• Published 26th Dec 2013
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The Irony of Applejack Aftermath: A Warm Hearth - Mister Friendly



A return to normal couldn't be too much to ask for... right?

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Part 5: Finale


The pageant was winding down. Amidst the orchestra playing them off, the deafening roar of the crowd was almost too much for Applejack to handle.

And she’d thought getting back up on stage and singing the Hearth’s Warming song would have been nerve-wracking enough, being the only changeling on stage.

Twilight’s plan had worked to perfection, as usual. The illusions had all been dispelled at the exact perfect time while the crowd was still squinting against the glare cast off of that heart-shaped ball of purple fire. Rainbow, Rarity, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, Twilight and all of the extras resembled normal ponies once again, leaving her the sole changeling on stage.

And yet, she barely took heed of it, not as they’d started singing the chorus and the whole hall joined in.

Now Applejack was stumbling off stage, feeling like a live wire and grinning like a goofball.

All of her friends were smiling and boisterously carrying on, but none seemed quite as much of a nervous wreck as she was.

“Woo hoo!” hollered Rainbow, looping up so high in the air that she almost hit her head against the high roof of the stage. “That was so totally awesome! I mean, did you see their faces? They were totally not expecting that!”

“We simply must thank those changelings who helped out,” piped up Rarity. “We couldn’t have pulled this off without them.”

“I know just the thing!” Pinkie piped up, and without warning she was gone. Only a poof of dust was left in her wake, and the faint echo of ‘party’ hanging in the air.

“… Oh dear,” Rarity mumbled.

Twilight sighed. “I’ll go get her,” she said, then hastily trotted away. She knew better than to try to match Pinkie’s speed, so she didn’t bother sprinting.

That was the only reason she heard the voices as she rounded the corner leading deeper backstage.

“Do you have any idea what kind of a scandal this will cause?” shouted somepony – a stallion, by the sounds of it. “Changelings in the Hearth’s Warming pageant in Canterlot! A thousand years of tradition tossed to the wind!”

Twilight didn’t recognize him in the slightest, but she was more familiar with the one that responded.

“Surely you are exaggerating,” said Verily Vermillion. “Or perhaps I misinterpreted the applause earlier.”

“That has no bearing on this situation!” bellowed the other.

By now, Twilight had slowed to a halt, her head turning towards the source of that commotion.

Just a few feet away along the dark wooden hallway, a door was ajar. The light of a lamp flooded out of it, cutting a bright orange line across the oak paneling.

The door was just open wide enough for Twilight to just make out a set of angular crimson flanks, a section of what could have been a table, and little else. Whoever Verily was speaking to, he was just out of sight, but definitely not out of earshot.

“How could you let your own play get so far out of hoof?” he shot angrily. “Queen Applejack and her agenda were not commissioned to run the pageant – you were! And you failed spectacularly at it!”

Heat boiled up inside Twilight. Thought about what she was doing waited politely by the wayside as she turned around, stormed up to the door, and knocked it open harshly.

“Hey!” she shouted, completely stunning the two ponies inside.

Verily was present, looking at Twilight with wide-eyed surprise. And yet the temperamental unicorn was in no mood to appreciate it. The focus of her attention was standing almost nose-to-nose with the director. Or, at least trying to.

The stallion was a short, pudgy pony, who looked more like a hog masquerading as a stallion. His mane was short, though probably not by grooming choice; most of it was delegated to a spectacular and rather garish comb-over, clashing pink mane against dusky blue fur. He probably thought it made him look posh, but in reality it only drove home the image of a pig playing dress-up only further.

He was short of limb, had a double chin so extensive it almost rendered his head and shoulders one amorphous unit, and jowls so flabby they jiggled with even the smallest of head movements. They were still wobbling as Twilight stormed into view, his tiny eyes wide with surprise.

“Applejack had nothing to do with it,” she shot. “I did! So if you have something to say, say it to my face!”

The stallion blinked. For a moment, it seemed to dawn on him who he was now confronted with – or rather, the whose student. A look of disbelief crossed his pudgy face, before just as quickly darkening into a scowl.

