• Published 10th Dec 2020
  • 3,880 Views, 372 Comments

No Longer Alone - NoLongerSober

Sass, science, and surviving shipping! Postage paid! The gruff captain put a certain pegasus professor to the test and learned that she just couldn’t quit. Now come the hard parts: an actual relationship and maybe a villain or two.

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Chapter 10 - Chevrons

Barrier slowly inhaled. His icy-blue sights flirted with a flickering flame that danced over the purple candle placed atop his desk. That desk, still puckered and pitted by the hooves of previous owners, remained a boulder’s throw from the pristine furnishings reserved for the stallion’s full-time counterparts. Then again, part-timers didn’t even get offices back in his day, and it wasn’t as though Barrier had complained about having a little castle space to himself.

True to form, and despite having weeks filled with opportunities to decorate, the unicorn had done nothing to liven up the bland space. The drawn breath finally escaped from Barrier’s lungs in a sigh, and his focus shifted to the two ponies standing near the other side of the table.

“As much as I love running the two of you ragged, we need to have a chat and now is the time,” Barrier spoke while Bonecrusher and Indar silently listened. “Your time with me is almost up, and there are some things that I want to get off my chest before we’re done here. I already said I suck at this shit at Tail’s ceremony, so I’ll cut to the chase. What is it that the two of you want to do with your careers?”

Crusher snorted. Tension rumbled along her straightened forelegs as the earth pony’s strain mounted. She struggled to keep her amethyst eyes on Barrier and had to repeatedly reset her gaze before her response emerged. “Not much to think about there, Captain. You could have kicked me out. I’ve pissed off at least one princess. Odds are I’m due for a shit send-off to some scrub post.”

“Blunt as ever,” Barrier deadpanned. He leaned forward, propped his head up with his foreleg, and took a moment to read the emotions radiating from his students’ expressions. “And you have every right to be concerned, but that answer had nothing to do with my question. Where is it you want to go?”

The mare huffed. Her shoulders relaxed, and the concern that had burdened her figure melted away. “Canterlot Guard. I’d move up the ranks here. If shit is going to go down, the princesses will likely be involved, and I want in.”

“What about you, Indar?” the captain asked after glancing at the taupe stallion.

“I’d like to stay here as well,” the unicorn answered in a tranquil tone. His eyelids had descended until only slivers of his umber irides remained visible—as though he had dove into a deep, meditative state to retrieve this answer. “Bone and I have been working together for a long time. I’d rather not break up the band.”

Bonecrusher shuffled her limbs in the wake of Indar’s reply.

Barrier’s ear simply twitched. The officer’s deadpan demeanor fell to the wayside as his brow lifted to the rising tide of amusement—and as his cheeks involuntarily crafted a beaming smile. “Well, I’ll be. It looks like my ponies have matured a bit in the last couple months. Let’s not make too much of a fuss, or Luna might try to co-opt me into doing this for another group.

“That being said”—Barrier fumbled about one of the desk drawers before he set two boxes and a roll of parchment upon the tabletop—“you’ve both grown. Private Bonecrusher, pending paperwork, you’re no longer a private. Corporal sounds better. And as for Corporal Indar, it’s sergeant for now. However, I think that rank understates your abilities. Multiple ponies believe you’re sharp enough to be an officer candidate, and I agree.”

Indar stiffened. He remained quiet while he looked at the scroll, and the manner in which the curvature of his lips swayed between the makings of a grin and a frown revealed his unease. “I take it that pertains to O.C.S.?”

Magic Barrier nodded. “It’s an eight-week course these days, so it’ll keep you busy. It’s located in the city though, and I can throw in my recommendation that both of you end up in the Canterlot Guard once we’re officially done.”

“Sir, I—” Indar stuttered. Words escaped him, yet he managed to gingerly move his foreleg towards the document.

The unicorn’s pace, however, was far too sluggish for his lime-hued squadmate. “Oh, for fuck’s sake, Indar! Take the damn thing already.” She huffed, shooting him a sidelong scowl that pierced the lingering anxiety. With equal swiftness, Bonecrusher reached out and opened the box that Barrier had placed closest to her.

Inside, a set of chevrons indicating the mare’s new rank gleamed up at her. Their silvery contours caught the light dancing above the nearby wick, and dilated pupils absorbed every sparkle that saw fit to share the gift. For a brief moment, all of the ponies in the room refrained from making a sound while Bonecrusher appeared to drift off into a dazed state of reflection.

