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Granny Smith, Apple Bloom, and Big Macintosh busied themselves around the kitchen, having just set up lunch. Two seats were conspicuously empty, as neither of the young mares had arrived yet. This was odd, as Applejack tended to be pretty punctual when it came to farm schedules, and you could practically set a watch by Rainbow Dash’s stomach. Soon, however, voices could be heard from outside, steadily increasing in volume as the owners approached the farmhouse. The door crashed opened, displaying the ongoing argument for everypony to hear.
“Dangit Rainbow, Ah know where the bath is! Stop pushing me!” Applejack planted her hooves into the floor, in an attempt to stop the relentless forward motion. Noticing the other family members’ presence, she tried changing the topic in hopes it would distract the pony pushing her forward. “Hey, lunch is ready! Ya gotta be hungry after all that bucking!”
Unfortunately for her, Rainbow was determined to keep the Applejack moving. “Lunch can wait! This is an emergency!”
Her last hope dashed as she stared in shock at Rainbow’s statement, Applejack put a hoof on the door frame to stop herself, twisting her head to look at her family. “Start without us!” she cried, her tone tinged with what sounded like fear. She lost her hold on the door frame, and disappeared into the corridor’s depths in much the same way prey found itself pulled into the cavernous maw of a predator.
Three sets of eyes blinked as the last orange hoof disappeared behind the corner, then glanced at each other in mild bewilderment. All shrugging in perfect synchronization, they sat down to begin their meal.
“Listen, Rainbow, Ah’m sorry,” Applejack began as the pair found itself in the bathroom. The pegasus had already opened the tap, letting the hot water start filling up the bath. “Ah should have asked you first. But you know how Rarity just can’t take no for an answer.” She carefully omitted the details of her own desire to escape scrutiny, not trusting it to be an acceptable excuse to the pegasus.
Rainbow shook her head as she glanced along the selection of mane care products, dismissing the alarmingly numerous bottles of Apple Spice coat wash before settling on the basic Head and Withers brand. If that didn’t work, there was a surprisingly large number of different products in the bathroom, making her wonder just who was using them all. “I’m not angry about that!” Rainbow answered, hesitating. “Well, not entirely about that. But you just don’t put all that… stuff on wings! They’re delicate!” Rainbow turned to face Applejack, and found her staring back with a raised eyebrow.
“Sugarcube, those things survived a rock landing on them and all you did was wrap it with a bandage.”
“That’s different!” the pegasus retorted, trying to think of how to best explain it. “It’s just… they’re not like bat wings, there’s a lot more smaller stuff going on. Each feather has tons of little… hairs, I guess, that are close but split from each other…" She paused, searching for words a non-pegasus would understand. “All together, this helps with air control and all that.” Rainbow then pointed at the wings. “And that… stuff… on there messes up those hairs! It’s gooey and sticky! And I’m not leaving it on my wings a second longer!”
Applejack interrupted before Rainbow could continue her rant. “That reminds me, Twilight’s still not casting magic. Does it matter if this stuff stays a while?” The coloring had done its job, cutting down on numerous stares, but the wings did not feel comfortable covered in all the various products Rarity had used. She had not minded at first, but the wings turned out to be far more sensitive than she’d imagined, and she was now acutely aware of the powder covering the feathers.
However, considering she was about to be forced to take a bath by Rainbow, she thought that dealing with that discomfort might be the better option. Unfortunately, her friend was emphatically shaking her head. “No! Who knows what this oily stuff will do to my feathers if it stays?” Rainbow leaned over and stopped the still gushing flow of water. Pointing a hoof at the tub, she stared at Applejack and frowned as she saw the farm pony hesitate. “Am I going to have to throw you in?”
Applejack threw her hooves in the air and surrendered. “Fine! Fine!” she grumbled as she removed her beloved hat, then took the hair band off her mane. Giving one last withering glance at her friend, she stepped into the piping hot water, settling in until it rose to her neck. Despite her misgivings, she let out a pleased groan. Rainbow had somehow managed to get the water at the perfect temperature, and she already felt it working wonders on her sore muscles.
