The lights glared, each a tiny sun. Double Diamond's goggles filtered out anything that would prevent him from seeing every snowflake clear and crisp. Not the lights nor the reflection coming back off of the snow could stop him from what he was about to do. His friends cheered him on from the crowd roped off at the bottom.
The white Earth pony crouched on his skis at the top of the obstacle course. His turn had come. The signaler standing next to him in an orange jacket lifted his red-banded hoof. They were too far away to hear much of anything legible from the ponies watching from downhill. Still, Double knew in his heart that his coltfriend was cheering him on. The light blue unicorn was only a dot down the mountain, but his enthusiastic cheering was no fantasy.
Double grinned. He had won before the tournament even started. Not because he knew he could beat the competition. No, he knew he'd win because even if he got last place he would still have Party Favor when it was all over. Nothing had kept them apart since they had gotten together and he imagined quite vividly that nothing ever would.
The signaler's hoof fell. Double Diamond launched from the starting point's perch. His skis hit the snow and the course gave him speed in mere seconds.
The trees to either side of the downhill slope became pale green blurs. If not for the markings, the snow would have made it impossible to judge distance and speed. Not that it mattered to Double Diamond. His special talent made him one with the tundra. The powder beneath him was like an extension of his body – much like the skis secured to his hooves.
“Number Five, mares and gentlecolts. Double Diamond!” the commentators blared forth from the event area's loudspeakers. “Maybe he should have been named Double Demon because his wicked skills on the downhill are practically a curse to his opponents. This is run two and not a single contestant has breached his eight minute record. Right now he leads by a soul-crushing forty-five seconds.”
“That's right, Quick Wit,” the other commentator, a mare, enthused. “And here comes his signature move that put him in second at the Equestrian Cup! Ramp three, here we go!”
Double Diamond smirked as if he owned the trail. His hooves tucked at just the right moment, the ramp slipped under him, and he sprang off the end. This was where his mind blanked and his body handled everything automatically. There was no time to think in the air – only time to do.
Party Favor paled and bit his lower lip while he watched. He knew Double had done harder tricks a hundred times before but he still worried. Night Glider had her forehoof over his shoulder to reassure him.
“C'mon,” Party whispered for his coltfriend to finish safely.
“The 1080 backflip!” both commentators shouted out in excitement. The crowd joined in cheers.
With an almost arrogant ease, Double Diamond pulled out of the ball of mid-air motion and slipped the skis back onto the snowy downslope as if both were magnets attracted to each other. He was still smirking when the commentators began their praise.
“And he owned that landing!” the female commentator exclaimed. “Slipstream might be able to do a 1260, but nopony can match that landing. He actually shaves a full three seconds off with that perfect touchdown. Every time!”
Those that watched may have thought it looked incredible, but Double had no such viewing pleasure. He didn't get to see his tricks as an observer. He only felt the air and trusted his cutie mark not to escape his flank and leave him dead on the landing. The whole course was really just a blur of white with some scratches of blue, green, and orange littered about.
The cheers got louder, he turned his skis, sprayed powder twenty hooves into the air, and immediately looked to a specific place in the crowd. Double Diamond had crossed the finish line and stopped cleanly in the end zone. The score board displayed his time as fifty seconds ahead of the next closest competitor, but he wasn't looking at the board. He was looking at Party Favor, his special stallion.
The unicorn male was shouting louder than the others, praising the skiing champion. Sugar Belle and Night Glider were doing likewise, but their friendly encouragement was of a platonic nature. Double Diamond was no narcissist, but he thrived off of Party's smile and the words that came off his lips.
“Whoa!” Party Favor half-chuckled and half-giggled when Double Diamond grabbed him around the midsection and twirled him around.
They were all at the ski resort's rustic dark-wooded inn, relaxing in the old-style lounge after the competition's main event was over. The sun had started to go down and cast a comfy warm glow through the inn's windows. The building was packed with skiers, friends and family of the competitors, guests, and event volunteers. Even in the cramped lounge, Double Diamond was able to find his friends and grab his coltfriend for a victory spin.
“C-congratulations,” Party Favor greeted his special somepony with eyes still tumbling about from the unexpected twirl.
