• Published 10th Jan 2018
  • 2,582 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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4. Back in the Saddle

Conversation continued on surprisingly light topics after that, to Aiden’s mind. They were just… casually making small talk with an alien about her life while she asked about theirs. Donovan and Grumman did most of the talking for the humans, though Valerie chimed in a few times. Aiden let it wash over him as the reality of the situation set in. They’d all had a stake in this longer than he had, but it was more than that. I’m… really going to help an alien get home. No, I don’t mind that, she’s nothing like the Onis. But what the Hell am I supposed to do? How did this fall in my lap? What…

“Aiden?” He heard his name twice, once from Rarity, once through her translator. He wondered a moment how the translator recognized names enough to repeat them, but not somehow translate them. Maybe it was that Rarity had learned his name directly from him so she was saying it…

“Aiden!” like that.

“Gah! Sorry, sorry! I’m here, what is it?”

“You were lost in thought, darling. General Grumman mentioned that you left the military years ago. I wondered what led you to what you’re doing now?”

Aiden blinked, then chuckled. “Stocking shelves in a grocery store? Eh, it’s quiet, honest work. My aunt, the only living relation I have left, moved here after the war, and she had offered to take me in after… Seattle, a decade before that.” He smiled wanly. “I didn’t live with her much during wartime; before she’d ever made the offer the military had taken me in, as various militaries all over the world had done with Espers in their respective countries. I mostly worked with the Marines, usually under General Grumman here. Espers had a different ranking system put into place for us so I can’t actually call myself a Marine, but I’m damned proud to have fought beside them. Even so… when the war ended most Espers retired. Those of us who were mentally stable just quietly disappeared… mostly. Anyway when I did retire I looked up my aunt, found out she’d move here, and that her offer was still open.” Aiden frowned… something was nagging in the back of his mind about this. “Truth is, I didn’t stay with her long. I had a sizable pension that bought a house and still pays my bills. The job is more just to keep busy and have a little extra pocket change. My old therapist said without some kind of responsibility to force myself out of the house I could easily become a hermit. She was probably right about that.” Aiden’s eyes narrowed; he’d remembered. “Now that I think about it… living with my aunt was your idea, General.”

Grumman coughed nervously. “Heh, I didn’t want you to lose connection with your last remaining family.”

“Yeah… but how is it you knew where she’d moved to? She lost her house to an Oni attack and for awhile was staying with a friend near Lexington. Suddenly she moved almost three hours and bought a house outright, based on an insurance loophole, so she said. Aunt Lynn’s a lousy liar though, you know.”

“Yes, I certainly do know that. It speaks well of her that she is uncomfortable with being dishonest.”

“Yeah… so your own facility with dishonesty… and manipulation…”

“Are useful tactical traits, young man, as you well know. Defeating an enemy by trickery is vastly preferable to force and violence. I prefer to keep things bloodless even if I know it’s often impossible. To that same end… yes, I wanted to keep you nearby in case you were ever a resource I needed, for the sake of keeping the peace we worked so hard for.” Grumman gave Aiden a hard look. “I knew that, if you were truly needed, you would return for that purpose. I won’t apologize for knowing that, or for keeping you where I deemed you most valuable.”

With a sigh and a nod, Aiden accepted that. “Fair enough then. ...You think Colonel Owens is that big of a risk? I can’t think of another reason for you to be in this area…”

Grumman nodded. “To be honest, I was becoming less worried about him until Rarity showed up. My initial estimate of him included a real possibility that he was trying to create a personal army by crafting artificial Espers, the 3rd Generation, while indoctrinating them to be loyal to him.” He snorted, grimacing slightly. “Though it sounds outlandish, you have to understand he was a bit unhinged by the time the war ended. Obsessed with building up an unbeatable force to turn back any future attacks.”

“That’s not that bad a thing.” Aiden muttered, thinking of the devastation he’d witnessed over the years.

“Perhaps… but we already ask great sacrifices of our soldiers during wartime. Owens seems to want their humanity in full. And again, to put himself at the head of everything as the leader of this army. Even if I felt confident following him, and I don’t since I consider him barely competent as an officer, humanity would give up too much to obtain safety in such a manner. So, I stationed myself nearby to more easily keep an eye on him.”

