Cedant Arma Togae
Somepony was holding Soarin's hoof. This surprised him, since he was pretty sure he was dead... wasn't he? Then again, he could question whether or not he was dead, so didn't that mean he was alive? What if this meant that there was life after death? But why would some other ghost be holding his ghostly hoof? Could ghosts hold hooves?
He decided to just open his eyes and be done with it. Metaphysics made his head hurt.
He was laying on a cot under a large, green tent. He smelled antiseptic and apples. An overjoyed Applejack derailed his investigations with a bear hug that made his back pop. He noticed that she'd found his hat somewhere.
"You're okay!" Applejack planted a passionate kiss on his lips before he could reply. He scanned the room with one eye; good, they had some privacy. He could enjoy himself. Wait, how could he enjoy himself? His ribs were dust; by all rights, this should have been the worst pain of his life. But nope. It was intimate and earnest, the connection of two souls in a way that words couldn't accomplish.
Applejack finally broke the kiss. She looked him right in the eye, her brows furrowing. "Ah oughta slug you. When ah found out you were in that blast, ah coulda just died!" Soarin hoped she wouldn't start crying again. Nope; apparently seeing her friends was steadying her.
"It wasn't my idea. He kinda fell on top of me."
Applejack winced sympathetically. "Ouch. That must've hurt; he was a heavy bugger."
"Yeah. Being crushed by you is a lot nicer." Soarin gave nuzzled her neck lightly, finally adding his own forelegs to the embrace. "You said he was? As in..."
"Ahem. Wing Sergeant? You have company."
Soarin's eyes flew open. His wingmate, a tan peagsus mare named Highfly, was dressed in a white medic's uniform. She was flanked on either side by Rarity and Rainbow Dash. Applejack shoved him back down on the bed as fast as she could mange and practically leapt back into her chair. She fidgeted with her hat nervously, her face looking as red as a the apples on her cutie mark.
Rainbow Dash gagged. "Sheesh, guys, get a room."
Applejack said hotly, "We got a room!"
The blue pegasus stuck her tongue out. "Then get one with a lock."
Rarity scoffed at Dash. "Psht, I wouldn't expect you to appreciate a touching moment like that, Rainbow Dash; you have all the romantic instinct of a cumquat."
Dash looked like she was about to protest, but she stopped. "Yeah, you got me there."
As was her way, Highfly looked upon them dispassionately. She allowed herself a slight smirk when she noticed their embarrassment. "I hope we weren't interrupting anything."
"N-no, Private." Soarin cleared his throat to buy time. "S-so, the whole squadron's out here?"
"Yessir, Wing Sergeant. We were scrambled as soon as the Princess got the word from her student's dragon assistant. Apparently he and everypony from Del Mare had been mind controlled into submission." Highfly frowned. "That is not a sentence I ever expected to say."
Soarin chuckled. "It's been a weird week all around, Private."
Applejack asked, "Dash, speakin' of Spike, where's everypony else? Ah thought y'all'd be out there with Twilight at the portal doohickey."
Dash rubbed the back of her head. "I've been here for a while. I... sorta wanted to apologize to Soarin for, y'know, blowing him up with the Rainbow of Light. Not that it's my fault! Really! Just... in case it was sorta kinda my fault, I'm kinda sorta sorry."
Soarin smiled. "I kinda sorta accept your apology."
Dash snickered. "Kinda sorta awesome. That's kinda sorta a relief."
Rarity tittered. "As for me, Dash dragged me here when she heard you start talking. I was just borrowing some fabric from that smashed linen shop. The refugees need blankets until we can get the poor dears some real shelter, so I volunteered to sew some. Though I'm glad Dash insisted I take a break for this." She rested her chin on her hoof and sighed contentedly. "Two lovers in each others' embrace after escaping certain doom? It was so romantic."
Ignoring Dash's continued gagging and Soarin and Applejack's blushing, Highfly trotted over to his side, taking his hoof and feeling for his pulse. "Hm, nice and strong. Though your heart rate does seem a bit... elevated. Have you been doing anything strenuous?" The smirk grew a bit.
