• 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 15 - I Swear, If You Hug Me

Day 77 — Hey Future Me, do you remember this day? Of course you do because how could you forget? I was about to write down that thing that you learned, but then I decided that it wouldn’t be all that wise. You know what I’m talking about. Somehow, that thing was actually rivaled by other events. Princess Luna came down to the lab and tried to help. Let it be known that she looks downright adorable in a lab coat. Though, perhaps her visit was a bit premature given the current stage in the development process.

Luna threw her forelegs over one of the workbenches and sighed as she stared at Tail. “Ugh!” she gasped, overcoming the sounds of a quill tip dragging atop parchment. “Tail! This is so boring! How do you deal with this? Where are the test tubes? Where are the explosions? Where is the magic!?”

The pegasus giggled and smirked at the sprawled alicorn. “You know nothing of my pain, Princess of the Night. I’m not even writing the additional grant request yet. Only once you experience the scrounging for money stage can you claim to have survived true mental anguish.”

“You need to write another one?” Luna unleashed a high-pitched squeal that echoed throughout the cavern of the lab. Her pupils practically engulfed her irides, and her jaw hung open for a few seconds before she snapped up and fluffed her wings. “Bless the stars that Proud has been removed from the J.C.! We do not think another round of that could be tolerated.”

Tail set the quill down on the tabletop before she planted her hind hoof against the bench’s edge and turned her black swivel chair until she faced Luna. “Just come over here and I’ll show you why. After my dream last night, I think I’ve got things sorted out.”

“But?” the princess poked. Her pitch rose as she spoke, and she shuffled across the floor to settle at Tail’s side. “Oh my, you seem to have been quite busy while we were… moping… on the other table.”

A proud, subdued smile stretched across Tail’s muzzle as she glanced down at the latest drawing. Earlier messy sketches were scattered beneath the most recent version, and the difference in quality was striking. Solid ink lines graced every element of this rendition as if her professional confidence itself had been placed on display.

In the top left, Tail had drawn the external profiles of her leg-mounted revolver. Every angle of the stainless-steel weapon had been labelled—from the shape of the barrel to the hinges of the cylinder. She had also spent a fair amount of time illustrating the 210-degree torus that would function as the trigger—along with its union beneath the end of the barrel.

What drew a hum from Luna’s throat, however, were the cutaway depictions seated in the center of the page. One showed how the trigger would discharge a round through a set of springs and a hammer, and two others detailed a series of magical current pathways that ran from a sleeve mount through the cylinder and barrel.

Finally, on the far right, Tail had provided a larger image of the cylinder’s magical circuit and how she intended to optimize rounds for the smaller caliber form factor. “We see,” Luna commented, finally breaking her contemplative buzz. “This design will require a large supply of refined augurite and a trusted mage capable of integrating the coils with the non-magical metal. The crystals for the smaller shells are not cheap either. Still, we will see what can be done—”

A single, loud thud rang from the laboratory doors. Luna hopped in place from the sudden sound, and Tail’s coat bristled in response to the intrusion. “Shit,” Tail gasped. She had pressed one of her hooves against the tuft of floof that occupied her chest. “I really need to install a sensor on the stairs or something.”

Tail popped out of the chair when another thud threw an echoing wave across the cavern. Wanting to prevent another soul-shivering sound from quaking her core, she unfurled her wings and quickly kited her way to the entrance. I wonder who could possibly have such an obnoxiously powerful knock, the narrator in Tail’s head pondered in an impressively sarcastic tone. She took up a defensive stance at the side of the doorway, deliberately out of the direct line of sight, and deactivated the locking mechanism.

“Ya didn’t fuck that one up, Barry,” Trigger’s quip rang out the instant a noteworthy crack appeared in the entryway. “Enough of your gritty, veteran paranoia must have rubbed off on her. She didn’t just stand in the vulnerable spot. A-plus shit, Flicker.”

