W I N T E R
All was snow and ice by the time the two pegasi spotted lights in front of them. The gray clouds were like a ceiling to the world’s tallest room, and the snow formed an almost impenetrable wall of white. But down below, the lights of a small village burned, a beacon to guide the two travelers home.
Rainbow Dash pointed to the ground, and Lightning nodded. The two began to circle through the snow and the wind, and gradually, the streetlights became clearer and brighter. Thatched-roof cottages appeared through the malaise, and between them, Lightning Dust could see the snowbanks piling in the streets. The weather pegasi here had really outdone themselves to bring such a thick and thorough cleansing blanket to the town. Lightning knew that Manehattan’s team was probably struggling to put a uniform dusting together without shutting down the arteries of the city.
They landed in front of an enormous crystal tree, and Lightning had to rub her eyes once she saw it. “Princess Twilight lives in that?” she asked, looking at Rainbow in disbelief.
“Would you believe me if I told you it sprouted out of the ground in like two seconds?” she asked. Then, shivering, she shook snow out of her wings and trotted up to the door. “Now come on, I’m freezing my butt off out here!”
“You’re the one who wanted to fly instead of take the train,” Lightning grumbled.
“You needed the long distance flight time,” Rainbow said. “Gotta stay in shape for spring. Plus, flying in the cold builds character.”
“Or destroys it,” Lightning said, fluffing up her wings. “I can’t feel my alulae anymore. I’m pretty sure they’re iced over.”
“It’s a good thing we’re here, then.” Cantering up to the door, Rainbow knocked three times and likewise took the opportunity to fluff her wings. Lightning noticed her bite down to stop her teeth from chattering in the frigid air.
Then the door opened, momentarily bathing the snow outside in warm yellow light. A familiar pink pony blurred out of the door and nearly tackled Rainbow in a crushing hug before rubbing noses with her. “Dashie! You’re back! Oh, I missed you so much!”
Rainbow managed to wriggle free of the pink mare’s death grip and gently held her at bay with an outstretched hoof. “Pinkie, I’ve been gone for like, what, a week? I just had stuff to take care of back in Manehattan before the party. The Wonderbolts had their own Hearth’s Warming party that I had to be at, too.” Smirking, she added, “Though it doesn’t have anything on a patented Pinkie Pie party!”
Pinkie Pie squealed with excitement, and Lightning worried she was going to burst. “I’m glad to see that Dashie still knows who the master of the party is!” she exclaimed before bouncing to the side. “Twilight and the others are all inside! We’ve even got hot cider to get you all nice and toasty! You look like you could use it!”
Then she spun toward Lightning Dust and gasped. But instead of a cold or frosty welcome like Lightning expected, Pinkie Pie dashed up to her and gave her a hug too. “You came too!” she exclaimed, slowly cracking Lightning’s ribs one by one as she squeezed. “I was worried you weren’t gonna come! This is super-duper awesome!” She suddenly gasped and let go of Lightning, who immediately staggered and sucked frigid air into her lungs. “I can hold a ‘Lightning Dust isn’t a Jerk Anymore’ party inside of my Hearth’s Warming Party! It’ll be a party inside of a party!” She froze mid-bounce, her hooves somehow levitating a few inches over the snow. “Hmmm… there’s a market to be exploited there, I’m sure of it.”
But then she landed back on the ground and beamed at Lightning. “But super thrilled you’re here! Come inside! We’ve got all the best everything!” Her smile turned into a mischievous smirk, and she leaned in closer to the two pegasi. “Maybe if we crack open the hard stuff we can get Twilight drunk and then she’ll start complaining about her love life!” Then, giggle-snorting, she spun around and bounced back into the castle.
Lightning glanced at Rainbow, who chuckled and shook her head. “Pinkie’s gonna Pinkie. Now come on, let’s get inside. I’m freezing my tail off out here.”
