Pound felt so happy that he had his family back. He had been so foolish. Now he knew the truth. The REAL truth, not that fake truth he had been sticking to for the past couple of days. He had a family that loved him, and they had never betrayed him like Tree Leaf.
He spent the rest of the day snuggling and cuddling or sitting on the laps of his parents and Pinkie, eager to show that he was sorry and still cared for them too. That night he asked to sleep with Pumpkin, and he apologized endlessly as he put a hoof to her bruise and cried for what he had done to her.
Since his behavior had improved he was trusted enough to go back to school the next day. When he and Pumpkin got home they saw they had a visitor.
“Hi, Twilight!” said Pound, running up to her and giving her a hug.
“Hello, Pound” she replied, putting her wing around him. “Hello to you too, Pumpkin.”
“Hello, Twilight,” Pumpkin said, walking up and hugging her too. “I got homework to do, and I want to get it out of the way. I’ll talk to you later.”
Pound sighed, pulling out of her hold. “Yeah. Me too. Ugh. I hate studying.”
As Pound headed for the kitchen Twilight called after him, “Pound, I’d like to talk to you when your homework is finished.”
He stopped in place, before turning to her. “Auntie Pinkie told you about what’s been going on, right? You said that you don’t want to take over the role of handing out punishments over my parents, so why are you here?”
“Quite right, Pound,” Twilight said with a nod. “I’m not here to punish you. I wanted to ask you for a favor.”
He looked confused, an eyebrow going up. “A favor? What can I do for you that Auntie Pinkie or Applejack or anyone else can't do?”
“Nope. It has to be you, because you’re the only one that can do it.”
His eyes went around a little, his mouth doing the same, until he got a smile on his face. He didn’t know what it was she wanted, but if he was the only one then he was the only one.
Twilight entered the kitchen after Pound, and stood out of the way of the oven and baking preparation area, quietly observing the twins. She was still missing enough quantifiable experience to feel she had the grasp of children their age.
In her observation the two of them largely were opposites in many ways, despite being so close. Pumpkin’s half of the table was pretty neat and organized, and she looked like she really understood the work she was assigned, given how quickly her pencil moved.
On the other hoof Pound’s area was a bit of a mess. Instead of pulling just what he needed out he had dumped his entire saddle bag onto the table. He spent more time making restless gestures and staring at his homework paper, kicking his legs and putting his head on his hoof than actually writing. She thought about offering him some help, but with his pride she was sure he would take it as an insult.
“Hey, Twilight!” he said suddenly, turning to her.
“Oh!” she said, shaken out of her thoughts. “Yes, Pound?”
“Can I just finish this later?”
“I think it would be best to finish your homework, Pound,” Twilight said in an authoritative tone.
“But I can’t concentrate on this. I mean, a princess has got some super awesome task that only I can accomplish. How am I supposed to focus on something boring like homework?”
Twilight’s eyes faded out for a moment as she got a strong sense of déjà vu, bringing to mind her trying to teach Rainbow Dash how to study. She filed the recognition under something to explore later on. Maybe he wasn’t like Rainbow, as it was probably her fault anyway for his distraction. If she knew Princess Celestia had a task for her it would certainly keep her mind occupied until she knew what it was.
“Very well,” she said. “Let’s chat about your mission-”
“YES!” he yelled, pumping a hoof as he hopped off his seat.
“-AFTER you clean up your work area.”
His excitement faded out. “Come on! This is important! The fate of the world could be at stake.”
Twilight goggled at him for a moment, seeing she had given him the wrong impression. Although… to some small degree he was right. It was little things that built up over time that had led to disaster before.
In a firm voice she said, “Clean up your area or I might decide you’re too immature for this.”
He sighed, going back to his seat and putting everything back in his saddle bag.
Twilight’s inner organizer died a little inside as he just jammed everything in haphazardly.
“There!” he said. “Can we go now?”
Pumpkin sighed now. She was finding it hard to concentrate with all the noise. She put her pencil behind her ear and looked at Twilight. She couldn’t deny she was a little curious about what kind of task only her brother could accomplish.
