,” Pumpkin added, still shaking. “It… it doesn’t feel… right… inside.”
“We…” He stopped, just staring at the floor as he felt that same heaviness from before start to take over. It felt so pointless.
Pumpkin began pacing around, while Pound just stood there, unmoving.
As he thought about everything they had been through that day a flush came across his cheeks, and anger suddenly wiped out his fear and hesitance. He looked up furiously, not looking at any of them in particular. “It wasn’t right what you did!” he snapped. “We try really hard to be good. SOMETIMES WE CAN’T DO THAT!”
As Pound began to talk Pumpkin found herself joining in. “Yeah! We’re just little kids. We make mistakes!”
“How many times is enough? Huh? HOW MANY? First the principal kicked us out of school and scolded us.”
“Then we came home and you punished us too and scolded us!”
“And Pinkie wouldn’t even look at us all day, except when she gave us a look like she WOULD have yelled at us too if Mom and Dad didn’t beat them to it.”
Pinkie felt a sting that she had been stripped of her “Auntie” title, but nonetheless kept quiet.
“And if that wasn’t enough then Twilight came in to yell at us too.”
The both of them were shaking hard, furious tears coming down their eyes. “How many times can we be yelled at for the same mistake? We screwed up. WE… GET… IT!”
“Yeah!” Pumpkin said strongly. “We get it! We’re bad. Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad. Everyone just wants to tell us how bad we are, and how terrible we are.”
“It’s not fair! Haven’t we been punished enough?”
“You and Dad get into fights too! I don’t see YOU getting punished for it over and over.”
“You’re a bunch of bullies! Does it make you feel good to pick on helpless little kids?”
The accusations stung deeply. Cup Cake began to speak up, to defend herself or explain, but she caught Fluttershy’s wildly gesturing hoof. Meeting her eyes she saw Fluttershy shaking her head. It was hard to stay silent when they were lobbing such painful words at them, but she followed Fluttershy’s advice, hoping that letting them vent would allow them to patch up the differences between them.
They closed the distance between them so their bodies were touching. Sadness was beginning to reign again, overriding their anger. “We… we-we do our best,” Pumpkin said despondently, hanging her head as the tears fell.
Pound was likewise looking at the ground again and crying. “Fluttershy shouldn’t have been the one to save us. That’s what you’re supposed to be there for.” His legs feeling weak he sank to the ground, burying his head in his hooves as he gently cried.
Pumpkin followed suit, resting her head on Pounds side.
The four adults were all burning with guilt. Unintentionally they had all failed the ones they were supposed to protect. Cup Cake and Pinkie especially wanted to get up and hold them, despite Fluttershy’s words.
Pound’s weeping ceased abruptly as another spark of anger surged up in him. He hopped up, wiping his face before saying angrily, “Well? What do you have to say for yourselves?”
There was an odd trace of humor in the question. The situation wasn’t funny, but the role reversal, of hearing those words come from a child to an adult, was a tad funny.
Pumpkin stood up too. “Yeah! What he said!”
Carrot Cake was the first to speak up. “Pound, Pumpkin, we know that we upset you. We couldn’t reward you for doing something you knew was wrong. Perhaps we did go a bit overboard so it’s understandable you’d feel overwhelmed and wanted to escape, but it was never our intention to make you feel so bad. So, for that, I’m sorry.”
Pinkie nodded. “Yeah, I’m sorry I didn’t come to you guys earlier. I actually went to your room, I guess shortly after you left, because I didn’t want you to be miserable before bed. I was just a little too late.”
Pound’s face puffed up. “Yeah! You were! You’re too late! We told Fluttershy all about what happened, and you know what? She didn’t yell at us. She understood it was an accident. SHE didn’t yell at us and punish us. She was understanding and let us know that she still cared about us. AND SHE’S NOT EVEN PART OF OUR FAMILY!
"You’re our parents. You’re supposed to love us the most. And Pinkie has always been there before for us even when we messed up, but not this time.” Turning his back Pound gestured hard at Fluttershy. “Why was SHE more understanding and loving to us than our own family? How come? Huh? Why?”
His face was bright red with the intensity of his feelings. “I DON’T FORGIVE YOU! I… I… I DON’T LIKE YOU ANYMORE!” he yelled, turning and stomping his hooves with every step as he headed back to Fluttershy, pulling himself up into the small couch and settling himself into the crook of her front leg.
