• Published 15th Nov 2014
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Journey's End - GentlemanJ



As the darkness in the west reveals itself, Marshal Graves is called to fight once more.

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Chapter 26

Chapter 26

Sound.

It was the first thing that returned. Not loud, not grand, just a soft, plinking drop that rang through echoing stillness. Time and time again it came, that soft, plinking drop. Perhaps that’s what called him back to the realm of the waking. Or perhaps not. It was hard to say. It was hard to tell whether he was even awake at all.

Perhaps he could have moved. He seemed to recall something that needed doing, a mission left to complete. If that were true, then he’d have get up and continue. All he had to do was delve deep into the wells of his soul and draw on those inexhaustible stores of drive and determination that had carried him through for all those years. If he could do that, then perhaps he could rouse himself once more and rise to fight again.

But his well had run dry.

Weariness wore its way into the core of his bones, exhaustion into the flesh and muscles that weighed of lead and stone. The man was done. Spent. Dried up like the last, withered leaf on autumn’s final tree. He’d done what he could and given everything he had, but it still hadn’t been enough. At the very end, when it had really counted, he’d come up short and failed. Or maybe he hadn’t. He honestly didn’t know. He honestly couldn’t seem to care.

All he knew was that he had nothing left to give and that right now, he was tired. So very, very tired.

Then touch returned as well.

A faint trace of cool softness crossed his brow, then faded, then returned once more. As if guided by the rhythm of the soft, plinking drop, that cool softness glided across his skin, never lingering, but never leaving long enough to really fade. Even though he was tired, this gentle touch brought just enough life back to those weary bones that slowly, with the speed of lifting limbs through thick, muddy tar, Graves finally opened his eyes.

Vision brought with it a pair of sapphire stars that twinkled and danced in the near darkness as they lit up the most beautiful sight he’d ever seen in his life.

“Hey. How you doing?”

“Just fine,” Rarity laughed. The sound was soft, but it echoed through the air with the shimmering beauty of moonlight on crystal. “And how are you today?”

“Little worn out,” he murmured. “Little tired.”

The beautiful woman nodded.

“Why don’t you rest then, dear? Sleep for a little while.”

“Sleep?” he murmured as eyelids slid down. “Yeah. Think I’d like that.”

Graves let his eyes drift shut once more and simply lay there, his head resting in Rarity’s lap as she gently drew her fingers across his brow. There the two stayed, neither doing a thing to disturb the soft, plinking drop that echoed in the darkness.

*****

When Graves awoke once more, so too did a small portion of his spirit. It wasn’t much, hardly a thimbleful in the ocean it had once been, but it was enough.

“Rarity?” he murmured softly.

“I’m right here,” came her gentle reply. Slowly opening his eyes, Graves once again caught sight of her lovely face. The next breath came just a bit easier and so too did the two words he needed to speak.

“You okay?”

The statement drew a soft giggle from her rosy lips.

“I should be the one asking you,” the young lady smiled. “After all, I had you to protect me, didn’t I?”

Protect her? Him?

Slowly, the tides of memory returned to the shores of consciousness, albeit broken and fragmented like select shards from a shattered mirror. He remembered falling into the river where the churning currents had threatened to tear them apart. He recalled careening against stones, each painful impact slowing him just enough so he could reach out and take her hand. He remembered being pulled underground where he’d desperately slashed and hacked and bit at the eyeless monstrosities that had sought to drag them into the inky depths and then… just blurs.

Oh yeah, he’d done a real good job protecting her. Why, between the passing out and letting her fall in the first place, this was a regular textbook performance. Real good job there. And that wasn’t even counting the five he’d left behind to do even that. Just bloody bucking brilliant.

Graves was almost tired enough to not bother adding bitter tangs to those thoughts. Almost.

“So, where are we anyhow?” he asked, more out of habit than anything else. Rarity just shrugged.

“I’m really not quite sure. The river seems to have washed us down into an underground chasm. Beyond that, we could be halfway to Sibearia for all I know.”

