Looking Up

by BlackWater

First published

Party Favor confessed to Double Diamond and now they're together. The stallions are far from settled in their relationship and now Night Glider starts acting odd around Sugar Belle.

Party Favor confessed his feelings to Double Diamond, who returned them. Neither stallion knows where to go from there but they're trying nonetheless. The only problem is that they don't know what to do about Night Glider. The female pegasus has a serious problem regarding Sugar Belle. Obsession can't be healthy for a relationship, can it?

1. This story also takes place after My Baker.
2. Contains M/M and F/F. Also, some obsession and hijinks.

Art by BlackWater (me)

1 - Double Set Up

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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 flinched?”

“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.

2 - Evolution

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Party Favor blinked slowly. He knew it was morning and that Double Diamond had left his hooves. Aside from that, he was just a slow groggy pony with barely any motivation to leave the warm sheets. To think this had become a routine only two months after Double Diamond's competition.

That happy accident of water-soaked sleeping bags had given them the idea to board together at Double's house instead of live separately. Party was still elated about it and Double's apprehension had bled away soon after they tried it. It turned out that, besides the decision to sleep in the same bed, neither of their daily lives were altered that much. Living together was far less of a deal than even Party had imagined – and their friends considered him the more down-to-Equestria pony by some stroke of irony.

Today was going to be interesting, however. There was a special event going on in the evening, which was a big deal for their small bustling town. They might have been out in the middle of nowhere, but the town had undergone vibrant changes since everypony got their cutie marks back. Party was about to see how these changes were evolving as he got out of bed and fixed his mane and tail. Styled but with enough chaotic freedom to give him that special “Party” look.

The blue stallion was out the door and immediately breathed in the sweet but earthy smell of the town's decorative trees and flowers. Bland, non-beautified, and dusty hues everywhere? Not since the gardening ponies got their cutie marks back. And the city planners and beautifiers needed credit too. The town's main road was lined with new fruit trees of several varieties, though only a few were starting to bloom.

Spring was still officially a little ways off. Party walked up to one road divider filled with tulips and petunias. The bright and light colors of orange and pink somehow managed to complement nicely. It must have been the saturation of the leaves. In any case, Party felt they smelled lovely as he leaned down to catch a more robust scent.

Any party planner worth their salt knew to stop and smell the roses. Or petunias. Actually, dandelions would be better. Those were at the western end of town, which Party conveniently needed to go towards to pick up his supplies for the night's event. Time to get working!

Party put a hop and a skip into his step as he strode down the town's road. Many colorful Earth ponies, pegasi, and unicorns greeted him happily as he went along. The town was already as excited as he was and he hadn't even begun hyping them up for it. Or perhaps what had them in a good mood was everypony's unique talents having returned. It had been some time since that happened but the joy still had yet to ebb.

It was as Party finally got to the western crest in the town road that he could see downhill to the field outside the town's box-like shape. It used to be an empty dirt field but was now populated with a green pasture littered with small gardens and mini-orchards that didn't fit within the town's space. Aside from baked goods, garden produce was the settlement's primary export.

“Yo!” a voice called from above.

Party didn't have to look to know who it was. “Since when does Night Glider stay awake during the day?” he asked with a grin.

“Since the boss gave us the night off for the royal visit,” Night enthused, setting hoof down next to him. She seemed quite happy over it considering she still would need to sleep before the event.

“If you stay up now,” Party half-lectured, “your graveyard sleep schedule will trip you up when Celestia tries shaking your hoof.”

Night rolled her eyes and followed Party into his usual supply store. “I'm nopony. She wouldn't shake my hoof. Besides,” she insisted as the stallion pondered over pink and yellow balloons, “I'm more interested in spending time with Sugar at this thing than any royal mares.”

“I know the feeling,” Party replied automatically.

The pegasus mare smirked. “I would think so. What with the way you and Double keep the town up every night. I never knew you could rock a bed-”

Party dropped the balloons and stuffed a forehoof in Night's mouth. “Geez, Nighty!” he complained with near panic. “Don't go saying things like that in public! Especially when they're not even true. Double and I are not like that and you know it.”

Night Glider only responded after the hoof was kindly removed. “But you want it to be, right?” she wiggled her brows.

Party shook his head in exasperation. “Maybe you're just projecting what you want with Sugar Belle.”

“Ppptht,” Night made a raspberry and reclaimed her smirk while gaining a boisterous mood. “Want? I've already got. If I was a stallion, she'd have more than muffins in her oven.”

“You're shameless, Nighty,” Party Favor shook his head and picked the balloons up.

“Hey,” the dark pegasus lifted her head in pride. “I dreamed of the day I could be with her. And now I am. What do I have to be shy about?”

If the lighter blue stallion had anything to say to that, he kept it to himself. Being with Double Diamond made him wonder if there was anything more he wanted as well. Marriage? Perhaps. But that would be years later at their current pace. He didn't really want anything material either since he enjoyed experiences more than objects. Perhaps that was what he should set as the next goal.

They should have some kind of special experience together. Him, Double Diamond, and the girls. Sky diving? No. Scuba diving? No.

“Hmm,” Party hummed to himself in thought as he checked out with his selected items.

The sun was just below the horizon now. Its orange glow was fading, casting a calming glow over the landscape of the town. Double Diamond looked down at the town from the nearby ridge, just coming back from his practice runs. The center of the establishment was bustling. That much he could see even from here.

