“Okay, that’s the last one.”
Giving the last baby bird a fond pat on the head, Fluttershy drifted back down from the tree branch, her translucent golden spell wings beating softly in their almost delicate runework frames.
“You sure do have a way with animals," Graves idly commented as he brushed downy feathers off the top of his hat. The girl with the coral pink hair just giggled as she smoothed out the front of her lilac-colored sundress.
“You do too, Mister Marshal," she smiled. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen the bears as fond of anyone as you.”
“Please,” he muttered dryly, “don’t remind me.”
As she always did at the beginning of every season, Fluttershy had gone through the neighboring woods to take a census of the animals. What this would accomplish, Graves had no idea, but things had been peaceful enough that he didn’t have much to do. Plus, the young lady had looked like she could use some help.
It had been pleasant work for the most part, a lot of bouncing bunnies bumping about, bunches of bubbly baby birds - who all seemed fond of perching atop his hat - and all other manners of other adorable little woodland creatures. The only problem was that not all newborns were so small and cuddly, as several infant bears had decided it would be great fun to wrestle with the marshal. One was fine, and two was manageable, but six? That was another story entirely.
“So, how come I rarely see you fly?” Graves asked as he knuckled the small of his back. The shy girl blushed slightly and let her light pink hair obscure her face before answering.
“Well, I was born in Cloudsdale like Rainbow Dash, so I was taught to fly from an early age. But honestly? I was never really good at it.” At this, her cheeks tinted to near the same shade as her hair. “That’s why I only wear them when I need to work with flying animals and stuff: they’re terribly heavy otherwise.”
“Makes sense to me,” Graves shrugged as he cracked his spine. Loudly.
“Oh my goodness, you’re not hurt are you?” Fluttershy asked in alarm, eyes widening as she jumped at what had sounded like snapping tree trunks.
“Meh, I’m fine,” he said offhandedly with a dismissive wave of the hand. “Just a little sore. Not exactly used to bear wrangling.”
“You are? I’m so sorry,” Fluttershy whimpered, looking like she was about to burst into tears. “If I had known that this would happen, I would never have… would never…”
“I told you, it’s fine,” Graves repeated hastily in even greater alarm than her; the last thing he wanted was for the shy girl to begin sobbing over nothing. “It’s just a little stiff: a good night’s sleep, and it’ll be all better.”
“… Really?” she sniffed, now only looking upset instead of abjectly forlorn. The young man nodded and gave his most convincing smile, which in retrospect, probably didn’t help. He still wasn’t very good at the whole reassuring thing.
“Well, if you say so,” Fluttershy smiled faintly, then suddenly, very, very broadly indeed. “Ooh! But instead of waiting for it to get better, what if I helped make it better right now?”
“Come again?" Before he could figure out heads from tails, Fluttershy seized him by the arm and took off, flying with a force that made him very dubious of her ‘weak flyer’ story.
The formerly hesitant girl now dragged the young marshal through the town square, getting not just a few odd looks as they passed. Fortunately, nobody watched long enough to see them arrive at the final destination: Graves probably couldn’t have taken that.
“No. Absolutely not,” the young man said, eyes glued in disbelief to the building before him.
“But you really should,” Fluttershy pressed on earnestly. “It will make you feel a lot better afterwards.”
“That may be so,” he admitted with great reticence, “but… the spa? Really?”
The demure, young lady just squeed in delight as she flushed another delicate shade of pink.
“Well, I thought that it would help your back feel better. And I’ve been meaning to go myself recently, but I couldn’t find anyone to go with me, so…”
Ah, so that’s what it was.
Graves really wanted to say no. There were lots of things he was willing to put up with, but walking into a beauty salon to get a pedicure? He’d rather go back, call the baby bears several unpleasant names, and then wrestle the mama after taking a dip in brown gravy.
But Fluttershy had brought him here out of good intentions - well, good enough at least - and refusing might send her into tears again. Besides, the way she was looking up at him with big, hopeful pony eyes that could have put any of the Cutie Mark Crusaders to shame, well…
He sighed, a deep, heavy sigh of weary defeat.
“Not one word of this. To anyone. Clear?”
Fluttershy just squeed and dragged the young man in.
The sun was already on its way down the horizon by the time the two came out. Between the full body massages, saunas, seaweed wraps, mud baths, and hair styling, it wasn’t surprising to see so much time had passed.
“So? What did you think?” Fluttershy smiled, her face positively glowing after the luxurious treatment. Graves glanced down at her, and then looked straight ahead once more, his face stern and impassive as usual despite his newly acquired glow: exfoliating skin treatment for the first time since, well… since ever, would really do that.
