Killian Jones stopped dead in his tracks as a white horse peaked her head out of the last stall on the barn isle his friend had just escorted him down. "It looks just like her mate," he said, with a breathless tinge to his voice.
Graham patted him on his back, pushing him forward. "I know. They do look so similar, except this one is a right bitch," he said with a chuckle, and the horse reached out to attempt to nip at his sleeve. "Hussy," he snapped at her, and she laid her ears back.
"How…" Killian asked in amazement, holding his hand out to the temperamental mare. She laid her ears back further, but reached out to sniff his hand, giving both the men side eye, before squealing and retreating into her stall.
Graham looked at his friend with a soft expression. "Listen, I knew a guy that knew a guy. Full sister to your 'Wendy Girl' with the same sire and dam." Killian looked at him with amazement. "I know… I was amazed too. She's a pill though. A right pill."
The mare swished her tail with agitation, as if she didn't like to be talked about. "Has she been bred yet?" Killian asked, retreating from the stall. The horse looked just like the one he had sold to Gold so many years ago, which had been the start of his personal downfall. Killian's eyes grazed over the mare, and suddenly he could taste the dust in the air and hear the cracking sound of bones braking. He winced at the memory, and shook his head, "Sorry mate, my thoughts wander."
Graham threw an arm around his shoulders, jogging him from his thoughts. "Let's go have a drink and chat," he offered, and Killian nodded his head, still in shock, but followed his friend away from the barn and into his house.
Killian sat down at the small kitchen table, dazed look plastered on his face. Graham dropped two glasses on the table with one hand, and filled up each with a healthy pour of whiskey. Killian tiled it up to his lips, the strong burn shaking him from his thoughts. He looked around. The small farmhouse was full of memories. Ribbons hung from every corner of the house, and framed pictures hung everywhere… snapshots of winners and history lined the house. Neat knees tucked up over fences, smiling faces from podiums. It was Graham's life's work, and in some ways, it was close to Killian's too.
Killian wasn't old by any means… holding in his mid-30's… but he and Graham hit the show jumping circuit at the same time in their early teens, taking it all by storm. The two brits, full of piss and vinegar, and not playing by the rules. Well, one of them didn't. Killian smirked at the memory. Graham came from money, a good family, and he had a name to protect. Killian had nothing but his natural ability, enough to make just about anyone jealous.
Killian's eyes flickered over the framed photos, landing on the podium shot of Team Great Britain. His own eyes shined back at him, with Graham on one side, and Milah on the other.
"I miss her too, you know, but it's been five years Killian," Graham said, and Killian's eyes turned from the photo to his friend. "She was like a sister to me. I hate that bastard too. But you have to let her go."
"Oh really," snapped Killian, "then tell me why that mare is down there in your barn. That's not letting go."
"Jesus Christ Killian, I found that mare so that maybe you could have some sense of closure. Because I miss the old you. You're so damn talented it makes me sick. You could be out there, still winning every damn thing… instead of locking yourself away on your farm," Graham snapped back.
A throat cleared behind them and Emma stood in the doorway. Killian sat up a bit taller at her arrival.
"Sorry guys, just want to grab a beer for a bran mash and I'll be out of our way," she chirped, and darted into the kitchen, tracking in dirt on her paddock boots.
Graham groaned, "Emma you can't knock some of that dirt off your boots?"
She ruffled his hair as she scampered out of the kitchen, "We live on a farm G. It's a losing battle."
"Not my good beer for the horses ok?" Graham scolded her, and she huffed into the fridge, the sound of bottles clanking together. She peeked up over the door, and when he wasn't looking, grabbed one of the 'off limits' beer and dashed from the kitchen. "I SAID NOT MY GOOD BEER FOR THE HORSES!" Graham called after her, shaking his head.
"This one's for me!" Emma called back over her shoulder. The sound of a bottle cap popping off accompanied by the screen door slamming made Graham shake his head.
Killian's eyebrows raised at his friend, who looked exhausted. "What's the story with that one?"
"I said to leave that alone," Graham gestured to the screen door Emma had left through moments later.
