Hola! It's been a little while, but I sat down at my computer a few hours ago and cranked this one out. Hope you like it! Oh, and by the way, the horses mentioned are the actual names of the Dirty Dozen. -Taylor! xx
Disclaimer: Nope. Not mine. Dammit. There goes my plans for television domination...
There were faint hoof beats coming up from behind. For a split, fleeting moment, Kris feared it was one of the mustangs come to rile up the small herd again. But, upon twisting around, she could see the outline of her husband and current favorite person in the world. She sighed in relief as she guided Wildfire into a 180 degree turn. "Thank God you're here," she called. The girls' heads all snapped in the direction she was looking; some smirked, others ignored him all together. "I don't even know where to start."
"I always told you I wanted to be your knight in shining armor," he replied with his trademarked smile. "As long as I don't actually wear the armor, I'm up for anything. Do you have any idea where she could have gone?"
She ran a hand over her head and bit her lower lip, eyes raking the landscape behind him. "I mean... She probably went that way," she stuck a thumb over her shoulder, "but I'm not sure. Why don't I take half the group that way and you go towards the ridge? We could cover more ground that way."
"My super-sick, extra Junior-sense says that she went that way," he pointed over her shoulder, "so why don't you go off by yourself, and I'll check over there with everybody else. You and Wildfire can go a thousand times faster than all of us can, so go."
"I don't know... Are you sure?"
"Positive. Now go before she gets herself into any more trouble."
That was all the prodding she needed. She spun her companion around and clicked a few times, sending the two of them flying over the uneven turf. They sped past where they had doubled back at, and down the trail she had assumed was her path. "Ezmerelda!" she shouted over the rush of the wind at her face. "Ezmerelda!" She nearly choked as air forced itself down her throat. She pulled back on the reigns enough to get him to slow to a trot. She called the girl's name once again, but received nothing in return but the quiet echo of her voice against the trunks of trees around her. She dropped the leather, cupped her hands around her mouth and tried again. No change.
"Can't you do some special horse-y talk and get Noser to answer you?" she pleaded her horse, a bit mockingly. He snorted, and picked up his pace again. She groped for the reigns back just in time for him to break into a smooth, yet quick, canter. She yelled again and again as they rode down the narrowing path. It wound around endlessly before emptying out into the large, empty field she had once enjoyed relaxing in. She slowed to a walk and scanned the ground for any signs that someone had ridden through. The thick, overgrown, dying grass proved it a difficult task. Nearly halfway, she was about ready to give up on her ground-searching. Out of a stoke of sheer, dumb luck, she spotted half of a hoof print in the dirt of a rare patch of ground, followed by some of the grass being bent forward as if something had knocked it that way. She smiled, triumphantly before setting Wildfire in a dead gallop in the direction her finding had indicated.
Kris could feel a small spark of hope being rekindled in the pit of her almost-empty stomach. It was a welcomed warmth in such cold weather. It was a warmth not even a jacket could provide. It kept her on the tedious yet invigorating ride she was currently riding. Wildfire must have picked up on that hope, for he too seemed to have more energy. His previously snorting breathing was suddenly smooth and easy. He stretched out his head a fraction and emitted an ear-splitting whinny. She laughed a little and egged him on. From some distance in front of them, there was an answering whinny. It was probably a few hundred yards away, but she could feel the excitement of knowing bubbling below the hope.
As the ground rolled around in front of them, a small speck appeared on the cloudy horizon. She pushed for more out of her favorite racer, and received it instantly. His stride spread and his pace seemed to quicken. The speck grew larger with each pounding beat, and after a minute, she could start to make out the figure of a horse running in the same direction, a crouched figure on its back. After another few seconds, she could start to see the hair flying behind the rider's head, and confirmed her suspicions of identity. However fast Nose Ring was, Wildfire was three times that, even during retirement. In seemingly no time at all, they were right behind them. Taking a page out of Tina Sharp's dirty handbook, Kris shouted "whoa, Noser, whoa!" And, sadly, it worked enough for her to be able to reach out, grab the reigns from her hands and pull back.
When both horses where slowed to a walk, Ezmerelda was eyeing the ground, as if trying to decide whether it was worth the jump to run even farther away. "Don't even think about it," the elder said, sternly. "What the hell were you thinking? Where were you planning on going? You don't know the land out here. It's dangerous! There are cougars out here." She didn't reply, just turned her head away and starred at the changing view as they were turned in the opposite direction. "Nuh-uh, you're going to talk to me, whether you want to or not. You don't have the right not to speak to you. I'm not a cop; I'm not going to read you your Miranda rights. They don't even apply here. So talk. Now. It's a long way back." Silence. "The warden is just a phone call away."
