• 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.

  • ...

PreviousChapters Next
Chapter 11 - A Date with a Princess

Amusement sketched the subtle, curving lines that spread across Tail’s muzzle. She had finally completed the journey back to her new lab space—with some muffins and Bonecrusher’s pins in tow. Once again, an imagined warmth flooded her senses as she reflected on her time at the yard. Her squadmate’s atypically stoic demeanor, as well as the relatively verbose conversation, captivated the physicist’s focus as she neatly arranged the pin case atop one of the unfilled benches.

“Turns out you’re full of surprises,” Tail commented as she headed towards her more active workstation. Her namesake swished as another thought crossed the mental threshold to the realm of the spoken word. “Bonecrusher in a dress uniform. That’ll be a day.”

She flopped onto her padded chair and rolled into position at the desk. Hours ago, she had been there, doodling away with one of her drafting pencils in search of something that could change the course of her research world. Barrier had seeded that specific train of thought, and just before Gracious and Batsy had arrived, she had grasped at it—a glimmer of her future that had reflected off an imagined rail. Her brain had definitely conjured something, and she’d need a state of darkness to snatch it back.

Forelegs reached towards the ceiling, and her eyelids descended to cast out many of the potential distractions that lurked around her lab. “Guess I should get back to it,” she murmured, picturing a block of steel floating beside her outstretched limb. The visualized bar of metal morphed its shape to a size that she could definitely wield. It could now sit between her elbow and knee, which meant that her leg would retain full movement.

“Gotta clip to my leg somehow,” she whispered, continuing the sculpting in her mindscape. Suddenly, there were braces added to the bottom of the rectanguloid. The structure snapped into place on her leg, and she wiggled her appendage about as a bored barrel manifested itself inside the steel.

Tail started humming as she pondered her next steps. The compact design definitely met the basics for battlefield readiness, but there was a long to-do list forming. “What is my mechanism going to be? Bolt action isn’t going to work. How will I feed ammunition? And how am I going to work in the circuit?”

Ninety minutes dissolved into history at a faster rate than Tail’s perception of the clock. The allotment of time between her return to the cavern and her planned rendezvous with Barrier was but a flash in the eyes of science, yet Tail had managed to cover the tabletop with a dozen drawings of potential loading, circuit, and firing layouts.

Things needed to be tweaked before she could move forward with material acquisition, and even then, it was highly likely that unforeseen obstacles would make her change things again and again. Nonetheless, as Tail rose from her seat, she couldn’t take her eyes off the sheet that topped the parchment landscape.

“You’re a pretty boy,” she spoke in a sultry tone before her lips curled into a feline grin. That particular design was one of the more complex out of the bunch, but there was something that made Tail’s fur ruffle with excitement once the technical aspects ensnared her thoughts. Revolving cylinders felt efficient. “I’m going to have to make sure you see the light of day.”

And with that, Tail twirled about, giving her workbenches and the expansive, illuminated space a once-over before she headed out through the gargantuan enchanted doorway. Crossing the threshold made the mare shiver, especially when there were no guests to distract her from the abrupt transition.

“Need to get some more lamps down here,” she muttered, glancing around the colder, damper, untamed confines of the castle’s deepest stairwell. Back inside the lab, the vibrant lighting had done a wonderful job transforming the subterranean dwelling into a room that could have been located anywhere in the world. Stepping from that environment into the clammy corridor put a few things on Tail’s list of desires.

Those, however, were checkmarks for a different day. After climbing the spiral, she’d be a short trot away from ticking off a different set of desires: seeing that charcoal coat, getting some of Pop’s delicious food, and having a double date with a princess and her prince-consort. Her pupils shrunk to tiny dots. Her wings flared, and a squeak quickly shot from her mouth.

“How am I going to battle those wits!?”

Trotting away from Canterlot Castle, Barrier chuckled. He continued to throw sidelong glances at Tail, and each time he looked, another spurt bubbled forth.

“What is so funny?” Tail peeped, her feathers fluttering repeatedly. Her sights darted about, shifting from fleeting glimpses of the un-uniformed stallion to the ornate buildings near the palace grounds—and the swarm of richly ponies that gravitated towards the royal court.

