Slipping Through A Sideways Door

by hornethead


A Deal In The Dark

Chapter 41: A Deal In The Dark

Rainbow Dash was in an awkward situation. She was sitting uneasily in a small homey room, while Fluttershy was actively chewing out one of the fiercest warriors alive in Equestria. Gone was the anti-social, heartbroken, little pegasus that was too shocked to eat or even talk with her friends. What Rainbow Dash was witnessing was the scolding of a lifetime.

To his credit, Garth took it all quietly and with patience. Every time his friend brought up a point of how terrified and absolutely distraught she had been, he simply nodded and apologized. Still, it was strange for Dash to watch somepony who she had witnessed effortlessly beat bad guys to a pulp absolutely wither under the verbal onslaught of her normally withdrawn friend.

The tirade finally ended when Fluttershy grabbed Garth around the neck and forced him into a hug. "Don't you ever do that to me again. Do you understand? Never ever!"

"Yes, Miss Fluttershy." Garth responded, suitably chastened.

"Now let's go get you something to eat. You look absolutely famished."

"Yes, Miss Fluttershy."

Rainbow rubbed the back of her head with a hoof, "So, you guys all good then?"

"Oh yes, thank you for coming with me, Rainbow." Fluttershy said. "But you really should go get cleaned up, I think we're meeting the girls later for dinner."

"Yeah, sure. I'll see you later then?"

"Oh, of course."

"Ok, see ya. Later Garth!" The big Lotkin waved goodbye to her as she exited the room.

Dash made her way down the long hallway, the sounds of construction echoing through out the corridors around her. Slowly but steadily, life was returning to the Palace. She turned down twisted corridors and smashed foundations, finally coming to a mostly untouched section of the Palace where they were notified they could make their temporary residences at.

She came to her door and went to push it open, surprise crossing her face when she found it was locked. She was told this room was hers and would be ready when she arrived. Fortunately, she was also given a key. Thinking they had probably locked it just to be safe, she inserted it and entered the room.

It wasn't a big room, like what she had had access to back in normal stays in the Palace. All of those had for the most part been trashed completely by the Renegades. This one boasted only a small bed with just enough room to stretch out on, a little balcony and a modest bathroom.

She had it all to herself. Which is why she found it odd that the shower was running. Sure she needed to wash up, but she guessed the staff had felt she'd better do it right away. An annoying thought that others had blatantly thought that way about her, but she was too tired to get angry.

She felt like taking a nap before going out later that night, but at least she would take the opportunity to wash up first. Grabbing a towel, she prodded the bathroom door open and stepped inside. She did not expect to see what she then saw.

Somepony was already in her shower. She recognized the physique as human. Great splotchy scars dotted and crossed his muscled back, arms and legs, some intersected lines that she guessed were cuts. A few of them were very recent, puckered circles ringed with jagged and tattered skin that hadn't finished healing yet.

"What the hay!?" She shouted at the man in her shower, "What're you doing in my room? Topher, if that's you, they gave you your own place and you need to get out, now!"

The man shut off the water and without looking, grabbed a towel from the rack and wrapped it around his torso. "Funny, I was told this was my room." He said as he turned around. "I think somebody might have set us up."

"James!" Rainbow said gleefully as she leapt into the tub with him and wrapped her forelegs around his neck, planting a big, messy kiss on his lips.

"Glad to finally see you too." He smiled as he pulled back and looked into her eyes. His features suddenly became serious as he asked, "You're not hurt at all, are you? You're feeling ok?"

"Yes, silly, why wouldn't I?" She responded, his expression relaxing.

"Good, good. I was worried about you." He told her, stepping out onto the mat.

"Me too, but your here now. Are you ok?" She asked, worry coming to her own face. "I was so worried when you never turned up and... well look at you now! Just covered in all those bruises and cuts and... and... I don't even know what that's from!" She said, pointing out one of the angry red puckered wounds.

"Well you know me. It takes a lot to take me down."

"Yeah... I guess so..." James started walking towards the door, grabbing another towel and drying his head off. "Wait..." He stopped at the door, turning to look at her, still standing in the tub. She flashed her eyes at him, "Don't you want to stay and join me?"

A small smile creased James' lips. "Tempting, very tempting. But I think it'd gross you out. Some of my wounds are still bleeding a little. Next time though, for sure."

"Oh, ok..." She said, slightly down trodden. "But don't think you're off the hook just yet, pal!"

