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Dating is Hard

by GentlemanJ

First published

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.

The eleventh in the Journey of Graves.

Relationships are hard. Relationships harder when you have no idea what you're doing. Though Graves knows he's now together with the lovely Rarity, he has no idea what that really means or what sorts of headaches a couple's life can bring. Join us in a collection of three short stories that chronicle our intrepid marshal's attempts to navigate the most treacherous minefield of all: dating.

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.”

**********

Muffin-Minded Mediations

Muffin-Minded Mediations

Derpy smiled to herself as she made her merry way through the streets of Ponyville. She loved mornings because that’s when she delivered the mail. That was fun because everyone in town was so nice. Every package and letter she delivered was met with a cheery smile and a friendly word, possibly a bit of pleasant chatter to get the day started just right. And even better, sometimes those conversations would end with the absolute bestest things in the world… muffins.

Derpy loved muffins more than anything. Well, except maybe her roommate Carrot Top, her little sister Dinky, and the goofy doctor, but it was really close. Anywho, everyone in town seemed to know about her obsession with the delectable baked goods, so more often than not, a letter would end up exchanged for a freshly baked pastry. That’s why she loved delivering mail to Pinkie Pie and the Cakes: they had the absolute bestest muffins ever. Of course, the Apples always had wonderful apple cinnamon muffins, and Spike’s chocolate chip and hazelnut muffins were, as Twilight would say, “a fantastical culinary development and a thorough revolution of the baking arts.” Even Vinyl Scratch and Octavia could bake a mean blueberry crumble muffin, though for some reason they always left her shaky with chattering teeth afterwords. Something about wubs, apparently.

But those were neither here nor there, for Derpy had no mail for them today. What she did have, however, was a very fancy letter for Rarity, which was great as well. Derpy liked seeing Rarity because she was always so pretty, just like a princess. Not one of those really mean princesses, mind you, but a proper fairy tale princess, one that gets rescued by knights because they’re so nice. Plus, it didn’t hurt that her red velvet muffins were sinfully delicious.

So with a cheery smile, Derpy hopped up the front steps of the dressmaker’s shops, popped open the door, and–

“–are completely, absolutely, and utterly incorrigible!”

Derpy blinked. She’d never before considered herself incorrigible. Maybe difficultly recalcitrant, but certainly not incorrigible.

“What the hay are you talking about?!”

Oh, that made more sense. Hearing the baritone rumble of Ponyville’s resident marshal, Derpy surmised that she had accidentally walked into a rather heated discussion. And by heated discussion, she meant a veritable verbal warzone.

“As if you didn’t know,” Rarity snapped with the ferocity of an alley cat. “A month we’ve been back already. A month! Not that I can really say it’s been a month, considering how many times you’ve up and left without a word.”

“I thought we already went over this,” Graves forced out through gritted teeth. “I’m transitioning back into active missions, which means I’m going to be traveling.”

“And I never said that was the problem, you wool-headed fool of a man! It’s what you do in between those travels that’s the problem!”

“What did I do? What exactly is it that I did to put you in such a foul mood?”

“It’s not what you do that’s so unbearable,” Rarity fumed, “it’s what you constantly and incessantly forget to do that’s so utterly and thoroughly unbelievable!”

“And at the risk of repeating myself,” Graves shot back, “what the hay are you talking about?!”

“Four weeks ago, you come back from a trip to Stalliongrad, and I greeted you in a completely original cashmere turtleneck and miniskirt combo,” the pretty seamstress fired off with machine gun rapidity. “Two weeks ago, upon your return from a tour in the Griffon Imperium, I met you at the station sporting a fresh Parisian crossweave, a crossweave that took me an hour to prepare, I might add. And today, I received you in a limited edition Hoity Toity wraparound dress that I’d been saving for a special occasion, but not once… not once did you say anything nice about them at all!”

Derpy had always wondered what it meant to be thunderstruck. Oh, she definitely knew what it felt like, considering her less than uncommon mishaps with storm clouds, but she’d never seen what she’d looked like when it happened. That’s why she was so grateful to the marshal for demonstrating what most assuredly was a textbook example of said elusive look.

“… That’s what you’re so upset about?” Graves sputtered in pained disbelief. “You’ve been lashing my ear off all morning because I didn’t talk about your clothes?!”