The two stepped inside and Rainbow shut the door behind them. Lightning sighed in relief as the warm air began to soak through her feathers, and she stripped her winter gear off one item at a time and tossed it in a pile near the door. She shook her wings again, sending melted snow flying in a little cloud around her, and she looked up at the massive vaulted ceiling above. “Celestia, this place is enormous!”
“And crystal-y,” Rainbow said, fluttering up a foot or so and hovering above the ground. “This place used to be a lot more boring and shiny before me and the girls helped decorate it for Twilight. Turns out that shiny castles just sprouting from the ground like… well, trees, they don’t have a lot of decoration and furniture inside.” Then she waved down the hall and began to glide toward the light and laughter coming from the next room over. “Come on! Food’s this way!”
Lightning trotted after Rainbow Dash, keeping her hooves firmly on the ground. She didn’t know how Rainbow did it; her wings were too sore after that flight to hover around when she didn’t need to. Maybe Rainbow Dash was right; she did need some more long-distance flying.
Rainbow Dash darted into the next room, flying up high enough to be noticed and spreading her forelegs out. “Guess who!” she shouted, dropping down right into the middle of several colorful mares. “I hope I’m not too late for the egg nog!”
“Rainbow!” Twilight exclaimed, hopping up from her seat and trotting over to hug the stunt flier. Within a few seconds, all of her friends had gathered around for hugs, while Lightning Dust stood awkwardly in the archway between the foyer and the main hall.
Rainbow chuckled and stepped back from her friends when the hug ended. “Yeah, yeah, it’s good to see you girls, too. We had a long and cold flight from Manehattan. There was a pretty bad blizzard along the way, so we lost an hour or two flying around it.” She looked over her shoulder and waved Lightning Dust in. “Come and say hey, LD. I’ll even introduce you! This is—”
“Rarity, Fluttershy, Applejack, Pinkie Pie, and Princess Twilight,” Lightning said, lowering her head some. “You girls have been in the papers too much for anypony to not know who you are. And… well, we did kind of already meet two years ago…”
“Yeah, when ya almost killed us with that freak tornado,” Applejack said, frowning. “Didn’t even care none whether we were hurt or nothing.”
“You were kind of, um…” Fluttershy started, immediately averting her gaze.
“A jerk is what I believe Fluttershy is trying to say,” Rarity said, narrowing her eyes at Lightning. But after a moment, her gaze softened. “Although from how I hear it, you and Rainbow have made up, and now she’s helping you train for the Wonderbolts again.”
Lightning nodded and looked at Rainbow, who offered her a supportive smile. “Yeah, we ran into each other back in spring and… well, talked some things out over a few drinks. I’ve been staying at her place in Manehattan since then.” Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes and hung her head. “And I know I was an asshole and all that back then, and I wasn’t really thinking about anypony other than myself, but I’m really, really sorry for what happened. I’m just glad that my dumb stunt didn’t get you all killed.”
Rainbow stepped over to Lightning Dust and wrapped a wing around her shoulders. “Our dumb stunt, you mean.”
“Yeah, but it was my idea,” Lightning said with a shrug. She looked up at Rainbow’s friends, who all watched her with neutral expressions. “So… yeah, I’m really sorry and all, and I hope it’s not sappy or shallow, because I was trying to think of what to say the whole flight here, and—”
“Oh, Lightning Dust, it’s okay,” Twilight said, walking over to the nervous pegasus. “What’s important is that you realized just how, well, wrong you were acting, and now you’re sincerely apologizing for your mistakes.” She stopped a pace away from Lightning and held out her hoof. “No hard feelings, right?”
“Yeah! Water under the bridge!” Pinkie exclaimed from the background, bouncing up and down. “Best apology ever!”
“Well, heh, no hard feelings on my part, then,” Applejack said, adjusting her hat. “To be honest, I forgot about the whole ordeal after a few weeks.”
