• Published 24th Jul 2012
  • 12,876 Views, 641 Comments

Return to the Gala - GentlemanJ



We can all remember how the "best night ever" turned out. Well, looks like it's time for

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Chapter 3

Chapter 3

Every step that brought Rarity closer to the marshal’s home increased the number of butterflies in her taut, little tummy. For the life of her, she couldn’t quite comprehend why she was growing so jittery, but there she was, as apprehensive as she’d been for her very first fashion show.

“Honestly, you really need to get a hold of yourself,” she softly chided. “There’s nothing to get all worked up about. You’re simply going to ask a good friend if he’d like to accompany you for an evening’s excursion, nothing more.”

Whether she’d managed to convince herself, only Rarity could say, but the small skip in her step and the unconscious smile on her lips clearly betrayed her current state of mind.

Already, her thoughts were racing about all the preparations she might need to make. The formal coat she’d designed with him in mind had already been finished, but would it be enough? Perhaps she should do it in a different color, something easier to pair with her own dress. Speaking of his appearance, what about his hair? True, she did like the somewhat sleepy look his long bangs created, but maybe a trim for the occasion? It’d be a shame if he couldn’t show off his eyes on an evening like that. Perhaps she should schedule an appointment with Aloe and Vera.

And what about dancing? Of course they were just going as friends, but what ball would be complete without a few turns out on the floor? Did the marshal know how to dance? If not, she’d have to teach him how. A waltz for certain, foxtrot if they could manage it, possibly a tango, and perhaps – if she was really lucky – maybe even the salsa? Would he mind? Well, of course he'd mind, but whether he would do it anyway was the key. Perhaps if she asked him really, really nicely with a little pout and those pleading, pony eyes he seemed to have such trouble with...

The more the young lady thought, the more her excitement grew. Yes, asking Graves along would certainly make the Gala much more enjoyable. In fact, she was so wrapped up in her plans for the evening that she didn’t realize how much her pace had quickened. Before she even knew it, her heels were clicking on the wooden porch right outside the marshal’s front door. Instantly, the butterflies fluttering in her stomach morphed into the buzzing of furious bees.

“Oh, do get a hold of yourself,” Rarity scolded herself once more. “It’s just a friendly request. A friendly request and nothing more.” Thus satisfied with her own explanation, the pretty seamstress took a deep breath, steadied her nerves, and raised her hand–

–just as the door swung open.

“Eep!”

Caught by surprise, Rarity couldn’t help but let out a small squeak of shock as she found herself face to face with the marshal. Peering down at the young lady, Graves cocked an eyebrow, his gunmetal grey eyes twinkling with something akin to amusement.

“Can I help you?” he asked, his face unnaturally smooth and impassive. Yup, definitely amusement.

“Graves,” the pretty seamstress breathed, her hand pressed to heart as she steadied herself. “I wasn’t expecting you. I mean, I was – I was coming to see you after all – but not quite so soon, or so abruptly.”

“So it would seem,” he murmured, a tiny grin pulling up the corners of his mouth. “Well, sorry for startling you. There something you needed?”

“Actually, yes there is,” Rarity said with a flushed smile, finally managing to put some semblance of composure back together. “I was just wondering if – that is to say, if you’re not otherwise occupied with something else – you might be free next week? One week from today, I mean, not the entire week, or something else like… well, you get the idea…” she trailed off, the flush in her cheeks growing into a full on blush. So much for composure.

“What I’m trying to ask is,” she tried again, her smile now slightly self-conscious, but even more hopeful as well, “will you be free on the evening one week from now?”

The marshal’s smile melted away as he reached up to straightened his hat.

“Sorry, I won’t be,” he replied, his typical gravelly tone coming through an apologetic grimace. “Thing is, I was just heading out. Have to leave Ponyville.”

“… I beg your pardon?” Rarity gaped, only now noticing that Graves had both his spell gun and rucksack slung over his shoulders; the shock of the sight jolted through her like a surge of lightning. “Leave Ponyville? As in... leaving for good?”

“No, nothing like that,” the marshal hastily amended, his eyes growing wide as he realized how his previous statement could be construed. “Just heading up to Canterlot for biannual evaluations and retraining. It’s a pain, but it’s only temporary.”

“Oh. Oh yes, yes, of course,” the young beauty replied as she heaved yet another sigh of relief after what had been a very brief, yet very anxious exchange. “I’m very glad to hear that. For a moment, I thought you’d been restationed elsewhere and were making a permanent move.”

“Heh, sorry about that,” Grave replied with a sheepish grin that quickly faded as well. “Problem is, I still won't be around that time. These things take a while, and the fastest I’ll be able to make it back will probably be ten days at the earliest.”

“Is that so,” Rarity intoned, her heart beginning to slowly sink in her chest. “Well, is there any chance you might be able to sneak away for a bit? One evening, perhaps?”

