“Well well well, looks like somebody’s in a good mood.”
Looking up from the desk where his spell gun lay disassembled, Graves blinked as he caught sight of Shining Armor’s grinning face peeking through the office door.
“... You’re not supposed to be here,” the marshal said with all the emotion of a comment on the weather. He resumed cleaning.
“Ouch, harsh,” the guard captain winced as he came in and took a seat anyways. “I take time out of my busy schedule to a you visit like a good friend, and this is how you treat me?”
“So it would seem,” Graves replied with the blandness of dry toast.
“Aw man, and here I was hoping that bubbly perkiness of yours would make you a nicer guy. Guess I was wrong.”
“Guess you were,” the taciturn soldier readily agreed. “And just what... ‘bubbly perkiness’ are you talking about?” Shining Armor gave him a knowing grin.
“I dunno, you tell me. When I first poked in, I found you smiling like Cadance on Hearts and Hooves Day, and you never used to smile like that.”
Setting down the polishing cloth, Graves leaned back in his seat and cupped his chin in thought. So he’d been smiling, had he?
Well, it had been a pretty good day. The cadets he’d taken out had actually managed to take down a nest of harpies without suffering grievous injuries or soiling themselves. It may not sound like much, but that was actually a significant milestone considering how green recruits could be. That had been followed by a quick bite from his favorite sandwich shop, and then it was off to meet with Rarity and her suppliers.
True to her predictions, the pompous businessmen had thicker heads than full-grown ogres and were twice the pain in the backside to deal with... for all of about five seconds.
Two minutes in, and Graves already had them antsy and nervous. By six, they were openly sweating buckets, and at ten, they'd pretty much agreed to anything his lovely wife had wanted if only to avoid having to sit any longer under that cold, steely glare. Not only had they forgotten the fees, they also graciously forewent payment on the initial shipment: a token of goodwill, they’d called it, and one Rarity was more than happy to accept.
All in all, a very pleasant day for him indeed.
“See? You’re doing it again,” Shining Armor smirked.
“Was not,” Graves retorted despite realizing the corners of his mouth were in fact curling up in a grin. Good lord, Shining Armor was right; he was doing it.
When had that started?
“Alright alright, if you say so,” the navy-haired officer laughed. “But I actually didn’t come all the way here to tease you. I’ve got a message.”
“A message?” Graves asked with eyebrow arched. “From who?”
“... Now,” Graves repeated, his voice thick with incredulity.
“I think so,” Shining Armor shrugged. “She said whenever you’re ready, but that was after I stopped by Joe’s for a donut so... yeah, probably now.”
“You really do enjoy screwing with me, don’t you?” Graves sighed. His ‘friend’ just grinned.
“It's my calling.”
The marshal just rolled his eyes as he quickly reassembled his rifle. He wouldn’t be bringing it in with him to see the Princess of course - that would be rude - but it was just good habit to have it ready in case he needed it.
“Alright, let’s go,” Graves called as set his cleaned and completed firearm aside. With a jaunty smile, Shining Armor jumped to his feet and after a quick straightening of the sword at his side, threw him a smart, if sarcastic salute... and paused.
“Yo, Graves,” Shining Armor frowned. “Something wrong?” The marshal had stopped and was staring at his friend with an oddly blank expression.
“... Were you always wearing that sword?” he asked.
“Uh, yeah?” the guard captain answered hesitantly. “Why?”
"... No reason,” the marshal replied, giving his head a little shake. For some reason, he couldn’t remember Shining Armor having it on him when he’d walked it. A soldier like him should instantly note any weapon in his presence, so it was quite odd that the saber hadn't registered. But as Graves thought about it, he quickly came to the conclusion that it was just a bit of carelessness on his part. Nothing to really worry about.
“Come on,” he said as he grabbed his crimson cloak and shoulder pad. “Best not to keep the Princess waiting.”
“Right away, boss!” Shining Armor grinned. “Lead the way!”
It was a rather lengthy walk to get to Princess Celestia, though not because there was a great deal of distance to cover. The Academy was just off the central square that lead directly to the palace, which made for a rather brief trip, all things considered. The problem was that people kept stopping the pair to talk, the majority to Shining Armor as a well known figure in Canterlot, but many to Graves as well.
In a strange turn of events, the grey-eyed marshal found that he was actually quite well received in the Equestrian capitol. No longer was he regarded as the dangerous stranger, but instead was treated as one of the honored protectors of the city. A large part of that was due to the increasing amount of time he'd spent in the city, but the fact that he was married to famed socialite Rarity didn’t hurt either. After all, it’s hard to be too imposing when your wife calls you ‘darling’ and straightens your hat in public.
Eventually wading their ways through the sea of small talk and salutations, the two made their way into the palace where a pair of guards escorted them in. However, instead of taking them to the throne room where the Princess typically held audience, Graves found that they were heading to the garden where a very unexpected guest awaited them.
“Graves! You’re finally back!” Twilight beamed in delight as she jumped up to hug the marshal. Needless to say he was surprised, - he'd expected the sweater-vested librarian to still be in Ponyville- but it was definitely a very pleasant sort of surprise.
