• Published 22nd Aug 2013
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Dating is Hard - GentlemanJ



A short story in the Journey of Graves. Join our favorite grey eyed soldier as he navigates the new and treacherous minefield known as dating.

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Boys Will Be Boys

This is a short story in The Journey of Graves.

The series begins with the first story: When the Man Comes Around.

IMPORTANT: If you haven't read the series, please head back to the beginning and check it out. While each story stands on its own, the character and relationship developments will build on each other as the series progresses.

And so, the saga continues...

Dating is Hard

By: GentlemanJ

Boys Will Be Boys

Chopping wood. Exploding things. Eating red meat. Truly, these are the quintessential activities of a manly man, the holy trinity of beard-growing machismo that lights a fire in your belly and puts hair on your chest. Lots of hair. Surely, no one would think that there was an act manlier than these. But there is. Oh certainly there is, though the common, lesser sissy of a man may doubt it. "But how?" they ask. How on Celestia’s green pastures could anything be manlier than these?

Simple, oh hairless ones. You just do them all at once.

Now technically, these events must occur in a sequential fashion, so it wouldn’t be completely accurate to say they occurred at once. Nevertheless, the slight aberration in chronological proximity of such events is but a blip on the radar as real men don’t sweat the details. As such, it would be very accurate to say that a certain grey-eyed marshal and a burly farmer did in fact, achieve this quintessential ideal of full machismo greatness.

It all started out with a tree. A big old tree, one right in the middle of a field that Big Macintosh wanted to start cultivating. Now he could have cut down the tree himself, but as said, it was a big old tree, and one farmer plus this one tree just didn’t add up. Fortunately, he had a friend in the form of a gung ho soldier with time on his hands and not much else. So the two had at it, taking turns swinging that big old axe till that big old tree came crashing down like a two-timing scoundrel's house of lies.

So that took care of the tree, but what about the stump? As you might have imagined, a big old tree will leave behind a big old stump as well. One could hitch up the cattle team and try to pull out the stump, but it had roots that probably reached halfway to the next town. One could try to pull it out, but one would probably be wasting his very valuable and very manly time, which isn't manly at all.

But when had a little old stump ever stopped anyone? Putting their heads together, the soldier and the farmer came up with a brilliantly strapping plan. Armed with nothing more than some heating oil, a few jugs, marshal know-how, and good old fashioned can-do spirit, the two decided that common sense be hanged and thus moved to blow that stump to kingdom come. It took a little finagling, but once they were done and the cascade of dirt stopped raining down, that big old stump was goner than apple pie after Sunday dinner.

Of course, this led up to one last problem. After an explosion big enough to launch a big old tree stump into geosynchronous orbit, what you have let is a mighty fine hole. Well, what is one to do with a mighty fine hole such as this? Heads coming together, the two men thought once more. They could fill up the hole. At some point, they would have to, it being in the middle of a field and all. But such a mighty fine hole is a terrible thing to waste, no? The two men concurred, so it was with great – but appropriately subdued – delight and much nodding of heads that they decided to keep the hole and use it in the best way men know how: barbecue.

And that’s where the two found themselves now. As Graves banked the coals, Big Macintosh pulled the final steak off the grill rack and slapped it onto an old barrel lid. Forgoing the usual cutlery and utensils that typically accompany such a meal, the sandy-haired farmer carried the tray over to a nearby rock as the marshal joined him.

The two ate in silence, working away at the char-grilled goodness with nothing more than field knives and bare hands as the first stars started twinkling awake. Some might have felt it awkward. Some might have felt the need to fill the air with chatter like a bunch of gossiping fishmongers, as if the quiet were something to be feared. But not these two. These were men, well-versed in the beauty of quiet and the joy of stillness. They ate in silence, not because they had nothing to talk about, but because they had nothing they needed to talk about. Truly, such is the way of a real man.

