• Published 10th Mar 2014
  • 3,310 Views, 101 Comments

Old Habits - Viking ZX

It's Nova's first official day off, and he's decided to spend it in one place he knows he can relax: the Canterlot Bazaar. But when he has an unexpected encounter with a face from his past, can he face the pony he once was?

  • ...

The Plan

“Alright, Nova. Hold still…”

“I know,” he said as he felt the cold needle slide into his foreleg, parting skin as it slipped into one of his veins. The orange glow around the base of the needle winked out as Dawn let go, and behind it the clear plastic tubing began to take on a bright red coloration; blood flowing through it and back towards the empty bag on the tray.

“So how much do you need this time?” Nova Beam asked, twisting his foreleg slightly as the line of red continued to move further away from his body.

“Only a small amount,” Dawn Triage said, her voice as clipped and precise as some of the medical tools she’d just examined him with. “This last bit is only a sample. Just for a few tests.” The pink mare turned away from him, her horn lighting up as she went, sweeping a clipboard off of the side of the medical table he was lying on.

“What kind of tests?” He cocked his head to one side and glanced down at the sliver of metal embedded in his flesh, watching as it glinted under the lights of the medical bay.

“Nothing you need to worry about,” Dawn said, her voice perfectly calm. Of course she’d be calm. She’d probably say the exact same thing to a patient who was near death—well no, he knew that wasn’t true. He’d been close to death once, so close he hadn’t even been awake for it, and she’d been totally clear about it when he’d woken up.

“Alright then,” he said his eyes following the path of his blood back to the small bag once more, watching as it slowly filled. “I guess I’ll have to take your word for it.” He looked up at her and twisted his face into a grin. “That or break in here one of these nights and see exactly what sort of tests you’re conducting.”

Dawn’s head came up, her clipboard coming down on the metal countertop with a sharp crack that rang across the med-bay. Piercing, blue eyes locked with his as the pink unicorn took a step towards him, her mouth compressed into a thin, barely visible line.

“Nova,” she said, her voice only slightly lower than normal, “I will tolerate you breaking out of your own room or picking the locks on the equipment lockers—” that had actually been Hunter, but he wasn’t about to correct her, “—but if I so much get a hint that you have been breaking into my medical office, I’ll see to it that your next medical appointment ends up with you not being able you use your hooves for a very long time, clear?”


“Good,” she said, her eyes moving towards the blood bag, as if silently weighing exactly how much more blood she would need to remove to get him to shut up. “Because I’m very serious. There are a lot of dangerous items in this lab, and without somepony experienced around to make certain you know what you’re dealing with, you could end up suffering all sorts of horrible effects.”

“Horrible effects?” His grin slipped from his face for a moment as he spoke, and Dawn's eyes flashed.

“Well, I would hope not, but you know how it is,” she said, her tone warming just slightly. Was she smiling? “I could not guarantee your safety if you were found to be messing around in here. In order to be safe, I’m afraid I’d have to do a full detox to make certain. And of course, for that, I’m afraid I’d be forced to shave you.”

“Hey, look at that!” Nova said as icy claws ran down his spine. He lifted his free hoof and dropped it back down one the examination table with a loud thump. “My desire to ever have anything to do with this med-bay has evaporated in a puff of smoke. Poof!” He threw his hoof up again, giving Dawn his best smile and holding it for a moment as she fixed him with a level gaze. "What little of it there was already, I mean."

“Hmmm,” Dawn said as she stepped forward, her horn glowing once more. “I’d imagine you're telling the truth there. Although don’t think for a moment that I believe you wouldn’t try if you thought breaking in here would be a challenge.” There was a gentle tug against his skin as the needle slid out, a faint, red dot welling up against his purple coat in its wake. “Hold this there,” she instructed, floating a small cotton ball across the room and pressing it against his leg.

“Got it.” He lit his own horn, yellow magic surrounding the cotton ball even as the dull-orange glow it had been wrapped in faded away. It didn’t take much mental effort to hold the cotton ball firmly against his leg. Compared to levitating something like a column of solid marble, it was easy enough he could've done it in his sleep.

“No bad reactions since your accident?” Dawn asked, pausing as she glanced at his horn. “No itching, no discomforts?”

“Nope,” he said, tilting his head slightly and eyeing the tip of his horn out of the top of his eyes. “Totally fine.”

“Good,” she said, floating the bag containing his blood by her side as she walked away from him. “Tell me, do you have any plans for the day?”

He shrugged. “Not really. I think I’m just going to go spend some time down in the market district, shop around a little.” The cotton ball peeled away, and he narrowed his eyes at the unseen hole the needle had left. The cotton ball twirled, spinning as he flipped it over and then dabbed it against his foreleg once more. It came away still slightly red.

