Disclaimer: I don't own Heartland. I do, however, own the Rogue Enmity and this fic.
Enjoy the swift update; two more chapters to go!
P.S: The chapter title is taken from the amazing song Everything Burns by Anastacia. I watched an X-Men: First Class tribute put to it; t'was awesome :3
"That's her. "
Ty turned. A young man stood outside Rogue's stall, regarding the mare with an emotion he couldn't quite place. Somewhere between wistfulness and apathy.
" I'm sorry, can I help you? "
Leaving the black mare's half-groomed side, Ty let himself out. Rogue popped her head over the door and eyed the stranger, but at least she didn't seem openly hostile, Ty reassured himself. The young man stepped forward, deliberately angling himself to avoid brushing against Ty as he reached up to touch Rogue's forehead. Rogue let him.
Whoever this person was, he'd had no role in Rogue's abuse. The stable hand knew the Akhal-Teke cross well enough by now to be certain that if this hadn't been the case, Rogue would have behaved very differently. As it was, she extended the same bored tolerance thet Ben was now familiar with, nothing close to her open contentment at being in Ty's presence - Ty tried ( and failed ) not to feel smug about that.
" I hope so. My sister was at your clinic last week and when she came back, she told me that she'd found Domino. I didn't believe her at first - it's been years, after all - but there's no mistaking her now that I can see her with my own eyes. "
Ty felt as though his stomach had dropped three storeys. The stranger continued calmly,
" I have photos, if you'd like to view them. You see, Domino was sold because I grew too tall for her; Molly wasn't experienced enough to take her on at that stage, so I sold her to a reputable yard at the promise that I could go visit whenever I wished. But when I did, they told me they'd sold her on because she had been acting... difficult. Are you all right? "
Ty realised his hands were shaking slightly. He stuffed them into his pockets and nodded curtly.
" Fine. So you're saying that... Domino, here, used to be yours and that her treatment, " he gestured awkwardly to the scars on the mare's haunches, " came from a later owner? "
Domino. The name sounded strange, unfitting. He didn't like it.
The other boy nodded. Seeming to pick on Ty's slightly interrogative tone, he narrowed his eyes and straightened his back in response.
" Yes. You think she'd let me touch her if I was the one responsible for those marks? I never once held a crop when riding Mino; with her, you never needed one. She didn't just jump. She flew. "
Ty recalled Rogue's ( well, " Domino's ") effortless leap over the five foot fencing a mere few weeks prior. They were definitely talking about the same mare.
" Sorry if I sounded accusing. Just had to check. So, are you...?" Ty couldn't bring himself to finish the sentence; the idea of it clogged up his throat. No way. He had not come this far, worked this hard, just to have some stranger drop in and whisk Rogue away.
That wasn't fair.
" That remains to be seen. I'd love to take her home with me, but I can't ride her any more and even before her... ordeal, she wasn't exactly suitable for my students. Too spirited. "
" Oh. What a shame. " Ty felt no sympathy whatsoever. In fact, he was strangely gleeful - upon realising this, he reprimanded himself. It wasn't right to be happy about the idea of a horse being unable to go home with an owner who clearly cared about it.
Hmph. Cared. The stranger seemed strangely detatched about the whole thing.
" Still, I'd hate to lose her again. I heard about the progress you've made, so I'd like to propose a trial run of sorts. Molly's nearly as good a rider as I am now; if she takes a liking to Domino and vice versa, then Domino will come home with us when you deem fit. "
Ty's stomach dropped again.
" Um... you'll have to discuss this with Lou. She's up at the house. "
" I know. " The young man continued to stroke Rogue.
" Molly's talking to her right now. They'll be down any moment, I expect. "
Egotistical jerk. Ty wished Rogue would bite him.
" Oh. Okay... sorry, I don't think I caught your name. "
" Daniel. Daniel Cartson. "
You wanna take control of me; I won't let you do it...
The mare stared, uninterested, as Cold-hands stepped closer.
She remembered this human, dimly; or rather the way he sat, as still and silent as fresh ice. Every move always calculated, flawless and detachedly professional, never giving her a reason to act up nor giving her the window of idle opportunity to do so. Never a partner, always a commander. Never a herdmate, always a rider. Though it would be fair to say he'd been a good human compared to those that came after... alas, the mare did not indulge in such analytical thoughts.
At present she was only concerned with why Cold-hands was here and, as he never had any treats with him, when he was going to go away. Admittedly, she got slightly suspicious when Quiet-speaker briskly finished grooming her and lightly placed a saddle on her back, but Cold-hands was a Big now. That - and his body language confirmed - meant that he would not be her rider today.
When Cold-hands took the role of walking her to the ring, leaving Quiet-speaker to walk awkwardly at her other side, the mare briefly contemplated biting him. It was only the sight of the human in the ring, alongside another whose scent often whispered its way into the barn on Gentle-touch's clothing, that made her disregard that contemplation entirely.
It was Tight-grip.
You say you know what's best for me
I'm gonna make you prove it ...
Quiet-speaker stood by her head, talking softly as usual, letting his familiar presence soothe her. It was difficult for even Quiet-speaker to maintain the fragile sense of calm, however, when waves of stress rolled off him. The mare pawed the ground, uneasy. She disliked the folding bar in her mouth; Cold-hands had insisted upon it in his icy, unruffled way and, caught out by his expert fingers, the mare had found her mouth invaded for the first time in months. It was a cold, bitter-tasting reunion of teeth and metal. In the midst of the mare's fussing, Tight-grip had somehow made herself at home in the saddle; the mare shook her head irritably, sidestepped, and - as she knew she would - received a jab in the mouth.