“Must be nice having that much autonomy.”

“Indeed it is,” Grumman replied shortly, as if to say ‘and I won’t explain how I got it’. “And, even had Ms. Rarity here not shown up, my decision was justified by what Owens has in his possession. Not just the Oni vessel, either. But… we’re here, so we’ll get into that another time.”

Aiden blinked and looked out the darkly tinted window behind his seat. They had indeed slowed down, and were headed through a gate that had opened before their arrival. The home ahead of them was large, and seemed to be built into a hillside behind it. The pulled into a garage, which was much larger than it had appeared from the outside. Closer to a hangar, it had several tunnels leading out in various directions and a number of vehicles, military and civilian, parked within.

Aiden whistled. “Impressive digs, general. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at this point though.”

Grumman chuckled. “Gaze upon life and the toys you could have had, Windborne.”

Rarity giggled as Aiden snorted derisively. “Yeah, yeah. I remember just fine. I needed to get some peace and quiet for awhile. When the war ended my head was spinning. I needed out, at least for a while.”

Despite his clear amusement, Grumman nodded thoughtfully. Rarity was already levitating her translator and Valerie had grabbed the ‘English to Equish’ as they all piled out into the hangar and headed towards an elevator, he continued, “I do understand that, believe me. We asked a great deal of you all, especially at the beginning and the end. I hope that what I ask of you now will be substantially less. That said, I expect your best.” They all stepped onto the elevator, which opened before they reached the doors. Grumman hit a button for the third floor. “And that includes an honest personal assessment.”

Aiden cocked an eyebrow at the General. “You’re asking me to assess myself?”

“I am. How close to mission ready would you say you are? Be honest.”

“I… honestly… one hundred percent.”

Grumman was silent a moment. The elevator dinged and the doors started to open before he hit a button and stopped them at barely cracked. “You’re certain of that?”

“Yes, sir, I am. I’ve stayed in fighting trim, which as you know is easy for Espers anyway. Further, I’ve consistently used my magic both at work and home… occasionally to get to work faster when there was no one else nearby. My control is better now than it was five years ago. ...Like I said, I needed some peace and quiet, and I think it's helped my growth.”

Grinning, Grumman hit the button again, and the doors opened. “That is very good to hear, Knight Lieutenant Windborne. Very good, indeed.”

Before Aiden could ponder his tone, several hushed whispers reached his ears. As they stepped off the elevator into what looked to be some manner of control room, they were confronted by several wide eyed stares.

More accurately Rarity was, and frankly while he couldn’t be surprised, Aiden imagined it was a bit disconcerting. She certainly looked to be so, and almost without thinking he put a comforting hand on her withers. She flinched just slightly, but then looked to him with a slight smile and stepped closer to him, nudging his hip with her shoulder.

Meanwhile, Grumman was already taking action. “Alright, folks, you may be the night shift but you still have work, so get back to it. Gawk on your own time, or better yet not at all.” Four distinct ‘Yes, sir!’s came from the room’s occupants as Grumman turned apologetically to Rarity. “You’ll have to forgive them for staring, Ms. Rarity. They haven’t exactly seen a unicorn before.”

Rarity chuckled lightly. “To think I didn’t used to mind being the center of attention. Lately it’s gotten to be a bit much. Honestly I think the moment I get home I’m going to lock myself in my room for a month.” She blinked. “I also think I understand Aiden’s point about peace and quiet.”

“Right?” Aiden chimed in, giving her a reassuring squeeze. Her fur was ridiculously soft… he didn’t want to move his hand, and she didn’t seem to mind, so...

“Indeed.” Grumman muttered. “Knight Trellis, show them to their rooms, if you would. Valerie and I have several matters to discuss. The two of you, get some rest. In the morning we’ll start planning our next move.”