"I just wanted to get out of here," she mumbled.
"So you steal a horse and take off like someone's trying to kill you?" As soon as the words came out, she felt a pang of guilt. Hadn't she done the same thing with Wildfire, in a way? "Don't you know there are easier ways to work things out? I know it doesn't seem like it, but there are. Now, why exactly did you want to get away for? Jail too good for you?"
"No," she snapped, irritably, crossing her arms over her chest.
"Then what. Clearly I'm not understanding this, so, go on, enlighten me."
"Okay, there's a start. What did you lie about?"
"How I got put in jail. My brother didn't give me any pot, and he didn't make me steal a bike. I got caught with a stolen motorcycle riding from California to Mexico to visit my cousin Raúl. He's the one who had the pot. He gave me a whole lot to smuggle across the border and a fake driver's license to get me away from the cops in Mexico. Once I hit the border, I was toast. I got charged with grand theft auto, a misdemeanor for the ID, and possession of a whole lot of pot with intent to sell. There was a crap load of other misdemeanors the brought up in court, so I got a lot longer than I should've."
"Like: battery, which is complete bull crap, loitering, petty theft, shoplifting, trespassing, vandalism... Just about every misdemeanor you can get aside from prostitution. It's what happens when you grow up in the wrong side of town. Having my sister disappear didn't exactly help, either," she explained, sounding bored. "And my deadbeat of a father couldn't care less. Some family, huh?"
"I grew up without my dad. My mom used to tell me how much of an asshole he was to us anyway. Apparently I was the mistake. When I found my brother, things just got worse and worse really fast. He's good to me, though, he just... Was in with the wrong people. He's only my half brother anyway. But... I get it. I know what you're going through. Trust me."
"That's just it," she muttered.
Kris was silent, staring straight ahead. Ezmerelda unfolded her arms and examined her fingernails in a defensive manor. They didn't dare to look at each other for even a glance. By the time either could work up the courage, they weren't far behind the other group. Kris wolf-whistled, mockingly, and Junior whipped himself around. He grinned at the sight of the two of them and gestured to the rest of the girls to follow him. "Where was she?"
"Almost to the creek. Noser got faster, though. I've never seen him run that fast before."
Beside her, although she couldn't see, Ezmerelda's cheeks had gone pink and she fiddled with Nose Ring's ebony mane. He raised his eyebrows at his wife, sort of amused and surprised at the same time. "Has the unstoppable Kris Furillo actually been beaten? And by a teenager? I dunno, Kris, you might be losing your touch," he joked.
Her mouth hung open. "Shut up, I can beat you driving any day of the week."
"Name the time and place, babe; I'll be there."
The girls collectively rolled their eyes, but it didn't go unnoticed by the ex-con. "See girls? This could be your future right here. Just stay clean and work at a racing farm. But anyway, why don't we head back and you can squeeze in a little time in the ring. Remember to distance yourself a horse's length between each other so nobody gets kicked in the face."
When they returned, Kris set the majority of the girls up in the largest ring Raintree had, while she pulled Ezmerelda off for a while. With her direction, Junior was ordered to be in charge of giving them instructions as they walked around the large circle. She figured he'd been around horses long enough to know how to tell people to walk, trot, and change direction. She tied Nose Ring and Wildfire to the post of Wildfire's favorite little pen as she invited Ezmerelda to sit on the fence with her. Ezmerelda mumbled a disgruntled "fine" and clambered to sit next to her.
"What." It wasn't even a question, rather a statement of her noticing an underlying cause.
"I wanted to talk to you, seriously, for a minute." When she didn't say anything in return, she continued. "I see something in you that I don't see in everybody else here."
"No, I'm serious." She played with the cuffs of her shirt. "I see raw talent. I may not be the most perceptive person in the world, but I'm absolutely positive that you have some serious skills. Like, when you were riding Noser out in that field, your crouch was a little sloppy, but you had him running faster than I could get him to do. N- I don't know if he just responds to you differently, or if he likes you better, or if he's just lazy around me, but you made him do things out of the ordinary. He's usually pretty nasty to people, which is understandable when you consider where he's coming from, but still. He calmed down right away when you were on him."
She didn't speak, or reply. Her eyes gazed out over the horses grazing in a nearby pasture to the trees at the far edge. Kris sighed. She was growing tired of the silent treatment. "Look, I don't really give a rat's ass where you come from, or anything that happened to you before because that's not of my damn business, but what is my business is when you show up here, when I'm in charge of you, trying to help you out a little, and you flat out refuse to listen to me. This whole silent crap is really starting to piss me off. Now, either you can either get on that horse, or you can get on the bus over there and go back to jail. It's your choice."