The white stallion hefted his relatively light skis onto his back and made his way down the boring trail into town. The gardeners had done a fantastic job on the western end but hadn't gotten to the eastern side yet. Thankfully, the dull trip was short. Double went to his house first to drop off his equipment, though he didn't intend to stay there for long.

It was when he finished his shower and left for the event square that he realized his coltfriend normally would have surprised him around a corner by now. Or he would at least pop in to hurry him along. Party was always impatient for...well...parties.

“Time to rock,” Double told himself in his usual cool demeanor. He figured he'd run into Party soon enough now that he was leaving the front door to greet the colorful balloons strung all the way down Mane Street. If the thrumming sound of a bass and the trickling sound of a lyre were any indication, Party Favor had gotten the band to start warming up.

“Yo, up top,” Night Glider swooped down to greet Double as he entered the outer circle of the event square.

Without effort, the stallion smacked her forehoof with his and took a glance around the area. Night Glider moved on immediately since Sugar Belle suddenly caught her eye. Lots of other ponies were here already too. Double had to weave himself to and fro to get through patches of ponies talking and jumping about. The town was practically as boisterous as Party Favor normally was. Double spotted the blue stallion near the stage.

“Need a hoof?” Double asked as he stepped up to the unicorn and figured out what his coltfriend was tugging at with his teeth.

Party grunted an affirmative to which Double Diamond came to his side and grabbed a portion of the rope. With both of them at it, the pulley turned and the landing board swung upwards. The stage would now be set for when the royal sisters arrived. Party kicked an extra fallback board into place for protection and then wiped a bead of sweat from his brow.

“Thanks for the hoof, hot stuff,” Party winked.

Double chuckled at that nervously and tried to hide a blush. He wondered if he'd ever get used to Party acting that way with him. “All done or are you going to be working the whole time?”

Party walked by him and purposely brushed his tail against the male's side. “Why you ask? Want me all to yourself for the evening?”

Double grinned. “Are you playing with me?”

“I'm Party Favor, love,” Party twirled around as he headed towards the nearest drinks stand. “It's just what I do.”

“I'll take that as a yes then. To both questions,” Double decided, following the other stallion and reveling in the positive spirits. When they got around the groups cluttering the adjacent snack table, he had to comment. “You're so chipper I'm surprised your cutie mark isn't glowing.”

Party bounced to his favorite drink and poured a glass with his magic. “I'm in my element and it feels great,” he replied and then spontaneously decided to lean over and give his coltfriend a loving peck on the cheek.

Double bit his bottom lip. “Maybe I need to have you throw the town a party more often.”

Party almost laughed out the sip he had taken from his glass of punch. “As if you need any more of my love.”

“I never get enough,” Double replied back in quick banter.

A voice cried out from across the party square. “The princesses!”

The whole town began shouting out happily and indeed two alicorn forms could be seen flying down towards the square. Double's brows raised and Party looked to his imaginary hoof watch.

“They're early,” he stated, seemingly without as much concern as might be expected.

Early dark was setting in but, when Celestia got close enough to the square, it began to glow with the light of her horn that was casting her and her sister in a warm sunny hue. When the two alicorns touched down on the platform connected to the stage, the hue morphed into an almost orange glow in harmony with the square's streetlights that were only now being turned on.

“Fellow Equestrians!” Celestia greeted the crowd gathering closer to the stage, all cheering and lifting glasses in a form of toast.

“We hoped to avoid too much formality by getting here early and initiating the fun posthaste!” Luna exclaimed, her eyes darting back and forth, looking for acceptance.

“And get away from the castle,” Celestia whispered low enough for nopony to hear.

The town was eager to respond with more cheers and toasts.

At that, Celestia made a short speech about how the town was seeming to do so well and was a treasured part of Equestria. It was the kind of positive rhetoric that one might expect for a town being recognized by high royalty for the first time. The sisters were not kidding about the formality though because the talk was short and they were off the stage quite fast.

Party shot a signal spark from his horn and the band on stage took the cue to start playing more upbeat festive songs. Double wanted to take the chance to dance with his coltfriend, given that the townsfolk – the ones without the liquid-filled glasses – were getting to the stage front for dancing. But the couple was halted halfway by a certain tall mare who approached them.

“Party Favor,” Princess Celestia greeted with a calming aura.

“Princess-” they both started to bow before the royal stopped them.

“Don't,” she commanded. “This is a party and I'd hate to ruin the mood. If not for me then for my sister.”

The two stallions looked around the alicorn to see Luna dancing with the townsponies before the stage. Her moves were...hilariously bad. But she seemed to be having a blast.

“I just wanted to ask if you got my special order,” Celestia kept her voice low enough not to be overheard but loud enough so that the pair could comprehend.

Party Favor saluted. “Yes, ma'am. It's behind the stage in a box labeled Plastic Spoons.”

“You are a treasure, Party Favor,” the princess beamed like a filly. “Go enjoy yourselves now. I know I will!”

Double Diamond watched in awe as the princess skipped away towards the backstage area. He had never thought the princesses to be so light-hearted. Of course, he didn't know they were usually quite different. They had only loosened up because this was a town far away and nopony here knew them well. It was the perfect sanctuary for them to relax.

“Don't just stand there!” Party pulled his coltfriend's hoof. “We've got a dance to win.”

