“You take your eyes off her for a few days, and she goes and asks him out on a date!” Amora shouted from her perch on the apartment couch before a sly grin split her muzzle. She turned to face the visiting Princess of the Night, who met Amora’s expression with an equally mischievous demeanor. “Did you know that it all started right here?”
Princess Luna held up a small beanie plushie with a color composition that was oddly reminiscent of the captain. “I did not! No wonder why Barrier was always pestering me about regulations. Starting things on interior furnishings is definitely not in the Royal Guard Manual.” The alicorn tilted her head until her sly smile faced the flustered Tail.
With a liberty blue dress cascading from her frame, the pegasus stared at the mares with a riled gaze. “The two of you are absolutely ridiculous. I expected this much from her”—she threw her foreleg in Amora’s direction—“but from one of the rulers of our nation? No, just no.”
The medic simply held up her Tail-esque plushie counterpart and giggled. “Hun, sometimes you just make it way too easy.”
Luna wiggled in her seat with a gleeful frequency that drew the attentions of both officers. “Such a shame,” she purred in a sultry tone that could best be visualized by the image of a pouncing cat. “Whether Captain or Magic, Barrier really likes a challenge.”
Tail sharply drew a breath and puffed her cheeks while the redness quickly spread to the tips of her ears. She could practically feel the next round of laughter brewing in their clutching barrels, and their stretched smiles betrayed their desires to prod her again should she stumble. She harrumphed, turned her snout away from the girls, and cocked a grin.
“Well, this easy mare was the best cadet he ever had.” The pegasus aggressively swooshed her namesake. “Challenge set and matched. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to wait on the steps to avoid—all this.”
The alicorn donned an air of mock offense and hid a gasp behind her lifted hoof. “You would deny your princess the opportunity to see this most cherished dream become reality?”
“Yes,” Tail answered flatly. She drew a horizontal line in the air with a brief motion, surprisingly hushing the two magic wielders who each appeared ready to leap out of their seats. For a few seconds, the pegasus peered at them with a tight-lipped expression that eventually softened into a gentle smile. “I appreciate the enthusiasm, ladies. I really do, but this is the first time we’ve been out together outside of things related—and remotely related—to training. Why don’t you save all that energy until after I get home? It’ll make it far more likely that I’ll gush about it.”
Amora snickered after an actual gasp fled Luna’s lungs. “Did you just try to play the Princess of the Night? My my, that training really has done something.”
It was Tail’s turn to flash a wild grin as she pivoted towards the staircase. “It’s not my fault she fantasized about Barrier rubbing off on me. Just icing on the cake that it worked.” The pegasus began her descent towards the door, and upon getting halfway down, she hollered an addendum. “And it’s not playing. It’s negotiation.”
With a few more steps, the pegasus reached the tile landing. A victorious hum emerged from her throat once Tail’s awareness settled upon the peanut gallery’s sudden silence. I’m going to wait outside anyway, she pondered, reaching for the latch. Her hoof rested atop the curving metal surface, and after a deep, calming breath, she flicked it downward.
It was 6:45.
“Oh,” Barrier grunted from the other side of the entryway once Tail tossed the door open. His foreleg was lifted, presumably in mid-knock, and his confusion-laden stare fell upon the dressed-up pegasus. “Oh wow.”
Tail’s wings spread. Her wide-eyed gaze darted about the captain’s frame as she took in the various facets of his wardrobe. A white button-down shirt sat beneath a grey sport jacket—one that was a shade lighter than his coat. Royal guard pins adorned his collar, and—and a reddish tint showed on his muzzle.
“Oh wow, indeed,” Tail mumbled at the display while her face flushed in response. Her feathers quivered in the wake of her observations, and she bit her lower lip once her thoughts prodded the mare to slide her sights just a little higher. He really went out of his element for this.
