• Published 10th Dec 2020
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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 12 - Prepositions

Empty plates sat atop the group’s table in Pop’s Place. The second booth on the left was occupied by four ponies with filled bellies and jovial hearts. Once again, the diner had emptied out during their date, leaving the loitering patrons free to converse in relative peace—or free to lounge anyway.

Shining Armor had slouched on the bench and draped his head over the rear rim of the curved wooden frame. One of his forehooves lightly rubbed his stomach, and his eyes stayed closed as he let the aftereffects of Spike’s Skillet dribble out through soft, contented groans. “What were you saying again about hobbies, Tail?” he asked in a stupor. “I got a little distracted by Pop’s gravy.”

“At any other Canterlot function, you might get called out for such unseemly behavior, Mr. Armor. Thankfully, I am fully aware of Trot’s wizardry. I understand the anguish you face.” Tail casually gestured towards her cleared dish. “Every ingredient in every bite.”

Where Tail had been lenient, the Princess of Love delivered strict justice. A harmless, yet firm jab met her husband’s side, and the action—along with the devious etching that tucked and tugged the contours of Cady’s face—yanked Shining into the upright position. “Tail was saying that she liked to play guitar before somepony decided to forget his manners.”

Squinting, Shining scratched the back of his head in the wake of Cadance’s singsong vocalization. “Right, guitar! My bad. What kind of stuff do you like to play? I’ve been known to lay down a nice track every now and then myself. It’s part of how I won over my sweet princess.”

Barrier grunted. “Here we go again. Are you going to tell the story of your love at first sight again, or would you like me to recite it from memory?”

The redness that swept over Shining’s muzzle drew chortles from the mares. Though, it was Tail’s turn to take the initiative. “My dad loves to play, so I picked it up when I was pretty young. Can’t say I’m that good. I mostly just screwed around on it, so I’m certainly not going to win any princesses with it. Though, I can get my way through some old hits, and I also like to write my own stuff.”

“You compose your own music?” Cadance asked. She tilted her head downward, fashioning a cute, starry gaze for the pegasus. “I don’t know about winning over a princess, but I’m sure there’s a prince who would love to hear you play something you created.”

“And there she is,” Barrier deadpanned. “I wondered when the romantic inquisitor side would surface. Call me surprised that you waited until after dinner to unleash that face.”

The cerise alicorn shrugged. “It is my duty to all of Equestria to help guide and nurture love in all its forms,” Cadance explained as a sly inflection toyed with her pitch. “This includes ensuring that ponies feel comfortable sharing talents that are mutually beneficial.”

Instinctively, Tail bit her lower lip once her imagination set the scene and went to work. With the diner momentarily swept from reality, the pegasus was free to occupy a black stool set atop a small, raised wooden stage. The planks creaked as she settled atop her perch, and her attention drifted to the one stallion seated in the audience. A spotlight dangled high above her head, casting the effect that she and Barrier were the only two ponies in existence—and that everything else had faded to black.

The weight of a guitar-laden strap pressed against her neck. The band’s liberty-blue fabric was randomly dotted with illustrations of lavender atoms, but the true beauty rested between her forelegs. A semi-hollow body electric guitar begged to be played. Its sunburst paint job and gold accents glimmered, and the hum of the attached amp pulled Tail closer and closer to the instant when she would—

Tail squeaked. In her daydreaming trance, the mare had managed to coil strands of her mane around her foreleg to the point that the tension had become noticeable. “Ehh,” she mumbled nervously at the realization that all of her dinner companions had suddenly snapped their collective focus to her. “I, um, wouldn’t mind playing for Barrier if that’s what you meant. I just”—Tail swallowed—“I don’t play for others very often.”

Cadance set her elbows upon the cluttered table and gradually leaned forward. For several seconds, she narrowed her gaze and mushed her muzzle before her mouth managed to catch up to whatever internal processes she had running. “Hm, a pegasus professor daring to step out of her element. Willing to make such a dramatic display at a bar—and in front of a princess no less. Capable of putting on a tactical display the guards are still murmuring about. I can’t help but wonder why you wouldn’t play for others, but I’d be delighted to learn whether you consider our Magic Barrier to be your prince.”

