• Published 21st Jul 2013
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There's a Reason They Call it a Crush - GentlemanJ



Spike is definitely looking forward to the Ponyville girls coming home. Only... what's he to do when the object of his deepest affections turns out to be taken?

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Chapter 2

Chapter 2

It usually took Pinkie Pie an average of three hours to set up a party. Today, despite the long absence and lack of practice, she managed it in two hours, thirty seven minutes, and twenty eight seconds. That’s two hours, thirty seven minutes, and twenty eight to get the goodies baked, decorations set up, punch mixed, music selected, and whole town invited. How she managed it, nobody really knew. Nobody really cared to ask. It’s one of those things that people simply learned to chalk up to Pinkie being Pinkie.

Anywho, as the sun set on Ponyville that day, the entire town found itself congregated at the spacious library tree for a typically fabulous shindig. The treats were delicious, the DJ was jamming, and life was looking good. Truth be told, nobody really knew exactly why they were having the party. Most figured it was a welcome back for the girls and marshal, who’d taken a noticeably extended leave of absence. But in the end, that was probably just a convenient explanation since really, who needs a reason to attend a Pinkie Pie party?

Still, it’s funny, isn’t it? Just a couple of weeks apart, and someone can come back looking like a whole other person. Graves for one, looked just a shade friendlier than usual, as if the sculptor had added the slightest of smile lines to the stone carving that was his face. Likewise, Rarity had a particular glow about her that night. She was as pretty as ever, but it was like there was an extra sparkle to her that night, an extra polish to those laughing sapphire eyes. Of course, it could have simply been the the way she contrasted with Graves and his generally somber atmosphere. Come to think of it, the two never seemed to be more than a few paces from each other all evening. Huh. Probably coincidence.

In the meantime, the aforementioned couple found themselves standing in the stairwell to the second story, catching a breath from the evening's tumultuous festivities. From the way they stood, all stoically impassive and casually graceful, glasses of punch in hand and eyes out forward, they seemed the same as any pair of good friends taking a moment’s respite.

Of course, looks can be very deceiving.

“You sure about this?” Graves murmured, keeping grey eyes forward even as he addressed the lovely lady beside him. “About keeping quiet, I mean.”

“Trust me, Graves,” the young lady smiled as she reached over and gave his free hand a fond little squeeze. “The last thing we need to do is go announcing ourselves to the whole town like tabloid celebrities. Just let things take their natural course. People will find out eventually.”

The decision had not come lightly. Of course, the first thing Rarity wanted to do was share her happiness with anything having two ears and half a brain to listen. But after seeing the rather... colorful reaction of Spike their test subject, she began to wonder whether such a rapid declaration was really in their best interests. If the very first person who'd found out had reacted so vitriolically, she could only imagine what would happen should her multitude of admirers hear all at once. There would be chaos. Riots. Anarchy. General unpleasantness all around.

So, after managing to catch Pinkie Pie just before invitations had gone out, Rarity had asked the party planner to hold off on mentioning her budding relationship with the marshal. Just for now, of course.

“Whatever you say,” Graves shrugged. “Quiet suits me just fine.”

“Who would have thought?” she smiled with a slight roll of the eyes. Turning her gaze back to the party, the violet-haired beauty gave out a sigh, long and tired, but content as well. “I’m just glad we have a chance to let things return to normal. Celestia knows I could use a break from all this drama.”

“You? A break from drama?” the marshal quipped. “I thought drama’s what you social types lived for.”

“Of course it is,” she smiled with perfect poise. “But even we can take a break from our regular affairs, can we not?”

“I wouldn’t know,” Graves replied, face unnaturally smooth. “I’m just a simple man of simple ways. Fancy talk's just beyond my ken.”

“Oh, stop it you,” Rarity giggled as she turned to give him a playful slap to the shoulder. As she did, however, a sight caught her eye that gave pause to her hand.

“What is it?” Graves asked.

“It’s Spike,” she replied, eyes leading up to the second floor balcony where the Salamander boy sat hunched over his little desk, head buried in a pile of old, dusty books. “The poor dear. I’m afraid he took the news rather hard.”

“He, uh… had a thing for you?” the marshal intoned with just a hint of caution.

“Something like that,” she nodded ruefully. “A child’s first love. You know how it is.”

“... Sure,” Graves nodded. “Let’s go with that.”

“Anyways, I’d assumed he’d outgrow it soon enough, so I never really did anything about it. Then you came along, and… well… things progressed faster than anticipated, and considering the rather harsh way he found out about all of this...” Rarity paused to let out a slow, melancholy sigh. “I can’t imagine it’s been easy for him.”