That calm did not last, as she heard Rainbow grunt approvingly. “Oh good,” she mumbled, the words muffled by the sponge in her mouth, “That stuff is washing away on its own.” She stood beside the large copper bathtub, her forelegs leaning on the edge as she watched Applejack, unaware of the latter’s slight blush. For a split second, Applejack had forgotten the other pony was there, far too submerged in blissful relaxation. That notion was now dispelled, and the reality of there being another pony in the bathroom struck her with full force. She had not experienced this since she was a little filly, having long ago stopped bathing with her brother or her sister.
Mind you, she was no stranger to a dip with friends; that one session at the Spa during the Poison Joke incident came to mind. But this… this was in the comfort of her own home, her own bathroom, her own bathtub. And there was somepony else here. Somehow, she still couldn’t quite wrap her head around that. Hearing Rainbow move about, and feeling the pegasus’s stare on her back served as a constant reminder.
“A.J., can you sit up?” the pegasus asked. “I’m gonna start cleaning this stuff off.” Grumbling, Applejack sat up, facing one side towards Rainbow, who started wiping off what had now become a gooey mess with the sponge. Applejack shifted slightly as her friend’s hoof applied more pressure, giving some sections of the wing a more vigorous rub. The coloring started to bleed away, staining the water with a cloud of orange as the substances were removed from the wings. Feeling the scrubbing stop, Applejack glanced at Rainbow Dash as the latter spoke up once again. “Can you extend the wing? I need to reach the underside.”
The farm pony shook her head. “No can do.”
“Oh come on,” Rainbow groaned, “don’t make this difficult!”
Applejack frowned at that. “It’s not because Ah don’t want to, you goof. Ah just can’t,” she said, straining herself in vain attempting to move the wings.
“You… can’t?” Rainbow repeated, disbelief etched on her face. “Whaddya mean, you can’t? Did you hurt them?” she asked with mounting panic.
“No, Ah just wasn’t born a pegasus if you hadn’t noticed.” Applejack rolled her eyes, unable to hold back on the sarcasm. “Ah’ve never used those muscles before, so Ah don’t know how!”
“Oh.” Rainbow sagged in relief before tensing once again in realisation. “Wait, does that mean you haven’t moved them at all since… then?”
“Nope.” Water splashed every which way as she shook her head. “Farm’s been taking up all mah time.” She paused as she saw her friend’s expression. “Why, is that bad?”
Rainbow remained silent for a second, then shook herself as she noticed the worry on Applejack’s face. “It’s not bad, but it isn’t great either. The wings are probably twitching and aching, aren’t they?”
“Yeah, they are,” Applejack said, surprised at the accuracy of Rainbow’s guess. “Is that why? Lack of use?”
The pegasus nodded. “It’s like the rest of your body. If you don’t use it, it complains. Wings are no different. No wonder you aren’t sleeping.” She eyed Applejack as the orange mare started laughing. “What’s so funny?”
“Oh, nothin’.” Applejack waved a hoof as she kept chortling. “You just sounded like Twilight there with all your fancy pegasus knowledge.”
“Hey, it happens!” Rainbow grinned until a splash of water hit her face. Sputtering, she wiped it out of her eyes. “What was that for?”
“Jus’ coolin’ your head down before it gets too big.” Applejack grinned and stuck her tongue out.
Rainbow simply bent over the edge of the bath, splashing back at her friend. “You’re going down!”
Soon, more water found itself on the floor than in the tub, ending up as a major disadvantage for the pegasus. In an attempt to dodge one of Applejack’s splashes, Rainbow slipped, tipped over the edge of the bathtub and landed head first into the water. She lifted her face out of the water, coughing, and sat down within the tub itself. “Ah think Ah won.” Applejack grinned, earning a mock glare from the other pony.
