• Published 10th Jan 2018
  • 2,704 Views, 228 Comments

Back and There Again - Sun Sage



A strange gem takes Rarity to a world she almost recognizes. She's going to make it back home no matter what, but she might need some help to do it. And why is it all so familiar?

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14. Friends

It was a couple hours later, still fairly early by most standards, that they all headed to bed. The family photo album hadn’t lasted much longer, but stories about families could be shared far past what mere pictures had recorded. Luckily the wine hadn’t lasted much longer either; Rarity could be confident none of them would be the worse for wear in the morning. Nopony liked hangovers.

“And… guest room!” Lynn said, opening a door in the home’s upstairs hallway, just past the bathroom. The room was simply if tastefully appointed, and at that point Rarity’s chief concern was the bed. It was no match for her canopied luxury back home, but it was quite large, and topped with the essentials: several soft looking pillows and a thick comforter. Next to the bed sat a much smaller, utilitarian cot with a single pillow and a folded blanket and sheet.

“Grumman suggested I put you both in the same room, for security reasons, though he wouldn’t elaborate. If that doesn’t work though, Aiden can take the couch downstairs.”

“No no, this is lovely, darling, thank you,” Rarity said as Aiden nodded in agreement.

“We’re fine like this; we’ve been sharing a room at Grumman’s compound as well,” he added.

“Alright then. Bathroom we passed on the way. We’ll be up at 5 to head over to the store to meet your coworkers and so you can get your car out of their parking lot before they tow it. I’m heading to bed. If you need anything, Aiden knows where it all is. It hasn’t been quite that long since his last visit…”

“And the guilt card, making its final appearance of the night…” Aiden muttered with a sheepish grin.

Lynn chuckled, and hugged him. “Good night, both of you.” She clasped Rarity’s hoof and gave it a friendly squeeze. “See you in the morning.”

She left back down the hall to her own room, and Aiden shut the door behind the two of them before setting his bag on the cot to dig through for bathroom supplies. “It’ll be an early morning, but we’ve got about eight hours until then. I’m going to go get cleaned up for bed.”

“I’ll be right behind you,” she replied, turning off the translators and plugging them into the wall to charge. An entire day’s use burned less than a quarter of the batteries, but there was no sense in not charging them overnight. “I’m also going to suggest we share the larger bed, for comfort. And you’re going to turn me down.” She said it with a hint of amusement, but not quite her usual teasing tone.

“...You’re correct. The cot is fine. I’ve slept on far worse.”

“Which is no excuse not to want better. And though I understand why you would say no… we need to talk.” She hopped up on the bed, looking at him with nervous determination.

“Ominous…” he said, sitting down in the chair at the room’s writing desk, putting the cot between them. “What’s up, Rarity? You can talk to me about anything.”

She nodded. “I know, and I want to know whether I’ve been taking advantage of that a bit too much.”

“Not sure what you mean," he replied, frowning slightly.

She sighed through her nose. “You’re going to make this difficult, aren’t you?”

“Not intentionally… so let’s see… you brought this up after I turned down an offer to sleep with you…”

“Phrasing! ‘Share the bed’, darling… it’s plenty big enough. But I understand why the offer might seem… provocative, particularly in light of my behavior towards you.”

He nodded. “I didn’t misunderstand,” he grinned. “I’m just trying to avoid some romcom nonsense where we wake up spooned together and everything’s awkward.”

She nodded, chuckling. “Hugging me is awkward, I see how it is..”

“Pfft, hardly. I’ll hug the crap outa you.”

She snickered.

“But you wake up with a male who’s had a… bit of a dry spell, let’s say… pressed against you… and you’ll reconsider whether the situation counts as awkward.”

“...Ahh,” she said, her cheeks coloring slightly. “Yes… that’s what I wanted to discuss.”