Pumpkin looked between Fluttershy and Pound to the other four, before agreeing with Pound and heading to Fluttershy too on her other side.
Cup Cake, Carrot Cake, and Pinkie were lost for words. Pounds words had hit particularly hard.
Pound huffed heavily, snorting and panting, his body clenched up, his eyes narrowed and his hooves crossed.
Pumpkin was just holding quietly to Fluttershy, feeling almost numb. They had yelled and cried, but it didn’t really make her feel better. None of them seemed too sorry. She was dreading the moment when Fluttershy went home, knowing that it would be what they needed to start yelling back.
Pound had worked up a good head of steam, and he wasn’t content just sitting there. He hopped back off the sofa, stomping back toward the couch, looking up at his mother. He wanted to see her hurt like he had hurt, to suffer like he had suffered. He was shaking he was so furious. “Mom… you… you’re…” His cheeks were puffed up, his face red with his fury, seemingly struggling for the words to describe just what she was.
Cup Cake looked down at her son, and felt like her heart was breaking, to see him look at her with such rage, such vindictiveness, and maybe even some hatred. His words and accusations had hurt, but she had gotten defensive and had mostly been brushing his comments off.
Faced with the reality of his feelings she had to admit that she couldn’t ignore just what had happened. Beaten down mentally and emotionally with no outlet of relief, she couldn’t deny that she was at fault for them running away.
Inside she had been mortified at their behavior, embarrassed that they had made a bad impression. Even though Twilight always insisted she didn’t want her close knit companions to treat her any differently than before her ascension Twilight was still a princess, and she had been embarrassed that Twilight had gone out of her way to get them into school and they had ruined it, reflecting badly on Twilight’s reputation and on hers as a decent mother.
Now her son was glaring at her, looking for all the world like he wanted to tell her that he hated her guts and never wanted to see her again, and she couldn’t help wondering if she had looked down at HIM like that when she had scolded them earlier. He was reflecting back at her what she had helped to teach him, and that was unbearable.
Past the layers of defensiveness and residual anger of them scaring her and their behavior earlier she found compassion and empathy for what she had pushed her children to. They should never have felt so hopeless they thought the only way they could survive was to run away somewhere.
Tears began to stream down her eyes, and all she wanted was to just hold her son tight and tell him how she loved him, but she couldn’t see that he’d want her to touch him, thinking that she hated him. “O-oh, P-Pound,” she said thickly, her voice cracking as she tried to keep from sobbing. “I-I-I’m so so-sorry.” She put a hoof over her face, wiping her eyes but more tears just replaced them. She was shaking and sniffing. “P-Please don’t hate me.” Her breath was coming in little gasps.
Pound felt off put at his mother’s reaction. She was looking at him so tenderly, thoroughly diminished. He could see intense guilt in her eyes, and it cut through his anger, his and Pumpkin’s words coming back to him. He and Pumpkin had yelled at them for attacking him and his sister over and over, asking when enough was enough. He was doing the exact same thing that he was angry at them about.
A sympathetic tear came down his eye to see his mother so upset. He just wanted to feel like they understood him… that they were actually listening to him. He finally got what he wanted, but seeing what he had done to his mother, making her cry and hurting her heart, it finally broke the hardness of his own heart, making him want to offer her some of his.
“M-M-Mom,” Pound said, finding it hard to talk with a lump in his throat, “Y-you really hurt my feelings.” He suddenly jumped up onto her lap, hugging her as he cried out, “B-but I still love you so much!” He began bawling in her lap, squeezing her hard and never wanting to let go.
Cup Cake broke down right along with him, and they held each other tightly as they cried.
Fluttershy saw Pumpkin staring at the sight of Pound and their mother hugging, a look of longing on her face.
Carrot Cake was also looking. Almost at the same time the two of them looked at each other. He awkwardly held out his hooves toward her.
“Go on,” Fluttershy said encouragingly, setting Pumpkin on the floor.
In seconds Pumpkin was running right to her dad’s outstretched hooves, and the crying doubled as Pumpkin and Carrot lost themselves in just how happy they were to see each other and how much they still loved one another.
Fluttershy smiled a bit. “Good. Now the healing can begin,” she said contentedly.