“It's not a contest,” Double weakly argued.

“You know what I mean!” Party stuck his tongue out and bumped his flank against his coltfriend's.

3 - Forgiveness

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A cloaked figure stepped into the cold quiet night air of the town. The pony sighed at the once familiar sight. She put one hoof in front of the other and made her way to the inn near the eastern side of the small settlement. The only hope she had was that she wasn’t figured out before her contact met her there.

Warm air greeted her as she entered the cozy building that was the town’s only shelter for travelers. The pony behind the counter was alert and smiling even though it was so late that the moon was high in the night sky. He greeted her, but he couldn’t see the pony beneath the dark cloak.

“Need a room, my dear friend?” the innkeeper asked.

The cloaked pony only gave a nod that could be interpreted past the cloak, and flipped a few bits onto the counter top.

“Got a nice cozy room for you up in 11,” the keeper slid her a key. “No doubt you’ll get the best sleep you’ve ever had – what with the hour and all.”

She wanted to say thanks but knew it was best to wait. She didn’t want to alert him as to who she was. The keeper looked confused at first when she slid a note across the counter to him. He nodded slowly after reading it, though.

“I’ll tell your friend what room you’re in,” he assured her. After she was up the stairs and into her room, he couldn’t help but whisper out. “Goodness. A friend of Princess Twilight. Everypony in town will want to know when she gets here...”

“All I’m saying is that you should have told him earlier,” Night Glider insisted. The group of four was walking down Mane Street towards the south gardens. The morning was sunny and it was a rare but incredibly pleasant opportunity for all of them to hang out again.

“You know how busy my bakery has been, Nighty,” Sugar Belle defended herself and stuck out her tongue.

Party Favor butted in with a chipper expression. “You silly ponies thinking I need preparation time. Parties are a snap. Especially for a close friend.”

“Somehow, I feel useless,” Double Diamond joked with a pretend tone of depression. He looked down at the dusty road as it turned into the green grass of the garden.

“Aww,” Party Favor stuck out his bottom lip and then ruffled his coltfriend’s mane. “But I still love you!”

The group walked around the garden’s path to a small circular clearing that was surrounded by tall hedges and sprinkled with lush ferns that made one easily forget the place used to be a dirt field. A few large boulders were also present next to a trickling stream that flowed to hydrate the garden. Sugar Belle and Double Diamond both settled onto one of the large flat boulders beneath the shade of the massive elm trees.

“Don’t lay the honey on too thick, guys,” Night Glider pretended to gag after perching on a branch of the tree above them.

“Speaking of bees,” Sugar Belle tapped her chin. “Why do they call it the birds and the bees again?”

Double Diamond facehoofed.

“Haven’t we been over this before?” Party Favor rose a brow.

“Yeah, let’s pick a different topic,” Night Glider encouraged from her perch.

“And I have the perfect one,” a new voice declared right next to the dark pegasus.

“Gah!” Night Glider nearly fell off her branch.

“Twilight Sparkle!” Sugar Belle beamed from below. “You’re back!”

“Princess!” both stallions also brightened.

Night Glider trembled. “Warn me next time you do that.”

Twilight put a hoof on the mare’s shoulder. “Sorry. I couldn’t resist trying out my new silent teleportation spell. Anyways, I’m here to tie up some loose ends. That and I’m teaching my new pupil about facing the past. Isn't it great?!”

“Pupil?” Double asked, nervous due to the creepy overdone smile on Twilight's face.

“Past?” Night added, just as wary.

Twilight looked briefly at her surroundings. It was a bright day in a peaceful green garden. The four friends here seemed to be in good spirits. No dark clouds in the sky. Good. She quickly calculated the probability of success for this friendship lesson to be appropriately 92.395471%.

“Just promise me none of you will get scared or result to violence,” the alicorn requested first.

All four ponies looked to each other in confusion.

“Alright then!” Princess Twilight stuck her chest out in confidence, a look of determination on her face. “You can come out now!”

The four were alarmed when a cloaked pony suddenly teleported before them on the ground. She was standing just below the boulders they were laying on, but visible all for the better. It was only when she pulled her cloak back that the group gasped and held their expression of shock.

“Hi...” Starlight Glimmer greeted in an almost shy fashion. Needless to say, she was not standing as some proud dictator anymore. Her stance was as soft as the look in her eyes. Even her mane was done up differently.

“S-Starlight...” Double Diamond managed to breath out. He wasn’t quite sure what words were supposed to come next out of his mouth.

Night Glider was faster. “What are you doing back?” she asked nearly as an accusation. Her mind was able to put enough of the facts together to prevent words she’d regret, however. “And with Princess Twilight?”

Starlight’s forehooves pawed at the ground, which was where she was looking. “I...” she seemed to have difficulty in forming her words. Not so much with the blush of embarrassment on her face. Internally, she cursed Twilight for making her go through so much of this shame. “I wanted to...make amends.”

Birds were chirping from somewhere in the garden. The only reason anypony noticed at that particular moment more than any other point in time was due to the fact that the four were all silently passing looks to each other, trying to figure out how they’d proceed. None of them apparently wanted to be the first to say everything was okay.

Until Party Favor nudged Double Diamond to the edge of their shaded boulder.

“Uh...” Double stumbled at first. “Yeah. We’d be willing to put the past behind us.”

Then the inevitable came.

