• Published 26th Jan 2017
  • 4,598 Views, 732 Comments

No Longer Displaced - NoLongerSober

Sass, science, and surviving basic! That seems like the perfect formula for a pegasus professor out of her element, a gruff captain 1,000 years from home, and a clever princess who has probably read too many romance novels. There are pancakes, too!

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Chapter 17 - Lowered Guards

He wasn’t ready for this conversation. That was all Tail could think when the sentence hit her ears. It yanked her heartstrings, pulling hard on the juxtaposition between her curiosity for his history and her empathy for his well-being. “You don’t have to—”

Barrier shook his head. “Don’t talk me out of it,” he interrupted. “I don’t need an excuse not to do this. Though, I do appreciate the gesture.” The unicorn gave his cadet a sheepish half-smile. “Ember is—was—the most important pony in my life. She was more than just one of my cadets. She was an inspiration, a mate, and the one I counted on more than any other.”

The mare’s breath hitched, and her wide-eyed gaze refused to so much as flicker from his frame. She yearned to lift her head from that pillow and crawl from the bed if she had to. Those few phrases alone ate at her like nothing she had heard in recent memory. Him telling her to shove it that morning meant nothing in the aftermath of receiving this new knowledge.

“She was passionate about everything she did. If she didn’t know how to do it, you could bet on anything that she would work to figure it out. She became one of the few that I could trust with a life. I watched her go from having zero combat experience to being one of the most proficient warriors in generations. There was honestly no partner I would have rather had on the battlefield.”

He paused for a moment and found that his sights had settled upon the hospital floor. His tone grew heavy with sorrow and regret, and it drowned the aura of the room in a sober shade. “Ember was a remarkable pegasus, and I don’t think I’ll ever forgive myself for not being there for her.”

Tail huffed, fighting to roll onto her side as the gravity of every word bore down on her soul. She repressed the whimper that bubbled over her tongue, and she battled to overcome the ache that bit her senses. He’s so close, but he had never seemed that untouchable. The mare wanted to reach him, throw her hooves around his barrel, and drag him into a hug. Her breaths grew more frequent, and that restless, flickering fire ensnared her chocolatey stare.

“I let her down more than any other pony. She gave me love, even in the worst of spots, and I wasn’t there to return it for all of her days.”

The lavender physicist pitched her hind leg off the edge of the bed. It fell faster than she anticipated, indicating a complete lack of fine motor control that plucked a squeak from her exhausted body. She bit her lower lip upon catching Barrier’s reaffixed glare, and the feathers of her good wing ruffled when he rose from his seat and approached.

“Faust above, I always get the ones that don’t listen.” He wrapped his foreleg around her thigh and gently repositioned the pegasus upon the mattress. “When did relax become try to get—”

A contented sigh dispersed from Tail’s muzzle when her right foreleg obeyed. She looped it around Barrier’s neck with all the strength she had left and pulled his head right into the fluff of her barrel. “Gotcha,” she chirped, yanking a snort from the probably shocked stallion. The bed-planted cadet didn’t really have it in her to lift her head to look. Though, it didn’t really matter. If she was truly the best cadet he had ever had, then she’d play the card to drop a hug when necessary.

“You are going to run so many laps for this,” Barrier said with a tone that carried zero hints of aggression or agitation. Tail did not waver, and the captain did not move to break away. Their separate scores aligned in those measures, creating a silent harmony that held onto the fermata that was the mare’s awkward embrace. “You know,” he spoke up. “When you do shit like this, Tail, it really does remind me of her.”

Whatever Tail had meant to say, it was erased by a set of intrusive giggles that invaded from the wide-open entryway. A mischievous, shit-eating grin sat upon Luna’s muzzle as her sights fell squarely upon Barrier and Tail. “My my, Professor, I knew you were a quick study, but I didn’t think you’d be this quick.”

Barrier slid out from under the limb and snapped his snout in the alicorn’s direction. The muscle beneath his eye socket twitched as he spotted an equally conniving grin plastered upon Amora’s countenance. “She hugged me,” he explained, separating every word to the point that they may as well have been in their own universes.

“Didn’t look like you were complaining,” Amora retorted, the smirk showing no signs of decay.

“Verily so, Major. Dare I say he was enjoying it. Did you hear that halfhearted threat of running laps? What was it that you said? Ms. Tail enjoyed hugging him like he was a teddy bear. Looks like the truth to me. Mayhaps I should commission a special Nightmare Night costume just for our favorite captain.”

Tail squeaked loudly. “Ams! I told you we had things to discuss in private. That just happened like a few minutes ago! Bringing Princess Luna to the room is not private! In fact, it’s far from it. Would you two please not make him mad?” She paused, and her voice re-emerged at a just audible volume. “We pretty much had an important moment going here. I think.”

Amora held out her foreleg and huffed. “Hun, have you ever attempted to keep Princess Luna from anything? Good buckin’ luck with that. Second, hugging isn’t discussing, so I think we’re good here. Isn’t that right, Your Highness?”

