“As soon as possible does not equal now,” Amora grumbled as she held her defiant patient to the mattress. “You got into a fight, got knocked unconscious, and your wing is broken. I cannot just let you leave the hospital mere minutes after you wake up. Stack that onto your piss poor sleeping habits this week, and that sounds like a recipe for disaster.”
“He gave me his trust again!” Tail shot back before a wincing motion jerked her frame. “I can’t just ignore that. He deserves to know, and Luna said it was okay!”
“Luna said it was okay for him to have clearance, not that it was okay for you to recklessly trot about after sustaining injuries.”
Tail rolled her head towards Luna and cast a hopeful pout in the alicorn’s direction. “C’mon Princess, tell her it’s okay.” The extent of the pout only grew when the pegasus was waved off by the royal hoof. “Don’t tell me that the Princess of the Night is afraid of a cute little unicorn.”
“Dear Tail,” Luna replied, leaning up against the closed door, “one simply learns with time not to challenge the word of a stubborn medic. Didn’t Barrier cover this during training? Regardless, there are laws for things such as this. My place is not between the wills of the doctor and patient.”
The pegasus scrunched her muzzle and grumbled. “I thought you were on my side here. You both know that I can’t sit still when there’s something of this magnitude on my mind. That is criminally torturous!”
“How about I take her?” From his slouched position upon the lilac chair, Barrier interjected himself into the conversation—a surprising move that left Tail blinking in shock.
She gaped when Amora snapped to face her captain, and she followed the doctor’s narrowing gaze to the stallion’s snout. Oh Stars, what is she going to say? The nervous thought ran roughshod over her mind.
“Hear me out.” Barrier raised his foreleg and cut off a potential retort. “If we make her stay here until she’s fully healed, she’ll go stir crazy. She already tried to do something stupid, so odds are she’ll just get up and make an attempt when nopony else is looking. That’d be bad, correct? Then wouldn’t it be in our interest to let her get this out of her system?”
Amora opened her mouth to respond, but she clamped it shut as the words sunk in. Her lips thinned as they were stretched along her muzzle, and the medic maintained the sullen portrait for several seconds.
Tail knew the look well. Amora was displeased, but Barrier had hit her with brute-force logic that couldn’t be ignored. “Hey!” she suddenly squeaked. “I didn’t do something stupid!”
“Shush,” Amora spoke, breaking her silence. The unicorn kept her sights homed in on Barrier—in spite of the protest from Tail and the amused snicker from Princess Luna. “I’m holding you personally responsible, Captain. If anything happens to her, I’m taking it out on your flank.”
“Could at least buy me dinner first,” Barrier quipped reflexively, only to groan and facehoof when he realized what he’d said.
The reversal of fortune prompted a sinister grin to blossom upon Amora’s countenance. “Dinner, you say? I think I’d rather stick with the pancakes. I can’t pass up the opportunity to get another meal out of you. One morning, I get ‘em all-you-can-eat. You go until I say stop. It’ll probably be the morning after Tail’s release from my professional care. Got to celebrate her homecoming somehow. Might as well be with the stallion she pulls into her adorable barrel floof.”
Barrier snorted and tried to repress the mounting redness. “Very well,” he coughed. “I’ll make you pancakes, again.” The unicorn turned to the lunar diarch after not daring to measure Tail’s flushed state.
“Pancakes?” Luna’s eyebrow raised just slightly. “I wasn’t aware you could cook, Barrier. Well, beyond the obvious small game.” The princess seemed to unconsciously lick her lips.
“Dunno about the rabbits, but his pancakes…” Amora also licked her lips.
“Um.” All eyes turned to Tail with a stunning speed that drew a murmur from the surprised pegasus.
“Right, business,” Barrier was quick to state. “How long will all this take, Tail? Just so we have a time frame to give the good doctor.” The idiom prodded a playful snicker from the doctor in question.
“Well—” Tail hesitated while attempting to shift atop her bed into a more suitable calculating position. “We’d have to go to Las Pegasus. If we had one of the chariot crews fly us there and back, the trip would probably be five to six hours.”
“I’ll have her back in eight hours or less,” Barrier stated flatly to Amora. His tail swished after he threw a sidelong glimpse at his cadet and caught her in the midst of a brief snout scrunch. “The contingency time could be needed, and yes, I take full responsibility for Tail’s well-being.”
Unwavering, Amora stared at Barrier for several seconds before the mare finally nodded. “Fine, but no longer, and I get to renew the spells I’ve put on her injuries first. And, don’t you dare forget pancakes.”
Barrier snorted again. “Yes yes, I’ll feed your addiction, and your add-on gives me the time I need to finish up some lingering business.” A sneer sprang into existence as the seeds of anticipation were sown. “I need to go visit Bonecrusher. That pony is getting a stern, long overdue talking-at, doubly so considering the letter from Proud.”
“Damn, I’m going to have to miss that for the sake of my favorite patient? And you look so gloomy about it! I can already imagine the angry look on her angry face. Oh well, I’ll just get my revenge by making quips about you, Tail, and your pending Pegasus Strip marriage.”
Barrier groaned in relief as he tugged his flask from his muzzle. He swallowed that sweet amber elixir and flashed a contented grin as the alcohol did wonders for his battle strategy. “Just get it over with,” Barrier coached himself as he glanced at the door to Bonecrusher’s room. Finally throwing his inhibitions to the wind, Barrier nosed the door open and drew the attention of the chamber’s inhabitants.
“Captain Barrier!” Indar saluted sharply with a crisp motion that perfectly fit his professional posture and poise.