“Yes, sir.” Donovan acknowledged the order, took the translator from Valerie, and stepped towards a side passage just left of the elevator doors. He led Aiden and Rarity through into a slightly curving hallway with doors along the outer curve. “We’re along the hillside here, and the outside of the building blends in with the hill itself. The base, from a distance, just looks like the mansion you saw us drive up to. The whole emplacement itself is quite a bit larger. We actually didn’t have to go through that room to get here, but I’m guessing Grumman wanted to give the operators in there a look at you. Don’t hold it against them though, they were helpful in getting you out of the lab as well, by assisting Valerie while she was in there.”

Rarity nodded her understanding. “I hadn’t realized that. I should thank them.”

“It’ll keep until tomorrow afternoon. I’m sure they’ll all want to chat with you a bit. For now… your rooms.” He gestured to and then opened a single door, the fourth in the hallway’s stretch.

Aiden raised an eyebrow. “This is what you meant by rooms?” Not that the interior was small. In fact it was rather nice. There was a fireplace on the far end with a fire already going and a sofa strategically placed for sitting and enjoying the warmth. The window (which Aiden assumed was camouflaged on the outside based on the tinting) next to it was richly curtained and large enough to give a fine view of the night sky along with the hills in the distance. The furniture included a couple of comfortable looking chairs and another sofa alongside a coffee table. Along the other wall was a walkthrough kitchen with a bar, which included Aiden’s favorite addition to the room so far: a coffee maker. Two closed doors completed the room, which Aiden assumed led to sleeping quarters and a bathroom. “As in, we’re both in these rooms?”

“Correct. Don’t worry, this isn’t some social experiment; you have separate beds.”

Aiden burst out laughing. “I’m concerned you even felt the need to mention that!”

Donovan grinned. “We’re short on space, actually, with all the personnel here. Plus the General likes to give his people nice rooms, as you see, so we don’t actually have that many. And anyway… we didn’t think you’d mind, I mean...” He grinned. “Hey, man, you’re the one still holding her.”

“Geh.” Aiden moved his hand as those he’d burned it.

Rarity giggled. “I had no problem with it, really. His hand felt quite nice.” Her face seemed to light up. “Actually… it’s been awhile since I’ve had a spa visit. I could use a massage. Would you mind, darling?” She looked up at him with wide, hopeful…

...Mirthful eyes. Aiden facepalmed. “I’m actually getting teased by an alien unicorn. My life is awesome.”

Donovan laughed and patted his shoulder with one hand while handing him the translator with the other. “No argument there. I think we’re both in the right place at the right time to do some major good for the world, starting with helping her. So settle in for a couple days while we get our bearings. After that… the real fun begins.”

“Right then. I assume there’s clothes and such in the bedroom I can use.”

“Naturally. For both of you, should Ms. Rarity decide she needs them.”

She blinked in surprise. “I hadn’t given it much thought but… you all wear them all the time so… erm… does it bother you that I’m not currently wearing anything?”

Donovan shrugged. “Well, I’m from California originally, so mostly naked women aren’t anything new for me. And you’re not exactly close to human looking anyway, at least not your body. I actually hadn’t thought much about it. So I guess not?” he finished with a rather sheepish chuckle.

“Same.” Aiden said. “If you’re fine with it, I am. I mean… I’m not sure what the social norm is where you come from, but you seemed fine about it.”

She nodded. “I am, yes... usually, but now that you mention it… Donovan? You’ve all done so much for me already, and I know you’re doing more, but… could I perhaps request some sewing supplies? I haven’t been able to make any outfits since I got here, obviously… and I miss doing so. Further, since being clothed is the norm here, I don’t mind following local trends, as it were. Besides, unless I’m mistaken humans don’t have magic to cover their more salient, err…” her muzzle reddened slightly, right through the fur, “private features, yes?”

Aiden snickered and felt silly doing so. “Correct, hence clothing.”

“Everypony out of diapers has learned how to cover such things with a bit of magic in our coat hairs. It’s practically second nature by the time we’re out of foalhood, even when we’re clothed. Though I admit I’ve made that error once or twice, for various reasons. But my point right now is most humans don’t know all that, and so seeing me walking around in just my coat could make some of them uncomfortable.”