Graves nodded slightly as grey eyes panned around to confirm the young lady’s words. Stony walls faded into the gloom above where clusters of stalactites hung. Every now and then, a single, solitary drop of water would sail down to land in the now tranquil stream on whose banks they rested. Beyond all that, there was little else, save clumps of iridescent moss that provided the soft glow staving off total darkness.

As the marshal surveyed his surroundings, Rarity stayed silent. She stopped stroking his forehead, a courtesy of removing distraction as he indulged his warrior’s instinct. Once he finished, however, it was right back to the same, gentle touch as her cool fingers softly traced across his brow. Graves didn’t say anything. He didn’t seem to mind, so Rarity didn’t stop.

For a while, the two remained as they were, the lady’s slender fingers trailing across the man’s skin as rippling drops marked the passage of time.

“You know what, Graves?” Rarity suddenly said. “I’m really quite fond of you.”

“You are?” Graves blinked, to which the violet-haired beauty nodded in happy satisfaction.

“Yes, yes I am,” she smiled. “And do you know how I know?”

“Er… no?”

“It’s actually quite simple, really,” Rarity explained as her fingers shifted to playing with his hair, twirling and untwirling the raven locks like a cat toying with string. “We’re stuck in a cave. Again. My clothes are a mess. Again. I don’t have any make-up on, it’s been positively ages since I’ve had a proper bath, and I’m pretty sure I’ll need the mother of all pedicures to ever get the swelling in my aching feet to go away. Again.”

Graves merely nodded. Personally, he thought she looked as breath-takingly beautiful as ever. Of course, she would disagree, so he kept his mouth shut. Even when he was right, he was wrong, at least when Rarity had anything to say about it. Or was that all women? Hmm…

“And despite my positively atrocious state,” Rarity continued, leaning over so he could see her full, radiant smile, “I’m still as happy as white before Labor Day because you’re right here beside me, no doubt thinking I look just fine despite my excellent reasons to the contrary.”

And a telepath to boot. Who knew?

“Yes, quite happy indeed,” she warmly sighed as she settled back in place. “I like fine clothes with jewelry, civil company, and little quiches served on dainty plates for brunch, but I’d give up all of those in a heartbeat in exchange for my lovely little marshal.”

“I am neither lovely nor little,” Graves muttered.

“You are to me,” she smiled as she leaned over once more, hand pushing violet locks back so she could plant a sweet kiss on the soldier’s lips. “Like I said, quite fond indeed.”

Tired though he was, Graves couldn’t help himself. Lifting his head up from the world’s most luxurious pillow, the marshal grinned for a split second before he returned the favor. His broken ribs cried out in protest, but he kindly told them to take a very long walk off a very short pier. A man had his priorities, after all.

When they finally pulled apart, or more accurately, when Graves fell back down, he was pleased to see that Rarity left with a noticeable flush in her cheeks. He was much less pleased, though, to see how the giddy smile on her lips quickly faded into a pensive frown.

“Really,” she sighed, “it’s just not fair.”

“Not fair?” Graves repeated.

“Not at all,” Rarity replied with a shake of her head and a petulant pout. “I like you so very, very much, but it’s clear you don’t feel the same way about me.”

… Hah?

“Rarity,” Graves said slowly, his eyes with all the deadly seriousness of a judge passing sentence, “I just jumped off a cliff for you. That has to count for something.”

“Well of course it does,” the young lady agreed with a vexed huff, displeased at having to review such simple ideas. “But you can’t base a relationship off the easy stuff, now can you?”

… Easy?

“Cliff jumping is… easy,” Graves intoned, his voice flat with disbelief as his mind worked to wrap itself on a Pinkie-sized mound of absurdity.

“Obviously. After all, you’re a marshal.”

Ah, obviously.

“I see,” Graves nodded. “In that case, what counts as… not easy?”

“The one thing you men are always so terrible at doing. Talking.”

