Stay Seventeen

by nagoluckywriting

First published

Photo Finish recalls her days at summer camp with Blueblood.

Photo Finish didn't want to go to summer camp. Neither did Blueblood. Spending three weeks in Ponyville muck with a bunch'a lowlifes? No thanks. But Ponyville is full of surprises, and the two of them quickly discover that there's more to life than what lies in Canterlot.

The Times We Felt Alive

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She unfurled the parchment, hand-delivered by a gray mail courier. Photo Finish had taken many photos for Royalty, a tabloid centered on Canterlot's elite. The opportunity to do so excited her, always. Amongst the curls of painstaking calligraphy, she noticed his name.

Prince Blueblood.

From behind her, an intern scoffed. Then she said, "Do I like, have to help you with this one?" Photo didn't blame her. Not one bit. Blueblood was, for lack of a better word, a prick. A selfish stallion whose charming personality fell victim to the highbrow culture of royalty. But no, the intern's help was needed.

"Yes. I require your assistance."

Photo set the scroll on a cluttered desk, bits of wood surface peeking from behind countless sticky notes and photographs. She had photographed countless photos throughout her career. Kept some of her favorites. One square in her hoof. A photo of Coloratura in Ponyville. No makeup. No fancy outfit. Just her and the piano. A natural state of being.

Another square, creased in the bottom left corner. A yellow mare with a pink mane. Fluttershy rejected the allure of modeling, which was a shame. There was something deeply alluring about her teal eyes, her kind aura.

Then, her favorite. One of the first she considered worthy of keeping. It was a photograph, but so much more. Four sides of a square were not enough to contain the emotions brought about by the orange sunset, pink sky, from atop that hill outside of Ponyville.

Her brief period of reverie was over. She turned her attention to the blue sticky note. Then to the black camera bag in the corner of her office, then sighed. A knock on her office door. "Come in," she said.

The intern stood in the doorway. "I brought you coffee. Black coffee. I still don't understand how you drink without cream and sugar but like, whatever." Photo approached her. Took the paper cup, hot in her hoof.

"Thanks."


Photo Finish stood outside her offices in Canterlot, intern beside her. The camera bag draped over the intern's mint green shoulders loosely as the two of them travelled to Prince Blueblood's estate.

The gleaming black gates loomed before them, shutting out undesired visitors. Photo tapped a button on the metal buzzer. "This is Photo Finish. My intern and I are here for the Royalty photo shoot."

"Intern's name?"

"Minty Chip," said the mint-green mare. She rolled her eyes.

"Of course," the voice over the intercom began. "Prince Blueblood is not here right now. He had prior obligations. Please do come inside while we await his arrival." Minty rolled her eyes. Again. The gates opened.

"Like, where do you think he is?" Minty asked Photo Finish.

"Don't know. Don't care."

Together, they entered the estate. Prince Blueblood was a jerk, no doubt, but the two mares couldn't help but marvel at the beauty of the grounds that surrounded them. Every blade of grass was trimmed to precisely the same length. Hedges were spaced evenly along the path to the main building, each one a perfect cube. Within the circular path outside of the main building, a statue of a stallion in shiny marble. Minty reached for the camera in the bag. "This is incredible!" she exclaimed.

The doors opened, and a blue mare stood beneath the entrance of the colossal building. Quickly, Minty placed the camera back into the bag, then turned her head to one side, then the other. The mare waved at them, her magenta mane bobbing. Their steps were slow, measured. They reached the steps, then the mare said, "I can't believe you're here! One of the most famous photographers in Equestria!" Up close, Photo could see that the mare was young. "I'm Blue, by the way, Blue Berry officially, but you can call me Blue." She reached out a hoof, which Photo shook gently, before scanning the inside of the building.

"So where's Prince Blueblood?" Minty asked.

"My special somepony? He went out to lunch with some of his pals." Photo and Minty looked at each other, eyes wide.

"So... how long have you like, been together?"

"A few moons. Doesn't feel like it though. He's gone all the time."

What a surprise, thought Photo Finish.

"Please, come in." Blue gestured inside, and they entered. The interior of the building was just as marvelous as the exterior. Photo, who had been many places, from the dingiest shacks to the most extravagant palaces, was impressed. The floor was polished marble, the walls trimmed with gold.

"Even I'd go out with Blueblood if it meant I got to live in a place like this," joked Minty.

"As extravagant as it is, it's lonely without him here." Blue sighed. "I miss him already."

How old are you? Seventeen? wondered Photo Finish, refraining from asking the question aloud.

They walked through a hallway lined with portraits of stallions done in oil. A smirk united all of them, a smirk that was intimately familiar, deceptively attractive to Photo Finish. The last portrait, the largest, was of Blueblood himself. It towered over the mares, spanning nearly the entire wall, from floor to ceiling. His chin was angled upwards so that his eyes looked down on those who viewed the portrait.

"Looks just like a photo, right?" said Blue. Photo shifted. How long had she been staring at the portrait? "I know. The first time I saw it, I stood there a while too. I mean, look at the fur! The light! Beautifully rendered." Blue turned, then said, "The room Blueblood wanted to shoot in is this way."

Minty bent over to whisper in Photo's ear. "Don't you usually choose where to shoot or whatever?"

"Yes," replied Photo Finish. What a jerk.

They continued onwards, through a lush outdoor garden, before arriving at a small chapel. Trotting inside, Photo cringed at the dim light and unappealing stained glass. Taking photos here would be terrible, no doubt.

The dark room was made even darker by the appearance of a shadow in the doorway. The mares turned around to see Prince Blueblood, closely followed by a servant. "Good afternoon, ladies." He winked. Gross. He turned to Photo Finish. "It's quite an honor to have you here, taking photos of me for Royalty magazine." Looking around the room, he said, "I chose this room for its ambience. Pretty good, don't you think?"

"It's much too dark," said Photo Finish.

"I beg your pardon?"

"The room. It's too dark. The photos must be taken somewhere else."

The white stallion frowned. Stared at the stained glass windows for a moment, his face reflecting colorful light. "I'm sorry. Whose photos are you taking? That's right. Mine. I insist that you take them here."

What a jerk, thought Photo Finish. Minty rolled her eyes for the umpteenth time.

Blue approached her special somepony and spoke softly. "Listen, you are one of the most handsome stallions, maybe ever. How are people going to see that in this dark room?"

"My looks are so good that they shine. But... I guess what you say is true." Blueblood turned to Photo Finish. "I've had a change of heart. This room is much to dark to bring out my good looks, wouldn't you agree?" Photo stared at him through her reflective glasses. "Let's move to the garden just outside. I'm sure there will be enough light there." He promptly trotted out of the small chapel, failing yet again to obtain Photo Finish's professional opinion.

Outside, in the garden, the light certainly was better, and Photo could get a good look at Prince Blueblood. She could see now that the portrait she viewed earlier was unbelievably accurate. His eyes, blue like the ocean, were captivating and elegant. His blond mane shimmered in the gentle breeze. It was such a shame, then, that his good looks were marred by an ugly personality.

Does he even recognize me? Photo asked herself. Prince Blueblood began to pose, even though nothing was set up, not even the tripod. Minty dug a hoof into the camera bag and removed it.

"So Photo Finish, who else have you photographed? Nopony so handsome as me, I hope." Blueblood laughed, still posing for an invisible camera.

Photo sighed. It was not often that she engaged in photo shoots unrelated to fashion. The scroll she received mentioned that nearly every other photographer was "on holiday", and that she would, upon delivering the photos, receive double her normal rate. "Have you seen Rarity? I assume you have, what with fashion being a main interest of yours. How can you interact with such a bitch?" It almost wasn't worth it. Almost.

"Can you like, not be rude or whatever for one second? I'm trying to set up the camera here," said Minty.

"It's true though. She forced me to eat—" He shuddered. "—commoner food. She also shook cake all over me! And right after I groomed! Can you believe it?"

Yes. thought Photo Finish.

"It's okay. I'll never make you eat carnival food. Or dirty your groomed body. Unless you want me to," Blue said in a sultry voice.

"Oh-kay," Photo Finish said with emphasis, then cleared her throat. "Stop talking. Please. A master needs silence to capture you and your natural beauty."

"Are you serious? You think that's natural?" said Minty. "I'm like, an avid tabloid reader. I know what's natural, and that—" She gestured to Prince Blueblood. "—is not natural."

"Stand over there to help me position him, Minty." Reluctantly, Minty moved closer to the hedge, closer to Prince Blueblood. With Minty near the stallion, Photo finish began to issue directions. "Little to the left."

When Prince Blueblood was in a satisfactory position, Photo Finish looked through the viewfinder of the expensive camera to ensure that the lighting conditions and pose were undoubtedly desirable. To do so, she had to remove her trademark glasses, revealing eyes of deep purple. Through the glass, she could see Prince Blueblood. What was with his expression?

"You were smiling just a moment ago," she said. He stood still, looking at her quizzically. Her glasses were still perched upon her forehead.

Blueblood shook his head and muttered, "No. It can't be." Then his gaze returned to her, her amethyst purple eyes. "You and I... we went to camp together, right?"

This was about to get incredibly awkward.

Sunrise Through the Window Pane

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"No mom. I don't want to go to summer camp!" said a seventeen year old Photo Finish. She slammed her left hoof down on the polished wood floor.

"You're going to this camp and that's final!" Her mother shouted. Then she approached Photo and gave her a hug. "It'll be good for you, I promise."

But nothing good would ever come from attending Camp Sunshine, a three week program that gave young ponies from across Equestria the opportunity to experience life outdoors. Photo could not imagine dirtying her hooves while trotting through endless mud. Could not imagine eating "campfire" food like hay dogs and s'mores. Not just any s'mores though. S'mores made with bargain bin chocolate, made with too much sugar and not nearly enough cocoa. Store brand graham crackers. Even worse, the camp was situated just outside of Ponyville, a place that, though she'd never been, was uncultured.

"I promise you it won't. What do you want me to do? Wash the dishes for a month? Trim the hedges? Mow the lawn? Whatever you want, I'll do it."

"What I want is for you to go to this camp," said Photo's mother gently. A young filly was now wrapped around her mother's leg. "Yes, yes, I'll get dinner on the table in just a second." Two younger colts laughed as they dashed between Photo and her mother, one of them carrying a small Power Ponies action figure. "Besides, I already paid the bits."

"Whatever," said Photo, turning her back to her mother. She trotted to her room and slammed the door.


"Photo, why aren't your bags packed?" Her mom had entered her room. She opened the curtains, and early morning light streamed through the window. Shaking her head, she weaved around the floor, cluttered with various bits of camera equipment and photo paper. From the closet, she withdrew a black duffel bag, and tossed it towards Photo Finish, who dozed on the bed. Her mother shook her gently. "Wake up. The carriage gets here an an hour."

