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(Author’s Note, added after the fact:  This was tagged shipping as a pre-emptive measure to forestall comments saying “Why isn’t this tagged shipping?”  It was also noted that the ‘shipping’ in question is very very slight, as in ‘tilt your head, squint, and wish very very hard’.  However, it has merely resulted in many comments about how this should not be tagged ‘shipping’.  I cannot alter tags EqD puts on the fic once I submit it.  Thanks for understanding.)

- - -

Pain In The Tail

Applejack sighed in relief as she nudged one of the final baskets into place down in the old apple cellar.  The bucking itself was done, once she'd taken up her friends on their offer of help.  And she'd managed to snag a bit of sleep, so she'd at least stopped seeing triple.

Big Mac would be able to help her now with sorting and deciding which apples would be sold and which would be kept.  She could buck, she could sell, and she could tell from the trees when the harvest was coming, but Mac still knew which apple went best in pies and which were meant for squeezing into cider.  

Trotting back up above ground, she seized another covered basket in her teeth and backed up carefully, dragging it to the tip of the ramp she'd pushed into place.  With the lightest tap of a hoof, she gave it a shove and the basket slid down the ramp, ending with a thump somewhere in the blackness below.  Satisfied that none of the apples had fallen out, she went back for another to repeat the whole process.  Twilight and Rarity had magicked most of the crops down into the stone cellars already, but had left a few above ground to let her finish the job on her own, just as a matter of pride.  She was grateful to them for that.  A couple of baskets couldn't hurt her like all that bucking had.

Applejack winced briefly at the memory of the lump on the back of her head from earlier in the week.  She'd knocked herself loopy and lost her hearing for a good part of the day.  Thankfully, there didn't appear to be any lasting damage and the throbbing in her skull had subsided.

She gave another twitch of her back hooves to knock another basket down the ramp.  “Ooof!”  Okay, bit of a twinge there in her hindquarters now.  Maybe she really had overdone it more than she'd thought.  Well, she'd draw a bath tonight and soak in it before going to bed.  She'd just get these last couple loads tucked away and close things up.

Flexing her neck, she gave another tug on a rim, but the basket refused to budge.  Applejack muttered around her mouthful of wicker and jerked again, but nothing happened.  Well, the apple pile in it was no bigger than any of the others, so it was unlikely that those apples weighed more than the last load.  Maybe it had gotten snagged on something.  She'd try another direction and see if that loosened things up.

Stepping around, she set all four hooves and got a grip on things, planning on a slow pull rather than a fast jerk.  But, just as she inhaled, her back spasmed and her hind legs buckled.  With a grunt muffled by the wicker between her teeth, Applejack lost her balance and went over, her neck twisting around.  Oh, spice and cinnamon, that rattled her teeth!

Her head spun as she lay there, panting for air.  Her jaw stung from not letting go, but that was nothing compared to the fire she could feel up along her hip.  Just wonderful, she thought, indulging in a few brief seconds of panic.  She'd gone and done it now.

Slowly, Applejack tested moving her legs, taking first shallow, then deeper breaths, twitching her tail ... “Ow!”  Tarnation.  There was one bit of bad news.  Something wasn't right back there.  She just hoped it hadn't spread too far up her back.

“AJ?”  Thudding sounded from across the yard as Big Mac galloped to her aid.

“I'm okay, Mac.  I think.”  Applejack sighed as she lifted her head, wincing at the pull in her neck.  “Jes' tryin' to see if I can get back up here.”

“Don't do any more damage to yourself,” he warned her, his warm muzzle brushing against her braid.  “Is it your leg?”

“Worse.  Back, I think.”  She glanced down her slender body at her formerly powerful hindquarters.  It was humiliating, but she'd rather Big Mac find her like this than Rainbow Dash or Rarity.  “Don't reckon it's too bad, but I need to see if I can get upright.  Will you catch me if I start going down again?”

“Always.”  He shuffled back to give her room, knowing her pride wouldn't let her accept a hoof the first time.  If she couldn't make it, though, he'd hold her up.