“You’re just as paranoid as I am,” Barrier said as the breach continued to open. “And honestly, Tail’s intelligence has nothing to do with my level of… Holy Zacherle!” The stallion peered at the massive illuminated expanse and his breath hitched. Finding Tail amongst the angelic glow, he exhaled and extended his leg towards the space to silently ask the obvious question.

“Mm, it’s pretty big for my purposes, but the seclusion is nice for my research, and the walls are crazily reinforced. I guess the previous occupant also had some fairly insane clearance demands.” Tail smirked, scooted over to her stallion, and touched her nose to his. “Welcome to my Canterlot Lab, Magic Bear.”

“Thanks, Blanket,” Barrier quietly answered. “I’m glad I got to follow Trigsy down for my tour. It would have taken me another thousand years to find you again.”

“Oh Barry!” Trigger gagged. “I’m all for romance, but that’s just… just no. And don’t I get a little nose kiss too? After all, I carried down this big old crate from that mysterious previous occupant.”

Tail leaned to the side, catching Trigger with her gaze before she shifted her attention to the pony-sized wooden crate that rested next to the stallion. “Sweety, you can look, but only Barrier gets to touch.” She glanced at the stairwell for a moment and idly rolled her forehoof. “Unless it’s training related, of course. That might make things kind of difficult. Anyway, what’s the deal with this delivery I had to promptly receive?”

Luna approached with an equally inquisitive stare etched upon her countenance. Her brows were furrowed, and one of her ears had perked its way into a perfectly upright position. “Indeed, what nonsense is Sir Wing up to this time? Do I need to fetch my sister and have her check the royal banks?”

“I don’t know, Mes Étoiles. Ya tell me. There are about a million bits worth of purified augurite bars in this box and another two-hundred-kay in thaumium crystals. He just looked at me this morning, mumbled some scientific shit about an old Starswirl Grant on magic storage, and sent me on my way.”

“You literally know his mind better than anyone else!” Luna retorted while Tail just blinked.

“He wants good ponies to succeed,” Trigger answered with a shrug. “He’s been following these developments for a long time, and he’s just as good as Twiggles or Flicker when it comes to fitting jigsaws into the big picture. It’s just what he does.”

Tail just gawked at the crate and blocked out everything else around her. We were just talking about it. First, the lab space, and now the materials… Who is this guy? Why does he keep helping me? The odds of two related coincidences are low, but he is the head of E.I.S. He has to… Finally, she spoke up. “He knows.”

Day 78 — Today was relaxing compared to the insanity of yesterday. I mean, I guess it’s nice that I don’t have to write another grant request or battle the Canterlot aristocracy. Still, I don’t know how I’m ever going to repay this Wing guy. After dealing with the setbacks that led me here in the first place, a part of me wants to be skeptical. I hope it doesn’t come back to bite you, Future Me. I have hope, though. His wife is so nice.

Enough of that! This entry should be a happy one. The pinning ceremony for Indar and Bonecrusher happened this morning. I get giddy just thinking about it. Barrier looked amazing - like a stud - in his dress uniform. Indar formally accepted the transfer to officer school, and my bitch of a nemesis really has become my friend.

Tail stood behind one of the archway pillars that lined the field of Barrier’s Yard. She hid from the simple stage that currently occupied the center of the field. Though, she would have to conquer the 14-gauge steel support lattice soon enough. It was her next mission as a squadmate, and she could not let them down.

The pegasus cradled the box containing Bonecrusher’s pins, and she opened the lid to peer at the twin set of silver chevrons. Bonecrusher, under the Authority of the Royal Sisters, and at the recommendation of your captain, you are hereby appointed the rank of EE-4. Hereafter, you are to report to Canterlot Guard, Division 1. Your nation thanks you for your service, and your princesses recognize your dedication.

A commotion nudged Tail from her internalized rehearsal, and she quickly stowed the box beneath a wing. The familiar sounds of Princess Celestia and Barrier pulled at her senses—and equally pulled her out onto the field and into the morning light. She squinted thanks to the glimmering sun, but after her eyes adjusted, she took in the spectacle.