“Oh,” Tail answered reflexively as one of her ears swung down. “That kind of has more to do with my family than anything else. I’m not trying to say that my mom was pushy or anything. It’s just that she and my little brother gravitated towards the creative side for their professions. I just wanted to tinker. I didn’t want music to become my thing. I also didn’t want my brother to think I was encroaching upon his special talent, so I mostly kept it to myself.”

“The joys of a younger sibling,” Shining added with a tranquil calm laced within his tone. “Having dealt with all of the trials and tribulations of a smart aleck named Twily, I can definitely say I know your pain. Then again, she did end up having the cutest foalsitter around.”

The Princess of Love prodded her stallion with a playful swat. “Don’t be narcissistic, Dear. We don’t want to give Tail a bad impression.”

Tail stifled her laughter as she observed Shining’s immediate double-take. His muzzle scrunched, and his eyes appeared wide as the desire to respond to the incredulous decree beat out the unicorn’s recognition of the cunning ploy.

“I was talking about you!” his voice broke like that of a colt just hitting adolescence, which did absolutely nothing to help Tail’s restraint—or the restraints of any other pony at the table for that matter.

Harmony manifested through the proceeding chorus as the next round of jovial silliness bounced between the walls of the nostalgic dinner. Even Trot threw in a few chuckles from his perch beside the griddle.

“Oh, my sweet boy,” Cady spoke after wiping a renegade tear from her face. “You’re just giving our company far too much ammunition. The success of our mission is all in the diplomacy, and now I’m afraid our side of the table won’t have the clout to press the most important concern of all. Don’t think, with all that laughter”—she gestured towards Tail with a roll of her forehoof—“that I have forgotten. Somepony has yet to confirm or deny that Magic Barrier is her prince.”

Tail retreated the few inches the seat allowed. Heat blossomed upon her face, casting a familiar reddish glow that managed to spread to her ears. Her namesake shifted along the edge of the bench, and she cleared her throat while her thoughts homed in on the underlying element that cemented the foundations of this little game.

“He’s not my prince,” the pegasus calmly replied. She held her breath for a moment once the stallions turned their heads—and once she caught the budding grin that began to stretch across Cady’s countenance. “He wouldn’t want that kind of title anyway, and I bet if I called him that, he’d give me some weird look and grumble about it. He’s already got something more valuable in my book. I respect him more than anyone could possibly imagine. Besides, why would I ever call him prince when I can call him Magic Bear instead?”

Barrier blinked, and for a moment, it appeared as if he had planned to speak. The stage had been set with tension that dragged the captain’s brow into a scrutinizing scowl, but the words did not come.

Tail briefly wondered if it was the deadpan stare Shining was giving—or the faint flickers that meandered about the unicorn’s lips—that kept her date silent. However, she was promptly distracted by the sparkles that radiated from the Princess of Love.

Like a cat preparing to pounce, Cadance wiggled in her seat and nimbly repositioned her forelegs atop the table. The excitement etched into her gaze morphed as a mischievous bend usurped her smile, and a sultry rasp emerged once she spoke. “Barrier, Honey, I really like this one.”

“That didn’t sound creepy at all, Cady,” Barrier answered. His sarcastic inflection merely drove the mare to rest her chin atop her folded limbs, and the short snort that followed did not deter the alicorn from continuing.

“I thought you said stables were common in your era,” she countered, throwing in a pout for added measure.

“Yeah, nope!” the stallion chimed back with such speed and vigor that he had somehow managed to slip the words out before Tail’s melodic mirth took center stage.

“I don’t think that’d work anyway,” the pegasus concluded, her speech ragged with pauses induced by her mounting hilarity. “My roommate would probably want in on it too, and that sounds like a cherry pancake nightmare unfit for a certain stallion.”