She grunted as she propped herself up on her forelegs and concentrated on moving one hind leg that didn't result in another twinge.  Okay, so far, so good.  If she could just push off . . . She snorted as the fire came again along her back with the pressure, but shook it off and managed to get all four legs beneath her.  “Ah.  Ahhhh.  Ow.  All right.  There, I'm up.”

Big Mac eyed her.  “And none too steady, neither.  You need to see the nurses, AJ.”

“Well, I do hope they're willing to make a barn-call, Mac.”  She took a careful step and wobbled right away.  “I'm not sure I could walk there.  And there's no apple-bucking way you're carrying me in your own condition, never mind the humiliation of it all.”

He turned to offer her his flank to lean on.  “Come on.  We'll stick you in the big tub in the barn and I'll see if we can find someone to get the gals from the hospital down here.”

- - -

Applejack rested both front hooves on the rim of the cast-iron bathtub, leaning forward as Nurse Redheart examined her.  “I've been overdoing it on the apple-bucking.  I admit that.”

“Mmm.”  The white mare's touch was gentle, waiting for her to react to pain or pressure with each press along her back.  “That would account for the pain in your hip.  But you've also been sleep-deprived, you say?”

“Yep.  My own dang fault, too.”  Applejack winced as a muscle jumped beneath the nurse's hoof.  “Ah!  Well, that part hurts right there.”  She sensed Redheart reach beneath the water to feel her croup.  “Ow!  And again there.  What about the pain when I twitch my tail?”

“All the same thing, I'd imagine.”  The nurse stepped over to the pile of towels so she could dry her hoof off.  “All right.  Tell me again what you've been doing this week.”

Sighing, Applejack obliged.  After she told the nurse about smacking the back of her head on a branch, Redheart frowned and gently parted her mane to examine that as well and even had her open her mouth to check her teeth.  “You didn't bite your cheek or tongue.  Thank Celestia for small favours.” she murmured.  “And there's no lump, although you've probably been having headaches comparable to Rainbow Dash's after her latest crash.”

Applejack winced again.  “I believe I was the cause of that.”

“No, I tend to chalk that up to Rainbow's insistence on being a daredevil,” Nurse Redheart said.  “Now, headaches?”

“None since my nap this afternoon.  Before that, though, I was just dizzy.”

“All right.  And you fell off a tower how many times?”

Frowning, Applejack tried to remember.  “Honestly, things are a bit of a blur, but I ain't feeling too sore.”

Redheart nickered in gentle disapproval and felt along Applejack's forelegs and down her chest, searching for bruises that wouldn't be evident beneath her orange coat.  Finding none, she went over to her doctor's saddlebags and flicked them open with her nose.  “My opinion is that you've either cramped up your hip muscles or even pulled something.  Over-bucking while exhausted and dehydrated, most likely.  But you haven't torn any muscles, which is very lucky.  And you're also lucky that you don't have a concussion.”  She rooted around in her bag and came out with a mouthful of tree bark, setting it on another bale beside the tub.  “Chew on this willow bark before you go to bed tonight.  It should bring down the pain and any swelling in your hindquarters.  And I'd recommend sleeping on your side rather than your back tonight.”

“Thank you, nurse.”  Applejack sighed and carefully lay down in the warm water again, her breath hitching a little as she had to move her tail, which sent another spasm through her back.  “I feel like there ain't a lot of bits that can make up for all the work I've put you through this week.”

“Nonsense,” Redheart told her, smiling and nuzzling her mane.  “We haven't forgotten the time your extended family helped us build that new wing on the hospital.  Or all the apples you've sent our way over the years.  My bill for you and your brother this week will reflect that, of course.”

“I appreciate it,” Applejack said, already calculating the bits she'd cover in trade with Redheart and her fellow doctors and nurses.  Next party they had, she was providing the desserts for them at cost.

“Now, don't think this means you can just leap right up tomorrow and go back to farming, Applejack.  You are going to need a couple of days to just rest yourself and not do any more damage.  Your brother can do light work tomorrow, but the two of you should probably send a message to some of your cousins to come in.  Are there any unicorns in your family?  They can be useful.”

She snorted.  “I know what you mean, but we're all Earth Ponies.  Although they should be done their own apple-bucking by now, so maybe some of them can spare a day or two.  I'll have someone put the word out to the other farms.”

