Long enough after our favorite ponies had returned to throw a positively massive party...
(Which is, to say, about forty-eight hours)
The celebration was in full swing, and Pinkie Pie, as expected, was absolutely enraptured. As per her usual habits, she had been bolting about and checking with all the guests, making sure that everypony was drinking, eating, talking, dancing, or, if nothing else, simply enjoying themselves.
After doing this a much longer time than anypony else possibly could have without collapsing (and possibly going into overexertion-induced cardiac arrest), Pinkie stopped by the drink table and poured herself some punch. Her tongue was starting to feel the eensiest-bit dry.
Applejack laughed as she trotted over. "Pinkie Pie, ah don't understand how you haven't worn yerself out yet." She reached for the punch ladle, then paused. "Berry Punch hasn't been here, has she?"
Pinkie shrugged, her mouth full of the fruit-flavored fluid. Applejack stood for a second before filling one of the cups. "Eh, ah'll risk it." She sipped, experimentally swishing it around her mouth for a few seconds.
"So how's it taste? Like cherries? Blueberries? Kumquats?"
Applejack swallowed. "It tastes fine, Pinkie. Hey, you seen Big Macintosh anywhere?"
"He was talking with one of the spa sisters, earlier...which one, which- oh, yeah, it was Lotus Petal! And Rarity, too!"
Applejack raised a rather skeptical eyebrow. "You're sure it was him?"
"I'm one-hundred and twenty percent sure, or my Gummy isn't cute, green, and toothless! Unless..." Pinkie Pie gasped. "You don't suppose Big Macintosh has an evil twin, do you?" Her expression seamlessly changed from one of mixed horror to excitement, and she began bouncing. "What's his name? Can we meet him? I've always wanted to meet an evil twin!"
"Pinkie," said Applejack calmly, the slightest hint of a smile wrinkling her cheeks, "Mah brother don't have an evil twin."
"Are you sure?"
"Ah'm sure, but if it makes you feel better, ah'll ask him about it."
"Sounds good to me! Anyways, I have to get back to party maintenance!"
"Alright, ah'll - party maint'nance?"
"Yeah! Ponies at a party are like gears in a machine: if they aren't happy and meshing together, then it breaks, explodes, and kills everypony with fire!"
Applejack, mildly terrified, blinked. In the space of that blink, Pinkie Pie had already disappeared back into the crowd.
"She's just bein' Pinkie Pie," she murmured, chuckling. She then began to trot and found herself, for some indiscernible reason, thinking about cupcakes.
"So, tell me, Big Macintosh," said Rarity casually, "How was your first spa treatment?"
"It wasn't half-bad," he said, half-smiling. He playfully nudged the pink-maned mare beside him. "'Course, ah think Petal here enjoyed it more than me." She turned a light shade of pink before nudging him back, smiling.
Rarity nodded, smiling herself. "The first treatment is often one of the best; I remember coming out of mine feeling like a whole new mare. Not that I haven't every time after, of course." She gave a wistful sigh. "And you said you used a gift certificate?"
"Eeyup. Ah think it was one you gave to Applejack, but she didn't want it."
"Ugh." Rarity rolled her eyes. "Somehow, I'm not surprised. I mean, your sister looks fine enough on her own, but with how much she works? A spa treatment for her is leaving the status of 'luxury' and into the realm of 'necessity.' No offense, of course."
"None taken; ah don't disagree."
Rarity nodded, then stood. "I'll be right back; I'm in need of some more refreshment. Is there anything I can get you two?"
"Nothing for me, thank you."
"Alright, I'll be right back." Rarity turned and trotted towards the drink table. En route, she bumped into a certain blonde-maned earth pony. "Oh, hello, Applejack!"
"Hey, Rarity. You seen mah brother anywhere?"
"Indeed, I have. In fact, I was just having the most wonderful conversation with him and Lotus Petal. Oh, they are just so cute together!"
"Okay, tha- together?"
"Why, he hasn't told you?"
"No," replied Applejack, shrugging, "He hasn't."
"You aren't mad?" asked Rarity incredulously, "You've been back for nearly two days, you think that would be plenty enough time to tell his own sister."