The bench creaked when Barrier recoiled. His jaw shielded his throat from the phantom threat while a string of clearing coughs underscored the seeds of dismay. “I put up with enough brats as it is. I don’t need alternatives to match the royal counterparts.”

“Shiny!” The alicorn resorted to the use of a playful whine to punctuate her puckered lips. “Didn’t you tell him that this is what family is for? We’re only doing our duty, Magic Bear.”

The alabaster stallion quietly eyed the now-grimacing Barrier. Yielding a short hum, Shining leaned against Cadance, pitched his muzzle, and delivered a gentle nip to her ear. “I think,” he began in a tender timbre, “that we’re lucky to have gotten him out on a date night with us. We should, perhaps, consider the current state of diplomacy a success—lest we end up receiving another lecture on house lineage or prod Ms. Tail to believe that we are crazier than we are.”

“Seems pretty normal to me,” Tail remarked on cue before her mouth corralled the straw to her soda. She sipped as signs of disbelief wandered onto her companions’ faces, but her statement had been delivered with absolute sincerity. Out of all the possible things to take issue with, the latest sentiment hardly seemed to scratch the surface of the unreasonable. “You’re talking to a physics professor who ended up in B.C.T. with this guy. I think family antics are hardly crazy in my presence.”

“Looks like we did it again,” Barrier mumbled as he and Shining Armor stood just outside the door to Pop’s Place. The pair had gathered, bathing in the halo cast by one of the city’s streetlamps, in the wake of their dates’ sudden departures.

A tinge of red showed through Shining’s coat once the unicorn’s sheepish laugh meandered about the chilly, late-night air. “That guy must be some kind of saint. Every other place in Canterlot would have punted us out hours ago—except for maybe Donut Joe’s. Still, I have to commend Trot. That attitude is pretty rare.”

Barrier chuckled, and his eyes closed as a tranquil smirk took shape. “Tail and I found this place by dumb luck. It fits—”

A light nudge bumped Barrier from his thought train. He stopped speaking and turned in time to observe the mischievous aura that radiated from Shining’s frame. “Seems to me that she’s the one that fits. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you this relaxed. No wonder Cady likes her.”

“Tail is certainly something,” Barrier answered. His words lingered in the wind, drawing out as though the stallion were becoming more and more distant with every second that passed—until the apparent vulnerability had to be abruptly crushed. “Let’s just hope I don’t fuck it all up.”

“I was wondering where Grumpy Grandpa had run off to. And here I thought I was witnessing the cusp of a miracle.”

Sighing, Barrier rubbed the base of his horn. The hints of a scowl began to form along his brow, and he released a curt, grumbling retort, “Not helping.”

This time, Shining didn’t answer right away. He leaned against the exterior wall of the diner, slightly tilted his head, and waited.

“Don’t give me the silent treatment. Tail needs more training. I’ve trained somepony close to me before. It isn’t fun, and it isn’t easy,” Barrier spoke as he kept his forehead planted against his hoof.

“It worked, and history doesn’t have to repeat, Barrier,” Shining’s voice emerged at a lower tone. A serious grit accented his words, and the Captain of the Royal Guard did not waver. “Tail is Tail. She’ll respond in her own way and apply her own thoughts to what you teach her. Take things a day at a time. Talk stuff out, and let the wall down once the sun sets.”

The charcoal-colored unicorn squinted. “And now my great-grandnephew is giving me relationship advice too.”

“No, you’re getting advice from an officer who married a princess. It isn’t easy going home to a pony you’ve taken an oath to die for if need be. Times might be peaceful now, but I can grasp the burden.”

Dropping his leg, Barrier looked to his younger relative. “But the burdens aren’t the same. She’s pushing into dangerous territory. You know what she’s doing. You know what Proud tried. He’ll probably try again, and he won’t be the only one. B.C.T. won’t cut it against those risks. She’ll have to fight harder than she ever has. She’ll see things that I saw.

