Granny Smith, Applebloom 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 said, her hooves attempting to dig into the floor 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 Dash 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. Losing her hold on the door frame, she was dragged into the corridor's depth 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," 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'm sorry. Ah should have asked you first. But you know how Rarity just can't take no for an answer." she finished, omitting the details of her own desire to escape scrutiny. She didn't feel like admitting that just yet.
Rainbow Dash 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 amount of different products in the bathroom, making her wonder just who was using them all... "I'm not angry about that!" she answered, hesitating. "Well, not entirely about that. But you just don't put all that... stuff on wings! They're delicate!" Rainbow stated, turning back to face Applejack, who was staring at her 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!"
"That reminds me," Applejack interrupted before Rainbow Dash could continue. "Twilight's still not casting magic. Does it matter if this stuff stays a while?" she asked. While it had served to reduce some of the stares, the wings did not feel comfortable covered in all the various products Rarity had used. She had not minded at first, but now she was acutely aware of the powder on the wings, proving them to be far more sensitive than she had thought.
However, considering she was about to be forced to take a bath by Rainbow Dash, 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?" she said, then leaned over and stopped the still gushing flow of water. Pointing a hoof at the tub, she stared at Applejack. Seeing the farm pony hesitate, her face took on a determined look. "Am I going to have to throw you in?"
Throwing her hooves in the air, Applejack gave in. "Fine! Fine!" she said, taking off her beloved hat and removing the hairband from her mane. Giving one last withering glance at Rainbow Dash, she stepped into the piping hot water, settling in until it rose to her neck. Unable to hold it in, she let out a contented sigh. Rainbow had gotten 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 Dash give a satisfied grunt. "Oh good." she said, her words muffled by the sponge she held in her mouth. "Some of 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 someone else 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. 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 someone else here. Somehow, she still couldn't quite wrap her head around that, though hearing Rainbow move about, and feeling her stare on her back served as a constant reminder.
"AJ, 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 Dash 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 stated, unable to hold back on the sarcasm. "Ah've never used those muscles before so ah don't know how!"
"Oh." Rainbow Dash said, sagging in relief before tensing once again in realisation. "Wait, does that mean you haven't used them at all since... then?"
"Nope." Applejack replied, flicking some water 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 exclaimed, surprised. "Is that why? Lack of use?"
Rainbow 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, who was laughing to herself. "What's so funny?"
"Oh, nothing.." She answered, still giggling. "You just sounded like Twilight there with all your fancy pegasus knowledge."
"Hey, it happens!" she said, grinning until a splash of water hit her face. Sputtering, she wiped the water out of her eyes. "What was that for?"
"Jus' cooling your head down before it gets too big." Applejack replied, sticking 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, which ended up a major disadvantage for Rainbow Dash. In an attempt to dodge one of Applejack's splashes, Rainbow slipped, tipping over the edge of the bathtub to land headfirst into the water. Sputtering, she lifted her face out and sat down within the tub itself. "Ah think ah won." Applejack grinned, earning a mock glare from the other pony.
"Only due to sabotage! The floor betrayed me!" Rainbow Dash said, shaking 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, and pointed at the wings. "We're not done cleaning yet."
Sighing, Applejack turned and faced a wing towards Rainbow, who gently used a hoof to extend it. Despite that effort, Applejack still winced at the twinge that ran through the appendage, a reaction that didn't escape Rainbow's notice. "I can try teaching you how to move them later, if you want." She said, 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 exclaimed, grinning. The idea of Applejack flying amused her far more than it should, an emotion not shared by the earth pony.
"Whoa there Dash, are you sure that's a good idea?" Applejack asked. "Ah mean, ah understand giving the wings a workout, but flying 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.
"Who, Fluttershy?" Applejack asked, sending a sly glance in Rainbow's direction.
"Exac- huh? No! Me!" Rainbow said, glaring. That was the second time Applejack had gotten the best of her. Staring at the wings in her hooves, an idea started to form, and a wide smile split her face.
This worried Applejack, as the pegasus' hooves moved to where the wings connected to her withers. In one swift motion, they moved under the wings, brushing the skin beneath the coat... and nearly causing Applejack to leap out of the bath. Her jolt of surprise was significant enough to send water everywhere, the splashes continuing as Rainbow Dash relentlessly continued to 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.
"Revenge is mine!!" she laughed as Applejack regained her breath.
"Revenge for what?" she gasped. "And ah've never been ticklish there before..."
"For the water fight sabotage!" Rainbow answered. "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 Dash momentarily remained silent. Her expression wavered between uncertainty and concern, eventually settling on a determined look.
"Turn around and lay down on your stomach." She ordered, smiling apologetically as Applejack looked askance. "I think I can help with that."
Still wary, Applejack followed the instructions, laying herself down flat in the tub, her legs curled up beneath her. With all their playing around, the water didn't even reach her shoulders anymore. Staring forwards, she felt Rainbow extend the wings, then gently move her hooves until they reached Applejack's back, where they started to apply a bit of pressure. Having not expected that, Applejack shifted, turning her head to the other mare. "Hay, what are you doing?"
Rainbow's cheeks took on a faint scarlet shade as she blushed. "It's a massage, okay?" She said sheepishly. "Best thing to do 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 asked as Rainbow shrugged. It didn't seem like her friend was lying, and she did feel mighty tense... Might as well let her do it, she thought.
"Yeah. First time I've done it though other than with a practice partner."
"Yeah, 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.
She blinked, and pressed the spot again, not noticing the wings flare open with a quiet pomf as Applejack made another squeak. As Rainbow opened her mouth to ask what was wrong, Applejack interrupted her. "...Y-yes, right there. I-I've been sore there all day." she said, keeping her face away from the pegasus.
"Yeah? You're not helping by holding them so s... stiff. Uh. ...huh." Rainbow's hooves stopped moving, as she realized just why the wings were as stiff as they were. 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 the earth pony usually didn't have wings, and thus had no reference point as to why the wings acted like they did, Applejack did understand what she was feeling right now. Maybe not why, but certainly what.
And it confused the heck out of her.
Her wits similarly addled, and without any comment from Applejack, Rainbow did the only thing she could think of, and continued with the massage. She kept her focus on her friend's back, avoiding that particular spot, but could not do so forever. 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 had formed in her throat, Rainbow Dash 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. While it did cause her to do a slight jump, she thankfully remained silent as Rainbow worked. 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, and was just sitting in the bath herself, glancing at the earth pony. She barely even heard what the pegasus was saying. "Whassat?"
"I said, I think I'm finished. How do you feel?"
"...Much better, actually. Thanks." Applejack answered, as her stomach made itself heard. She hadn't eaten since leaving that morning, and the smell of lunch was wafting through the house. "We should get out. Food's probably cold by now."
Grabbing a pair of towels, the pair dried themselves off, before using them to soak up the majority of the water that had splashed around the bathroom, both subconsciously seeking to put 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, staring at a seemingly 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.
One of the observers, with the innocence of youth, could not help but see the wrong thing. "Did you two have a fight?" Applebloom asked, a look of worry painted on her face. 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 said, laughing nervously. Rainbow remained silent, wiping away her mess.
Meanwhile, the second observer watched in silence, hiding a smile as his sister's nervousness grew. "So." Big Macintosh began, facing Applejack.
"Nice bath, huh?"
The third observer simply laughed as she served food to the two latecomers.