“Really?” Night Glider frowned.

Twilight opened her mouth to say something but closed it before a word was uttered. She reminded herself to let Starlight be the head of this. Otherwise, the lesson might fail.

The pinkish unicorn almost faltered at a response but then drew up her courage and stood tall. “Yes,” she decided out loud. “Whatever it takes to be friends and make it up to you – all of you. I want to apologize to the whole town. Just tell me what I need to do and I’ll do it.”

Sugar softened with Starlight’s puppy dog eyes and pouty lip. So did Party Favor. Double Diamond was a little reluctant but convinced himself it was right to forgive her. On the other hoof, Night Glider kept her stubbornness.

“I don’t think there’s anything you could do to stay here again,” Night crossed her hooves. “I mean, we already got our cutie marks back. What are you going to do? Sweep streets?”

“Actually,” Sugar Belle tapped her chin once again, “I think she could be in good graces with the town if she helped around with daily stuff for a bit...and fixed that bridge to the caves.”

“Yeah,” Double agreed, “those balloons are not a permanent fix.”

Party Favor flinched and blushed.

An insistent look from Sugar made Night Glider give in with a shrug. Sugar then looked to the stallions, who nodded back.

Double stepped off the boulder and offered his hoof the unicorn mare. “The past is behind us. Friends?”

Starlight looked ready to cry with all the water at the corner of her eyes. “Yes!” she replied with a hearty hoofshake.

“So what now? Tea?” Night Glider huffed.

“Please excuse us for a minute,” Sugar Belle smiled to the others as she motioned to her marefriend to follow her down the garden path.

Curious as to what the meaning was, Night soared effortlessly from the branch, over the hedges, and directly to the point in the garden where Sugar was headed. Flight really did make every path shorter.

“Huh?” the dark mare made a slanted mouth after landing. They were out of earshot now.

“Did you see how scared Starlight was? This is sincere,” Sugar huffed even more than Night Glider had before. “If you don’t lighten up and make her feel welcome than you’ll be sleeping in another bed tonight.”

“No nookie?” Night turned fearful, biting her bottom lip.

Sugar’s eyebrows flattened. “Not even a nuzzle.”

Not much remained for their private conversation and so they quickly returned. The pegasus was very enthusiastic with the hoofshaking after that intimate realization. She even awarded Starlight with a hug, which the other mare blushed brightly about.

“It’s strange...but I like it,” the mayor nodded to Twilight next to him. They were standing on the old snowy mountain path, overseeing Starlight use her impressively powerful magic to reconstruct the stone bridge. “They don’t call you the Princess of Friendship for nothing. Town’s getting cozy with your blessing over this. Lot of ponies aren’t real keen on her, I’m sure you know. Now they are.”

“I try to help. That’s all,” Twilight shook her head. “She was the one that wanted to do this.”

The stallion hummed to himself. “Could use a good mare like her in our town. Strong as a princess with that magic of hers. A shame she’ll be going back with you.”

“She’s got hopes and dreams just like any other pony,” Twilight explained. “I don’t control her.”

“But you sure had an effect on her,” Night Glider said as she swooped down onto her hooves next to the alicorn. “I didn’t think this was sincere at first but I’m glad I was wrong.”

“Thanks for giving her a chance,” Twilight thanked the pegasus on behalf of the unicorn, who had just finished magically assembling the bridge supports. “I think we’re all better for it.”

“Yeah, well,” Night shrugged, “I don’t like grudges anyways.”

A spray of snow interrupted Twilight from what she was going to say next. Double Diamond was skiing by above them on the ridge and some of the snow had sprinkled down. The stallion didn’t head down to them, though. Instead, he launched into the air, landed on a steep downward slope, and rocketed to an impressive stop just off the trail near Starlight.

“Starlight,” he greeted in his smooth carefree tone while taking his goggles off.

“Hey, Double Diamond,” Starlight greeted back without taking too much of her concentration away from the bridge-building. She focused on the stone walkway forming in front of her hooves.

The white stallion couldn’t help notice the sad tone in her voice, as if she were avoiding a pain she didn’t want to relive. So he walked up to her, put a hoof to her shoulder, and made her look into his eyes by tilting her chin up.

“We’ve forgiven you, Starlight. I’ve forgiven you. What’s wrong?”

The unicorn met his gaze and frowned. “I don’t know. I just feel…empty for some reason. Is this all there is to turning over a new leaf?”

“I don’t know what you think it’s about but being forgiven just means accepting the other pony and not holding the past against them,” Double insisted. “You went way beyond that by helping the town and even opening up that shortcut for me to get to the drifts.”

Starlight faintly blushed. “I just wish there was something I could do that would make me feel...I don’t know...like I earned the forgiveness.”

“You know what I’ve learned so far in my life?” Double sat back into the snow beside the path. His skiis stuck up from the fluffy bank he had stashed them in.

“What’s that?” Starlight finally paused her magical construction. The aura of her horn faded out in the chilly breeze of the white mountain. She sat down next to him.

“If you want to have a good life, you have to look up,” he smiled at her, placed his forehoof on hers, and then looked up to the sky of slowly swirling clouds that sprinkled light snow from on high. “Sure, you have to face problems and obstacles. But you’ll never enjoy the time you have if you’re thinking of everything that’s wrong or what you have to do to feel like more than a mess-up.”