Luna took the cue and feigned an exasperated groan. “No! Woe is me! I have been an unseemly princess who must repent for my intrusion! Fine, I shall do as my sister sometimes says and behave.” The playful expression finally evaporated before a more serious glance targeted Barrier. “Despite our jovial intrusion, we did come here on official business. Fights between fellow service members are hard to hide. News spreads quickly, and this is no exception. A pony has made a move, Barrier, and it definitely impacts the plan.”

Tail’s ears dropped. The plan. The statement jogged her memory. The conversation she had overheard between Princess Luna and Barrier forced a fearful frown to the surface. Before the fight, she had been on the chopping block. But that conclusion makes no sense now. He said he’d see you through to the end, and Luna certainly wasn’t present for that part.

“I received two letters from Captain Proud Valiance of the 49th Research Battalion.” Tail’s coat bridled at the name, and she shaped a scowl in the midst of Luna’s explanation. “One called for Bonecrusher to be transferred to his unit, and the other called for Tail to be dishonorably discharged immediately.”

The unicorn’s gaze narrowed upon a pair of envelopes that hovered at the behest of the alicorn’s magic, and Barrier’s body stiffened. From her spot on the bed, Tail could tell that the move had pushed her captain’s buttons in all the wrong ways. “Did you tell Proud to sit on my horn and spin? If not, I’ll be sure to tell him when I leave tonight. Is one of my old pikes still around? I’d love to ram one up his disrespectful ass while I’m at it.”

“Peace, Barrier. Proud has been a vocal opponent of Ms. Tail’s presence since the beginning. This is nothing more than a power play, likely one stemming from the incident between your cadets. This morning, you insisted Bonecrusher be removed from your program. I’m bringing these matters to your attention because I believe they alter your intentions. In addition, Proud is the Army’s representative on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. All requests of this nature must be answered, despite how they appear.”

A thump pounded in Tail’s chest. The realization dawned on her like the first bolts of a summer storm. He never wanted you out, she informed herself, sliding a piece of the puzzle into place that finally made the picture clear. You really did gain his respect. Your efforts weren’t misplaced. Her jaw dropped, and tears welled up in the corners of her eyes.

“Yeah, and honestly, I still want her out of my program, but I wasn’t born yesterday.” He turned his head towards Tail, whose gaping mouth and teary demeanor made Barrier snatch his breath. “Do… Do you think you can put up with her for a while longer? I know she’s a mouthful—”

“I wired her jaw shut, Hun!” Amora shouted over Luna’s frame.

Barrier fired off a hushing glance at the medic before returning his attention to Tail. “I don’t like others scheming around me, and I despise those who scheme around my ponies. There’s no way he wants Crusher for her charming personality, and the fact that he wants you discharged—” The captain’s tone grew grittier by the word, and by the end of his last sentence, he had plucked the envelopes from Luna’s magic through the application of his own. “What do you think?”

“I—” The pegasus drew a few steadying gulps of air. A spontaneous giggle suddenly burst from her muzzle as the echoes of Amora’s exclamation lingered in her mind, and Tail blinked away her budding tears. “Well, if her mouth is closed”—she briefly hummed in thought—“and if you could maybe speak with her… I don’t want to go through this again, but I also hate schemers. If it puts you at ease, Captain, then yes, I’ll accept the risks. Compared to the benefits of learning from you and having your support, the downsides are far outweighed.”

An arc of magical essence ascended Barrier’s horn the instant he registered Tail’s response. Flames devoured the envelopes and dropped bits of ash upon the floor. “Consider that my official position on the matter, Luna.”

“Buck, I ship it so hard,” Amora whispered in a voice heard only by Luna—and by readers like you.

The incendiary gesture left a blush firmly entrenched on Tail’s muzzle. There was something about the dramatic demonstration, along with the reveal of Ember's tale, that touched her in a way that few things could. Deeds, not words. It had been her family’s motto for generations, and in that moment, Barrier became the living embodiment of that creed. It was a gesture that she had to return.

“Princess?” Tail began after forcing her focus upon the alicorn. “You said that all requests of certain, Joint nature had to be answered, correct?”

Luna’s mischievous smile reappeared. “Verily so,” she replied with a nod and a swish of her tail. “Do you happen to have a special request that needs consideration?”

The pegasus bit her lower lip once the princess’s almost all-knowing timbre tugged upon her ears. “I do, Your Highness. I would like to acquire a peculiar security clearance. Barrier has done a lot for me. He brought me here. He sought me out when I was having a nightmare, and he shared a bit of his past. I can’t rightfully keep him in the dark any longer. I would like to show him my lab. Actually, I believe I need to do so as soon as possible.”

Author's Note:

Happy Saturday, everyone! It's time for a Saturday Surprise! Props to Word Worthy for editing efforts, and thanks to all of you for reading.

Neon squeed 31 times in this chapter, but unfortunately, he did not die from beetus. D: Soon... hopefully!

I'm also amused by the comments of DQuirks, whose Amora prediction pretty much came right out of the gdoc. :rainbowlaugh:

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