Redheart slipped her head through her saddlebags and slid them down her neck onto her back.  “Rainbow Dash, perhaps?  I can find her in town and tell her to come get the message.”

“Really?  Awfully decent of ya, Redheart.”  Part of her regretted having Rainbow see her like this, but she had to think of the farm first.  “Thanks for coming down.  I'll owe you.”

- - -

Applejack woke with a grunt, sitting up and feeling disoriented.  Then her back throbbed and she groaned, letting her head flop back onto her pillow.  Right.  She'd hurt herself.  Darn it all to heck and back again.

She remembered now.  Rainbow Dash had taken off to visit four of the other Apple family farms to recruit cousins.  Meanwhile, Fluttershy and Twilight had also shown up.  Between Pegasus wings and magical levitation, the two ponies had taken the pressure off of her back and gotten her into bed.  Fluttershy had agreed with Nurse Redheart on the willow bark and had even made a tea that she had promised would help her sleep.  The last thing Applejack remembered was the yellow Pegasus stroking her mane and singing a quiet song to her.  Then nothing but blackness.

She raised her eyes to the clock over her bedroom door and made a face at the time.  Nine in the morning and she was still in bed, which was no way for a farm pony to live.  On the other hand, it was obvious she'd needed the rest.

Noises from outside caught her attention and she gingerly turned over to look down onto the farmyard from her window.

Oh, thank Celestia.  She could see Caramel Apple, Baked Apple, and Red Gala from where she was lying.  Big Macintosh was talking with Golden Delicious over by the barn.  That was at least two farms that Rainbow Dash had reached in the night, then.  She was going to owe that Pegasus a pie for her speed.

A tap on the door made her look back over her shoulder, wincing as her neck muscles protested, still sore from yesterday.  “C'mon in!  I'm awake.”  To her surprise, it was a white unicorn who popped her head into the room.  “Rarity?  Of all the ponies . . .”

“How are you feeling, darling?”  Rarity slipped into the room, levitating a breakfast tray along with her.  “I take it you've seen your extended family tending to matters out there?”

Applejack's nostrils flared as the scent of apple-cinnamon pancakes reached her.  Oh, she hadn't made those in ages.  “I think I'm better than yesterday, but I haven't put my hooves on the floor yet.  Wasn't sure whether or not I'd stay upright.  And yes, I saw.  Is everyone else managing?”

“Quite well.  You and Macintosh have made it easy for others to see how things are done, or so your cousins tell me.  They'll keep things in their place.  Now, what would you prefer first: breakfast, or testing your footing?”

“I reckon I'd better see if I'm stable,” she admitted.  The smell of breakfast was making her ravenous, but she would rather have her food while not lying in bed if she could help it.

Rarity immediately slid the tray onto her washstand and moved closer.  “Very well.  Is it all right if I use my magic to get you on your hooves?  Fluttershy said that it was better than having you simply roll out of bed and hit the floor.”

Applejack smiled.  “Yer askin', Rarity.  Helping me save some of my pride?”

“Partially,” the unicorn admitted.  “Although the last time I helped cover for your pride, it was the catalyst for you hurting yourself.  I don't know why I keep bothering.”  The affectionate ear-nuzzle she gave, however, eased her words.  “All right.  Just lie still and let Auntie Rarity work.”

Her horn glowed brightly and the bed began un-making itself, the blanket slowly lifting Applejack as if it were a magic carpet.  One of her sheets whirled gracefully up into the air as well and, folding itself over a couple of times, gently slithered beneath her barrel.  Then her blanket floated down towards the floor, ever so slightly tilting and tipping over, her sheet becoming a hovering sling that held her upright.  Her hooves floated inches above the hardwood, then she felt them actually touch, the sling under her midsection relaxing a fraction with each passing second, letting her weight gradually be transferred back to her legs .

Rarity watched her carefully.  “Any pain, darling?”

Applejack took a slow breath as her sheet finally let her go, all four of her hooves on the floor.  “I'm okay standing.  Walking . . .”  She lifted a rear and front leg at the same time and right away could feel the tension in the muscles of her back and hip.  “Well, it ain't perfect.”  She took an actual step, all four hooves lifting and lowering.  She was tight, all right, but the pain was manageable.  “But I reckon I can function.  Mind you, I shouldn't try stairs just yet.”