Photo rose out of bed and rubbed her eyes, adjusting to the sunlight. What time was it? "It's too early, Mom."

"You'll have to wake up this early every morning at camp. Maybe even earlier." Her mother spoke with excitement. Maybe too much. She wasn't even the pony going to this camp. Photo was. Photo Finish groaned.

"Why, mom? Why are you making me do this?"

"You'll have fun. I went to this camp when I was young too. Got into all sorts of trouble." She winked before picking up a small camera. "You can even bring this with you. I know how much you love to take photos." Photo pulled off the comforter and moved slowly towards her mom.

"Don't touch. You might damage it," she said before swooping the camera out of her mother's hoof. But her mother had a point. She'd taken many, many photos of Canterlot and its residents. She looked down, and could scarcely make out the carpet near her bed, for there were so many photos that blanketed it.

Still, she didn't want to go. Didn't want to spend three weeks of summer outdoors with ponies who played in the dirt all day. But her mother had already paid, and there would be ample opportunities to take photos, even if it meant that she had to sneak away from the counselor. Without saying a word to her mother, she put the camera in a small carrying case and stuck it in the duffel bag. Her mother smiled.

Photo removed one of her favorite outfits from a dresser. It was a yellow sundress with sequins that shimmered in the light.

"You don't want to take that. It might get dirty." Photo's mother said this from the doorway. "The carriage gets here in half an hour. Make sure you're ready." The sundress returned to the darkness of the dresser just as quickly as it had been removed. Perhaps she wouldn't take any clothing at all. Many ponies, after all, almost never wore clothing.

She was ready. With the strap of the black duffel bag secured firmly between her teeth, she walked out into the common area, where chaos was unfolding.

Her little brothers were playing with Power Pony action figures again, the heroes in their hooves, their mouths making explosion sounds. The Hum Drum figure flew through the air and hit her little sister, the youngest member of her family. Her little sister started crying, and her mother quickly entered the room. She looked down at the figure on the ground, then at the boys, who now had Radiance and Fili-Second engaged in a mock battle. She sighed.

A knock at the door signaled the carriage had arrived.

"Wait," Photo's mother said. "I want to give you a hug before you go." Her hooves wrapped Photo in a warm embrace. "I also want to give you these." She pulled away, and held a pair of... glasses, or maybe goggles, out to Photo. The lenses were magenta, and obnoxiously large. "It'll be sunny out there."

These look so stupid, thought Photo. "Thanks Mom," she said, taking the goggles and burying them in her duffel bag where, hopefully, they would remain. A knock at the door again.

"Have fun, Photo!" her mother said, tending to a white filly, who was still crying.

Photo didn't look back as she opened the front door and strode through.

She stepped into the carriage, which was being driven by a bulky stallion, rather handsome. "Off to camp, are you?" said the driver.

"Yeah," replied Photo.

From the carriage, she watched as Canterlot disappeared behind her and was replaced by a dense thicket of trees. Even from the trail, she could hear the occasional chirping of birds or the skittering of squirrels as they darted through the forest. There was silence between her and the driver. The carriage rolled over the rough ground, and Photo was jolted by the occasional stone on the path. She placed her head in her hooves and sighed. Three weeks. Three weeks until she returned to Canterlot.

Photo could see the lake, the cabins. The carriage slowed to a halt. "Here we are," the driver said. And there she was. "CAMP SUNSHINE" read the sign, the letters crudely painted, almost illegible, in white. She looked around. Many ponies were coming in, most of them by ground. A few pegasi flew overhead, landing in the center of the arc of cabins.

And Photo didn't know any of them.

She stepped out of the carriage slowly, shakily. Were other ponies looking at her? Her hooves touched the soft dirt. She looked at her duffel bag, then at the carriage driver. "Don't worry. Your mom paid in advance," he said. Photo gave a sigh of relief. She felt around in her bag anyways, to ensure that she had brought the bag containing a meager amount of bits, for emergency use only. There was no reason to carry her riches with her, especially not here.

The carriage driver pulled away, and suddenly, she was alone. Through the gate, a line had formed at a short plastic table, where a light blue mare directed campers to cabins. Even from a distance, the lack of enthusiasm was obvious. With nowhere else to go, she trotted over to the line, surrounded by other ponies her age.

"I'm so excited!" she heard one of them say.

"This is a great place to get in touch with your natural element," said a yellow mare who wore large peace sign earrings and teeny tiny glasses, the lenses tinted pink.

A few minutes passed. Photo was now at the front of the line. The mare looked rather bored, and Photo didn't blame her. She looked behind her at the line, which had grown even longer. Definitely didn't blame her.

"Name?"

"Photo. Photo Finish."

The mare paged through papers stapled together at the top left corner. She flipped to the first page. The second page. "Ah. You've been assigned to cabin B, room two. It's that way." She gestured vaguely towards the left side of the cabin arc before calling out, "Next."

There were eight cabins in all, four for teenage mares and four for teenage stallions. Photo could already see that the cabins were quickly going to become co-ed without intervention. Pairs of mares and stallions moved together, holding hooves. She put her head down and trudged onwards.

Once inside the wooden structure, Photo looked up. The building was essentially a long hallway with rooms on either side. At the end, a square common area with three couches and a coffee table. It looked rather cozy.

Room two was on the right side, only a few paces from the entrance. The door was open. A purple mare was unpacking. "Hey there!" the mare said. "The name's Berryshine. Some people call me Berry Punch."

"Hi," said Photo timidly. The mare's exuberant energy was off putting. Berryshine stared at her expectantly. Waited. Then asked, "And you are?"

"Photo Finish. I assume you're from Ponyville?" She tried, failed, to hide the judgement in her voice.

"That's right," said Berryshine, unaffected by Photo's tone. "Let me guess, you're from Cloudsdale?"

Photo stood, unsure of what to say. Was this mare crazy?

Berryshine laughed. "I'm just messing with you." She extended a purple hoof towards Photo. "C'mon. It isn't an official meeting until we've shaken hands." Photo met her hoof, and they shook.

"Where are you actually from?"

"Canterlot."

"Really?"

"Yes."

"Home to some of the greatest, and most expensive, booze. I've only been able to get my hooves on Canterlot wine a few times but let me tell you, it's the greatest. I'm sure you already know that though." She looked at Photo's duffel bag. "You didn't happen to bring any by chance?"

Photo nodded her head to signal that no, she did not bring illicit alcohol into camp. She rolled her eyes and set the bag down on the bed, beginning to unpack.

Her belongings, save for the glasses, were loosely organized on her side of the room. Berryshine had left, probably in search of somepony else to bother with her spirited demeanor.

Photo had never had Canterlot liquor. Never had any liquor at all, really. She was not the type of pony who mingled at social events, even those in Canterlot. Many ponies knew her, but none knew her. Photo sat on the low cabin bed, an extra long twin mattress atop a wooden frame. Outside, other ponies were milling around, chatting or playing games. I should join them, she thought. But that was easier said than done. Instead, she scooped up a book, paperback. Daring Do and the Fashion Crusade. Reading books by Daring Do was one of Photo's guilty pleasures, and the one she had her nose in was one of her favorites.


"Hey. Photo Finish? Hello?" A purple hoof smacked the book out of Photo's hooves. The book hit the wall with a thud. "You weren't at dinner tonight. Don't tell me you're one of those egghead types who spends one hundred percent of your time reading and zero percent of your time interacting with others."

"I'm interacting with you right now, so..."

"Anyways, you can always sit with me in the dining hall." Berryshine paused before adding, "As long as you promise to leave the book here."

Berryshine looked at Photo's duffel bag. "Whoa. What are these?" She pulled out the glasses and put them on her face. "It's like I'm in a science fiction movie." When somepony was wearing them, the glasses looked even worse. "I AM BERRYSHINE," she shouted in monotone. "GIVE ME ALL OF YOUR BOOZE."

Photo bit her tongue to keep from laughing out loud. "Ha ha ha," she said sarcastically. "Now put them back in my bag, if you will." The glasses returned to the bag.

"Lights out is soon," whispered Berryshine loudly through a cupped hoof. "Do you know what that means?"

"I can go to sleep and wake up tomorrow one day closer to going back home?"

Berryshine stared at her. Shook her head. "We can use the cover of darkness to reach the stallion cabins. I scouted ahead, and there are some mighty fine stallions at this camp."

Photo said nothing.

"Unless you're into mares? Let's see, in this cabin..." Berryshine stared into space. "Room 4, room 13..." Where was this information coming from? "In cabin 1 there's room 2..."

"Stop," Photo said harshly. "I'm not into mares. I'm also not into casual flings."

"You just haven't tried it yet. C'mon. It'll be fun!" The lights went out. "You coming?"

Photo hesitated, felt her hooves twitch towards the door of her room, open a crack. "I'm alright."

"You're missing out." Berryshine smiled at Photo Finish, then crept out the door in an exaggerated stealthy crouch. Photo could see her through the window. It looked, more or less, like she was engaged in a covert operation. Which was stupid, because Photo could see at least three other ponies moving about openly in the darkness.

Yawning, Photo rolled over and faced the wall. After staring at the pattern of the wood grain for some time, she fell asleep.


When she awoke, she could hear the light breaths that indicated Berryshine had returned from her midnight expedition. The light that came through the window was gentle. Sunrise was Photo's favorite time of day. It was the lighting that she enjoyed the most. Quickly, she grabbed her camera and trotted outside. Already, the air was beginning to heat with the energy radiating from the rising summer sun. She put the viewfinder up to her eye, and that was when she saw him.

He had a muscular body and a shimmering, blond mane. His face looked as if it had been chiseled by a professional sculptor. He was just... standing there, letting the early morning sunshine bounce off of his coat. The camera clicked, and a bright flash followed.

The stallion turned in the direction of the flash, his confusion obvious. Photo's cheeks turned crimson, and she wished that she was wearing her mother's glasses.

He was still standing there. What should she do? Without thinking, she began to walk towards the stallion, her gait shaky.

"I didn't realize the paparazzi followed me to camp." He said this with a smirk, a smirk that sent butterflies through Photo's stomach. His voice was deep, handsome. "When my parents sent me here, I thought it would be quite the relaxing getaway, a retreat into the countryside." Photo was standing directly in front of him now. "One night and that's already been proven wrong. My roommate's snoring woke me up early this morning, and I couldn't go back to sleep. How uncouth." Inspecting him closely, Photo could see the shadows under his eyes.

A voice came from above, through the intercom. "Breakfast will be served in ten minutes. Don't be late!"

The white stallion started towards the dining hall. Halfway there, he turned around and looked at Photo Finish expectantly. She hadn't moved. Quickly, she joined him and they made their way into the hall together.