“… This isn’t going to be one of those, ‘we don’t communicate’ conversations, is it?”

“Oh dear, don’t be silly,” Rarity laughed. “You’re nowhere even close to actual communication.”

“Of course not,” he said with a grand roll of his gunmetal grey eyes. Rarity laughed once more.

“No,” she smiled, once again taking to playing with his hair, “I don’t need anything like that. You’re a stoic man and I respect that. After all, it’s one of the many, many reasons I became so fond of you to begin with. But, sometimes I wish you would just… talk to me. Just a little.”

The smile on her lips remained where it was, but the light behind it faded. What had once shone with mirth and amusement now glimmered with a shade of hurt as well. The love in her sapphire eyes was as radiant as ever, but now, it was the sort of love that only arises when in the presence of concern. The more she cared, the more she worried. The more she worried, the more it hurt.

“What can I say?” Graves asked softly as he reached a leaden arm up to stroke her cheek. “I was supposed to keep you girls safe. That was my job and I blew it.”

“You most certainly did not blow anything,” the young lady firmly retorted. “I’m still alive thanks to you and the other five are certainly far better off than we.”

“You sure?” Graves challenged, more out of reflex than actual care. “We left them on a cliff with dozens of Nul-corrupted beasts at their heels.”

“The far side, with no way across,” Rarity countered.

“Where who knows what else is waiting,” Graves rejoined.

“Which they’ll handle just as well as they’ve handled everything else that’s come their way,” Rarity concluded with a triumphant smile. “Why, between the five of them, I’d be more worried for anything they came across.”

The young lady spoke these words with such absolute confidence, that Graves was almost tempted to believe them for a moment. Not that it would ever happen, of course.

“They’re just kids,” Graves sighed, weariness creeping back into his voice as his arm fell heavily once more. Even that brief exchange left him drained. “Kids who don’t know what these lands are hiding. Trust me, Rarity, there are things out there that’d make our travels thus far seem a summer picnic.”

There was no pride in his words or the condescension one might expect of an adult who winked and smiled at children and expected them to ‘understand when they were older.’ No, they were pure, simple, facts as spoken by a man who’d seen proof and returned to report with the dispassion of a clerk reciting lists of dry goods. He was too tired for passion, and it was that empty truth that gave those words such weight. Of course, weight only matters to those too weak to carry it.

“Then don’t face it alone,” Rarity murmured, the words as gentle as the stroke of his cheek, yet strong enough to force mountains to yield. “You are an absolutely remarkable man who does remarkable things, but you’re still just. One. Man. Nobody can carry the weight of the world by themselves, Graves. Not even you.”

Wearily, the marshal sighed.

“Actually, I could. Still can, if I want to.”

Confusion. Question. Then understanding. It came slow, halting and hesitant, as if Rarity fought to keep the idea from dawning, but once it arrived, there was no doubt that she understood his meaning with perfect, crystal clarity.

“When did it happen?” she softly asked.

“Few days ago?” Graves shrugged. “Just before the Jabberwock, then a bit after as well. Gave me a glimpse and made me a standing offer. All I have to do is ask.”

“Well, why on earth would you?” Rarity asked, her voice surprisingly composed given their conversation’s subject. “You’ve heard what the princesses said. You just saw what his influence did to those creatures in the canyon. Why would you even consider taking up such a poisonous bargain?”

Grey eyes went to the stony sky above. Part of him advised against further sharing. Some things could be spoken, but others… others were the kind of thoughts that should never see the light of day. But he was tired, too tired to fight and resist and keep it contained any longer. If Rarity really wanted to know, he didn’t have it in him to stem the tides any longer.

“Because… I liked it.”

At once, the feeling of moving fingers ceased against his scalp.

“You… liked it,” Rarity repeated blankly. Graves nodded.

“Took that power and wiped out a whole mess of orcs. Must’ve been, oh… two hundred? Maybe three? I don’t know. What I do know is that when Nul gave me his power, I went out and killed every last one of them just because I could.”