“Well, certainly, no harm, no foul,” Rarity said, tossing her mane back, and Fluttershy nodded as well. Her magic picked up a glass of champagne and brought it to her lips. Swallowing, she pointed to the bottle on the table. “Please, do enjoy yourself, darling! It’s just us tonight. And Spike, of course,” she added, smiling as the purple dragon walked back into the main hall with a tray full of fresh cookies in his claws.
A small smile crept onto Lightning’s muzzle, and she delicately took Twilight’s outstretched hoof. “T-Thanks,” she stammered, slowly stepping forward as Twilight led her toward the middle of the room. “That means a lot to me. I’m just so sorry for everything.”
“You already said that, silly filly!” Pinkie said, giggling and bounding over to Lightning’s side. “Now enough of that sad stuff! We’ve got cupcakes and cookies and all sorts of awesome stuff! Can’t celebrate Hearth’s Warming Eve Eve without getting stuffed on sweets and absolutely trashed!”
Lightning giggled. “Really?”
“Well, tomorrow’s the actual Eve, and the castle’s open to the public for that,” Twilight said. “We like to enjoy our own little gathering before then.”
“Plus, the hangover guarantees we won’t overdo it tomorrow when appearances are everything,” Rarity said, refilling her champagne glass. “It’s crude, but fun and effective—though you certainly won’t be hearing me say that tomorrow once my liver reminds me of what I’m doing right now.”
“Rarity’s great when she’s drunk,” Rainbow said, sliding up alongside Lightning. “All that ladylike talk? That’s just completely gone. She swears worse than a sailor once she’s had too much to drink.”
Rarity narrowed her eyes and took a measured sip from her champagne. When she set it down, she crossed her forelegs. “Rainbow, my dear, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Yeah, yeah, sure, Rares,” Rainbow said with a chuckle. She pointed with a wing to the kitchen. “Let’s go see what Twilight’s got in there, huh? I’m sure she’s got gin for you.”
Lightning licked her lips, already imagining the warm fire of a gin and tonic in her gut. “I could really use one right about now…”
The night beat on, lively and fast. They played a few games, mostly different card games, and they only got louder the more they drank. After the first fifteen minutes, Lightning felt completely at home with Rainbow’s friends, and together, the seven were telling stories long after Spike had gone to bed, too tired to keep his eyes open any longer.
“So I told him, ‘No, sir, and if you don’t like it, then that’s just fine by me! I’ve already put the bits in the bank!’” Rarity laughed and wiped a tear from her eye, the champagne in her glass sloshing dangerously close to the rim. “Oh, he was so mad! Never heard back from him either! No skin off my back; I already had a dreadful backlog to get through!”
Lightning Dust and Rainbow Dash chuckled as they sat side by side on the sofa. Rarity had held the floor for the past half an hour, rattling off story after story of the kind of customers she had to deal with at her various boutiques. Lightning had enjoyed them all, and she’d worked her way through yet another gin and tonic by the time that story had ended. Frowning, she picked up her empty glass and staggered back to the kitchen, sliding her glass onto the counter. But before she filled it up, she decided she really needed to use the bathroom. If only she knew where it was.
Picking a random doorway, she set off down the halls of the castle, looking for any sort of sign or indication that there was a bathroom nearby. It took her several minutes of navigating the numerous hallways and resorting to opening every door she came across, but she finally found what she was looking for. When she emerged, another challenge arose: finding her way back.
“Fuck me,” she muttered, her addled mind struggling to retrace her steps. She wondered if she was going to die alone in the castle, never to be found. But thankfully, she quite literally bumped into Rainbow Dash as she wandered around a corner.
Rainbow stepped back and sloppily rubbed her nose with a wing. “Oh, there you are,” she said, shaking her head. “We were wondering where you went.”
“Just got lost,” Lightning said. “This place is big.”
“I told you,” Rainbow said. She turned around and waved a wing. “Come on, let’s get you back to the kitchen. Wouldn’t want you to spend the rest of the night wandering from place to place, completely lost.”
“Me neither,” Lightning said, and her wingtips flexed around a phantom drink. “And I need more gin.”