Donovan nodded thoughtfully. “That’s rather insightful of you, Ms. Rarity. I’ll see what we can do, but it shouldn’t be a problem. Basic stuff like needles, thread, and the like I can actually scrounge up immediately. You’d be surprised what’s laying around in this place. And the clothes provided with this room are roughly your size but they’re obviously made for a human. If you can tide yourself over modifying those, we’ll see about expanding your supplies with some cloth to work in.”

She smiled brightly at him, getting a light blush from the ‘hardened soldier,’ “Thank you, Donovan!”

“No problem. Get settled in; I’ll be back shortly.” With that he headed back the way they’d come.

The two entered the room, almost immediately gravitating towards the sofa near the fire. The logs were ceramic; the fire itself was fed by natural gas and there was a control dial on the wall for the strength of the flames. Aiden might have preferred the comforting smell of burning logs, but on the other hand this fire wouldn’t require more wood, or cleaning up ashes. And despite the fact that he’d been sitting for the last hour plus on the ride over, sitting in front of the fire felt right for the moment. Rarity hopped up easily and made herself comfortable as well. She sighed softly as she stretched out on a little over her half of the sofa, leaning her head on one forehoof. Aiden was struck again by the flexibility of her forelegs, though he remembered they could also be called arms. Her posture was more human than he would have expected, prompting that thought since she used them like arms as much as legs. He wondered how often that was inconvenient. He was considering a way to ask that didn’t sound completely dumb when she spoke first.

“I’m sorry about all this.”

Aiden blinked. “What?”

“I know I dragged you into this by finding you the way I did. I hadn’t intended anything like that. I thought you were another unicorn, and maybe in trouble like I’d been. But obviously that wasn’t the case at all. And now, you’re involved in all this when all you wanted was a quiet life. Hopefully you can get back to that soon.”

Aiden smiled and shook his head. “I’d accept your apology, but it’s not needed. Like I told Grumman, ‘the right mission’ would bring me back to this life. I meant what I told him, too, about staying in shape and practicing my special abilities for the future. I knew I wasn’t going to stay hidden forever. I didn’t want to. I was just… waiting for the right reason to end my little vacation. If anything I should thank you. If you hadn’t come and found me, and I’d found out later that all this had happened close to me and I didn’t even notice… heh, well I doubt that’d be a good feeling. Besides, I was getting into a bit of a rut.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah… when Luke mentioned-”

“Which one was that? Was he the taller one with the blond mane?”

“Mane? Yeah I guess that works. Anyway yes he was. When he told me they all knew about me having magic I was scared for a minute. Not really scared of being attacked, although that’s happened, because normal humans can be scared of Espers sometimes. But no, more like scared of losing the life I’d made for myself. Thinking about it now, it wasn’t even that. That life… I have no real attachment to it other than the guys I work with, a couple of them anyway. And I know they wanted to see you helped, too. Mark specifically asked me not to hurt you before I opened the door to the room he had you locked in.”

Rarity moued rather adorably. “And yet he locked me in there…”

Aiden laughed softly. “Yep, he sure did. You’re a scary alien invader, after all. We can’t be too careful.”

Rarity snorted. “Oh indeed, darling. Beware my viciousness. Any moment now I shall attack you with my mighty horn and terrifying hooves. ...Though I do have a rather effective right cross if I say so myself.”

“Sounds pretty serious.”

“Very, darling, be afraid. Only a shoulder massage can subdue me. And since you’re far too shy to give one, you have no hope of victory.”

Aiden’s turn to snort. “You’re hung up on that, aren’t you? Are your shoulders really bothering you? I mean, I can see what I can do if you really want…”

“They are rather stiff… my sleeping conditions have been far from ideal lately. But it’s more that I’ve always wanted a massage from a human, ever since Twilight described hands to me.”

“...What?”

“Oh that’s right, I hadn’t mentioned… Well, I did mention Twilight before, didn’t I?”

“Your… alicorn friend?”

“That’s her. She’s been to Earth before, or a world very much like it, only as a human. The more I’ve seen here the more I think it was merely a similar world. I feel like she would have mentioned a war with space aliens.”