“You were always easy-going like that,” Starlight smiled at her distant memories when she first came to the town.

“You’re already all you need to be, Starlight,” the stallion hugged her, to which she gently returned. “Don’t worry about ‘making up for the past.’ You’re already doing that by being a good friend.”

“I’m a good friend?” Starlight asked, her voice wobbling for some reason she herself didn’t know.

“Yes, Starlight,” he drew back from the hug to look her in the eye. “You did something not a lot of ponies do.”

“What’s that?” Starlight’s lip trembled.

“You decided all on your own to let go of your fear and anger. You gave love and friendship a chance,” he answered.

Twilight looked on at her pupil from a distance. Starlight seemed to be crying into Double Diamond’s chest. But the Princess of Friendship knew it wasn’t a bad thing. Sometimes feelings were hard to let go.

And sometimes tears could heal a broken soul.

4 - Birthday

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Party Favor buried his face in the soft neck fur of his coltfriend. It was warm for some reason. The air he could feel around him, that is. It was assumed, of course, that Double Diamond’s body was warm. But the air being warm must mean that the sun...

“Gah!” Party Favor bolted upright in their bed. “We overslept!”

Double Diamond turned over below him and rubbed his eyes. “Huh?” he mumbled in a groggy state.

Party Favor fought to detangle himself from the sheets as well as his coltfriend. “I told you we shouldn’t have been up so late,” he shoved Double over to free his tail caught beneath.

“Heeeeey,” Double groaned and squinted at the light peeking through the blinds of the bedroom window. “You were the one who started it, you little minx.”

Party shot him a quick glare and ran to the door. “We’ve got ten minutes! The carriage won’t wait!”

Night Glider rubbed her marefriend’s shoulders. They were both in the city square, resting on a plaza bench with the townsfolk around them going about business as usual. Some of the other ponies gave their “Happy Birthday” to Sugar Belle as they went by.

“What could be keeping them?” Sugar’s smile waned. “Party is usually more punctual than this.”

“Bet Double Diamond kept him up,” Night Glider soothed the birthday girl. “We’ve still got a few minutes and you know how Party can show up literally at the last second.”

“They missed breakfast, though,” Sugar frowned.

Night Glider finished her massaging and sat down next to the mare, their hooves touching. “Yeah, I’ll rough ‘em up for it.”

“Nighty,” Sugar scolded.

“Kidding!” the dark mare defended herself.

“Happy Birthday~!” called out the familiar voice of the town’s prize party pony.

Sugar brightened and got out her word before Night did. “You guys slept in, didn’t you?”

Party blushed as they finished walking up to the mares, who got up from the bench. “Maybe?”

“Well, the cinnamon rolls will keep,” she winked at him. “Still, thanks for setting this up. A trip out of town is just what I needed.”

“This is nothing!” Party insisted. “Your birthday will be amazing. I promise! But it’s not like I did a lot. You were the one that set the destination. I don’t even know what that place is.”

“Don’t look at me,” Sugar defended herself when the others passed her their gaze. “It’s a surprise.”

“Considering it’s your birthday, I find that ironic,” Double grinned.


A deep-toned horn sounded off nearby and the four ponies looked around the plaza to see a sleek pony-drawn carriage moving through the thin crowd towards them.

“Our ride is on time,” Party Favor hopped up in cheer, shaking off the last of the morning groggery.

Sugar Belle jolted in her seat in the carriage, though it was not because of her own movement. The carriage ride was bumpy because of their northern direction. Night Glider stretched her wing out to stabilize and comfort the mare.

“Why’d you want to go this way?” Double Diamond asked from his side of the carriage cabin.

Sugar Belle moved her foreleg up to shield from the hearty morning light that was stabbing through the carriage window and glaring into her eyes. Another bump in the jagged road made the task difficult.

“I wanted to do something special for my birthday,” she replied simply. “Spending a day out with my best friends, doing what we would all enjoy. That’s what would be memorable, you know?”

“Which would lead us...?” Double tried to encourage an answer.

Party got to it first. “I do know one thing. There will be snow at some point. Didn’t see me pack your skis, hot stuff?” he nudged his companion playfully from his spot next to him on their cabin bench.

Double’s slight happy-it’s-somepony-else’s-birthday smile turned into a I’m-totally-going-to-shred-snow smile. “Yes!” he cried out in excitement.

Sugar giggled while Night shook her head.

“Adrenaline junky,” the pegasus breathed out.

“That’s funny coming from you,” Double crossed his hooves and frowned.

There was silence for a time, punctuated only by the bumps in the road.

The stallion and mare then began laughing.

“I was afraid for a second that I was going to have to separate you two,” Sugar giggled.

Party favor made a quick dagger-shaped balloon. “These two are as thick as thieves,” he said in a sneaky tone.

“You could hurt somepony with that,” Double leaned back from his coltfriend.

“Like you?” the blue unicorn poked him with the harmless weapon. “Take that. And that!”

“Come on, guys,” Sugar tried to settle down the feisty and energetic Party Favor.

Night Glider’s eyes took on a suggestive gaze as her wing drew in Sugar Belle against her more snugly. “Yeah. You guys do enough roleplay in the bedroom.”

Double Diamond gave Night a dead gaze. “You know I'm used to hearing that from you, right?”