The pair made their way back to the kitchen with Rainbow’s guidance, and soon enough, Lightning had a drink in her wing. But when they returned, nopony was in the main hall. “Where’d they all go?”
“Over here!” Twilight shouted from in the foyer. Raising their eyebrows, Rainbow and Lightning made their way into the foyer, where they saw the other mares standing just beyond the open door. Twilight turned back to them and grinned. “The skies cleared up for a bit and we can see the stars! Don’t worry, I’ve got a spell up to keep the cold air off us. Come on!”
Lightning looked at Rainbow, and Rainbow shrugged and trotted out the door, Lightning close behind her. Together, they joined Rainbow’s friends as they stood on the snow, looking at an almost perfect hole that’d opened in the sky.
“That’s awesome,” Lightning said, craning her neck to look at the stars beyond. She’d never been one for stargazing, but the bright and quiet beauty of the night sky through the partition in the clouds stole her breath away. She even saw a shooting star dart across the gap, a fiery and blazing spark of splendor that vanished as quickly as it appeared.
They stood around for almost ten minutes before the gap in the clouds closed up again, and one by one, Rainbow’s friends went inside. Soon, it was only Lightning, Rainbow, and Twilight standing outside, at least until Twilight stifled a yawn.
“Sorry, girls,” she said, moving toward the door. “I’m gonna head back inside. I’ll have to stop the spell, so you might want to come in, too.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” Rainbow said, standing up. She offered Lightning a hoof to stand which Lightning happily took. Using a turquoise wing to brush the snow off of her rump, she followed Rainbow and Twilight back inside the castle and shut the door behind the three of them.
When they were inside, Twilight turned to Lightning and hugged her. “I’m really glad you came,” Twilight said, smiling. “It’s been fun. And tomorrow, we have the big party to look forward to!”
“I’m definitely excited for that,” Lightning said. “I’m just glad that I showed up for the little gathering beforehoof. It might have been a little overwhelming otherwise.”
Rainbow waved a wing. “Eh, you’d get used to it. You’re just like me; we love crowds.”
“Only if there’s space to show off in it,” Lightning added with a chuckle.
Twilight giggled and shook her head. “You two…” Yawning again, she rubbed her temples with her wings. “Ugh… I might have to turn in earlier than I was planning. I’ll have to oversee all the decorations tomorrow and everything. She looked again at Lightning Dust. “You have a place to stay? I can offer you one of the guest bedrooms if you want.”
Lightning held up a hoof. “Oh, no, that’s okay. I was just gonna stay at Rainbow’s place.”
Twilight blinked. “Rainbow, I didn’t know that your place had a guest bedroom. I thought it only had one bed?”
“It’s made of clouds, Twilight,” Rainbow said, smirking. “The whole thing is basically a bed.”
“Well, suit yourself, I guess,” Twilight said with a shrug. “But if you really want an actual bed…”
“I’ll be fine, Princess, don’t worry,” Lightning said, waving a hoof. Just then, there was a crash from the other room, and Lightning pointed in its direction. “You, on the other hoof, might want to go check that out.”
Twilight groaned and started walking back toward the main hall. “Yeah, yeah. I swear to Celestia, if it’s Rarity…”
Rainbow and Lightning chuckled as they watched her go until it was only just the two of them standing at the doorway. Sighing, Rainbow shook her head. “I miss the girls when I’m out of town,” she said. “But it’s just like the good old days whenever I’m back. I’m super grateful for that.”
“I can imagine.” Lightning stifled a yawn and shook her head. “I’m gonna sleep well tonight, I can already tell.” Then, arching her back, she looked up—and froze.
Rainbow raised an eyebrow. “What?” she asked, following Lightning’s gaze upwards. But as soon as she saw it, she stopped as well. Hanging from the arch above the door was a bundle of green leaves and white berries, gently rocking back and forth.
Lightning swallowed and looked at Rainbow, heat building in her cheeks. “Aren’t ponies supposed to kiss under these things?” she asked.