“Yeah, it was a pretty big deal.” He didn't know what else to say. If this Twilight had been to Earth as a human, what was there to say? He tucked it away for later, to check with Grumman.

Meanwhile she chuckled at the deadpan comment. “Yes, and if nothing else it’d be a story Rainbow would love to hear. There are other differences as well, enough that I fully intend to question her closely about them when I get home. But in any case she described hands quite well since they were one of the biggest differences.”

“They are rather useful.”

“Quite. And while manipulating pressure through hooves is quite effective, especially for an experienced Earth Pony using a bit of vitality affecting magic, with the way Twilight described hands…” Rarity giggled. “Well, I honestly wonder what sort of experience she had that gave her such details, but she was quite flattering in her summation of them.”

“I see. Well… like I said I don’t mind. To be honest your fur is pretty nice to the touch as well. Very soft.”

“What a nice thing to say, and I haven’t even had a proper bath since leaving Equestria. Oh, they’d let me shower at the lab, but none of my proper bathing supplies are here, of course.” Her eyes widened. “Would you care to join me for a hot bath as well?”

Aiden coughed as his face went red. “Uhh…. let’s just set that idea aside for now.” Sure, she didn’t look anything like a human woman, but her mannerisms, the sound of her voice (which the translator seemed to be mimicking even better as time went on), and those eyes… it was enough to make that suggestion seem inappropriate. ...And slightly tempting if only to mess with Grumman, now that he thought about it. Stick them in the same room, eh? Your oh so subtle manipulation could just backfire on you, General. ...Unless that’s exactly what he wants… dammit.

Rarity simply giggled. “Oh my, I’m sorry, I forgot your nudity taboo. Well, you can leave whatever undergarments on if it’ll make you more comfortable. I really could use a hot bath if possible, and I’m sure you wouldn’t mind one? Hmm...” she smiled, shutting her eyes as she pictured the idea. “Those hands could certainly work soap into my coat, right? That might be better than a massage. I’d return the favor, of course. I may not have hands, but I take good care of my frogs, and-”

“Your what? I think the translator failed.”

“My frogs, darling, this,” she showed him the bottom of her forehoof. Aiden wasn’t sure what he’d expected it to look like, but he wasn’t expecting what he saw. That was to say, it was soft and seemed to extend past the hardened part of her hoof as she held it out to him. That explained how she could lean comfortably on it. Aiden, not thinking about it, took the hoof gently in his hands, running a thumb along the ‘frog’. It still seemed an odd term to him, and possibly a translator fail, but he saw what she meant. Even the hoof was softer than he'd expected, like hardened rubber rather than… actually he’d never felt a terrestrial hoof now that he thought about it. Meanwhile, Rarity was sighing contentedly.

Aiden cocked his head to the side slightly, a slight grin twisting his lips. “You okay there, Rarity?”

“Hmmm? Oh yes, darling, quite.”

“...Seriously, I don’t want to offend but is this like… a unicorn thing? The massage, you want a bath with me, and just rubbing your hoof or shoulder gets a pretty strong response.” Despite saying that he kept her hoof in his hand, gently. She didn’t pull away. He took that as a good sign. He didn’t want to come across as judgmental over something that might be completely normal for her people, but all the more reason to talk openly and find out where the boundaries were. ...Was this why Grumman stuck them together? Aiden swore that if the room was bugged there’d be Hell to pay.

Rarity hummed thoughtfully. “I think… well I’m no psychologist but I think I’m feeling a bit needy right now. I’ve noticed humans don’t touch as much as ponies do, or at least the humans I’ve been around don’t.”

Well that made sense. She’d been in Veritech labs, not the most touchy feely place. At least, not any sort of touches you’d want to experience. It was all the stranger that she’d want any human touching her… except that Aiden remembered his magic made him feel like a unicorn to her. That was both more and less reassuring. He didn’t want her to get the wrong idea.