But even men need words some times. Tray emptied, bellies full, and more stars appearing to join their pioneering predecessor, Big Macintosh turned his blonde head to eye the marshal in the light of the glowing coals. A thought had been dancing around his head for a while now. He paused, trying to put words to that thought and bring form to his idea. It took a moment’s contemplation, but eventually, Big Macintosh did decide what he wanted to say. And so he spoke.

“… Wanna get a beer?”

“… Sure.”

*****

In suitably stalwart silence, the two men made their way through Ponyville’s evening streets and towards the nondescript cellar entrance of Ponyville’s premiere gentlemen-only bar. Descending into the short hallway, Graves took hold of the door’s heavy iron ring and pulled it open to reveal a most peculiar sight.

“Er… can I help you?” he asked, his words echoing through the bar.

Now you’re probably wondering why one man’s voice would be able to echo through a raucous den of inebriation. Well, tavern though it may have been, today it was neither loud nor boisterous. Quite the opposite in fact. As of that moment, the bar was as silent as a church during prayer with an atmosphere almost as heavy. That alone was worth noting, and even more so considering that it seemed like just about every man in Ponyville was present as well.

“Evening, marshal,” Mr. Cake said from the forefront of the crowd with a polite, but serious smiled. “Would you like to have a seat?”

“… Sure.”

Warily, Graves took a seat. Or rather, he took the seat. As it stood, there was only one open chair in the entire establishment, one that put him square in front of a room full of intent stares, stares that mirrored the pastry chef’s gravity like cupcakes from the same mold.

“Now son…” That would be Filthy Rich, slicking back his hair as he strode up and smiled, kind as a father and serious as a hostile buyout. “I’m sure you know why we called you here.”

“Um… not really, no.”

Rich blinked.

“Big Macintosh didn’t tell you?”

All eyes turned to the sandy-haired farmer who stroked chin for a moment.

“… Nope,” he shrugged.

“Well that explains your confusion, I suppose,” Ponyville’s premier businessman sighed. “Thing is, marshal, we asked Big Macintosh to bring you here today so we could address certain rumors that have been circulating around. Clear the air, so to speak.”

“Okay…” Graves intoned, still not quite on the same page as the rest. “What rumors?”

Filthy Rich looked to his compatriots, who returned to him solemn nods of approval. Once confirmed, the retail tycoon turned back to the marshal, face composed but eyes burning with a curiosity no serene aplomb could hide.

“Is it true that you and a certain Miss Rarity are in fact, currently… dating?”

Now it was the soldier’s turn to blink.

“Um… yes?”

And all at once, the barroom exploded into the bone-rattling noise and confusion we all know and love. Confusion of course, because emotions were mixed to say the least. A good chunk of the townsfolk, namely older ones with settled love lives, swarmed ahead to congratulate the silver-eyed soldier, slapping him on the back and pumping his hand like a busted water pump with warm well-wishes. Another good chunk, notably younger men still with stars in their eyes and romance in their hearts, immediately burst into tears as long harbored hopes of love were summarily dashed like good china meeting stone tiling. And a final chunk, unable to decide on revelry or despair, decided to do a whole lot of both.

Whether by Rich’s joviality or Red’s generosity as the barrel-bellied proprietor, it didn’t take but five minutes before everyone had a full tankard in hand as all the men of Ponyville joined in the rough-and-tumble celebrations men seem so good at. There was singing and drinking, dancing about and more drinking, and definitely some good old roughhousing punctuated by still more drinking, all the while somehow managing to keep Graves in the center spotlight.

And that’s… that’s when things started to get a bit hairy.

See, as it had become customary in the last true testosterone haven of Ponyville, good news and goodbyes alike were still treated with the time-honored traditions of manly ancestors who’d gone before: a toast. Like the unending ring of Uroboros, Graves had an infinite supply of men coming to clink tankards with him in honor of the momentous occasion. Not one to spurn hospitality any longer, Graves did his best to share at least a sip with each well-wisher who came before him. But that’s a lot of sips, and even for one so composed and familiar with libations as the marshal, those sips will start adding up.

And add up they did, right up to the point where a sniffling Caramel came before him.