Applejack looked like she wanted to hide under something; she settled for angling the white cowpony hat so it covered her eyes. Soarin knew Highfly well enough to know that their little lip lock wasn't going to enter the rumor mill; Highfly had no taste for gossip. From what he knew about Rarity, though... oh well. He loved Applejack. Ponies who loved each other kissed; that wasn't anything to be ashamed of. That realization calmed him down enough to say, "So, how long was I out? I know these tents aren't easy to set up."
Highfly checked her wristwatch. "Approximately ten hours. You've been under my care for the last four hours." She smiled at him more genuinely. "You gave us a bit of a scare, sir; we were told that they found you at the bottom of a large crater."
"It wasn't my fault! Mostly! It was a group effort." Everypony turned and gave Dash a confused look. The blue pegasus coughed into her hoof. "Um. Sorry. Just a reflex."
Highfly turned back to Soarin, ignoring Dash's outburst. "How are you feeling, Wing Sergeant?"
When Highfly released his foreleg, Soarin straightened up. Still no pain from his chest; weird. He flexed in flexed his foreleg and grinned. "Good as new, Highfly." And then his stomach growled. It was obvious both of the mares could hear it. "But I'm still hungry."
Applejack chuckled. "Ah guess that means y'all must be okay."
Highfly nodded. "Indeed. It's good to have you back, sir." She pulled out a pencil and made a few notes on a clipboard at the foot of Soarin's cot. "Ms. Sparkle's analysis seems to be correct; the Rainbow of Light does have restorative properties on some subjects." It was subtle, but Soarin could tell that the medic was anxious to leave, probably to go interrogate Twilight and possibly arrange a few tests of the new "treatment."
Soarin stood up next to Applejack and wrapped a wing around her shoulder. "So, just so I'm clear: where's Tirek?"
From outside, Scorpan's booming voice answered, "They found you buried under a pile of his ash; draw your own conclusions."
Soarin shuddered. "Ew! AJ, why didn't you tell me?"
Applejack frowned. "Didn't seem proper to mention it, long as ah thought you might be hurt. It's dang gruesome. Ah still don't get it; it helped Princess Luna, why'd it just destroy Tirek?"
Scorpan finally came into view. He was moving slowly; he'd jury rigged a crutch from a tree branch, and his left leg was encased in a cast. This was worsened by the fact that the tent wasn't made for someone as tall as he was. To get around, he was having to hold his torso at a weird angle and hop. It was funny... not that Soarin was going to laugh at Scorpan. He'd seen how hard the hyu-man could punch. Rainbow Dash looked like she wanted to snicker, but a stern look from Rarity cut her off.
Scorpan met Applejack's gaze. "Because there was nothing to save. He was pure corruption. When your magic tried to purify him, it destroyed his very being. Good riddance to bad rubbish; it doesn't matter anymore." He grinned from ear to ear. "It truly doesn't matter anymore! It's over. I'm free. You're free. Everyone's free!"
Highfly said, "Your highness, you shouldn't be moving around. Your cast hasn't completely set yet."
Scorpan puffed up slightly at somepony mentioning his royal title, but waved away the rest of it. "Oh don't nag me, woman... horse... don't nag me, pony. I'm a grown man, I'll do as I please."
Highfly bit her lip in an irritated manner, but decided not to push it. "Very well. At least don't stand at that angle."
He poked the ceiling for emphasis. "I wouldn't if you ponies built your tents the right size. But don't worry, I won't be in your hair much longer. I need to be getting back to my own world."
"I can't allow that." Highfly trotted up to him and flew up, staring him in the eye. She didn't raise her voice. "You're in no condition to move around, but you're in even less of a condition to travel anywhere."
Scorpan shook his head bemusedly. "What do you think you're going to do about it?"
Highfly frowned thoughtfully. "Well, I do have some tranquilizers..."
Scorpan shook his head, chuckling. "Look, nurse, I'm sure you mean well, but I'm fine. Don't you have anyone else to look after?"
Highfly shook her head. "No, all of the other patients have been discharged, and Wing Seargent von Richthofen seems to be perfectly fine. You have my undivided attention."
The hyu-man facepalmed. "Just my luck."
Soarin spoke up. "They've all been discharged? So that means everypony made it out okay?"
Highfly turned and nodded. "Affirmative. While there were some broken bones, that was the worst of it; all of the civilians from Del Mare and Ponyville are safe and sound."