“Yeah, you really mopped the floor with them,” Night Glider grinned.
“That's our Diamond,” Sugar Belle winked.
Double still had snow in his mane, which sprinkled off with every movement. “Thanks, everypony! And you,” he looked into Party's eyes and paused. He pecked the stallion on the lips and continued. “You were great!”
“Me?” Party Favor averted his eyes with a blush.
Most of the other ponies in the lounge were too busy in their own conversations to notice, but a few were staring at them. The most interested ones had shirts or vests on them that betrayed their status in one way or another as one of Double Diamond's fans. After the white stallion's epic entry into the Equestrian Series tournaments some months back, he had picked up a fan following. Most were mares. Some were stallions. All were hotly jealous of Party Favor and made no attempt to keep that emotion from their faces.
“Why me?” Party weakly argued. “I just watched.”
“And cheered,” Double leaned in to catch the male's gaze again. “That means the world to me, Party.”
Party Favor met his coltfriend's eyes and smiled back. It was a faint smile but full of the warm assurance they had built together since their feelings had come out on the mountain peak. It seemed like ages ago.
“Gaw,” Night Glider groaned out in a long breath. “Want me to get another bottle? I think you two used up all the syrup.”
Sugar Belle couldn't hold back a snicker. “It is getting kind of sappy in here, isn't it?”
“Like those fantasy letters you write and never send to Princess Celestia?” Double gave an evil smirk while Party's face went red.
Sugar's mouth opened but no words came out. She was stunned.
“Hahaha!” Night Glider bellowed out and nearly fell over laughing.
Sugar's eyes darkened and she pursed her lips at Night. “Laugh it up. There won't be any muffins for you tomorrow!”
It was Night Glider's turn to lose her voice and go pale. She remained on her back, petrified on the floor.
“That's right,” Sugar Belle proceeded with a sinister smiled creeping onto her muzzle. “I promised fresh muffins only out of the good grace in my heart. Traitors don't get any.”
The dark-coated pegasus might as well have been replaced by a stone statue because her complexion and rigidity was no different. Fear took hold.
“Alright, everypony,” Party finally cut in. “Let's not get carried away. We all need to get something to eat and Double needs a shower and some down time.”
“Shower?” Double whipped his gaze back to Party, who raised a very unimpressed brow at him. “Uh...yeah, probably,” the white stallion shrunk back with a different kind of blush.
Sugar Belle started towards the inn's main counter to talk about their dinner order while Party Favor got the shock-ridden Night Glider to her hooves. Double Diamond tiredly trotted to their shared room upstairs. He didn't want to leave his friends again so quickly but Party had a point. Spending a whole day in competition hadn't done well for his hygiene.
It was as he scrubbed himself off in the clean, fancy, glass-doored shower that a thought struck him. Was there going to be a time when he would shower with Party? It didn't cross some ponies' minds as meaning much, but it somehow felt like an intimate idea for Double. Were they going to start doing things like that?
The hot steamy water warmed up Double Diamond's body, giving life to his legs that he hadn't realized had been getting stiff. The water also started to fog the glass doors and the bathroom's mirror. While the lavender-scented soap lathered up on his coat, Double's mind drifted further away.
He and Party Favor had started their relationship as normal coltfriends. At least, he thought it was a normal relationship. They hugged, kissed, hung out, went out to meals and movies...all the stuff coltfriends or marefriends did with each other. He had never been in that kind of relationship before, though. He based all his assumptions on common knowledge and reason. Maybe he was wrong.
Did Party Favor want more? What if he went too fast and messed it up? Party had been interested in him before he had been interested in Party, so should he be the one to set the pace? The questions gnawed at Double and he felt the urge to make an appointment with Love Pattern when they got back to their town.
The ski champion rinsed off, stopped the water, and stepped out of the shower while drying off with one of the room's plush white towels. It felt good, but not as good as Party's coat...
Double sighed and hung the damp towel on the shower's door rail. “What does it matter if I win the Cup but mess up with Party?” he asked himself aloud.
“You two are amazing.”
The unexpected voice nearly made the stallion jump out of his skin. Sugar Belle was standing in the bathroom's doorway, which was open. She had a curious expression painting her vibrant face.