The carriage hit a particularly bad bump and sent the ponies within hurtling against each other. Though no pain had stricken, the group was slow to sort themselves back into their benches. Sugar Belle was sandwiched beneath Double Diamond while Night Glider was sprawled sideways with Party Favor in a way that did not seem physically possible.

“Does that hurt?” Party blew her feathers out of his eyes and smiled like a foal.

“I'm flexible,” Night replied while trying and failing to right her body.

Double crawled onto the mares' bench so he could help get Sugar up. Another jolt from the road almost sent him back to the floor. “What the hay kind of trail are we on?”

“Told you already,” Sugar stated. “Secret.”

“You know,” Party said casually from his pinned position beneath Night Glider, “as soft as your wings are, I just don't think it would work out between us.”

Hearing the stallion's playful giggle just made her mumble a “maybe I should have flown after all.”

Before any more rough riding could give them reason to second guess the trip, the carriage stopped. One of the drivers called back to them that they had arrived. Sugar, being the only one who really knew where they were before opening the door, was the first to it. She scurried out of the cabin with as much enthusiasm as a birthday girl had a right to.

Double Diamond was next to peek out of the cabin, shielding his eyes from the early noon light. His breath caught in his throat, though. He had never imagined that only a few hours ride from their town there existed such a place as this.

Sugar Belle twirled around in the plush grass field that stretched out from the side of the road they were stopped at. A rich forest crowded in on the field and a low series of stone buildings further in the field. Though the air still had a coolness to it that Double Diamond was used to around their town, the bite of it was gone. A temperate climate was in its place.

“What is it?” Party shoved himself around his coltfriend and popped almost literally out of the cabin.

“Fresh Heights,” Night Glider concluded once she too was out of the carriage. “I've been here before, but I didn't know this was our destination.”

“What's Fresh Heights?” Double asked casually as the three of them started walking across the grass to Sugar, who was already running enthusiastically towards the buildings.

“I'd think you would have come here at least once,” Night rose a brow.

“Oh oh oh!” Party interjected. “It's a spa house!”

Night's flinch was telling. “Not quite. But more or less.”

“Why's this place so special?” Party Favor risked the question while watching Sugar skip ahead of them with a curiously high spirit. “I know the different grades of happy and Sugar's is more than just her birthday outing.”

Night Glider kept walking with them rather than hover on her wings. “Sugar knows the owners. They’re kind of old friends.”

“Ooooh,” Party drawled out.

The field was quite large before thinning out to the flowerbed front of the single-story stone buildings. Something about the way the close forest trees cast their shadows on the buildings made it feel cozy and welcoming. Especially in contrast with the warm glow of the morning sun, which still glared on and gave the air a soothing temperature.


Sugar stepped back from the door after knocking. Her happy smile only grew when the door opened. Two ponies came out: one stallion and one mare. Both looked neutral at first, as if expecting a delivery pony, but then brightened as much as Sugar when they saw her.

“Teaspoon!” they both cried, coming out and hugging her.

“It’s been so long!” the mare added.

“Teaspoon?” both Party and Double looked to each other at the same time.

The dark brown mare pulled Sugar into the building without another word and the sky blue stallion nodded the other three in with him. “Come on then. We’ve got to get you all comfortable,” he welcomed in an unusual accent that the stallions didn’t recognized.

“I’m Party-”

The stallion interrupted as they walked through the doorway. “Party Favor. And Double Diamond. I do know. Sugar has mentioned you two in great detail in her letters. Perhaps too much,” he explained with a wink back at them.

“Oh dear,” Party blushed.

“I’m Subtle Stream,” the white-maned stallion greeted as he turned again to face them now that they were inside. “And this is Peace Forest Natural Therapy.”

Double gave a “whoa” of appreciation as he took in the sight. The inside of the building was far more impressive than it looked on the outside. In fact, the ceiling was high enough that he wondered why it looked only like a single-story from the outside. Plants were as present here as they were around the exterior and the near-natural stone walls were covered in what appeared to be deep green moss and vines. A single thick tree trunk grew in the middle of the room, where it stretched beneath the floor and through the roof.

“Knock on wood,” Party giggled as he tapped the trunk.

“Natural therapy?” Double asked and noted the distant sound of the mares talking somewhere in another room. Night Glider headed that way, seemingly familiar with the way of the place.

“Yes,” Stream led them next to a seating lounge on the other side of the trunk. Cushions were laid everywhere and were so soft and thick when the stallions stepped onto them that it made them reconsider using a sofa back home. “This is a place ponies, griffons, or members of any species can find their balance and rid themselves of the dark auras that haunt them.”

“So that’s why Sugar is so cheerful all the time,” Double noted in awe.

“Not quite,” Stream chuckled. “She was already a very optimistic pony when we met as foals.”

“Built into her genes,” Party fell backwards into the plush seat and rolled on it happily.

“And yours,” Stream observed and then turned his attention to Double. “It’s been a while since we’ve seen her, so we were elated when she said she was bringing her friends over for her birthday. Cocoa Dream shouldn’t keep her from us for too much longer. She did have plans, after all.”

“Did you guys add more rooms?” Night Glider asked as she calmly walked back out of a nearby hallway.

“Just for guest sleeping quarters,” Stream responded. “Is Cocoa getting the water?”

Night shrugged as she half-glided into a cushion of her own. “If she and Sugar stop talking about the cake then sure...maybe.”

“Cake?!” Party couldn’t help bouncing up from his seat.