Scorpan hobbled past the nurse and clapped Soarin on the shoulder. It didn't hurt as badly this time; maybe Scorpan was in worse shape than he let on. "I almost forgot why I came in here, and it wasn't to argue with Ms. Highfly."
"Private Highfly, if you please." Highfly sounded slightly annoyed. This was a rare occurence.
"Private Highfly, my apologies, milady." Scorpan smiled broadly. "I just couldn't leave without saying goodbye to the both of you. It was good to fight at your sides."
Soarin nodded. "Thanks for everything you did, Scorpan."
"And to you too, Soarin."
Applejack lowered her head sadly. "Scorpan, ah am sorry about... y'know. In the cellar."
Scorpan waved her concerns away. "With what you knew, you were in your rights. War brings out the worst in everyone. Just... the next time someone tells you that the smart thing to do is suffer some acceptable losses, listen, okay? Your conscience almost cost us dearly."
Applejack nodded silently and leaned into Soarin. Rarity put a comforting hoof on her shoulder. "You did what you thought was right, Applejack." Applejack gave her a grateful smile.
Highfly coughed into her hoof. "I think I can conditionally discharge the Wing Sergeant, but you need your bed rest, your highness. It's getting late; I'm going to have to call an end to visitor's hours."
Rainbow Dash frowned. "Aw, c'mon, I waited for three hours to make sure I hadn't killed Soarin and I gotta leave after like two minutes?"
Rarity rolled her eyes. "Dash, they aren't going to make you a Wonderbolt today."
"I'm that obvious?" Dash shook her head and glowered at Rarity. "I mean, that isn't what I'm here for at all! Nope! Not buttering up Soarin in any way!"
A deep bass voice interjected, "You can make an exception for us, right?" Without waiting for a response, Hermes flung open the curtain and trotted in. The gigantic, red-furred pegasus had almost as much trouble getting around as Scorpan; the little tent section was getting crowded. Following the red stallion was...
Rainbow Dash's jaw dropped. "Ohmigosh! Captain Spitfire!" She grabbed a nearby box of bandages and stole Highfly's pen, earning a look of annoyance from the tan mare. "Will you sign this for me?"
Spitfire raised her eyebrow. "I already gave you my autograph. When we hung out together after the Best Young Flyer's Contest?"
Dash glanced around nervously. "I don't want your old autograph to get lonely?"
Spitfire laughed. "That's as good a reason as any."
While the Captain signed the box, Soarin saluted smartly, as did an annoyed Highfly. "Captain," the two said in unison.
Spitfire smiled her habitual mellow smile and waved her front hoof downwards. "At ease, at ease. You two sure are wound up tight."
Soarin said, "Well, ma'am, we are still on the front lines."
Spitfire raised an eyebrow. "I know that's just how Highfly is, but I'm not sure what your excuse is. Highfly, he knows that the war's over, right?"
"Good. Wing Sergeant, calm down. You're done for the day, hero boy."
Soarin blushed. "I'm no..."
Applejack jabbed him in the ribs. "You finish that sentence and yer in more trouble than a mouse at a cat convention."
Dash nodded. "Ditto! You were a hero before today but now you're, like, a superhero!"
Spitfire chuckled. "You'd better listen to your friends, Soarin. Unless you don't want that Order of the Sun medal Princess Celestia said she was giving you. I'll take it for you."
Soarin's jaw went slack. "Wh-what?"
Applejack whistled appreciatively. "Even ah've heard of that one. Not too shabby, hon."
Rainbow Dash's jaw dropped. "Ohmigosh, I got to be here to hear about it! I'm invited to the ceremony, right? Right?"
Soarin shook his head to clear the shock, giving Dash a nod that earned him a high pitched squeal. "Is the Princess here, Captain?"
Spitfire said, "Well, Luna is. Celestia had to stay behind to repair the damage that the Rainbow of Darkness did to the sun. And that reminds me." She turned towards the medic with an apologetic look on her face. "Highfly, I'm afraid we're going to have to steal your patient. Princess Luna said she isn't sure how much longer she and Twilight Sparkle can keep the portal to Scorpan's world open; apparently it was kept intact by Tirek's magic, and he isn't in a position to help out. Hermes needs to fly him there ASAP."