“That still does not change the fact that this director failed to do her duty,” he said gruffly. “And my theatrical group has no place for ponies who don’t do their job.”

Twilight’s jaw hit the floor. “You’re firing her?! But you can’t –”

“Miss Sparkle. That is enough.”

Twilight’s response died in her throat, her eyes turning to the one that had spoken; Verily herself.

Nothing showed through her façade again. She merely gave Twilight her usual blunt stare, as if she wasn’t the center of such career-ending accusations.

“But –”

“I said enough,” Verily reiterated. Then, she turned back to the stallion, who met her look with a sour glare of disappointment. “I’m sorry you feel that way,” she said.

That was it. No argument, no protest. Nothing. Twilight could only stare in stunned disbelief.

Even the stallion looked her up and down, his eyes narrowing suspiciously. “As am I,” he said, and without anything further, he pushed passed Twilight and lumbered out of the room and down the hall.

Verily just watched him go, letting nothing slip. Twilight, on the other hand, looked at her with deep sympathy.

“I’m… I’m so sorry, Verily,” she said quietly. “I didn’t mean to get you fired.”

Verily didn’t seem to hear her. She just stood there. Was she in shock?

Then, with noticeable slowness, she turned to look at Twilight. “Odd.”

Twilight blinked at her. “Odd? What’s odd?”

Verily wasn’t looking at her. Well, technically she was, but her gaze seemed to pierce straight through her entirely.

“Mister Bull Market was right. I could have exercised some control over the pageant if I felt like it. It would have saved my career. And yet… I didn’t. But that’s not the truly odd thing.”

Her eyes focused slightly – she was looking at Twilight now, even if the rest of her expression seemed vacant. “I was just fired. My life as a director is over. Bull Market will see to it that I never see the inside of a theater again, not after humiliating him and his troupe like this. And yet… I don’t feel sad.”

Twilight gave her a confused look. “You don’t?”

“No,” Verily said, and in her tone, Twilight could hear the faintest trace of confusion, uncertainty. “I just watched my life’s work walk out that door with Bull… and I don’t feel a thing. Why?”

Twilight looked at her, but didn’t say anything right away. What could she say? It took her a moment to find just that.

“You know… success is good. Having all sorts of money and reputation for your family is great. But… what about happiness?”

Verily looked at her. “What do you mean?”

“You know… happiness,” Twilight said, flailing slightly. “You have the love of your life and a daughter you’re crazy about… but you keep yourself distant so that you could give them what they need. What if what they need is… you?”

Verily just stared at her, her expression blank. It was like she hadn’t heard a word Twilight had said.

So intent was her stare that Twilight ended up having to look away. “It’s probably silly, I know, but… maybe it’s something to think about.”

Verily still was despondent. For the longest time she just stared, seemingly at a complete loss for words. Then… “I seem to have underestimated you, Twilight Sparkle.”

Twilight looked up, and saw something she thought she’d never see in her entire life; a smile on her face. Not a clipped and polite one either; this one had the makings of authenticity.

“Perhaps… you are right. Perhaps you’re not, but… it is something to think over regardless.”

She took a step closer, heading for the door as she passed Twilight. “You are a clever pony, Miss Sparkle. Even if things have not gone according to plan… it was a pleasure seeing you and your friends perform. If you would excuse – oh!”

That last sound was so unexpected and uncharacteristic of the severe mare that Twilight actually jumped and turned around. But right away, she found the cause of Verily’s alarm.

“Miss Vermillion,” said Princess Celestia herself, her regal form taking up the entire doorway from top to bottom. “I was hoping I could have a word.”

If she hadn’t said that with a warm smile, it would have been so easy to take her words as a bad thing.

“O-of course, Your Highness,” Verily said quickly, stepping back to allow her new guest into the room.

Celestia obliged, flashing Twilight a smile and a wink as she passed, but otherwise remaining focused on Verily.

“I wish to commend you on your performance tonight,” she said.

“You do?” Verily asked, sounding slightly stunned.