Celestia had arrived wearing a beautiful golden gown that flowed from her hips in a wavy cascade. The color was faint, which—in Tail’s opinion—was perfect as it did not compete with the alicorn’s already regal stature.

Barrier, for his part, looked as handsome as ever in his white dress uniform. There was something about the way that attire contrasted with his dark coat that made Tail’s blood rush to her cheeks. The blue trim on the jacket matched the base of his mane, and the decor of medals and golden buttons produced a portrait that seemed to come straight out of fantasy. Except, this was a fantasy that she could touch.

“Colonel Tail,” Celestia called after noticing her presence. The alicorn waved and smiled. “You look lovely this morning.”

Tail trotted closer to the pair and sheepishly shook her head. “Just normal dress blues, Your Highness”—she lifted her namesake to display the tattered makeshift ribbon that corralled her officer pins—“and the remnants of my old shirt. You two look incredible though. Your gown is really something.”

“Lies,” Barrier and Celestia responded in time, prompting the jolted pegasus to readjust her ruffled feathers. The two magic wielders briefly glanced at one another before Celestia took the reins.

“Your presence is a testament to your dedication. I’ve heard wind of your new undertakings and expect great things from you, Ms. Tail. The fact that you have swayed the opinion of a bitter rival is proof enough. You’ve shown you’re where you’re meant to be, and that is quite lovely indeed.”

Barrier snickered at Celestia’s eloquence as he leaned towards Tail. The unicorn held his muzzle to her ear and whispered, “But you do actually look lovely.”

The flier stretched a wing and pressed her feathers against Barrier’s face. “You’re going to make me forget my lines if you keep doing things like that,” she mumbled, blinding him with the onslaught of fluff.

“Soft feathers don’t make much of a counter-argument, Blanket.” Barrier slowly retreated, negating the blockade by simply moving out of its reach. “But we can save that discussion for later. We should probably get to the stage before our guests of honor show up.”

“Darn! That was the perfect shot!” a flamboyant squeal pierced the air, drawing the trio’s collective focus to the other end of the pitch. There, loitering by one of the castle walls, was a young pink unicorn mare. Her emerald aura clutched a camera with a telephoto lens, and her hoof frantically moved to brush the cinematic curls of her dark-blue mane.

“Did you hire a photographer, Tia?” Barrer muttered as his muscles pulled his lips into a thin line. His icy-blue gaze floated towards the diarch—where it was initially met with a shake of the head.

“No,” the princess eventually replied. “However, I wouldn’t put it past Luna. She was overdue for a good rest after spending so much time with her star scientist, but this particular project is quite dear to her…”

“Figures,” the captain sighed, strutting to the stage. “Well, it’s not like this is a confidential event, so what do I care?”

“That famous paranoia of yours back on display, Magic Bear?” Tail cooed as she took her position at his left flank. “I bet soft feathers are the perfect counter to that.” She draped her unoccupied wing over his back and scooted closer to her target.

“It’s only paranoia until you’re dead,” the stallion huffed, settling into the additional source of warmth, “but this is nice.”

“Make sure you get our good sides!” Tail shouted to the photographer before her laughter spilled out.

“It seems she’ll have plenty of opportunities.” Celestia gestured over towards the archways with one of her slender forelegs. “Our honorees are here.”

Tail craned her neck and peered in the direction from which she had come. Sure enough, Bonecrusher and Indar drew closer to the stage with every step. The former’s trot appeared to carry slightly more weight than that of her counterpart—as the crunching thuds into the grass produced pockets of discoloration that Tail could trace all the way to the stone walkway.

Both the lime-coated earth pony and the sandy-colored unicorn wore navy-hued dress uniforms, and both kept their motions swift and crisp as they maneuvered onto the raised platform opposite Tail and Barrier.