Being the first ponies in, all of the tables were empty. Photo touched a chair at the table closest to the door, but the stallion shook his head and nodded towards a table by the window, a square one with two chairs. Before sitting down, the two of them grabbed trays containing a bowl of oatmeal and an apple. Coffee was also provided in little paper cups.

At the table, the stallion said, "I'm sorry. I haven't even introduced myself. I'm Blueblood. Prince Blueblood of the noble class." Photo's eyes went wide.

Despite living in Canterlot, Photo Finish didn't pay all that much attention to the social happenings of the nobility who resided there. Relatively speaking, her family's status and wealth were average at best. Prince Blueblood was a name she hadn't heard before, a face she hadn't seen before.

"I'm Photo Finish." Blueblood took up a spoon of oatmeal, then let it drip back into the bowl. Not receiving a response, Photo asked a question. "Why are you at this camp then?"

"Why else? My parents made me, of course. 'Associating with normal ponies will be good for you,' they said. As if. I wanted to believe that it would be a positive experience but alas, nothing outside of Canterlot ever is." He scraped a hoof against the wood grain of the table, sending a few splinters and some dust across the table.

I can relate, thought Photo Finish. She stuck a spoonful of oatmeal into her mouth and swallowed before saying, "I'm from Canterlot too."

Blueblood just stared at her. Then he started laughing. Laughing! "You? From Canterlot?" He paused, then asked, "What is your name again?"

"Photo Finish," she replied, growing annoyed.

"Ah. The camera makes sense now. Enjoy me while you can. This might be the one and only conversation you ever have with royalty."

Some conversation.

After a beat of silence, Prince Blueblood picked up his paper cup of coffee. "At least they have coffee," He touched the cup to his lips and took a measured sip. *PFFFT* "What is this? Domestic beans? Whoever ground these should be fired? Doesn't everypony know that the only coffee beans worth drinking come from the jungles of Equestria?"

A staff member walked by, a pink pony with a flat mane. "I can assure you that those beans do, in fact, come from the forbidden jungle to the south."

Blueblood pushed his coffee aside.

Photo's coat was wet with the coffee Blueblood had spit out. Was this some sort of joke? Blueblood's personality, his comments, they were hard to believe, even with his royal status.

"Well the coffee tastes fine to me," Photo took a sip. It was only then that she realized that she'd never actually had a cup of coffee before. She tried to keep a straight face as she swallowed the bitter liquid, now made even worse by its lukewarm temperature. Out of the corner of her eyes, she could see Berryshine looking at her quizzically.

"Told you so," said Blueblood. He looked at everypony else. All the other campers were eating oatmeal and drinking the coffee. "Maybe you're from Canterlot after all, seeing as you have decent taste."

"What?"

"I don't know. It's just hard to believe that you're from Canterlot when you look so..."

"Look so what?"

"Who styles your mane?"

Photo was angry now. "We're at camp! Does it really matter if my mane is styled or not? Look, I don't want to be here either, but I'm not going around being disrespectful!" She had pushed away the chair, and was standing now. Other ponies were looking at them. Without thinking, Photo took her cup of coffee and splashed it on Prince Blueblood. "Some prince you are. Learn some manners why don't you?" She stormed out of the dining hall, briskly trotting across the arc to her cabin.

In her room, she lay on her bed, attempting to read the Daring Do book again. She could see the words. Couldn't make sense of them though because of her sudden burst of anger. What was with that stallion? He insulted her, and based on what? Her mane? Ridiculous. Hoofsteps outside, then the creak of old door hinges as Berryshine stepped through.

"You okay?" she asked.

"Yeah. Fine. Whatever," replied Photo.

"That stallion is a jerk, but I don't blame him. The royal life will do that to you."

"So? Just because you come from royalty doesn't give you the right to disrespect everyone else."

Berryshine was quiet for a moment. "I think he'll come around after a few days, and realize that while he's here, he's just like everyone else."

Photo Finish just scoffed. "Sure."

"Can we talk about how handsome he is though?"

"Excuse me?"

"Never mind. The first group activity starts in fifteen minutes. We're supposed to go birdwatching out on the hill nearby. I'll let you in on a little secret though." She bent low and mock whispered in Photo's ear. "The binoculars are plenty good for stallion watching as well."

"Can't say that I've ever tried that," said Photo.

"Me and a few other girls are going to meet up beforehand. Care to join?"

"I still need some time to cool off." It was true, she was still seething, even as Berryshine distracted her.

"Okay. Come find us before we leave then." She trotted out. As Photo watched her move across the campgrounds, she saw Prince Blueblood's muscular, white body, still dripping with coffee, approach.

There was a knock at the door.

Unfinished Business

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The knocking at the door continued, but Photo didn't bother to answer it, because she knew who was behind it. Knew that she didn't want to talk to him. That jerk, she thought to herself. But she would have to leave eventually, because bird watching or whatever was beginning in less than fifteen minutes.

Photo got off the bed and saw the face in the window, muzzle pressed against the glass. She jumped back before quickly closing the shutters. From outside, the intercom blared. "Attention campers, please meet in the center of the campgrounds to pick up a pair of binoculars. The hike towards the sighting area will begin in ten minutes." She sighed. She had no choice now but to leave.

She hadn't even set one foot out of the door when Blueblood came around the corner of the building and started to yell at her.

"You spit coffee all over my coat! I have to wash in the showers here! The showers!" He added emphasis to the word "showers", as if the showers at they were disgusting, which, they probably were. Photo hadn't been in the mares' showers yet, on account of being distracted the previous night.

By the time Photo saw what was in Blueblood's right hoof, it was too late. Cold coffee splashed across her face, and Photo was forced to close her eyes. "What the hay?" she said.

"How do you like it, huh?" Then Blueblood started laughing. "Having a cup of pedestrian coffee being dumped all over you?"

Photo took a moment to collect herself, then walked calmly towards the center of camp, where the blue mare who delivered cabin assignments yesterday was handing out pairs of black binoculars with the same, bored look on her face. She passed Blueblood without looking at him.

"Ignoring me huh? Ignoring a member of royalty? How disrespectful."

Photo smiled. The blue mare outstretched a hoof, offering Photo a pair of binoculars. They weren't much, just two lenses and two plastic tubes connected by a thin hinge. Photo took them. The mare procured another pair, which was immediately taken by Blueblood, who had followed Photo Finish.

"I should have expected as much though, from common ponies such as yourself," said Blueblood, looking through his binoculars.

"Oh and you're such a rarity. A real gem," Photo said sardonically.

"If it were up to me, I wouldn't even be here right now. I'd be on my estate, where the coffee is good and I don't have to share a room with a stallion who snores like a wild beast."

"I feel bad for you, truly," began Photo. The two of them were walking towards the sign that marked the entrance to the camp, where a large group of ponies had amassed, most of them holding black binoculars.

"I do hope this makes my parents happy," said Blueblood, gritting his teeth. "Because being here sure doesn't bring me any happiness." He looked down, and for a moment, Photo glimpsed genuine sadness in his eyes. The expression faded quickly, replaced with the judgmental smirk again.

Berryshine waved at Photo Finish, and, seeing no reason to stay with the rude white stallion, she made her way over to her. But as she began the hike with Berryshine and the others, she looked back at Blueblood. She wanted to see what he did. Other ponies recoiled, unwilling to interact with him. Photo assumed that many ponies at camp were now aware of his demeanor.

"Isn't this exciting?" said Berryshine, looking out of her binoculars at the sky.

"Yeah," replied Photo Finish absentmindedly.

"Be careful!" said an yellow mare with an orange curly mane, pushing the binoculars away from Berryshine's face. "Do you want to go blind?" She looked at Photo Finish. "You must be Photo Finish. My name is Golden Harvest." She stuck out a hoof, and Photo shook it. Berryshine was still occupied with the cheap binoculars.

"So... what do you do for fun?" asked Golden Harvest.

"I like to take photos." She instinctively reached for her camera, and felt nothing.

"Oh. Are you going to take pictures of the birds today?" Golden Harvest was in front of Photo, and couldn't see that Photo didn't have a camera with her.

"I left my camera in my cabin," Photo murmured, her head down.

"I see. You don't want to be distracted," said Berryshine, who had let go of the binoculars. She winked at Photo Finish.

Together, the three mares followed one of the camp counselors, a lanky tan unicorn who demanded he be called Joe. Photo wasn't sure whether that was a nickname or not. She could see his horn peeking out from behind a layer of shaggy, brown hair. Now that Photo thought about it, there weren't many unicorns at the camp. She looked back at Blueblood, who trotted alone, looking anywhere but straight ahead.

The hike to the hill was short. "We have arrived," announced Joe in his best attempt at an authoritative masculine voice. Everypony spoke over him. Some even continued walking, not realizing that they had reached the end of the hike. Joe moved to stop them. Berryshine held the binoculars up to her face again. "Uh, the trees are that way," said Golden Harvest.

"Oh, I know," replied Berryshine with a lopsided smile.

Photo looked at the trees before her. Even without the binoculars, she could see the birds darting in and out of the trees. Birds of all different colors, shapes and sizes blurring together, paint on a canvas. She again felt the emptiness around her waist, where the strap that held her camera normally was. She put the binoculars to her eyes, and continued to peer at the trees on the hill.

Photo focused on a bird's nest, halfway up a large pine tree. A mother bird skittered around, feeding young birds who bobbed up and down eagerly. Somehow, the bird reminded her of her own mother. Her own mother, who worked tirelessly to make sure that all of her children were happy. Just her mother and nobody else.

Golden Harvest seemed to have noticed the bird's nest too, her binoculars aimed in the same direction. When Photo removed the binoculars from her face, she could see that the crowd had scattered, groups of ponies dotting the hillside around her. Some actively watched birds while others just chatted.

Then she noticed Blueblood, who was walking around aimlessly, sometimes looking at the trees, sometimes looking at the ground. Joe brushed past Photo Finish and the other mares, headed towards Blueblood. He muttered something, but the only words Photo Finish heard clearly was "my job".

She pressed the binoculars to her face again, pointing them at Joe, who was now engaged in a conversation with Prince Blueblood. Joe reached out a hoof awkwardly, and wrapped it around Blueblood. Photo wished she had the ability to read lips. It was difficult to discern the nature of the exchange taking place, because neither stallion showed any vivid expression. Their mouths just moved. It was like watching two cardboard cutouts.

A hoof tapped her shoulder. "Hey," Golden Harvest said. "I'm pretty sure I spotted an eagle! It's in this direction, near the tops of the trees." Sure enough, far in the distance, an eagle sat perched in a tree, it's large body curving majestically.

"Now that's awesome!" Berryshine exclaimed, looking at the eagle. For a moment, the three mares gazed at the eagle, far away, unreachable with anything but their eyes. Photo wished she had her camera more than ever. The eagle cocked its head, looking at the ponies below, before taking off in the opposite direction, its massive wings spanning nearly the entire length of the binocular lenses.

