Graves was not in a particularly good mood. A bead of sweat rolled down the young marshal’s forehead as he stared intently ahead, his grey eyes glinting like burnished steel with their focus. Today, he faced a problem completely foreign to him, the likes of which he had never seen before and one where he had no idea on how to respond.
For the first time in his life, the marshal didn’t know what to wear.
Peering into his closet, Graves scratched his head as he struggled to assemble a decent outfit for his date with Rarity. Well, not a date really, it was just lunch. I mean, she had called it a date, but that was probably just a figure of speech, right? She’d also said it was just a thank you lunch for taking care of Sweetie Belle, so of course it must be purely platonic in nature.
“Confound it, Rarity,” Graves muttered as he pulled out two seemingly identical shirts to compare, “life was hard enough before you came and complicated it.”
Now despite his frustration at current circumstances, very little, if any of it was actually directed at the pretty seamstress. After all, it wasn’t like he disliked her or anything; by all means, that wasn’t it. Like all the other people he met in Ponyville, she had been nothing but kind and welcoming ever since he’d first arrived. It’s just that Rarity, sophisticated as she was, was the one type of person he absolutely couldn’t handle.
Marshals by and large dealt with a much more rough-and-tumble crowd – theirs is a very particular line of work, after all – and beyond the occasional formal meeting or rare public appearance, they never ran into members of the upper crust. That’s why Rarity, who could be called the very embodiment of elegance and poise, made Graves feel like a tongue-tied, backwaters rube whenever he was anywhere remotely near her.
Or maybe it was just because she was really, really pretty. Unbidden, Sweetie Belle’s comments from their day of troll hunting came floating into his mind like unwanted gas.
“Why, I bet you’d agree that she’s the prettiest girl in the whole wide world!”
“And you, Miss Sweetie Belle,” Graves continued muttering as he finally picked a shirt to put on, “aren’t helping either.”
Of course, it would be unfair to completely blame Sweetie Belle for the thought. Any half-blind simpleton could see that Rarity was undeniably attractive. But ever since the little girl had so bluntly pointed it out, Graves had become distinctly – even uncomfortably – aware of the fact.
“Long as I don’t make a blasted fool of myself, I should be fine,” the young man said as he took one last look at himself in the mirror. With his long leather coat, broad flat-brimmed hat, and cloudy grey eyes peeking out from behind long, black bangs, he didn’t look much different from how he always looked. That was fine, except that it sort of irked him today. For once, he didn’t want to just look okay, he wanted to look nice. He was meeting a beautiful young lady for a date, after all.
“Except it’s just lunch, not a date,” he growled at himself. “Now stop acting like a trigger-happy cadet, you dead-brained fool.”
With that last happy thought, Graves left the house to meet Rarity for their date–
Lunch! It wasn’t a date, it was just… ah, buck it!
Rarity was in a particularly good mood as she got herself ready for the day. Humming one of Pinkie Pie’s silly, little nonsense songs, Rarity emerged from her cavernous walk-in closet holding a hanger in each hand.
“What do you think Opal?” she asked the fluffy white cat lazily lounging on her bureau. “Should I go with the sun dress or the pants suit?”
Her cat gave a disinterested mewl before proceeding to groom herself.
“You’re right, sun dress it is,” the young lady smiled as she hung up the suit set and laid out the dress on her bed. “It’s not a business luncheon, and I wouldn’t want to come across as too formal, now would I?”
Opal didn’t bother to look up from her licking.
Unfazed by her pet’s blasé attitude, Rarity continued humming happily as she walked back into the closet and began selecting matching accessories.
The last several days had been particularly kind to Ponyville’s premiere fashionista. Her display at the expo had gotten rave reviews, setting a wonderful tone for the rest of the trip as she and her little sister shopped, dined, and toured the lovely capitol of Equestria.
And it was all thanks to the good marshal. If he hadn’t taken care of Sweetie Belle that day, she would never have been able to so readily complete her display. That in itself was a life saver, and the fact that Sweetie Belle had been too tired from their adventures to cause trouble like usual - well, inordinate amounts anyways; Sweetie Belle was always trouble - was just icing on an already fabulous cake.
“Do you like the sapphire necklace?” Rarity addressed the cat again as she displayed one of her new acquisitions from Canterlot. “Personally, I think it’s the perfect accent to my ensemble. It really does wonders bringing out my eyes, after all.”