So much for that. He pushed the cotton ball back down again. A little longer.

“Looking for anything in particular?” Dawn’s voice called from somewhere behind him. He twitched his ears, once again wishing he’d sat down facing the other way.

At least then I’d be able to look at more of this place than the door I walked in, he mused as he ran his eyes around the medical lab’s entryway. Or was it medical bay? Between the Captain, Hunter and Dawn all using different names for it, it was getting hard to tell.

“No, not really,” he said as something clattered behind him. “It’ll just be nice to get out and be … a part of the crowd, you know? There’s a life to it, a vibrancy!” He smiled as the cotton ball spun again, this time coming up clean. “I haven’t just had some time to relax and watch the world go by, you know?”

“I believe I understand,” Dawn said, appearing at his side, a small metal trash can floating in her magic. “It sounds somewhat similar to the same reason I would attend a symphonic concert or an expensive dinner. Drop the cotton ball in here please, and then you may get up.”

“Thanks,” Nova said. He gave the small ball of fluff a little toss, grinning as it arced through the air and dropped perfectly into the metal cylinder. Muscles quivered as he rose, arching his back and stretching his forelegs out across the cool metal of the examination table.

“Oh, sun above, that feels good,” he said as blood rushed through his forelegs, sending a wave of tingles down toward his front hooves. He let out a satisfied sigh and switched his stance, raising his rear legs in turn, shaking them as blood began to rush back into his back hooves. Then he jumped, ignoring the short steps down the side of the examination table in favor of the more direct route. The loud clap of all four of his hooves touching down at the same time rang through the medical bay as he landed, a sharp, staccato echo that quickly faded.

“Feeling better?” Dawn asked with a slight smile as he turned in place, rolling his shoulders. He gave his tail a quick flick, the fire-red hairs whipping back and forth before settling once again with a series of quivers.

“Much,” he said, giving her a grin. “Sorry. Just a little tired of laying in one spot for the last hour, you know?”

“I noticed,” Dawn said, her voice dry. Then one corner of her mouth turned upward. “Exactly how much time did you spend wishing you were facing the other way?”

“Subtract about five minutes from however long I was in here, and that’s about it,” he admitted. “I guess I’m not the first?”

“No,” she said as she turned and moved further back into the room. He twisted his neck, following her first with his head, and then when that was no longer an option, turning his whole body, rolling his shoulders once more on the way for good measure. “However,” she said as she reached the back wall of the office, “you’re certainly the most antsy about it.”

“Hey, it’s a reflex,” Nova said, shaking his head. “I’ve gotta know what’s going on around me at all times. Old habits.”

“Well, I can hardly dissuade you from that,” Dawn said, a cabinet door swinging open under the glow of her magic. Nova watched with interest as she began to juggle various pieces of tools and equipment. The medical lab was interesting, at least compared to the rest of the barracks. The moment he’d crossed the threshold it had been like stepping into one of the most advanced hospitals in Equestria, with tile underhoof instead of wood, bright, brilliant magilights that illuminated the whole room flawlessly, and shining, silvery metal on every surface that wasn’t painted white. Even the examination table had been metal. Cold metal, much to his surprise. Somehow, even in the late warmth of the end of summer, the table had been as cold and icy as the Canter River in winter.

“So, shopping then?” Dawn asked, setting something down on the counter. Nova pulled himself away from his examination of the room. If there was anything interesting to find, it wouldn’t be worth sneaking in for anyway. Not if he wanted to keep his coat where he liked it—on his back.

“Not really shopping,” he said, stepping a little towards the back of the room. The counter that ran along the wall ended next to an opening that led further back, a single sheet hanging in front of it. The rest of the room was standard enough—medical cabinets, the table, a small desk with a few chairs carefully sitting under it, that large mirror over by the examination table—but what was behind the cloth? “More just looking around, maybe grabbing some new music records.”

“More Trotaikovsky?”

“Naw,” Nova said, shaking his head, “not this time. I think Vinyl Scratch’s got a new album out, and I’m going to see if I can find a copy somewhere.”

“Vinyl Scratch,” Dawn said with a roll of her eyes. She flicked one ear, brushing aside a strand of her orange mane as she turned to face him, her face held in what had to be a well-practiced pose of formal distaste. “I suppose we each have our own tastes.”

Yeah, she definitely has to practice making that face, he thought as he grinned up at her disapproving eyes. There’s no way she could hold that level of poised distaste so flawlessly otherwise. “So what’s in the back?” he asked, tilting his head towards the rear doorway.