“It’s certainly more than just clothes!” Rarity retorted as she drew herself up in full bristling fury. “It’s about appreciating the effort I put in to make it happen!”

“Oh, so you’re saying I don’t appreciate you now, is that it?” the marshal snorted.

“Well, you certainly have a terrible way of showing it!” the fashionista snapped. “Sometimes I think you wouldn’t even notice if I showed up wearing a potato sack!”

“Of course I would notice!” Graves roared as he made several pointed gestures to the eyes of his that flashed like silver lightning. “These aren’t just decorations for the holes in my head, you know! Just because I don’t comment on every little thing I see doesn’t mean I don’t see them!”

“Well would it kill you to say something when you do?!” Rarity cried out. “Is it really that hard for you to just come out and say, ‘Why Rarity, you look exceptionally nice today?'”

“If you want me to say stuff like that, then why didn’t you just say so?”

“I’m not supposed to have to tell you these things! You’re supposed know it without me saying a thing!”

“Confound it woman! I’m not a mind reader!”

“If you need to read minds,” Derpy chimed in, “you should ask Twilight. Or maybe Zecora. They’d know how.”

The two raging residents froze and turned, rather taken aback at the presence of a third person in the room. The mail girl waved.

“Derpy, what are you doing here?” Rarity said as she brought a somewhat strained smile to her face in a semblance of decorum. The straw-haired girl extended the letter with a cheery smile.

“You've got mail!”

“Oh, of course,” the pretty seamstress replied, chuckling lightly at her own absent mindedness. “I’m sorry, Derpy. I’d been meaning to bake some more muffins recently, but some things have been a mite distracting lately.” The poisonous glance she threw at Graves was not lost on the marshal.

“That’s okay, there’s always next time!” Derpy grinned as she spun around on her heels and skipped out of the boutique. However, just before she exited the building, Derpy turned around to face the vitriolic couple once more.

“Oh yeah, Rarity?” she began. “The marshal’s definitely a good guy, but I don’t think he’s really good about talking and stuff, if you know what I mean. You’ll need to be a bit more patient and help him understand what you want instead of just getting angry when he doesn’t figure it out on his own.”

“And Mister Graves?” the wall-eyed girl continued, turning to the raven-haired soldier. “Rarity may seem confident in everything, but every girl like it when you say nice things to them. That’s why you should put some extra effort into letting Rarity know you care not just by doing things, but by saying nice things as well.”

And before either could react, Derpy was out the door and skipping along on her merry way. Now, some people made fun of her for being slow, on account of her disposition and wobbly eyes, but she didn’t think she was slow. After all, she wasn’t about to let herself get caught in the domestic crossfire of a notably emotional fashionista and a man who looked like he was ready to chew through stone.

Anyhow, that had been the last letter. What should she do now? Maybe she should go find Pinkie Pie and do something silly. Or maybe she should go find Rainbow Dash and fly around for a bit. Flying was always fun. Or… ooh! Ooh! Best idea! She should go see the goofy doctor and have an adventure! Yeah, that was it! Adventures with the doctor! Maybe they could go and get muffins too!

Real muffins of course. First time they’d met, she’d had one of those things he considered a muffin. Even now, she shuddered at the memory. Those weren’t muffins. Those were filthy, heathen abominations. Pfft. English muffins indeed.

Oh well, there’d be time for muffins later. For now, adventure!

*****

The clock quietly ticked in the empty void left by the straw-haired girl’s departure. Neither Rarity nor Graves said anything for a spell. There was a lot to think about.

“So, uh…” the marshal finally began as he awkwardly scratched his head,“ about what we were just… talking about…”

“Yes, about that,” Rarity started, jolted from her ruminations by the baritone rumbles of his voice. “Graves, I really am sorry about the way I behaved. Derpy was right, it was unfair of me to expect you to play the game by my rules, as it were. I should have been more forthcoming with my needs.”

“No, you were right,” Graves replied as he pulled his hat lower over his eyes in embarrassment. “You were always so good about figuring me out, I never felt the need to talk much. My fault entirely.”

“That’s very kind of you to say,” the violet-haired beauty laughed, “but you wouldn’t have made that mistake if I had been a better advocate of my own needs.”

“Well, you wouldn’t have had to if I’d had some basic consideration,” the marshal countered.

“Graves, I’m trying to apologize here,” Rarity said as a hint of challenge arose in her voice. “There’s no need for you to go to such lengths to deny it.”

