As Fluttershy and Pound left her cottage she picked him up and began flying.
“Hey!” he complained. “I can walk just fine, thank you.”
“I know you can, Pound, but you can’t fly yet.”
His eyes narrowed as he gave her a dirty look. “What does that have to do with anything, you jerk?”
“Only that where we’re going is someplace you’d have to be able to fly to get to,” she said genially as she took to the air, heading upwards at a diagonal.
“Hey!” Pound said sharply.
“Yes?” she responded.
“I’m not a baby, so don’t carry me like one.”
“Oh! Of course,” she replied, stopping her ascent and hovering in place as she positioned him so he could climb up onto her back. “Happy now?”
“No!” he said dismissively, crossing his hooves. “Let’s just go wherever we’re going.”
“You’ll have to hold on, Pound. I wouldn’t want you to fall off.”
With a huge sigh he leaned over and gripped her neck, and then she continued heading upwards. About five minutes later they were high enough that the ponies on the ground looked like ants.
Pound was leaned over, silently simmering and not paying any attention to where they were going until they suddenly landed.
“Here we are.”
Pound quickly hopped off her back onto a cloud. He looked at where they were, and then he began laughing uproariously. “H-h-here? Rainbow Dash is supposed to help me? The biggest-” Fluttershy winced a little as he cursed “-in Ponyville?”
“You’ll understand soon, Pound. Besides, out of all of us you’ve spent the least amount of time with Rainbow, so there’s less of a risk there, right?”
Pound shrugged. “Whatever.”
The pair walked up to her house, and she knocked on the door.
A short while later Rainbow opened the door. “Yeah?” she said, her nose stuck in a Daring Do book.
Pound sniggered. “Stupid nerd.”
That snapped Rainbow out of her inattention. She snapped the book shut. “What was that, half-pint?”
“I don’t know what we’re doing here. Do we gotta listen to Rain-brag Dash?”
“Excuse me?” she said in a huff. “Who do you think you’re talking to, squirt?”
Fluttershy quickly put some distance between the two of them. Rainbow was looking like she was about to blow. “Pound, can you just wait here for a second?”
“Take as long as you want,” he said dismissively. “The longer I don’t have to see either of you the better.”
As the pair went inside Rainbow said in a snooty voice, “Okay, so what’s his deal? You interrupted my reading time for this?”
“Rainbow Dash, this is very important. I need your help.”
“If you think I’m going to watch him when he’s being such a brat-”
“No, no, no!” she said, waving her hooves. “I just need like fifteen minutes of your time. Pound is having a problem and-”
“And he’s gonna have a bigger one if he doesn’t smarten up and stop giving me lip!”
Fluttershy winced a little. Becoming more firm she said, “I’m serious!” She told Rainbow about his out of control behavior from the past couple of days.
“Great,” she said sarcastically, “so he’s turned into a huge troublemaker. And just what are you expecting me to do about it?”
“Rainbow Dash, I know you don’t spend as much time with the twins as I do, but I’m sure you can understand that there’s a reason behind his behavior?”
“Of course, because every kid just adores being yelled at and punished. Again, what do you want me to do about it? If you can’t do it I can’t see why you’re expecting me to.”
“I took him to you because you’re the only one who CAN help him. Out of all our friends you’re the only one who has truly been through what he’s been through, and just like the other times he’s gotten out of hoof what he really needs is that understanding… to know that he’s not alone and he’s not the only one who’s had to go through these tough times.”
“And just what 'tough times' has he gone through?”
“Do you remember when we went to the beach?”
“Yeah. What of it?”
“And do you remember what happened with Pound there?”
“Uh-huh. Some colt threw sand at Pumpkin, and Pound went and told an adult about it, then threw a tantrum because he didn’t deck the kid when he had the chance. And then he talked with Twilight and he changed his mind because of the possibility of revenge by the ponies he might hurt.
“So what does any of that have to do with me?”
As Fluttershy opened her mouth Pound came in, giving a derisive huff. “Are you done yet, or should I just go pull up a cloud and take a nap?”
Fluttershy whispered in Rainbow’s ear. She tilted her head a bit to hear her better. At first Rainbow got a questioning look on her face, but then she scowled a bit, and finally comprehension dawned on her.
“Okay, then. I got it now.”
Pound eyed them both suspiciously. “Why are you whispering? You making a plan to throw me off the clouds so I fall to my death and then claim it was an accident?'”