"I am leaving it alone. I'm just curious… I haven't seen you in years and now you have an enchanting blonde riding horses all over your stables. Is she your girl…" Killian started to ask before Graham interrupted him with a "Hell no."
"Emma Swan is many things… pain in the ass, bloody talented, stubborn as hell… but she is not my girlfriend," Graham laughed, and Killian sat back smugly.
"Ok, you've got to explain this one. You usually ran a solo operation and now you've got this 'not girlfriend' hanging around," Killian laughed, and kicked his feet up in the spare chair at the table.
Graham knocked them to the floor with a scowl, and then sighed. "Where to start with Emma?" he mused into his glass, "I met Emma through an 'At Risk' youth program. She came here 6 years ago when she was 17, and Killian, I haven't ever seen a person more natural with horses."
Killian raised an eyebrow at Graham and leaned back in his chair. "Oh, how good are we talking here?"
Graham chuckled, "In under a year, she was clearing two foot courses with ease. Her seat is natural, and she can ride anything. It's insane. It was a little touch and go that first year, she was bumped to some sketchy foster homes, but I finally was able to arrange for her to be moved to the Blanchard farm."
Killian choked on his drink and sat up, laughing. "You put her on the "Team Pony Club" farm?"
Graham rolled his eyes, "Yeah, but Mary Margaret loved her, and couldn't wait to dote on her. She stayed with them for almost four years, and then a few years ago, she moved in here. She lives in the loft apartment over the main barn, and we're trying to get her ready for the circuit this year."
Killian smirked, "You know, that's my old flat."
"Yeah well," Graham grinned, "You left me all alone. What was I supposed to do?"
Killian laughed, "Sorry mate, it was time to branch out on my own."
"How is your little breeding operation going?" Graham asked, standing up to grab the bottle whiskey, giving them each a few more fingers.
"I've finally seeing some of the results of Rog's first foals. One of his three year old's was just started, and he's a real stunner. Here…" Killian pulled his phone from his pocket, and flipped through a few photos until a young dapple gray popped up. He passed the phone to Graham, who let out a low whistle.
"He's stunning Killian," said Graham, and then he paused, "You don't miss competing though?"
Killian smiled sadly into his drink, sliding his phone back into his pocket. "Every day mate. I just, I don't know if I can go back or not. Maybe one day."
"You're no spring chicken Jones," Graham look at him with a disapproving look.
"I'm the same age as you, you wanker!" he laughed, and stood up, placing his glass in the sink.
"Yeah, and Gran Prix when your 35 hurts the knees a hell of a lot more than when your 21, I can tell you that," Graham winced, standing up from the table too. "So, the business end of this. I'd like to get Rog settled before we try to introduce him to his new lady."
"Wait, you want him here?" Killian asked, puzzled. Graham rolled his eyes. "Look Killian, I've managed to find you this horse. And I'll make sure you get your foal, but I want to do it here. That mare is a pill, and I want to keep her here to stress her out the least amount."
"Aye, I suppose that's best," he agreed, and swiped a hand through his hair, "I'll trailer him over tomorrow, and we will go from there."
"Besides, I'll get to see you all the time now. Just like old times," Graham swung his arm over Killian's shoulders as they left the house.
The late fall evening was descending upon the farm, and Killian took a deep breath. His eyes wandered to the barn where he saw Emma propped up on a trunk in the hallway, taking in the sunset. She raised her beer to him as he walked to his truck. Perhaps being around more wouldn't be such a bad thing.
Liam wasn't happy with Killian when he pulled out with their prize breeding stallion in the morning, but Killian reminded him although they did own the farm together, the horse was, indeed, his. That went over well, and would in no way have consequences. Killian groaned thinking about it, and took another sip of his coffee, pulling into White Wolf Farms a little after 9 am. Horses of all colors dotted the fields flanking either side of the driveway, and the place just made him feel at home. Pulling in towards the main barn, a rider in the ring caught his eye. He slowed the truck and trailer, cutting the engine and grabbing his coffee. A blonde braid sticking out from under the helmet gave the rider away.