"Pretty cool, huh?" a voice from behind them said. Joe had returned from his conversation with Blueblood. "You don't see eagles around here all that often. They tend to prefer the trees near Canterlot. My family lives there." The mares stared at him, and he looked down at the grass sheepishly. "Anyways, just wanted to check in with you, and make sure everything's alright." They all nodded. "Uh... great, I guess! I'll be around if you need anything from me or have questions about the birds. We're going to head back to camp for lunch soon. I'll call everypony when it's time." He started slowly towards another group of ponies, then sped up as he realized that a pegasus was holding an earth pony high in the air.

Berryshine and Golden Harvest laughed at the earth pony, legs dangling in the open air. Joe was shouting. Meanwhile, Photo looked for Blueblood in the hills.

She could see him, still alone, standing near another group of stallions who had their backs turned. The earth pony had come down, and Joe gave him and the pegasus a strong lecture about safety, and about how it was his job to protect the campers. Photo wondered what it would be like to be a pegasus. To fly amongst the clouds. She imagined the photographs she would be able to take from a bird's eye view, out of reach.

"Let's head back," said Joe, beginning to head in the direction of camp. His voice lacked the energy it had when they had arrived at the hill. Together, Photo Finish, Berryshine, and Golden Harvest followed him.


Warm shades of orange interspersed the cool darkness of the campgrounds. Photo had her camera out, taking photos of the campfire in front of her, feeling the heat from the flames against her body. Most of the other ponies retreated to their cabins, exhausted after a long day, but not Photo Finish. It was nice, being out under the night sky. Alone.

"Hey," said a voice. Not alone. Photo could see only his silhouette. She considered going inside to avoid what would surely be another annoying conversation with someone who looked down on her. Blueblood stepped forward, his face glowing in the light of the fire.

"You run out of people to mock?" asked Photo Finish.

Blueblood laughed. A sharp laugh. So sharp that it sounded pained. "Maybe I have."

"And now you're here, because I'm the only pony still awake. What time is it anyways?"

"I don't know. Midnight, maybe?"

"The showers were just as bad as I imagined, by the way." Blueblood turned his body and sat next to Photo Finish. "The water was cold, the water pressure was low, and the drain, the drain was—" He gagged. Pretended to gag? Photo wasn't sure. Either way, she was glad that he didn't finish the sentence, because that was a visual image that she wasn't sure she needed.

"What did you expect?"

"I know, I know. At least I was able to wash my mane with organic shampoo. I brought a bottle with me. Can you believe that most of the ponies here don't use shampoo for their manes?"

"I don't use shampoo." Photo said dryly. "Is there a point to this? Otherwise, I'm going to head in for the night."

Blueblood was quiet for a moment. He stared at the fire intently. "I want to apologize."

"For what? Being a jerk?"

"Uh... I guess?"

"You guess?"

"I don't know."

Photo said nothing.

He sighed. "This was stupid."

"What?"

"Letting my parents talk me in to coming here. It was stupid." Photo turned to look at him, at his face, unreadable. His eyes were directed towards the fire, but where they should have been glowing, they seemed overwhelmingly empty. "The thing is, I could have said no, and they would have let me stay in Canterlot. I could be sleeping in my own room right now, on the finest mattress in Equestria. But I'm here."

"So why'd you choose to come to this camp then?" asked Photo. Blueblood didn't notice that Photo's gaze was focused on him.

"This is... This is going to sound pathetic, and I can't believe that I'm saying this, but I wanted to come here."

"What's so pathetic about that?"

"I just wanted to feel normal. Everypony in Canterlot caters to my every whim because I'm a prince. Celestia forbid I become upset."

"Must be nice," mumbled Photo Finish.

"Listen, I know I don't know how to associate with other ponies, and that what I said this morning was rude, but that's all I know."

"That's your excuse? Now that's pathetic."

"I feel like I'm not explaining this well."

"You aren't."

"I guess I'm just... afraid. What if I share my true self with everypony, and they don't like me?"

"Then they don't like you. Big deal. That's how it works here. Some people like you, some people don't. Is it really better to hide beneath your mean attitude?"

Blueblood put a hoof to his chin, seeming to consider the thought. He stayed quiet for a long time. Photo Finish looked at him, and thought about taking his picture. In this moment, he seemed more real. She wondered if he would even notice that she did.

"I'm going to bed," said Photo Finish finally.

"Good night," replied Blueblood, unmoving. That was the nicest thing he'd said to her, probably anypony, since Photo had arrived at camp.


A few days passed. Photo still looked for Blueblood occasionally. Despite his demeanor, he never seemed to be more than a wallflower, looking longingly at other ponies, but never interacting with them. They didn't seem interested in interacting with him either.

She spent a lot of time with Berryshine and Golden Harvest. Photo was growing to like both of them, which was odd considering how different their backgrounds were. Berryshine and Golden Harvest both grew up in farming families, out in the Ponyville countryside. Neither of them had ever even been to Canterlot. And meanwhile, Photo lived in a decent house in one of the richest cities in Equestria.

"You have to understand that ponies here don't like him because he's royalty," said Berryshine, stirring some milk and sugar into her coffee. She had caught Photo staring at Blueblood again. "Yeah, it doesn't help that he acts like a jerk, but I'm not sure that matters."

"Nobody in Ponyville likes the members of royalty?" Photo stared into her own cup of coffee, black.

"Celestia's the only one who gets any respect from us."

"Why?"

"Because she actually cares, y'know? Members of Canterlot's royalty, hay even ponies who just live in Canterlot, they're always judging Ponyville, ponies like me, ponies like Golden Harvest." She gestured to her left at the yellow mare, who was only half-awake. "Which is completely unfair, because who provides all the food to them?" Scoffing, she added. "I just hope they enjoy it."

Photo didn't have the heart to tell her about the way ponies behaved at many of the more esteemed restaurants of Canterlot, where food was often sent back only because it "didn't taste right". Where one carrot could feed one hundred customers, because tiny portion sizes were trendy. She looked at the apple in front of her, and wondered where it might have come from.

"Sweet Apple Acres," said Golden Harvest. "It's a great apple, right? Nothing less from the Apple family." Her words were slowed by morning sluggishness. Like Berryshine, she stirred some milk and sugar into her coffee.

"Anyways, I wonder who's going to be in my group for the scavenger hunt today," said Berryshine.

The activity for the day was a scavenger hunt, with the groups randomly assigned. Photo wasn't excited about it. If she wasn't excited about it, she imagined that Blueblood was having a mental breakdown. Spending half the day with ponies you don't know?

The intercom blared, and a voice informed the ponies in the dining hall that the scavenger hunt was beginning, and that all of them should report to the center of camp for assignments.

Photo, Berryshine, and Golden Harvest trotted outside, into the strong beams of sunlight. Photo felt the strap around her body. This time, she had her camera. Some ponies gathered in small clusters. Others were still waiting in line to get their number.

The unenthusiastic blue mare was the one doling out little sashes made of worn cloth, each with a number drawn in permanent marker. Photo Finish stepped forward from the line when it was her turn. Her sash bore the number six. She gently her head through the loop of fabric and let it rest across her shoulders.

The groups were gathered around labeled flags. Photo walked up to the one that matched her sash. She didn't know any of the ponies, but they all smiled at her. There were six of them in all. "We've got the list," one of them said, a blue stallion with a country accent. He handed it to Photo, and she skimmed its contents. The items she and her team were supposed to find were generic scavenger hunt items, save for the rubber chicken.

Seriously? Photo thought to herself. She returned the list to the stallion.

Suddenly, the ponies, who had been chatting, went silent. Blueblood approached the flag. Photo looked at his sash. Tried to find the number. Six. It was written in dark ink. Conversation resumed, though much quieter. Cold stares were directed towards the newcomer.

"What are the odds?" said Blueblood shrugging. "We're supposed to find items, right? Is there a list?" The stallion who held the list had turned his back to Blueblood. Photo tapped him on the shoulder. When he turned around, she gestured towards the list, and he held it out to her again. She, in turn, handed it to Blueblood. His eyes scanned it for all of a second before he burst out laughing. "A rubber chicken? Seriously?" Everypony in the group just looked at him. Shook their heads.

Joe rang a small metal bell, and that was the signal for the campers to begin the scavenger hunt. All around her, ponies began to race frantically in different directions. Except for Blueblood. He walked.

"C'mon," said Photo Finish.

"I don't run," he replied.

The rest of group six looked back at them. It was a look that suggested they were prepared to leave Photo and Blueblood behind if they didn't hurry up.

The two of them moved quickly to catch up with their group. Together, they dashed along the soft earth, led by the stallion, looking for the first item on the list, a blue lantern. "I want to win the prize!" shouted the stallion. "Let's go!" Onwards they trotted, the early morning sun beating down on them.

The group found themselves running alongside a dense wall of trees. Photo slowed to peer into the darkness, and wondered for a moment if maybe the lantern was in the forest.

"Are you crazy? They'd never hide anything in the Everfree Forest. It's much to dangerous."

Photo recognized the name. Everfree Forest. It was likely discussed in her geography class in grade school. Whatever was said about it, she didn't remember. The camera dangled around her neck, begging her to take pictures of the forest and its secrets.

"You aren't seriously thinking of going in there," said Blueblood, looking towards their group, which grew more distant with each passing moment.

"Why not?"

"It's... There's monsters in there. Magical creatures that will eat you alive."

"You're not going to tell me what to do." Photo looked at the group, which she could barely see now, and walked underneath the dark canopy of trees. Without turning around she said, "Are you coming, or are you too scared?" She heard Blueblood shuffle behind her and smirked. Stallions hated to be called weak, and Blueblood was no exception.

A few minutes passed. A few more. The trees around them grew denser.

"You... you know the way out of here, right?" asked Blueblood, accidentally brushing against Photo Finish. Photo recoiled from his touch. She looked around. That tree seemed familiar. Kind of.

"Yeah, yeah," she reassured. She pointed a hoof to her left in an attempt to prove this to Blueblood. He followed, though even in the deep darkness, Photo could see the look of skepticism on his face. She gulped, hoping that this would lead them out of the Everfree Forest.

She heard a growl from behind her. "Y'know, I get it. The food isn't great. That doesn't mean you have to starve yourself."

"That wasn't my stomach," replied Blueblood.

Another growl, closer this time.

"I know you said you don't run, but we should probably—"

Blueblood dashed in front of her, a dark blur beneath the trees.

Running From Lions

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"I told you the Everfree Forest was dangerous!" shouted Blueblood, who was several paces in front of Photo Finish. For someone who didn't run, he sure moved quick. One could even say that he moved gracefully. "By the way, I have no idea where I'm going, or what we're even running from!"

The growling continued to grow closer, despite their efforts to escape it. Photo looked for pockets of light in the canopy of trees. Failed to find any. So they kept running.