“My dry spell? Okay I take it back we’re not talking about that. I'm not saying I'd ever deliberately do anything like that. But sleeping, and you know-”

She shook her head. “No no, though I am curious why you would let yourself even have a 'dry spell'. I can’t imagine you having difficulties if you put yourself out there, as it were. No, I mean… does the way I act towards you bother you? I don’t mean to lead you on, or take advantage of your attentiveness. Frankly I’m not leading you on; that would imply that I’m not acting honestly. But don’t think I haven’t noticed that you go out of your way to worry about me.”

He shrugged, looking slightly abashed. “You’re a good person… in a sort of situation I can’t even imagine. I think we can get you home, but until then? Or worse, if we can’t? Of course I want to do whatever I can to help, to make you as happy as possible. So no, the way you act doesn’t bother me at all. Frankly, it’s been rather fun. But now I want to know if there’s more there than just you being you?”

“As do I, of you… you can’t just be helping because I’m a good person. You were hiding away from the world, working a normal job when you could have been doing anything. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not criticizing that. But you chose a quiet, solitary life until…”

“Until I had a reason not to…” he said, looking thoughtful. “You’re saying… I was waiting for you, in some sense? That there’s something like fate at work here?”

“I’ve had worse notions when it came to what my destiny might be… at least where it concerns stallions… err… partners,” she shook her head, grinning wryly. “Not that I’m suggesting anything about us, necessarily. But…” her expression turned a bit wistful. “You were the first real choice I made since arriving here. Not giving up, trusting Valerie, escaping Veritech… those were all more necessities than choices. Seeking you out… not that I knew what I was seeking, exactly… it was the first decision I made for myself. Not to brag, but I daresay it’s gone over well.”

“No argument there.”

“And maybe it’s been my confidence from the results of that decision, as well as what I’ve gotten from your support, that has… oh I don’t know, made me act more… familiar towards you than I might. I think the time when I looked at you and thought ‘alien’ lasted less than a minute when we first met.”

He laughed. “I feel the same way, honestly. Even before I opened that door… it felt like I was greeting a friend I hadn’t seen in awhile. So no, nothing you’ve done has made me genuinely uncomfortable. ...I’m not taking a bath with you, though, or sharing that bed. Those don’t feel like levels of intimacy that we’ve reached.”

She nodded. “They were teases, although honestly I’d go through with either of them. I get the feeling from what I’ve seen that ponies are more open to that sort of thing than humans. It wasn’t an invitation to intimacy per se; I’d happily take you to the spa back home. But that’s exactly why it occurred to me tonight that you might have been going along just for my sake, and hiding feelings of… distaste, or resentment. I’m an alien… and even beyond any differences in physical openness, humans haven’t had the best experiences with aliens.”

He snorted. “You’re not wrong about that last part, but I’m not hiding anything like that. Actually I’ve been mostly worried about unwittingly committing some sort of cultural faux pas. Touching somewhere I shouldn’t, or whatnot. As to going along with whatever feelings…” he shrugged, smiling easily. “Let’s say that, if I were just going along, it’d be damn easy because we’re going the same way. Less going along and more pacing each other. There’s other things to worry about for now. I wouldn’t feel right about going further, given the emotional strains of the situation you’re in. I’m not so needy as to want more out of what this is.”

She smiled. “...Yet?”

He nodded, getting up and crossing over to her. “Yet,” he affirmed. He put his arms around her, and she returned the gesture. He kissed her on the side of her head, near the base of her horn. “Miss Rarity. I promise to do everything I can to get you home to Equestria. Until then, or if I can’t, I promise to stand by you no matter what. No… I promise to stand by you, period. Anything else… we’ll see where the road takes us.”

She sighed happily, and nuzzled his cheek. “We walk forward.”

“That we do,” he released her, and she sat back on the bed as he grabbed a small black bag from his duffel, containing toothpaste and the like. “Gonna go hit the head, brush, so forth. See you in a few.”

“Mmm. Ah, Knight Lieutenant,” she said, inspired by him calling her ‘Miss Rarity’, “...Two things.”

