• Published 10th Dec 2020
  • 3,886 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 8 - Showers & Steel

Tail leaned her forehead against the white tiles that lined the shower walls. Her eyes remained closed while warm water tugged her mane, soaked her lavender coat, and blanketed her body in a perfect shroud for mental wandering. In particular, the feeling of Barrier’s fur lingered in her memory, and its presence produced a random progression of hummed notes that slipped over a bitten lower lip.

Three chords passed before the image of the first time she had seen Barrier stuck out amongst the sea of snapshots that tumbled through her mind. The echoes of his harsh tone bit into her reflections, tearing at the fabric of that long-abandoned nightmare. I gave everything for both of you, and you would demand more!? That’s what he had screamed at Luna in that moment—when she had clawed her way into his life.

You really didn’t want me there—Tail’s smile broke the hold her teeth had placed upon her lip—but I told you I couldn’t quit. Now here I am.

The mare’s ear flicked. The timbre of her internal narration had shifted to something far more subdued as Tail’s focus flew through the timeline. Barrier’s life, the things he had to endure, his pain—they haunted the dusty contours of every bottle she had seen. She had clawed her way in…

“Caught a glimpse of your face and the pain left behind.” While her repetitive humming yielded to the emerging lyrics, Tail’s voice clung to the chain she had established. A G5 chord—it was definitely a G5—anchored her verse until a lifting D and more somber A-minor rounded out the trio.

Difficult days came back to the drenched pegasus. Days when he had seen her not at her best—and ones when they had clashed—ventured to the front. Flashes of that flask flickered in her imagination, and more of the spawned melody tumbled from her muzzle as her brain clung to a simple notion. If I had known a fraction of what I know now. “Things I can’t know, but I’ll certainly try. Lost in past feelings inside. Just look at me now. No reason to hide…”

Tail drew her breath and held it as the first verse came to an end. Those days could be gone. The days of secret-keeping were definitely gone. The hidden history? No longer hidden. The abundance of dusty bottles hadn’t been touched in ages. Instead, he had been touching her, and once again, she embraced the memory of a stallion who had taught her so much—who had carried her home—the stallion she loved.

She threw her head back with enough force to send her mane into a frenzy as it slapped atop her withers and spiraled over her shoulders. Her voice returned with a wind that banished the A-minor from the refrain and replaced it with a far more wholesome Cadd9. “‘Cause you’re not a monster! No, I won’t believe that. Can’t you hear me screaming as I try to outlast the edge in your voice that strives to push me away?

“Well, you put your shields up when others let you down. Damn aura of pride yankin’ burdens around. Now I’m reachin’ out … ‘cause you’re no longer displaced.”

Chocolate irides once again ensnared curtain-dulled light, and soft breaths soothed Tail’s frame. She relinquished her creative muse for the time being, opting instead to allow her sights to meander across a decorative blue trim that had been cut into the tile. For a minute, she listened to the comforting sounds of falling water before mumbling, “The blue matches his mane.”

Reluctantly, the mare shut off the faucet, pulled back the curtain, and stepped onto the beige mat placed beside the tub. She froze from the wave that enveloped her body, and she promptly snatched a white towel that she presumed was not Barrier’s standard issue. “Mm,” she mumbled again upon pressing the soft cotton to her coat, “he’s probably been waiting for me.”

On cue, a knock at the door drove Tail into a startled, arched posture. Her wet coat quasi-bristled at the percussive interjection, and she glared at the white wooden entrance while her muzzle scrunched in anticipation. Dilation skewed the subsequent seconds, and a softly muttered, “How long has he been there?” barely graced the air as a hoof timidly pawed at the fluffy floor mat.

Tail eventually mustered enough reserve curiosity to overcome the minor butterflies and pop the latch. Behind the swinging plank, a blushing Barrier stood, and his blue eyes clearly darted from curl to curl of Tail’s black mane.

“Uh, uh-hem,” he coughed after bringing a forehoof to his muzzle. “Just wanted to let you know that breakfast is ready. Not trying to rush you, but I’m going to have to get to the field pretty soon to meet Bonecrusher and Indar.” The stallion briefly paused as a smile began to take shape. “I might have to teach them how to identify a siren because, with a voice like that, I’m starting to have some doubts.”

Natural pegasus defenses sprang into action. A shiver ran from the base of Tail’s namesake all the way to the tips of her ears, and it brought with it a powerful field that—in true scientific terminology—floofed everything. “You heard nothing,” she squeaked, flaring her wings before her still-pawing hoof aborted that action to yank the towel and toss it at the backpedaling Barrier.