Graves couldn’t imagine it either, but more for the reason that his understanding of things like crushes and puppy love couldn’t fill a pixie’s thimble. Besides, it didn’t seem like Spike was all that upset. He’d already made several trips to the kitchen to help Pinkie Pie keep the snack table stocked, not to mention holding down the disk table when Vinyl Scratch went to wet her beak. Honestly, how bad off could he be?

“So, what are you two up to?” the hosting bookworm slyly smiled as she sauntered over, cupcake in one hand and mug of cider in the other. “Already making plans for the honeymoon?”

“Not exactly,” Rarity replied, a flush in her cheeks as Graves coughed and suddenly found the ceiling inordinately fascinating. “We were just discussing whether Spike would be all right.”

“Ah, he’ll be fine,” Twilight answered, sounding surprisingly care free. “He’s just taking his mind off things with a good book.”

The young couple exchanged some very incredulous looks.

“So… reading during the middle of a party means he’s fine?” Graves asked, looking slightly askance. He wasn’t exactly an expert on normal prepubescent behavior, but even that struck him as slightly odd. Twilight however, just smiled.

“Of course. What else would you do?”

Graves looked to Rarity, who simply shrugged in return. He had grown up around Twilight. Maybe he’d picked up a few of the sweater vested scholar’s more unusual habits.

“Come on, don’t worry about it,” Twilight smiled as she took them each by the hand. “This party’s as much about you two as it is anything else, so let’s go out and have some fun!”

With that, Graves and Rarity were forcibly dragged off by the amethyst-eyed mage. Between the crowd of friends, the DJ’s thumping music, and a table full of delectable goodies calling their names, concerns over the boy’s odd behavior were soon forgotten.

*****

In retrospect, Spike would consider the following series of events to be moments of monumental stupidity. It’s not like he had a shortage of stupid choices in his life to choose from, but this would certainly make its way well into the top five. Maybe even top three. Nevertheless, there are some things you just feel like you have to, and as the final party comers straggled off in the wee hours of the morning, Spike checked the large leather-bound tome book he’d been reading one last time, closed it tight, and finally put his plan into motion.

“... Hey, Graves. Can I talk to you?”

As the marshal turned his grey eyed gaze to the boy, Spike could feel his heart beginning to pound like DJ Pon3’s cannon of a bass. It wasn’t even like Graves was glaring at him or anything, but his stare was just… heavy, almost like gravity jumped up several notches from one look of his gunmetal grey eyes alone.

“Sure. What’s up?” Graves asked, stopping the sweeping as he considered the young lad, who in turn took a few furtive glances around the library. The girls were still milling about, helping Twilight get the place straightened up before heading on their way.

“It’s, uh… not something I want to say in front of everyone else,” Spike replied, the tempo of his heartbeat starting to accelerate “Mind if we talk in the kitchen?”

“Alright.”

Setting aside the broom, Graves followed behind as the boy in the purple windbreaker lead the way. Once safely out of eyesight, Spike turned to face the marshal, his reptilian eyes oddly bright and intent as they met the soldier’s silver-eyed stare.

“So what’s this all about?” the marshal asked just before a soft, fuzzy… something hit him in the face. Blinking in surprise, Graves looked down to the offending object and, still somewhat confused, bent over to pick it up for a closer inspection.

“Is… is this a mitten?” he asked, eyes seeing but brain not quite comprehending.

“It was all I could find,” Spike mumbled. His cheeks may have been heating up like an oven, but he resolutely maintained eye-contact nonetheless. “I wanted to get a proper glove, but I couldn’t on account of everything being on such short notice.”

It took a few moments, but all the gears finally clicked their way in place.

“You asking for a duel?”

“For Rarity,” the young lad nodded before quickly holding up apologetic hands. “Look, it’s not that I think you’re a bad guy or anything. I actually think you’re really cool. I mean, you're always helping people out and doing dangerous things to keep folks safe, so who can argue with that? But, still..." Taking a deep breath, Spike clenched his little fists to help stem the tides of rambling and began again with all the sincerity he could claw together. "Rarity's... special. She's, like, really, really important to me, and I’m not going to let you go off and take her without a fight. So… yeah. I challenge you a duel.”

Thunderous crashing as a stack of plates fell to the floor.

“No. Freaking. Way,” Rainbow Dash gawked as she stared at the pair with eyes the size of the dishes she'd just dropped. “Are you for serious?!”

“Rainbow Dash, what’s going on?” Twilight called out as she came over to check out the commotion. “Did something happen?”

“You bet your squishy, egg-head bottom it did!” the cyan clad flyer laughed aloud. “Spike here just challenged Big G to a dual!”

“What?” Applejack hollered as she and the other girls came over to stare in wide eyed amazement as well. “Yeh gotta be kiddin’ me!”

“Not even! Seems like Spike here got jealous of Graves and Rarity, so he threw down the gauntlet and called him out, mano-a-mano!”