Tears came down Fluttershy’s face, her eyes fading out at his words. Even understanding his troubles it still hurt that he’d ever think she’d do such a thing.
Rainbow felt incensed for Fluttershy’s sake. “Hey, you little brat! That’s not funny.”
He turned his back on her. “It wasn’t supposed to be.”
Fluttershy put a hoof on her friend’s shoulder. Whispering again she said, “Rainbow Dash, I… I need to go sit down for a little while. Please… go easy on him. He really doesn’t mean what he’s saying. He’s just confused.” She walked away taking some hiccupping breaths, and Rainbow felt sure she was going to start sobbing as soon as they left.
Rainbow put a hoof to her face, feeling a vein pulsing on her forehead. She very strongly felt a desire to yell at the colt for making Fluttershy cry, but she felt that if she heard him give a nasty “GOOD!” she’d probably belt him one.
Trying to regain her composure she took a deep breath and said, “Come on. The two of us need to have a little talk.”
He smirked at her. “You want to lecture me too? I’m sure your stuff breaks as good as anyone else’s.” He let out a laugh before calling her an offensive name.
Losing her patience she picked him up, threw him on her back, and began flying out into the open air before he could protest.
Rainbow Dash gave him a dispassionate look. “Look, kid, let’s clarify our positions here. You’re a little brat, while I’m an awesome adult. I’m not soft like Fluttershy, and I’m not going to take your attitude. So before we go on I want an apology.”
He scoffed. “Oh, yeah? And just what are you gonna do if I-whoa!”
Rainbow gave a sharp jolt with her hindquarters, sending Pound flying forward off her back.
Pound at first just rolled his eyes and crossed his hooves, knowing she was just trying to scare him. As he looked up at her she was hovering in mid-air, her hooves crossed and with a cold expression. She was making absolutely no move to save him.
A dot of fear made him gulp as she got further and further away, still in the same spot. He fluttered his wings rapidly, but to no avail. Looking down, and seeing the ground getting closer faster and faster, even his stubborn pride was being overtaken by his self-preservation instincts, and he yelled out, “I’m SOOOORRRRRRRYYY!”
Rainbow Dash was on him in an instant, zooming down at incredible speed. She grabbed him tight and lightened her flaps to lower his momentum, knowing a sudden stop might cause him a severe case of whiplash.
She threw Pound back on her back as she began to accelerate towards the sky again.
Pound was gripping her back for dear life, panting and sweating as he looked over towards the ground and saw just how close it was.
“So, kid, did you have fun?” Rainbow asked as she looked behind her with the same cocky grin he had been wearing.
Pound’s face went red, anger wiping out his fear. He glared at her, but wisely kept his mouth shut.
“There we go,” said Rainbow Dash, turned forward again. “Your mouth is becoming a little less vulgar now, isn’t it?
“Now, then. I’m gonna tell you a little story, and I just want to make sure I’m going to have your full attention. I’ll know if you’re not paying attention, and then we might just have to give freefalling another try, and I guess we’ll just have to hope I’m fast enough to save you the next time.”
Pound was fuming now, so furious he wanted to let loose with a barrage of nasty words, but as he looked over towards the ground his fear evened out his anger. In as respectful a tone he could manage he replied, “Yes, Rainbow Dash.”
“When I was a filly I was in the Junior Speedsters flight camp. Before I met Fluttershy at Summer Flight Camp I had my very first friend in a griffon named Gilda. She was being picked on by the same jerks that would later on be bullying Fluttershy. Just like with Fluttershy I stood up for her, and we showed those jerks what for when I helped her out of her shell and we began to fly together.
“For those few weeks we were the best of friends. When camp ended we went our separate ways, but I never forgot about her. I wondered how she was doing from time to time, but I wasn’t worried about her. She had grown confident and didn’t take no gruff from anypony.”
Rainbow did a few loop de loops before sinking into a gentle dive. “I didn’t wind up seeing her again until we were grown up. That was shortly before you were born, so about seven years ago then.”
“And?” said Pound, once more struggling to avoid saying something nasty. “Is there a point to this story?”
“I’m getting to it, kid. Keep your hooves on.” She began to ascend again. “The day before Gilda came to visit I had been spending a day with Pinkie Pie playing pranks on our friends. She was up for playing more pranks but Gilda wanted to spend some time with me. After all, it was the first time she had seen me in forever. Pinkie kept trying to make her way into our fun time, and I just found it hilarious the means she would use to try to keep catching up with us, like a ton of helium balloons, or her crazy flying device.
