Best birthday ever!” Sugar Belle exclaimed in glee as they packed up their scattered ski gear that was littering the pure snow.
Hours of skiing, snowboarding, snow fights, and making snow ponies with frequent snack breaks and even present opening had put Sugar Belle on an all time mood high. She had gotten everything she had wanted and not necessarily in relation to the presents. The best present to her was spending this special time with her friends.
“Maybe it would have been better if Double and Party hadn’t kept running off,” Night Glider smirked at the stallions.
“I’m faster on my skis,” Double shrugged. “I can’t help it.”
“And I’ve gotten better since I ski with him all the time,” Party added in with a blush.
Sugar Belle giggled as she swung her skis over her back and started them down the hard-packed path back to their picnic spot. “That’s okay,” she gave up. “I mean, I did want to be here with other ponies too. My old friends are just as important as my newer ones.”
“And your marefriend,” Night Glider insisted with her unique almost-tomcoltish voice.
“Of course,” Sugar rolled her eyes.
It wasn’t quite evening yet, so the snow was still reflecting strongly enough that some of them still had their goggles on. The air seemed to be getting cooler, though, as if the sun was giving up early just for the fun of it. It didn’t take them long to walk in the spiral direction down the path to see the greener area they had left Cocoa Dream at, since the ski runs swooped down the opposite side of the mountain.
The dark brown mare waved happily at them and Subtle Stream was a little faster than the rest to reach her. While the birthday girl got to rest and start on their next meal, Double started putting their snow gear back into the wagon. Party Favor helped only because he wanted to.
“Got the urge out of your system?” Party asked as he carefully slid Sugar’s skis into their bag.
“Which one?” Double replied with a wiggle of his brows.
Party snorted a laugh. “Don’t you start. We’ve still got the rest of the day and night for Sugar’s party.”
Double shrugged and turned away. “I guess you’re going to have to endure it the best you can.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Party gave the stallion a sly look in return.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Double lied. “Just try not to eat any of the Key Lime Cupcakes.”
“But those are my favorite!” Party frowned and protested.
Double finished with the last item in the wagon and walked them back to the picnic blanket. There were muffins, cupcakes, rolls, and a variety of fruits and vegetables laid out in an enticing array. Water and various juices were arranged at the side. Subtle Stream asked the other stallions if they wanted anything to drink and began pouring their orders. They both sat down and enjoyed the iced drinks after all of the physical activity.
Night Glider wasn’t two bites into her chocolate chip muffin when she swallowed and then complained. “I’m bored.”
“That was fast,” Sugar Belle laughed humorously.
“I wish we had something to do,” Night explained with a sigh.
“We were just doing like a million things not fifteen minutes ago,” Sugar rose a brow.
“A jumping castle would be nice.”
“How old are you again?” Sugar laughed.
“Nopony is too old for a jumping castle!” Party exclaimed with extreme seriousness from the other side of the food. “Double agrees.”
The white stallion looked up from the pastry he was devouring. “Why are you dragging me into this?” he asked in a panicked voice. He knew where Party’s arguments tended to lead and he had no intention of chasing down a clown pony underwater while wearing a chicken suit again.
“Agree with me,” Party insisted while staring holes into his coltfriend.
Double began to sweat.
“Perhaps a game is in order then,” Subtle Stream suggested and thus saved Double from the possibility of reliving past nightmares.
“Oh oh oh, what game?!” Party got excited and forgot about the past conversation entirely.
“An exploration game. Nothing so tiring as what we were doing before,” Stream nodded to Cocoa.
The brown Earth pony clopped her forehooves in joy. “I can get it ready!”
Stream smiled and watched his wife get up eagerly and go to her saddle bag at the edge of the picnic blanket. She rummaged through it for a few seconds before retrieving some small flags and a tiny box.
“Is this Capture the Chocolate?” Sugar beamed with a nostalgic light.
“I’m surprised you remembered,” Subtle had wide eyes.
Night Glider rubbed her forehooves together in a scheming manner. “This sounds like the kind where I get all the loot.”
“I already offered all of my birthday snacks to you,” Sugar stuck out her tongue and tapped her marefriend on the nose.
“I wouldn’t mind helping out with placing the stuff around,” Double Diamond offered his help to Cocoa.
The mare looked to Subtle Stream, who nodded. “Thanks, but you won’t be able to play if you do since you’ll know where everything is...”
“I have an idea!” Sugar Belle rose her hoof. “You two never played the game yourselves,” she gestured to both Subtle Stream and Cocoa Dream, “because you’ve always been the ones to set it up. How about Double and Party do it this time and then you can play with me.”
Subtle Stream looked to the other stallions. “Well, I can’t ask you to, but I can’t deny the birthday girl either.”
“I’ll help too!” Party Favor got to his hooves in a bounce. He took a key lime cupcake with him and popped it into his mouth just as he came up to Double Diamond. The result was suddenly wide eyes, tears, and fire coming forth from the stallion’s mouth.
“Gaaaah!” Party cried as he ran around wildly, his mouth on fire.
Sugar Belle was in stitches from all the laughing this caused her. Between wheezes, Night Glider heard the words “hot pepper, prank, and success.”
Poor Party Favor was rescued by Double Diamond, who got him several glasses of cold water. “I told you,” the champion skier shook his head.
Double looked to Cocoa again. “You’ll need to explain how this works so we can do it right.”