Suddenly, Crusher’s coat bristled, and her body jerked. She snapped the box closed with a reverberating thump and glared at Barrier through a crescendo that rode the swell generated by the steely brawler. “I’ll accept these… if Civvy does the pinning.”

The foreleg Indar had extended dropped to the wood surface with a thud. His ears stood as straight as they possibly could, and he slowly tilted his head towards the earth pony as a slack-jawed expression plopped into existence.

Barrier fared no better. He nearly fell over backwards, chair and all, after a sputtering string of staggered wheezing rather explicably emerged. “Luna! This isn’t funny! I told you a long time ago that my dreams aren’t to be messed with!”

Bonecrusher groaned and rolled her eyes with equal amounts of brewing disgust. “What? What the fuck is wrong with that?”

Sitting at one of the small tables in Lilac and Lavender, Tail stared upon the latest culinary creation placed before her. A cinnamon swirl muffin had been set onto a small turquoise dish, and now, the treat simply beckoned to be devoured—crumbly top and all. Of course, the pegasus happily accepted the burden of this temptation. She reached out and only paused her motion to observe the tentative shuffling that shifted her focus to the right.

There, a ghost-white unicorn filly stood at attention. Her eager aquamarine gaze homed in on the expanse between Tail’s hoof and the snack, and she fidgeted in an appropriately sized brown chef’s coat.

It also turned out that the young baker was not alone in this reconnaissance operation. Beneath the waves of the filly’s flowing aquamarine mane, Peebles surfaced with her breath held and her cheeks puffed as she added her own tension to the mix from the comforts of her current perch.

Tail’s cheeks burned as she smiled at the spectacle. Her ears perked to the imagined sounds of laughter—echoes from days gone by when she and Amora would get into similar predicaments. Memories of tumbling bandages and busted model rockets glimmered like trailing embers, and Tail’s muzzle scrunched when she suppressed a sudden whicker.

Both fillies fashioned scowls at the outburst, with Peebles even throwing in a firm pbbt of the tongue before her little foreleg gestured towards the still-uneaten muffin.

“Sorry, Moon Glow,” Tail answered sheepishly. “I didn’t mean to keep you waiting. You two just got me thinking about some ancient history. I’ve been in your hooves, so I know this is serious business.” The pegasus supported her words with a reassuring nod and finally grasped the gift.

Cinnamon scents snagged Tail’s mind the instant she brought the muffin to her muzzle. The perfectly balanced aroma coaxed a melodious hum from her throat, and she eagerly bit through the crunchy top and soft, savory interior. “Oh my goodness! This is good!”—Tail snapped her sights back onto Moon Glow after gulping down the bite—“You bake better than I do!”

From behind the counter, Ambrosia’s laughter emerged to battle the sounds of Tail’s frantic munching. “Moon Glow is quite the apprentice. She prepped that batch all by herself and everything—”

The unicorn filly stomped her foreleg and methodically shook her head once she had reacquired Tail’s attention. She then drew a box in the air with her hoof and repeatedly pointed to Ambrosia until the lilac mare came clean with the information.

“Almost everything. I took care of the oven bits because those are the dangerous parts, but Moon Glow was responsible for everything else, including the recipe.”

Tail blinked, and then she blinked again. She continued to look at the youngster as repeated internal mumblings of Witchcraft! tumbled about her brainspace. Deep breaths drew repeated reminders of the warming taste that lingered behind, and the mare gradually leaned towards Moon Glow. “Can I buy a box?”

Platinum Blaze squeed in response, prompting chuckles from both Trigger and Gracious Waters.

Moon Glow herself had a far less bubbly reply, but the beaming smile that engulfed her countenance and the jubilant nod conveyed everything Tail needed to know. She was getting a box of those delicious pieces of cinnamon sorcery.

Once the fillies bundled off to fulfill Tail’s order, Gracious cleared his throat. The old stallion cast long, intent glances at all of the ponies in attendance before he reached Tail. “Now that Ms. Batsy has her fix and things seem to have calmed down, I believe we can chat scholar to scholar.”

“I still can’t believe how well that kid bakes,” Tail mumbled through clenched teeth. A box containing Moon Glow’s goodies dangled from the scientist’s mouth by a braided rope, and the pegasus practically pranced as she passed through the gate to the castle grounds.