“Of course,” Celestia said kindly. “My sister and I thoroughly enjoyed your rendition of the Hearth’s Warming pageant, as did most of our guests tonight. May I have a seat?”

“Most certainly,” Verily said hastily, sounding stunned that Celestia would even ask such a thing.

“Thank you,” Celestia said, and was seated. “I am sure you have plans for tonight, so I won’t be long. I wished to discuss some opportunities for the future.”

“Oh,” Verily said, sitting rather stiffly. “I am flattered, to be sure, but it appears my boss was less-than pleased with my performance tonight. I am afraid he fired me.”

Celestia raised an eyebrow over her smile. “But I haven’t,” she said meaningfully.

While Verily stared in complete shock, Twilight quietly excused herself from the proceedings, smiling to herself as she trotted away.

~~***~~

The night went on from there without a hitch. As Twilight had predicted, the group went through several more plays that night until the sun had long-since gone to sleep.

And of course, by royal command no less, every play was done by changelings. Or so it seemed. Each time was as big a hit was the first – as much as it was a disappointment for the nobility. By the third and final show, most of the VIP balcony was empty, save for some more open-minded individuals.

The critiques would likely be non-too pleased, and the newspapers in the morning would condemn the whole thing as some power-play by Queen Applejack and her hordes of minions, but those who had been there would know better. And word would get out, bit by bit.

But for six mares and one baby dragon, the turning cogs of the world stage were the furthest thing from their minds.

“I’m beat,” groaned Rainbow, falling halfway over the armrest of a chair. They had all retired to Twilight’s old bedroom at last.

Twilight saw the change the moment she’d walked through the door; two sets of bunk beds sat perfectly in place around hers, as if they’d been there the whole time.

Cakes and all manner of confectionary treats all sat piled on a table in the center of the room, which the exhausted group gravitated towards.

“I swear I’m going to be saying those lines in my sleep,” Rarity whined, all the while filling a glass of red punch.

Applejack said nothing – she was too busy stuffing a cupcake in her mouth.

Only Pinkie bounced off the walls still, defying any attempt by the rules of nature to wear her down. “Woo hoo! After Pageant Party!”

“Pinkie,” said Twilight, “could we maybe have a party that’s just a little more low key?”

Pinkie paused for a moment – having just literally run a streamer along the crossbeams holding up the roof – and thought to herself.

“But Twilight,” she complained, “there’s, like, so much we have to celebrate, like Hearth’s Warming Eve, putting on the Hearth’s Warming pageant, putting on the Hearth’s Warming pageant as changelings, being changelings for a while, making up with Applejack –”

“I know, Pinkie,” Twilight said understandingly. She even got up and put a hoof on her shoulder, “Why don’t we do all of that tomorrow and have a slumber party now?”

The thought hadn’t occurred to Pinkie, clearly. “And we’re having a slumber party?!” she gasped, looking beside herself. “Why didn’t anypony tell me?! That’s, like, a whole different setup, and –”

“Pinkie.”

“Oh alright,” Pinkie pouted, then immediately rebounded. “One slumber party a la Hearth’s Warming Eve, coming right up!”

And she was off again, singing carols to herself as she tore down streamers and bunting and replaces them with wreaths and holly. Where she’d gotten any of that was a mystery Twilight was too tired to think about.

She just flopped down onto a cushion next to the crackling fireplace, along with the rest of her friends. There, she glanced over to one side, towards Applejack.

The changeling was lying on her side, warming her black belly by the fire, Fully engaged with a talkative Apple Bloom. She just smiled and laughed as Apple Bloom recanted every event in the pageant like her big sister had had no part in it whatsoever.

“She hasn’t changed back, you know.”

Twilight jumped, then glanced to one side. Rarity was there, leaning a little more towards her to keep their conversation private. At the same time, she fluffed a pillow with her magic, daintily sipping punch while she worked.

“What do you mean?” Twilight asked.

“Applejack,” she said, glancing her way. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d almost think she didn’t mind looking like herself anymore.”

Twilight followed Rarity’s gaze.