Blueblood dodged a branch. "Watch out for the—" The branch scratched Photo's left cheek as she ran directly into it, the thorns pricking her skin. Brushing it aside, she continued on. A few droplets of blood dripped down onto her hoof. It didn't matter. All that mattered was escaping the monster behind them.

Blueblood skidded to a halt. "Oh no."

Photo stopped beside him. "What is it?"

Blueblood pointed a shaky hoof at the stream before them, about as wide as a buckball field. The water was still and dark in color. A few bubbles made their way to the surface, followed by an unnerving fizzling sound.

"We're going to have to cross," said Photo Finish.

"No way. Absolutely not."

The animal noises were still distant, but continued to grow closer with each passing moment that they stood beside the stream bank. They were wasting time.

"Would you rather get eaten alive?"

"Frankly, I am indifferent between crossing this stream and facing whatever monster is chasing us."

"It's just some mud!"

Blueblood scoffed, and prepared to counter Photo's statement, but froze when he heard the growling. The monster that chased them was near. Photo turned, and saw a black shadow.

Without another word, she began to wade through the murky stream, the water seeping into her coat. It was cold. It was uncomfortable. But it was certainly better than dying.

"C'mon!" she shouted. Blueblood had one hoof outstretched, hovering over the stream. There was a mighty roar, and Blueblood leaped in. Together, they waded across the stream and pulled themselves out on the other side.

"See? Like a nice mud bath," Photo joked.

"Maybe for a Ponyville pony," replied Blueblood, shaking his coat. Mud splattered onto Photo Finish.

"You can shake yourself out later. We should keep running."

"Good idea."

Their backs to the stream, they continued to push through endless vegetation.

In the distance, Photo could see it. The light of the world outside of the Everfree Forest. "Go left up ahead," she said.

"What? We should go right."

"The clearing is up ahead."

"You said you knew how to get out of here last time, and look and where it got us!"

"Trust me."

Blueblood slowed his pace and looked at Photo Finish. Looked at her magenta eyes. Her expression was pleading. With a sigh, Blueblood followed her to the left. After a few paces, he let out a laugh. He could see the exit too. "We made it!"

Suddenly, a figure leaped out in front of them and roared, blowing their manes back. It extended its wings, casting an eerie shadow against the forest floor.

Blueblood looked at Photo Finish in shock. "Wings?" he said, gesturing at the creature before them.

"It's called a manticore. Didn't they teach you that in school?"

"Homeschooled."

"Ah. Right." A scorpion's tail swept around the manticore's body. "—LOOK OUT!"

Blueblood sidestepped just in time to avoid the stinger, but tripped over the stalk of the tail and fell, his back on the dirty forest floor. She heard him grimace. The manticore flared its sharp teeth, eyeing Blueblood's body with a voracious hunger.

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING? MOVE!" shouted Photo Finish, eyes wide. But Blueblood just lay there. The manticore's mouth opened wide, preparing for a meal of royal horse flank. Photo listlessly reached out a hoof, and as she did so, her camera dangled against her neck.

In a single moment, Photo reached for the camera and flicked a dial on the top of it. The forest around them was drowned in white light for a brief instance.

The manticore turned its head from side to side, confused by the flash of the camera. Photo took the opportunity to dash to Blueblood and help him to his feet. The light of the forest clearing grew brighter as she ran by his side, adrenaline providing a surge of strength and endurance.

Photo breathed a sigh of relief as she tilted her chin up towards the blue sky, dotted by a few scattered clouds. Blueblood brushed dirt off of his white coat, no longer pristine.

"Well then," he said. "That was quite the adventure." He looked around. "If only we knew where we were now."

He was right. Hills extended for miles around them, not another pony in sight. Photo shrugged. "Might as well start walking."

Together, they trotted through the hills, their backs to the Everfree Forest. Looking ahead, they could see a patch of land that looked familiar. "I think that's the bird watching site," said Blueblood. Photo agreed. They changed course and headed towards the low hill surrounded by trees. If they could make it there, Photo knew how to get back to camp. For a while, it was silent.

"How's that cut, by the way?" Blueblood asked.

"Cut? What cut?" Photo reached a hoof up to her face and felt the dried blood. "Oh. Yeah. It's fine I guess." Photo felt no pain from it. Perhaps she was still experiencing the adrenaline rush.

"When we crossed the stream together, you had blood trickling down your face. It made you look badass."

Badass? Photo thought to herself. It wasn't a word that she'd heard often. She smiled. Blueblood thinks I'm cool. I think he's cool too. She frowned. Wait what?

"Everything alright?"

"Yes."

They were almost at the site now, and could hear the birds singing bird songs from the trees.

"Our team is probably so mad at us right now," said Blueblood. "I mean, we kind of abandoned them to have an 'adventure' in one of the most dangerous areas of Equestria instead of helping them find the scavenger hunt objects, which, by the way, are super dumb." Blueblood stepped on something rubbery. The object made an odd squeaking sound. He retracted his leg.

Photo and Blueblood stared at it. Looked at each other. "The rubber chicken?" they said at the same time. Maybe there was still hope for repairing their relationship with their team. Blueblood looked down at it, then looked at Photo Finish expectantly.

"You carry it," she said.

"No. It looks ridiculous. There's no way I'm going to trot around with a foals' toy in my mouth."

"Who's around to see you? Me? What if I told you I'd like it very much if you put that toy in your mouth?" She batted her eyes in an effort to look flirtatious.

Blueblood's ears perked up, and his face began to redden. "I—er—uh..." Photo batted her eyes again.

"Ugh. Fine," Blueblood stooped down and picked up the rubber chicken gingerly between his teeth.

"Camp is thataway," Photo pointed to her left, and Blueblood turned without looking at her.

When they arrived back at camp, many of the groups had returned. Ponies were chatting excitedly. Photo looked for the marker that signified group six and saw that there was nopony there.

"Our group isn't back yet," said Blueblood.

"I can see that."

Behind them, a voice yelled, "Where the hay have you been?" They turned around. The rest of group six walked underneath the wooden arch that signified the entrance to the camp. The blue stallion who had taken the lead earlier looked angry.

"We thought you died or whatever," said a pink mare with a bouncy voice. Blueblood dropped the rubber chicken. "Wait, is that—"

"You guys found the rubber chicken?" said the blue stallion. "We'd been looking everywhere for it. It wasn't in the Everfree Forest, right?" Photo shook her head. A blue hoof picked up the rubber chicken. He stared at it, then said, "Still mad that you two abandoned us."

"Are you going to need a manicure?" said the pink mare to Blueblood. She smiled, as if that countered the malice behind her comment. Blueblood's mouth pulled into a frown. "They don't have those at camp. Guess you'll just have to wait until your mommy picks you up and takes you back to Canterlot." The members of group six laughed.

Before Photo could stop him, Blueblood pounced on the mare, knocking her to the ground. A hundred pairs of eyes were now directed towards the group six flagpole. "You think I don't know that? My hooves feel terrible, disgusting even, but that's not going to stop me from—"

"HEY!" Joe, who rushed over immediately after the scuffle started, moved towards the two ponies, still on the ground. Before Joe could reach Blueblood, he delivered a strong blow to the pink mare's cheek, then promptly stood up. He looked at Joe. "I'll walk myself to the camp master's office, thank you very much."

What just happened? Photo wondered to herself. In shock, she could only stare at Blueblood's back as he walked away from everyone, headed for the large cabin that stood outside of the main arc.

"What an asshole," she heard someone say. "Yeah. Why is he even here? I think we'd all be better off if he stayed in Canterlot," said another pony.

Photo looked at the ground. Were these... tears that were welling up in her eyes? No. They couldn't be. Not for Blueblood. Because while what the ponies were saying was mean, Blueblood wasn't exactly Photo's idea of a fun pony to be around. Right?

She headed for her room, where she could be alone with her thoughts. She ignored the intercom broadcast about the scavenger hunt awards. It didn't matter. Her team lost anyways.

Was Blueblood getting yelled at right now? She imagined him, replying snootily to the camp master's accusations. The thought made her smile as she pushed open the cabin door.

"Photo? What are you doing here? Is everything okay?"

Photo was surprised to see Berryshine in the room. Berryshine's hooves were behind her back, certainly hiding something. Photo arced an eyebrow.

"Ugh. Fine. Promise not to tell?" Photo nodded. From behind her, Berryshine procured a bottle of wine. "I had someone bring it to camp. I snuck away during the scavenger hunt to meet him."

Photo's eyebrow remained arced. "Really? Not impressed?" Berryshine pulled up the comforter from her bed, revealing more alcohol. Beer. Wine. Vodka.

"Wow. It's uh..." Photo began.

"You're coming to the party tomorrow night." It wasn't a question so much as a command. Photo stared blankly at Berryshine. Parties were not her forte.

Keeps Me Wanting More

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"Do I have a dress coat?" asked Blueblood, trotting around the center of the campsite. "I didn't realize that we were supposed to bring dress clothes. Why are you asking, anyways?"

"I mean, I just think it'd be funny, y'know, to dress up a little for this party," said Photo Finish. The glasses her mom had given her were perched atop her white mane.

"What party?"

Oh no, Photo thought to herself.

Berryshine's party was going to take place later that night. Photo received a sheet of parchment with specific directions. If camp counselors found out about the party, Berryshine would surely get kicked out of camp.

"But don't worry about it," she'd said with a wink last night. "I'm experienced."

The parchment instructed those who were invited, which was nearly everypony, except for Blueblood, apparently, to meet at the abandoned windmill about a mile north of the campgrounds.

Blueblood stared at Photo Finish intently.

"You mean, you didn't get an invitation?" said Photo. Maybe he was joking. Blueblood was a pony that was difficult to read, after all.

"No." Blueblood stood still for a moment, then said, "Of course. How cliché. I'm not invited to a party and a great amount of drama ensues." He approaches Photo Finish. "Here's what we're going to do. I'm going to go with you to this party and show everypony that I'm more than my royal status. No drama required."

Photo wanted to say that that was a terrible plan. She knew Berryshine and other ponies would not be happy about Blueblood's attendance. But she imagined what the party would be like without him. Before she could give it more thought, the words "That sounds great," escaped her lips through a wide grin.

Blueblood pushed Photo's side with his hoof, a wide grin on his face as well.

Were they... friends? Photo still wanted to dislike him, but she wasn't so sure that she could anymore, because beneath the snobbishness of royalty, there was a pony who was funny, who was caring. Other ponies at camp didn't like him because he hadn't been vulnerable with them as he had with Photo Finish. If Blueblood was himself around them, Photo had no doubt that they would enjoy his company. The thoughts rolled through Photo's head, and slowly, an idea of her own began to form.

"I'll see you tonight then," Blueblood said as he headed towards his cabin on the side opposite Photo's.