This left Ezmerelda in an empty silence for a few seconds before she shot her a not-so-discrete glare, untied Noser's reigns, and climbed onto his back. Kris hid a small, smug smile, before pushing herself off the fence and opening the gate. The horse and rider walked into the pen gracefully, then the rider looked at her, expectantly. "Get off," she instructed as she closed the gate behind her.
"Excuse me?" Kris walked towards the horse, arms crossed.
"Get down." She furrowed her brows a little, but slid off all the same. "Now get back up."
"But you just told me to-"
"I know. Get up."
She mouthed a rather fresh 'o-kay'. She was offered a leg up, which she took, and slipped up onto the back of the expectant colt.
She took a few steps away and bit her thumb nail through her shirt. "Show me your crouch."
"When you had him running at full speed, show me how you were riding." She stood up in the stirrups, knees bent, head just above the neck, but sticking up in the air like a flag. "Keep your butt down. Yeah, like that. Keep your reigns short. No, shorter. Good. Now keep that position and have him walk around." She watched in amusement as she attempted not to break her poise while she attempted to get Noser to walk forward. "Squeeze with your whole leg, not just with your heel. See? There he goes. Go around once, then get him to trot. Keep your butt down."
As they walked around the circle, Kris fully enjoyed herself calling out annoying, yet useful reminders about her posture. "Heels down," "elbows in," "butt down," and "eyes up" were among the more popular choices. She could see Ezmerelda growing increasingly frustrated as she began to use her full name. "Ezmerelda, keep your flipping butt down," she said, her tone mockingly exasperated.
"I hate that name," she snapped. "Just call me Ezme."
"Okay; Ezme, keep your flipping butt down." That got her an indignant huff of annoyance, but that did little to harm her fun. "Okay, good. Now get him to trot. No, not with your heels. You have to use your whole legs, your hands, your eyes, and even your butt."
"Yes, the thing you sit on. If you tell him to trot, squeeze, and lean forward a little bit, you'll get him to move. Yes! Just like that. Now, keep your butt down. You never know when a horse might come up and bite you there. Good. Hands down lower... Lower. Yeah, right there. Awesome. Ask him for a canter?" Amazingly, she got him to do it on the first try. "See? Even your butt."
Before they knew it, the warden was gesturing for them all to wrap it up. Kris had seen so much improvement in her little project that she had high hopes for the outcome of her upcoming court date. "Okay, bring him in, Ezme," she called her out of her trot. "We don't want to overwork him, and plus, it's almost time for you to go anyway." She pulled him back to a walk, directing him to the center, where she glided down, legs a little shaky from her extensive riding session. "Good work today," she praised, honestly. "I haven't seen anyone take to riding like that since Todd." At her confused look, she clarified. "The Ritter's youngest son. He's at boarding school right now."
"If you need, I can put in a good word for you over there. They like me. They call me their little success story."
"Uh, thanks, but no thanks. I'm good on my own," she assured, handing off the reigns."
"You'll learn pretty quick that you're not. And by the way, you get to clean him off, not me. Come on, let's go."
Kris took Wildfire and had Ezmerelda and Nose Ring follow them into the barn, where they were both untacked, and the elder showed her how to "properly" groom a horse. In actuality, it was "how to groom a horse thoroughly in under five minutes". After their quick little grooming session, she showed her which pasture to let him loose in before letting Wildfire preside in the pen they had just been riding in. Just before the line up to get on the bus assembled, she turned to her. "Look, if you ever need anything, or just need to talk, just call me." She handed her a little slip of paper with her phone number scribbled on it.
Ezme looked from her to the piece of paper and gave the smallest smile she'd ever seen. "Thanks. Maybe I will."
Officer Barcley gave Kris a questioning look. "Just my phone number, don't worry."
"I know everything that goes on in my barracks, Furillo. Remember that," she said.
"I will. Bye." She waved them off as they were loaded onto the dismal bus for the depressing ride back to prison. The second they were gone, she practically tackled Junior to the ground. He, who had been walking into the barn to let the rest of the horses out, nearly jumped out of his skin. Upon seeing who it was, however, he pulled her close and spun her around. She laughed. "Do you realize how much I owe you right now?"
"So much that I don't have to get lucky tonight? That it'll just happen?"
She punched him in the bicep, lightly. He rubbed it, making a mock hurt face. "Yeah, just about that much. You are a savior right now."
"You know, no matter how many times you say it, I never get tired of hear that. Say it again?"
"You are," she paused, squaring her feet with her shoulders and grabbing him by the collar, "my savior."