Emma was effortlessly schooling a large chestnut over a course, and the thud of hooves in the area drew Killian to the fence. He counted the strides with her in whispers. 1. 2. 3. 4. The horse tucked his front knees and sailed over an oxer, executing a tight turn on the haunches before heading down a triple. First jump. Two strides. Second jump. She should take it in four. She pushes the horse to take it in three, and the large horse boldly sails over the last fence.
"Good Boy!" Emma praises the horse, bringing him down to a spirited walk, patting him with vigor on his neck. Clapping from the ring side brought her attention to a smiling Killian Jones.
"Bravo Swan," he commended her and she walked towards the rail, "Although I think that last line should have been done in four strides. Bravo on the bold three."
"Yeah well he's a timid one, despite the size," she shrugged, giving the guy a big pat on the neck, before dropping her stirrups and leaping off. "I want to bring his confidence up, push him a little harder. If they are smaller fences like this, he'll gain the confidence for the bigger fences."
"Aye, that's a very good plan," Killian nodded, walking the line of the fence with her, and opening the gate.
With a little bow, he held the gate open, with a smirky, "M'lady."
Emma snorted and passed through pulling the helmet off her head. Killian walked quickly to catch up with her. "So, you wouldn't perhaps know where Mr. Hummel is this morning, do you?"
"Nope," Emma responded, as they walked into the barn, "why?"
"Well, I seem to have my horse here, as requested, but I am not quite sure where he will be living while here during his residency."
"Hmmm…. I'm not sure. I'd say throw him in one of the stalls in here, but being that he's a stallion, I'd rather not have him stalled next to the mares," she said thoughtfully as she slipped the horses bridle off, buckling a halter on, and snapping him to crossties.
Killian sighed, "Wonderful." Emma chuckled as she unhooked the girth and slid the saddle off, hanging it from a nearby rack. Taking a firm brush, she started giving the horse a brush down, as Killian stood there, watching her lean over to brush down the horses legs. Lost in thought for a moment, Emma turned around and caught Killian staring at her.
"Like the view?" she asked with a smirk, and a slow smile spread across his face. "Yes lass, it's quite the view," he said, hardly blushing from being caught. Emma rolled her eyes, and uncliped the big gelding, taking him back to his stall.
Locking the door behind the chestnut, she hung up the leadrope and turned to Killian, still standing in the hall. The summer days were getting short and there was a nice crisp in the air. "Alright Jones, you seem lost. Listen, I was going to take one of the horses out for a hack. Graham shouldn't be out past 4, if you want to tag along… stretch your stallions legs a bit."
Killian grinned at her, "Alright then Swan, lemme go get Rog tacked up. It would be a pleasure to accompany you," he said with a smile.
Practically giddy back to the trailer, he swung the rear door open and backed Rog back, who was snorting and wildly looking around as he stepped down. "Easy mate," Killian soothed the stallion, who was high stepping around as he circled a few times before being tied to the side of the trailer. Killian worked tacking up the big, black stallion, and just as he was tightening the girth, Emma came walking from one of the barns, on a lovely little palomino.
"Well Lass, I feel like you might have been upstaged by this lovely blonde. Who's this?" Killian asked as the horse timidly reached out to sniff Killian's outstretched fingers.
Emma chuckled, "This is Buggy… my good ol' Pony Club mount." She stroked the horse with affection, and the horse leaned into her touch. Killian gave her head a pat before heading around to the otherside of the trailer to unclip his own ride, and mount up. When he walked around to where Emma and the palomino were standing, Emma let out a low whistle.
"Now that is a stunning horse," Emma said with admiration in her voice.
"Behold, the Jolly Roger," said Killian with a grin, adjusting his stirrup leathers. He must remember to tell Liam to stop using his saddle. He was stretching out his leathers.
"J&J Jolly Roger?" Emma asked, and Killian looked up at her with a surprised look on his face, other leg thrown up as the adjustment continued.
"Aye, one in the same," he nodded, sliding the leather back into place, and sliding his toes into the irons, flexing his heels down. "Now, show me this trail you have picked out. Rog needs a good canter," he said with a wink, and picked up his reins, gesturing for Emma to lead the way.