“Very well,” Rarity said again, using her magic to briskly remake the bed.  “I did bring your breakfast with me just in case you were still incapacitated, but I assume you'd prefer eating in the kitchen?”

“If I could, please?”

Once both of them were at the table, Rarity hovered over juice for the both of them.  “You seem surprised to see me.”

Applejack shrugged before she dug in.  “Well, I guess I imagined you'd have dresses to make rather than spend the day on the farm.”

“Mmm.”  Rarity tilted her head.  “Well, all I had to do was quickly pack up my kit and a couple of my ponyquins and ask your brother for his permission to set up in your dining room today.  He agreed.  And I think a change of scenery is good for the inspiration.”

“I do appreciate it, Rarity, I do.  But please don't go changing the wallpaper or permanently rearranging furniture while you're in there.”  Applejack perked her ears forward to try and show she wasn't being mean.  “I know how you can get about your surroundings.”

The unicorn smirked back at her.  “Likewise.  And there is another reason I came.  Dear Fluttershy stopped by after you'd fallen asleep last night.  She'd talked to Nurse Redheart and had had an idea.  But she needed me to contact the right pony.  Connections and all, you know.”

Applejack swallowed pancakes.  “Uh-oh.”

That smirk grew wider, Rarity looking far too pleased with herself.  “Oh, come now.  I haven't even said what it is.”

“You're lookin' positively gleeful,” she pointed out.  “Last time I saw that expression on yer face, I was storing your leftover birdnests from last Winter Wrap-Up in my barn because you begged me to.  It took Big Mac and Fluttershy three days to move all the bird families that came back late that year and settled in our hay instead of in the nests.”

“Well, you had simply done me a favour,” Rarity admitted.  “This time, however, I've called in a favour for you.”

And at that moment, a knock came on the kitchen door.

- - -

“Rarity, how in tarnation is a spa treatment going to do me any good?”

Applejack kept her voice low, since there was a blue Earth pony in the next room, apparently 'setting up' for her.  She couldn't believe it, granted, but she still didn't wish to offend someone right away.

Her friend sipped apple juice and leaned closer as Applejack pushed her now-empty plate aside.  “Here's the thing.  It's not precisely a spa treatment.  Lotus originally wanted to be a therapist.  But there was too much competition in Fillydelphia for her to make a decent living.  So she and her sister came to Ponyville.”  She sighed.  “They needed money to start up the spa here in town, so I loaned them the bits.  I know the twins very well and I also know that despite the long hours they put in at the spa, they also do small jobs for Nurse Redheart, taking on ponies who require physical therapy.  And that includes situations like yours.”

“Hang on.  Are you saying . . .”  She'd never known any of this.  

“Massage isn't just for beauty and relaxation, Applejack.  Nor is it always fancy.  We can get you better sooner, or at least make it stop hurting without overdoing it on the willow bark.”

“Wasn't what I was goin' to say.  That spa must've taken a whole lotta bits to start up.”

“Oh, I can't discuss that.  Privacy agreements and all.  But once I explained your past week to Lotus, she was more than eager to come by and help you unwind.”  Rarity smiled and nudged a hoof with her own.  “She could probably tell you more about what you did to yourself than even the nurses could.  She's quite knowledgeable and offered to give you a handful of sessions, as a favour to me.”

“Really.”  She considered that.  Heck, she'd barely met the twins.  Of course, she never went anywhere near the spa, considering it a fancy-dancy frou-frou place for those of Rarity's type.  But to be frank, since she was going to be stuck not doing much for a day or so . . . and a second opinion?  It couldn't hurt.  Well, maybe it could, but she understood sometimes help came with a little hurt.  “Well, I ain't much for the relaxin' type, but I suppose this is the exception.  What do I need to do?”

“Simply listen to her,” Rarity said, “and thank you.  Lotus really wants to prove she's more than a pretty pony.  And if she can help you, others will hear about it.”

“If this works, I'll spell out my thanks in apples in front of the whole cotton-picking spa.”

“Mees Applejack?”  Lotus poked her head into the room.  “If you're not too full, I think we could begin.”

