No Longer Displaced

by NoLongerSober

Chapter 19 - Tail's Secret, Part I

Though she had tried not to do so, Tail fell asleep not too long after the chariot was airborne. This time around, thankfully, her rest was calm and devoid of the rampant nightmare that had necessitated Barrier’s intrusion. Unfortunately, however, she awoke to find that she had slipped in her wheelchair and slumped directly onto the overwhelmingly teddy-bearesque, soft charcoal-colored coat of her captain. Upon gaining some respectable level of awareness, the pegasus quickly realized what had transpired, and her muscles reflexively stiffened.

“You know that Amora would have a field day with this if she were here, right?” Barrier asked in a steady and relaxed tone. “Keep that up, and I might just start thinking that we are going to get wrangled into a Las Pegasus wedding.”

Tail wheezed, her muscles stiffening even more until the dull ache of her wing began to noticeably agitate her nerves. Oh Luna, how long have I been out? How long have I been like this? What do I say? What do I say? Her mind froze when the gentle pressure of the unicorn’s hoof found her bandaged wing.

“Don’t worry about it,” the stallion addressed her silence. “I don’t mind. We’re almost there, and the extra sleep will only do you good. I’ve seen what happens when you don’t.” He chuckled. “It’s not pretty.”

His coat was a ridiculously warm buffer from the wind that swept over the celestial-themed chariot, and despite Tail’s lingering reservations, the invitation to remain pressed against Barrier’s pillowy goodness was too good to pass up. “Mm,” she hummed quietly, “I’m going to end up as addicted as Amora.”

“Don’t tell me the pancakes have gotten to you too,” the captain replied after briefly fidgeting. He met Tail’s upward gaze with a playfully concerned stare.

“No,” Tail whispered, though she quickly went silent. I’m addicted to your— “Yup! Definitely the pancakes. Just like Amora! Definitely—”

The stallion flicked his ear downward and grunted. “You are the worst liar I have ever met. Even Bonecrusher does a better job at disguising things than that. Spill it. What’s on your mind?”

Tail vivaciously swished her namesake. “First, Sweety, just no. Second, I’m the one who’s supposed to ask questions. That’s my thing, and I won’t tolerate gimmick infringement.”

“Sassy already, hmm? Since I can’t make you run laps in your condition—yet—I’ll have to resort to your more academic methods. If you’re supposed to be the one asking questions, Ms. Tail, then you can simply answer my question with a question of your own.”

Slowly, Tail rose from the comforts of Barrier’s coat and settled into her wheelchair. The breeze immediately gripped her mane and brushed it back, revealing a brown iris that outlined her affixed sight. “I—um—” Dammit, he is getting clever. She hesitated, pulling together a suitable response through the torrent of rambunctious fragments. “I have a lot of questions—if I’m being honest. I just don’t think now is the right time for me to ask them.”

Barrier squinted for a few seconds, and Tail could practically see his mind churn. It made sense that he would have his own set of doubts and concerns. She had a plethora of them, and an ocean of potential choices sat before her imagination.

“It isn’t fair for me to ask more of you when you told me the things you did,” she continued. “You—you called me your best, and I haven’t even had the courtesy to tell you why I need you. It doesn’t feel right to…”

Her words dwindled, retreating across the bournes of silence when the rising tide of the stallion’s laughter poured into her ears. “You need me, huh?” He snorted. “Maybe we should get married, after all.”

An abrupt pout ensnared her expression, though it failed to have any noticeable effect on Barrier. “I didn’t mean it like that,” she struggled to reply with any appreciable volume. “Honestly, I get it enough from Amora as it is. I’m trying to be serious here. You afforded me a tremendous level of trust. How can I possibly feel like I’ve earned it if I haven’t done the same?”

“Because if you hadn’t earned it, then I wouldn’t have said anything.” Barrier’s flat delivery sliced into Tail’s growing rebuttal. “I heard what you shouted before you knocked the piss out of Crusher. You defended me, and you did so after I had done nothing to defend you. You put in effort every day, even when I was being an asshole. Hell, I had hints at the start when you told me that you couldn’t quit. Stop asking yourself if you’re good enough. We’re on this chariot for a reason.”

The frown evaporated. With every sentence, he lifted her esteem to new heights and pushed a deeper shade of red to her cheeks and ear tips. Tail drew deep breaths, fighting to slow the hastened beat that thumped within her barrel. Eventually, the butterflies subsided, and a giggle bubbled up through the yielded emotional ground. “I had no idea that reason was a wedding, Captain.”