“Storage,” Dawn said, waving a hoof and turning away. “For various surgery and medical equipment, as well as any other equipment I may need in the course of the Guard's missions.” Her tail gave a quick, satisfied swish to one side. “Extravagant, perhaps, but the Captain said that price was no object.” There was a strain of smug satisfaction in her tone, and Nova nodded.

“In any case, that is neither here nor there, Nova,” Dawn said. The bag holding his blood floated up into view for a moment before it was swallowed by a small, compact cardboard box. Then a roll of tape floated up and began wrapping neat, concise lines over the top. “You’re done here for the day. Make the most of your day off. I have a feeling that we’re going to be needed for something official soon.”

“You got that vibe too, huh?” Nova asked as he turned partway towards the door, his eyes still on the floating box. “What was it for you? Hunter ending up on KP duty after that meeting with the Captain and Princess Luna, or that newspaper article on a certain griffon derailing a train car near the border?”

“Neither,” Dawn said as the box floated out of his view. “I’m merely basing the assumption on the fact that we haven’t done anything for almost two weeks, and I know that both of the Princesses are most interested to see how Sky Bolt’s new adaptations for our armor have progressed. And stop staring in the direction of your blood like I’m doing something suspicious with it.” He twitched, and then grinned as he saw her eyes reflecting at him from the silvery surface of one of the cabinets. “I simply need to take it to Canterlot General for the test itself. Now,” she said as her horn flashed once more, “on your way out for the day, if you wouldn’t mind stopping by Sky Bolt’s workshop and telling her that I’m ready to see her now?” The box floated back into view, a small flurry of vapor trailing from the thin coat of ice that had grown over it.

“Oh, and Nova?” Dawn asked as he headed for the door. He came to a stop in front of the room’s mirror, his own fire-red mane and yellow eyes staring at him for a second before he turned all the way back towards the pink doctor. She waited until she had his full attention before giving him an approving smile. A somewhat approving smile.

“Enjoy your day off.”

“Thanks,” he said, grinning. “I will.”

Stepping back into the rest of the barracks was like stepping into another world. Although it wasn’t much like stepping into an actual barracks. Nova had seen the quarters that both the Royal and Night Guard bunked in; long, tightly packed rows of bunks barely divided by temporary walls that didn’t even go to the roof of the building. No thanks.

Of course, it had been what he’d been expecting to live in when he’d first been plucked out of jail to serve his sentence as a member of the team. But thanks to Sky Bolt’s lack of hesitation, the barracks that the Dusk Guard lived in was more like a base of operations than a barracks, with personal quarters, an armory, offices … Even a common room.

He swung right as he walked out of the medical bay, the noise of his hoofsteps shifting down in pitch as he passed from the white linoleum of the bay to the wooden flooring of the hall. First I’ll go let Sky Bolt know that I’m done, he thought as he passed the door to the armory, then I’ll swing around and grab my saddlebags from my room, along with a some bits so I’ve got some money to spend … but not too much. After all, every bit he withdrew from his pay was one more bit he’d have to earn back to pay off his debt to society. But a little fun every now and then could be worth it.

He could feel a thumping bass beat pumping through the floor and pulsating up his hooves as he drew closer to the door. She’s probably hard at work on something else that’ll be absolutely nuts, he thought as the pounding rhythm grew louder. The strength mod she’d shown off the other day, along with the speed mod, had both been awesome. He could see the use behind either of them, although she’d mentioned that she was working on a shield variant. Maybe I could ask to see her list, make a few suggestions of my own … His thought process, and then his body, ground to a halt as the door to the workshop swung open, giving him a clear view inside.

“Oh, hey Nova!” Sky Bolt said, looking up from her desk with a smile. The grey-coated pegasus was sitting at the desk nearest the door, a tool he couldn't identify clutched in one hoof. “How’s it going?” She leaned over towards one side of the desk and tapped at something, and the near-deafening beat that had been emanating from the workshops speakers died, fading away to a faint, background hiss punctuated by small, tinny taps. “Is Dawn ready for me?”

For a moment Nova was silent, his attention barely focused on the young mare. Then he opened his mouth, his eyes still refusing to leave the item standing on top of her desk as he gave voice to the only thing he could think about.

“Sky Bolt?” The mare nodded at the mention of her voice, and his eyes slowly slid down towards her and then back up again. “Why do you have—and in fact is that—an actual griffon skeleton sitting on your desk?”

Author's Note:

Ah, at long last, Nova's side story!

I've got to say, I really enjoy writing Nova and Dawn in the same scenes together. Nova's already fun to write because he bounces off other characters pretty well, but he really reacts best with Dawn, since they're such great foils for one another. And yet despite that, they share some common ground.

Hmmm ... how many little details mentioned here are going to turn up later in the series I wonder?