“I thought you were ordering,” Double didn't know what to say first, so the words came out merely as a reaction.
“I did,” the mare changed her look to suspicion. “You've been in the shower for a while. The food should be coming up in a few minutes.”
“Amazing?” Double tried to calm down and act more casually. He turned to the bathroom counter and took the comb to fix his droopy mane.
Sugar Belle came into the room and checked her mane in the mirror next to the stallion. “Yeah, Party's the same way. You both worry about the same things. Party actually talks to me about a few of his concerns – about your relationship, I mean.”
“He does?!” Double dropped the comb and turned to the mare next to him. She didn't seem surprised. “Like what?”
“Nothing too personal,” Sugar Belle disclaimed in return. “But I gather that you haven't done anything too personal anyways. Party's not that timid, you know. He's just worried about turning you off.”
“Off what?” the stallion asked before his brain had the chance to consider the question. He blushed at what answer he might get from the mare. “Sorry, I shouldn't have asked.”
“No,” Sugar countered and twirled a hoof in her fluffy mane. “It's good that you did. I wasn't sworn to secrecy, so I don't feel bad about spilling the beans. Actually, I'd like to. Maybe it'd clear up the tension whenever we're all together.”
“There's tension?” Double felt his heart tighten. Was he failing after all?
Sugar Belle giggled. “You're good at initiative, Double. Not so much at the critical analysis part. Should've paid more attention in class.”
“I was sharpening my ski skills,” he responded reactively. “Tension?” he repeated.
The berry-colored female poked him in the chest. “Physical intimacy. Ever notice how you're always the one to touch Party and not the other way around? He loves it when you grab him around the middle, but you flinched once when he did the same to you. Now he thinks you don't like him touching you. Tension.”
“I don't know,” Sugar shrugged and started walking out of the bathroom. “I wasn't there. He just told me.”
Double followed her like a lost puppy. “I flinched?” he echoed himself, desperate to replay the forgotten memory.
“Want my advice?” Sugar Belle asked as she approached her bed on the other side of the room. Neither Night Glider nor Party Favor had come up to their room yet.
“Please,” Double begged.
Sugar looked one way and then another. The inn had been badly booked and they only managed to get a two-bed shared room for the four of them. Sugar Belle and Party Favor had taken to sleeping rolls with extra padding. Sugar came up with a plan and smirked at the side benefits.
“Grab that water pitcher,” she pointed to the item on a nearby nightstand.
“You're kidding me!” Night Glider's mouth gaped open.
“I'm so sorry!” Double Diamond begged, kneeling in apology before both the mare and his coltfriend. “I was just really tired. The competition drained me. I tripped...”
“The sleeping bags won't dry before tonight,” Party Favor remarked, a forehoof lifted to his mouth as he thought about what their situation entailed. “The inn's dryers are packed solid because of the competition.”
Sugar Belle smiled far too broadly to not look suspicious. “Looks like we'll have to double up tonight!”
Night Glider squinted at their baker friend. “Party and Double. Me and...”
Sugar whistled a convenient tune as she pranced over the rich white carpet to the orderly bed Night Glider had slept in the night before. “Dibs on the left side!”
Party laughed, shook his head, and then looked to Double Diamond. The pure white stallion was biting his lower lip and looking very unsure, glancing between the other bed and Party Favor.
“And I thought I was the timid one,” Party giggled. “It's just us sharing a mattress for one night, Double. No need to over think it.”
“Besides,” Sugar cut in as she rolled around on the claimed territory of her bed, “we'll be in the room too. It's not like you guys can just go to town.”
Only the lack of water prevented Double Diamond from having a spit-take. He recovered in time to give Sugar an annoyed glare.
Later that evening and after their delicious meal, the chill of the night began to creep into their room. The inn was heated but also just shy of well-insulated. The group of friends had the misfortune of attending the competition that would give the resort the money it needed to improve the lodgings. That meant the pending improvements would be applied after their stay. For now, there was a draft chilly enough to be noticeable.
“Why do these sheets not hold any warmth?” Sugar Belle grumbled through her teeth, which were chattering a bit. She was tucked deep beneath her bed's sheets along with Night Glider, who was barely visible in the dark. They had turned out the lights some time ago but had yet to catch a dose of shut eye.