He sighed, staring off into space airily, jokingly. "I know."
"Shut up." She stood on her toes and planted her lips on his. When he begged for more, she pulled back. "Okay, so can you put Flame, Lancelot's Ghost, Dragon, and Kobatta in with nose Ring, then Pretzel with Lappo, Daining Range, Anando, Nakaya, and Lucky Lure? Please?" she pouted, doing her best imitation of a kicked puppy.
He bit his lip in attempts to stay strong and say no, but he couldn't even look her in the eyes. "Fine, but you still owe me. Big time."
She pecked his lips again. "Thank you. I have to talk to Jean. I'll be in the house if you need me." She trotted off in that direction before he could say another word, and he just watched her go. She awkwardly hopped onto the porch and waltzed right through the door. "It's me," she called through the seemingly empty house.
"Oh, Kris, great. Have they left yet?" came Jean's relieved reply from the dining room.
"Yeah, just a few minutes ago." She made her way through the kitchen to the dining room, where she found Jean sitting at the table, a stack of papers in front of her. Her hair was disheveled and she looked completely beat, but with so much paperwork, it was understandable. "Junior's putting the horses out."
She looked up, confused. "Junior's here?"
Kris bit her lip. "Uh, yeah. I called him actually. I needed some help with the kids. There was just a lot of them and some were a little more, uh, advanced than others. I figured he was qualified enough to have them trot around the ring for a little while."
Jean gave her a "fair enough" look and returned to her paperwork. "So, what's up, then? What brings you in here?"
Her eyebrows knitted together, teeth chomping down on that lip again. "Wha- How did you-"
She looked up again and smiled brightly. "Kris, I've known you for a long time. I like to think I know when something's on your mind. Sit down. Tell me, what is it? Everything okay?"
She sunk down into the chair opposite her surrogate mom's. "I, uh," she started, lamely. "I was just wondering if you needed any extra hands here. I know you said that it gets pretty tight around here when Pablo and Matt are away, so I just..."
"Thought we could use a set of extra hands?" she supplied. She nodded. "Well, money's a little tight, but I suppose we could use the help. So, who did you have in mind?"
"I-I didn't have anyone in mind, per say," she began, jerkily. "But if you needed a suggestion, I might, possibly, know someone who you could hire. She's a natural with horses. She's hardworking, she's got one hell of a strong will, and she needs a chance."
"You're not describing yourself are you?"
She shook her head, eyebrows furrowing again. Was that how Pablo described her when he asked Jean to hire her?
"Well, who is it then?"
"It's one of the girls from Camp LaGrange," she spat out, quickly. "But-but she's a natural rider. I swear, I haven't seen anyone learn so fast since Matt started teaching Todd how to ride when he was still here. She's not a bad kid. She-"
"Kris," Jean cut off her ramblings. "I'll think about it. I don't know if we'll be able to board her here, but-"
"Well, I could let her stay at mine and Junior's place. I mean, we have plenty of room now."
"I wouldn't want to impose..."
"No, no, it wouldn't be imposing. Honest."
She looked thoughtful for a minute. "Some of her pay will have to come out of yours. I mean, not even half, just a small fraction, but still. How old is she?"
"She'll be sixteen in two weeks."
"She'd have to go to school, you'd have to get temporary custody of her, or at least get parental consent. It'll be a whole mess of legal jargon. Are you sure you and Junior are ready to house a teenage girl? It's a big responsibility." She eyed the younger woman, warily.
"How hard could it be? I mean, all I'd have to do is feed her and give her a place to crash right?"
"And make sure all her school work is done, and take her to doctors appointments, and dentist appointments-"
Kris nodded, exaggeratedly. "Okay, okay, I get it, it's going to be a lot of work. But seriously, this could work. I know it will."
Jean sat back in her chair and studied the woman before her. She could see the trust and faith in the girl she hadn't met but a few hours before. It was almost an identical look to the one Pablo gave her so many years ago. "Okay. But this is only temporary. If it doesn't work out, she's going straight back home."
Kris jumped up and ran around the table to hug her. After a second, realization of her action dawned on her and she slowly released her. "Thank you so much, Jean. I swear I won't let you down this time."
In a few minutes, she ran from the house to the barn, once again nearly tackling her husband. "You seriously need to stop doing that," he laughed, turning around to face her. "What's going on? I know that look. I can see it in your eyes. What did you just drag me into?"
"How would you feel about a teenage girl living with us for awhile?" she asked, innocently.
He chuckled, then realized she was serious. "You're kidding," he insisted.
"Court date 's in two weeks. We've got a lot of work to do, Junior."