“You… sniff… lucky son of a gun, you,” the hazel-haired youth sniffed as he knocked tankards with the now noticeably flushed soldier. “How on earth did you manage to hook up with the prettiest girl this side of the pearly gates?”

“Damned if I know,” Graves replied with sincere if slightly slurred wonder. “Probably my sense of humor.”

“Yeah, I’ll bet,” Caramel chuckled as he downed his draft. “Well, you make sure to take really good care of her, or I might just have to come in and steal her away.”

The marshal paused.

It was probably the alcohol. No, it was definitely the alcohol, at least in part because you see, here is where a sober, normally functioning Graves would have done nothing. He’d have smiled, laughed it off, or done some other innocuous action as a rational, prudent person would have. But not today. Today, he’d done every manly, macho thing under the sun short of punching a bear. Today, he was full of enough happy juice to pickle a moose twice over. Today, he was feeling like the young man he was, so instead of acting sensibly or rationally as he normally would, Graves instead gave the biggest, son-of-a-gunnest smirk he’d ever gave in his entire life and said,

“Well I’d like to see you try.”

Like ripples from a stone dropped in water, the silence radiated outward and brought the whole bar to a deafening hush. Eyes grew wide and gravitated towards the silver-eyed soldier, who simply continued smiling as he took another drink.

Now here’s the funny thing about drinking: it’s not just a one man show, at least not here. Every man in there, especially the heartbroken youngsters, had been a party to the festivities, and as such didn’t exactly have the highest cognitive capacity at the moment. If they did, then they certainly wouldn’t have construed the words the way they did, which was in fact as a challenge.

Furious, hushed chatter sprang up like the rustling leaves in a summer gale. Graves had said he’d like to see them try. That means they could try, right? Try and take Rarity away? Of course it did. Why else would he have said it? But how would they do it? How exactly were they going to take something from the marshal?

It took a moment, but simple mathematics finally helped them reach a conclusion. After all, what answer do you arrive at when you take a whole lot of young men with broken hearts, add in equivalent portions of manly angst, multiply by way too much beer, and divide it all over just one marshal?

Well…

*****

When Graves awoke the next morning, it was to a pounding head, bleary eyes, and mouth that tasted like small creatures had crawled in and died unclean, heathen deaths inside. He wasn’t exactly used to hangovers, but after that time his team had introduced him to triple distilled Imperium scotch, he was more than well-versed enough to recognize the symptoms.

“Morning, sunshine!”

Words stabbing his ears like rusty forks, Graves winced as he looked up. He was at the bar with Red, the hefty man polishing a tray of glasses as Big Macintosh sat nearby and gulped down a glass of orange juice.

“Morning,” the marshal mumbled, eyes held tightly shut as he rubbed his throbbing temples. “What time is it?”

“Little after six,” Red smiled, now lowering the volume to a more manageable rumble. “Honestly, didn’t expect you to be up so early, not after all the fun you had last night.”

“Fun?”

What fun? He’d remember coming to the bar, the start of the party, and all the people coming up to congratulate him. But after about the eightieth well-wisher, things got a little blurry.

“What exactly happened last night?”

“You mean you don’t remember?” Red asked in obvious surprise.

“Would I be asking if I did?”

Even behind his flame-colored beard, there was no hiding the massive smile that threatened to split his face in two like a well-cracked coconut. He said nothing of course, instead choosing to look over the marshal’s shoulder at the rest of the bar. Graves took note of course, and turned to see just what had the big man so thoroughly amused at this ungodly hour.

He blinked. Slowly. Then he turned back around. Silently. After all, what do you really say when you see a bar full of unconscious men scattered about the bar floor, hanging from holes in the wall, and even dangling from the rafters overhead like the aftermath of a hurricane, and a rowdy, drunken one at that?

“… I probably shouldn't drink like that anymore, should I?” Graves mumbled as cheeks returned to shades of crimson not commonly seen outside a red delicious. Big Mac just smiled and finished his juice.

“Nope.”

**********