Once inside her room, the sweet smell of wine hit her. A bottle sat uncorked on the nightstand beside Berryshine's bed. A purple hoof extended the bottle towards her.

"No thanks, I'm good," said Photo. "You aren't... drunk already, are you?"

"Me? Nah. Takes way more than a few sips for me to even get buzzed," replied Berryshine lazily. "I'm just tasting it." She sat up. "To make sure it's good, y'know?"

"Uh huh," said Photo as she sat down on her own bed. "How many ponies are invited tonight, by the way?"

"Almost everypony at this camp." Photo couldn't help but notice that Berryshine lingered on the word almost.

"Why not just invite everypony then? Everypony is going to know about it anyways."

"Like I said earlier, I'm experienced." Berry turned towards Photo Finish. "Do you doubt my ability to plan and throw an illicit party?" She said this with a mock royal accent. Photo knew immediately who Berryshine was making fun of. Berryshine laughed, then took another sip of wine.

"This wine is really good," said Berryshine. "Are you sure you don't want any?"

"Positive."

"Also, I see you're wearing those again," Berryshine pointed at the glasses. Photo forgot that she was wearing them. "I know I made fun of them earlier but they're actually kind of cool. It's like one of those trendy fashion items that I see in my mom's magazines."

"Thanks, I guess." To Photo, they were still obnoxiously large and odd looking, but she smiled at Berryshine's comment.

Photo looked at all of the booze under the bed, then looked at Berryshine. "How are you going to—"

"I have help. Never underestimate the power of female charm." She winked. Took another sip of wine. "And free alcohol."

There was a knock at the door. Berryshine welcomed in two stallions, both of whom were eagerly looking at the stash of alcohol in the room. "Promise there'll be plenty tonight," said Berryshine as she began to pass bottles to the stallions.


"I see you chose to wear the glasses anyways," said Blueblood.

Blanketed by darkness, many ponies made their way towards the "secret location" that was mentioned in the invitation. Photo and Blueblood stood on the edge of the campgrounds as ponies passed them.

"Where's your camera?" he asked. "It's rare to see you without it."

Photo instinctively touched a hoof to the place where her camera would be. She thought about bringing it to the party, but decided against it. She'd taken a lot of photos over the duration of the camp, and didn't want to risk losing them before she could get them developed. "I don't trust myself to hold on to it tonight," she said with a smile.

Blueblood smiled back. "But then you'll have nothing to remember the night by."

She laughed nervously. How often does Blueblood drink? she wondered to herself.

Blueblood cleared his throat. "Well then," he said, gesturing in the direction of the abandoned windmill. "Shall we?"

Together they trotted through the darkness, their hooves crunching branches and twigs. Photo thought she felt the slime of a few squashed bugs. If the mud bothered Blueblood, he wasn't complaining about it.

In fact, something about him seemed different. It was in the way he carried himself. Photo snuck a glance at him as he walked. He no longer donned the posture, the expression of the royal pony he was. He looked like any other stallion at the camp. Their eyes met, and Photo looked down at the ground.

"What? Surprised that I haven't uttered one word of complaint about this dirt yet?"

The two of them continued on in silence until they could see the windmill up ahead, atop a hill. Even from a distance, they could hear the shouts and laughter of merry ponies. Was that a trumpet being played?

"Remind me who planned this whole thing again?"

"Berryshine. She's my roommate."

"Wow," was all he said as he stared at the windmill.

"I know. It's impressive."

A pink mare with bushy hair streamed past them, one Photo didn't recognize. "LET'S PARTY!" the mare shouted, with so much energy that Photo could practically feel the fur of her coat stand on end.

Blueblood and Photo Finish followed her into the chaos that was unfolding at the base of the windmill. Berryshine stood in the middle of a crowd of ponies holding plastic cups. She and Golden Harvest were pouring drinks. Photo waved at them and the two beckoned her to push through the crowd.

"You made it!" said Berryshine. She glared at Blueblood. "And I see you've brought a friend with you too."

"Indeed she did." Blueblood stared right back into Berryshine's magenta eyes. "Give me Ponyville's finest."

"You... aren't going to ask for something from Canterlot? I didn't know royalty drank anything but 'the finest'."

"In the spirit of the event, I am more than willing to try whatever Ponyville ponies use to ah, how do you say it? Get sloshed?"

Berryshine cracked a smile. "Well then, I've got just the thing for you."

"Hurry up!" said a pony near them.

Plastic cups in hand, Photo and Blueblood wandered around the grassy hilltop watching ponies run around frantically. The pink mare they had seen earlier, who was obviously not one of the campers, had somehow procured a colossal cannon that other ponies were trying to prevent her from climbing into.

"How is it?" asked Photo.

"What?" Photo gestured towards the cup. "This? It's great, actually. Delicious." Blueblood sipped on his cider with the elegance exclusive to members of royalty. Photo stifled a giggle as she watched him take a drink.

Photo herself had a cup full of wine, produced by Berryshine's family. She expected it to taste bad, but it was actually sweet, and she kept returning her lips to the cup to drink.

Until there was nothing left in the cup. Photo stared at the white bottom, wishing that there was more.

Now that most ponies had their drinks, Golden Harvest moved away from the base of the windmill and mingled with others. Photo stopped her to ask a question that suddenly occurred to her.

"Won't the counselors realize that everypony is gone?" she asked Golden Harvest.

Golden Harvest just smiled. "We've go that covered, trust me." She then proceeded to tell Photo all about the elaborate lie she and Berryshine had concocted. Berryshine's family farm was not far from camp, and Berryshine pretended that her family needed after hours help preparing for the Summer Sun Celebration. It was true, to a degree. Her family worked in the fields all day, and producing the amount of wine necessary for the celebration was going to be a massive undertaking.


"And you can't do this during the day?" Joe had said.

"And interrupt the many awesome camp activities that you have planned?" Berryshine batted her eyelashes.

"Yeah, but still..."

"My family also works in the fields all day, so there would be no adults to supervise, and you wouldn't want that, would you?"

"I guess not..." Then Joe said, "I'm going to come with you, if that's okay. For additional supervision."

"Oh."

"What, am I not allowed to supervise? That is my job, after all."

"No, no. I just thought you'd relish the opportunity."

"What opportunity?"

"When are you going to get the entire camp to yourself again? I know the camp master doesn't like it when your special somepony is here because she's a 'distraction', but if everypony is gone for a few hours, then it doesn't matter, does it?"

"That's... true. We haven't been able to spend much time together the past few weeks because I've been here watching all of you." Joe put a tan hoof to his chin, mulling over the prospect of a night alone at the campsite. "Okay. I'll go tell the camp master that some of our campers are going to help your family out."


Photo listened to the story intently. "What did the camp master say?" she asked.

"I guess he didn't question it," said Golden Harvest. "I mean, we're here, aren't we? Besides, I'm pretty sure he knows Berryshine's family."

"Wait," started Blueblood. He looked around, head turning to one side, then the other. "That story seems kind of ridiculous. There's no way that the camp supervisors would let everpony out of camp, at night no less."

"It's called trust." Golden Harvest looked at Blueblood. "And we're breaking it." She raised her eyebrows and took a large sip from her cup, her eyes never looking away from Blueblood. He could see the challenge in her eyes. Pushing past her, he headed towards Berryshine, towards another cup of cider.

"We're about to play games. Are you in?" Golden Harvest said, turning to Photo Finish.

"Sure." Photo replied, though she had no idea what game she would be playing. She followed Golden Harvest to a small group of ponies who sat in a circle, laughing. When Golden Harvest and Photo arrived, the ponies looked at them and smiled. Then they saw Blueblood.

Before the situation became too tense, Golden Harvest said, "'s cool, guys. He's with Photo Finish." Some of the ponies looked at each other nervously. Others laughed. Photo shuffled away from Blueblood before saying, "As friends, that is. Just friends."

"Uh huh," Golden Harvest looked at the two of them, then motioned for them to sit down. As they sat, Blueblood slid another cup her way without looking at her.

A pink mare with blue hair spoke up. "So Lotus, truth or dare?"

Blueblood groaned audibly, a groan that was quickly silenced when Photo elbowed him in the ribs. Blueblood leaned over to whisper in Photo's ear. "I can't believe ponies actually like this game."

Photo didn't reply as the took another sip of her drink and watched as Lotus lowered the white headband she normally wore so that it covered her eyes. She sighed, forced to remain blindfolded for the rest of the game. "This one's for Golden Harvest," she said. "Truth or dare?"

"I'll choose... truth." Photo heard the hesitation in Golden Harvest's voice.

"What's one thing that nobody knows about you?"

Golden Harvest was silent for a moment. "One thing... nobody knows about me? Uh..." Everypony was looking at her now, her eyes darting nervously. She sighed. "I like to write. I'm even in the process of writing my own novel."

"Well, what's it about?" said Lotus. "You can't just stop there!" There were murmurs of agreement from the ponies in the circle.

"It's about 'broadening your horizons', I guess. The main character goes on this life changing journey across Equestria, the one I wish I could take."

"What's stopping you?"

"Life. Responsibilities. That sort've thing."

"You do realize that we're all young, right?" said another pony, a gray stallion with a short purple mane. "We've got our whole lives ahead of us to do whatever it is that we want to do. Make friends. Travel. Write, which, by the way, is an awesome hobby. I would know." He flashes his cutie mark, a scroll and quill. Everypony cheered, then took a drink.

It was at this point that Photo realized the alcohol was beginning to have an effect on her. The ground was spinning and her head felt strange. A bit lighter than usual. Her attention turned to the glasses on her head, glasses that nopony had yet to mention. Perhaps they aren't all that strange after all, Photo thought.

"Blueblood." Blueblood, opened his eyes and turned to look at Golden Harvest. "I know you're bored or whatever because they play more exciting games in Canterlot—" Ponies giggled. "—but since you're here, truth or dare?"

"Dare." Blueblood said this without hesitation. Photo looked into Golden Harvest's green eyes, and felt a twinge of nervousness in her stomach wondering what was about to happen.

"I dare you—" she paused for dramatic effect. "—to kiss Photo Finish."

Photo imagined it. Imagined it for one second before shaking the thought from her head. He wasn't going to do it, right? She felt the touch of his hoof against hers. Slowly, he brought it up to his muzzle and kissed it gently before releasing it. It was a tender gesture that Photo had not anticipated.

"You didn't do it right," said a stallion on the other side of the circle. "We want a kiss on the lips, not that royalty garbage."

"I was dared to kiss her. Nobody said where or how."

Blueblood and Photo locked eyes, and Photo could see, could feel a hint of desire in them. A desire for more than just a kiss on the hoof.

There was a beat of silence, and everypony looked at Blueblood. "What? Why are you all looking at me?"

"You have to ask someone next, dude," said a stallion.

"Right, right, well then, I'll ask you. Truth or dare?"