“Oh, I don’t know,” he answered sarcastically. “Probably the fact that you’ve been twitching like crazy since you came to my office. And then there’s the mumbling about how we’re going to combat the lovebirds in my family.”

Tail stopped in her tracks. “Luna told me how close you and Cadance are. I knew she wanted the double date, and I pressed for it by causing a scene in a bar. Maybe this was all part of the plan! This is a tactical brilliancy! I am in a battle with a genius of love. I cannot go into this lightly.”

Barrier halted and pivoted to the face Tail. He held his breath as his mare piled on the words with an increasing amount of panic. She was gasping when his unbridled laughter echoed down the lane, and he promptly took the final step to tap his nose against hers. “I know better than most that Cady can be a lot to deal with. I also know that you have nothing to worry about. Yes, she’s going to try to get information out of you, but that scene you pulled in the Phoenix Fire won her over completely.”

“That scene had nothing to do with winning her over,” Tail answered. The boop against her nose had corralled some of her anxiety, and the surprising swiftness with which Barrier had deployed his maneuver left the mare’s senses yearning for more of his, well, everything. A brief hum washed away the panic from her voice, and she continued in a gentle purr, “You said something stupid, Sweety, and I took it upon myself to correct you.”

Barrier responded with a hum of his own. “And this would be the part where I deflect by seeding the fact that I am the lucky one in this relationship, which is why”—he paused to brush her mane with his foreleg—“again, you’re not the one who has to worry about Cady.”

Throwing her legs around Barrier’s neck, Tail exhaled. Her withers relaxed as she tucked her wings against her body, and she let her weight hang upon his sturdy frame for a few moments. A field of strawberries flooded her nostrils as the physicist rubbed her muzzle through his wavy mane. “Thank you,” she mused aloud, “and somepony snuck in an extra shower. This shampoo is really nice.”

“I condition too,” he joked, “but keep that one to yourself. I wouldn’t want that bit of intelligence leaking all over the place. Certain individuals would never let me live it down.”

“Your secret is safe with me,” she whispered in his ear while her limbs added an additional squeeze to the hug. “But just so you know, I love a pony who conditions.”

The unicorn released a sigh marked by feigned relief. “I knew I could count on you, Blanket, and duly noted.”

From her post, Tail could feel the muscles in Barrier’s face craft a grin before his trademark chuckle swirled about her ear. A staticky crackle from his horn swiftly followed, and the mare quickly found her fluffy self perched perfectly upon the stallion’s saddlepoint. She was just about to ask him what he was up to when the sounds of pompous nobility clawed for her attention.

“How unseemly…” Canterlot mareistocracy suffocated the two otherwise simple words, which in turn sent a chill along Tail’s spine.

Uppity, flailing tones followed. “And right in front of the castle… the nerve!”

Her gaze narrowed, focusing on the stretch of road in front of her. She tuned out the flippant commentary from the obnoxiously dressed pretenders and allowed her hooves to explore the area around Barrier’s withers. “Valiant steed!” she cried with a sudden thunder that even made the captain startle. “Such a fine gentlecolt you are to offer yourself as my fine chariot for tonight’s affairs.”

Barrier’s ear twitched. He gradually turned his head to glance up at Tail, who started laughing the second she caught his smug expression. “We can’t keep our distinguished guests waiting. It’d be even more rude if we had to tell them that the riffraff kept us delayed.”

Teardrops formed as Tail’s chest heaved to the beat of her own laughter. Whinnies of disgust from their gawkers only stoked the mare’s giggle fits, and Tail slumped onto her perch seconds after catching the pair of furrowed, furious, puffy-cheeked scowls that had been aimed in her direction.

Stumbling steps carried Tail forward as she leaned against Barrier’s side. She couldn’t stop the stream of snorts and giggles that poured out of her—except for the brief pause she took to puff her cheeks and scowl at the unicorn. Of course, all this managed to do was get both of them riled up again.

Tail pushed on through the melody and clung to the frayed strands of her composure. Her hoof snagged the forest-green entrance to Pop’s Place, and the strap of sleigh bells that hung from the wood jingled as the physicist held the door open for her date. “Allow me to get the door for my noble carrier. I can’t be turning into the riffraff, now can I?”