“That doesn’t sound like you at all,” the young lady replied as something began to creep into her voice. Something frightened.

“Doesn’t it? If anybody’s got a reason to hate them, it’s me,” Graves challenged with a grim smile on his face. Then that smile faded to give way to weariness once more. “But that wasn’t it. Sure, I hated them, but that wasn’t all. Being out there, out in the battlefield like that, I just… I just felt…”

“What, Graves?”

“…Free.” The word came to speech almost as soon as it came to mind, but even as it was uttered, Graves knew it was true.

“But what freedom could Nul possibly provide?” Rarity asked, her face a mask of pensive worry. “He is here to destroy everything we hold dear. That’s oppressive in every sense of the word.”

“But not for him,” Graves sighed. “For him, he just gets to do what he wants because he can. That’s what he gave me, Rarity, a chance to cut loose.”

“And that’s what you wanted?” she said, her expression now unreadable. “You want to be like Nul?”

“I want to stop being weak. Maybe then I can stop being so... afraid.”

Plink.

Plink.

“… Oh.”

At once, the clouds of confusion in her sapphire eyes parted. Of course. Always so strong and reliable, it was all too easy to forget that Graves was just a man with a long and ugly past he'd been unable to prevent. Rarity knew this. In fact, she was the only one who knew this, as each and every confession he’d given her was guarded like the rarest of jewels. But even she could forget that the one who spent time protecting others needed to be protected himself.

“Graves,” Rarity said softly, her eyes glowing softly in the dim light. “I understand. Really, I do.”

“Do you?” the marshal frowned. “I told you this before, Rarity. I’ve given up too much already, and I’m not ready to lose you too. I can’t. But that’s just what’s going to happen. Every mile farther we go into this hellscape, that fact just comes up clearer and clearer. I need to keep you safe, but I can’t. I’m not strong enough.”

“But going to Nul isn’t the answer,” the young lady protested. “You know what happens if you rely on him. He’s going to eat away at you from the inside. Do you want to end up like that? Like those foul beasts, hollowed out of all but rage and hunger?”

“If that’s what it takes,” he shrugged. “Seems like a better deal anyhow.”

“… Then what about me?”

Graves blinked.

“… Huh?”

“Let’s say you do go and make a deal with Nul,” Rarity began, her words level, but clearly in no way pleasant. “Let’s say he gives you everything he promises and a twenty percent discount at that. Let’s say we finish everything and lock him up tighter than a size six girdle on a size twelve waist. What happens next?”

“Ah…”

“So you start going crazy like we know you’re going to, because that’s the deal with Nul, correct? He gives you power and you turn into a one-man demolition crew. Well, what exactly am I supposed to do when that happens? Have you thought of that?”

“I… uh…”

“And what exactly do I tell Sweetie Belle? ‘Oh dear, I’m sorry little sister, but the big brother you’ve recently found has become the next abomination waging war on Equestria’? Is that what you want me to say? Hmm?”

“Of course not!” Graves replied with genuine shock.

“And once again, I ask you. What about me?”

Up till now, Rarity had been giving Graves a thorough tongue lashing as her eyes flashed like cobalt flames. But when she asked this question once more, those disappeared. Instead, what he saw were eyes so full of hurt that his broken bones may as well have been butterfly kisses.

“You once told my father that you’d do what you could to live for me,” she said softly, the composure on her words strained as a storm of emotions welled just underneath her icy calm. “But here you are, willing to throw away everything and sell your soul to the devil. And worst of all, you want me to just stand by and watch.”

“Rarity–”

“No, you listen to me,” she commanded, eyes resolute with gemstone firmness. “You’re afraid of losing me. I understand that because I am every bit as afraid of losing you. I know I haven’t gone through anything like you, and by Luna’s mercy, I never will, but I’m not as strong as you either. I can’t watch you make that sacrifice then spend our remaining days just waiting for you to lose your mind. So don’t you ever, EVER say that trading yourself for us is worth it, because let me tell you something, Mister Marshal. It. Is. Not.”