The stallion chuckled after his head was covered by the projectile. “Mm, I’m pretty sure Amora told me about this once. For all her conniving, she was pretty spot on with the adorable of this one.”

Heat rushed to Tail’s head, and the mare swiftly rolled her eyes. “Of course she would. Any other deep, dark, embarrassing reveals I need to know about?”

Another round of snickers dribbled from Barrier’s mouth. “It’s Amora,” he replied, passing the towel back to Tail. “Her plots are on par with Luna’s, and based on one breakfast, I’m guessing she could ramble for weeks. So… probably?”

“I can’t even imagine what else she’s told you!” Tail unleashed an exasperated sigh in response to Barrier’s trailing inflection, and her head found refuge in the embarrassment-concealing confines of the towel. “What in Equestria am I going to do with that mare?”

“Is there anything anypony can do about Amora?” The charcoal-coated stallion flashed a contented grin and kept his foreleg held out to the mare. “I’ll take it as a downpayment for when she gets a significant other, but that’s for another time, methinks. You have some Prench toast with your name on it, and I even managed to clear a path to the dining room.”

Tail pulled the cloth to her chest. Her mane fell forward, covering one of her eyes, but the other set its sight upon Barrier. The mare could hear the beating of her heart inside her head, and the muscles around her muzzle quivered. Breaths came slightly quicker, and that familiar fire swiftly spread across her iris. “Barrier…”—no more secrets—“do we need to talk about that?”

An audible gulp thumped in the unicorn’s throat. His ears had pitched to receive Tail’s reserved tone, and the grin that had sat upon his countenance faded. His leg, however, remained outstretched, still waiting for the pegasus to grasp it. “It’s probably a conversation better served for later. I’ve found a good place, but parts of me are still works-in-progress. Is that—” He paused. “I hope that’s an okay answer for now.”

The scientist swept her hair to the side as a smile blossomed. In its wake, Tail watched the apprehension evaporate from Barrier’s frame, and he beamed at her the instant she set her pastern upon his limb. “It is, Magic Bear—as long as that good place involves escorting me to that Prench toast.”

Dazedly, Tail stared at the ceiling of her newest laboratory. Her focus dissolved into the stretches of white lights the space’s previous owner had set into the stone. Magically powered diodes… she lazily noted as her withers pressed into the backrest of a black, padded chair. The pegasus swiveled about like a foal for a few moments before she snapped from the trance, leaned forward, and thrust her hoof towards the waveguides.

“And just what am I going to do with you? I tooled all my equipment for twenty mils, but nope, you all have to be super fancy with your nine-point-zero-six-seven-eight Canterlot Crown unit conversions.” She smacked her lips and narrowed her gaze on the closest of the hollow metal structures.

Hints of cinnamon lingered, thanks to the wonder of Barrier’s breakfast. Her facial expressions softened in the wake of those fresh memories, and his name escaped from her muzzle at the behest of a throaty purr. “Magic…”

I have never seen any weapon like this. Probably too big for standard use, to be honest. Barrier’s words rushed back to her—as did the feel of her grip on the A0 after she had unleashed that science-shattering round. His assessment from nearly a month ago had been correct. The rifle platform was built for a physicist and her lab.

“I’ve gotten better,” she muttered aloud before rolling off the chair. The mare scrunched her muzzle, and her sights rapidly darted from workbench to workbench. Her ears twitched and her namesake swirled while an internal debate proceeded behind the betraying cloak of a contemplative scowl.

Suddenly, the pegasus pounded her forehoof against the rough stone floor. “No, I’ve earned this.” She threw her focus over grey slab after grey slab until it careened into the reinforced rock at the end of the cavern. “Smaller munitions will be more portable. I can make something. It’ll just be more complicated to make the containment work. I’m going to need augurite—boatloads of augurite.

“Crystal for the rounds, metal-infused for the resonance induction coils.” Tail snorted. “Do I even have the money for that? I mean, I can always write another grant, but that’s such a bucking pain.”

She strode towards one of the unequipped tables and grunted as she leaned over the maple top to retrieve her saddlebag. From the burlap confines, a sheet of paper and a drafting pencil emerged, and it was not long before Tail tapped the metal tip of the instrument against the parchment.

“You’ve got the support of a friggin’ princess,” she groaned, squeezing the pencil to reveal a thin tube of graphite. “She’ll have your back. Quit dwelling on it. Be innovative. Stay practical. Put what you’ve learned to good use. What do I want?”

Tail closed her eyes and leaned forward as her hoof meandered over the paper. She sketched pony stick figures and allowed her body to produce random mosaics while her imagination dove through the library of her training experiences.