“Doubtful,” Graves answered with a heavy sigh. “We’re confined to barracks so we can’t ‘cheat’ on the tests. Like I said, it’s a pain.”

“Ah, I see.”

“Yeah.”

“... Well, no matter,” Rarity bracingly replied, her smile smile bright on the outside despite the disappointment dragging her spirit down like an anchor. “It was just a small idea of mine. Nothing worth making a fuss over.”

“Really am sorry,” the young soldier repeated, his grey eyes meeting her sapphire blues in earnest apology. “You know I’d rather spend time with you… all in Ponyville, but I’ve got my orders.” He hoped the pretty young lady hadn’t heard the stumble in his words. From her lack of reaction, it seemed that she hadn’t.

“Oh, pish tosh,” the violet-haired seamstress laughed with a dismissive wave. “Like I said, my dear marshal, it’s nothing worth making a fuss over.”

“Right,” he muttered, pulling his hat down over his forehead. “No worries.”

A moment of awkward silence

“... Anywho,” Rarity continued, “you did say you were going to Canterlot, correct?” His nod elicited a bright smile from the young lady.

“In that case, I have something you must take with you. Come along, marshal.” Without so much as a by your leave, the pretty, young lady took Graves by the hand and pulled him out of the house and down the steps.

“Uh, Rarity?” he called out as she led the way. “Where are we going?”

“Why, to my shop, of course,” she replied as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. “Knowing you, the only clothes you packed were serviceable attire and none of the nicer things you own, am I correct?”

“… Maybe…”

“I thought as much,” Rarity smirked. “Though you might not have any need for it, I simply can’t let you go to the most sophisticated city in Equestria without some decent formal attire, just in case. I’ve already prepared something, so all we need to do is pack it up and have you take it along.”

“Rarity, there really isn’t any need–” The rest was cut off as she turned and pressed a finger to his lips.

“Perhaps not,” she agreed. “But take it anyway. For me?” She looked up at him, her lower lip stuck out in the smallest of pouts as she gazed up at him with her big, sapphire eyes that seemed to sparkle like the ocean on a bright summer day.

“… Just one, alright?” he sighed, finding that he just couldn’t say no. Rarity beamed.

“Just one.”

*****

With the screeching of steel on steel, the train began slowing down as it approached the station. Shouldering the three bundles he’d brought with him, Graves stood up and made ready for departure.

Once again, he looked down at the oil paper-wrapped parcel that Rarity had given him. “Just in case you need something nice,” she’d said. Why she’d thought he would need it, he couldn’t say, but he’d accepted it without much fuss. By now, he’d learned that when she set her mind to something, he had about as much chance of changing it as getting Rainbow Dash to give up flying.

Unbidden, a small smile came to his face as he stepped off the train and onto the spotless, cobblestone platform. Graves paused, breath catching in his throat as he once again basked in the view of Equestria’s shining crown: the great city of Canterlot.

Crafted entirely from the purest of pure white marble, the city’s many soaring spires gleamed with a brilliant, pearly sheen. Inlaid with fine filigrees of bronze and gold and topped with prismatic tiles of every color imaginable, each elegant tower stood as a shimmering work of art. And yet, stunning as they stood, those alabaster pillars were but threads in a much greater tapestry. Individually, they were grand, but when taken together and seen as a whole, these spires came together to create the truly breathtaking beauty of their country’s most glorious city.

“Never gets old,” Graves breathed as he looked up at the fanstastical sights before him. In the silence of the empty station, it was as if the whole world were appreciating the sight alongside him.

And then he blinked. Looking around, he realized the station was in fact completely empty. Why was it empty? It was early afternoon; the station should have been packed with a teeming throng of commuters. Where was everyone?

The question was soon answered as Graves caught the sound of footsteps. Marching footsteps. In a matter of seconds, a veritable stream of royal guardsmen came pouring from every entrance, faces impassive beneath their gleaming, golden helms and shining, silver spears in hand. The torrent surged forth until an entire platoon of armed soldiers stood before him, forming rank and surrounding him in an impenetrable semicircle of armored bodies.

Graves blinked once more.

“Er...Can I help you?”

From his tone and lopsided grin, the marshal sounded more like he was asking the neighbors for a cup of sugar instead of facing a score plus of grim-faced guardsmen. One of the soldiers in front, a stern looking man with a red lieutenant’s sunburst on his chest, stepped forward.

“Are you Marshal Graves?” he asked in a voice that sounded like a bullfrog with a cold.

“Yeah,” the young man nodded. “Can I help you?”

“I’m sorry, sir,” the lieutenant said, “but by order of Princess Celestia, I am hereby placing you under arrest.”

*****

For the third time, Graves simply blinked. Looking around at the other soldiers, each one shared the lieutenant’s implacable determination as grips tightened on spear shafts. The young marshal paused for a moment, took a second to adjust his hat, and just sighed.

“No, I don’t think so.”

A ripple of surprise traveled through the soldiers as several exchanged decidedly confused looks.