He snickered and waved a hoof. “It’s not, but I definitely would love to see Amora’s reaction if we returned to Canterlot and faked it. Pretend to make use of one of those trot-thru marriage places. Definitely some payback for leveraging those pancakes out of me.”

“Not a bad idea,” the pegasus answered matter-of-factly, “but I’m afraid Amora would see right through that sort of thing. The two of us grew up together. She knows me like the fluff on her foreleg. I just don’t see her ever really buying it.”

“Damn,” Barrier grumbled and crossed his legs. “No way we can make it work, hmm?”

The mare giggled once more. She would never speak it aloud, but the manner in which he pouted was the definition of adorable. Somehow, it wiped the veteran demeanor from his countenance and restored a coltish charm that was impossible not to find cute. “Amora can read my romantic tendencies like a book, and she’s aware of my love for writing. The absence of personalized vows would tip her off. The lack of friends and family being invited would send signals of their own. In the end, she’d probably try to spin the whole thing into a nefarious plot for her own benefit. Though, you are my type, so I guess maybe—”

Tail bit her lower lip as her flushed features received a reinvigorating dosage of fresh embarrassment. She stared at Barrier, who—in his own surprised state—sat quietly until both ponies were saved by the conveniently timed descent towards the University of Las Pegasus Mall.

Tail remained quiet as a mouse as Barrier pushed her across the mall towards the physics lab. The air was decidedly drier than it was in Canterlot, and the shift in flora to small shrubs and palm trees made for another marketed change. I can’t believe I said that, the pegasus pondered, losing her concentration in the patterns of the brick sidewalk.

“Professor Tail!” A snobbish voice drilled into the mare’s aural canals and yanked her attention to an elder grayscale stallion.

Don’t stop, you dolt! Tail screamed internally the nanosecond Barrier halted his march. She shifted backwards in her seat and hurled an incredulous stare upon the new arrival. It could have been anypony else—anypony but the most decrepit, fillyizing fuck she had ever met in a professional setting.

“What’s happened to you, my dear? Where have you been all this time? We’ve missed you considerably. And now, you return in bandages, and with this… gentlepony? Why is he escorting the university’s prettiest of fillies? That should be left to our campus security, or perhaps a reputable colleague you trust.”

“Hello, Professor Occult,” Tail responded, unable to disguise the disdain for the unicorn standing in her path. “I’ve been making use of my sabbatical. Princess Luna has been kind enough to assist me with some research—”

“Dear! Your wing is broken! What could you have possibly been doing? Is this stallion part of it? Is he part of your research?” The professor brushed a snowy lock out of the way of one of his vermillion irides and examined Barrier closely. “Or is he, perhaps, somepony special we should know?”

Tail cringed at the implications and let out a deep sigh. “Grey,” she began in a repressively restrained tone, “this is Captain Magic Barrier. He is—”

“She’s my responsibility,” the stallion-in-question interrupted. “We have shit to do and a tight timetable, so if you don’t mind, I’d like to get moving.”

“Mr. Magic,” Grey Occult retorted, “Professor Tail is one of my institution’s most cherished fillies. I will simply not allow a profane ruffian such as yourself to push her around this campus without proper information.”

Both Barrier and Tail simultaneously twitched. “Captain,” the stallion corrected, “and you have no say in the matter. This mission is approved by Princess Luna. Take your Gallopfreyan accent, stuff it, then turn around and scram. If I hear from my cadet that some old ass codger has been pestering her again, I’ll ask Luna to personally evaluate your credentials.”

Tail hadn’t the time to question Barrier’s peculiar name-drop. She was far too amused by the quickness with which Grey Occult fled the pair. A soft giggle dripped past her lifted forehoof after she caught sight of the old professor nearly stumbling over himself while on his way to the archaeology building.

“My hero,” she purred.

With a directing gesture from the pegasus, the grumbling Barrier resumed his trot. “That guy is a fucking asshat. Please tell me you don’t have to deal with that all the time. It’s a miracle somepony hasn’t put a hoof into his skull.”

“Could always hook him up with Bonecrusher,” Tail snorted, drawing a surprised gasp from Barrier’s muzzle.

“I take it there’s a lot of history there.” The stallion fell silent, taking a few moments to look over Tail’s place of work. The outside of the lab was decidedly modern, and its facade was marked by long windows that flowed to what Barrier identified as an atrium space.