“And before you ask,” Barrier blurted after catching sight of Shining’s quivering lips. Swirls of moisture formed as his heated gasps danced with the night’s cold. “It’s not about what Tail thinks of me. I’ll worry about that for a while, but she has her ways. For once, I like where I am. I don’t want to slip. I’m going to need help to make sure she’s trained right—and to keep tabs on those walls.”

“Should I go out on a limb and guess that that’s the reason you wanted to chat?” The white unicorn shuffled closer to Barrier.

“Yeah, she’ll have to overcome powerful unicorn aggressors. I want to bring in the other two most combat-capable magi around. Doesn’t hurt that you and Trigger know me well either."

“Where in Tartarus have you been?” Amora’s voice cut through the darkened landing before the swirling wisps of her aura could fully complete the teleportation spell. A single iris caught the moonlight tricking in from the outside, and it cast its cobalt hue upon Tail.

“I’ve been—” Tail’s neck recoiled. An alabaster fetlock had extended across the threshold, and the medic’s hoof had been promptly and firmly planted upon the physicist’s muzzle.

“You have been gone for nearly two days. No word! No message! No indication from your royal benefactor! This can only mean one of two things. You’ve either been replaced by a changeling drone, or you’ve restarted your terrible overworking behavior.” Amora pulled back her outstretched extremity and dramatically draped it over her forehead. “What is a roommate to do?”

Tail wiggled her snout and groaned. She shot the medic a deadpan stare and defensively extended her wings to cover her flanks. “That is ridiculous. First, I still have a royal benefactor,” she blurted, gesturing to Cadance. “Second, I wasn’t overworking, and I certainly am not a changeling drone. I was on a date.”

“Can confirm,” the princess broke her silence. “Did you know they are sickeningly adorable together? Just like you with your antics, Major. Tail said her roommate was a character. If I had known it was you, I wouldn’t have even bothered, and before you ask, no, I’m not pregnant yet.”

“Hmm…” Amora plopped down on the carpeted stairs that led up to the living room. Once again, her sights homed in on Tail, and her brow crafted an inquisitive scowl normally reserved for unruly patients. “You’ve come home with Heartbutt, and it actually is Heartbutt. Fine! You’re not changeling infiltrators, but a date doesn’t explain two days. Spill it, Professor.”

A sheepish, bashful grimace overtook the mare. Tail’s partially unfurled wings twitched before her namesake flicked against the stone slab beneath her hooves. There was no getting out of this one. Ams had gone academic, and the route to her bedroom was blocked. “Well, we did go on a date. It was a double date, actually. Pop’s Place, and we killed a lot of time there, but…” Tail practically sang through her delivery, and the tempo with which she spoke only quickened with every word that followed. “The night before, I slept at Barrier’s.”

Both mages perked in response to this revelation. With a shake of her haunches, Amora scooted and leaned forward until she was barely supported by the step. Cadance crept farther and farther forward until Tail could feel the weight of the impish expression pouring into her peripheral vision.

The pegasus simply sighed. Of course they’d have that reaction! What other reaction could they have? Perverts. In the wake of her breath, the stillness brewed. It washed the concern from Amora’s countenance and left nothing but mischief. It spurred a princess of love to show her lust, and they still hadn’t said even a single word!

Nevertheless, Tail knew. She predicted the turmoil of teasing that had to be boiling within her companions, and she confirmed that presumption as soon as her roommate opened her mouth.

“Hunny, there’s a big difference between at and with.”

Author's Note:

Happy Thursday everyone! Chapter 12 is here to hopefully bring a little added fun to your day. As I mention every week, thank you for your continued readership. May the ongoing story of Tail and Barrier bring all of the joys. Sorry I don't have an in-depth AN for this one -- aside from the title being entirely based on the last sentence. It has been a very busy stretch for me, and Fate is traveling around -- so the fancy pie charts have been absent.

Take care, and see you next week for Chapter 13.

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