“I beg your pardon?” the lieutenant demanded with rapidly widening eyes. “You don’t think so?”

“Exactly.”

“And why is that?” the lieutenant demanded again, eyes grown so large that his eyebrows disappeared beneath his plumed helmet.

“Because,” Graves sighed again, “the only reason you’re doing this is because your captain made you.”

...

“Aw come on, how’d you guess?”

The soldiers split down the middle and a young man strode forth. With a crimson military coat, a silver saber on his belt, and a blue officer’s sash that matched the waves of his navy hair, the dashing young captain of the Canterlot Royal Guards walked up with a broad smile.

“Shining Armor,” Graves said as he wearily rubbed his temples, “Figures.”

“What? Figures?” Shining Armor laughed as he approached. “I thought they played the part really well. How’d you know it was me?” Graves gave the officer a flat look.

“Besides the fact that it doesn’t take twenty soldiers to arrest someone? You did this last time I was here, too.”

“I did?”

“You did,” the marshal affirmed with a long, drawn out groan. “Honestly, you’re a captain in the Equestrian army, but you haven’t grown up at all, have you?”

“Aw, come on, Graves,” the blue-haired guardsman grinned as he moved in to hug Graves, who quickly slipped out of arm's reach. “We don’t see each in forever and this is how you greet your best friend?” The taciturn soldier rolled his eyes.

“If by 'best friend' you mean constant tormentor, then yes. It is.”

“Ow, harsh,” Shining Armor winced as he clutched his heart with enough dramatic flair to make Rarity call foul. “I think I just might go and cry in a corner now.”

“Well, don’t let me stop you,” the grey-eyed marshal answered, his voice as flat and expressionless as a river stone.

For a moment, the two stood looking at each other. Then, beginning as a faint tremble, Shining Armor’s wounded expression cracked and he burst out into peals of laughter. Graves held on for a moment longer, but even he couldn’t fight for long and joined in as well, much more reservedly, of course, but his rich, baritone laughter did ring out nonetheless.

“Ah man, it really is good to see you again,” the young captain said as he clapped Graves on the shoulder. “How long has it been since you’ve been in Canterlot? A year?”

“Eighteen months. Not since the wendigo expedition, remember?”

“Right, right,” Shining Armor grinned at the recollection. “Otherwise, you would have been here for my wedding. You did get the invitation, didn’t you?”

“Not till a month after it was over,” the marshal admitted with an wry grin. “I was a… bit out of touch at the time.”

“Ah, don’t worry about it,” young captain chuckled. “You’re here now, right? That means we’ll have plenty of time to catch up!”

“Oh boy, just my luck,” Graves said with the most deadpan of expressions, a look that just caused Shining Armor to grin more broadly. “Anyway, I should probably head over to the palace first and report in,” the marshal continued as he slung up his things. “Scheduled for evals and what not.”

“Hey, I was just about to go there myself. We should head out together!” Shining Armor beamed before turning to the soldiers. “Men!” he barked, his casual demeanor now replaced with the firm resolution of an officer in command. “Form rank and fall in line: we’ll be escorting the marshal with full honors!”

“Sir!” they all cried in unison before immediately arranging themselves in columns behind the two, spears raised in salute as they stood at attention. Graves gave Shining Armor a quizzical look.

“Did you really have to drag them all into your weird, little plans?”

“Drag them in?” Shining Armor repeated in mock surprise before calling out. “Lieutenant Long Stride!”

“Sir!” barked the rough-sounding officer from before as he stepped forward.

“Lieutenant, did I drag any of you into this?” Shining Armor asked with an amused grin.

“Sir, no sir,” Long Stride replied. “Every one of us here joined you today on a voluntary basis. If I may speak freely, sir,” he said, now turning to the marshal, “it’s an honor for us to escort a hero of your caliber. So say we all.”

"SO SAY WE ALL," came the platoon’s unanimous refrain.

Graves stared at Long Stride, a flash of genuine surprise crossing his face before he turned back to Shining Armor.

“Now, I know you don’t like the attention,” the crimson-clad captain grinned as he clapped a hand to the marshal’s back, “but how could I say no when so many people wanted to come welcome you back to Canterlot?”

“You’re really enjoying this, aren’t you?” Graves asked, the accusation clear as he narrowed his eyes suspiciously. Shining Armor just smiled wickedly.

“Oh, you have no idea.”

“... Fine, fine,” Graves sighed in defeat. “Just… don’t make too much of a scene on the way, alright? I’d rather keep this all to a dull roar.”

“Whatever you want, Graves,” Shining Armor laughed before calling out once more. “Company, ten-HUT! Move out!”

So Graves and Shining Armor left the platform as a whole platoon of royal guardsmen trailed behind in a decidedly seemly scene. Looking over at the young captain, who walked along as pleased as a cat in cream, the marshal smiled wearily and silently shook his head.

Some things never changed.

**********