It was clear that Applejack was exhausted. While Apple Bloom bounced and bounded around, she didn’t budge an inch from her cozy cushion and warm place by the fire. Perhaps that was an explanation for why she still remained in her natural form.

Or maybe she just hadn’t noticed yet. Twilight couldn’t help but smile at that idea.

“You seem to be doing better, yourself,” Rarity added.

That comment caught Twilight by surprise. She looked at her, perplexed. “What do you mean?”

“Well, you haven’t given Applejack a single strange look since we started performing,” she said. She placed the pillow in the optimal place by the fire, and then gracefully lowered herself onto it with a relieved sigh. “Oooh, my neck is killing me. That crown didn’t feel all that heavy, but give it a few hours… Oh, I suspect a trip to the Day Spa will be in order.”

Twilight couldn’t help but agree, but silently. She didn’t feel like telling her friend that her back was killing her from the white unicorn riding on her across a fake stream three times. There was no possible way she'd take that well.

“Alright, everypony!” hollered Pinkie, catching them all by surprise. “Present time!”

Everyone in the room lifted their heads, looking around curiously.

Pinkie Pie was standing at one side of the room – a side dominated by a huge fur tree covered so heavily in decorations it was hard to find a single patch of bare needles anywhere on it. Everything imaginable hung from its many branches; from Candy Canes, bells, colorful balls, snowponies, at least two dozen representations of Father Warm Hearth, tinsel, fake snow and more strings of light than seemed feasible. When and how it had gotten there was a mystery Twilight would never know, though she suspected the castle staff had a hoof or two in it.

Underneath the tree was a pile of presents, all wrapped in bright paper with brighter bows and cards denoting who they belonged to. Some were small. Others, rather large.

Already Pinkie was fishing through the pile happily, sorting through presents at blinding speed. “Okay, let’s see here… Rainbow! Here you go… Applejack! Heeeree… Rarity! Uuum… Twilight! Applejack, Applejack, Fluttershy – oh, one for me! – Applejack, Rainbow, Spike, Applejack, Twilight, Applejack…”

Several ponies in the room started arching an eyebrow. “Uh… Pinkie?”

“Applejack, Applejack, Lady Applejack – Rarity! Okay, um… Applejack, Applejack… The letter ‘crown’…”

Rainbow exchanged a look with a rather mortified apple farmer, who was busily trying to hide her expression.

“Hey!” declared Pinkie at long last. “Wait a gosh dog minute here!”

“Um, Pinkie –”

“We don’t even have a ‘Your Highness’ here!” she said, frowning fiercely, much to the chagrin of some. Abruptly, she turned around, looking at all of them. “Who’d name a foal something like that? Don’t you worry, girls! I’ll get to the bottom of this!”

And with that, she bolted from the room, hot on the trail of this ‘Your Highness’, whoever she or he might be.

At that moment, ‘Your Highness’ was, in fact, trying to will herself to disappear into thin air.

“Ah’m gonna kill Rose…”

~~***~~

It took Pinkie nearly half an hour to get back, and by then the group had sorted through their presents and picked the one they wished to open. One before bed, of course. Even Apple Bloom had one – a small orange package from Granny Smith.

The hardest part had been finding one Applejack would agree to. Anything from the changelings turned her so scarlet with embarrassment she could barely say anything – much to the amusement of Rainbow.

“How about this one?” Rainbow asked, waving a new rectangular box with a wicked grin.

“Mm-mm,” Applejack said, turned the other way.

“You aren’t even looking!”

“And y’all ain’t even tryin’!”

“Okay, fine,” Rainbow finally said, a hint of irritation in her voice. “Last try. Here.”

This time, Applejack wasn’t given an option. Before she could object, something was pushed on top of her resting hooves and quickly released.

She was about to object… when she realized what it was.

A small rectangular box sat on her knees, though it had been splattered with mud and had become savagely crooked. The shape of a hoof was clearly visible on the wrapping for all to see.

Applejack stared at it, mute for a moment… then she raised a hoof and claimed it. “Fine,” she grunted.

That was when Pinkie burst in.

“Applejack, Applejack!” she cried, looking horrified and stunned, and generally a complete mess.