“Hey there, Twilight,” he chuckled as he returned the embrace of his favorite bookworm. “Long time no see.”
“Too long,” the young scholar said as she broke apart with a smile.
“What, and no hug for your big brother?” Shining Armor said with a mock pout. His little sister reciprocated with a playful - if rather firm - punch to the arm before hugging him as well.
“Of course I’ve got one, you big dope,” she laughed. “But I haven’t seen Graves here in over a year, so I thought I’d start with him.”
“Has it really been that long?” he wondered aloud. He could have sworn he’d seen her just yesterday.
“Yes, it has,” Twilight said, doing her best to give him a severe look. “After the wedding, when you two moved here, it seems like you never come by Ponyville anymore. We’ve come up to see Rarity a few time, but we always missed you.”
“Meh, that’s life,” he shrugged, and Twilight laughed as she punched him as well.
“Now now, there,” a sonorous and regal voice called out with more than a hint of amusement. “You keep this up and both my best soldiers will end up in the hospital.”
Looking up from their little reparté, Graves was surprised to find Princess Celestia smiling at them from where she sat at a table laden for tea. It seemed like he’d been rather absent minded recently, what with not noticing the princess or the furnishings. Oh well, no big deal.
“Sorry for the delay, Princess,” Graves said with a nod of the head; Celestia had been very clear that she didn’t like formalities, so this was as far as he could go. “Shining Armor got a little sidetracked on the way over.”
“Hey, it was two-for-one special on original glazed,” he said with hands raised. “It’d be a crime not to go.”
“A very valid point,” Celestia nodded with much more sagacity than the situation seemed to require. “In that case, I will forgive the tardiness on the condition that you two join us for tea.”
“As the Princess commands,” Graves replied with such a flourished bow, that even Celestia in all her regal splendor couldn’t keep a straight face.
The two soldiers joined the Princess and her protégé at the table where delicate china bordered with blue flowers lay on a pristine, white tablecloth. Pouring each of them a cup of steaming Earl Grey, Twilight then passed around a platter of dainty strawberry shortcakes fresh from the palace kitchens.
“So?” the young scholar smiled as she began her eager inquiry, “Rarity tells me you’re doing quite well for yourself. Is that true?”
“Reckon it is,” Graves nodded as he set down his cup with a soft clink: his skills with fine cutlery had certainly improved. “Got back from a series of missions a couple of weeks ago; been guest lecturing at the academy since.”
“The academy?” the amethyst eyed girl asked curiously. “As in the Royal Military Academy?”
“That’s the one,” the marshal concurred as he took a bite of tart. The blueberries were fresh and delicious, but somehow unexpected. “They wanted someone with current field experience to run an advanced class for some of the cadets. I happened to be back, so they asked me.”
“Oh please,” Shining Armor laughed as he chimed in. “What he fails to mention, Twiley, is that they put the program on hold for three months just for him. They could have had a dozen other marshals come in and run it, but nope: there was only one person they wanted, and that would be...” he finished with a hearty slap to his friend’s back, “this guy.”
“It wasn’t like that,” Graves replied as he scratched his nose, feeling awkward yet decidedly pleased at the praise. “Things just... sort of worked out that way. It’s no big deal.” From the way Twilight smiled at him, he could tell she didn’t believe a word he said.
“And how are the classes going?” Celestia asked, her serene smile doing a poor job of hiding her amusement as she spooned honey into her tea. “Are the newest cadets living up to their esteemed predecessors?”
“Surprisingly, yes,” the grey-eyed soldier answered with a pleased smile. “They’re in good shape, solidly grounded on the basics, and got most of the mission jitters pounded out by now. In fact, I’m thinking about taking them to deal with that harpy nest in the mountains tomorrow.”
“Ugh, finally,” the Princess said as she heaved a huge sigh of relief. “I swear, if I have to spend any more time listening to their incessant crowing, I’m going to have a fit.”
Graves smiled as he sipped his tea, the taste of jasmine washing over his tongue a pleasant contrast to the faint sense of puzzlement in the back of his mind. Hadn’t the harpies already been taken care of? He could have sworn that–
“So how do you like teaching?” Twilight asked again. “I mean, you’re always running around going on crazy adventures and stuff. Don’t you get bored staying in one place and dealing with kids all day?”
“They’re not that much younger than you,” Graves laughed as his previous train of thought disappeared like a puff of smoke. “But no, it’s not boring. In fact, I actually like it a lot.”
“Oh, really?” Celestia inquired, clearly interested. “And why is that?”
“It’s... kind of hard to explain,” he began, his brow furrowed thoughtfully as he worked to put words to feeling. “Up till now, I’ve always been in and out; finish a job and move on. Never really got a chance to see the results. Don’t get me wrong, I still like what I do,” he added on hastily. “But getting to watch these new recruits grow and knowing they’ll go out to do great things is... fulfilling, I guess. Does that make sense?”
“It certainly does, Graves,” Princess Celestia nodded with a radiant smile. “Which is why I am so very pleased to present you with this.”