Tail lifted her head to see her acquisitioned chauffeur. “The science fields, for whatever reason, are one of the few areas where there is an overabundance of stallions. Colleagues around my age are more cognizant of things, but the ancient ones are horrendous and think the campus is a locker room. First day I showed up, one of the geezers in my department would not leave me alone. Said he wished I would wear a braided manestyle.”

The captain groaned as he pushed the pegasus up the entrance ramp and inside. “Well, by the time I’m finished with you, you’ll be able to put him in his place right quick.”

“Oh no, Sweety,” she cooed in response, “I already put him in his place. Told him that I didn’t waste ammo—and that there was absolutely zero chance of him tapping this if he couldn’t even say my name properly. Apparently, I have tails.” She rolled her eyes and pointed towards a hallway that branched off from the atrium. “That way, Captain. We’re going to take the elevator to the sub-basement.”

Giggles sputtered from Tail as the elevator’s black doors on the sub-basement level slid open. “That’s because we had to build another floor below the basement to house my lab. Originally, I wanted to put it beneath the school’s arena, but the Directorate would have none of that.” She scrunched her snout and furrowed her brow. “Bunch of quill quippers.”

Barrier exhaled gradually. “But you convinced them to construct an entire floor, and one with secured access at that rate, just for you?”

The pegasus shook her head rapidly while her foreleg pointed to a golden entryway that looked akin to a bank’s vault. “No. Luna sent Captain Spitfire to yell at them. Then after she yelled at them, she tossed a bunch of bits on the table and trotted out.”

Tail hushed once Barrier pushed her to the locked gate. A deep breath filled her lungs. There’s no turning back now, she thought to herself while working through the various locks. Soon after, a loud, metallic pop echoed throughout the corridor, and the disk-shaped door rolled out of the way.

The droning hum of magically powered lighting hit their ears, cueing Barrier’s first significant exposure to her scientific world. “Whoa,” he whispered before guiding his cadet across the threshold.

The physicist glanced over her shoulder once she sensed that Barrier had released his grasp upon the wheelchair. He trotted to her side as a wide-eyed stare tried to grasp every inch of the cavernous space. A dozen workbenches were topped with silvery waveguides and copper RF-cavities—opulent metal structures that boxed the path of the captain’s meandering sights.

However, the thing that drew his attention the most was the fifty meter stretch of devoid space. “It almost looks like a range.”

“If you wouldn’t mind closing the door, Captain, I’d appreciate it.” Tail’s interruption drew the stallion away from his gawking long enough for him to slide the gate back into its closed and, more importantly, locked position. “And it doesn’t almost look like a range. It is a range.” She gradually set her forehooves on the wheels and attempted to roll herself to one of the tables. Instead of establishing any forward motion, a squeaky grunt echoed through the chamber, and a frustrated pout rapidly formed.

Barrier swiftly retook his spot behind the chair. “There is no way I am getting on Amora’s bad side with this. Pushing you around isn’t a problem. Now, where are we going?”

“Crate by the fourth station,” she replied, the tones of lingering angst still present in her melody until she continued. “And—um—sorry if I’m being irritating. I don’t like being in a state where I can’t even do things on my own. I’m fairly certain you understand.”

The stallion pushed Tail forward, and the mare swore she could hear the gnashing of his teeth before his admission emerged. “I hate that. Always did. And I felt it more than I should have. Take it from somepony with experience; you’re not weak—not for this.”

A lump found itself driven down the throat of the pegasus as the pair reached the crate. The black-painted surfaces flaunted their matte finishes, taunting Tail to place her hoof on the plastic-like top.

“Once I graduated A-FAM,” she began after remaining quiet through several breaths, “the Wonderbolts pegged me for a research-and-development spot after considering the implications of my thesis.” Her voice faltered as a pang of worry stabbed at her chest. “But I couldn’t rest on those exploits forever. I needed to do something bigger, so I attacked one of the fundamental what-ifs.”

She lifted the lid. At the creation of a perceptible crack, Barrier flinched. His rapid, concerned, confused, driven gasps tugged at Tail’s ears, but the mare pushed forward. She reached down to pluck a single 20 mm round from the container before swinging her head to find her captain’s slack-jawed state. He shuddered, and the aura of his ascending hold cradled the ammunition. “How?” he exhaled, never removing his stare from the dreadfully perplexing sight of the shell. “What is this? And how do you have Luna’s magic?”