“Hello, Ms. Tail,” the stallion answered sheepishly before a trickle of giggles dragged his attention away from the mare in front of him. A deadpanned expression rapidly gripped his demeanor, and Barrier rolled his frosty eyes. “Both of them?” he asked flatly.
Pursing her lips, Tail glanced up the staircase to briefly grasp the bright, looming smiles of the spying, creeping Amora and Princess Luna. The pegasus nodded to Barrier’s question and released a scornful sigh. Words brewed on the tip of her tongue, but a further explanation was apparently unnecessary. His foreleg was suddenly wrapped around her own, drawing a squeak from her lungs—and drawing her out onto the streets of Canterlot.
The surge sent her limbs flailing, but Tail quickly settled her hooves upon the cobblestone after the captain completed his extraction maneuver. Her mind wandered back to the first time he had been that forthright with her positioning, and the corners of her lips began to curl amidst the fond memory. It was during my first eval…
Suddenly, her ears popped and perked. The present, effortlessly pushing away her recollections in its rush, flooded her awareness with its sights, sounds, and textures. She and Barrier had barely taken a few steps from the threshold of her home, and the weight of his foreleg had somehow come to settle upon her withers.
“Are you alright?” he asked with a concerned tone that matched the state of his furrowed brow. “I hope they weren’t too bad. Though, given what I know about insufferable brats, I wouldn’t put bits on it.”
“They have plushies of us, Captain. Little, beany things they use to express their”—she paused to release an anguished breath—“desires for our evening together.”
“Faust above,” Barrier exhaustedly groaned before starting his trot down the street. “Best not give them the satisfaction of lingering around then, and Ms. Tail, no ranks are necessary tonight. Formalities just get in the way of celebration, and I think you deserve to celebrate—wherever you wish to go.”
Tail smiled the instant the unicorn peeked over his shoulder. Assuming that the gesture was to make sure she was following, she hopped into a steady trot and kept pace at his side. “Wherever I want to go, hm? It sounds like my date for the evening hasn’t done his homework.”
Her teasing timbre sent a frazzling wave from the base of Barrier’s neck all the way to the very tip of his tail. “Well,” he grunted, shifting uncomfortably in his collar, “the dinner idea was kind of sudden. Making reservations in Canterlot on such short notice is impossible, and I didn’t want to give the princesses any sort of leverage by asking—”
A melodic splurt of giggles silenced the stallion, and Tail promptly broke her stride to bat her hoof at the notion. “I—I can’t imagine which one would be worse. Oh gosh, they’d be on your case for weeks.”
Barrier rolled his eyes as a second wave of squeak-filled chortles burst from the mare’s snout. “Which is exactly why I didn’t.”
After a few seconds, Tail capped off her pursuit of composure with a happy hum. She couldn’t help but beam at Barrier as her thoughts spiraled around a hypothetical scenario in which he approached Celestia for access to some luxurious restaurant. “I’m not a big fan of ritzy places anyway—at least not the ones around here. They’re all very… uptight.”
Barrier flashed a smile of his own. Relief washed the strain from his countenance and left a rather perky visage behind for Tail to enjoy. “Then, how about we just walk around until we find a spot that works?”
Tail and Barrier practically drooled upon crossing the threshold into an eatery of immaculate splendor. The sleigh bell strap that hung from the forest-green door was still ringing from the duo’s entrance by the time their shared surprise carved hopeful expressions upon their faces.
Pop’s Place, as the restaurant was called, could not be more perfect. A hole-in-the-wall diner, decked from floor to ceiling in decades-old memorabilia, it called to them with its rustic charm and snazzy neon glow. Now, they were inside, caught by the sights, smells, and sizzles that would make sure that they put their pony plots in a booth.
A plump dusty-cream earth pony stood behind the counter and cheerfully waved once he recognized that new customers had arrived. “Welcome to Pop’s! Name’s Trot Bell, and well, I’m Pop. It’s been a while since I’ve seen such fancy-dressed ponies in this neck of the woods, but any seat that’s open is yours.” He let out a hearty chuckle while his hoof wandered to scratch at a scraggly brown beard.