Rarity's unicorn magic swept the dishes off the table and set them in the sink.  “Go on.  I'll be working in the other room if either of you need me.”

Applejack's hindquarters still felt heavy as she turned around to follow Lotus down the hall into her own spare room.  She wasn't often aware of her own tail, but the tenderness that made her limp was bringing unknown muscles to her attention.  She had never realized that just breathing involved so many muscles.

Lotus stopped at the doorway and gestured for her to go in.  “I've merely covered some things to set a proper mood,” she said, her accent making Applejack's ears twitch with curiosity.  Tarnit, it wasn't as if her own accent was anything to be scowled at.  She couldn't fault a filly for having one of her own.  “If there is anything that makes you uncomfortable inside, please let me know.”

Applejack peered past her and her eyes widened.  “Whoa, Nellie.”  There were pale orange and brown gauze scarves over the window that normally looked out onto the apple orchard.  The view was muted, though, and gave them privacy that the ordinary lace curtains wouldn't have.  The tables were covered too, and there were candles in deep amber holders.  In the middle of it all was a low, long, padded table with a donut-shaped headrest.  

She sniffed at a light scent that came from the candles.  “That ain't apples, but it's something nice.”

“It's a mixture of mandarin orange and honeybell,” Lotus told her.  “I felt that since you spend your life amongst apples, some other citrus should be used.  Is the room too warm?”  When Applejack shook her head, Lotus gave her shoulder a soft touch of her nose.  “Then shall we begin?”

She exhaled.  “I ain't ever put myself in another pony's hooves like this before,” she admitted.  “Is it okay if I'm a tad nervous?”

“Mmm.  We can work on that, too.  Lie down.”

Applejack awkwardly lowered herself onto the padded table, settling more comfortably once she'd found the right way to slide her muzzle through the centre of the headrest.  Her forehead and cheeks were cushioned by towels and she found she was able to breathe freely, even though she could see only the floor.  Then she felt her forelegs being carefully guided away from her chest to dangle over the sides of the table, even as her hind legs were stretched out with her tail, her body nestling down into the padding.

Lotus's warm breath was on her ear and she felt her mane being gently tucked to one side to bare her neck.  “Breathe,” she murmured, “however you like.  I'm going to raise the table a little.”  Applejack heard the soft clicking of levers, then things were quiet.  The door closed somewhere behind her and the two of them were alone.

She could feel the other Earth Pony beside her, hear the soft clink of vials and brushes.  Then the first touch came, on an opposite shoulder and her near flank at the same time.  “We'll start like this,” Lotus whispered, leaning into her body and Applejack felt her back stretch out, slow and gentle.  She inhaled, deeper than she had in the last few days, letting it out again as she was released.  Then the near shoulder and far flank, with another slow stretch.  That one let her feel the tightness in her hip and she gave a soft groan.  

“We'll get there, I promise.”  The edges of Lotus’s hooves slid along Applejack's bare withers, then settled against the nape of her neck and began a slow, rhythmic kneading, finding the kink there that she'd gotten when she'd fallen.  “Does that hurt?”

“Just a titch,” she groaned again and shut her eyes, enjoying the warm sensation as Lotus moved from her neck to the join of her shoulders.  She was tight there too and, while there was an occasional flicker of pain, it was being gently kneaded away.

“There.  You're starting to loosen.”  Lotus made a soft, approving noise as she moved around, one of her hooves resting lightly on a shoulder.  “It's not so bad, is it?”

“Never thought I'd be doing this,” she admitted, watching as the Earth pony's hooves passed through her narrowed vision.  She felt her mane get pushed over to the other side so Lotus could dig into her shoulder muscles.  “. . . Nnnnnngh.”  There was silence for a while as she lay there, Lotus quietly working her way down.  The mare was skilled, she had to admit.  And she was beginning to understand why Rarity had recommended this.  “Rarity says you learned in Fillydelphia?”  She felt a bit strange talking to the floor, but Lotus obviously had no problems hearing her.

“There are some good trainers in Fillydelphia,” she said, “But business there?  Too crowded.  Too many good mares.”  Her hooves were padding down either side of Applejack's spine, swaying her body gently with each press.  “So we came west, as one of my instructors suggested.”  