“However… Gilda didn’t feel the same way. Behind my back she became increasingly hostile towards Pinkie to try and get her to butt out.”
“Hmm?” Pound, who had been forcing his attention solely out of fear, now had a genuine look of interest sparking on his features.
“According to Pinkie, while I was off on cloud duty and Gilda was just hanging around she scared Granny Smith by making her tail out to be a snake, stole an apple without paying for it, and, worst of all, made Fluttershy run off in tears just for accidentally bumping into her when she was trying to herd one of her animals and its babies.”
Pound, who had had his hooves crossed and only reluctantly been paying attention, now dropped his hooves to his sides and leaned over her, putting his head on her neck. “Then what happened?” he asked.
Rainbow heard the shift in his tone, and now she knew she had his attention. “Pinkie had been observing all these things, and she decided to get 'revenge' the way only a pony like Pinkie Pie could: by throwing her a party.”
“By throwing Gilda a party she hoped it would help her lighten up and improve her attitude. Things didn’t go so good, though. What with the fun we’d had the day before I had set up a number of pranks for the party, some of them geared toward Gilda, like relighting birthday candles, but the rest were for the other guests. By an unfortunate coincidence Gilda just happened to set every one of them off.
“She went on a rampage, yelling at everyone and insulting Pinkie, believing she had done them all simply to humiliate her and make her look bad. She diminished all my friends, calling them lame and stupid, not knowing that I had set those pranks up.
“When I saw the way Gilda was acting and she insisted that I come along with her and leave all my 'dweebish' friends behind I knew that I couldn’t let that go. I called her out for her behavior. I wanted to bring my friends together so that we could all get along and have fun as a group. If that was the way Gilda was going to treat my friends then I knew I couldn’t remain friends with her. Insulting me now for not siding with her she stormed out of Sugarcube Corner.”
Pound let out a low groan, then gasped as Rainbow bumped him into the air again. This time she caught him before he began to fall. He gave her an odd look at the expression on her face. She looked almost compassionate, a far cry from the arrogant tough girl she always appeared to be.
“It hurts, doesn’t it?” she said in an empathetic tone. “The feeling of being betrayed by someone you care for?” Pound twitched, his body clenching up. “You gained a friend, thinking you’d be best buddies forever, but then they turned their back on you and stomped on your heart.”
Pound’s eyes clamped shut as tears began to fall. He was trying to curl up into a ball despite the awkward positioning. "WHY?" he yelled. "WHY DID HE DO THAT? IT'S NOT RIGHT!"
“I know that pain. As the Element of Loyalty I expect great things of my friends, and I take personal betrayals very seriously. We’re not perfect, and of course we’re going to have disagreements from time to time, but there’s a certain standard of behavior we require in order to maintain that friendship, and Gilda crossed below that line when she belittled all the friends I loved and went behind my back to make the ponies I love feel bad. If she couldn’t respect what I stood for and actively went against it then there was nothing to be had between us.”
Rainbow landed on a nearby cloud, setting Pound down.
He looked up at her, some small tears still coming down his eyes. “It did hurt! It hurt more than anything else in the world. And that’s why I gave up! I know better now! Your story just now confirmed it even more! If you can’t even trust your fiends then you can’t trust anyone!”
“Come on!” she said, gesturing with her head. “Walk with me, kid. The story’s not over yet.”
As Rainbow began to walk Pound reluctantly joined her. “So what’s next?” he said, his attitude starting to return now that he had freedom of movement again. “Did Gilda send you a big wrapped box of chocolate with a long, sappy apology?”
“No. Of course not. But the two of us are close friends now.”
“WHAT?” Pound snapped, his head whipping toward her, sputtering at her. “Are-wha-why-how-dumb-no-”
“Oh, it didn’t happen right away, I assure you.” She hopped to an adjacent cloud, Pound following suit. “In fact, it never would have happened if not for us becoming the Elements of Friendship. Over a year after Gilda’s visit me and Pinkie got called by the Cutie Map to go to Griffonstone, the homeland of griffons.
“When we got there we saw the place was a huge dump. Buildings were decayed or fallen, and no one took the trouble to clean them up. When griffons crossed each other’s paths they simply gave each other nasty looks and carried on their way. In short, it seemed to confirm what I knew about griffons: they were all like Gilda. By spending time there and learning a little about their history I saw that they weren’t always this way. According to Twilight’s research they used to be as greedy as dragons before they found a source of pride to unite them, the Idol of Boreas. They joined together, worked together, as griffons had never done before. When the idol was stolen by some freaky creature and it fell down into an abyss, taking the idol with it, they lost that source of pride and greed became rampant again.