Scorpan barked a laugh. "I told you couldn't keep me here."
Highly shrugged. "With Captain Spitfire's help, yes, you made good your boast."
Hermes walked over and gave Soarin a brohoof. "Good to see you, Sarge. Wish you'd let me know you were gonna get a campaign's worth of glory in one weekend; you can't even use it to pick up mares like I could."
Applejack laughed and put a foreleg around Soarin's shoulder. "You got that right, partner."
Hermes said, "Anyway, I gotta fly, Sarge. You're gonna have to tell me about it when we get back to base. I'll buy the donuts."
Soarin laughed. "Hey, it's your bank account."
Hermes blinked. "Yeah, I guess I forgot who I was talking to for a second. Oh well, a promise is a promise... at least in this squad. Anyway, we better run." He trotted out the door, beckoning Scorpan to follow.
Scorpan followed, but stopped at the entrance to the room. "What about my dragons?"
Rarity said, "Don't fret, darling. They're there waiting for you, and they're all very sorry that they had to fight you."
Scorpan raised his eyebrow. "I didn't know you spoke draconic."
Rarity shook her head. "Oh I don't, but Fluttershy does. It's her gift."
Scorpan nodded, satisfied with Rarity's response. He locked eyes with Soarin. "I guess this is it. Good skill, everyo- everypony. If we meet again, may it be under better circumstances."
Soarin saluted him. "To you too, Scorpan. Good lu... skill with cleaning up Tirek's mess."
"Thanks. I'll need it." With that, the red stallion and the hyu-man disappeared from sight.
Spitfire said, "Rainbow Dash, would you and your friend mind leaving for a minute? It's private Wonderbolts business; you know how it is."
Dash did a perfect Wonderbolt salute; obviously she'd practiced a lot. "Yes ma'am!" She roughly shoved Rarity towards the exit. "You heard the Captain, move move move!"
Rarity protested, "You don't have to push, Dash!"
Dash responded by pushing harder. "Less talk, more walk! Captain's orders!"
"Dash, you're messing up my mane! Be more careful! Dash!"
As soon as the two bickering mares were out of sight, Spitfire turned her attention to Soarin. "So, Soarin, there's the matter of your vacation."
Soarin blinked. "What about it?"
Spitfire shrugged apologetically. "After today, it's over, and you've used up your vacation time for the season."
Applejack stomped her hoof, obviously frustrated. "Y'all mean he don't get his vacation back?"
Spitfire nodded. "Yes. I'm sorry, but he's scheduled for our show in Seaddle and it would be a pain to do the paperwork to get him out of it."
Applejack said, "The colt's a hero! And ah had to wait a month just to see him, and ah spent most of my time with him dodgin' dragons and demons! He sure as shootin' deserves his vacation back! It ain't fair!"
Highfly, her tone neutral, said, "Regulations are regulations."
Spitfire nodded again. "Which means it's very fortunate that Soarin here is in need of a sick leave. That's virtually no paperwork."
Soarin blinked. "I'm not sick."
Highly said, "I have to agree. His vitals are fine; the Rainbow of Light seems to have rejuvenated him."
Spitfire winked. "No. You sustained injuries fighting the dragons and demons. And Private Highfly here will vouch for that." She winked twice at the pegasus mare, just to emphasize her point.
Highfly nodded. "Aha. A deception. If that's what you want, Captain. He clearly needs a week to recover his mental health after his ordeal."
Soarin frowned. "I'm not sure that I should. It wouldn't be right; I'm perfectly healthy."
Applejack nudged him in the side. "But it ain't for your physical health. You've seen some pretty messed up stuff; y'all need some tender lovin' care, and ain't nopony who gets to give you that but me." She leaned in and whispered, "'Sides, ah need a chance to make up for that 'big idiot' crack. All the pie you can eat, for starters."
Soarin struggled with his conscience, but a week of Applejack's tender loving care was sorely tempting. "I guess if the Captain's okay with it..."
Spitfire's expression grew stern; well, as stern as the laid back pegasus could manage. "Wing Sergeant, you march over to Ponyville as soon as possible and don't you leave until exactly one week from tomorrow. That's an order, mister."
Soarin saluted. He knew when he was beat. "Yes ma'am."