The stallion scoffed. "Dare, obviously."

"I dare you to eat this bug." In his hoof, Blueblood held a slimy creature about an inch long. Completely unappetizing. The stallion looked at the bug, his expression full of regret, and reluctantly held out a gray hoof. Blueblood smirked as the stallion chewed on the bug, grimacing the entire time.

Breathing heavily, he said, "That was disgusting." He smiled. "But you gotta do what you gotta do, right?"

The game continued until ponies began to leave, be it out of boredom or drunkenness or a combination of both. The pink pony from earlier, however, had no intention of stopping. In the distance, Photo and Blueblood could see her jumping around and hear the music from whatever instrument it was she was playing. Neither of them could tell.

"So... you guys make out or what?" Berryshine approached them from behind. They looked at each other, startled, and quickly moved apart. "'s okay. Don't have to hide it from me," Berryshine slurred, wrapping a hoof around Photo's shoulder.

"We didn't 'make out'," Blueblood said, miming quotes with his hooves. "I didn't think that the missus wanted to."

Berryshine laughed. "The missus. That's funny." She sat down beside them. "Some party, huh? Ran out of booze like, an hour ago. Public booze, that is. I've still got my own stash."

I can tell, thought Photo. Her surroundings were still spinning and she felt a warmth in her stomach.

"Didja have a good time?" said Berryshine.

"Yeah." Photo and Blueblood replied in unison.

Berryshine smiled at them, then wandered off to wherever she was headed next. Looking up at the sky, watching it spin, Photo could feel the curvature of the earth. Blueblood brought her back to reality. "We should probably head back." He was right. It was pretty late, or at least it felt late to Photo.

In a sultry tone, Photo said, "Going to walk your 'missus' home tonight?" Blueblood blushed under the pale moonlight. "And how did you know that I didn't want to make out?"

Blueblood wrapped a hoof around Photo Finish's, white and blue intertwining. "Maybe I said that more for my sake than for yours."

"What do you mean?"

"It's funny, because we started this camp out as enemies, and now we're friends, I think." He paused. "I don't know. I'm just not quite sure how I feel about you, because after camp, what happens?"

"We can still talk. Come over to my place sometime!" She smiled. Blueblood didn't smile back.

"I thought I would hate it here, but honestly, you've made the entire experience worthwhile. When I go back home, will I revert to my old self? The snarky pony that nobody likes? I think tonight went well, all things considered. The others weren't bothered by my appearance. Maybe it was the alcohol, maybe it was the spirit of the party or whatever, but I'd like to believe that there was more to it than that. For the first time in a long time, I feel like myself."

Photo slowed her pace a moment to take in all that Blueblood said. She opened her mouth to speak, but before she could say anything, Blueblood continued.

"And I know what you're going to say. You're going to say that I'm royalty, and that you wish you were me because then you would have it all. I guess what I'm beginning to understand is that there's more to life than wealth and fame."

"And a clean coat?" Photo joked to Blueblood. After seeing his stare into the distance, the frown on his face, she regretted her words. But then, to her surprise, he pulled the corner of his lip into a smile.

"Oh no. I'll always value a clean coat and mane. Sometimes though, you have to get dirty to have some fun." His smile widened. Photo got closer to him, leaned towards his face, butterflies in her stomach flittering nervously. Their lips locked, and Photo was overcome with emotions that she never felt before. It was as if, by kissing him, she could feel what he was feeling. She felt the melancholy. She felt the hope. She felt all of it as they continued to kiss, standing on a path between dark green thickets.

When Photo pulled away, Blueblood was speechless. "I'm sorry. I—I think I got a bit carried away," she said.

Blueblood stared at the ground for a few moments, collecting himself. "Don't be sorry. It was nice. The kiss, I mean." They held hooves again, walking back to the camp in a strange sort of silence, their minds both louder than thunder.

"Well, uh, good night I guess," said Blueblood pulling away from Photo Finish. Before he turned around, he pressed his lips to hers once again and the two of them kissed outside of Photo's cabin. The glasses on her forehead fell to the ground as they became absorbed in each other. How long the kiss lasted, Photo wasn't sure. When Blueblood finally turned around to head back to his cabin, her mind was blank.

What just happened? she thought to herself.

Her room was empty. Berryshine was likely still out near the windmill, managing the party. With tired eyes, Photo put her head against the pillow and fell asleep quickly, floating into lovely dreams of a prince.

Sweet Goodbye

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"I can't believe that tonight is the last night of camp," said Berryshine as she sipped on apple juice. "I had a blast." The three mares sat at a table. It was lunch time, and all around, ponies were chatting about camp, and the times that they had over the past three weeks. Photo agreed with Berryshine. Her time at camp had been incredible, far exceeding her expectations. She couldn't believe that three weeks ago, she didn't even want to go, that she begged her mother to let her stay at home.

"Mind if I sit down?" Blueblood said as he approached the table carrying a plastic blue tray with two hayburgers stacked on top of one another.

"You say that every time," said Golden Harvest, playfully rolling her eyes. "We don't mind." Blueblood sat down in the seat next to Photo. "I thought you hated hayburgers, by the way."

"I have to say that they've grown on me. Quite a bit more substance than some of the foods in Canterlot." He laughed as he took a bite. "I... think I'll actually miss these."

Photo stared out the window absentmindedly, and only returned her focus to the ponies at the table when Blueblood tapped her shoulder. "Everything okay?"

"Yeah."

The day was a "free day", where the campers could do any activity they felt like doing. "We're going to canoe in the lake later," said Golden Harvest. "Want to join us?"

"Maybe," replied Photo.

"C'mon. It'll be fun!"

"We'll see."

"What were you going to do instead? Mope around? It's the last day! Let's make it a good one!"

"Actually, you're right. Blueblood and I will canoe with you."

Blueblood looked at her with a mock pout. "So nice of you to ask me what I wanted to do." Then he smiled.

After a lunch of hayburgers, the group of ponies headed for the lake. There were already lots of ponies canoeing in the lake, and for a moment Photo worried that there wouldn't be any canoes left to use. Then Berryshine spotted several canoes on the shore. Berryshine and Golden Harvest climbed into the blue one, while Photo and Blueblood hoisted themselves into the red one. They paddled out together, chatting, until they reached the center of the lake and parted, directing their canoes in separate directions. "It's okay. I get it," Berryshine said. "You want to spend more time with your special somepony."

Despite the intimacy and connection Photo and Blueblood had with each other, they had not used the "special somepony" label yet. "We're not—" they both started. But Berryshine and Golden Harvest had already drifted off, away from them on the clear blue lake.

A silence followed, in which the two of them sat still, their canoe unmoving. Ponies paddled all around them, splashing water onto their coats.

Finally, Blueblood spoke. "So... having fun?"

"I guess." Another pair of ponies canoed by, soaking Photo's coat. Blueblood stifled a giggle. "I don't know. I'm just thinking about what happens after camp is over."

"We get to go back home to Canterlot."

"Back to the normal life."

"Is there something wrong with that?"

"I dunno. I guess my time here has made me realize that adventure is still possible in this world. Day to day life in Canterlot would make you believe otherwise."

"I'm not quite sure I follow."

"What is your average day like, as a prince?"

Blueblood put a hoof up to his chin. "I usually start my day by yelling 'BUTLER! PREPARE ME THE FINEST OF OMELLETES!'." Ponies looked towards them, startled by the shouting. Photo giggled.

"No, seriously though."

"Honestly, photoshoots, interviews, and lounging around compromise a significant portion of my daily routine." Blueblood frowned and looked down. Photo could tell that he was thinking about how dull his average day was.

"See? I didn't do much either at home. This camp has made me realize that there's a whole wonderful world to explore, to have adventures in. There are so many other ponies to meet."

"Even if the coffee isn't good."

"Yes."

"Could probably skip the almost being eaten alive part too." Blueblood smiled.

"That comes with the adventure. Sorry." The two of them started laughing, the canoe gently rocking back and forth.

Photo looked at Blueblood. "What about us?" she nearly whispered.

"We're both from Canterlot. I'm sure we can still see each other. I'll add you to the list of approved guests." Photo had never been to Blueblood's estate. She'd only seen pictures. She imagined that it looked even more beautiful in person. Elegant shrubbery. Impeccable grass, every blade exactly the same length. From the pictures, she knew that there was a tall iron fence to keep out ponies who didn't belong there.

"Won't you be busy, though? With all your royal business."

"Maybe. That doesn't matter though. What matters is us." He grabbed her hoof and put it in his. Photo felt her cheeks grow warm as the two of them sat in the canoe, holding hooves.


Stepping out of the shower, Photo planned to finish the Daring Do novel that had remained in her bag for the duration of camp. All of the social activity of the past few weeks left her exhausted. It was midafternoon, the sky a spotless blue. In her room, she opened the book and began to read. Only a few pages in, there was a tap on her window. Blueblood was outside, waving at her. She opened the cabin door for him.

"Hey Blueblood," she said.

"Are you doing anything in a few hours?"

"I don't think so, why?"

"Let's climb the hill over there—" He gestured towards a hill in near the campgrounds. "—and watch the sunset together before dinner. Sound good? I know it does." He quickly turned around without awaiting a response from her. Photo was more than happy to watch the sunset with Blueblood, especially because she wasn't sure how many moments they had left together. She sat on her bed and promptly returned to her book.

The sky began to turn a glorious yellow, and Photo stepped out into the light, where Blueblood stood waiting. His blonde mane shimmered in the late afternoon sun. The camera bounced against her neck as she made her way towards him. Golden hour was her favorite time of day. The sunlight tended to produce pictures with qualities that some would call magical.

"I see a lot of other ponies had the same idea as us," Blueblood said, his gaze focused on the hill. Photo could hear the mild disappointment in his voice. Photo liked the thought of other ponies being on the hill though, because it filled her with a sense of community, one that she didn't really get from living in Canterlot.

"It's okay," Photo shrugged, brushing against Blueblood's fine white coat. Together, they walked up the hill, towards the setting sun and the crowd of ponies gathered to watch it.

Photo sat down in the grass next to Blueblood, and looked to her left. Looked to her right. All around, unicorns, pegasi, and earth ponies were chatting and laughing. She would miss this once camp was over. Less than twenty-four hours until she stepped into a carriage and headed back to Canterlot. She wanted to make every moment count. She put the camera viewfinder up to her eyes and looked through the lens, snapping pictures of ponies in motion. An orange pegasi gliding through the air. An earth pony dancing, legs kicked back in a dramatic arc. She couldn't wait to see what the photos looked like after being developed. She turned to Blueblood and took a close-up shot of him as well, a bright blue eye taking up a substantial portion of the composition.

"Taking more photos of me, are you now?" said Blueblood with a grin. "You'll have to send them to me."

"Why do you want them? Don't you get professional photos of you taken like, every other week?"