Graves didn’t move when he felt the first hot teardrop fall on his face. Rarity wasn’t sobbing. Somehow, she kept her composure, her breath in check and her face the picture of calm and control. But nothing in her power could keep those burning tears from trickling down her fair cheeks.

“… I can’t lose you,” the marshal said softly as he reached up to trace a rough finger against that tear-stained cheek. “You can’t lose me. But we’re at a point where we have to choose, and the one we’re gonna have to choose is me.”

“Why?” she snapped, her rage directed outwards, but at no one in particular. “Who says we have to make that choice? What rule says that’s the only way to do it?”

“It’s life,” Graves frowned, the words coming out rougher than expected. “Sometimes life doesn’t work out like we want it to. Sometimes you’ve got to give things up.”

“Then why does it have to be you?” Rarity snapped. “If you go out in a blaze of glory, that’s all easy for you. But why can’t I do it instead? Why can’t I be the selfish one and take the fast way out?”

“Because you have a job to do.” Those words came out smooth, like the steel on a freshly polished executioner’s axe. “You’re an Element Bearer. We lose you, and it’s over. Everyone dies. The only one who can give up more is me. That’s why I’m here.”

“And you expect me to just accept this?” the young lady fumed. Despite the ugliness of the truth, or maybe because of its ugliness, Graves couldn’t help but laugh.

“You are Generosity, aren’t you? Guess you have to be generous and let me go.”

When he looked up at Rarity, with her eyes turbulent seas of roiling emotions, Graves couldn’t be sure whether she wanted to hug him or slap him. Fortunately, that question was quickly answered as with a deep breath, the young lady raised her hands, spread them wide like an eagle’s wings, and brought palms crashing together against the marshal’s cheeks.

“… Ow?” he winced.

“Let’s try this another way,” Rarity said, taking another deep breath, this one no doubt used to keep her considerable emotions in check. “Close your eyes.”

“Hah?”

“Close. Your. Eyes.”

Graves did as he was told, well familiar with the tone that promised a thousand unpleasantries should he refuse.

“Now Graves,” Rarity began again, her voice growing calm and serene. “What I want you to do right now is imagine. Let’s say it’s, oh… one year from today. What would that day look like if you could choose? What would the absolute, perfect day look like?”

“Rarity, I really don’t see–”

“Would you stop trying to reason your way out of this for once and just do what I say?!”

Graves nearly popped his eyes open on this one, not for offense or irritation, but in genuine surprise. Rarity’s words had come out more hiss than speech, no doubt a venting of long pent up frustration. In truth, he hadn’t even been aware she’d been holding back so much, yet there it was. And once again, it was apparently because of him.

“So… just any old day?” he asked hesitantly.

“An ideal one,” Rarity clarified with emotions now under graceful order once more. “I want you to picture an absolutely flawless day, one that would come true exactly as you planned it.”

The marshal said nothing. It had only been a few weeks since Discord’s visit to Ponyville, yet life before that seemed like a whole other world. For what felt like a lifetime, he’d been thinking of nothing but the mission, his objectives, and pure, simple, survival. Returning his mind to what should be the normal world from just a month ago was a chore in itself.

Then he had to take those thoughts and extend them a full year into the future? Hay, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d done that, period. When your job goes out of its way to remind you of your own, finite mortality, one doesn’t tend to make plans for too long after. Even his current relationship with Rarity was one more done on whim and emotion than any careful planning. In the time they’d been together, there had been moments, brief instances when he’d pushed out and begun to imagine what the future might hold in store for them. Those were always short lived like sparks from a fire. To dream out that far when the future was so uncertain would be… unwise to say the least.

Still, Rarity had asked him to try…

“Let’s see…” he mumbled, his voice rumbling like dry gravel in his chest. “I’d wake up like normal, I suppose. Run through my drills, clean up my gun… that sort of stuff.”

“And then?” Rarity softly asked.

“Then? I’d, uh… join you for breakfast. If you had time, of course.”