The sensation was infuriatingly familiar. Despite Quiet-speaker's body language, his voice, his touch, the mare's temper began to fray. Cold-hands was herding Quiet-speaker away, now, making him back up to the fence and leaving the mare alone with her uninvited passenger.
When Tight-grip gave a bruising nudge to the mare's flanks, the mare responded by jolting into a brisk trot. Cold-hands called out, a commander even from a distance; Tight-grip sat deep, pulled at the reins. The mare twitched her ears in discomfort, but obeyed and tucked her head down so that the heavy tugging sensation on her mouth would ease to a more bearable, consistant contact.
She remembered how to play this dance. She just no longer wanted to; it was that simple clarity that compelled the mare to change the tune.
You're always complaining at me; get off my back
Why won't you just let me be? Get off my back!
Head up, resisting now. Tight-grip was alternating between relaxing her grip and cruelly sawing on the reins in an attempt to force the mare to slow down. The mare gritted her teeth, fumbled with the bit, then lost it and, upon swerving to avoid a collision with the fence, received another sharp jab in the mouth. Saliva gushed up to soothe the pain; within minutes, the mare's lips were coated with froth. Cold-hands was now not the only one calling out; Quiet-speaker's tone was there, higher and less reassuring than usual. He made to approach; Cold-hands stopped him and both remained at the fence, standing by, doing nothing.
The mare collected herself, ducked her head down, tensed her spine, and bucked. Tight-grip yanked. The mare responded by kicking up her legs again.
Kick. Yank. Kick. Yank. Swerve.
The latter unseated Tight-grip; finally, the mare managed to seize the bit in her teeth and seize the control that went with it. No more assaults to her sore mouth!
The rhythm of hoofbeats, a headstrong snort; time now seemed to slow as she sped up, cantering at a reckless pace that verged dangerously on a full-blown gallop. Tight-grip was leaning back now, but wrenched at the mare's mouth one last time; in retaliation, the mare gave one more savage buck. The tightness dropped completely; her passenger had lost the reins; the mare spied them dangling, dangling -
- I'm gonna take a fall -
Abruptly, the mare's head was jerked down. Her front leg fumbled, flailed as it was snagged in mid-air, and missed the stride altogether. She pitched forward, feeling a sharp pain as metal was torn free from her mouth; her mind went momentarily blank with surprise, fear, and a rush of adrenaline as her head and chest crashed into the ground. The momentum and impulsion produced by her rear legs sent her hindquarters forward in a clumsy somersault - then she was sprawled on her side, sore and disorientated, heart racing and riderless.
She heard Quiet-speaker's alarm call, heard his rapid approach; the whites of her eyes showing, the mare rolled onto her belly and staggered hastily to her feet. The broken reins and part of the bridle lay nearby, as did Tight-grip; Cold-hands was with her, making noises of concern despite his tense and forbidding body language. Quiet-speaker was approaching slowly now, speaking with deliberately enforced calm.
The mare flashed her whites at him, conveying her distress, but allowed him to reach her head and carefully begin soothing circles on her crest.
Tell me this and tell me that but I've heard it all before!
Why won't you just let me be?
Tight-grip abruptly let out a wail; the mare flinched and took several racing steps backwards. Quiet-speaker moved with her, fumbling with the headholder on his shoulder, seeking to simultaneously reassure and restrain. The mare tossed her head out of his reach but remained still, muscles stiff in preparation. Cold-hands made a low, angry sound; he rose and approached, hands balled into threats.
Quiet-speaker tensed slightly. That was all the mare needed.
With an angry squeal she sprang forward, shoving past Quiet-speaker and rearing up, threshing the air with her forelegs. Cold-hands' eyes widened, his posture morphing into hasty retreat. His voice, however, retained the threat, which Quiet-speaker responded to with a flinch. There was a strange calm to his movements as he pressed a hand on the mare's nose, directing it downwards so that he could slip on the headholder and lead her away.
Just let me be myself...
" Everything at your clinic was a lie. "
It was a disaster. Molly was in the kitchen with Lou and Amy; Ben had silently volunteered to take care of Rogue. The mare, now over the worst of whatever regression she'd experienced, had happily blown through he rnostrils at him and followed without resistance.
Leaving Ty to try and explain to Daniel what, exactly, had just happened.
" No. I told you that we'd just coaxed her back into accepting a rider using the hackamore; I told you that she wasn't ready for a snaffle bit yet. I know you had your methods of handling Domino, but -
" That isn't Domino. Not any more. I see that now. "
" My horse would never have tried to hurt Molly and she certainly would not have dared to try attack me. "
Daniel shook his head firmly, cutting Ty off before he could speak. The man's voice was hoarse, his eyes threatening to overflow.
" She's changed. She's... turned. there's nothing I can do for her now. "
Though merely a few minutes earlier Ty had dreaded the idea of Rogue leaving Heartland, this rejection was worse. It was a condemnation, an announcement of exile.
" Mr. Cartson - "
" I'm sorry, but I can't. I can't keep a rogue horse at my yard. "
The man dabbed at his eyes with as much dignity as he could muster, then turned and started walking up to the house.
His voice was quieter, more composed; Ty barely heard his words, yet they sent a chill down his spine like no others could.
" You shouldn't, either; once a horse turns, it's turned for good. It's only a matter of time before one of you gets hurt, too. "