She eyed the horse nervously as the tin man went in search of a saddle. She really wasn't on board with this adventure he seemed so intent on having. When he said he wanted to go out and explore she hadn't anticipated giant beasts of burden being involved. She was thinking they were going to go for a walk, a hike perhaps. She had even packed them a lunch and tucked it carefully in a backpack so nothing would get squished. She had been near joyful over Cain wanting to do something that could only be considered fun and relaxing with her. And then he led her to the stable.
Now she was trying to work out a way to go have fun with him and not deal with a horse. An excuse of some sort was still forming when he walked back with equipment. He set a blanket, saddle, and bridal over the side of the stall before opening the door and walking in. Leading the animal out he rubbed the horse's dark neck with easy familiarity before tying him to a post.
She backed several feet away as her eyes went to the animal's hooves and took refuge nonchalantly behind the stall door the tin man had just taken the horse out of. For once the man wasn't paying much attention to her and started to whistle under his breath as he got the horse ready to ride. Her apprehension only grew as he tightened straps and tossed the reins over the saddle. Clearly, he was serious about getting on and riding off, was gleeful over the prospect. The only other time she'd heard him whistle before was when he was about to eat papay fruit pie after the first real harvest of the fruits in well over fifteen years.
She still had questions about that particular food concoction, but for the moment kept it to herself. In her opinion anything that tasted like cinnamon on steroids should not be glazed in some unknown sugar product before being slapped in a pie and then served without a wedge of cheese on it. For that matter she should not have drawn odd looks when she politely requested a slice of said cheese to try to cut the fiery taste in her mouth. That thing was like biting into fire. She had actually started to sweat from it and she was the weird one not to be enjoying it? She had questions about who the real sane people here were, and after the last three years that was really saying something. Her weird levels had dramatically shifted since she got here, but the pie was really the last straw.
She was distracted from her thoughts when he tied the first horse up, finished with the tack. He had the horse ready to go in under three minutes, and without missing a beat went to the next stall. He repeated the process with a gray mare, and when he was done held the reins out for her. "Her name is Rose."
She made no move to touch the leather. "That's pretty." He held his hand closer and she pretended not to notice. "What's the other one's name?"
"Totally appropriate since he's all black and fearsome looking."
"Uh huh." One of the standard Cain responses to her rambling. "Here." He opened his fingers and offered the reins a third time.
She scrambled for a way out of this and came up blank. "I-"
"Deeg, take the reins."
She tried to redirect his plans. "Wouldn't you rather go for a walk? I was thinking we could stretch our legs. That's hard to do while riding a horse. I think I've been cooped up for about a week in meetings."
"We can walk once we get up in the valley. We won't get there and back before the suns set if we don't ride out."
This was the first she'd heard about a valley. With the way Finaqua was situated in the range there were several that funneled water down to the lake. Despite herself she was curious. "What's so cool about the valley?"
"I'll show you when we get there." He pressed the tack into her hand and she grabbed it on instinct. He turned away and unhooked Shade from the post. He was halfway out of the stable before he noticed she, and the horse he'd given her, hadn't moved. She was actually leaning away from the animal as she held the reins out over the wood door she was now fully behind. He paused where he was. "What are you doing?"
"Um… nothing?" She answered with total honesty.
He frowned as he took her in. "Why are you hidin' behind the door?"
"I'm not hiding. The horse can clearly see me." Once again she tried to throw him off. "You can still see me can't you? Is there an invisibility spell on this stall?"
"I can see you." He said in a total monotone.
"Shoot. That would have been pretty darn cool. Perhaps I should put one on. I've never tried an invisibility spell. Could be good practice if those are even real. Toto would be so stoked if I showed up at my next lesson invisible, assuming he knew I was there of course."
She put on her big eyes as she looked at him. "Yes, Cain?"
"Why aren't you getting closer to that horse?"
She shot him a wide-eyed stare. He had her now she was sure. That didn't mean she had to admit anything. She played dumb. Super duper dumb, like Glitch pre-brained… Or de-brained? Or half brained? She wondered how best to term his previous condition briefly and settled on de-brained because she felt it sounded much cooler. "What horse?"
He rolled his eyes. "What's goin' on?"
She jumped on that at once, falling on her greatest defense and offence. She simply kept talking in the hopes he would either give up or simply begin to ignore her. "I'm not aware of anything going on. Should I be aware of something? Is there something happening that may need my attention? And if it doesn't need my attention should I still be aware of it even if I have no personal part to play? For that matter, if I shouldn't have a personal part to play or be aware of it, should I be suspicious that something is being hidden from me? I wouldn't normally ask, but you have such a knack for paranoia. Not that it isn't well founded or useful, because it really is. I'm not trying to insult you or demean your character in any way, nor am I belittling this personality trait. I now understand the value of paranoia. That very character trait that so many would find annoying or troublesome, is in actuality, a valuable commodity for which I, for one, am grateful-"
"Are you afraid of that horse?" He interrupted abruptly.