As he walked toward her Twilight's horn glowed, lifting up his saddlebag and arranging the various writing utensils, books, and papers in a satisfactory order and packing them away again. “Not just yet.” Sitting down she said, “Pound, I’m a princess.”
He gasped, clutching his heart and falling dramatically to the floor. “No! Really?”
Pumpkin began to snicker.
Twilight let out a few laughs too. “Well, I suppose I asked for that. Anyway, the point is that in my position as a princess of Equestria I can’t just be small-minded and self-absorbed.”
Pound got up, a blank look on his face. “Can you stop speaking nerd? What does that mean?”
Twilight tapped her hoof a few times on the floor, trying to find a better way to word things. “Okay, then. How about this. Who do you consider family?”
“Pumpkin, my mom and dad, and Auntie Pinkie. And Fluttershy too, kinda.”
“Okay. As a unicorn my answer would be much like yours. My family is the ponies I’m related to, as well as my closest of friends.
“As an alicorn and a princess, though, that answer has changed.”
Pound looked at her, confused. “So you don’t consider us like family anymore?”
“No, Pound. A princess is the ruler of the ponies around her. She is expected to protect the land and be a shield for everyone, regardless of age, relation, or circumstance. And what that means is now I have to consider every pony in Ponyville like a member of my family, and do for them what I would do for my closest friends.”
Pound averted his eyes, looking kinda bored. “Okay, great. So what about my super special awesome task?”
Twilight suppressed a groan with difficulty. With his difficulty in paying attention and his brash attitude she could just picture him being like Rainbow Dash when he grew up more. “Fine, then,” she said bluntly. “I’ll get to the point.
“What I’m trying to say is that while I can’t be super close with every pony because I just don’t have the time to devote to it, I can’t give you special treatment just because I’ve known you longer. I still have to give everyone a fair chance.”
Twilight closed her eyes and sighed quietly. “You and Pumpkin ran away from home because you thought everyone stopped liking you for getting into a fight at school. I felt guilty over things because I never meant to hurt you so badly, and so I spent a week trying to teach you better control of your attitude.”
“I know that already. I was there, remember?”
‘Patience, Twilight,’ she thought. “So what I’m SAYING is that it would be wrong of me as a princess to not offer the same courtesy to another pony in need.”
“And just when are we gonna start talking about ME? Super important task only I can do, right? So why are you talking like this is all about you?”
“Because this is something that directly involves you. And Pumpkin too, but-”
“Oh, so now you’re gonna give HER my job?”
Twilight giggled in a strained sort of way. She had wound him up too much and he was only waiting for his role. “No!” she said.
Pumpkin wanted to ask why she wasn’t being offered a chance to help too if it involved her somehow, but her brother was being a total pain right now. She thought it would be better not to set him off or they’d never hear the end of it.
“You know the incident with Tree Leaf?”
Pound scowled. “What ABOUT him?”
“Do you remember how Fluttershy took you to Rainbow Dash because she thought it was the best way to get through to you? Because you two had a shared experience in a friend’s betrayal Fluttershy knew that Rainbow would be the most understanding of your situation. I’ve noticed it several times that feeling understood with your issues and problems has helped to calm you down and get rid of your anger. So I’ve come to you now because I don’t understand enough to feel I can really resolve an issue. “
Now Pound’s interest was sparking. “Was someone else betrayed? I can tell them about what happened with me. It’s probably a little kid like me, right, or you could just use Rainbow Dash. So who is it, who is it?”
Twilight mentally prepared herself, getting an odd smile on her face. “You might want to cover your ears, Pumpkin.”
Both the twins looked at her strangely. “Why?” she asked.
“Because I know your brother.”
Pumpkin put her hooves near her ears, ready to block them if necessary, but she was really curious just what was going on.
“Now, Pound, I know you’re probably going to freak out but I would appreciate it if you could do your best to listen to me.”
“Why am I going to freak out?” asked Pound.
