• Published 2nd Mar 2013
  • 7,495 Views, 645 Comments

A Long, Winding Road - GentlemanJ



The marshal's gone, cutting all ties and making clear his intent never to return. Why? What compels the grey eyed soldier to leave? To find the truth, Rarity and the girls start down a long, winding road that will hopefully bring him back. Hopef

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Chapter 14

Chapter 14

“I… you... what did you say?”

It was hard to say who was more surprised, Rarity, who blankly stared as if she hadn't quite heard what had been said, or Graves, whose gunmetal grey eyes went full round at what had just been uttered.

“It’s… it’s nothing. Forget it.”

The marshal made a dash for the door, but Rarity, whether by instinct or by decision, reached out and took hold of the sleeve of his coat. It wasn’t a forceful seizing, just a small tug near his elbow, but it held him more securely than forged prison manacles.

“Graves, please,” she said softly. “Just... talk to me. Tell me what happened. Please?”

For a moment, the raven-haired soldier did nothing. He stood frozen, standing on the precipice of a cliff where a single step would lead him plummeting into inescapable consequences. He wanted to leave. He desperately wanted to pull away, to escape everything right there and then. But the slight tug at his sleeve and the delicate quaver in that musical voice…

He had never been quite able to say no.

“… We were… together,” he mumbled, the gravelly roughness making his words almost unintelligible. He didn’t turn around though. He didn’t think he could turn around and continue. “At some point, we’d both made a move to Canterlot, where we’d… gotten a… a house. Together.”

“You… d-do you mean,” the young beauty stammered, “were you and I…”

“… The rings were platinum. You said it suited us better.”

For the moment, Rarity was glad that the marshal’s back was turned, for despite the gravity of the situation, she could feel her cheeks heating up to shades that would shame even the richest rubies. To think that his supreme bliss, his greatest joy involved her to such a degree was distinctly unexpected and somehow shocking. But not in a bad way. Not in a bad way at all.

“Did you enjoy it?” she asked, her tones the gentlest touch.

“… Yeah,” he rasped. “I was happy. You seemed happy too.”

“I’m sure I was,” Rarity replied, her flush growing even deeper at the admittance.

“You were right about to open up a fancy shop in town, and I’d just gotten an appointment to teach at the Academy. Then Twilight came and built some kind of magic portal that would let us travel to Ponyville in the blink of an eye. Best of both worlds, in a way.”

“I see,” the violet-haired beauty smiled. “It seems like we had everything we could have ever wanted.”

“Not just yet,” Graves whispered, so softly she almost couldn’t hear. “It wasn’t till later that you told me you were going to…” The marshal swallowed, trying to clear the knot in his throat before he could continue.

“… going to have a baby.”

The quiet gasp was all he needed to hear.

“... What happened?” the trembling voice asked.

“I left,” he said, a rough, angry laugh bursting from his lips before he could contain it. "Canterlot, my peaceful life, our baby girl, you... I threw it all away so I could wake up and come back to this.”

Graves allowed himself to be turned around, to let the most beautiful woman in the word look up at him with those amazing, shimmering eyes. Once, he thought he’d like to get lost in those sapphire pools. But that felt like an eternity ago.

“I don’t understand,” she asked, her dulcet voice cracking from the cacophony of emotions resounding in her chest. “Why didn’t you let me know?”

“What good would it have done?”

“I could have been there for you!” she snapped, beginning to pound on his chest with all the force her slender arms could muster. “Instead of being the only one to suffer, you could have talked to me, let me know that you were hurting!”

“What good would it have done?” he said once more, his voice soft and tired. So tired.

“Well for one, it would have kept you from running off and cutting me out of your life like you did!” she cried, her hands quickly starting to smart from the beating. It was like pounding a slab of stone, but she persisted, raining more and more blows before finally subsiding into a panting, exhausted huff. “You had a wonderful dream life, one that made you happy. If it was so great, then why would you leave behind the people that could help you make it a reality?”

“Obviously, it’s because I didn’t want it.”

“I… You… wha?” Rarity gaped.

“You heard me,” Graves said, his voice cold and flat. “I didn’t come back to chase fantasy. I came back to do my job.”

“Fantasy? Fantasy?!” Rarity cried out in abject confusion. “Graves, the only fantastic thing about all of this is your complete and utter stupidity!”

"... What?”

“You heard me,” she repeated in a perfect parody of him. “You say it’s fantasy because it appeared in a dream. But you have the means to make every single part of it real. What reservations could you possibly have for pursuing the things that make you happy?”

“… You don’t get it, do you?” he grimaced.

“What? What don’t I get?” Rarity replied, a sudden chill running down her spine as the strange look in the marshal’s iron grey eyes. She’d expected them to be calm and hard, as usual, but now, they seemed… angry.

“Let’s say I do everything just like the dream,” he began in tones that were so frosty, they almost seemed to have a heat to them. “Let’s say I get everything I ever wanted: a peaceful life, fulfilling work, and a loving family. What then?”

“Why you do what everyone else does,” Rarity hesitantly replied. “Live your life and be happy.”