“Yes, ma’am?” he turned from the door, facing her with his hand on the knob, grinning rakishly.

“Nothing between the hind legs… and no touching my horn while I’m channeling. Until we reach that place in the road, at least,” she grinned flirtatiously, lowering her eyelids.

He blinked, and then laughed. “Understood, my lady,” he said, tossing off a mock salute and leaving the room.

------------------------------------------------------------------

“Surprise!!!”

Lynn had called it out, along with Mark, Robert, and Luke. Craig had abstained, though his presence at the breakroom table was impressive enough on its own. Rarity had jumped, and then broke into a delighted laugh at the suddenly illuminated table, complete with a coffee cake, pots of tea and coffee, and warmers of scrambled eggs, pancakes, and biscuits. A banner hanging from the ceiling read ‘Welcome to Earth!’, which Aiden translated for Rarity after they’d settled in at the table.

“We’d have gone for more traditional party fare, but now that you’re back on a sun worshipper’s schedule, we figured breakfast was the way to go,” Mark said, grinning as he fixed plates for his crew and guests.

“Please. I shall ever prefer the soft light of the moon and stars to God’s overbearing flashlight,” Aiden said with faux solemnity.

Rarity giggled. “We’ll just neglect to tell Princess Celestia you said that, when you meet her.”

“Appreciated,” he replied with a grin.

Once everyone had a plate with their preferences, Mark continued. “General Grumman’s kept us appraised, obviously. A certain history book from a certain other world may have found its way onto my laptop… which has become popular break time reading. Even Craig has looked it over.”

“...Fairy tale bullshit,” Craig muttered before shovelling a large bite of eggs in his mouth as if to keep himself from saying more.

“He says while I’m sitting right here,” Rarity addressed him with a smirk. The translator matched the amusement in her voice almost perfectly.

His eyes narrowed as he stared at her, but he didn’t respond. She winked at him, and he snorted and broke eye contact.

Luke laughed nervously. “Yeah, Craig has an easier time believing conspiracies that are completely unprovable. Once there’s evidence, he gets bored. Don’t let him get to you.”

Craig turned as if pretending to ignore the table, while still eating at it. “Was right about Veritech…” he muttered.

Rarity nodded. “It’s true, you were. Thank you very much for your help with that, Craig.”

His jaw clenched and his cheeks colored, but he didn’t look at her.

“Have you had any trouble keeping a lid on things here?” Aiden asked Mark.

“Nah. I have access to our security cameras, not that they get checked unless there’s an incident reported anyway. I told Mr. Barlow that you were taking an extended vacation per the request of the U.S. Esper Corps.”

“That’s basically the truth.”

“Exactly. When the mess with Veritech hit the news a couple days ago… well it wasn’t hard to figure out what you were doing. No need to mention any unicorns.”

“What happened to Owens? Is there any danger of reprisal that might affect the area?” This from Robert, who looked tired as was apparently his norm.

“Owens is accounted for. Grumman is holding him for questioning before handing him over for prosecution. ...The news reports didn’t mention that?”

“They said he’d been apprehended, but that didn’t mean you could trust it," Robert stated solemnly. "We’re safe though?” To Rarity’s mind, he didn’t sound concerned for himself. Then again, from what Aiden had told her about him on the way here, he would be worried for his family, whom he worked quite hard to support and didn’t get to spend enough time with. She wished there was something she could do about that, but nothing came to mind.

Aiden smiled comfortingly. “You have nothing to worry about from Veritech. Most of the authority figures there were caught; the rest are fugitives. They won’t be anywhere near Grumman, or this area, anytime soon.”

“That’s good to know.”

“Can I just stop and say… we’re having breakfast with an alien? I mean… we’re having breakfast with an alien. Who’s a unicorn… a friendly unicorn from another world. Also, she’s wearing a dress. It’s a nice dress, Miss Rarity. ...You’re… umm…” Luke stammered a bit, seeming to lose his train of thought. Understandable, given that the situation was rather surreal.