“What?” Applejack asked, cocking an eyebrow.

“I don’t mean to alarm you or anything…”

“Okay…”

“So don’t panic.”

Okay…”

“I mean it! Just… deep breaths, okay?”

“Pinkie, what’s goin’ on?” she asked, exasperated.

“Okay,” Pinkie said nervously, “but don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Applejack waited patiently.

“It turns out… You are ‘Your Highness’.” And then she braced.

Applejack just blinked at her. “Uh… pretty sure Ah already knew that.”

Pinkie cracked open an eye. “You did?”

Applejack’s answer was to tap the crown atop her head. “Pretty sure. Now would ya kindly calm down fer a few minutes so we can get on with this?”

Rainbow just shook her head. “Pinkie, the next time you see something like that… just ask, okay?”

Pinkie scratched her head, then flopped down on a pillow, present in hoof. “Alright then! On you mark!”

Twilight looked around, startled. “W-wait, Pinkie.”

“Get seeeet.”

Rainbow had her hoof on the top of her present, tongue peeking out the corner of her mouth as she tensed.

“Do we really have to –” started Rarity disparagingly, only to be cut off by Pinkie shouting “GO!”

Immediately paper started to fly. Pinkie and Rainbow tore into their presents like fevered animals, sending bits and pieces of paper and ribbon everywhere.

Rarity looked on with an expression of pure horror, Twilight slightly less so, and Fluttershy stared and uttered a small “oh… my…”

Applejack, on the other hoof, didn’t bat an eyelash.

While the two ripped into their presents and rapidly revealed what was inside, she carefully scrutinized her own parcel. While Rainbow and Pinkie argued over who got to theirs first, Applejack carefully bit one of the ends of the ribbon tied around the box, pried it loose, and then bit off a corner of the paper.

The friendly argument between Rainbow and Pinkie quickly faded from her attention as she peeled back the crinkly paper, ripping it down the middle and tearing off the upper half. Underneath, a small cardboard box sat waiting for her, one end horribly deformed by the blow it had sustained.

Applejack regarded it for a moment, then carefully took hold of the top half of the box, and pulled up.

The top came off completely, with a little tugging thanks to the bent and uneven part. Inside, she found a nest of green, red and white paper, nestled around a broken necklace.

It was a simple thing, and woefully too small for Applejack’s neck, made from countless varieties of colorful glass beads. Quite a few of them, however, had been cracked, or even completely smashed to pieces under the hateful stallion’s hoof.

But the pendant remained unscathed. It looked like an oak leaf, except it shined as if made of glass. It was wrapped around something, formed to the shape of a crystal topaz shard at least two inches long.

Applejack had seen these before, in one shape or another. A crystal – sometimes emeralds, sometimes rubies, but quite a few topazes from what she remembered – wrapped by some kind of leaf – oak, maple, bunches of holly, even juniper sprigs, whatever seemed handy at the time. What they symbolized, she could not say – she doubted even their makers knew exactly what they meant anymore. But the fact that a foal no older than Apple Bloom would go through such trouble to make something like this…

The room had become awfully quiet. Applejack suddenly became distinctly aware of this, and looked up.

Everypony was looking at her and her gift. Rarity was eying the state of it with a sad expression, like a dear friend that had just passed away. Pinkie watched the glint of the gemstone, clearly fascinated. Fluttershy examined the whole thing from afar, blinking with curiosity. Twilight glanced between the gift and Applejack, fighting back a frown as she remembered what had caused it to be in such a state.

Only Rainbow looked directly at her, searching, careful, her argument and boasting completely forgotten.

Applejack just smiled at her in reassurance, then looked back down at the sad state of her present. “Ah bet Ah could find a string big enough,” she said, breaking the silence.

Her voice broke the stalemate. “Hmm,” mused Rarity, her horn starting to glow.

A collection of tiny slivers and shards of glass rose up out of the box, floated around and around like some ridiculously small scale model of the solar system, and then carefully drifted back together, uniting perfectly.