“You think it’s that easy?” he challenged, the frost giving way to obvious irritation. “Have you ever stopped to think about what you would do if something bad were to happen?”

“What, you mean like if you go off like a lone ranger into the sunset?” the young lady replied with a nervous smile, hoping to lighten the mood in some way, if any. “You’ve been through so much, I doubt even the Spirit of Chaos would be enough to stop you.”

“I wasn’t talking about me,” Graves said, his voice more solemn than an ancient tomb. “I was talking about you.”

“…Me?” Rarity blinked. “What could possibly happen to me?”

“War breaks out, Canterlot gets attacked, and you’re caught in the crossfire,” the marshal began his voice tight from the tension of restraining his ire. “Maybe you and the others are called out to wield the Elements of Harmony, we can’t protect you, and you’re the one who doesn't come back. How about if someone with a grudge against me takes it out on you? A Changeling could slip a knife between your ribs before you even had a chance to scream.”

“I-In that case, I’d expect you to ride back and rescue me,” the young lady stammered, fighting desperately to keep the smile on her face. She couldn’t get sucked down his morbid train of thought. She had to–

“And what if I can't?!” the marshal snapped, his control lost and his anger boiling over into thunderous shouts. “What if I have a job to do where hundreds of lives, maybe thousands depend on me staying right where I am? What then? What if I can’t just toss down everything and come running back to you like a dog on a leash? WHAT IF I HAVE NO CHOICE BUT TO LET YOU DIE? HAVE YOU EVER THOUGHT ABOUT THAT?!”

Rarity could only stare in stunned disbelief as Graves, chest heaving from exertion, sank heavily into his seat, weary palms pressed hard against his eyes. This wasn’t like him. Though the marshal may have dwelt on the negatives rather than positives, he’d always been realistic in his view. In fact, that cool, unflappable stoicism had been one of his constant defining features from the very first moment she'd met him. But these assertions, these… rantings, were such stretches of the imagination, that the only way she could describe them would be nonsensical. In fact, it almost seemed like he were…

“Graves," Rarity began slowly. “You don’t think those things would actually happen… do you?”

“… Would it be so strange if they did?”

And as the marshal looked up, meeting her gaze, Rarity saw the last thing she’d ever expected to find in those gunmetal grey eyes.

Fear.

And with that, the final piece fell into place.

**********

Of course. It was all so simple.

All this time, she’d been trying to come up with some grandiose theory to explain the marshal’s behavior. She’d tried to understand it as a hero, one of personal sacrifice to protect the heart of another. She’d tried to reconcile it as a man numb to the world, detached from reality, unable to connect with another human being. She’d even made him out to be a martyr, one who lived his days in order to atone for a sin he felt he must bear.

They may have been true. In fact, they probably were. Each may have been a part of the whole and merely a different facet of the man known as Graves that played some role in his thoughts and actions. But beyond these, beyond the imposing visage, the heroic persona, the reputation of strength and even of invincibility, the simple truth was that Graves was a man. He was a man who’d had those he cared for torn away not once, not twice, but three times. He was a man who’d had his soul ripped apart time and time again, each time rending a wound deeper than the last. He was a man who learned that happiness was just the first step to pain, a man who now sought to prevent that pain by ensuring he had nothing else to lose.

He was a man who’d just been hurt too much and was afraid of hurting again.

“Graves,” Rarity said softly, taking a seat on the cot opposite him. “Those things you said… they’re just… ifs. Speculations and conjectures. The chances of any of them happening are slim to none.”

“Are they really?” he mumbled, his voice hoarse from the strain of maintaining control. “I’ve already had to give you up once. Who’s to say it won’t happen again?”

“Then… then why not stop fighting?” the young lady asked, only to receive a rough bark of laughter in return.

“Me, give up being a marshal?”

“Why not?” she challenged, a hint of desperation in the words, almost as if she needed to persuade herself of her own rationale. “With your incredible willpower, you could do anything you wanted, be anything you wanted. Why resign yourself to a life of fighting?”

“Why do you subject yourself to a life of deadlines and whims?” he replied, a tired smile faintly curling the corners of his lips. “Why devote your life to sewing dresses for others when you could just as well be the one others design for?”

“Because it’s who I am, Graves,” Rarity replied. “Surely you know that.”

“I do,” he nodded. “And that's why I fight.”

Slowly, sapphire eyes widened as understanding began to dawn. Began, because even though she knew what he was saying, what must be true, there was still some small part of her holding out for another alternative. That part of her, the part that wished it weren't so, shined in her eyes in wordless question. And likewise, with wordless understanding, the marshal assented.

Standing upright, Graves turned and upon unbuttoning his shirt, shrugged off the garment to reveal his bared back.

It was hard. So hard, it looked as if his flesh had been hewn from a slab of weather-worn steel. Every inch of him, from the broad expanse of his scarred back and shoulders to the corded muscles of his marred arms was machine-like, brutally efficient in form and function. It was a body where every ounce of weakness had been scoured away, hammered down and forged into a weapon of war. In a way, it made perfect sense as she laid sight on the miraculously unmarred sigil resting between his shoulder blades.

A sword.