“I’m sure I would,” the young lady laughed, thoroughly amused that he’d have to justify such a simple request. “But remember, Graves, this isn’t about what will or is likely to happen. This is what you want.”

Want, eh? That… opened things up a bit.

“So where would we have breakfast?” she continued, the smile clear in her voice even if he still couldn’t see.

“Sweetwater Café,” Graves answered. “I like their omelets. Good stuff.”

“Indeed they are,” Rarity giggled. “What next?”

“Then? Ah… Sweetie Belle would pop on over. Probably drag her friends along too. They’d make some noise about wanting to go on another adventure. Somewhere fun.”

“That sounds exciting,” came the lady’s amused reply. “Where would we take them?”

“… The beach?”

“Really? The beach?” Rarity repeated in the slightest of chuckles. “Of all the adventures you could choose, that’s what you pick?”

“Hey, it’s an adventure for me,” Graves huffed. “S’not like I’ve ever gone before.”

Silence.

“You haven’t?”

“Grew up in the north,” the marshal replied, now quietly hoping his cheeks weren’t as red as the heat he felt would indicate. “After that, never really had reason to go. Between work and training, playing around in the sand didn’t seem like a good investment, and I’m not exactly presentable in public, what with my, ah–”

A soft touch to his lips cut off his increasingly frantic response.

“What you want, remember?” Rarity said gently. “We can worry about the details later.”

“… So, we got to the beach,” the marshal continued as the young lady’s words settled his nerves and restored order to his thoughts. “We’d also run into our friends there. No idea what would be going on, but you can bet it’d be a heap of laughs.”

“At the very least,” Rarity smiled. “How long would we stay there?”

“Good while,” Graves murmured. “Probably have a barbeque, then head out when it started getting too hot.”

“Sensible, as usual,” came the primly musical reply. “So what would we do during the heat of the day?”

Even before he spoke, the flush came to his face, fierce and strong.

“I’ve, ah… always thought a… a hammock would be nice, you know? So… I’d probably climb in for a quick nap. Not much else to do, right? And, ah… you could, uh… join me?”

Silence once again. Silence while Graves felt his cheeks sear to the blazing heights of the sun itself.

“Graves,” Rarity slowly began, “are you honestly saying that if you could have anything in the whole wide world in your perfect day, you would choose some cuddling and a nap?”

“You said anything I wanted…” he sullenly muttered in abject mortification. “I thought it sounded nice.”

Despite really not wanted to meet her gaze right then, a delicate touch on his eyelids prompted them to open. There, looking down on him with the most embarrassingly loving smile ever, was Rarity, blushing to high heaven and grinning away like a cat with keys to the creamery.

“Just when I think I know him,” Rarity giggled, bending over so she could plant another kiss on his lips, “he goes and surprises me yet again.”

“Just layered like an onion,” Graves muttered once more through an odd mix of elations and embarrassment. “Now would you please explain to me what this fool game is all about?”

“Context, my dear,” the young lady laughed as she resumed playing with his hair. “All for a little context.”

“Yeah… that makes no sense,” he intoned. To this, Rarity smiled, a sort of half warm, half sad smile.

“Do you know what the key to a good story is?” she began as sapphire eyes faded to the unfathomable shades of the ocean deep. “It’s the ending. No matter how good the plot, or how wonderful the hero, every story is only as good as the way it ends. Of course, the ending can’t really come at the end, can it? It has to come from the beginning.”

“… What?”

“Oh, don’t play coy with me, Graves,” Rarity laughed. “You know exactly what I’m talking about. Of all the novels we’ve shared and discussed, we both know that the best ones always had the ending in mind from the very start. Every scene that played was a piece of the puzzle, every moment an integral thread that led to that final, wonderful resolution we both came to know and love.”

“Alright,” Graves nodded. “So endings are important. Why bring that up now?”

The gentle flick to his forehead and the exasperated sigh were the first answers he got. They told him enough, that he was being thickheaded as usual, but it was the second answer that he really needed.