Rarity smiled, trying to encourage him to relax. She recalled he’d been the one to bring them apples, but he’d also averted his eyes from her for the most part. “Thank you, darling. It’s rather last minute, but I did what I could to give it a bit of charm,” she said, referring to the simple dress she’d worn. It had been more a courtesy towards local taboos than anything she felt the need to do for a casual get together. Indeed she hadn’t even expected a party, sedate though this understandably was. “I confess it’s all rather novel for me, as well. It’s so bizarre that it’s easier to just go with it rather than stopping to question ‘what?’ ‘why?’ or ‘how?’. ....Rather like dealing with Pinkie Pie, some days, a friend of mine back home. But I have to ask, do I make you uncomfortable, Luke?”

Next to her, she felt Aiden lean forward a bit as Luke replied. “It’s…” he sighed, grimaced, and shook his head. He looked her in the eyes as though he’d accepted a dare. She held her smile, waiting patiently. “We work with horses, at my family’s farm. Now, we don’t mistreat ‘em, not ever, so don’t think anything like that. They’re well cared for, and happy. But… well, it’s not that you look all that much like one of them but… and last time you were naked and I was like ‘that’s a person, not a mare back in the stables’ and… I don’t know. It’s all weird for me and it shouldn’t be. I tried to play it off before but the more I thought about it…”

Aiden was frowning slightly. “Not sure I understand the problem exactly.”

“I don’t even know that there is one, Aiden. But I mean… we ride horses, you know? General Grumman talks about our peoples maybe meeting some day… and we ride beings that look like they do, a little bit. And we eat meat, and we have wars, and … I mean look what happened when you showed up? Right into a lab so they could experiment on you!”

“Ahh, so that’s it. ...Rarity, you want to take this one?” Aiden asked.

“I will, yes.” She reached a forehoof across the table to Luke. “Take it,” she said, holding his gaze with a soft smile. It took a moment, but he did. She nodded in acknowledgment and shook his hand lightly. “I find it helps to feel the reality in front of you as much as see it. Do you feel all the flaws in my hoof?”

He released it as though it were hot. “They weren’t any,” he said, looking away.

She giggled. “What a sweet young man you are. Lousy liar though. I haven’t cared for them properly in days; they’re scuffed and even chipped in a couple places. If you focus on being amazed by something, it’s far too easy to miss the flaws. It was an important lesson to learn for me when I was first getting started in design. No matter how beautiful, no matter how perfect a dress may seem… there’s always something imperfect, some flaw. Even if that flaw is simply that it can’t change with the times. Fashion’s fickle, after all. And that's good! It means we get to keep working, keep creating. We'll never reach a point where we can't do better.

“At the same time, focusing just the flaws is no better. If you worry endlessly at the ways a design isn’t working, you can easily miss the parts that are, and deny yourself the chance to create something truly wonderful. If our two peoples… no… when our two peoples meet, I hope to see both sides embracing the beautiful facets and the flaws. I can assure you, even from my limited experience, that both our kinds have plenty of each. All the more reason we can be even better together. Harmony comes from different notes playing together. None of the notes have to be perfect, and the Harmony they create can still be beautiful.”

Aiden placed a hand on her withers, grinning lopsidedly. “Rarity… that was… okay I’m just saying we need to let you sew at some point. You’re having withdrawals or something.” he said.

“Oh hush,” she replied, coloring slightly. “Although yes, I would very much like to make a dress or two, and perhaps a suit for you, before much longer. My talent is languishing.” She looked back at Luke. “I may not have said that very well, but-”

“No, no that was really something. I uhh… wasn’t expecting it. Mark’s been telling me I was worried too much about it. But I kept thinking about all the bad things humans do.”

“There’s plenty of good, too, Luke," Aiden noted. "You said yourself, you take good care of your horses, yes?”

He nodded.