“I think we got the bad room,” Double responded across the dark expanse. His voice was tired but much chipper than any of the others. The cold didn't both him so much, though he was concerned over Party Favor next to him. Even with most of the sheets on his side, the stallion was shivering.
“G-good thing I came prepared,” Party chattered his teeth and edged out of the blankets. Double was about to ask what his coltfriend was doing when he saw the stallion open the suitcase next to their bed. Various items and garments fell out, but Party only grabbed a small bundle of something before coming back into the sheets.
“Gah!” Double screamed in shock. He was in disbelief that his special somepony had managed to get icier than the snow he was so used to. “You're colder than the room is.”
“Sorry,” Party whispered. They had touched only for a moment because the bed was only intended for a single pony. Free space was on the short side.
“What's the word on your side of Equestria?” Night Glider joked from the other bed, though her voice betrayed how cold she was as well.
“Tartarus has frozen over,” Party chuckled, almost bit his tongue from the chattering, and proceeded to equip the items he had just retrieved. “That's better.”
“What?” Double asked, squinted, and failed to see what it was beneath the sheets. With barely any moonlight coming through the crack in the room's only curtained window, it was impossible to see.
Party ignited a soft glow of azure illumination from his horn's tip. With the faint light, the unicorn peeked his two forehooves up from beneath the covers to show Double. “Protection,” he explained proudly.
On Party's hooves were a pair of striped socks. The blue lighting made it difficult to know the actual color, but they seemed to be pink and black. Either in disbelief or want of contact, Double reached out and touched his forehooves to the other stallion's. The socks were only starting to warm from the hooves beneath them but they were impossibly soft. Party smiled when the ski champion proceeded to stroke the sock-covered forehooves in awe.
“What was that?” Night Glider asked through the dark even while she went about a little mischief.
“Nothing,” Party answered and cuddled with his coltfriend.
Meanwhile, the baker mare was having to fend off a strangely touchy Night Glider.
“Trying to cop a feel?” Sugar Belle whispered with a biting tone.
Night Glider leaned in so her mouth was to the other mare's ear. “Just getting you back for threatening me with a lack of your delicious muffins. And for drenching my roll. I let you borrow it and you soak it. Don't think you're fooling me. You just wanted to get the boys in the same bed.”
“What?” Sugar pretended innocence and kept her gaze where it was on her side of the bed. “They were having relationship problems. I was just helping out.”
“Liar,” Night Glider whispered again into her ear. The breaths tickled the baker. “Just admit that you like being around them. The hugging, the blushing, the sweet talk. You get off on it. Same way you get off teasing me.”
Night Glider's hoof traveled over Sugar's stomach and warmed it. The unicorn started to feel out of place for the first time. Was Night Glider...making a move on her?
“You love getting my attention,” Night continued whispering with an increasingly sultry tone. “Every reaction, every glance, every brief touch. You put it off as being good friends. You tell yourself you're only into stallions even though you know it's not true. You're worried about telling me how you really feel because Double and Party got together first. Don't want to feel like a copycat. Maybe you feel like it would be betraying our friendship because you think romance and friendship are mutually exclusive. Or maybe you're insecure about getting into something after gaining our friendship. It makes you feel insincere about being just friends - plays to a stereotype you fear.”
“How...?” Sugar's brows creased and then the answer came to her naturally. Of course. There was only one way. “Love Pattern.”
“What makes you think-?”
“Too much analysis, babe,” Sugar smirked and leaned on the name. “It's not your specialty. You're not smart enough to figure it out. It must have taken some effort to remember all of what she told you. The real question is how you got her to disclose my private sessions with her.”
Night Glider hesitated and then bit down and scowled.
“Don't be mad, Nighty,” Sugar turned sweet. “I'm flattered you gave it so much effort. We should talk some other time, though. For now, just get some sleep. And you can keep your hooves where they are. I like how they feel.”
Night Glider heart beat wildly but she sighed as softly as she could to avoid getting the attention of the others. “And I thought I was being the clever one.”
“Never underestimate a baker,” Sugar concluded with a sleepy yawn before finally drifting off in Night Glider's warm embrace.