“I'm not trying to,” the young man said as silver eyes flashed. “I’m just saying there’s no need to apologize in the first place since I was wrong.”

“No, I’m pretty sure I was at fault here.”

“Not really. It was definitely me.”

“No it wasn’t.”

“Yes it was.”

“No it wasn’t.”

“Yes it wa–”

Pause.

Only when the young couple finally realized the sheer absurdity of their conversation, did the two burst out into peals of rich and singing laughter. Finding the point where words were no longer necessary, the two met in the middle of the room and embraced in the manner that said all lessons were learned and any wrongs long since forgive.

“So, another fancy invite?” the marshal remarked about the letter as he continued to hold Rarity close.

“Mm, probably,” she replied with a most pleased smiled. “But we can worry about later. We have bigger priorities right now.”

“Oh?” Graves remarked with arched eyebrow. “Like what?”

“For starters, I was thinking we should bake some thank-you muffins for a certain, cheery mail girl,” the dressmaker laughed. “There’s no telling where we’d be if not for her most timely intervention.”

“Indeed,” the marshal agreed just before looking down. “But… we don’t have to get to that just yet, do we?”

From the way Rarity smiled, sapphire eyes dancing as she planted a gentle kiss on the soldier’s lips, it was clear that she was in no hurry to go anywhere just yet.

And that? That suited Graves just fine.

**********

The Last Lunch

The Last Lunch

“So, where exactly are we headed?”

“Rarity’s!”

“Why?”

“Lunch!”

“Ah. I see.”

It wasn’t often you saw a fully grown man being dragged through the autumn streets of Ponyville by an overexcited child. It’s even less often that you see one of Equestria’s illustrious marshals being the one dragged along. But the sight, though still quite uncommon, was growing increasingly less so thanks to good, old Sweetie Belle. Now that her older sister and the soldier were officially an item, her little sister privileges had been formally extended to include the grey-eyed soldier. This meant many more impromptu visits and arm yankings as the girl with the cotton candy curls pulled Graves along according to her giggling whims.

So hurrying along as best he could, the marshal made sure to keep his head down and feet moving as he kept pace with the little girl tugging on his coat sleeves. Oh sure, the townsfolk were nice enough not to overtly embarrass him about such scenes, but a man can only endure so many hidden smiles and discreet chuckles before heated cheeks become an issue. That's why it was with a slight, but very relieved sigh that the marshal found himself in front of Carousel Boutique and out of the common eyesight.

“Oy! Rarity!” Sweetie Belle called out at the top of her squeaky lungs as she pounded on the door, “I’m here, and I brought Graves!”

Much more quickly than expected, the whitewashed door flew open and there she stood, Ponyville’s resident beauty and dressmaker, pristine apron on her waist and an oddly intent look in her eye.

“Graves,” she breathed with a happy, if surprised look. “You’re here already?”

“Yup!” her little sister piped up. “I was over with Scootaloo at the pond, so I thought I’d bring him over on the way!”

“Thank you Sweetie Belle, that was very thoughtful of you,” the violet-haired woman absentmindedly smiled as she patted her sister atop her fluffy head. “I just wished you’d told me first so I could have given Graves a little warning.”

“Warning?” the marshal intoned, eyebrow arched as a faint chill ran down his spine. “Why exactly would I need warning for lunch?”

“Oh, it’s nothing big,” Rarity chuckled, the usually melodious sound now sounding slightly strained. “It’s just that… well… we may be having some unexpected company today.”

“Company?” Graves repeated, the chill growing into a full blown, spine-rattling frost. “What company?”

“Rarity, is that him?”

The strong Midwestern accent from inside the house was soon followed by the sound of pounding feet, which in turn was quickly followed by the appearance of two new faces at the door.

“So, you’re the Graves we’ve been hearing so much about,” a man with a fabulous moustache grinned as he seized up the marshal’s hand in a firm handshake. “Good to finally meet you. Rarity and Sweetie Belle have been telling us all about you.”

“Er… they have?”

“Oh my word, yes,” the lady laughed as she gave him a hearty slap to the shoulder. “But we can talk about all that over lunch. You’re in for a real treat, you know. My little Rarity’s gone all out and made her world famous soufflé; isn’t that just lovely?”

Grey eyes grew to the size of silver dollars as neurons fired and put two and two together.