"Is this so you can just stare at my ass the whole ride?" she asked as she passed him, leading the way down the long driveway towards the wooded area on the far side of the property.
"I would never," Killian quipped with mock hurt in his voice, "I am a gentleman!"
Emma pivoted in her saddle and looked back at him with a grin. "You're a scoundrel. Let's not pretend to be what we aren't."
Killian grinned as her horse broke into a trot in front of him, and he nudged Rog into the two-stepped gait, following her down the rest of the road, and cutting off into a trail cut into the woods.
The afternoons were picking up a slight chill in the air, and as the path opened up allowing for more than single-file riding, Killian trotted up next to Emma, and they both slowed to a walk, allowing for the horses to take a breath.
"That's a quick little pony you've got there," Killian commented, and noted his stallion was fond of her too. The horse was practically preening, prancing and tossing his head.
Emma noted the behavior too. "Someone has a thing for blondes," she teased, and Killian looked over at her with affection.
"You have no idea," he grinned, and Emma blushed.
"You know what I meant," she scolded, before changing the subject. "How long have you had him?" she asked, gesturing to the black stallion who was attempting to break into a trot.
Killian eased him back to an attempt at a walk, "Rog and I have been here from the beginning. I was there when he was born, and I raised him every step of the way. He's means more to me than most people to be honest."
Emma nodded, "I like most horses better than people too. They understand me, they don't talk too much. There's something about them."
"There's something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man," said Killian, and Emma laughed.
"A Churchill quote right?" and Killian laughed.
"Yeah, that's one from the homeland. Though supposedly he never even said it."
Emma made a small "hmmm" sound, musing the quote for a second, before turning back to Killian.
"Want to race?"
Killians eyebrows raised at her. "You think you're going to win on that horse verses Rog. Oh this should be good. Ok, I'll race… but what does the winner get?"
Emma narrowed her eyes at him in a challenging gesture. "Hmmm…. If I win, you'll let me try out Rog. And if you win…"
"When I win," Killian corrected her, "I get to take you out to dinner."
Emma laughed, feet already springing into action. "Readysetgo!" she yelled suddenly, and took off like a blonde bat out of hell.
Both Killian and Rog stood in the middle of the trail, flustered. "Damn it Rog, let's go!" Killian urged the horse into gear, and off they took.
Killian arrived back in the yard minutes after Emma and Buggy had pulled up. "How did you do that?" he panted, both he and Rog running full tilt after the mare, but losing them after a few minutes.
"I guess we're just better than you guys, aren't we girl?" Emma scratched the mare behind her ear, who has already recovered and looked proud as a peacock.
Killian's eyes narrowed, and he circled the duo on his horse. "Oh, I believe that you, m'lady, cheated."
Emma tried to bite back a smirk, "Don't be a sore loser Jones."
"I'm not when I've won fair and square. So as far as I am concerned, you still owe me dinner," he said, and Emma scoffed.
"No thanks, I'm good," Emma said with a laugh, walking back towards the lesson barn, as the sounds of Graham's truck could be heard as he slowly drove down the driveway.
"Emma!" Killian yelled after her, and she turned to look over her shoulder, "This isn't the end of this conversation."
She laughed again, swishing her ponytail over her shoulder, and leading Buggie back through the lesson barn.
Graham emerged from his truck a few moments later, as Killian dismounted, walking Rog around to cool down. "What was that about?" asked Graham, and Killian shook his head, muttering a 'nothing' in his direction.
Graham peered at the lesson barn and back to Killian, "I said not to mess with her, Killian."
Killian turned around and held up his arms, shaking his head, "And I am not messing. Do you see anyone messing? No messing. Now… where is this handsome fucker going to live?" Killian grabbed the stallions nose, roughhousing with him a bit. The horse seemed to be offended, and shook off Killian's hand, snorting in his face.
"No one here respects me," Killian grumbled, and Graham just looked blankly at him, before shaking his head.
"Oh come on you sod, this way," he gestured, leading Killian to one of the barns attached to small paddocks.