The mare gave him the flags and the box and walked him and Party down the mountain while explaining the rules.
“I want to eat these so bad,” Party shuddered with barely-held restraint.
Double gave a “tsk” and then stopped his coltfriend short. Party had nearly tripped over a log because he was focused so much on the box he was holding and that should have been in his saddlebag on his back.
“We weren’t told we could eat the spares, Party,” Double made a slanted look. “Besides, didn’t you have like a half dozen cupcakes already.”
“Maybe,” the blue stallion tapped his forehooves together after putting away the box.
“Next time you’ll listen to me and avoid getting pranked,” Double remarked on the flaming hot cupcakes Party had devoured.
The party pony fidgeted. “But it’s fun getting pranked.”
“That’s just like you,” the skier shook his head.
They were now nearing the edge of the forest at the crater’s rim. All the flags and prizes had been placed so they needed to get back to the picnic site for the others to begin. Somehow, it felt hotter where they were versus being on the mountain and it was not just the snowy parts that Double was comparing to. That place really had some magic to it.
“Sure those chocolates won’t just melt?” Double decided to ponder.
“They’re in a special wrapping,” Party replied. “Besides, Cocoa told me she used ingredients that didn’t melt as fast. It gives a different texture but they’re really popular anyways. That’s what she told me, anyhow.”
“I suppose...” Double trailed on. He took more care now that they were traveling down the crater to the mountain summit.
After a minute of silence between them filled with the sounds of nature, Party spoke up in a softer voice. “Hey, Double?”
“Yeah, Party?” the stallion responded evenly.
“Have you ever felt at peace?” Party Favor inquired earnestly. “I mean, at peace with your own life.”
“I feel that way right now,” Double answered and then looked up to the peak of the mountain they were ascending once more. He changed the topic, though held onto the thought of the last one. “Wonder why’d they’d make a treasure hunt over such a wide area?”
Party saw out of his peripheral vision that his coltfriend was expecting some kind of visible reaction. “Well, they are native ponies to this area,” he explained and looked up to the peak that Double had been watching. “Since Sugar wanted to be here with them, she probably met them because of a shared interest in nature. The hunt is just an excuse or a means of getting them out there and exploring with the bonus of an occasional treat.”
“You could be right,” Double considered. “You clever little colt.”
“I have to be able to keep your interest somehow,” the blue stallion stuck his tongue out and tapped his coltfriend on the nose.
“Why would you say that?” Double rebutted. “You know I love you more than just some amusement.”
Party Favor blushed but didn’t avert his eyes from the peak he was looking up at again.
They trot in silence for a time once more but, as they were drawing near the picnic area again, Double decided to say something that had weighed on his heart for months now. Putting it into words made him feel better, though he didn’t know how to explain that bit.
“Party Favor,” he began softly, “I know my sponsorships don’t give us much to go off of and neither does your party business. But we’re both pretty happy and I think I know why.”
“We have each other?” Party smiled and bumped his coltfriend’s flank, which made him chuckle.
“Well, of course, there is that,” the snow-colored Earth pony agreed. “But there’s something else that I think we both share in common.”
Party saw their friends come in sight along with the picnic blanket ahead. As his hooves stepped across the plush grass, he expected something sentimental to come out of his coltfriend’s mouth. It usually did when he had this tone of voice. He was not disappointed.
“We both like to look up,” Double Diamond concluded, his gaze matched his stallion’s. The snow at the mountain’s upper part shone brilliantly when the dark clouds above let some sunlight in. They were keeping the area shaded where they had previously let in plenty of sunlight when the ponies had skied.
“On the brighter side of things,” Party Favor agreed with a smile. He knew for a long time that he had a sunny disposition more often than most ponies, but he realized that it was also true for Double. Perhaps that was one of the things that had made him so attractive to Party. Few ponies were as optimistic as he was, even when he wasn’t exactly happy. It gave them similar life views.
Double bumped his coltfriend’s flank in a delayed return. “Come on. I’ll race you to the others.”
Party was already taking off before his reply came out. “Can’t beat me without your skis!”
“Ahhhh,” Party Favor relaxed on their bed back in their town home.
“You? Tired?” Double was almost surprised as he finished putting away their final things from the trip. He closed the bedroom closet and joined his companion on their bed.
“Hey,” Party waved a hoof. “Even I can get tired, you know.”
“Hard to believe,” Double grinned and then gave his coltfriend a kiss on the nose.
Party cooed in delight. “I wish I could return the favor, but I’m so exhausted that I can’t even move.”
“You didn’t have to find every single one of the chocolates left over in the game,” Double shook his head.
“It would be littering if we didn’t!” Party’s eyes went wide. “Besides, it was fun to share in the hunting too even if it was just the end.”
Double sighed and noted the sun setting outside their window. “Going to call it an early day?”
“Only if you do,” Party stuck his tongue out and gently pawed Double’s nose.
“Hey,” the white stallion gave a pouty face. “I thought you were too tired.”
The unicorn yawned in response and then cuddled up to his stallion. “I’m fine with resting for now. With my honey~”
Double rolled his eyes but put his hooves around Party Favor. It had been a pretty good birthday for Sugar Belle and even though it took them a whole day just to pack up and get home, he knew he would keep the outing as a fond memory. No matter how things went tomorrow, he rested knowing that at least he had Party Favor to share it with.
And for that, life was certainly looking up.