"Well, ah don't talk to 'im about who ah spend mah time with-"
"Because that's private!" hissed Rarity.
Applejack rolled her eyes. "C'mon, now, yer bein' a lil' dramatic."
Rarity raised an eyebrow.
"Oh, right, what am ah thinkin'? Anyways, ah'm gonna go talk with Big Mac. Ah'll see you back over there, ah guess. Speakin' o' which, where'd you come from?"
Rarity pointed a hoof. "Straight that way, near the wall."
Rarity trotted past Applejack, making it about five steps before she was intercepted by a pink earth pony who looked awfully more giddy than usual.
Pinkie Pie was currently performing some hybrid between dancing and hopping. "Rarity, there's something you have to see!"
"Um, alright, where is-"
Pinkie Pie wrapped a hoof around Rarity's neck and pointed. "There!"
Rarity quizzically cocked her head to one side. "Is that Spike wearing a lampshade?"
"No, not that!" She pointed her hoof again, this time with much more exuberance. "That!"
"Wha- oh." She found herself speechless at the mint-green unicorn and cream-colored earth pony nuzzling each other's necks across the room.
"I know!" cried Pinkie, taking her hoof off Rarity and resuming her happy bounce-dance, "Isn't just utterly-butterly fantastic! I mean, they were always meant for each other, they should have started dating years ago!"
"...Come to think of it," replied Rarity, smiling lightly, "You're absolutely ri-"
"Well, love to stay and chat, but I've gotta run! Maintenance, party, fiery explosions, you know how it goes!" With that, she seemed to morph into a pink streak, and was instantly halfway across the party.
Rarity blinked, then chuckled to herself reassuringly. "Just being Pinkie, I suppose." She paused. "All of a sudden, I'm in the mood for cupcakes."
Pinkie stood by the door, shouting various farewells as ponies trotted out the door into the dark Ponyville streets. One in particular was laughing brightly, having just heard a particularly hysterical joke involving Mr. Cake and a rusty spatula.
"Caramel," said Cloudkicker, smiling, "The day you run out of jokes to tell is gonna be a sad one."
He returned the smile. "Probably because, by odd coincidence, that'll be the day I die."
Cloudkicker giggled. Whimsically, she looked up. "It's a beautiful night, isn't it?"
Caramel looked up, as well. He blinked, and was, quite honestly, unimpressed. Nothing seemed that spectacular, nothing he hadn't seen every night when he stared out his bedroom window trying to get to sleep. There weren't any comets, or meteorites, or deadly Ursa Majors/Minors to be seen, awed at, or, in the latter case, feared.
But Cloudkicker could certainly see something beautiful. And Caramel had to admit, as unbelievably trite as it would sound, that he loved her for it; he saw the humor in things, she saw the warmth.
"Yeah," he lied, "It is." He looked back at Cloudkicker, and smiled. And then, immediately wondering where along his train of thought he decided to say this out loud, he said, "I love you."
Cloudkicker turned her head back to Caramel. "Pardon?"
Caramel opened his mouth to say something and realized, for the first time in years, that he could think of absolutely nothing to say. His mind was suddenly devoid of all quips, wisecracks, or even a single bad cover-up. In the absence of anything substantial to put out, his mouth went on autopilot, spewing a series of mumbles and half-finished sentences. "Erm...well, I...it's kinda...sort of like a...uh..." And so on, and so on.
Then, to Caramel's surprise, Cloudkicker began to chuckle. She then stepped closer, muttering something under her breath before pressing her lips to his. At the time, Caramel couldn't tell what it'd been, but on his own life would swear later that it sounded awfully like, "Took you long enough to say it."
Applejack smiled at the two ponies as she passed by, then turned to the red stallion trotting beside her. "So they-"
"Eeyup," replied Big Macintosh.
"Well, looks like Caramel's gonna have something keepin' 'im busy on his days off."
"Eeyup." They were quiet for a few moments, the only sounds emanating from their hooves against the ground and Applebloom lightly snoring on Big Mac's back. Finally, Mac broke the silence. "What'd ya think of her?"
"Huh?" The question caught Applejack off her guard.