“While there the only things the griffons cared about were bits. You want some info? Bits. You just want to have a conversation? Bits. You want to ask if they talk about anything other than bits? They want some bits to answer. It came to a head later on when I attempted to descend into the abyss and see if I could find the missing idol. The rope snapped as I went down. When I asked the guide for another rope and told him I didn’t have any more bits he simply walked away, leaving me stranded there.”
Pound gaped at her. “That… wasn’t very nice.”
“No, it wasn’t.” Getting a bit of a running start she leapt to a cloud beneath them. After a few seconds of hesitation Pound did the same. He just barely made it. “Well, the place is called Griffonstone and it’s the griffon homeland, so as you can probably expect I met Gilda there. And looking back now she was actually the least annoying and greedy one of the lot. She actually showed some concern when a fellow griffon got hurt. As she said to me most griffons were just trying to earn enough bits to move out of Griffonstone for good because it was such a dreadful place to live.
“Pinkie helped her improve her griffon scones by giving her a key missing ingredient: baking powder. And her prized recipe actually produced something now worth paying for. She also managed to convince Gilda to come save me by reminding her of our previous friendship and how I had helped her as a filly.
“Gilda tied a rope to herself and descended to get me. Pinkie screwed things up when the little cliff I was stuck on broke, tying the other end of the rope to herself and jumping down. We fell for a bit and Gilda managed to hold onto another cliff further down. While down there we actually saw the missing Idol. When it came down to it, though she did her best to get back both the idol and keep me and Pinkie safe, she chose us when she realized she couldn’t have both. And thus she truly let friendship into her heart for the first time in a long while. When we got to safety we all shared a hug.
“Feeling the light of friendship in her heart she took her improved scones and offered one to the griffon she was concerned about before, and they grew a little closer. Me and Pinkie both told her we were her friends, and we’d be there for her if she needed us, before we headed back to Ponyville.”
Coming to a stop she sat down facing him. Pound turned to her, but stayed standing. “In seeing her life and the circumstances she grew up in I came to understand why she was the way she was. So, while it doesn’t make what she did to me and Pinkie right, she did realize that she was in the wrong for the way she acted. That was why I was able to forgive her for what she did.”
Pound looked uncertainly at her. “So what should I do?” he huffed, sitting down and throwing his hooves in the air. “I don’t want to feel that way again! Never! It hurt too much! I don’t want to hurt like that again.”
“Well, kid,” said Rainbow in a serious tone, “you only have two choices. Either you can give other ponies a chance, or you can just spend the rest of your life on this cloud and never trust anyone. I’ll bring you food and drinks whenever you need it, and then you never have to talk to anyone again.”
Pound wasn’t sure whether she was messing with him or not. “So that’s it, huh?”
“This was your first experience with real betrayal, so I can understand perfectly the sting it leaves. How did I get through that pain myself? With my friends by my side.”
Pound got a frenzied look on his face. “And how do I know who I can trust?” he said hysterically, beginning to pace back and forth. “Gilda was your first and best friend, and she betrayed you just like that. How do I know no one else will do the same to me like Tree Leaf did?”
“You want the honest answer? You don’t. But,” she stood up, “that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Time can change anybody. Bad events can cause a pony to give up, like with you. Good events can lead a pony to great things, like Twilight. I hadn’t seen Gilda in like ten years, so what had happened in her life following the Junior Speedsters may have led her to have a distrust of ponies. I was the exception because I was kind to her and she had a good history with me.”
Taking a few steps toward him she sat down and put a hoof on his shoulder. In a gentle tone she said, “You want a real answer? Don’t close your heart completely because of one bad experience. You’ll end up like Moondancer.”
“Who?” said Pound.
“Oh, right. You don’t know her. Moondancer was a friend of Twilight’s back before she moved to Ponyville. She had a lot of self-esteem issues. With some gentle encouragement she was starting to come out of her shell much like Gilda. She threw a big party, inviting the rest of her friends. She was closest to Twilight at the time because they were both nerds and loved studying. When Twilight blew off her party to study about Nightmare Moon it devastated her.