“It was… fine,” he mumbled, a faint touch of red coming to his face. While distinctly odd, he couldn’t say that the whole experience had exactly been unpleasant. Of course, the first hour or so and definitely been absolutely awful; apparently, his muscles had been so tense, that Vera had to resort to using a pair of hammers to work out what seemed to be knots in his knots in still larger knots. But after it was all over, the rest had been a marked improvement. A definitely marked improvement.
“In that case, I’m glad it wasn’t totally a waste of time for you,” she giggled, her tone much too innocent to be anything but teasing. “But since you don’t really like it, I won’t bother you by inviting you next time I want to go.”
“Well, you don’t need to go that far,” Graves interjected as he awkwardly scratched his head: it felt oddly light now that he’d been relieved of so much of his hair. “I mean, if it’s just on occasion, that'd be fine. Just to keep you company, you know.”
Of course that’s all it was. It’s not like he actually liked going to the spa or anything. And so what if and he now felt more refreshed and more relaxed than he had in years? That just meant he’d be able to do his job more easily and be a better marshal. Of course. That’s all there was to it.
Fluttershy was no fool, though, and merely chuckled as the marshal stiffly kept his gaze forward while his cheeks grew even hotter.
As they rounded the corner into the town square, the two of them came across Rarity, arms laden with bags as she returned from a shopping trip.
“Graves! Fluttershy!” the violet-haired girl called with a smile, “How are you today?” Fluttershy smiled as she rushed forward and gave her friend a quick hug.
“We’re doing very well, Rarity. We’re just on our way back from… taking care of the animals,” she finished with a sheepish grin as the marshal shot her a sharp warning glare. There was teasing, and then there were just cheap shots.
“That certainly sounds like a wonderful time,” the seamstress nodded. “Would you like to stop by my shop for afternoon tea?”
“Oh, I’d love to,” Fluttershy grinned apologetically, “but I have to go home and feed Angel. You know how he gets when he’s hungry.”
“But of course,” Rarity nodded as she returned a wry look: Opal could be just as bad, if not worse. “Well, I won’t keep you then. Say hello to the animals for me.”
“Will do. Bye!” With that, the kindly girl activated her spell wings and took off, gracefully sailing off into the sky and leaving her two friends behind.
“Need any help with your bags?” Graves asked as he turned to the pretty, young lady next to him.
“Why, thank you!” Rarity smiled graciously as she handed him several parcels. “I trust you won’t turn down my invitation as well? Tea is always more enjoyable with company.”
“I’m in no rush,” Graves shrugged as casually as he could despite the sudden thrill that arose upon hearing those words. He tamped that down quickly however, as it was just silly to get so excited over tea. Honestly, all that fancy spa stuff must have knocked a screw loose. Maybe two.
As the marshal and the seamstress headed back towards the dress shop, Rarity glanced up at the marshal and smiled.
“So, I take it you had fun working with the animals?” she asked with a sly smile.
“Pretty interesting,” he replied in his typical, gravelly rumble. “It was an experience.”
“A good one I’d gather, considering how you’re positively shining at the moment.”
Graves almost tripped at those words. Curses, how could he have forgotten? With that keen eye for detail, there’d be no way Rarity would overlook such obvious signs of his most recent excursion. He scrambled to find an answer.
“Really? Hadn’t noticed,” he lamely responded and surreptitiously turned to face the other way. She couldn’t see the badly concealed nerves on his face, but neither could he see her very knowing and amused smile.
“I see,” she grinned. “And I suppose you also didn’t notice someone had trimmed your coiffure?”
“Guess not,” he finished weakly.
“Well I did, and I must say, it looks splendid,” she smiled warmly as she reached up to touch his jet-black hair. “I do wish they’d shortened your bangs so I could see your eyes better. But, I guess they do give you a certain mysterious charm. Plus, do you look good with a bit of length to your mane.”
If Graves could have seen the grin on his face right then, he’d have slapped himself for being such an air-headed spring chicken. Or maybe not. He was also quite busy filing that piece of information away for posterity. Just because. Not like he had any particular reason to remember the young beauty next to him liked longer hair. Nope, no reason at all.
“And one more thing, if I may?” Rarity smiled, her sapphire eyes sparkling as she looked. He turned to her, his gunmetal grays giving her full attention.
“… You might want to ease off on the strawberry-cream conditioner. It’s quite… obvious, if you know what I mean.”
“… I’ll keep that in mind.”
Rarity couldn’t hold it in any longer and burst out into her musical laughter as Graves blushed a deep crimson once more.
And yet, strangely for once, he really didn’t mind.