Characters: Rogue, Scott
Summary: Rogue and Scott and horse sense.
All standard disclaimers apply. Don't own 'em, am making no money off 'em, etc.
Gratitude and a platoon of Godiva-bearing ponies (friendly ones, by God!) to Rachel for the beta.
It wasn't that Rogue didn't like horses. She did, more or less, but in an oh-look-how-pretty way, not in a let's-muck-out-stalls-and-clean-tack-all-day way. And although today's duty didn't involve stalls or manure (well, except for that whole clean-out-the-hooves business), it did involve a big bay horse who'd apparently gotten tired of his original color and had decided to modify it with a mud bath.
Who knew a horse could get mud between his ears? And in his eyelashes? Who knew a horse had eyelashes, for that matter?
" . . . and be sure not to use it on his face, or lower than the knee," Mr. Summers instructed, handing her a circular metal thing that to Rogue's mind resembled a medieval torture device but which he said would help get the dried mud off. She suppressed a groan, accepted the scraper and got to work. The ensuing cloud of dust reminded her of Pigpen from "Peanuts" and made her sneeze.
It was spring. The grounds were muddy and the horses were muddier. The mud was bad for their skin and worse for the tack, so Mr. Summers had embarked on an anti-mud crusade and had drafted her to help get the horses clean, even if they wouldn't stay that way long. It might have been because she was quiet and good with animals, or it might just have been her turn to do stable duty. But she suspected the real reason she was here was that all of the older students had spent most of the winter working with the professor to improve control of their powers, and everyone had made progress. Everyone but her, that was. With the arrival of spring, people were spending a lot of time outdoors, and a lot of time showing off what they could do. Everyone but her, that was. And she was really starting to think that if she had to admire one more ice sculpture, ooh and aah over one more plasma burst or marvel again over how easily Peter could switch from flesh to metal and back again, she was going to lose it. Just lose it. And she had a feeling Mr. Summers knew it and had corralled her to spend a day away from the others because of it. He was good about things like that.
Rogue thought Mr. Summers had an idea of what it was like to be her. Sometimes, anyway. She had a whole bunch of people in her head. She was Marie, Rogue, David, Erik, Logan, John and Bobby. He was Cyclops, Mr. Summers and Scott. For a long time after Dr. Grey died, for a long, scary, mostly silent time, he was just Cyclops. But as the winter moved on, Mr. Summers started to come back, and now that spring was here, she'd seen a flash of Scott now and then. Just last week, Bobby was bragging that he'd actually gotten Scott to laugh, and she wasn't sure if Bobby kept telling the story over and over again from pride or from relief.
Now, she watched her teacher methodically scraping mud off his own horse, a big chestnut mare. "What's this horse's name again?" Rogue asked, pausing at the bay's shoulder.
"Bali," Mr. Summers said, not breaking his rhythm.
"Bali like the place?"
"No, Bali like Balius, like Achilles," Mr. Summers said. Seeing her befuddled expression, he elaborated, "Balius and Xanthus were the horses that pulled Achilles' chariot. That's Balius, and that," he pointed to another big bay horse, even muddier than Rogue's, "is Xanthus. This," he indicated his mare, "is Cleo. Short for Cleopatra."
Rogue knew all about Cleo. Shortly after arriving at the mansion, she and Logan had wandered through the stable to pet the horses. She'd immediately noticed the big red mare running her teeth back and forth across the metal bars at the top of her stall. The animal had seemed friendly enough, had let Rogue pet her. But when Logan had reached in to do the same, the mare had immediately sunk her teeth into his forearm.
"It must have been the metal," Mr. Summers had told them later. "She has a thing for metal."
True, the mare had seem surprised at Logan's anguished howl, and true, she was mouthing the chain on her crosstie even now, but Rogue's inner Logan still nursed a private conviction that Scooter had spent days, if not weeks, training the animal to attack him. Just for the hell of it.
Mr. Summers had been spending a lot of time with Cleo and the other horses since Dr. Grey's death. He'd be gone for hours at a time, sometimes most of a whole day, riding Cleo, or riding Donna, a.k.a. Prima Donna, Dr. Grey's little brown horse. He'd take off all stiff and tense with his jaw clenched and return, well, not relaxed exactly, but more like Scott and less like Cyclops.