“That was unfair! The floor betrayed me!” Rainbow shook a hoof at the floor. After a little searching around, she picked up the sponge and turned back to Applejack, who was watching with raised eyebrows. “What?” Rainbow asked, pointing at the wings. “We’re not done cleaning you yet.”
Sighing, Applejack turned and faced a wing towards Rainbow, who gently used a hoof to extend it. Despite Rainbow’s efforts, Applejack still winced at the twinge that ran through the appendage, a reaction that didn’t escape the other pony’s notice.
“I can try teaching you how to move them later, if you want,” Rainbow offered, washing the underside of the wing. “That’ll keep the aches away. Heck, give me a few days and I’ll have you flying!” She grinned, the idea of Applejack flying amusing her far more than it should.
However, the earth pony didn’t share her amusement. “Whoa there Dash, are you sure that’s a good idea?” Applejack turned her head to face Rainbow. “Ah mean, Ah understand givin’ the wings a workout, but flyin’ sounds a mite dangerous…"
“It’ll be fine! Don’t worry, you’ll have the best teacher ever!” Rainbow grinned, a hoof on her chest.
Applejack smirked. “Who, Fluttershy?”
“Exac—huh? No! Me!” Rainbow glared as Applejack. That was the second time she’d been tricked. Staring at the wings in her hooves, she smiled widely as an idea started forming. Slowly, she moved her hooves towards the spot where the wings connected to Applejack’s withers.
Then, in one swift motion, she placed them under the wings and brushed the skin beneath the coat, nearly causing Applejack to leap out of the bath. Her jolt of surprise was significant enough to send water everywhere, splashing the entire bathroom as Rainbow continued to relentlessly tickle her friend. Peals of laughter could be heard from both, with the occasional plea for mercy from Applejack, eventually subsiding as Rainbow Dash eased off.
Rainbow pumped a hoof into the air as Applejack fought for breath. “Revenge is mine!”
“Revenge for what?” the earth pony gasped. “And Ah’ve never been ticklish there before…"
“For making the floor betray me!” Rainbow grinned. “And you’re not, I am. I had to see if that got switched too!” Her joviality faltered as she noticed Applejack wince again. “Are they still aching?” she asked, concerned.
“Yup,” the farm pony replied, wiping her blond locks out of her eyes. She raised a questioning eyebrow as Rainbow remained silent, her expression wavering between uncertainty and concern, before settling on determination.
“Turn around and lay down on your stomach,” Rainbow ordered, smiling apologetically as Applejack looked askance. “I think I can help with that.”
Still wary, Applejack followed the instructions and lay down flat in the tub, curling her legs up beneath her. She stared forwards as Rainbow extend the wings, briefly wondering why the water now only reached to her shoulders. She felt the pegasus gently move her hooves until they reached Applejack’s back, where they started to apply a bit of pressure. Applejack shifted, turning her head to the other mare. “Hey, what are you doing?”
Rainbow’s cheeks took on a faint scarlet shade as she blushed. “It’s a massage, okay? Best thing for it right now.” The blush deepened as Applejack seemed to remain skeptical. “What? It’s the best way to get kinks out of your muscles, and you can’t really do it on your own!”
“Really, now.” Applejack’s eyes narrowed as Rainbow shrugged. It seemed like her friend knew what she was doing, and she did feel mighty tense… Might as well let her do it, she thought.
“Yeah. But this is the first time I’ve done it with anypony other than a practice partner.”
Rainbow nodded, as her hooves started moving again. “They taught this in flight school. I was teamed up with Fluttershy but I’ve never really had the chance to use it since then. She was always much better.”
“You ain’t doing too bad, Sugarcube. This does feel pretty good.” Applejack sighed as she relaxed.