“You, sir, have just written your own ending,” Rarity smiled. “Your omelet breakfast, your little sister’s adventures, and certainly your afternoon cuddles with… well, me…” Rarity coughed and paused to compose herself before resuming. “All of these were the final chapter of your story.”

“But–”

“Uh uh,” she tutted, a slender finger touching his lips once more. “I know what you’re thinking. You’re about to say that dreams are different from reality, that one is a nice fantasy to indulge in, but the sheer facts will never let the story flow in that direction. Am I right?”

His silence was all the confirmation she needed.

“You don’t like thinking about endings,” Rarity said as that sad, understanding smile coming back once more. “I can hardly blame you, what with every ending you’ve had being a sad goodbye or a tearful farewell. But now,” she continued as a new light came to those sapphire eyes, “now, you have a chance to change that. You already have the last pages written out. You know where the ending you want is, so all you have to do is fill in the chapters until then.”

“And how do I do that?” Graves asked, the laughter bursting from his lips a harsh bark of mirthless noise. “I’m not an author. I can’t just make the universe work around me like pen to paper. I did everything in my power to see this god forsaken mission through, but in the end, what good was it? Even when I gave it everything I had, it still wasn’t enough.”

“Well, of course it wasn’t enough,” Rarity added with a sad smile for her ragged marshal. “Alone, you’d have as much chance of keeping us safe as I would of slaying Typhon. But you’re not alone, Graves. I’m here. Your friends are out there. We’re all here for you, if you’d just reach out and ask for our help.”

“I did that already, and look where–”

“No, you used us,” Rarity firmly corrected, “like a clean set of tools that you could maneuver as you pleased. Certainly, your knowledge and skill could make good use of our strengths; you are a soldier, after all. But when things when sour, when you were hurt and tired and worn down, you cast us aside. You tried to rally your strength by dropping the tools that no longer worked. You tried to carry all the weight on your shoulders alone because you didn’t trust us to help.”

Unshed tears glistened in the corners of their eyes, but they didn’t fall. Rarity wouldn’t let them.

“Nobody is strong on their own,” she sniffed, dabbing a sleeve to her eyes as she spoke through strained composure. “Apart, we’re weak and helpless and vulnerable to the darkness, just like Nul wants. But we don’t have to be. Your team saved the world because it was more than just five people. You carried your comrades when they fell and let them carry you when you couldn’t continue any longer. You relied on the strength of others and in turn, made their strength your own to carry them a little farther.”

Grey eyes grew turbulent like arctic seas in a frozen gale. But Rarity would not relent, not right now.

“We don’t want you to be the sacrificial lamb, Graves. For the girls, you’re a friend that’s often infuriating and dense, but irreplaceable in every way. For me, well… you know how I feel,” she murmured with a heated blush. “We may not be your comrades in arms and we may just be some silly girls from Ponyville, but I guarantee that no one wants you to be happy as much as we do. I know it’s scary, putting your faith in a new family. Celestia knows you’ve been twice burned and thrice shy to do so, but just… please trust in us a little. Let us help you write a happy ending.”

Grey eyes looked up. They were hard, brittle, stone shaken and battered till a touch of fog could have shattered it altogether. Graves wanted to believe, but it was hard. So very, very hard.

“Will it be enough?” he softly asked, unable to do more. Rarity nodded.

“It will.”

“How do you know?” he challenged. “How can you tell?”

“I can’t. I just trust that when I’m with my friends? When I’m with you? I know that all will be well in the very end.”

Here, her sapphire eyes shined with such bright, glowing warmth, not even Nul’s darkness could have worn them away.

Throughout the cavern’s gloom, the only sound to be heard was the quiet, steady drip of water from stone as the lady leaned in to kiss the soldier one more time. For the moment, the brittle form of stone so close to breaking stood held together by threads at once more ephemeral than mist, yet more real than the stone itself.

For the moment, that would be enough.

**********

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