"Of Petal. Ah'm int'rested in yer opinion."
"She's..." Applejack thought of the best way to phrase it. "She ain't quite what ah expected."
"What'd you expect?"
"Honestly? Just a purty face."
"Well, she was still a purty face. But she weren't quite as..." She stopped herself from saying 'ditzy.' "...Empty-headed as ah thought she'd be." She paused, then lightly nudged her brother, smiling. "You've got yerself a good one, Big Mac."
He returned the smile. "Thanks, sis."
The night was quiet again for a few minutes before Big Macintosh heard Applebloom whispering something.
"Hey, Big Mac?"
He turned his head. He couldn't tell if she was asleep or not; come to think of it, though, it didn't matter. "Yeah, Applebloom?" he asked quietly.
She was silent for a few seconds. "You know yer not the worst big brother in Equestria, right?"
Big Macintosh smiled. "Thanks, Applebloom." Then, feeling slightly awkward, he added, "Love ya, lil' sis."
"Love ya, big brother."
Big Macintosh turned back around, seeing a rather jolly smile on Applejack's face. She gave him a light love-tap on the shoulder. "You go soft while ah was away?"
Big Mac gave a soft and quite uncharacteristic chuckle. "Shut up."
Together, the three Apple siblings passed by a quiet house near their orchard where, inside, another sleepy filly was being put to bed.
Ditzy set down the storybook, pulling the sheets up and over Dinky's body. "G-goodnight, m-muffin." She leaned over, softly nuzzling her daughter's cheek.
"G'night, mom," replied a cutely grinning Dinky. She saw Ditzy turn and trot to the door. "Hey, mom?"
Ditzy snapped around. "W-what is it?"
"Well, I was wondering...do you think I can go to Manehattan, again? Next year, maybe?"
Ditzy stood for a second, then smiled lovingly, trotting back over to Dinky and nuzzling her cheek once again. "Of c-course, Dinky."
"Are you sure, mom? I mean, I know you were worried about me, and-"
"D-don't w-worry about it, m-muffin. If y-you want to g-go a-again, y-you can."
Dinky smiled, then pulled her hooves out from under her covers and wrapped them around Ditzy's neck. "Thanks, mom."
Ditzy did them same. "Y-you're w-welcome."
They broke the embrace, and Ditzy trotted towards the door. Dinky rolled herself back up under the covers, closing her eyes. "I love you, mom."
Ditzy turned, blinking away a tear. "I l-love y-you, too, m-muffin." And she flicked the light switch, trotting down the hallway to her own bed, curling up beside Whooves.
Sleepily, he turned over, nuzzling Ditzy's nose adoringly. "Good night, love."
She smiled, closing her eyes as she returned the nuzzle. "G-good n-night."
Pinkie Pie flicked on her lantern, giggling as she removed the curtain from her wall, revealing the carefully drawn pictures of everypony in Ponyville's cutie marks, thumbtacks jammed through their centers and into a bulletin board. All of the thumbtacks had small lengths of string wrapped around them, a few hanging limp from their bases. But most of them had two ends, one cutie mark to another cutie mark.
Pinkie Pie, still giggling like an effeminate mad scientist, grabbed a nearby permanent marker, using it to darken some of the strings.
Oh, I can't believe it worked so well! she thought as she ran the marker over one of the strings, its ends found on a lyre and three candies. Three couples in four days... She darkened another, its own ends being found on three blue horseshoes and a cloud and sun. And I didn't even have to be here the whole time! And one more, connecting a half of a green apple and a light pink flower.
She took a step back, setting down the marker and admiring her hoofiwork. It's amazing what a pony can do just the morning before. She then looked up and down the board, staring at some of the limp strings. Now, she thought, Who's next?
After a few moments of thought, an adoring yet oddly mischievous smile drew across her face. She trotted towards the picture of a quill and sofa, grabbing the string tied to its thumbtack and pulling it up and across the board, wrapping it around the thumbtack stuck straight in the middle of a four-bladed fan. She then put the curtain back over the board, bouncing onto her bed and grabbing a notebook off her nightstand. As she scribbled down various plots and flowcharts, she hummed to herself:
"Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match..."