"It must be nice, riding," Rogue ventured. "I never learned how. It looks like fun. And being in control of a big thing like a horse . . . that must be nice, too."
"It is fun," Mr. Summers said, rubbing hard at a stain on Cleo's rump. "It's a lot of fun. But it's not so much about control." He shrugged. "You want control, ride a bike. Drive a car. But a horse . . . it's a half-ton of moving muscle with a mind of its own. If you think you're in control all the time, you're wrong."
"But how can that be?" Rogue objected. "I see you with Cleo jumping over fences and running around. What, you're asking her what she wants to do? No offense, but I don't think she's all that energetic."
"No offense, but I think that's your inner Logan talking," Mr. Summers said mildly. "You ever hear of a guy called Buck Brannaman?" Rogue shook her head. "He's a horse trainer," Mr. Summers went on. "A cowboy. He says riding a horse is like dancing. You don't drag your partner all over, you kind of let her know what you want to do and do it together." He gave Rogue a faint smile. "So I let her know what I want to do and make it easy for her to do it. She trusts me, I trust her, it works out."
"But what if she doesn't want to do it?" Rogue said. "What if she freaks out? She's really big – she could hurt you really bad. Or kill you, even."
"Yes, she could," Mr. Summers said calmly. He turned away from Rogue and started brushing Cleo's tail. "You try to make it easy for the right thing to happen and hard for the wrong thing to happen. If the wrong thing happens, you deal with it as best you can." He paused, brushing the mare's tail hard. "Sometimes when the wrong thing happens, the best you can do is to make sure it doesn't get worse. That no one gets hurt unnecessarily." He sighed sharply. "You figure out a way to deal with it."
Rogue considered that for a minute, scrubbing at a manure stain on Bali's shoulder. "So you control what you can and deal with what you can't."
"Mostly, yeah," Mr. Summers said.
"And the more you do it, the more you can control?"
Mr. Summers shrugged. "More like the more you do it, the more you know how to deal with, even when you can't control it. That make sense?"
"Kind of," Rogue muttered. She stepped behind Bali to start on his tail.
"Not there," Mr. Summers said sharply. Rogue looked up in surprise. "Not behind him," Mr. Summers said, gesturing at her to move to the side. "You're in his blind spot. He can't see you when you're right behind him. If he's startled and kicks out, he'll hurt you badly."
"Blind spot like when you drive?" Rogue said.
"Exactly," Mr. Summers said. "Be careful of the blind spots. He doesn't like it when he can't see what's coming."
"Who does?" Rogue muttered.
"Good point," Mr. Summers said. They worked in silence for a while.
"So what's it feel like when she runs?" Rogue asked suddenly, jabbing her chin at Cleo. "It can't feel like going fast in a car."
"No," Mr. Summers said. "It's nothing like a car. It's like you're flying. Without the wings." He patted Cleo's flank affectionately, and she stopped mouthing her crosstie to turn to look at him and nicker softly. "There's a line in the Quran about that, about how the horse flies without wings. It's like you're better than you are normally, faster and stronger."
"Like having a mutation that works right," Rogue said without thinking. She blushed scarlet, remembering that she wasn't the only one with a mutation that didn't work right, and bent down to brush furiously at Bali's lower legs. "I'm sorry," she muttered.
"I shouldn't have said that."
Mr. Summers picked up a different brush and started in on Cleo's far side. He didn't say anything, just kept brushing. "They say there's something about the outside of a horse that's good for the inside of a person," he said at last. "I could probably teach you how to ride, if you want." He shrugged. "It's easier than calculus. For most people."
Rogue snorted and kept grooming. "Teach me how to control what I can and deal with what I can't?" she said.
"If you're up for it," Mr. Summers said. "It's not for everyone."
Rogue sighed and stepped back to survey her progress on Bali. Still dirty, but more like a muddy horse and less like a mud ball that resembled a horse. She leaned in close, closed her eyes, breathed in the scent of horse and hay. She wrapped both arms around Bali's strong neck, leaned against his side and felt the muscles and the power beneath. She felt his heart beating, slow and strong. Felt her own heart beating, faster but still strong. Sort of in rhythm. Fasterstrongerbetterflyingtrustmetrustyouflyflyfly.
"Yeah," she answered finally. "I'm up for that."