“Spike, are you crazy?” Twilight gaped as she turned to her adorable baby brother like the adorable baby brother he was. “You remember who this is, right? Graves? The super soldier from Canterlot? The guy who’s took down a freaking chimera not a few months ago? You’re challenging him to a duel?”

“Come on, Twilight it’s not like Spike’s really gonna fight Big G,” Pinkie Pie laughed aloud. “He’s probably just doing it to make a point on what a gem Rarity is!”

“It is rather flattering, I must say,” Rarity murmured with a flushed, but pleasant smile. “It’s not everyday you have a handsome young man such as Spikey Wikey fighting for your hand.”

“Besides, Graves isn’t that kind of person,” Fluttershy chimed in. “It’s not like he would really fight Spike just because he was asked too."

“See?” Pinkie giggled. “You don’t need to worry about it, Twilight. It’s all just for fun.”

"I guess you're right..." With a relived sigh, the sweater-vested librarian finally managed to crack a smile. "Geez, Spike, you really had me worried there for a second."

The six girls turned to the Salamander, all now smiling at him as they would at a small puppy whilst he could only stare back in mute horror. This was the last way he’d wanted things to turn out. It was quite literally, the worst possible way things could have unfolded.

Truth be told, he knew he didn’t really have a chance with Rarity. He'd actually known for quite some time now.

After hearing of Rarity's success in attracting the interests of Equestria's most eligible bachelor during her first Gala, the Salamander boy had come to the uncomfortable realization that the clock was ticking. Rarity was dazzling, no two ways about it, and as beautiful and special and amazing as she was, there would never be a shortage of suitors vying for her attentions. He wanted to try himself and in fact had been for quite some time now, but how could he ever hope to succeed? It would be years before he could even consider calling himself a man and years more till he could hope to make something of himself that anyone would take seriously. By then, Rarity would already have found someone great enough to do justice to the treasure he knew she was, a man she could genuinely and truly be happy with. The clock would run out before Spike would ever get a chance to even try simply because he was too young. He was just too much of a kid.

Yet even knowing that still didn’t stop him from liking her so much that it hurt like having a heart full of wasps. Even if it wasn’t with him, Spike wanted to make sure that whoever Rarity was with, it'd be a man who would truly make her happy. Of course, the green-haired lad had no idea how to do that until the days' shocking announcement prompted him to do a little research. It'd taken some time, several hours into the party in fact, but the boy had eventually found a book explaining the concept of duels for the sake of a worthy lady. Appropriate since just once, Spike wanted to play the real knight to Rarity’s princess.

That's why as he stood there, with the girls smiling along in good-hearted but completely misplaced humors at his supposedly sweet gesture, he found himself hard-pressed to keep hot, angry tears from welling out. It was frustrating, a nasty sort of hot, sticky pressure that begged for release where none could be found. Of course Spike realized that Graves was one scary dude. Of course he knew that the marshal could beat him like cake batter half asleep and with one hand tied behind his back.

Yet despite the completely one-sided nature of the affair and despite the painfully inevitable outcome that would follow, Spike had been dead serious in his request for a duel. Thus, he stood there, waiting for a response while his best and most honest intentions were misunderstood by his closest friends as the silly antics of a love-struck boy. Even through the bubbling frustration and unseemly tears that threatened to burst forth at any moment, Spike held fast and continued to stare pure defiance at the marshal, just daring him to say yes.

Graves returned the look, his stony face unreadable and his grey eyes as infinite as the densest of fogs.

Finally, he spoke.

“… Bare handed combat, first knock out or surrender to claim victory. Do you object?”

Seven pairs of eyes turned to stare in blank disbelief.

“Do you object?” he repeated, his voice the exact same level, baritone rumble as ever.

“Uh… no, I don’t,” Spike replied, still somewhat stunned himself.

“No seconds, then,” Graves remarked. “Time and place?”

“... Noon tomorrow… the canyons outside town…”

“Private affair or witnessed?”

“Private," Spike gulped. "Definitely private.”

Slowly, the marshal nodded his head.

“Terms accepted. Evening, everyone.”

And with a small tip of his hat, Graves threaded his way between the thunderstruck onlookers and walked out the front door.

“Uh… what just happened?” Rainbow Dash asked as she glanced around, as if expecting Discord to pop up in a stray of chaotic confetti. Twilight replied, though more on autopilot response than any actual conscious volition.

“I think… I think my baby brother just challenged Graves to a duel. And he got one.”

The six girls turned to stare at Spike, who in turn stared at the door through which the-raven haired soldier had just left.

He couldn’t believe it. He’d actually gotten a duel with Graves.

He’d actually gotten a duel with Graves.

Oh, buck.

**********