“Here we go,” Night Glider slapped her hoof to her forehead.

Double Diamond looked from one stallion to the other, unsure what to do.

“How about you see to the cake while I get the water out and get them started on the trip supplies,” Stream suggested.

Seeing the host get up, Party followed. “You trust me with a birthday cake?”

“If Sugar trusts you with such things where you live then I see no reason to object here,” Stream replied and led him to the kitchen down the hallway.

Meanwhile Double got up and began following them too, not wanting to be left behind. A glance to Night, who waved him on, told him it was best. When they got to the kitchen, they witnessed the largest flour fight they had ever seen. Both Sugar Belle and Cocoa Dream happily blamed each other for starting it while giggling with ghost white faces.

5 - Chill Out

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Now that we have you two all cleaned off,” Party Favor said while rinsing his hooves in the kitchen sink, “maybe we can get to this 'special trip' business.”

“Yeah,” Double agreed from the doorway. “Going to clue us in?”

Cocoa Dream was the one to answer first. “A Harmony With Nature session. It's like a camping trip.”

“I used to go on them a lot when I was young,” Sugar Belle admitted. “And I always wanted to go again someday with my friends.”

“Your birthday was the perfect excuse to drag us along,” Double Diamond realized and then grabbed a water bottle that Stream offered while he was taking supplies out.

“It's going to be fun,” Cocoa encouraged with glee as she nuzzled Sugar.

Night Glider, who was drinking some apple juice on the other side of the kitchen, saw this and nearly choked.

“Nice kitchen by the way,” Party Favor complimented the pair.

“We just recently renovated it,” Cocoa enthused.

Indeed, the bright white and green decorative painting on the cabinets and preparation counters could not have been very old. There didn't seem to be a spot in sight. The bright but not blinding lights also spoke of new bulbs using the latest of Canterlot technology.

“We wouldn't have bothered,” Stream disclaimed on his way out of the kitchen, “but one of our friends owns a building and interiors business and wanted to try some new techniques.”

“Friendship is magic,” Party giggled.

Double just shook his head at the corny line.

“Come on!” Sugar pulled on the stallions. “Let's get moving!”

“I feel we were just in this situation,” Double Diamond had to comment.

“Except we are the ones pulling the cart this time,” Party could almost feel a sweat coming on.

Night Glider patted Double's head as she hovered above them. “Hey, I offered to help. Blame Sugar for not letting me.”

They were surrounded by trees on all sides. Thick temperature came at them in waves as the breeze found its way around the trunks and foliage. The time of year was obvious and made the camping trip all the more predictable. Soil beneath their hooves was wet from a recent rain, which made pulling their supply wagon all the more challenging.

“Why?” Double gave their female friends a dead glare.

Sugar Belle and Cocoa Dream were “scouting” ahead and were oblivious to the trouble the males were having.

Subtle Stream was behind their cart and helped shove it anytime the wheels got caught in mud. “They will be setting up the site when we get there and cooking, so it's a fair share of effort.”

Party gave his coltfriend a mood-lifting nod and smile. “Trust Sugar to want to cook on her birthday.”

“What are cutie marks for?” Double smiled in return. He knew the feeling all too well. Skiing was his profession and yet even on his vacations, he still wanted to do it. Life passions were funny like that.

Party Favor groaned to pull his side of the harness and thus the supply cart. Stream helped again from behind since they had just come around a large tree and got stuck in a rut that the above-ground roots had formed. The cart lurched out of the miniature trench and the harness jostled. Double might have been bothered more by the trouble if not for his skis packed in the cart.

“I didn't see snow anywhere,” he remarked, hoping for a valuable bit of information in return.

Stream obliged with only a small bit. “Don't worry. There will be. And you just might like the scenery so much you won't want to ski.”

“Double not ski? What a joke,” Party giggled and winked at his coltfriend.

They kept on for a good while after that and thankfully had only a few more tough spots. There was eventually a shift in the air that Double noticed. The ground got colder and so did the breeze. They were not sweating anymore.

“Just beyond these trees,” Stream declared as they came upon a thinning of the forest. “Be careful. We're coming up on a steep decline.”

The pair was grateful when their helper moved in front of them to guide the stop. They heard the mares ahead making all sorts of noise before that but couldn’t make out what they were saying. They understood when the last tree passed beside them and a gigantic clearing took up their view. What was in it was a natural wonder neither knew was even possible.

“Behold, Mt. Miracle,” Stream waved to the anomaly in front of them.

The grassy forest floor gave way as he warned to a steep decline that curved around in the shape of a crater. The remarkable thing was what was in the crater, giving scale to how deep it was. A snow-laden mountain lay there. It couldn't have been much wider than their own town but it was incredibly high measured from the base at the bottom of the crater.

“How...?” Double stared in awe along with Party Favor. The unique shape of the landscape was nothing he had seen before and he had been to many mountains.

“The peak rests just below the tree tops of the forest, so it cannot be seen from the outside,” Stream explained as he sat and watched the girls finding their way down the slope towards the base. “The upper half is always covered in snow thanks to those clouds hanging around the peak.”

Three gray puffs floated in circles around the tip of the mountain, making Double's brow rise in curiosity.

“Before you ask,” Stream gave a sideways look, “no, I don't know how it works. That is why it is called Mt. Miracle. Pegasi have been here to study it and came up with nothing. Same for unicorns. It remains one of Equestria's natural wonders.”