“Thank you,” Tail answered in a soft voice before her head swiveled about in search of a spot that felt right. Her gaze bounced from patron to patron until it briefly settled upon a saying painted onto the wall. Too much of a good thing is wonderful! The words dripped into her mind, pulled the corners of her lips into a gentle smile, and prodded her heart with a boost of energy. She swung around again and felt a pull at her mare’s intuition. “Second booth on the left.”
Barrier snickered at the spectacle and gave a carefree shake of his head. “I wonder what sort of scientific method you employed to choose our seats, Professor.”
Swishing her namesake to the teasing tone that graced her ears, Tail shuffled onto one of the wooden seats. “There’s more to life than the scientific method, Barrier,” she retorted, drawing an exaggerated gasp from her captain.
“Who are you, and what have you done with my Tail?” His stare narrowed, his jaw sat firmly, and his lips thinned into an utterly flatlined visage that left the pegasus giggling.
“Choices, choices,” she spoke through her laughter before a bitten lower lip fashioned the basis of Tail’s sportive appearance. Her hoof rolled about as she leaned onto the tabletop, and her chocolate irides sparkled with that familiar, fervent amber glow. “Sweety, I haven’t done anything with your tail yet, and if you were talking about me, then you’ve got to pay for dinner first before dropping the possessive.”
Barrier straightened his posture and gulped. Redness seeped through his charcoal coat, and his dilated pupils swallowed Tail’s reflection. “Um—I was planning to,” he replied quietly. Once again, he fiddled with the collar of his shirt. “Pay, that is. This is my treat.”
The mare reached for one of the menus propped up by the windowsill, but her attention did not drift from the unicorn’s charmingly suppressed adorableness. For once, it seemed as though she had him on the flustered side—one never seen when he was acting in his guard capacity—and Tail couldn’t help but smirk at the mix of coltish shyness that swirled about his raised brow and scrunched snout. “And I really appreciate it, Barrier.”
A dinner-plate stare evolved after Tail flipped open the menu. Behind the rather plain white cover, a colorful sprawl of enticing dishes yanked at her mind—and stomach. “Oh my gosh!” she shouted, pulling the attentions of every patron too. “A Fillydelphia haysteak omelette sandwich? What is this sorcery?”
Trot Bell unleashed a soulful laugh as his foreleg repeatedly thumped against the countertop. “I can already tell tonight’s going to be good. And might I suggest the Godfather hayburger for your coltfriend?”
“And then, he went and got a beaker stuck in his drain! I had to get a torch and heat the rim to get the damn thing out, but Wick was such a sweety making those Pinkiepuff Massacre desserts for me. I couldn’t leave him hanging.”
Barrier planted his forehead upon his hoof and started laughing. “How does one of the nation’s top fliers manage to get a beaker stuck in his drain? And why did you even bring a beaker to his apartment?”
Tail folded her leg and pointed the tip of her hoof in his direction. “Oh no,” she chirped, holding the defensive posture, “you are not putting this on me. Amora tried the same thing, and both of you should know better. I come prepared.”
“Of course you do.” Barrier lifted his head, revealing a broad, relaxed smile to the pegasus. “Every story manages to surprise me, Tail, especially this one.”
The pegasus flicked her feathers and leaned back in the seat. “And why is that?” she asked with a timbre that skirted the line between curious and cautious. “It was just a beaker, after all.”
The stallion closed his eyes and brushed his two-toned mane. A single-note chortle escaped his muzzle, prepping the short silence that followed when Barrier reset his gaze upon Tail. “I meant our story, Tail.”
The mare squeaked, feeling the burning rush that assailed her cheeks, and her wings spread once the statement etched itself upon her memory. In fact, the entire night had become one that she intended to cherish forever. They had spent the dinner sharing tale after tale—humorous bits of youthful adventure that had fueled their collective cheer.