As Lotus's hooves moved lower,  Applejack felt something move slightly in her back.  It made her eyes roll back as it throbbed, the pain duller than she imagined.  “Ow?”

“Ahh, yes.  You have a knot there.  This is where the problem started.  When you buck your apples, you coil your legs and all the power comes from . . .”  The tip of her hoof touched the point on her hip and ran along the ache in front of her tail.  “here.  And it's all propelled back into the tree through your legs.”  Her touch along Applejack's flank was light, almost ticklish.  “But you pulled these muscles. . . ”  Back to the ache by her tail, not yet pressing into it.  “which are still too sore to work on directly.”  Lotus rested the flat of her hoof on Applejack's hip again and gently moved the lump of a knot around some more, testing its limits.  “Just say if it gets sharp.  That would be bad pain.”

Applejack heaved a deep sigh and felt. . . .well, she doubted 'relaxed' would have described her current state.  She was still not the one hundred percent strong pony that she should have been.  But she was getting better.  Rarity had been right.  This was helping.  And there hadn't been any talk of conditioner for her mane, or a mineral bath for her hooves.  This wasn't frou-frou spa-stuff at all.

Lotus spent some more time on her haunches, then even massaged along the back of her legs, down to her hocks.  As she explained, since Applejack had been moving her hindquarters gingerly, the muscles there could be tired as well.  Well, whatever she was doing to them now, it felt darn good.  Finally, she came back up and Applejack lifted her head from the muzzle-rest to look at her.

“I'm ready to try your dock and tail now,” she said, “and we'll see if we can get you in shape for the rest of the day.  When I'm done, you should lie here as long as you feel you need to.  Recovery is important.  And if you need another session tonight before bed, you may tell Rarity and she will send us a notice.”  Her hoof stroked Applejack's orange mane.  “Any questions?”

“Could y'all teach me some of this?” she found herself asking, then felt her cheeks warm.  “It just seems it'd be a handy thing to know, what with all the work we do around here on the farm.  Not lookin' to be as good as you, mind . . .”

Lotus's eyes crinkled as she smiled.  “When you're better, come over to the spa sometime.  My sister can teach.  In return, you can teach us how you make your pies taste so good, yes?  Now, head down, and remember to breathe.”

Applejack slid her muzzle back into the headrest and heaved a long sigh.  She wasn't sure what had prompted her to blurt that out, but she'd been taken with a sudden need to know how to help herself if she was ever stupid enough to overdo it again.  Same went for Big Mac.  The farm needed one or the other of them to be healthy until Apple Bloom grew up, and they couldn't always rely on cousins to bail them out.

She could feel hooves laid on either side of her dock, just in front of her tail.  She was trusting now.  Lotus could read her body the way she read the orchard, knowing when you could ask it to do more or let it rest.  Her pressure was gentle as the massage circled out from her spine along her flank.  There was pain there, all right, but it wasn't the fire that had stitched her flank the night before.  Instead it was the same dull throbbing she'd felt earlier in the session.

Her groan was low and soft, exhaling the hurt, feeling the rhythm of Lotus's kneading slow until she took another breath.  “Mmmm.”  She couldn't help it.  She was sore, but she was feeling good.  Her awareness had been narrowing the longer her massage had gone on.  Now it was at the point where all she was aware of was the touch on her dock, the small square of wooden floor in her view, and she was somewhere in her own head, feeling the gentle rhythm of being rubbed.  Her tail flopped loosely as she was kneaded back and forth, up and down, just there at the base, where it wasn't hurting so much.  Whatever had been so bad last night wasn't so sore now.  And she was starting to drift.

She barely noticed the pressure lifting off her back and something thick and warm covering her body instead.  She did, however, feel the light brush of a muzzle against her ear, and then heard a soft puff of breath as someone blew out candles, leaving the muted morning sun as the only light in the room.  And as she took another slow, content breath, she vaguely sensed the door opening and closing, then everything went blurry.

- - -

“Did Lotus leave already?”

Rarity glanced up from her sewing machine and smiled.  “Oh, she's been gone for a good half-hour or so, dear.  How are you feeling?”

