Rarity had butterflies in her stomach. The good kinds, mind you. The very good kinds. Though it had only been a week since the Gala night, what with all the madness and mayhem that had occurred since, it had felt more like a lifetime. Nevertheless, some memories burn brightly even after a lifetime, sparking smiles and churning insides whenever they’re recalled.
She’d kissed him. The thought brought a flush to her cheeks - a potent mix of both pleasure and embarrassment - and quickened her step as she raced down the halls of the royal palace. How could she have been so forward, so bold? Why, it was simply unladylike. Not that she regretted it, mind you, but still.
Face burning like the sun, the young lady had immediately run off before the marshal could blink; not one of her more graceful exits, to be sure. Rarity knew that she wanted to, daresay even needed to talk more with Graves. After all, a man like him would probably chalk it up to a whim of circumstance, a byproduct of adrenaline and excitement. Of course, her intent was much more serious than that, but the intoxicating giddiness of the moment had made explaining it quite impossible. Thus, she ran, fully intent on returning once the tornado in her stomach had died down and the smile on her lips wasn't quite so uncontrollable any more. The chance, however, had never come.
Just hours later, a pair of guardsmen had brought her and her friends to Princess Celestia where they heard the news: Graves had been hurt, and even with the best doctors in Canterlot, the Princess wasn’t sure whether he would last the night.
She hadn’t heard much after that point, but she then again, with that bit of news, what more was there to say?
Dawn came. The marshal still lived, but it was tenuous at best. For the next four days, the situation remained unchanged: Graves still held on by a hair’s breadth as his friends waited. Rarity waited.
Then, on the dawn of the fifth day, Graves had awoke. It was being called astonishing, astounding, amazing, and even absurd, but the fact remained that the grey-eyed soldier had miraculously pulled through. Fluttershy cried, Pinkie Pie partied, and Rainbow Dash set off so many sonic rainbooms, the structural integrity of the ballroom repairs had been compromised. The effect on Rarity had been much more subtle, but just as, if not more intense. The icy claw that had constricted her heart melted away. For the first time in days, she could breathe again.
Nobody had been able to go and visit, not even Twilight despite her begging of the Princess or her pleading with her brother. Graves was to undergo forty-eight hours of constant surveillance to make sure he was actually in as good of health as he appeared, rather understandable considering he had done the medical equivalent of coming back from four days of being as good as stone-cold dead. If he passed the examination, then they could visit.
Which brought us to now as Rarity practically flew down the halls of the East Wing towards the marshal's quarters. At another time, she might have wondered why Twilight had been so adamant about letting her go on her own first and actually bodily blocked Pinkie Pie from joining her. Another time, because her heart was pounding louder and louder with each step that she took as her thoughts whirled away like typhoon winds.
How should she greet him? What would she say? Oh hey there, glad to see you’re not dead? Should she bring up the Gala? How would he react? Would he even remember? She could hardly blame him if he’d forgotten in light of his near death experiences. She hoped he wouldn't, but you never knew...
With a start, the young lady found herself in front of door twenty six, the room where Graves was staying. If her heart had been racing before, it was going at a full-blown Wonderbolts speed run pace by now. Taking a deep breath, she raised her hand to knock-
-and paused as she heard voices coming through the door.
“You sure this is what you want?” The booming voice was gruff and unfamiliar; it didn’t seem too pleased. “I know the Princess said you could make any request, but-”
“I told you, I’m sure.” That was Graves, his rough, baritone rumble as strong and solid as ever. “Is there anything else?”
“Plenty,” the first voice spoke again, the displeasure in its tone now obvious as it petered out into a sigh. “But I can’t stop you. Celestia knows I wish I could, but I can’t, so... take care.”
The door swung open and a massive man with slate grey hair and beard stepped out. He looked down at Rarity, who could only stare back in wide-eyed amazement at meeting such a humongous person.
“You here to see Graves?” he asked. She nodded mutely. Who was this man? And what had they been talking about?
Whoever he was, he didn’t answer. He simply nodded slowly and held the door open for the young lady to enter.
The room was small, with just enough space for a chest of drawers, washstand, and a narrow bed. It was to the last that Rarity’s eyes flew, because sitting on it, chin resting on folded hands, was her grey-eyed marshal. She smiled, a big, uncontrollable smile that was probably more an ear-to-ear grin than anything else.
Inwardly, she kicked herself. Hard. Really, that was the best she could come up with? Hi?
Graves looked up, his eyes flat and impassive like a pair of river smoothed stones.
“Oh, it’s you,” he said, his voice as expressionless as his eyes. Rarity blinked.
“Why, yes it is,” she continued, his response taking her a bit by surprise. “I see you’ve made quite the recovery. I’m glad.”