Rarity returned the nod, smiling. “I have a dear friend back home that would appreciate hearing that. She keeps a great many animals, and takes care of even more that come and go. Plenty of them eat meat… for that matter many ponies, myself included, enjoy fish. ...Most of them are pegasi, but regardless, my point is that we’re far more alike than we seem at first glance.”

“Yeah… I get what you’re saying, Miss Rarity. I’ll remember it; I promise.”

“I’m glad to hear that, darling.”

Luke went red. “...Darling?”

Mark chuckled. “You remind me of an old actress I like, Miss Rarity, if you don’t mind my saying.”

“Hopefully not too old, darling.”

The conversation continued on small topics from there, and Rarity couldn’t help but understand a bit of where Luke was coming from. She could close her eyes and almost imagine she was at a table of ponies, just discussing whatever sort of thing popped up at a little get together. But only almost, since everything came through the translator’s earbud before she understood it, except Aiden of course. She dearly hoped that was a permanent change. Aside from being convenient, she felt far less isolated for it.

They lingered until nearly seven o’clock just swapping stories and discussing what could happen next, before they had to say their goodbyes. The store would be opening for business and it wouldn’t do to be around at that point. No matter how much confidence she’d gained in her light bending spell, it was still a far cry from true invisibility.

“So yeah…” Aiden said to Mark as they headed for the doors. The rest had returned to work to finish their shift after the very extended break. “I don’t mind just quitting. Doesn’t seem right the store paying me vacation time for this. It wasn’t exactly planned and anyway I’m pulling down my old military salary now, or so I assume. Grumman doesn’t let his people go hungry.”

“You say that but, you earned that vacation time based on time put in, not time you will put in. Even if you quit, the company pays that out, per our contract. So either way we can hold off for now.”

Aiden smiled, holding out a hand that Mark grasped firmly. “You say that but… I think we both know I won’t be back here. This place was what I needed for awhile, but I have a different place to be now.”

“Yeah, I guess you do. Eh, you’re too damn young to retire anyway. The rest of these guys like the quiet life, and I’m not too young. You… you need to get back on the-”

“Don’t say it!”

Mark laughed. He shook Lynn’s hand as well. “Ma’am.”

“Sergeant,” Lynn replied, smiling.

“And Miss Rarity,” he said, leaning down to gently grasp and shake her hoof. “I know Grumman will keep me apprised, but I hope they can find a way to get you home soon.”

“Thank you, Sergeant Millen,” she replied, bowing slightly. “And thank you for being here for Aiden when he truly needed a place to gather himself. From what I’ve seen, it’s as he says: the peace and simple, honest work he found here gave him a balance after the war ended. If not for you, he and I would never have met.”

Mark blinked in surprise, and smiled. “Well now, I’m glad to have helped with that. You keep an eye on him for me from here on out then, got that?”

“Yes, sir,” she replied seriously.

Aiden chuckled. “Isn’t that supposed to be the other way around?”

“It’s like she said earlier, kid; it’s both sides helping each other.”

“Yeah…" Aiden nodded. "You’re right about that. See ya 'round, Sarge!” With that, they left the store, Rarity’s spell obscuring her from sight.

Lynn headed to her own car, waving goodbye to them both. “This isn’t goodbye though. I want you both to stay in touch; you both have my number. Especially you, nephew! Rarity will know it if you neglect your aunt again!”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m sorry, again, okay?” he shot back while laughing. “We’ll keep you updated, promise!”

Aiden’s car was a bit smaller than Lynn’s, but the backseat was still comfortable enough. Rarity noted with amusement that the car smelled a bit like him. The amusement faded some when she realized it meant he rarely had passengers.

“Right, just a few minutes to my place. We’ll drop the car off and head back to-”

Beep. Beep. Both Aiden’s phone and Rarity’s translator (which doubled as a communicator linked to Grumman’s compound’s private network) chirped simultaneously.

“Huh, pretty early for… woah.”

“Oh my…”

Each device had the same message:
Hurry back to the compound ASAP. We have a lead on an intact ship, and we can move on it today!~Valerie

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