She maintained the upbeat trot, keeping a brisk pace as her thoughts steered her towards the yard. Meeting Gracious and Batsy had been uplifting tangents. Getting to see the sparkle in Moon Glow’s eyes and experiencing Ambrosia’s shop each had the same effect. They were all escapes from a day she had anticipated would be spent at the core of Mt. Canterhorn.

Yet, the thing that made her lips curl and got her blood pumping was her imagination’s rendition of sharing her latest purchase with her squadmates. Bonecrusher would wear that irritated grimace before she’d succumb to the crumbly goodness. Indar would calmly eat the offering—and probably scold Crusher for her initial behavior. Barrier snagged two—one for himself and one in the name of the Interrupting Colonel—before making her run a few laps for occupying the yard during his time slot.

As she passed through the archways, however, all Tail found was an empty pitch. She tilted her head as a contorted expression snagged her lips and tugged them towards the side of her face. The day’s end hadn’t come yet, and Barrier had already let them go? Did Tartarus unlock? Tail pondered as she stepped onto the grass.

Plotting her course, Tail transferred the box of goodies to a corralling wing and mumbled idly, “Guess that means I’m going to have to go on a hunt. Maybe he got called away by Princess Luna? That’d certainly be up there in terms of possibilities. Though, any of them could drag him away. Celestia, Cadance, Shining Armor…”

The mare sighed at the growing search list. The combinations were staggering when one factored in royals—and then refactored in royal mischief. Add the planned double date on top of that, and a random Barrier disappearance shot from the realm of the impossible straight to the land of the inevitable. “Or maybe, I could stand here and tell ponies that it’s my yard and my time for a change.” Tail swished her namesake and giggled at her out. She had already donned Barrier’s armor kit once. Perhaps assuming his demeanor would be another thing she could check off her list of silly stuff to do.

“You could try saying that to me, Civvy,” Bonecrusher grunted after emerging from behind one of the stone columns with her saddlebag in tow, “but I’d probably tell you to go buck yourself.”

Tail snorted, immediately tossing an over-the-shoulder glance at the earth pony. “We both know you’d say that to me anyway. That’s not exactly shattering news. What is shattering news is why you all left the field so early in the day. Also, I have muffins.”

An eye roll followed, and it was Crusher’s turn to huff. She closed the gap between herself and Tail as a gust of wind raced over the field with just enough energy to noticeably pull at Tail’s mane—and make conversing momentarily tricky. Another sigh accompanied the delay, and the earthly mare did not give nature another window to interrupt.

“He wanted to talk about boring shit: life choices and future junk. Indar’s finally going to get his hooves into an officer’s school, which the dumbass should have done years ago. He’s almost as nerdy as you if the subject’s his magic. Damn miracle—” The mare stopped. Confusion lifted her eyebrow, shifted her jaw, and pulled her head away from the pegasus.

Sparkles. Sparkles glimmered in Tail’s eyes as she crept closer to the retreating Bonecrusher. The scientist was vibrating with excitement, and the breadth of her smile exuded an aura of happiness typically reserved for occasions when her students successfully tackled a challenge. “I’m not surprised. Indar’s really taken his magic to a new level. I’m sure he took Barrier’s input with the utmost professionalism.” Catty mischief grasped Tail’s expression as the paced trot forward continued. “You, on-the-other-hoof, I am curious about.”

“You’re fucking curious about everything,” Bonecrusher quipped. “I’ve lived through the endless questions.”

Tail craned her neck at the invitation. “So?” she asked, holding the word out just long enough to make Bonecrusher opt to look elsewhere.

The lime-coated mare dropped onto her haunches, groaned, and peered at the sky. Tension roamed about her muscles in short-lived bursts that pulled her mouth through various cycles of frustration, unease, and perhaps even insecurity.

Intrigued, the observing pegasus plopped onto the ground as well. She briefly ruffled a few of her feathers in response to the short blades of grass that made exploratory ventures through her fur, but the minor distraction proved ineffective at pulling her stare off Bonecrusher.

With a forceful thump, Crusher tossed her saddlebag down and began rummaging until she had successfully retrieved the box Barrier had given her from a sea of small weights, pads, and Phoenix Fire drink vouchers. “I’ve been promoted to corporal”—she revealed the chevrons to Tail—“and—”

Feathers flared to this news—this time sending the container of muffins through a harmless slide to the dirt. The excitement that had dotted Tail’s irides with foalish twinkles fanned into her fiery glare.