A flash of magic, and the bead fell back into the box – whole once more. “There,” she said in satisfaction. “I daresay it’s more than salvageable, since all of the pieces are right there. When we get back to Ponyville, I’ll have it good as new, promise.”

Applejack flashed an appreciative smile. “Thanks, Rarity.”

She waved a hoof. “Oh, think nothing of it, darling. I simply couldn’t leave such a pretty little thing in shambles.”

Applejack smiled nonetheless.

~~***~~

The Great Hall was dead quiet.

The silence pressed in on Applejack's ears as she trotted in and glanced around, taking in the stage – still standing squarely in the back of the hall.

However, the chairs had all been hauled away. The orchestra pit was cleaned out. Aside from the stage itself, no evidence remained of the pageant taking place.

The torches burned low, filling the room with only a soft low light.

Her hooves echoed off of the walls back at her as she trotted further in, looking around.

Applejack had only stepped out for some fresh air, and to stretch her legs. Any more of those sweets and she was liable to start getting pudgy.

Yet somehow, her hooves and taken her all the way back here, as if drawn by some sort of curiosity. She looked around, marveling at just how big the space was while trotting further in.

“Going for a midnight stroll, are we?”

Applejack jumped, then spun around.

She could have sworn Princess Celestia hadn’t been there before, standing off to one side of the very door she herself had walked in through.

“It’s unusual to have ponies exploring the castle at such a late hour,” Celestia remarked, her smile benign as she stepped forward.

Applejack sputtered, freezing in place. “P-p-princess! Ah didn’t know y’all were –”

“It’s quite alright, Applejack,” Celestia said gently, gliding closer still. “You don’t need to be so worried about me.”

She gracefully strode up to stand beside Applejack, looking out towards the stage.

Applejack’s heart was still thundering from the shock of Celestia’s sudden appearance. “Ah… Ah thought y’all woulda been in bed by now.”

Celestia chuckled. “I probably should be. But tonight is a special night.”

Applejack frowned in confusion at her. “How so?”

Celestia smiled knowingly. “Over a thousand years ago, not far from this very spot, three new friends forged the fires of friendship and saved this land from eternal winter,” she said.

Applejack jolted in astonishment. “Ya mean… Smart Cookie, Private Pansy, a-and Clover the Clever…?”

Celestia nodded. “This castle was built around the spot these three unlikely heroes reconciled their differences and gave birth to Equestria. I doubt they ever realized how significant their actions were, but as with most defining moments in history, few ever do.”

She glanced towards Applejack then, making her tense up. Celestia gave off nothing but a warm, benevolent demeanor, and yet Applejack still couldn’t shake the feeling of the alicorn’s power – if not magically, than politically. It was intimidating, knowing that one single word from this mare beside her could send her, and the rest of her kind, packing from Equestria.

“Just like,” she said, “the actions of you and your friends tonight.”

Applejack blinked, but said nothing. She seemed at something of a loss, anyhow.

Celestia turned to watch the stage contentedly. “You may not realized it yet. Likely, it will not take a long time for the effects to truly be felt. But tonight, you have done something important. You have shown that changelings and ponies are not so different to the pegasi, unicorns and earth ponies of old. All we need is that bridge to connect us, and I believe you and your friends will be that bridge; the next Clover the Clever, Private Pansy and Smart Cookie.”

Now Applejack definitely didn’t know what to say. Her mouth just hung open stupidly, to Celestia’s amusement.

“I apologize,” she said sincerely. “You shouldn’t have to concern yourself with these things tonight.”

“It’s… it’s alright,” Applejack said automatically. “Truth is, things like that don’t stop concernin’ me.”

Celestia chuckled. “I certainly sympathize with you,” she said. “But if I may offer some advice, from one ruler to another.”

She leaned down to Applejack’s level, still smiling. “Try not to obsess over the things you have to do, and focus on what you can do.”

BONG! BONG!

Applejack jumped as the clock tower boomed across the castle, echoing through the halls and courtyards for all to hear. Six, seven, eight…

“If you pay attention to one thing only,” Celestia said. Ten… eleven… “You’ll never notice where the important ones are.”