“Better,” Applejack admitted.  “I'm feeling like I've got some energy, too.”  She had lain on the table for a while, not even thinking, but just coming back slowly from wherever Lotus had sent her.  It was a completely new experience for her, and while she was a little frightened about the sort of control she'd have to give up to have it happen again, she hadn't felt that good in a long while, either.  “Like, enough to go and sit out there for a bit and supervise.”  She glanced around the dining room.  “You finding things to your own liking?”

Rarity nodded as her horn glowed and another swath of fabric slid over to line up with the needle.  “The atmosphere in here isn't as airy as my boutique, but my word, is it lovely for inspiration.  I really must consider other locations more often for some of my concepts.”

“I take it that means you're content with your surroundings, then,” Applejack cracked, grinning.  “Rar, I wanna thank you for settin' all that up for me today.  It ain't something I ever considered, but I'm glad you talked me into it.  I might be going a few more times, now.”

The unicorn peered over her work glasses at her.  “Oh, I'm so very glad, Applejack.  Well, I'm more happy that you're feeling better, but it's also good that you're interested in keeping yourself that way.”  She smiled.  “Now I just have to convince you that your mane looks so much more interesting like that than when you wear that hat on top of it all.”

Applejack blinked, then turned to look at herself in a mirror.  Lordy, her mane was all fluffy and bouncing curls!!  She hadn't put it into its braid yet that morning and it had been pushed back and forth while she was on the massage table.  “Ack!  Where's my brush!  I cain't go outside like this.  If mah cousins saw me . . .”

“They'd drop the milking buckets with shock at the vision of beauty before them,” Rarity agreed, smiling even wider.  “Go on, Applejack.  Live a little.  Leave the elastics out for just one day.”

She shook her head.  “Nuh-uh.  I need to go and dunk my head in some water, I reckon.  That ought to straighten things out.”  Leaving the room, she was heading down the hallway when she looked into the spare room again and saw all of Lotus's gear still set up.  Gingerly, Applejack took the knob in her mouth and shut the door.  She couldn't let the rest of her clan see that sort of stuff.  Not yet, at least.  She just wanted to keep the whole experience to herself for a little while longer.

Turning back, she made for her room.  Now, where had she left that dratted hairbrush?

- - -

~Three Months Later~

 Applejack galloped into the stables on her farm and headed for the stack of hay bales in the back corner.  The twins needed time to get the spa up and running and she was the only one who knew what could be done.

With a frantic lunge, she knocked the topmost bale off and leaped for the cord that it had been concealing.  One solid yank and the other bales dropped down into the floor.  As she landed on all four hooves, she lifted her back half and spun around on her two front legs, launching a ferocious buck at the wooden boards.  Planks shattered, revealing the outline of hot-pink metal stored away behind the false wall.  

Applejack breathed uneasily as she approached the big old truck that Aloe had asked her to store away and then forget about two months earlier.  She'd given her a couple of free massages a month in exchange for it.  Applejack had obeyed that request, until just ten minutes earlier when Lotus had intruded on their lessons.

“Ah got no clue why Aloe wanted you tucked away,” she said, circling around behind the back bumper.  “But she says you're needed now. Something about some kinda giant space-robot huntin' for some sort of energy.  She and her sister have the spa to rev up, but it's gonna need protectin' until it's got full power.  So, what the hay are we gonna do now?”

Whatever engine was in that hunk of metal turned over and a roar filled the small space, accompanied by a belch of smoke.

Minutes later, with her hunkered down in the back bed with an assortment of metal, energy-throwing rods, her truck tore through the gateways of Sweet Apple Acres and headed for the centre of town.

As Applejack kept one hoof on her hat in the stiff wind, she barely saw the rainbow flash beside her.  “Rainbow!  What are you doin' here?”

“Me? What about you?” bellowed the Pegasus.  "I thought you were learning massage from the twins!"

She rolled her eyes.  "Believe me when I say this, Dash:  There is a WIDE variety of massage techniques out there and they're teaching me all of them!"  

"... You're in the back of some hot-pink metal machine that's driving by itself and they're stuck in the middle of a pair of battling giant space-robots, one of which USED to be their spa!"

“Yeah, that'd be one of the lesser known kinds,” she agreed.  “Now, you gonna be a help or not?”

- - -