"Yeah, but those aren't the same. They aren't natural. Do you know how much preparation goes into those photos?" He sighed. "The makeup, the posing. It takes up half the day. I'd like to see what I look like in my natural state for once."

It was then that Photo finally understood the extent to which Blueblood's royal lifestyle affected him. When he'd first arrived at camp, he was so ingenuine, plastering on a personality that he thought other ponies wanted to see. Here, however, in this moment, he was real. Photo stared at him as the warm sunlight illuminated Blueblood's coat. His eyes were directed towards the sun, which grew ever lower in the sky, carrying the day towards a blissful summer evening. Photo turned her attention there too.

The sky was now a wondrous mixture of blues, purples, pinks, and oranges, and Photo again grabbed her camera to take pictures of the beauty before her. She couldn't wait to develop these photos and add them to the ever growing pile of film paper on her desk, her bedroom floor.

"It's nice, isn't it?" Blueblood said gently.

"Yes, it is." Photo nuzzled her head against Blueblood's broad chest, living in the moment.

After the sun had set, many ponies headed towards the dining hall, where a dinner followed by special deserts was being offered. Berryshine said that the Apple family provided the camp with a wide variety of delicious apple pastries. Neither Photo nor Blueblood moved as the sky gave way to a purple evening dusk that blanketed them. "We can get the desert later," Blueblood said.

They knew desert was being served when ponies began to file out of the dining hall licking their lips in satisfaction. Together, they trotted towards the building, a comfortable silence between them. As they approached, Photo could smell the delicious aroma of apple pies and apple strudels, among other deserts. Joe greeted them, and they waved back. "Y'know, members of my family would call all of this 'carnival food'," said Blueblood after surveying the table.

"Do you think it's carnival food?" asked Photo.

"I've just never truly experienced food like this before camp," said Blueblood picking up a piece of apple pie. Photo reached for a candy apple on a stick. "You know as well as I do that they don't sell food this simple—" He took a bite of pie. "—or this delicious in Canterlot."

Blueblood was right, to an extent. Many of the bakers in Canterlot attempted to create extravagant creations, sometimes without success, mixing different "fine" flavors together, such as imported dark chocolate and special whipping cream. Not nearly as humble as the deserts that the Apple family delivered to camp.

"You should convince your family to bake foods like this," Photo said through a mouth full of sticky sweet apple.

Blueblood laughed, then said loudly,"My family? Bake? That's what the personal chef is for." He sighed. "They'd never go for it anyways. I know them." At the words "private chef", some ponies turned their heads, then, seeing that it was Blueblood, rolled their eyes.

In the evening glow, Blueblood looked at Photo Finish and said, "I'm going to miss you, y'know."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, I'll miss spending every day with you like this." He gestured to their surroundings, to the warm campfires that burned red. Photo felt, in her heart, that she would miss him too, even if they still saw each other from time to time in Canterlot. It didn't matter that she had only met him three weeks ago. All that mattered was the time they spent together, and suddenly, the sadness felt real.

"Have you ever had a pen pal before? We could write to each other!" Blueblood was animated, perhaps upbeat because of the apple pie.

"Sounds romantic," replied Photo. Their wanderings around camp inadvertently led to Blueblood's cabin. When Photo finally saw the door, she wrapped her arms around his white coat. "See you tomorrow?" she mumbled into it.

"Mmm... How about 'See you tonight?'. That has a much better ring to it, don't you think?"

"You're not saying..." He nodded towards the door. Photo looked around nervously.

"Isn't it against the rules?"

"Rules? Whatever. Berryshine is in this cabin something like every other day." They both laughed before Photo returned her attention to the offer at hand.

"I'm not sure," Photo mumbled, looking at the dirt, speckled with small stones. Blueblood sensed her discomfort and understood. They had, after all, only been together a mere three weeks.

"It's okay," he said, touching his nose to hers. "I understand if you're not comfortable."

Thank you, Photo thought to herself. Maybe what we have is real. Blueblood's words proved to Photo Finish that the budding relationship between them was built on more than just lust. It was built on feelings. Feelings that Photo had never felt before.

"See you tomorrow it is." Blueblood smiled at Photo then moved slowly across the doorway, into the darkness of his own cabin. Photo headed towards her own.

"You turned him down?" Berryshine yawned, after Photo recounted the interaction between them.

"I mean, I've only known him for three weeks, so yeah, I turned him down. We're planning to see each other though from time to time, in Canterlot."

"Don't get your hopes up." Berryshine yawned and laid back in her bed, her bag packed, ready to leave camp in the morning.

"Why?"

"I've said it before. Being a member of royalty affects who you are, at your core. It's a part of you that you can never change."

"You say that like you know it's true."

"Trust me."

Photo sighed, then changed the subject. "What are your plans for the rest of the summer?"

They talked for a while, moonlight seeping in through the window, Berryshine's words becoming less and less audible until Photo could hear the gentle breathing that indicated she was asleep. Photo listened to the breathing for a while, its presence calming her, until she too drifted off into gentle dreams of the future. Their future.


A carriage approached the camp entrance. Photo recognized the driver. Her duffel bag hit the ground with a thud as she dropped it and prepared to say goodbye to her friends.

"So this is it then?" said Blueblood, wrapping a hoof in hers.

"I guess so."

Berryshine and Golden Harvest trotted their way. "Be sure to come back to Ponyville some time," said Berryshine. "You're always welcome to visit my farm."

"You can stop by my farm any time as well," echoed Golden Harvest.

"I want a picture with each of you before I leave," said Photo Finish. She bent over and dug around in her duffel bag, her hoof eventually settling on her camera.

Behind Photo, the carriage driver pulled to a stop, the sound of hooves on the ground ceasing. After taking the last photo, she hugged each of them one last time before saying, "Goodbye." The camera strap went around her neck. She picked up her bag and stepped into the carriage. She wished she were wearing the glasses her mom had given her so that they wouldn't be able to see her eyes tearing up.

"You have fun at camp, miss?" said the driver, beginning to move across the dirt.

"Yeah," said Photo softly. "More fun than I could have ever imagined." She watched as Blueblood, Berryshine, and Golden Harvest grew smaller and smaller, until they were nothing but specks of color in the distance, and then nothing. She toyed with the camera, rolling it over in her hooves. She smiled.

I can't wait to develop these photographs.

Don't Let Yourself Get in Over Your Head

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"Yes. We went to camp together," Photo Finish said.

"It's been so long that I barely recognize you." A silence followed. Blue Berry's eyes darted between Blueblood and Photo Finish.

Finally, Blueblood attempted to break the silence. "Remember when—" Photo held up a hoof to stop him. She replayed the memories of camp fairly often, like a favorite record. She used to feel like they belonged to the both of them. Used to. Another silence.

"How come you never visited?"

"I did. They wouldn't open the gates for me."

Blueblood put a white hoof to his chin, clearly making an effort to remember what had happened. He grinned sheepishly. "I may have forgotten to tell them that you might stop by."

Photo sighed. For a long time after camp, she thought about Blueblood, and about whether he was truly happy with himself in his royal status. From what he'd said to her at camp, she gathered that he wasn't. That his royal personality was a façade. One that was necessary, because, she concluded, a rich and famous life consisted of performance that many ponies were not capable of.

The day she travelled to the gates of the estate, she was brimming with excitement. Excitement that deflated almost immediately when the voice over the intercom rejected her. Why didn't he say anything? Photo wondered to herself as she slowly trotted away from the gates, head down. Seeing him again now, she understood.

Opening up to her at camp must have been painful for him. To share your true self is difficult. Blueblood lived this lifestyle, and if Photo galloped into it, there would be questions, and maybe even resentment, from Blueblood's relatives. She never forgave him for choosing not to talk to her after camp, because if he truly cared, the gates would have opened for her. But at the same time, she felt sorry for him, to be trapped in a world where he couldn't be himself. She couldn't imagine what the reaction would have been if Blueblood had fallen for another pony at camp, one from Ponyville.

"But look, you're a renowned photographer now! Fairly famous, I'd say. I'll see to it that you're added to the list of approved visitors," said Blueblood animatedly.

"Thanks, I guess," replied Photo. She wasn't sure what to say to that.

"Am I still just as handsome after all these years? Do tell." At this, Blueblood posed again, the crooked smile dominating his chiseled white face. Photo couldn't deny it, he was handsome as ever. On the outside, at least. But the personality that he donned like a cloak had somehow become even less attractive, and Photo doubted that she'd ever see him without it again.

"Let's just take the photographs," she said to him. He was still posing, walking around the garden. He bent over, pretending to inspect one of the carefully curated flowers.

"The camera's still good to go," said Minty. "Do you need me to help position again?"

"Yes. That would be great."

The shoot was over in an hour. After shooting the last photo, Minty began to pack up the equipment while Blueblood and Blue Berry whispered to each other.

"So this is it then?" said Blueblood to Photo, finally.

"Yes. We are done taking photos, are we not?"

"Are you sure you don't want to stay for a while? Catch up?"

"I don't mind," said Blue Berry. "You and Minty seem nice! I'd love to sit with you guys and talk."

Minty and Photo exchanged a glance, their expressions mirroring one another. Absolutely not.

"I think we're okay," said Photo Finish. She looked at Blueblood. Looked into his bright blue eyes, and for a moment, the hollowness of his gaze evaporated, giving way to something akin to desperation. Briefly, Photo considered changing her mind. She imagined chatting with Blueblood again, as she had all those years ago. But that was then, and this was now. As much as it pained her to leave him a second time, she had to, for her own sake.

Before parting, she said, "You could always visit me, you know." She knew he probably wouldn't. That entering one of Canterlot's less wealthy (relatively speaking) districts would be an affront to him, but the offer was out there.

"Ah yes. Your studio is..."

"In the southern district, near the gates."

"Maybe I'll drop by some time." He smiled. "Goodbye then, I guess. Let me show you out. It's the least I could do." Minty looked surprised. To Photo, however, the kind gesture was no surprise, because she knew deep down that Blueblood could be kind if he chose to be. But that choice was his.

Together, the group of ponies walked back into the mansion, through the hallway filled with portraits and the grand lobby before settling on the marble stairs that marked the entrance. As Photo and Minty walked away, Blueblood and his marefriend waved goodbye before closing the doors, heading back inside.

"I didn't know you and Blueblood had history," said Minty as the metal gates swung open.

Photo gave a faint smile. "It's a long story."


At the studio that evening, Photo pulled open a drawer, revealing a collection of pristine photographs, hardly ever touched. She stared at them a long time. At Blueblood, existing in his natural state, the sunset illuminating his eyes, his coat. She wished that every photo could look like this one. Like the photo of Coloratura on her desk. The natural state was more beautiful than anything in Equestria. After a few more moments, she placed the photo in the drawer and pushed it closed, smiling softly to herself.