“From what Twilight said she completely gave up on other ponies then, feeling like if Twilight could just blow off her party and move out without even saying goodbye or checking in on her then she wasn’t worth anything as a pony. She dedicated her life to studying all that she could, but unlike Twilight never DID anything with it. With her extensive knowledge she likely only did the bare minimum to survive, and her house was full of cobwebs, her mane was a mess and her shirt threadbare because she just didn’t care enough to groom herself.
“Twilight eventually made things right with her, but I’m sure that’s not the way you want to grow up.”
Pound looked at the ground, giving a noncommittal noise.
“So my response to you is to be a little less trusting to those you don’t know, or just met. Trust isn’t something that should just be given away at random to anyone that shows you a teeny bit of kindness or shows some similarity to you. Trust is an ongoing process.”
Rainbow looked up thoughtfully. “Let me give you an example. Pumpkin. Your sister.”
Pound looked up at her. “What about her?”
“While you were exploding at Twilight I could see Pumpkin reacting to your complaints that Twilight was trying to replace you in her eyes. However she couldn’t do anything at the time because of the sand in her eyes.
“Pumpkin calls you her hero. Did you get that title out of the blue one day? Did Pumpkin just put a bunch of names in a hat and happened to pull out your name when deciding who her hero was going to be? No, of course not.
“Pumpkin gave you that title because you EARNED it. Because, time after time, you’ve put yourself on the line for her sake. Because, even if it got you hurt, you cared about her more than about yourself.”
Pound squirmed with guilt.
“So where should trust come from? Time, and experience. One kind deed doesn’t mean an everlasting friendship. You have to walk a fine line between trusting too much and trusting too little. If you over-trust someone could take advantage of you. If you trust too little then your relationship will never go anywhere.
“So now let me put forth the question to you: do you have anyone in your life who has repeatedly earned the same level of respect that Pumpkin has for you?”
Pound groaned again, his body moving back and forth as memories came to him.
“Darn it, Pound. You’re my hero. I told you that before and I’ll say it again.”
“J-just please understand that I will always love you no matter what. No matter how badly you screw up I will ALWAYS be there for you. That’s a Pinkie Promise for life.”
“I love you, Pound, and that’s never going to change.”
“Even if me and your father hated each other and wanted nothing to do with each other we would still stay together for your sake. We know how much the two of you love each other, and it would be wrong to force you to lose your twin because of our selfishness.”
Pumpkin, Auntie Pinkie, Fluttershy, and their parents… time after time, experience after experience, they had always been there for him. They might have their fights and disagreements and not want to talk to each other for a while, but they always worked things out in the end and became close again.
Pound was silent for a long time, processing things. He finally looked up at Rainbow Dash and said meekly, “Can we go back to your house, please?”
She nodded, getting down on the ground so he could climb on her back.
It only took a few minutes for them to return. Pound hopped off her back the second she landed, falling on his face. Being a soft, puffy cloud it didn’t hurt any, and he immediately ran inside. It occurred to him that he’d never been in Rainbow’s house before, and didn’t know the layout. “Fluttershy!” he yelled out. “Where are you?”
He heard the shuffling of hooves getting closer. When Fluttershy rounded the corner Pound recoiled a bit. Her eyes were red from crying, her mane was a mess and she had this blank expression on her face. She couldn’t even muster the energy to lift her hooves enough to take a step, moving simply by pushing them forward along the floor.
When she spotted him she sat down, not looking at him as she let out a sigh.
Pound gulped, realizing just how deeply he had hurt her. He trotted over to her, raising himself up and putting his hooves on her chest, much like a dog. “Fluttershy…” Tears began to come down his eyes. His mouth opened a few times, but the words he wanted just wouldn’t come. How could he explain everything he had been thinking? It felt like it would take months to say everything he wanted to say.
Slowly he dropped off of her, averting his eyes like her. “I know I said a lot of mean things and did my best to hurt you, so it’s okay if you don’t like me anymore. I’m really sorry. I’ll… I’ll just go home then, so you don't have to see my stupid-AAH”
As he went to turn Fluttershy moved so quickly he barely saw her, pulling him into a strong hug, squeezing so hard it almost hurt. “I s-still love you, Pound,” she said thickly, tears drizzling down her eyes. “I always have and I always will. Nothing you do will ever change that.”
“H-how can you just forgive me like that? I… I’ve been so horrible to you.”
“I know that wasn’t really you talking to me. That was just a little imposter Pound. Now I have the real one back with me. That’s all that matters to me. Everything else… is just water under the bridge.”
Pound sank into her hold, holding her back. His eyes began to water before he began wailing in her hooves, Fluttershy joining right along with him.