“My little Rarity?” he repeated, throwing a very startled look towards the woman in question. All she could do was smile sheepishly in response.

“Graves? Dear? These are... my… parents.”

*****

The marshal was not a very expressive person. In fact, rumor had it that seeing more than two emotions a day from him would mean a week’s worth of good luck, so unexpressive was he. But that was just on a normal day. On special days like today, Graves could give totem poles lessons on stiffness and teach stoicism to Moai head carvings. Yes, today was special because it was on this day that Graves had to face the most terrifying ordeal in all of creation:

Meeting the parents.

And it actually went quite well. Sort of. During lunch, Graves really didn’t do much since between Sweetie Belle and her mother chattering away like magpies, nobody else could get in a word edgewise. In fact, it wasn’t till Rarity had brought out the bread pudding for dessert that the interrogation officially began and even then, it was mostly predictable, obligatory inquiries: how long have you known each other, when did you meet, what hobbies and interests you share, so on and so forth. Overall, it was a fairly low-key and – thanks to Sweetie Belle – almost enjoyable event.

“And the besht par ish,” the girl in curls continued around a mouthful of pastry, “tha Diamon Tiara doeshn’t have a big broffer, sho I finally have shomethin she doeshn’t. Ish grea!”

“Please swallow before speaking, dear sister,” Rarity smiled.

“Well it sounds like you’ve really taken to him, haven’t you?” their mother grinned.

“Oh yeah, Graves is the best!” Sweetie Belle beamed, now speaking clearly for having taken her sibling’s advice. “In fact, I think Graves is just about the bestest thing Rarity’s ever done!”

Her father sputtered into his sweet tea, mustache bristling in wide-eyed alarm.

“I think what she means,” Rarity added with notable hurry, “is that Graves is the finest gentleman I have ever met, one who would never do anything even remotely inappropriate. Isn’t that right?”

“Yes. Definitely. Absolutely,” Graves nodded, a great deal more vigorously than he’d ever nodded before in his entire life.

“Well that’s good to hear,” the visored lady smiled. “Don’t want you kids to move too fast, you know? I don’t intend for folks to call me granny for a good while yet, don’t you know.”

Two pairs of cheeks flushed apple red as one little pair of emerald green eyes watched in oblivious delight.

“Anywho, I think that about wraps it up for lunch now,” the girls’ father announced as he leaned over to ruffle his younger daughter’s hair. “Sweetie Belle, why don’t you help your ma and sis clear up the dishes so we can play a game?”

With amazing alacrity, the little girl jumped up and began gathering up dishes like they were limited edition trading cards, all the while hurrying her mother and sister to help out as well. Rarity, unable to withstand the hurricane that was her little sister, could only throw Graves one last, pitying glance before she was bundled off into the kitchen.

That meant that Graves was left alone. Alone with Rarity’s father.

“So,” he began, stroking his moustache in consideration. “You are… dating my daughter.”

“That is correct. Sir,” Graves hastily amended. This brought a smile to the older man’s face.

“Please, call me Magnum. After all, I’d like to start thinking of you as family. No need for too much formality, now is there?”

“If you say so, si- ah, Magnum.”

The two lapsed back into silence, the older man scrutinizing the younger while the younger did his best to look as non-threatening as possible. No mean feat, considering he’d spent a good chunk of his life doing the exact opposite, but hey, desperate times right?

“Graves,” Magnum grunted as he settled back in his seat, “I see you as a straight forward sort of man, so I’ll be straight with you. What exactly are your intentions with my daughter?”

“I… what?”

“Intentions boy, intentions!” he repeated with some hearty knee-slapping for point. “Where do you see yourself going in the next year? Next ten? You have any thoughts of starting a family?”

“Magnum, I –”

“Don’t you be getting all cozy with me boy,” the man barked, mustache bristling in indignation. “I’m asking what you plan on doing with my daughter!”

“Sir, I don’t really have any plans,” Graves answered, thoroughly bewildered by the conversation’s unexpected turn.

“Oh, so you just intend to string my baby girl along for fun, is that it?”

“What? No!” the marshal retorted as grey eyes grew wide in alarm, “I mean I don’t have any plans because I have no idea what’s going on! It’s not like I’ve ever done this before!”

Magnum paused, not exactly placated, but eyes narrowing in suspicion.

“What do you mean, ‘never done this before?’”