“Look at that,” Crusher quipped, her amethyst glare still trained to find her former foil. “Civvy’s already got Captain Barrier under her wing. Isn’t that some sort of deep pegasi courting ritual? And here I thought we showed up for something else.”

Indar flashed a halfhearted scowl and sighed. “You can’t help yourself, can you—even at an event that is literally for us? We’re in the company of Princess Celestia as well.”

Bonecrusher tossed her tail into an aggressive swish while she stared at the sun-maned mage. “We swam laps in her bathtub, Indar. There are lots of things that I’m just not going to give two shits about after that. No offense, Your Highness, but the sappy crap is low-hanging fruit compared to that.”

“Point taken, Private,” the alicorn answered, allowing a devious grin to blossom as she observed the officer couple. “Perhaps The Civvy and the Captain would make a fine addition for the Ponyville Theatre Troupe. I should ask the managers to pursue it. Of course, as payment for your input, we shall strike your initial jab from the record and proceed. After all, it sounds as though the rank of private no longer suits you.”

The earth pony did not miss the cue. She snapped to attention and held a salute, and it was not long before Indar did the same.

“Captain Barrier, Colonel Tail, you are both free to proceed. As a Princess of Equestria, I declare these festivities to be officially opened.”

Barrier gave a curt nod and slid out from beneath Tail’s wing. He approached Indar with measured steps and stopped within hoof’s reach. “Eh, I still am not one for many words in these situations. You came to me as a corporal with a good head on your shoulders, and during your time with me, you’ve only grown.” Using his magic, Barrier retrieved a pin box from within his uniform and carefully affixed the sergeant chevrons to the collar of Indar’s jacket. “Under the Authority of the Royal Sisters, you are officially appointed the rank of EE-5. I have already filed the recommendation that you start O.C.S. as soon as possible. That recommendation has been formally recognized.”

“Thank you, sir,” Indar spoke only after Barrier had lifted his leg to return the salute.

Tail smiled warmly at the scene. You really deserve it, Indar, she thought as the boys stomped their forelegs against the stage. She waited until Barrier had started his return trip before making her way towards Bonecrusher. Even amidst the regal glow of Celestia and the clicking of the camera in the background, it was hard for Tail not to be engulfed by the stare the earth pony was giving her.

For months, those purple eyes had been the bane of Tail’s existence. They had targeted her, judged her, homed in on her potential destruction. They belonged to a mare that had beaten the shit out of her—that had forced her to fight back like she never had. They had bitten into her when a snarling voice told her that she didn’t belong. Now, they were calling her forward.

Tail clutched the pin box with her left wing and rolled her appendage to cradle the package with an underside grip. “For about two months of my life, I genuinely believed that you were the biggest asshole that I had ever met.” Tail paused, peeking at the sly expression that emerged on Bonecrusher’s muzzle. “You rubbed me like nopony ever had, but you also pushed me to do better. And by the end, you came clean with me and had the backs of this squad.

“Under the Authority of the Royal Sisters, you are hereby appointed the rank of EE-4. Your orders are to report to Canterlot Guard, Division 1, effective immediately. Your nation thanks you for your service, and”—Tail affixed the corporal chevrons to Bonecrusher’s collar before she hugged the lime-colored mare—“I am so happy for you.”

Bonecrusher flinched at the embrace. She quickly drew a breath and released it in a slow hum that tickled one of Tail’s ears. “Civvy,” she whispered, “you were supposed to salute.”

Author's Note:

Remember how in NLD I'd have the Midweek Montage chapters? Well, I tried to do that in NLA... only to discover that my MWM candidates all met my normal length for typical chapters. There goes that plan! Anyhoo, after building up some long lingering lore bits on the last few Thursdays, we return to some overdue fluff.

As always, thank you for your continued support and readership. It has been a damn rough week in academic writing land, but here is to the soothing light at the end of the tunnel -- or something. I'll see you all next week for Chapter 16. Oh sweet Celestia! There is disco in that chapter.


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