Opal looked at her owner disdainfully and gave her a little sniff.
“Oh, don’t be ridiculous,” Rarity scoffed, “I am not trying to impress anyone.”
That was very true. To show her appreciation for the marshal’s help, Rarity had invited him to lunch once she got back from Canterlot and of course, she'd want to look presentable. After all, what kind of thanks would it be to show up wearing any tacky old thing? No, she was simply trying to put together a sensible outfit that would prove suitable for the occasion.
But the bounce in her step and the unconscious smile on her lip hinted at something more than just appreciation. In all honesty, she was actually quite excited about their lunch appointment since it would give her a chance to find out more about the mysterious marshal.
When Graves had first arrived in Ponyville, Rarity had of course been excited like everyone else and possibly more than most due to the unique opportunity he’d presented. As a designer, she was always looking for new inspiration, and the dashing figure of a young, military hero would certainly provide plenty of that. So while she had become well acquainted with him through various chance encounters, she’d always seen him as more of an icon than anything else.
Then Graves had joined the sisters for dinner and suddenly, Rarity saw facets of him she could never have imagined.
Who would have thought that Graves, always so somber with his dark leather coat and stern expression, would actually be good with children? In the course of one day, Sweetie Belle had grown more attached the young marshal than any boy or man she knew save their father.
Or who could have guessed that despite his youth and generally deadpan demeanor, he could be so insightful? At one point during their conversation, Rarity had become quite nervous that he’d see her as cold and unfeeling for putting work over family. Her explanation was far from perfect, yet Graves had managed to capture the true essence of her feelings with a simplicity and candor that, frankly, startled her. I mean, he was a man, after all.
Yet despite these mature qualities about him, Rarity couldn’t help but smile when she recalled just how boyish Graves could be as well. He’d been fine for most of the meal, but once Sweetie Belle had gone to bed, the flustered, blushing stammering had begun. With her level of experience, it hadn’t taken the young lady long to guess why.
The marshal had been as awkward and uncomfortable as a boy trying to impress his special someone on Hearts and Hooves Day, and just as bad about hiding it if not even worse. Rarity had found this so amusing, she couldn’t resist teasing him just a little. A few long stares, a little closeness when helping him with his coat and hat, and of course, the parting date comment just as she had closed the door had left poor Graves in a decidedly frazzled mess.
“Honestly, you’d think a man of his age and standing would be a little more level-headed,” she chuckled, “but I daresay he’s even worse than Spike.”
He was an intriguing fellow. So accomplished in some areas yet so lacking in others, Rarity found the marshal a delightfully fascinating man. She’d soon found herself wondering what other unseen facets he might reveal, and the fact Graves was easy on the eyes certainly didn’t hurt…
A disdainful mewl from her pet interrupted the young lady’s thoughts.
“Really, Opal, you do have the strangest notions,” the pretty seamstress chided as she set the necklace next to her dress. “I’ve already told you, this luncheon is to thank the good marshal for helping me out of a sticky situation; there are absolutely no personal motives on my part.”
Of course that's how it was. So what if he was tall and broad-shouldered? Who cared that under his grim expression, his features were refined and fetching? And what did it matter that every so often, his hard grey eyes would light up and sparkle like moonstones? Why…
Opal hacked again with even more distaste, as if able to read her owner’s mind.
“Well, I don’t see what his looks have to do with anything,” the young lady sniffed, her face flushing half from indignation and half from embarrassment. “Yes, I will admit that Master Graves is a rather handsome fellow, but it’s not like I’m trying to catch his attention. This is strictly a platonic expression of gratitude as one friend to another.”
The cat merely stared back at Rarity with flat-eyed skepticism and meowed petulantly.
“Opal!” Rarity gasped, her cheeks heating up like a well-lit stove, “I certainly have not entertained those notions whatsoever; that would simply be un-ladylike. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a date to prepare for. Hmph!”
With that, Rarity went back into her closet to find the right pair of shoes for her outfit. In her mind, the matter had been firmly settled; Opal’s comments were nothing but wild speculation and baseless guesswork, nothing at all like her own logical, level-headed notions. Opal just didn’t know what she was talking about.
Of course, Rarity had been arguing with a cat…