Movement. The scent of grass tickled Tail’s nose as she pushed her dirt-stained figure from the ground. She lunged at the silhouette of her captain once again and sought to override her primal instinct. That liberating roll loitered just over her horizon, and when Tail finally grasped it, she felt—

Freedom. The wind rushed through her coat, and as the pegasus came out of her roll, she was no longer in the yard. She was soaring over Canterlot, running towards Tower Forty-One to lead a counteroffensive with her comrades. She needed the freedom to move every feather—every limb. They all had to be there to remain—

Reliable. Cloudy skies ensnared her vision. Pain tore into her wing, ripping at the nerves to the beat of snapping bones and stomping hooves. The taste of blood accompanied the sting in her muzzle, yet in spite of the hardship, Tail lurched forward. She hurled her foreleg at the shadow of aggression. She had to keep going. She had to put up a fight, and all she needed was one damn leg!

Clang! Her imagination released the sands of time to cling to a new reverie. Gunmetal armor gripped her slender frame as Tail squared off against an unseen attacker. The mare’s gaze drifted down towards the source of the clamor where she found a blade’s advance halted by a glimmering line of steel strapped to her foreleg—

Light poured past strained irides after Tail’s eyelids snapped open. Her fur bristled, her wings flared, and the intrigued mare slowly turned to face the grand doors of the laboratory. Repeated thumping had snatched her away from the daydream, and the cadence coaxed the corners of the physicist’s lips to tighten. She had company. She wasn’t expecting any—at least not yet.

For a moment, Tail didn’t quite believe she had heard what she had heard. Perhaps her mind was still running wild. Perhaps it was merely a trick. Gingerly, Tail approached the entrance. She held her breath, not wanting to make a sound that could reveal her presence, and her perked ear nearly reached the surface when another knock thundered.

Tail slowly exhaled and readied her hind legs. The possibility that an unwelcome visitor stood just outside her vault formed a real threat. Her coat remained on end as she lifted her hoof to a large crystal set into the blue metal doors, and with a gentle press, the mare activated a magical interlock.

The behemoth Prench-style slabs parted amongst a chorus of sorcery-driven machinery, and Tail didn’t wait to make a move. She leapt high into the air to avoid the typical line of sight, pressed her hind hooves against the edge of the still-opening entry, and jumped over a pair of ponies that, upon observation, didn’t appear all that malevolent.

A batpony mare followed the arc and peered up at the physicist with a pair of yellowish-green eyes. One of her hooves was still lifted towards her mariner-blue mane as though she had been in mid-salute, and a white lab coat was draped over the pony’s petite purple frame. Across her muzzle, a grimace spread, carrying an aura of uncertainty with it.

As she landed, Tail slid her gaze to a light-blue stallion who stood beside the saluter. He was considerably older in appearance than his companion, for his mane had long since yielded to the greying march of time, and spectacles perched upon his snout. To his credit, his facial features looked far more composed than his counterpart. There were no signs of surprise or confusion when it came to her gymnastics. In fact, the tranquil, brown-eyed stare that met Tail silently told her that he had seen it all before.

“Uhm, hello, Colonel Tail,” the mare began after she finally lowered her hoof. “Sorry to disturb you. Princess Luna informed Colonel Wing that she believed you would want to meet the general here. I work in Wing’s lab, and he asked if I could be an escort. Again, sorry to disturb you, ma’am.”

Tail’s head tilted to the mare’s melodic tones, and her brain oscillated between potential replies. The smaller mare seemed cute. She worked with the stallion kind enough to give her this space. Yet, her lab was unquestionably hers now. There was no place for a general anywhere near it—not after the more boisterous members of the Equestrian Army had tried to take it from her.

“Perhaps you should have started with a different title, Dr. Batsy,” the stallion spoke up. “With all she’s been through in the past couple months, I’m not surprised to see an entrance like that. Captain Barrier taught you well, Colonel. But my only capacity here as a general is to apologize. I’m really here as an author. Princess Luna seems to believe that you rather fancy my book.”

Author's Note:

Happy Thursday! We've reached Chapter 8 and the final chapter release of January 2021. Hope everyone is getting through the Winter months. If you're in the Northern Hemisphere, we're finally getting longer days! Let's go! The Fate Metrics saw a bunch of F-yeahs this week. Can't imagine why... it's not like the imagined revolver had anything to do with it. :3c

I have to keep stressing every week that I really appreciate the readership and support NLA has gotten. NLD has still been popping off this month, and it seriously lifts my spirits. Everyone should expect Fate to die next week while tabbing the metrics, though. Chapter 9 - Lilac & Lavender... a certain special somepony may or may not be making an appearance.

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