“I mean, I’ve never done… this,” Graves replied, trying to clarify his flustered statement with nonsensical hand waving. “I’ve never done this… you know… ‘relationship’… thing, before. I’m still trying to figure it out as I go.”

Slowly, Magnum settled back in his seat, still suspicious of the raven-haired youth, but now at least stroking his mustache in less hostile contemplation.

“You really have no idea what you’re doing, do you boy?”

“Not really, no.”

“I guess I can live with that,” the older man nodded grudgingly. “Then tell me this at least, and mind you answer proper now. What exactly is my Rarity to you?”

“Rarity?” Graves repeated, hesitating at the question. “I… don’t know what else to say except that she’s important to me.”

“Important, eh?” Magnum snorted. “How important?”

“Really important.”

“Is that it?”

“… Really, really important?”

“... Graves, I’ll be honest with you,” Magnum sighed. “I’m finding it hard to trust a man who can only say that my daughter’s ‘really, really important’ to him. I mean, I’d expected that a soldier like yourself would have said something at least as hokey as ‘I’d give my life for her’ or what not.”

“I’m definitely not good with words,” the marshal admitted, “but I do know I’d never say something as stupid as that.”

“Oh?” Magnum remarked, now leaning in slightly as his interest piqued. “And why not?”

“Well…” Graves paused, then shrugged. “Dying’s easy. Really easy. I mean, just about everyone ends up doing it, minus the occasional princess or two.”

“You've got me there, I'll give you that,” the father chuckled.

“Problem is, what then?” the young man continued. “Sure, dead is dead, but what about everyone else? They've got to live on knowing you’re gone. It’s not exactly pleasant, so I’d rather Rarity not go through that on my account.”

“That so,” Magnum mused. “Then tell me, what would you do for her instead?”

The marshal paused, once more looking bewildered like a dog playing fetch with two balls at once.

“I’d… live for her, I guess,” Graves said, words and thought forming almost in tandem. “I do my job right, then I can come back and make her happy. Probably won’t get it right every time, but as long as I’m breathing, there’s another chance, right?”

Magnum slowly nodded.

“I suppose there is.”

Once more, the two lapsed into silence, though the older man was slightly less intense and the younger slightly less nervous than before. Slightly. Finally, Magnum heaved a long, weary sigh.

“Near twenty years now,” he said, his voice sounding tired and sad. “Twenty years of being the only man in her life, the one she turned to when she needed a hug or a shoulder to cry on. Twenty years, and it’s all coming to an end.”

“Sir–”

“No boy, let me finish this,” he sniffled, now looking to be on the verge of tears. “I knew this day would come, obviously. I was just hoping it’d be a little later than now. But… I guess I can rest a little easier now, knowing I’m passing the job on to a man like you.”

“… Sir?”

“You’ll take care of her, won’t you?” Magnum said, laying a heavy hand on the marshal’s shoulder as he peered earnestly into his silver eyes. “You’ll take care of my little Rarity?”

“Yes sir,” Graves nodded. They were the first words he’d said yet where not a speck of hesitation could be found.

“Good,” the older man heaved in relief. “Because I’ll say this now. If you ever hurt my baby girl, if you ever break her heart like in those hokey chicky books she reads, then so help me boy, I will end you. I will see to it that every waking moment of your pathetic, miserable existence is like a COPS marathon featuring the best of police brutality. I will personally bake you a cake made of pain, frost it with suffering, and serve it to you on a plate of despair and garnished with savory agony! SO HELP ME BOY, YOU HARM ONE HAIR ON MY BABY GIRL’S PRETTY LITTLE HEAD AND I WILL SKIN YOU ALIVE AND EAT YOUR SOUL WITH A SIDE OF FRESH POTATO SALAD! ARE! WE! CLEAR?!”

“… Sir, yes sir…”

Magnum beamed.

“Great! Now, how do you feel about Monopoly?”

*****

For the rest of the day, things went swimmingly as Graves joined Rarity and her family for a rousing afternoon of board games. But every now and then, the violet-haired beauty would glance over at the marshal and touch his hand with a considering look. He was fine of course, just a bit rattled. After all, a man like him had faced death before, so frequent and so closely that the two were practically on a first name basis.

He’d just never expected to see death in a Hawaiian shirt and straw hat.

**********

To Be Continued

The Journey of Graves will continue in the next story: Nightmare Night 2: Halloweening Harder

Return to Story Description

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