“It has been quite a while since I’ve been out with a mare, you know? Didn’t really know what to expect.”
From his perch, Trot observed the pair while a jovial hum swirled in his throat. “Looks pretty perfect to me,” he commented idly, snapping Barrier and Tail from their conversational trance.
At some point, the place had emptied out, leaving only the trio of ponies on the premises. Tail reached across the table and nudged Barrier after her stare drifted to the wall clock mounted above the register. “It’s eleven,” she blurted, constructing an apologetic grimace for Mr. Bell. “We’ve kept you after—”
Trot waved her off and deliberately held his emerald sights on each of his guests for a few seconds. “I know a good story when I see it. Just be sure to keep me posted.”
The quiet streets of Canterlot guided Tail and Barrier back towards the mare’s apartment. Stillness surrounded the light tapping of their hoofsteps upon the cobblestone, and barely a peep was shared while wandering glances occasionally caught the vibrant starlights that glimmered in the other’s eyes.
You’re being too quiet, Tail pondered as she once again slid her attention to the stallion keeping pace at her side. Her fur fluffed when she noticed that his gaze was already affixed to her frame. Say something, pegasus. Just say something.
“I hope you don’t get interrogated too much.” Barrier beat her to the punch, and Tail furrowed her brow in response. She spotted the subtle grin that flirted with his countenance. It was cocky, knowing, and—in all honesty—prophetic. The captain gradually waxed his voice back into action and continued, “But we know we’re both doomed.”
Tail tittered, popping ahead of Barrier just to gain a free step to poke his shoulder with her hoof. “Real funny,” she answered as they finally arrived at the steps of her home. “I’m not looking forward to it.”
For the first time that night, a wave of disappointment crashed upon Tail’s spirits. She set her hoof upon the cement slab and froze. The door seemed to loom in front of her, and it had nothing to do with the ribbing that awaited her inside. She retreated and pivoted to face Barrier, who instantly jerked at her sudden shift in position.
Her muzzle quivered while she thought about what she should say. Tail fell into his icy stare, for though it was cool in color, at that moment, it filled her with nothing but warmth. “Tonight… Tonight was wonderful, Captain.”
She paused to huff at her own use of his rank, which simply drew a teasing snort from Barrier. “Breaking the rules again, Ms. Tail? I think I can still find ways for you to run laps.” He held a sinister, smug expression just long enough to send the pegasus into another giggle fit.
“How about I just spare you the ordeal of having to experience”—she gestured towards her home—“whatever it is they have waiting for us? Besides, taking you upstairs after our first non-hazing night out? That’s more of a third date activity.”
The mare continued her jovial melody, but the playfulness that had dotted the unicorn’s expression gradually yielded ground to a look that held a far more serious composure. “I’d like that,” he replied, once again utilizing an atypically diminished volume.
The words hushed the blushing Tail, whose silent seconds were spent ruminating on the simple phrase. Shock had momentarily clutched her demeanor, producing an expression that masked her internal emotions with a wall of neutrality. Her heart pumped, driving a tempo in her head—beating that wall into dust until she brightly beamed beneath a sky Princess Luna had painted just for them.
“I guess that means we need to have a second date first,” Tail carried on as the weight of the moment sank in. Flashes of the evening danced within her thoughts, and each picture joined the choreography of memories that pushed their outing to a pedestal all its own. Spurred on, she gradually pitched forward—searching for too much of a good thing…—leaning towards his muzzle as she whispered, “I’d love to.”
Barrier swallowed but held his ground when the lavender pegasus approached. His breaths quickened in the ever-stretching seconds, and his tongue failed to fashion a single statement for his physicist. In all honesty, there was nothing he needed to say. Instead, he clung to what filled his ears in that instant when their lips hovered barely an inch apart.
”Thank you, Magic, for everything…”
To Be Continued — No Longer Alone