No Longer Displaced

by NoLongerSober

Chapter 13 - Heart-to-Hearts

“Good morning, my little ponies!” A sadistically chipper purr came from Barrier’s mouth, and both Indar and Bonecrusher retreated nervously in response. The captain never spoke in such a tone, and he certainly never smiled—at least not like that, and definitely not that openly. “As you may have noticed, our pegasus isn’t with us today.”

The words made Bonecrusher grin, and her eyes appeared to peer out into an infinite expanse. A quick nudge of Indar’s hoof against her armor restored her focus, and the mare found herself peering directly into Barrier’s drill instructor gaze.

“Does that excite you, Cadet? I’m sure it does. I expect Ms. Tail to be back with us tomorrow. She’s been excused for the day for reasons that you don’t need to know.” He grunted after wiping the giddiness right off Bonecrusher’s face, and he ignored the agitated pout that had replaced her smile. “Now that we’ve got that out of the way, we’re going to take advantage of that absence by covering a leg of training that pegasi have no use for. You two are going to experience something—truly—special.”

Barrier paused as a large chariot landed in the field. Two armored pegasi pulled the behemoth, and the sight of the vehicle drew a contented sigh from the captain. “I remember this one like it was yesterday. Should have seen the number of earth ponies that turned breakfast into rain.” He snickered. “And this morning, you’re going to parachute out of it.”

After a short trot, the unicorn hopped onto the carriage and hefted three barrel-sized packs into view with his magic. “Get strapped in, you two. I can’t wait to see you learn how to fly.” The grin on his muzzle spread even wider as he absorbed their mouth-hanging, terrified, you-can’t-be-serious appearances. “Indar, are you actually shaking in your shoes? Mm, I remember when my instructor pushed me out of the chariot. I’ve been waiting a long time to return the favor. I do love such entertaining days. Now, move it!”

His shout drove the two cadets to jolt and scramble onto the craft. Both ponies grabbed their chutes and strapped them to their bodies with methodical care. Barrier released a cadence of light chuckles as he watched the show. “Don’t forget to tighten every strap,” he added. “As much as I love to torture cadets with tales of me whipping their asses, I really don’t want to have to write home to mom about why her beloved foal got turned into really interesting artwork after hitting the ground at high speed.”

Crusher grumbled as the charioteers commenced their takeoff sequence, and her forelegs clung tightly to the carrier as it climbed. “This is bullshit,” she puffed, her widened eyes taking in the green clearings on the outskirts of the capital city. Those very clearings ominously lurked below—far below—upon her familiar, beautiful ground.

Magic enveloped the straps holding the parachute to Bonecrusher’s barrel. “Something you’d like to add, Cadet?” He tugged on the belts to make sure they were actually secured properly.

“Just thinking it would be nice if a certain mare would actually show, sir.” Her earthy tail swished aggressively. “It would be such a shame if she continued to fall behind after her abysmal performance yesterday. She just didn’t bring her stuff. Isn’t that what you said, Captain?”

Barrier briefly turned his attention to the recoiling Indar. The captain breathed an exasperated sigh. He raised a hoof to his forehead, rubbing gently at the base of his horn while allowing himself to drift through memories. “Tail’s training is my business—and my business alone—Rookie.” A smirk devoured the frustration on his countenance and sent the cadet reeling. “Though, I find it interesting that you should mention a fall. Count to ten, then pull, and be sure to bend your legs when you land.”

“Wait, Cap—” Bonecrusher wailed. The tingle of magic snatching her up sent wavy ripples through the pony’s coat. A second later, she had been tossed over the edge of the chariot and deposited into freefall.

“Mm,” Barrier hummed while he observed, his horn still glimmering, “let’s see if she’s going to give me more work to do, or if Screaming Banshee will manage to deploy her shit.” The stallion couldn’t help but audibly snicker. Indar, meanwhile, was still quaking in his boots.

The sounds of a yawn filled the bedroom just prior to Tail becoming fully aware of her awakened state. She ran her limbs over the silky sheets and purred. For the first time in what felt like ages, a contented, albeit groggy smile blossomed upon her sleepy face. “Hello pillow.” Her forelegs squeezed the soft, feathery cushion. “Mmm, are you going to be my knight in shining armor?” Keeping her eyes shut, she rolled onto her side and nuzzled the headrest.

“Nah,” Amora’s voice crashed upon Tail’s lazing, “I don’t think Shining Armor is your type of captain. He was in your candidate pool, after all.” She idly swiveled atop Tail’s desk chair and kept a keen watch on the physicist.

Tail sat up in a whirl, her bedraggled mane falling over her face as her lids snapped open to observe the sunlight pouring around her almond-colored drapes. “I am so dead.” The grin had been yanked straight from her muzzle.

“There she is!” Amora garnered Tail’s attention with a wave of her hoof. “You should also know that, with me around, your chances of dying in your own home are pretty low.” The unicorn snickered and lit her magic to recline the pegasus. “You have a medical day, and I may or may not have sedated you to ensure that you got a good rest. I may or may not sedate you again, depending on how well you listen to your favorite roommate.”

The physicist cringed in response. “What did you do, Ams?” she asked, apprehension hanging on her words. Please, sweet Celestia, do not tell me you did something stupid.

“I ran into Barrier before I found you last night.” The medic tapped her muzzle through what Tail assumed was an active phrasing search, and the flier subsequently chewed on her cheek as the tension brewed. “I—uh—confronted him about your whereabouts and had it out with him when he didn’t know or care where you were.”