Rainbow cleared her throat and rubbed her muzzle, obscuring her own cheeks with her foreleg. “Uhh… something like that. If you refuse a kiss, it brings bad luck or something.”
“Huh.” Lightning bit her lip and glanced at Rainbow, though her eyes darted away when they made contact with the Wonderbolt’s. “I could certainly use all the luck I could get to get back into the academy…”
Rainbow nervously laughed and rubbed her neck. “Maybe it’s good luck to kiss, then?”
Lightning felt like her cheeks were about to light on fire. “Are you offering me a kiss?”
Rainbow blushed back. “Are you refusing?”
“I-It’d be bad luck to refuse, right?”
“Yeah,” Rainbow said, stepping closer. Lightning could feel her breath on her neck. “I-It is, isn’t it?”
All was quiet save for their breathing. Further down the hall, Twilight shouted something at Pinkie, thoroughly distracted with whatever was happening in there. Out by the door, it was just Rainbow and Lightning.
Closing her eyes, Lightning parted her lips and leaned in. Rainbow tilted her chin up to reach the taller mare. Their lips locked, gingerly at first, afraid that the other would pull away and laugh, saying it was all a joke. But when neither did, they both inhaled and pressed them more firmly together. This time, their lips interlocked, and the hair on their noses tickled each other as they inhaled the other’s scent.
Then they broke apart, suddenly and abruptly. They each took an embarrassed step away, and their cheeks burned bright red. Swallowing, it was Lightning that spoke first. “That… T-That wasn’t s-so bad…”
Rainbow breathed and nodded. “Y-Yeah… Not bad at all…”
They looked at each other again, and then up at the mistletoe hanging above them. “We’re still standing under it,” Lightning said.
“Mmhmm…” Rainbow smacked her lips together, still tasting Lightning on them. “Should we… do it again, just to be safe?”
A tiny, timid smile jumped onto Lightning’s muzzle. “Better safe than sorry, right?”
“Yeah, that sounds good.”
They met again, but this time, they pulled each other closer. Breast to breast they stood, wings extended and feathers interlocked. They reared up on their hind legs, resting their hooves on each other’s shoulders, parting only to breathe. And then they kissed again, their tongues fencing for position as they moaned and grunted softly. Eventually, they broke off, still in each other’s embrace, still standing under the mistletoe, as the world around them lost its meaning.
Lightning chuckled and lowered her head, her forehead brushing against Rainbow’s, as the warmth in her cheeks became more comfortable. “How long have we been leading this on for?”
“I don’t know,” Rainbow murmured back. “Since the fall, at least. There’s certainly been a lot of wing hugging in between, hasn’t there?”
“Mmmm…” Lightning looked into Rainbow’s bright eyes. “Wonder why it took us this long, then.”
“Even Wonderbolts get scared,” Rainbow said, smirking a bit. “I guess I didn’t want to chase you off or something.”
“Yeah. Something dumb like that.”
The two pegasi separated and went back to standing on all fours. Flashing a brief smile, Lightning looked out the window to the snowy wonderland outside. “So… I guess the single bed thing at your place isn’t gonna be a problem anymore, is it?” she asked with a chuckle.
Rainbow chuckled back. “No, I guess it isn’t,” she said.
The two fliers smiled and pressed their necks against each other. “It’s… not too late to drop it,” Lightning said. “Just in case… you know…”
Rainbow shook her head. “A Wonderbolt doesn’t give up. And I think we can make this work.”
Lightning hummed and nuzzled Rainbow’s shoulder. A second later, Rarity’s drunken laughter from the other room drew their attention away, and the two stood side by side, smiling at the light and warmth pouring out of the main hall.
“Should we tell them?” Lightning asked.
Rainbow smirked and shook her head. “Nah. Let’s see if they can figure it out first.”
“Heh. Works for me.”
They looked at each other one more time, and smiling, they pecked each other on the lips. Then, side by side, they walked back toward the others, wings brushing and hooves a little bit lighter.