“What would I ever do if that happened?” Barrier countered, his speech still accented by his amusement. He slipped past the door and made his way directly to the second booth on the left. It was theirs now after all. The only difference was that, this time, he scooted all the way to the window to give Tail the space she needed to sit on the same bench.

Tail meandered towards the booth. She couldn’t help but stare at all the musical memorabilia that Trot had tacked onto the yellow-painted walls. Before she could even register it, her namesake was swaying to a disco tune of a Lady Summer track that played in the background—and accompanied the satisfying sizzle of the griddle.

As expected, the chef’s station was manned by the plump dusty-cream earth pony, and it did not take long for the brown-bearded stallion to glance towards the arriving patrons. “Uh oh!” Trot exclaimed just as Tail plopped down next to Barrier. His emerald eyes glimmered with delight. “I wasn’t expecting a late night, but I’m willing to roll the dice now that I see you’re sitting together.”

Barrier stretched his neck and looked around the diner. They had arrived a few minutes early, and he softly smiled in the wake of his observations. “Looks like we beat the dinner crowd today.”

“It’s been a slow night,” Trot added while scraping the cooktop clean. “Sometimes I check out early if things are really quiet. Breakfast is when I make all my bits anyway, but it’s nice to get some quality dinner company. But enough of that. You two going to stick to your usuals, or are you going to explore the menu?”

“Well, I think I’ll take some time to browse the menu again,” the pegasus replied. “We’re actually waiting on a couple ponies to join us, so you’ll definitely be getting some more quality company tonight.”

On cue, Barrier levitated one of the menus to Tail as a silky sound slipped from his throat. “About that, Mr. Bell, I hope you stay upright when our friends get here. You don’t seem the type who’d lose his stuff, but it is Canterlot, so I’m not taking any chances.”

Trot spun around, planted one of his forelegs on the counter, and pointed his scraper at Barrier. “Hey, hey, in this city, there’s gotta be spots like this looking out for the little ponies. Too much ritz, and I’d lose my freakin’ mind. Those characters? They want their Restaurant Row hoof ratings and image. I”—he turned the utensil towards himself—“just like making good food.”

“So far, you have a one-hundred percent in that department,” Tail commented while flipping through the laminated menu. “I think everything in here would be delicious. Is it bad that I’m seriously considering ordering an omelette-based meal for dinner again?”

“You order it, and I’ll make it. Omelettes come with hash browns and your choice of toast,” Trot said with a chipper rise in volume. He had only just turned his attention back to his griddle preparation when the sound of the sleigh bells carried throughout the small diner. He pirouetted towards the door. “Welcome to Pop’s Place. Take a seat anywh-hubbada-wha?”

Trot’s sights fell upon Cadance and Shining Armor. The pair, appearing without their typical attires, had shed their official regalia. Nevertheless, it was impossible for the gaping chef not to recognize the alicorn princess and her husband.

The Princess of Love had not even made it entirely inside before her head was snapping about to take in the decor. “Shiny, this place is adorable! And do you feel that? I can sense affection in the air already.” She paused, pacing her slide towards Barrier and Tail so her foxy smirk formed just as she reached the table. “See, Honey, what’d I tell you?”

Shining and Barrier simultaneously pffted at the shameless delivery. “Might want to be careful,” the former continued. “You might give them the opening to say that it was the two of us all along. Wouldn’t want to give Gramps the leg up before we even sit down.”

“Just get in the damn booth,” Barrier grumbled. “Your wife wanted a pleasant evening. She didn’t ask me to take up foalsitting duties.”

Cadance snickered. The alicorn slipped around Shining and gave the white unicorn a little nudge with her flank. She stood patiently while her husband made the trek before nestling herself across from Tail. “This place evokes a lot of good memories from our malt shop days. It almost feels like we’ve jumped back in time to a high-school date. Wouldn’t you agree, my dorky little champion?”

“Yep!” Shining hurriedly answered. A reddish hue showed beneath his white coat, and he swiftly snatched a menu with his equally rosy aura. “Colonel picks ‘em well.”