Silence ensued. There had been silences between them before and considering how pithy the marshal could be with his words at times, it was certainly nothing new. But something about this one, the way it hung in the air like a dense cloud of acrid smoke, was decidedly different. It felt wrong.
“So, why are you here?” Graves asked, pushing up to his feet as he moved to the dresser and opened it. “Do you have business with me?”
“Business?” Rarity repeated in shock at the coolness in his voice. “Why would I need business to come to see you? I was worried sick about you.”
“Shouldn’t have been,” he stated flatly as he filled his bag with what few belongings he had. “S'you can seen, I'm fine. Anything else?”
The young lady could only stare. This wasn’t right. This wasn’t how things were supposed to go at all.
“Graves, what’s wrong?” she asked, concern lacing every word. “You’re behaving very oddly. Are you sure you’re feeling well?”
“I feel fine,” he replied, now not even looking at her as he shouldered up his bag and spell gun. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go.”
“Go?” Rarity repeated yet again, simply unable to comprehend the marshal’s drastic change in behavior. “But surely you can rest a little longer, can’t you? It’s not like Ponyville is under attack or anythin-”
“I’m not going back to Ponyville.”
His words were quiet, but compared to the deafening silence that followed, he may as well have shouted. Rarity started, her sapphire eyes the size of saucers. Graves stared back, his gunmetal greys cold, hard, and unblinking.
“You’re... not going back?” she gaped. “But why?”
“Have a new assignment,” he flatly stated as he moved for the door. “Note on the dresser there's for everyone I don't see. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to-”
The marshal moved, but found his path was now blocked by the violet-haired girl. If she was still in shock, she hid it well, because from the way her eyes flashed like blue fire, it was clear the foremost thoughts in her mind were of a very heated, and very displeased nature.
“Alright mister, out with it,” she said, her voice as incensed as her look. “What is going on? I know you've had a very trying week here, what with nearly dying and all, but that is still no excuse for your simply appalling behavior.” Graves tried to step around but Rarity held fast, even going so far as to extend her arms to block the door; she was not finished with him yet and he wasn't going anywhere till she was done.
“Is it this new assignment?” she pressed on. “Are you upset that you have to leave? If you are, I’m sure Twilight could speak to the Princess and get you moved back-”
“Why would I be upset?” Graves asked, his voice calm yet as sharper than any sword. “I asked for it.”
Rarity openly stared, completely and utterly dumbfounded.
“You... you requested it?” The disbelief in her voice rang loud and clear. “Why on earth would you request to leave? I thought you liked it in Ponyville.”
“I did,” he nodded. “And now it's time to move on, so if you’ll excuse me...” He moved for the door again, but Rarity stopped him once more, hands gripping the stone frame as if her life depended on it. As if his life depended on it.
“So that’s it?” she asked, her voice still firm, but growing weaker as tendrils of worry ate through her determination. “After all this time, you’re just going to up and leave without so much as a goodbye?”
“That’s how it’s always been,” he said, his eyes as cold and barren as a frozen tundra. “You knew I’d leave eventually, so don’t act all surprised now.” The young lady flinched at the words, so harsh and cruel, they could have been used in place of a scourge. But she couldn’t give up, not like this.
“Yes, I did know,” she acquiesced, the admittance burning bitter on her tongue as she pushed forward. “I also know that things have changed. You have friends now, people who care about you and who you care about in return. You’re not that cold, distant person you used to be. You’re different. Or at least,” she trailed off slowly, “I thought you were.”
The marshal looked down at her, his face expressionless and emotionless, as if stone and steel had replaced flesh and bone.
“Well then,” he said, his voice a rough, gravelly rumble. “Guess you don’t know me that well after all.” Reaching out, he took hold of Rarity’s wrist. She flinched upon contact, but the touch was surprisingly gentle. Moving her arm aside, Graves walked by, no longer even looking at her as he stepped into the hall and turned to go.
Rarity froze, her mind and body grinding to a complete halt. This wasn't happening. This wasn't how it was supposed to be! Spinning around quickly, almost violently, the violet-haired beauty dashed into the hall, her thoughts scrambling for something, anything she could do to stem this inevitable tide.
“Graves!” she called out, the keening edge of desperation cutting harshly through the air. “That night at the Gala, in the tower... Didn't that mean something to you? Didn't you feel... anything?” Her breath caught in her throat. This was her last card. Her final play. Would it work? Would the marshal respond?
The footsteps halted. For a moment, he stood there, his shoulders sagging under a weight that would have made mountains seemed a feather. Slowly, he raised a hand and gave a single wave.
“Have a good life... Miss Rarity.”
Without turning, without stopping, the iron-eyed soldier pulled down his hat and simply… walked away.
To Be Continued...
The Journey of Graves will continue in the ninth story: A Long, Winding Road