“At ease, Corporal Indar.” Barrier acknowledged the gesture with a simple wave before he shot a brief glance to the blanket-covered mare on the bed.
Following the contours of Crusher’s muzzle, white bandages streaked atop her lime coat. While the dressings concealed the severity of her injury, the intense scowl that cut across the equine’s amethyst eyes effectively conveyed her simmering, silenced anger.
“Would you mind giving us the room, please? I believe Bonecrusher and I are long overdue for a talk.”
“Yessir, it’s no problem at all.” The stallion nodded to the earth pony before making a swift departure.
As soon as Barrier heard the door close, he approached the bedside and gave the glaring mare a stern expression. “You can give me that look all you want, but it won’t stop this talk from happening. Do you know who Proud Valiance is?” He didn’t wait for a shift in her response. “He’s a staff bureaucrat—some high-up in the Army’s Research and Development branch. Now, as soon as word of your little spat with Tail made the rounds, he was calling your name. I don’t think you’re the type of mare for a cushy tech post, so I am going to give you one, exactly one fucking chance.
“I was ready to boot your ass out of my program. Luna had the paperwork signed. We were going to have quite a different kind of chat at the end of the day, but then you and Tail decided to beat the shit out of each other.” Barrier paused to observe the dangerous twitch in Bonecrusher’s eye. “Can it! I’ve been watching this crap ever since the first day. I’ve watched as you’ve shown her the absolute worst in guard mentality. I didn’t give a shit because she kept ignoring it and pressing on, but now, you’ve both forced my hoof. I don’t know what happened in your life to make you develop such a grating mentality, but the garbage ends now. Whatever shit you have with Tail, stow it and move the hell on.”
He turned away from the reclined pony and grimaced. “That’s the only way you finish your training with me. Am I clear? If you can’t get your shit under control, if you keep putting yourself and my other cadets in danger for no bucking reason, then I will personally drag your ass to Proud’s office and condemn your career to deskwarrior status. Or worse, I’ll send you straight to Shining.”
Barrier stood still for nearly half a minute, allowing his words to sink in before he looked back at Bonecrusher. The mare wore a defeated gaze, and the muscles of her face had fallen. It was all the captain needed to see.
“Then I’ll see you on the field after your recovery, Private.” He waited, taking another short break to tend to his flask. “And Bonecrusher, if you manage to focus on you—and start demonstrating the better parts of what it means to be a guard—then I’ll see you at the end too.”
Tail scrunched her muzzle as Amora wheeled her down the hallway in a chair. “I am not going to be pushed around in a wheelchair all day. I have a broken wing. I’m not incapable of walking.”
“You strained yourself. Your foreleg took some damage too. It’s best to remain off it, though my magic will help suppress the pain should a situation arise. In the meantime, you can thank me for giving your future husband the opportunity to cart you around Las Pegasus.”
The pegasus swung her head and gawked at Amora with a wide-eyed stare. “He is not my future husband!” she squeaked out as that damned redness managed to creep back onto her visage.
“Hun, you can keep telling yourself that all you want, but I knew the instant I saw your reaction to that first bite of pancake that this stallion has your namesake wrapped around his hoof.”
“Eh-hem,” Barrier cleared his throat, prompting Amora to stand up a little straighter—and driving Tail to curl up in her seat from the crippling wave of embarrassment that darted through her chest. “I don’t think it’s good medical practice to torture a cadet, Major.”
“And I don’t think it’s a very good idea to drag a cadet with a freshly broken wing on a trip to Las Pegasus, Captain, but I didn’t argue with your underhoofed negotiation tactics.” She paused when Barrier’s lips quivered. “Don’t even think about unleashing that stupid grin. It’s not my fault you actually know how to make breakfast. Look, I’m putting some big-time trust in you here. Don’t buck it up.”
Tail achieved the closest thing to a fetal position a wheelchair-bound pony could muster. “Please save me,” she whimpered, keeping her head buried in the cradling darkness of her forelegs. The snicker that emerged from Amora’s throat immediately alerted the pegasus to her mistake.
“That’s right, Barry,” the medic retorted in a taunting tone. “Go on! Save your precious pony from the painful coils of Amora’s clutch. It’s one step closer to chiming bells and stories about knights in shining armor.”
Barrier stared at the snow-colored unicorn with a stoic demeanor. “Whatever you’re drinking, would you add some to my flask?”
Amora’s ear flicked to the question, and Tail lifted her head to meet what she interpreted as a concerned glance. The two mares gazed at each other in silence for a few seconds before the doctor sculpted an inquisitive scowl, which was soon after hurled at Barrier. “Captain, are you telling me that you’re drinking on the job?”
The stallion jerked to the question. Everything about Amora’s demeanor screamed trouble, but the almost playful timbre of her voice threw Barrier off-guard. He took a deep breath as his sights scrambled around in search of the way out. “Blame Bonecrusher!” he grunted, dashing into position behind Tail’s chair. “Eight hours is the deal! We had better get moving!”
Tail flinched and gripped the leg rests once Barrier tossed his weight into a quick trot. The beat of her heart raced as they passed door after door at an ever-quickening pace. He’s really doing this. I’m really doing this. I’m going to show him… everything. Feeling the pull of her anxious nerves, the pegasus shut her eyes and bit her lower lip. “I owe you,” she whispered, only to be distracted by Amora’s farewell call.
“Have fun lovebirds! And remember! It’s like they always say… What happens in Las Pegasus stays in Las Pegasus.”