“Don’t be shy, Shiny,” Cadance playfully chided. “From what I’ve gathered from Luna, Tail more than likely knows a thing or two about all those games you like to play.”

Tail’s posture straightened, and she unwaveringly looked at the princess as she quickly churned over potential responses. “I’ve definitely been called a nerd more than a few times,” the physicist replied, opting for blunt and open honesty. “I don’t know what Shiny plays, but I was quite the Pouch Beasts master back in my day.”

The stallion jerked back in his seat and snapped his muzzle towards his wife. “Did she just call me Shiny?” he asked, double-taking before affixing his stare upon the lavender pegasus. “And did you just say Pouch Beasts?”

“Yes, Dear,” the princess replied with a teasing inflection, “she most certainly did. Personally, I think it’s a bold move. Not as bold as the kiss she gave to our beloved Barrier last night, but it’s definitely up there.”

Her blush returned in full force, but Tail maintained her form. She leaned onto the table, planting her foreleg so she could nonchalantly roll her hoof. “As an academic, it’s my job to weed out misconceptions. This one”—she gestured towards Barrier—“dropped a pretty big one at the Phoenix Fire last night. A lesson was deserved, so I gave one.”

Barrier nudged the flier and snickered. “So far, I’ve learned that if I say stupid things, I get kissed. Not sure if that’s really the tactic you want to use, but I know I’ll take it.”

Cadance waggled her eyebrows. “Maybe that’s all part of the plan, Barrier. Feminine wiles and persuasion run deep, and teachers can be exceptionally good at planning.”

“I don’t want to know about the wiles,” Shining Armor’s voice cracked as he stretched and plopped both of his forelegs between his wife and Tail. “I want to know what Pouch Beasts deck she ran! Was it a Hurriblast Afterburner style deck, or did you try a Terrabolt stack?”

“Is anypony going to explain to me how the Princess of Love and the Captain of the Royal Guard have made their way into my restaurant?” Trot was slouched over the countertop, and by the look of the heaving gasps that made his chest rise and fall, Tail promptly assumed that he had been trying to get their attention. “And then could you maybe tell me what you want?”

The pegasus flicked her mane and shot a sidelong glance towards the diner owner. A giggle bubbled up as she playfully batted her hoof in his direction. “Sorry, Trot, didn’t mean to keep you waiting. I’ll go with the Western, wheat toast, and a glass of WNS, and”—she added a snicker while straightening her leg—“no ranks on dates.”

Both Cadance and Shining mumbled sighs of understanding before they quickly made their selections. It gave Tail time to collect her thoughts and enjoy the moment. All the nervousness she had leading up to the outing failed to resurge against the chaos brought about by their banter.

In fact, the physicist couldn’t help but shift her wings and relax her spine. Soon, her tongue would embrace the sweet taste of WNS. She would share another meal with the unicorn who was becoming more and more important in her life, and she would do her best to make the most of this date night. Affirmation rapidly swirled around her ponderings, prodding Tail to resume the conversation that had been interrupted by necessity.

“As for your question, Shining, no, I was a bit of an asshole when I played. Jetsight frontrunner for discard pile draws and burns. Darcaesar as the heavy attacker and switch-ability master, and Lernadrache for its unlimited energy manipulation.”

While a cheeky smirk settled on Tail’s countenance, competing states of confusion and amusement forced Barrier and Cadance to turn their sights to the blinking Shining Armor. For what felt like a minute, the stallion remained silent until emerging chuckles from the waiting trio triggered Shining’s subdued reply.


Author's Note:

Another week, another chapter! It has been a pretty stressful few days in Wingland. I went through the thrilling endeavor of a job interview in academia. If any readers out there are in a STEM field, I think you probably have an idea what that entails. It is nonstop and utterly exhausting. Either way, with Thursday here, I can sit back and enjoy another chapter release in the continuing journey of Barrier and Tail. :3

As always, thank you for continuing to spend your time reading the story. There are plenty of things out there that you could spend your time on, so I continue to hold dear to the fact that you're spending some of that time here. Of course, I also hope that you continue to enjoy the tale.

PreviousChapters Next