Pulling out her long, ivory wand, the solar sovereign gave it a quick flick and summoned a roll of parchment sealed with a spot of golden wax emblazoned with a flaring sun. The scroll alighted in front of the marshal, who picked it up with a curious glance.
“What’s it say?” Twilight asked as he popped the seal and read its contents.
“... It’s an official assignment,” he gaped in disbelief, “to a permanent instructor’s position at the Academy.”
“Oh my gosh, that’s amazing!” Twilight cried out in amazement.
“No kidding!” Shining Armor laughed as well. “Congratulations man! You’re going to make one heck of a teacher!”
“But... how?” Graves stammered as he looked to the Princess in wide-eyed astonishment. “I mean, all the Academy instructors have had at least twenty years experience. I haven’t even hit ten.”
“True,” Celestia nodded, “but you’ve done more in those years of service than most men have in three times that long. Plus, Ironside and I were talking about it, and we felt it’s time to bring a fresh perspective to things. You’ve done good work, and your methods are certainly effective. If you were to accept this post and pass on what you know to the next generation, then you’d be doing Equestria a great favor indeed.”
“I... I just don’t know if I’m qualified,” he said, looking down at the scroll once more. “Are you sure about this?”
“Quite sure,” the Princess smiled. “So? Do you accept?”
“... As you command, Princess,” Graves finally replied as a huge grin broke out across his face. Celestia just laughed.
“Then it is with great pride that I officially promote you to officership and hereby instate you as an instructor at the Royal Military Academy. Congratulations, Lieutenant Marshal Graves.”
“Ooh, this is just so perfect!” Twilight squealed in delight before turning to her mentor with big, pleading pony eyes. “Princess, I know it’s supposed to be kept under wraps, but do you think I could go ahead and tell them? Please?”
“I don’t see why not,” Celestia chuckled with an indulgent smile. “Fire away.”
“Tell us what?” Shining Armor asked.
“Okay, so you know that I’ve been visiting Canterlot quite frequently, right?” the young scholar began with a secretive smile.
“Yeah, what about that?” her brother prompted.
“Well, it wasn’t just to visit you and Rarity. I’ve actually been working on a big project, one that could thoroughly revolutionize the world as we know it!”
“And... that would be?” Graves asked dubiously; he doubted anything could surprise him at this point.
How quickly he’d be proven wrong.
“Basically, I’ve found a way to permanently tie two locations together with teleportation magic, thus allowing the instantaneous transmission of matter across defined distances without the need for outside magical energy. In short, I've learned how to create and stabilize distortions in the space-time continuum as a practical means of transportation."
Two very confused soldier blinked in bafflement and befuddlement at the beaming young lady.
“... Wait, let me get this straight,” the guard captain said, the cogs in his head whirling furiously to extract meaning from her words. “Are you saying that you’ve actually invented a real, honest-to-goodness warp gate?!”
“Exactly!” Twilight crowed in triumph. “The prototype is going up even as we speak!”
“That’s... that’s amazing,” Graves breathed in awe. He’d always known she was smart, but she’d just done what every mage in the last thousand years had said was completely impossible. That was beyond smart. It was downright astonishing.
“But that’s not even the best part!” Twilight continued. “So since it’s a prototype, I need to be involved in the installation process and maintenance, meaning that the two fixed locations will be here and another place where I can keep an eye on it. Can you guess where that might be?” she finished with a mischievous grin.
“... No way,” the marshal gaped, his eyes as big as the tea saucers on the table. “Ponyville?!”
“Correct!” the young lady laughed. “Now even if you and Rarity are busy, it doesn’t matter anymore, because we’ll literally be right next to each other. It's like we get to bring you two right back home! Yay!”
As Shining Armor jumped up and began twirling his little sister around, Graves just slumped back into his seat, completely and totally overwhelmed by everything that had just happened.
The move to Canterlot had been a positive, if bittersweet decision for the young couple. As a marshal, Graves had still been on the road with Canterlot being the nexus from which he traveled. While Rarity had always wanted to live in Canterlot, fashion and society had only made up half the equation; the other had been to be remain close to her newlywed husband. Thus, while the decision had been the best for both, it did involve saying goodbye to the town they’d both come to love.
It had been a sad farewell. Even though the Ponyville and Canterlot were connected by train, it was still took a good few hours to make the trip, meaning it wasn't one to be undertaken casually even at the best of times. Between the distance, Rarity’s upcoming business, and his own travels, a gap was certain to form between the couple and their friends, who’d always been no more than a stone’s throw away.
But things were about to change.
He was now officially posted to Canterlot, meaning he’d be home much more. Sure, he’d go out on missions as needed, but those would be the events and no longer the norm. Rarity’s business would settle down, and they’d have much more time to spend together. And now with Twilight’s amazing new invention coming up, they would once again be as close to their precious friends as ever before, maybe closer. They’d been apart a whole year, after all, and time apart does make the heart grow fond.
It was like this, as the crimson-garbed captain cavorted with his usually studious but now gone goofy sister, with the Princess beaming away like a proud mother hen, that Graves found himself laughing right from the core of his being with sheer, unbridled happiness.
How could life get any better than this?