“Mmm.” Twilight knew she couldn’t put it off any longer. “The pony I want you to help me reform is Tree Leaf.”
The words hung in the air for a moment, and Pumpkin quickly plugged her ears as she saw the fuse light on her brother’s head, even as she wondered just what Twilight was thinking.
Pound’s face went beet red, his cheeks puffing up like they did when he was at his most furious. And a few seconds later he exploded. “WHAT?” he yelled. “NO! NO! NO! FORGET IT! NOT DOING IT! NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO!”
“Pound-” Twilight started, but she was cut off.
“NO!” he said forcefully as he began pacing around. He kept muttering words under his breath, mainly calling her crazy and deluded. Twilight let him be for the moment. When he had cooled down a bit she could continue to talk with him.
“Twilight?” said Pumpkin.
She turned to look. “Yes, Pumpkin?”
Scratching her head she asked, “Why would you want Pound for this? Or me?”
“Exactly!” Pound said, stomping a hoof. “I can’t believe you would ever ask me that. If YOU have to be all ooey-gooey nice with him because it’s down in your princess rulebook that’s YOUR business. I never want to see that jerk again as long as I live. Look what he did to our family! He scared me and hurt me and made me feel afraid of my own family and be a total jerk to them.”
“I know, Pound," Twilight responded. "But bad behavior, and especially bullying behavior, usually has a source; an event that led them down that dark path. As the authority of the land it is my job to help other ponies see the light of a better path that they abandoned.
"As you yourself said you turned into the worst pony you could make yourself out of fear of betrayal. You did it in the hopes of making your family hate you and give up on you so you wouldn’t have to think about whether or not they actually loved you. In the end, though, the good pony you really were was still there deep down, unhappy about your actions and crying out for love.
“Did they give up on you, Pound, when you were acting like that? Despite all the pain and heartache you put them through all they wanted wasn’t punishment or revenge, but only for the Pound they knew and loved to return. They forgave you for taking responsibility for what you did, and when you felt that someone understood your pain your bad behavior ceased and your good behavior returned.
“What would have happened if they DIDN’T choose to forgive you? What, then?”
Pound began to tremble a little, terrified at the prospect as he had been when he first apologized. His eyes filled with tears, and he just shook his head.
“It hurts and it’s scary to think of being all alone, but, because someone was there to help you, you became a better pony for the experience. As a princess who has to look after the next generation of ponies and help them grow up wise and kind it is my duty to help ponies find their second chance, just like your family did for you.”
“W-well… what do you want ME to do?” He started pacing around again, “You said that you had to give every pony the same that you would give to us, so why don’t you just spend a week with him like you did with me? What do you need me for? I don’t want to see him.”
“Why?” she asked in a calm voice.
“WHY?” he snapped, rounding on her. “You know perfectly well why! He hurt Pumpkin and caused a lot of problems. Why should I go out of my way to help him?”
“I thought you were all fired up for your important task? Did you think it was going to be easy?”
He sucked on his cheek for a moment. “Well, you didn’t say anything about doing stuff like that. And you still haven’t explained why you think only I can handle it.”
“Because I learned long ago that there are things that I can’t do by myself, and need others help to accomplish. I picked you for two reasons: you know him just a little bit better than I do, and you’re around his age. True, I could just spend time with him like I did with you, but the impact of that time would be far less than if I didn’t have you. The main reason for that is part of the reason he snapped is because of his interactions with you. He’ll be much more likely to listen if he’s in a better mood, and the best way to do that is to help get rid of his negative feelings, which stem from his problems with you.”
“NO!” he yelled. “I don’t want to talk to him. EVER! If he feels bad he SHOULD feel bad for what he did. And you can’t do anything about it. I’m not going to forgive him. I don’t want to be his friend, and if you try to use your magic to force us to be friends then you’re just a phony princess.”
Twilight looked down at him seriously. “Have you already forgotten what I just said about your family? If they chose not to give you a second chance where would you be now? Now, I’ll ask you again: why won’t you go talk to him? I’ve started to see how you operate. When you start getting really frustrated and confrontational there’s usually something bugging you that you either won’t say or don’t know how to say it.”