“I get the feeling,” Party commented with a grin as he watched his companion's expression morph, “that this is just as much Double Diamond's birthday as it is Sugar's.”

The white stallion was already looking back at the skis in their cart.

“Thanks again for being here,” Sugar Belle hugged Double Diamond and then Night Glider. She had already hugged the rest.

Party Favor was stretched out on a lawn chair he had gotten from their cart and set up on their current spot halfway up the small mountain. He lowered his sunglasses and gave a wink to Night Glider, who laughed hysterically in turn. It felt good for him to still make a pony laugh with so little.

Double Diamond hefted his skis onto his back and looked to the birthday girl. “We doing the picnic now or later?”

“You can go, Double,” Sugar answered. “We’ll join you at the peak in a bit.”

Cocoa proceeded to stretch out a green and white blanket with blue highlights. Various items such as snacks and wrapped presents were arranged on it while Night Glider helped remove the other ski equipment from the cart.

“Already?” Party shouted over to Double, who was walking up from the relatively flat stop area and towards the mountain top.

“You know me, Party,” Double gave his signature grin.

The blue unicorn facehoofed. “Of course.”

“You want to come along?”

“Wouldn’t want you to get lonely,” Party winked at him, though with a different meaning than his last one to Night Glider.

Double blushed only lightly and nodded before continuing his trek. Party Favor hopped off of his seat and swiftly grabbed his gear from Night Glider, who shook her head.

“You two better take it easy,” the mare warned. “I don’t want to have to fly anypony to the hospital on Sugar’s birthday.”

“Gotcha, captain,” Party saluted with a mock seriousness.

Double Diamond rocketed down the north side of the peak. The snow was sufficiently thick even if the dark clouds supplying it were eerie to look at. Something about them was off, but he wasn’t thinking of that as the wind ripped by him and the lower reaches of the mountain became visible from a small jump he made off a ledge.

Party Favor was skiing right beside him. He was not a bad skier but not a pro either. Thankfully, the spots they had surveyed prior were all simple and easy enough for the whole party of ponies to enjoy. He supposed that this had been checked before and was the reason that equipment had been brought for all of them.

The unicorn intentionally missed the small jump and swerved back to Double’s side. He wasn’t nearly the expert Double was and so he saw few of the breathtaking scenes that Double had from many a mountain top. But he appreciated this one. White powdery snow leading a far ways down a somewhat gentle but sufficient slope. The forest could be seen at nearly ground-level in the distance due to the crater and elevation.

Sparse pine trees flew by them, painted in white and showing little greenery for it. When the snow below faded out, it was replaced by a lush green grass blanket that was plentiful where they had set up the picnic. But the snow did not give out for quite some distance and hence the stallions continued to glide on their skis.

Eventually they had to turn until they were almost skiing sideways around the mountain side because a rocky upturn prevented a straight path. The casual difficulty of the slope made this easy enough to accomplish, as Double had predicted on their survey. But a sudden impulse struck him as they reached an enticing clearing to the side of the makeshift ski trail. They could continue to the left towards a fresh downturn or head right to a few bunny slopes and then a flat clearing surrounded by a ring of trees.

Double lead his companion through the bunny slopes until they glided to a halt in the clearing. “Maybe we should have made camp over here,” he commented with a pleasant smile.

“It would have been too hard to get the cart up so close to the peak,” Party commented in return.

Double Diamond unclasped his skis, lifted his goggles, and then flew backwards into the snow. It was soft and thick enough not to hurt his back on the hard ground beneath. Party was soon to follow, but he was more energetic in jumping backwards and shouted a “cannonball!”

Snow sprayed everywhere.

When Double lowered his foreleg from his eyes, he saw his coltfriend jumping on him next. “Gah!” his eyes widened in surprise.

“Party Time!” the unicorn laughed out after landing on the other male and rolling across the blanket of snow with him.

When they stopped rolling, Double embraced the stallion. “So is it party time or you time?”

“What’s the difference?” Party Favor giggled.

Double stifled a laugh and tapped his coltfriend on the nose. “Not much for me,” he replied and then added a kiss to Party’s nose.

“Oooooh,” the blue unicorn droned out. “I didn’t know this was going to be that kind of party.”

“Huh? What?” Double suddenly blushed deep red in spite of the frosty snow they were in.

Party’s eyes drooped. “It’s okay, honey. I wouldn’t mind a few kisses. Might warm me up.”

He hesitated at first because he honestly hadn’t planned for it, but Double did lean in and kiss his coltfriend on the lips. The stallion hugged him back, returning the kiss in full. Both lost track of the world around them and continued kissing. Perhaps encouraged by the cold and peaceful surroundings, their passion was gentle, patient, and warm. They just laid there kissing and occasionally breaking to look into each other’s eyes.

“We don’t do this often do we?” Party observed.

With a bout of curiosity, Double responded. “Not really. Not like this, I mean. It’s nice, though.”

“Makes you appreciate a change of scenery every now and then, huh?”

Double looked up around them and then back to the stallion. “I think you’re right.”

“I’m always right,” Party was the one to playfully tap his coltfriend’s nose this time.

“Sure, honey,” Double stuck out his tongue in return.

“I’m going to enjoy some hot cocoa when we get down, though.”

Double kissed him again. “We can share it.”

6 - Positivity

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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.