It wasn’t an elegant rapier. It wasn't a ceremonial saber. It wasn't anything that held even the smallest ounce of beauty or grace. It was simple tool, wrought of heavy, grey iron and bound in rough leather. From the unadorned pommel to the curved hand guard to the single blood groove running down the surface of its flat, double-edged blade, this sword was nothing but a simple, serviceable weapon, designed for an equally simple purpose that had long since been met. Though perhaps once it had shone more brightly, the metal now stood dull and stained with rust. The surface was marred with scratches, the edges nicked, and even the handle seemed smoothed, worn from years of unending service.

And yet the sword was still strong. Even from a glance, one could see the razor's edge, sharp despite the damage, the blade strong and stable despite the wear and abuse. It was a weapon that had seen much use, perhaps more use than could have been expected, yet would continue to see use as long as there was need.

It would continue to see use because there was need.

Standing silent, Rarity stepped forward and laid a cool hand on the mark, tracing the image with a delicate forefinger. Though he tried to remain still, she could feel his back tense at her touch, growing even harder, if that were at all possible. It was a slight response, but that he responded to her touch at all was still somewhat comforting.

“… I finally get to see the real you.”

“Not what you were expecting, was it?”

“Actually, it was,” she smiled. And truth be told, she meant it. Though it was the first time she’d ever seen the mark on his back, once she’d laid eyes on it, she couldn’t imagine it being anything but what it was. In reality, it truly did serve only to confirm everything she had learned about the grey-eyed soldier, both the good and the painfully sad.

“So your fight...” she murmured. “It was never forced?”

“Once, it was just something to do so I’d be too busy to remember, too tired to dream,” he replied in weary baritones. “Before I knew it, it’d become as much a part of me as my flesh and bones. Maybe more.”

“I don’t suppose there’s any chance you’d give it up,” she asked, despite knowing full-well what the answer would be. For decorum sake, the marshal still responded with a shake of the head.

“We both know that’d never work. Denying who you are is the first step to despising what you become. Who wants that?”

“Who indeed,” Rarity responded softly.

For a moment, the two stood there in silence, the beauty with a cool hand that slowly warmed against the hardened back of the soldier. There were so many things to talk about, so many questions that still needed to be asked. But in the end, the young lady decided that there was only one thing she truly needed to know.

“Graves, please just answer me this,” she began, each word shimmering like a perfectly clear crystal. “Do you… I mean, did you… did you love me?”

“… I did. Still do.”

It was amazing. It was amazing how something she’d once desired so much could fill her heart with so much pain. Though she’d told herself that this would be enough, that the answer to that question would be the end, the tempest roused in her heart by those words carried her passions far beyond what her mind could control.

“Could you stay with me?” she blurted, the question coming out on a frantic tide of longing and hope. “I wouldn’t be asking you to end your fight, but could you… would you… stay? Share your life with me beyond that?”

The marshal’s back tensed tighter and tighter till even diamonds would have seemed as brittle as chalk.

“… I… could…” he admitted, the words coming from his mouth like a declaration of surrender. “If it's what you want, then I… could.”

Joy surged through the young lady's heart and shone through her sapphire eyes. This, this was exactly what she’d hoped for, exactly what she’d wanted. Graves, the man who’d so deftly stolen her heart, had given his in return on a silver plate. All she needed to do was reach out and take it, to utter those words and ask him to…

to…

To what? What exactly would she be asking for?

Joy gave way to slow, creeping horror as Rarity realized exactly what the request entailed.

Graves would never be able to give up his fight. It was simply a part of him, as much as the muscle and sinew of his body or the thoughts of his mind. He would forever be called to arms, and with that call, there would always be the risks he feared.

She could call it a fancy, frights and spooks better relegated to the realm of bogeymen than given any real concern. But for him, a man who’d had every loved one he’d ever cared for ripped from him and whose heart had been mutilated time and time again, those fears were and would still be very, very real. His words sounded of defeat because by giving his heart to another, he was doing so with the full knowledge that the act would not bring happiness, but pain. To stay could only lead to suffering as it always had before.

Could she do that? Could she really ask for his heart, knowing what it would mean?

“Well Rarity?” Graves asked, the tenderness with which he spoke her name ringing clear, even amidst the fear and suspense his voice carried. “What do you want?”

“… Nothing,” she said, gently removing her hand from his back. “Nothing at all.”

Though Graves turned around with alacrity fueled by surprise, the beautiful young woman had already turned her back to him, violet tresses swinging with the motion of turning away.

“Rarity…”

“You’re a good man, Marshal Graves” she said, her voice singing like silver chimes and ringing with honest, heartfelt sincerity. “I hope… I hope that one day, you find the happiness you truly deserve.”

As she ducked around the tent flap, careful to ensure the raven-haired soldier caught no sight of her tear-filled eyes, Rarity still almost laughed aloud.

What did she want?

It was ironic. What she wanted, more than anything she’d ever wanted in the entire world, was to ask for the one thing she couldn’t have. What more, it was this realization, the pain of giving up what she desired for a greater need, that brought her closer to understanding Graves than anything ever had before.

It also served to push him out of her reach once and for all.

Truly ironic indeed.

**********