Pound looked at the floor, taking a heavy breath. “I don’t want to,” he said quietly. “After what happened at the beach and what happened after and worrying if my family really forgave me I’m… I’m just tired of bad feelings.” He gulped, a tear dripping down onto the floor. “I’m tired of yelling and screaming and fighting and being angry and mad and upset and afraid.”
“Is that all?” Twilight asked gently.
Looking up at her he said, “If I see him and he says some nasty stuff I’m going to hit him and get into a big fight. I only just got to go back to school. I don’t want to be punished for another week or kicked out for good.”
“Aah!” Twilight remarked, understanding. “I get it. However, as a princess I’m giving you this task. And that means that anything that happens is almost entirely my responsibility. Your principal still kicked you out of school for your behavior, but the majority of her anger and frustration was directed at me for recommending you two for the program.”
She walked up to him and got down onto his level. “I know I’m asking a lot of you, Pound. I can understand that you want to keep a positive attitude after everything that’ s been going on recently, but this is a task I can trust to no one else. Please,” she said with the utmost care, “I need you to prove your strength just one more time. This is for both your and his benefit. You refrained from attacking Tree Leaf to tell me what he had done. Now the next step in your maturity is learning to resolve your differences. Maybe you’re not meant to be friends, but it’s always better to make friends than enemies. I told you that before.”
Pound looked away from her, his stomach churning. “I’m not strong,” he said in a quiet voice. “I’m still too weak. I didn’t care about your lessons when Tree Leaf hurt Pumpkin. I was totally about to go over and beat him to a pulp. The only thing that stopped me was hearing Pumpkin start crying.”
Twilight put a hoof on his cheek. “Look at me, Pound.” When he did she said tenderly, “Don’t underestimate yourself. The reason why you stopped isn’t all that important. What is important is the fact that you DID succeed when the old Pound wouldn’t have even tried.
“I wouldn’t have spent my time on you if I didn’t think you were capable of handling it, and I know you can do this.”
“Why?” he asked, tears brimming in his eyes again.
“Because when it comes to Pumpkin’s safety you’ll do absolutely anything, no matter how tough it is. Just because Tree Leaf got punished for his actions doesn’t mean that he’s forgotten about what happened. He probably still bears a grudge against you. Imagine one day you and Pumpkin are playing hide and seek at the park, and Pumpkin’s off by herself hiding, when Tree Leaf and a few of his buddies spot her. Here before him is the perfect chance to get back at you, by hurting your sister to hurt you.”
Pound shivered at the thought.
“That’s why it’s so important to bridge this gap and try to make amends. If you can talk things out and end on a peaceful note, then even if you don’t become friends again then at least he won’t have any hateful feelings toward you, and you can walk with your head held high because you know you gave it your best.
“You’re right, Pound. I am not your boss, and I can’t force friendship between you, but maybe Tree Leaf was suffering with some negative feelings himself that just so happened to be taken out on your sister. I’m not saying it was okay for him to do what he did, but I’m only asking for you to give it a try. If things get out of control I’ll be there to break you up, but I believe in you completely, and I have no doubt you can do this.”
He shrunk away from her a little bit. “Do… do you really mean that?”
She nodded. “I wouldn’t lie about this, Pound. I know I’m asking a lot of you, but I need you for this. Be strong, for Pumpkin’s sake, the way you always have been before. Can I count on you for this very important task?”
Pound was reeling with uncertainty. He didn’t know if he could control himself. He didn’t know what he’d do when he saw Tree Leaf. He didn’t know if he would be able to forgive or let things go. However…
The mental image of Tree Leaf and a small group of friends all converging on his sister to beat her up because of their spat was scary. He didn’t want to let that happen if he could prevent it. Thinking about Pumpkin’s health ignited a fire in his heart, and despite his doubts he knew there was no choice.
Raising himself up to his maximum height, he gave a curt nod and said seriously, “Yes! I’ll do it.”