“You did what?” Tail squealed and immediately struggled against Amora’s magical grasp. “It wasn’t his fault! I needed to clear my head after—”

“Hun, relax,” the unicorn continued after shushing her companion with another gesture of her foreleg. “We had it out last night. We spoke this morning to set things straight, and things were set straight.” She stood up and trotted over to the bed before gently placing her hoof on Tail’s barrel fluff. “You should have told me what was bothering you. I could have ended this nonsense a couple days ago.”

Tail’s embrace became reacquainted with her pillow. “I can’t rely on you—or Luna—to fix every guard problem I encounter. I tell my students all the time to seek the answers for themselves. What kind of teacher would I be if I started using shortcuts when lives get put on the line?”

Amora sculpted a pouting expression. “I’m not trying to mother you. I’m trying to help you understand that you turned nothing into a really reckless something.” She pushed down a bit harder on the mare. “I know you’ve been training off the clock. You’re going to stop, and I mean now.”

The pegasus glanced away from her friend. She chomped down on her lower lip, knowing that it was pointless to argue with Amora when it came to health and medicine.

“If your body doesn’t have the nutrients to support that level of activity, what do you think it’s going to do? If your mind is exhausted from coping until you collapse, how do you think it’s going to function? You worked yourself into a corner. It’s just like that time when we were young fillies, and you thought you lost the locket I lent you for our first school dance.”

Tail’s muzzle reddened considerably as the event played in her mind. She heard the sounds of a heartbroken pony, and her chest ached from the remembered weight of disappointment. “Instead of asking you about it—”

“You picked up a job at the local flower shop, raised a bunch of bits, and replaced the locket that I had already gotten back from your mom. You hid your pain from everyone, and you did it for no reason. You’re doing it again. You asked him a question that made him upset, so what?”

The scientist snapped her chocolate-colored sights onto the unicorn. “What kind of friend wouldn’t be upset at that?” She inhaled sharply and her feathers ruffled defensively. “We bonded the morning he was here. I gained his trust, and then I blew it! Now, I’m just afraid to ask anything. What if it pushes him away to the point that he just pushes me out?”

“Tail,” Amora spoke in a relaxed tone. She delicately brushed the mare’s wings until they were neatly tucked. “You have to keep asking questions. It’s what you do, and it’s how you learn. You’ve come such a long way. You’ve jumped into a world that you only knew through stories, mostly mine, and I’d bet you’ve already gotten further than any of the bigwigs gave you credit for.

“But, you need to understand something. Right now, Barrier isn’t your friend. You’re searching for a relationship like the ones you have between you and your postdocs—maybe even with one of your grad students. Hun, Barrier is a professor, and you’re like the ambitious high school student that skipped a few grades. On a professional level, he can’t look at your bond as friendship—at least not yet, anyway. You’re just not to that point. I get that it’s stressful. Your success here isn’t a sure thing. There are definitely a lot of things that fall on you, but you can’t let that pressure get to the point where you fuss around with social issues and debate what makes you who you are. It is literally tearing you apart from the inside.”

Amora giggled when she caught her favorite patient’s vivid stare. “And let’s be honest,” the unicorn carried on. “If he did push you out for asking questions, then I would kick his ass across Canterlot.”

A smile sprang to life across Tail’s muzzle before a returning giggle filled the room. “Thanks, Ams. You really do know how to lift my spirits. Though, I doubt you could take Captain Barrier. From what I’ve seen, he’s got the answer to just about anything a pony could throw at him.”

The unicorn dramatically flipped her brunette mane. “It’s almost like I’ve been your best friend for most of your life,” she answered in a playful voice before abruptly shifting to a serious timbre. “Oh no, Sweety. After last night, I know I can take Captain Barrier.”

Tail quirked her brow and flicked an ear. “Wait, what?”

Amora planted her hooves and rapidly pushed away from the bed. Once again, the pressure of her magical aura washed over Tail in an instant. “Oh, look at the time. Sedate spell!”

Barrier leaned on a balcony railing while he allowed his gaze to drift over the palace gardens. The contents of his flask were almost depleted, and he pondered in silence until a familiar call nipped at his ears.

“Long day?” Shining stepped beside him, promptly taking up a similar perching position next to his distant relative.

“Eh, you could say that. I gave a pair of cadets the chariot jump today. Nothing quite like watching them scream like babies.” Barrier sighed and fell silent as the last swig of nectar made its burning way down his throat.

“But?” Shining Armor verbally prodded. When a response did not come, the white unicorn jabbed Barrier’s side. “Come on, what’s bothering you?”

“Bonecrusher doesn’t give a damn about her own improvement.” The older stallion practically grunted his assessment after a few seconds of reluctance. “All she does is whine about Tail. She might have brought the stuff as a guard, but this training is exposing a rather grating truth.” He stowed his emptied flask and took a deep breath. “Then there’s Tail…”

Shining cast a sidelong glance at his fellow captain. “Mm? What about her? I’ve heard some rumblings through the grapevine that you sent her home yesterday. Is she falling short?”

“She was off… for a reason that was my fault.” He instinctively yanked at his flask and groaned when he remembered that it was already empty. “She reminds me of Ember—every time she asks a question or shows that drive. Then I pushed back, and it fucked her spirit. In all honesty, she probably needed that day to recover.” He grimaced. “If she returns with it, I have no doubt I’ll be fastening colonel pins to her jacket.”