Star leant down and nibbled at the grass, trying to quash his jealousy. He was a stallion now; he had to put his childhood memories behind.
"Sounds like you two had a great time," he said, trying to keep the sad warble out of his voice. After the words he cringed. His voice came out much more flat and sour than he intended.
Morningleaf returned her attention to Star, looking worried. She folded her wings. "Uh... do you want to join us again, Brackentail? We're headed back to the inland. We're going to announce something big," she invited.
Star sighed. "I should go," he said.
Morningleaf shook her head. "Stay," she asked. "Please. Don't go."
Star glanced around and saw for the first time all the other pegasi: laughing and nickering and eating and smiling. He wished he could feel like that again.
Star fluffed his feathers, ignoring Morningleaf, and turned to Brackentail. "Take care of her," he said in a low voice so that only the opposing stallion could hear.
"I have... an errand to run. I'll be back later."
Brackentail nodded, confused. He brushed wings with his friend. "Stay safe, Star," he said passively, then turned to Morningleaf. "Let me show you the Pines," he said hastily, and began leading her. Morningleaf glanced back, confused. Star ignored her. He took off in the other direction, starting at a simple trot. Once he was away from everyone else he took to a canter, then a full on gallop.
His hooves pounded the earth, kicking up grass and dirt as he ran. He wanted away from everything. Star hated this feeling, like a knot of anxiety pulling his stomach tighter.
He gasped when the feeling intensified. As Star galloped, he spread his wings and flapped.
It wasn't long before the stallion took to the skies.
He flew high above the treetops, grateful for the crystal winds that cleared his mind. The smell of freedom and exhilaration of flying undid the knot in his stomach a bit.
Then Star slammed into something.
It felt warm, and a sharp feminine whinny sounded in his ears.
Black and green feathers spewed from wings.
Star's skull rocked back and forth with the collision, and it wasn't long until both pegasi lost their momentum and started free falling.
The ground spiralled towards them, and Star's entire body jolted when he struck the grass.
He wheezed, trying to make his mind stop spinning. He managed to make out the form of another pegasus, a pinto with green wings.
The familiar pegasus brayed short and sharp. "What kind of mouse brain doesn't look where they're galumphing, for Ancestors' sake?! Can't a mare fly in –" the mare inhaled and choked when she saw who her attacker was.
"STAR!" Dewberry screamed as she bolted forward, wrapping the taller stallion in her wings.
Star bleated, hugging her back. He felt tears threatened to fall. "Dewberry!" He cried. "Aren't you meant to be across the realm with your herd?"
Dewberry pulled back, her grin triumphant.
"That's kinda what I came to tell you about."
Behind her, Star's friends materialised out from trees and thickets.
Star bleated as each lost member of the herd hugged him in turn.
"Echofrost! Hazelwind!" He hugged them both, elated. "How are you here?"
"We changed our minds," Hazelwind said, ecstatic to see his old friend, "when Echofrost heard news of your win."
Star nickered, leading his friends back to the herd.
When Star landed in the camp, he trumpeted an overstallion's call. "FRIENDS! STORM HERD HAS RETURNED!"
Pegasi gathered, curiously chattering and waving and hugging the old friends. A captain that had once locked combat with Hazelwind now spread his wings around the buckskin, telling him how much he had hoped Hazelwind's herd was safe.
Star's heart skittered when he saw Brackentail and Morningleaf trot out of the woods, accompanied by panting yearlings. Of course they had played Tag with the yearlings; Morningleaf loved the foals.
Morningleaf and Brackentail bleated when they saw their old friends. "HAZELWIND! ECHOFROST! DEWBERRY!"
While the old friends were saying their hellos and catching up with each other, Star asked Brackentail in a friendly tone, "I see you made the foals very happy," nodding to the yearlings and weanlings near their dams, still playing Tag with each other.
Brackentail nodded somewhat awkwardly. "It was fun."
Star waited. Brackentail said nothing more.
The black foal stamped the soil. He hated the awkwardness between him and Brackentail. They were meant to be friends, not rivals.
"Listen," Star said, lowering his voice once more so nobody else heard, "we're celebrating reuniting with our old friends. How about today, we just be friends? No awkwardness, no... whatever this–" Star gestured broadly to the space between them with his wing "–atmosphere between us is. Just friends."
Brackentail looked somewhat shocked, then nodded, smiling genuinely. "Yes. Thank you, Star."
The two hugged each other, then went to rejoin their friends.
Finally, Star decided, something's going our way again.