“Stop acting like a fucking child, and I swear to Celestia if you hug me, I will kick your ass,” Bonecrusher grumbled the instant it became clear that Tail had no intention of curbing her enthusiasm. Just looking at the pegasus made the earth mare stretch and straighten her posture in defense until she finally pushed her forehoof against Tail’s chest.

The physicist held her position against the powerful limb that kept her at bay, and her brow gradually ascended as the slew of calculations began. I could go in for the hug. I’m not sure that she really expects me to do that.

“Ugh, now that you’re here, this isn’t as easy for me to say as I thought it would be…”

Tail’s muzzle scrunched. Maybe if I’m aggressive with deploying the hug. Could attack the foreleg and go for a submission hold. Bonecrusher might actually like that. Might be a good way to work off those muffins.

Bonecrusher paused and pressed her hoof a bit harder against Tail’s frame. “Would you stop acting like a weirdo for like five seconds? I already got weird as shit looks from Indar and Captain Barrier during that chat. I don’t need whatever the Tartarus this is.”

“Hmm?” One of Tail’s ears flopped to the side. The mischief eroded from her countenance, leaving a far softer appearance in its wake to accompany the concern that laced her voice. “You got weird looks from Barrier and Indar? You didn’t try to brawl them in the office, did you?”

“No,” Bonecrusher grunted. Her limbs started to twitch in the seconds following the latest link in Tail’s chain of endless questions, and she promptly delivered a light shove to the pegasus. “How the buck does that even work? I’m trying to ask you if you’ll fucking pin my chevrons, Civvy! You’re supposed to be a genius. Figure it out!”

“You want me to pin your chevrons,” Tail slowly repeated in a soft voice that just surpassed the upper bound of whispering. “Isn’t that something Barrier should do? I mean, that seems like a captain’s duty.”

Bonecrusher pulled her foreleg away from Tail and let it drop to the pitch. A ninety-degree turn followed, allowing the mare to conveniently throw her gaze down the field before she replied. “You’re not one of us. You don’t belong here. Go home.” The words dripped from Crusher’s muzzle with a serene, silky timbre that impressively shed the pony’s usual grit. “That’s the shit I told you, and I couldn’t have been more wrong. I’d be a loser if I didn’t acknowledge that, so no, this isn’t Captain Barrier’s job.”

Heat flooded the pegasus, engulfing her sense of touch in a struggle confined to the emotional plane. “Bonecrusher, I—”

“When I got this assignment, I thought I hit the big time. Trigger wasn’t one to be quiet about Captain Barrier’s abilities. It was something to write home to the folks about. Let good old Mom and Dad know that I had brushed away the theatrics, clawed down to the family root, and yanked what it meant to be a guard right out of our beloved earth.

“And then I saw you, and I thought I was staring at the definition of a fucking sideshow. How I look at you now is so different from how I saw you then. Sidestepping it isn’t an option. If you won’t do it, then I’m not taking them.”

Tail carefully scooped up the case with one of her wings. “I’ll do it,” she answered. This time, her tone was resolute. “You can’t pass up something you deserve.”

For a moment, Bonecrusher didn’t speak. Not a single trickle of air moved into her lungs, and not a fiber of her body dared move either. The shimmering lights that reflected off her visible eye told Tail everything she needed to hear—well, or so she thought until the earth pony finally spoke up. “I’d like a muffin now.”

Author's Note:

Oh snaps! We're into the double digits. Let's go! Happy Thursday, everyone! Hope you're all having an excellent week, and if you're not, then I hope you enjoy this fresh batch of literary entertainment. I am a little distracted this week since I have a job interview on the horizon, but this is one of those chapters that I've been looking forward to publishing for a while.

In a few ways, NLA #10 is a mark of closure for what was arguably the biggest source of angst in NLD. Bonecrusher was the antagonist, and holy crap, did people hate her guts. I'm pretty sure Max said he'd call in an artillery strike on her at one point. Either way, a lot of this was by construction. Bonecrusher has a lot of personal reasons for being an asshole. That doesn't explain-away or completely excuse her asshole behavior, but Sober and I deliberately left any hints of her backstory out of NLD to make her look like an even bigger asshole.

Redemption is pretty central to the spirit of MLP, but the hints of Bonecrusher's journey towards that path were left out to make the pop of NLD Chapter 15 the banger that it was. Move forward to NLA #10, and the sequence of growth is clear.

And yet, we're only like 15% of the way through the story, despite having gotten through 10/47 chapters. There is a lot more to come, so thank you for your continued readership.

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