The pair lapsed into silence as Rainbow continued her ministrations, her touch becoming almost excessively gentle when they moved over the wings. These were, after all, her own wings, and she couldn’t be too careful with them. Applejack wasn’t wrong in thinking that the wings were pretty solid. They really could take impressive beatings, but injuries were not uncommon. Feathers could still be broken or torn off, and missing primaries could easily throw off the aerodynamics of flight, not to mention how uncool one would look with bald patches.
Concentrating on her task, Rainbow moved along the wing, applying pressure to the muscles and tendons as she went along. She’d pause whenever she found a knot, spending more time on it to ease it out. She switched from one wing to the other, working down and eventually reaching Applejack’s back. As she pressed down on one particular spot, Rainbow heard a sound she had never thought to hear from the farmer.
Rainbow blinked, and pressed the spot again, not noticing the wings flare open with a quiet pomf as Applejack squeaked again. She opened her mouth to ask what was wrong, but Applejack interrupted her, keeping her face away from the pegasus.
"… Y-yes, right there. A-Ah've been sore there all day."
"Yeah? You're not helping by holding them so s… stiff. Uh… huh." Rainbow’s hooves stopped moving, as she recognized the telltale signs. A blush bright enough to rival the red strand in her hair appeared on her cheeks, and unbeknownst to her, it was matched by the one on Applejack’s.
While Applejack usually didn’t have wings, and thus had no reference point as to why the wings seemed to act on their own sometimes, she did understand what she was feeling right now. Maybe not why, but certainly what.
And it left her utterly confused.
Rainbow, her wits similarly addled, did the only thing she could think of and resumed the massage. She kept her focus on her friend’s back, avoiding that particular spot as much as she could, until she could no longer do so. The muscles there felt the stiffest and had the most knots, and loosening those would bring great comfort to Applejack. Swallowing to dispel the nervousness that seemed to pool in her throat, Rainbow returned her focus to that one area.
Applejack had kept her eyes scrunched closed the entire time, hoping that her friend couldn’t see her face right now. She gave a slight sigh of relief as Rainbow avoided the traitorous area on her back, only to hold her breath as she felt the hooves reach it once more. She lifted a hoof to her mouth and bit on it, hoping it would help her keep quiet. She gave a slight jump as Rainbow applied the pressure, but thankfully remained silent as the pegasus worked her magic. She could feel it loosening up, the tension slowly easing away under all the attention being lavished upon it.
Feeling more relaxed than she had in days, Applejack didn’t even register the fact that Rainbow had stopped. The pegasus was just sitting in the bath, glancing at the earth pony. She barely even heard what Rainbow was saying. “Whassat?”
“I said, I think I’m finished. How do you feel?”
“… Much better, actually. Thanks,” Applejack mumbled. Her stomach chimed in, rumbling to remind her that she hadn’t eaten since leaving that morning. The smell of lunch wafting through the house just emphasised that fact. “We should get out. Food’s probably cold by now."
The pair grabbed a pair of towels and dried themselves off, before using them to soak up the majority of the water that had splashed around the bathroom, subconsciously putting as much distance between each other as they could while moving around the room. With the cleaning done, Applejack opened the door and headed to the kitchen, studiously staring straight ahead. Rainbow followed in her wake with a matching expression, seemingly staring at a far-off point in the distance.
The general mealtime noise faded as they entered the kitchen, as three sets of eyes turned towards them. Blinking, the pair almost glanced at each other, but simultaneously turned their heads away, a blush reappearing on their cheeks. They each took a spot at a table, unable to meet each others eyes.
The innocence of youth couldn’t help but make the smallest pony see the wrong thing. “Did you two have a fight?” Apple Bloom asked, looking worried. She ducked as Rainbow Dash spat out the water she had started to sip.
“N-no!” Applejack stammered, forcing a smile on her face. “Everything’s fine! Just dandy!” She laughed nervously. Rainbow remained silent, wiping away her mess.
Meanwhile, the largest pony watched in silence, hiding a smile as his sister’s nervousness grew. Big Macintosh faced his sister, his face impassive. “So.”
“Nice bath, huh?”
“… Shut up.”