"I'll keep that in mind." He said as he stepped out into the bedroom and closed the door behind him.



Fifteen minutes later, dash stepped out of the shower and toweled herself off. Then after checking herself in the mirror to make sure her mane was just the right amount of messy, she stepped into the bedroom. She saw James there, sitting on the end of the bed.

He was freshly bandaged, his torso and shoulder wrapped tightly in stark white gauze. That didn't surprise her after what she had just seen. No, what got her was what he was doing when she walked in. He hadn't seemed to notice her yet. He was facing away from her, staring distantly at the wall in front of him.

This wasn't a new thing, she had seen it before. Sometimes he would zone out, suddenly just staring off into the distance or at a particular spot in the wall or floor. This time was different though. Before, he had just been absently staring off, seemingly lost deep in thought. Now, however, his eyes weren't clear or empty, they housed something sinister. It was something like a cold, dark malice that had taken up a residence inside him.

With a quiet flutter of her wings, she landed softly on the bed behind him, leaning on his back and draping her forelegs over his shoulders from behind. She felt his body tense and stiffen, a hand shot up and gripped one of her legs forcefully, then released and fell back to his side just as quickly. As if realizing a mistake, his form finally relaxed.

Dash leaned harder against him, nuzzling the side of his face with her own. "Your face is getting pretty furry now, just like mine." She commented.

James didn't answer right away, but when he did, he seemed distant and preoccupied. "Yeah... I should probably shave it. Or at least trim it down."

"No, don't get rid of it. It looks good on you." Rainbow's hoof found a cord dangling from his neck and used it to lift up the object hanging from it. "You're still wearing it." She said as she gazed at the colorful and faintly luminescent gem.

"Of course i am. Why would i ever take it off?" He responded in an oddly flat voice.

Dash looked at him questioningly, she hadn't really seen him act this way before. "Is everything ok? You seem... different."

Unexpectedly, James stood up, gently shrugging her off. He walked out over to the balcony and leaned against the iron wrought rail, gazing down thoughtfully at the Palace gardens five stories below. Dash jumped off the bed and slowly walked up next to him, "C'mon, you're weirding me out. If there's something wrong, tell me!"

Slowly, James turned his head, looking directly into her beautiful eyes, "Honestly, I don't know what to tell you." He said softly.

"It's not me, is it?" Rainbow asked with concern creeping into her voice as she glanced away. "It's not something I did, right?"

James let out a small sigh as a slight smile touched his lips, "No, no, of course not." Dash looked back up and saw that the scary look in his eyes was gone now, replaced with the old James she knew. "How could I ever feel badly because of you." He reassured her.

Her spirits raised some at that, but she was still curious, "Well, do you still want to tell me? I might be able to help, at least."

There was a pause as he face fell some, "No... sorry."

"I.. ok then." She replied, a little put off. Then she looked up at a small clock hanging on the wall. They still had a few hours left and she still wanted to take that nap. "Well, I'm still here for you, like it or not." She told him as she retreated inside and flopped onto the bed.

She lay there for a while, not actually falling asleep. There was something a little off putting about James now, though she couldn't put her hoof on it. Rainbow Dash wondered about it for a few minutes, hoping, he wouldn't leave again.

Then there was a rustling as she felt a familiar weight settle onto the bed with her and strong arms wrap around her torso. She twisted around in the grip and came face to face with James, planting a heavy kiss on his lips. She squirmed closer to his body, pressing as tightly as she could against it as she rested her head on his shoulder. They laid there a while in each other's embrace.

Soft breath brushed her mane by her ear, "Thank you," he whispered and pulled her in closer.

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Dinner had been a fairly sordid affair for James. Celestia had had a table moved out into the recently cleared garden, arranged for many guests the large table was set up in a small clearing, the branches of the trees around them strung with lights dimmed low for ambiance. She and her sister, Princess Luna, sat at the head, with Sparks, Flash, Mayfield, Jackson, James and the girls to be seated around them.

In addition, many members of Equstria's Royal Family had been invited as well as ambassadors to foreign parts. James didn't like the way things were feeling and exchanged his seat with a griffon so he could sit at the other end in relative obscurity. He was fortunate enough that nobody else at the table, except for those that knew him personally, recognized him for who and what he was, believing him to be just another favored guest.