She continued. “And I miss… I suppose affectionate contact. My sister, my friends, Spikey-wikey,” the translator hadn’t bothered with that one other than to repeat it verbatim, so Aiden assumed it was another name. “I haven’t had a proper hug in awhile now, and the way I nearly strangled poor Valerie. Definitely more something Pinkie would normally do, but… I’m sorry if I’ve made you uncomfortable.” She slowly pulled her hoof away.

Truthfully, Aiden wasn’t so much uncomfortable for his own sake as he was worried about offending Rarity. Deciding in that moment that the suddenly forlorn unicorn next to him would be better off, at worst, smacking the overly forward male next to her than in her current funk, he scooted towards her, nearly poking himself on her horn. He leaned down and put one arm around her. “You didn’t.”

After a sharp breath, she exhaled slowly and sat up, also scooting closer to snuggle up against him. He adjusted his posture so they could lean against each other and put his arm around her. For his part, Aiden couldn’t remember the last time he’d just sat closely, comfortably like this, with anyone. His last ex, maybe? That was… three years ago? He snorted in amusement.

“Something amusing, darling?” she asked quietly.

Just thinking how silly I am for only equating something like this with romantic intimacy when all you want is simple comfort. No big deal. “Nah, just remembering someone from a while back.”

“A lover, perhaps? Your heartbeat increased.” She giggled. “Or perhaps you have a bit of a thing for alien ladies, hmm? Is that why you’re afraid of bathing with me? Worried you’ll lose control and attack me right there?”

Aiden couldn’t help noticing that the translator had hiccuped slightly on ‘attack’ as if it couldn’t quite pick the right word. Did the program have a sense of humor somehow? “Hmph, what about you? Would this ‘Spikey-wikey’ be jealous that you’re wanting to share a bath with some strange male from another world?”

It was clearly the right thing to say, as she burst out laughing. Her laugh was a delight to hear. “Oh my goodness, you surprised me there! No no, Spikey-wikey is a very dear friend, but… hmm, well actually he might be quite envious of you for that now that I say it. But he and I are not, and will not, be involved in such a manner. At least not any time soon.”

“We will get you home, Rarity.” Aiden said, squeezing her shoulder.

“Hmm? Oh, yes I believe that, too, darling. I simply mean that he’s too young, for the moment. In another few years the number separating us will matter less, perhaps, but right now… no. He needs time to better understand himself and what he wants out of life. I’m just his first crush. He may think that it’s love, but it isn’t, at least not that kind. I love him as well, but… not in that way, you see.” She grins again, looking directly at Aiden, and from rather close to him given their embraced postures. “So I’m quite available, you see.”

He fought down the urge to shove her off the couch. Let her have her fun. She’s had no control over her situation for a while now, messing with me can help her feel better. Her fake flirting is pretty cute anyway. “You should be careful saying that sort of thing, Rarity. I may decide I don’t want to help you get home… other than my home.” He grinned at her, attempting to look rakish and knowing he probably couldn’t pull it off.

She snerked, but then leaned in and nuzzled his cheek, rubbing gently down to his jaw as she giggled softly. “I may just remember that as a plan B, darling,” she whispered in his ear.

Between the nuzzle, which had felt surprisingly nice, that cute giggle, and the warm breathed whisper (musical, otherworldly language translated by the phone-like device on the cushion between them notwithstanding), Aiden felt himself blushing again. And, right on cue…

“Hey guys, I found needles, and thread, and… hey, I’ll just come back later, you two have fun!” Almost as quickly as it had opened, the door slammed shut.

Rarity, without missing a beat, yelled out “Knock next time, I don’t have a sock for the door! Also, thank you!”

Aiden briefly considering dying, but dismissed the idea. Too much effort.

Rarity was grinning at him. “Well now, won’t that be some fun gossip tomorrow? Might as well have that bath with me now…”

Aiden snorted, trying to hold it in, and failing as he burst out laughing. Rarity joined him as they held each other, friends enjoying the kind of ridiculous joke that only friends could fully appreciate.

Author's Note:

I swear this isn't a shipfic, that just happened on its own. Rarity is flirty; it's not my fault. I'd also intended to post this sooner, but had some computer issues while out of town on vacation. Namely, I forgot my laptop charger. Typing this on a phone isn't something I care to do.

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