BONG!

Something hissed through the air – the faintest, almost imaginary whispers. Applejack blinked, turned her head… and gawked.

The Great Hall was completely and totally empty. The stage had vanished without a trace, leaving the spacious hall even more cavernous than before. Everything was exactly as it had once been… until next year.

Celestia laughed quietly at Applejack’s dumbfounded expression. Somewhere high above, she had a sneaking suspicion that stage’s long bearded creator would be rolling on the floor as well.

“Well then, I suppose it’s time we all went to bed now,” Celestia said in good humor. “I’m sure your friend is starting to get a little worried.”

Applejack blinked at her – friend? – and turned around.

As soon as she did so, the Great Hall doors nudged open, and a familiar rainbow-colored head poked in, backlit by the light of the hallway behind her.

“There you are!” she said impatiently. “Geez, don’t wander off like that.”

Applejack rolled her eyes. “Guess y’all were right,” she said to Celestia, making her chuckle.

“… Is that Princess Celestia?”

“Go on, Applejack,” Celestia encouraged. “I’ve taken enough of your time tonight.”

Applejack nodded, bowed a little, then jogged off, hollering at Rainbow as she went. “Just hold yer horses, RD; Ah’m comin’.”

Celestia watched her go, a smile fit for a mother on her face. Perhaps she doesn’t need help with knowing who the important ones are after all.

~~***~~

Applejack and Rainbow trotted down the cold castle hallway, side by side. Neither spoke much. Neither felt much desire to. The sounds of their hooves were enough for the time being.

Both were tired. Not even Rainbow was in her typical boisterous mood.

“So…” started Rainbow.

“So,” echoed Applejack.

“Long day, huh?”

“Long year,” she sighed.

“Tell me about it…”

Applejack chuckled.

“Applejack… can I say something?”

“What?”

“… I’m sorry.”

Applejack raised an eyebrow, glancing in her direction. Rainbow was dutifully looking the other way, but there was a noticeable droop in her wings.

“Fer what?”

“You know… going along with Twilight, making you mad.”

Applejack rolled her eyes. “Landsakes, sugarcube, you’re still torn up over that? Ah said everythin’ was fine, and Ah meant it.”

“That’s not the point,” she said, shaking her head. “I’m… I’m supposed to be better than that.”

“Rainbow…”

“So, here it goes…”

Rainbow pulled up to a halt, forcing Applejack to stop, too.

The hall was empty save for them, but at that moment, Applejack doubted she would have noticed anypony else anyway.

The look Rainbow was giving her was one of intense seriousness and concentration, like what she was about to say was of the utmost importance. “I promise, Applejack. I’ll never, ever let you down again. I promise.”

Something tugged in Applejack’s chest, but she ignored it. After a few moments of staring and blinking, she finally broke into a small smile. “Alright, sugarcube. Ah’ll hold ya to that.”

Rainbow nodded in thanks, then relaxed. “Um… so yeah… that’s all I wanted to say while I had you here. You know, without the others to make fun of me. Let’s go hit the hay.”

Applejack chuckled. “Sounds good.”

So they set off together, side by side, comfortable in each other’s silence once more.

Until Rainbow brought up one final question.

“Um… can I ask you something?”

“Shoot.”

“… Why are you wearing mistletoe?”

Author's Note:

And so it finally comes to an end. After a whole year, it's finally over. This one is significantly shorter than my usually works, but that's fine; most epilogues are, and that's about what this amounts to.

I basically spent all day writing this. about, oh, seven hours of nonstop writing. Blah...
But, I had fun. And that's what counts. It's funny; once I'm done writing, I get so listless, like I was watching some video that was absolutely riveting, so I peruse Youtube looking for the right video only to have nothing reach out and grab me. Same for books. It's weird.

What this story has proven to me is; if I'm going to get off track from my main two stories, I'd better make it a oneshot. Like, seriously... I think that's the ONLY thing I learned from Bucking All Day.
Anyway, I'm glad it's finally over. Finished. Finito, caput. Ain't nothing left to do!

Oh wait... one last thing...

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