It was just what he wanted. He really didn't feel like talking to any of those assembled there and resigned himself to sitting at far corner and picking at his food. Celestia didn't seem to mind it much, but he got occasional worried glances from his friends and Princess Luna.

Finally, after a load of fancy courses and a long discussion James didn't particularly care for, the dinner came to an end. As servants began to clear the table, he picked himself up and started off towards his room. He didn't make it far before Jackson came jogging over.

"Hey, Kaughn!" James turned around just in time for his friend to wrap a big beefy arm around his shoulder. "Hey man, where're you going? Me and some of the guys are thinkin' about going out and I would like if you came with, like old times."

"Ah, I don't know..." James said hesitantly. "I still have some stuff to do and—"

"Kaughn. You and I both know you ain't got shit to do right now. It's been a tough few weeks, we all need to decompress. C'mon, when's the last time you and me had a night out together?"

James considered it for a moment. For once, he didn't feel like it too much. Then again, Jackson was his friend, his brother. "Alright, fine."

"Hey hey! There we go. Listen, one of my new associates—southern guy by the name of Blackjack, he's ok—knows a place downtown he said would still in business. Go get ready, meet us there, see you in a few." Jackson told him, patting him on the chest a few times and taking off to go check with his teammates.

James shook his head as he walked away and smiled. His brother hadn't changed at all despite all he'd been through. Still, he'd be showing up a little late to the party. After all, he really did have something he needed to do first.

Watching the others from the table get up and leave, he spotted Luna making off towards her tower to continue her night's work. As quietly as he could, he followed her, sticking to the shadows. He watched her go inside, then making sure none else had followed, slipped in behind her.

He looked up the interior of the tower, listening to the echoes of the Princess' hooves striking old weathered stone. He ascended quickly, habitually careful not to make any noise on the steps. When he reached the top, he found an old wooden door, cast slightly ajar.

Edging it open, he found Luna standing regally on a wide balcony, surveying Equestria in the silent glory of the silvery moon. "Excuse me, Luna..."

"Wha—!" The Princess jumped and spun around, eyes wide. " Oh, James!" She said as she saw him standing by the door, heart beating wildly from her little scare. "You mustn't do that, you scared me quite thoroughly!"

"Sorry, but I needed to speak with you." James apologized.

"I'm flattered, but now is not the time. I must perform my royal duties. Perhaps if we met later, maybe during my midnight meal?" She suggested.

"I have to apologize again... this can't wait."

Luna was suddenly concerned, "Is it something serious? Has there been another attack?"

"No, no. Fortunately not. But there might be. When Jackson's team captured Blueblood, he said something about there being another player in the game. He said he wasn't the one who organized all this." James explained.

"If my sources are correct," Luna said, "you were the one to actually capture him."

"I wasn't there to capture him." James said, dead eyed. "That said, i need to know what he's told you so far, what he knows about this 'other'."

Luna reared back, becoming serious, "James, what are you—"

"What I need to do!" He nearly shouted. Continuing in a softer tone, he said, "I need to end this. It needs to stop at the source, or none of them will be safe again. I had a freaking hit squad sent after me, they targeted my friends when they couldn't find me. I will not allow that to happen again. Now here's what I need you to do. I need all the information you have on this, I need access to your experimental weapons—don't lie, I know you have a program, any competent leader would—and last of all, I need you to keep this between us. You can't say a word to anybody. Not to your sister, not to Jackson and his team and not to Rainbow Dash and the girls. Especially Dash." He emphasized his last few words by pointing straight at her chest. "Help me make this land safe, or end up regretting it, your choice."

Luna stepped back and considered his words, mulling them over in her thoughts. She was reluctant to acquiesce to his request, not to mention the rather rude and threatening way he had spoken to her. Still, he was right. The threat need to be stopped at the source and he was most likely the best one to do it.

"Very well." She said, though begrudgingly. "I will help you, but you must know how dangerous this task truly is?"

"No more dangerous than doing absolutely nothing."

"I shall put you in contact with one of my personal operatives. His name is Howitzer, he is very reliable and I am sure he will have no problem helping you to get the items you need. Just do me one thing." Luna said, her tone becoming grave.

"Name it."

"Do not destroy yourself in this endeavor. Do your most to return, at least for the one that cares deeply for you. I'm sure you wouldn't want to see her hurt, physically or otherwise." She said, giving him a hard look.

James raised a hand, which Luna shook. "I would never dream of it, but no promises."