"What? This horse?" She indicated Rose who was standing tranquilly before her. "Pssh. No." She began to edge out from behind her haven. "Who would be afraid of such a lovely creature?" She asked as she kept as much space between her and Rose as possible. The horse began to follow her and she shied away from her. That only had the horse trotting obediently forward as she accidently tugged on the reins. When she squeaked in fright and dropped the reins the tin man moved forward and caught them. For her part she found a safe space to occupy and stood behind a wooden beam that held the roof up. It was a great shield for hooves or horse charging, assuming they charged.
Without a word Cain tied both horses back up. He made sure they were secure before he looked over at her. She was a hundred and ten percent mortified as she gazed back at him from behind the support. She shifted her weight uncomfortably and she was sure her cheeks were bright pink with embarrassment. "Are you all right, Kid?"
"I'm good." She nodded.
"You're takin' refuge behind a support beam." He pointed out unnecessarily.
Deflect, deflect, deflect. "It's an excellent vantage point. I can survey all that is around me. I don't want us getting snuck up on."
She gave him mad props for staying utterly patient with her right at this moment. She knew she was being ridiculous. "Are you goin' to come out?"
Her eyes darted to the horse's hooves again. She wasn't convinced that they were a safe distance away from her. Given the motivation she was sure one of them could still get her. But her pride warred with her fear and won, and she eased out into the open. One of the horses shifted and she flinched all over, although she held her ground. "Are you sure we can't walk there?"
"Oh." She sighed and moved half an inch closer to Rose. "I thought you were going to say that." She took another half step forward. If the tin man wanted to go out to the valley then they were going to go. He never asked for anything from her. Ever. And he said he wanted to go out in the woods and explore. So that's what they were going to do damn it. No matter how much she did not want to get on that horse. God, help her she was going to make this happen one way or another, even if it meant getting killed by a horse. She made it another six inches before the tin man caught her arm. She jumped three feet in the air at the touch and he moved her well away from the horses.
"Why are you gettin' closer if you're scared of 'em?"
"You said you wanted to go-" At his intense stare she trailed off and tried again. "Don't you want to go?"
He didn't answer her question. He asked her one of his own. "You grew up in farm country. Why are you afraid of horses?"
"Have you ever seen someone kicked by a horse?"
"In the head?"
He was quiet for a moment. "You were on a horse during the eclipse."
"Yeah well." She shrugged. "You were driving and the world was about to end. We were a little low on options."
"Was that the only time you've been on a horse?" She could see he was rolling over events since they met and realizing quickly that she never had been. Somehow she always managed to find alternate transport, whether that was a truck, a car, or a carriage. She really had been doing very well up until this point where she was utterly cornered into the whole horseback riding activity.
Figuring lying was a no go she was just honest. "Yes."
"How did you get the fields tilled?"
"Machines." She looked back at the animals. "Are we going to go then?" She asked, wanting to get this over with rather than think about it.
"We're here for a few weeks. I think we'd best teach you to ride before I take you off into the woods."
She was both confused and worried by that statement. "What exactly is there to learn about it? Don't I just, you know, get on?"
She could tell from his facial expression that there was a great deal more to learn than that. "Let's start with you touchin' one and go from there."
"Really, I can do this now."
He patted her back. "I believe you. That doesn't mean you have to." He urged her forward. "Little steps are fine."
She was upset she was being such a wimp about this. There was also a massive amount of guilt settling unhappily in her stomach with the fear. "I totally ruined this for you didn't I?"
"You didn't ruin anything."
Unconvinced, she apologized, hoping he wasn't too disappointed with her. "I'm really sorry, Cain."
"Don't be sorry." His voice had gone soft and gentle. Taking her hand he wrapped his over the back and held her hand out. She realized he'd been moving them forward as they talked. They were right next to Rose and then her hand was on her shoulder. Her fingers twitched and Cain caught her hip with his other hand before she could think to flee. Her fingers flexed into the horse's fur as her whole body went stiff with panic, but nothing happened. She wasn't kicked or hurt. The animal didn't move or make any sort of noise. Rose simply stood there, waiting to go out of the stable. Cain stood comfortingly behind her as she slowly relaxed. "Is this alright?" He asked quietly.
Surprisingly it was. "Yes."
He let her hand go and tapped her elbow. "You can pet her. She won't bite."
"It's not her teeth I'm worried about." She said as her eyes darted downward. She spotted the horseshoes glinting in the light and fought not to flinch again.
The tin man followed her line of sight. "She won't kick you unless you do something to hurt her or scare her."
Since she had no intention of hurting the horse she went after the other part. "What would scare her?"
"Gettin' behind her and makin' a loud noise." She felt him shrug since she was pressed against his chest. "A snake might do it too so don't call one with your magic."
"Why would I make a snake?"
"Kid, I don't know why you do three quarters of the things you do. I figured I'd go ahead and tell you."
"Fair point." She started to run her hand over the horse's neck hesitantly. "Although I think you get me more than a quarter of the time." He didn't say anything and they stood quietly for a minute before she opened her mouth again. "Thank you."
"Not laughing at me. I know horses are a dumb thing to be afraid of."
"I think most people would be pretty wary of them if they saw someone kicked in the head." He patted her hip before letting his hand settle back. She found she liked him keeping it there. "Was it one of your friends?"
"We went to school together."
"How old were you when that happened?"
"Eleven." She focused on him instead of her nervous energy. The horses were still putting her on edge even if nothing was happening.
"How bad was it?"
"He never came back to school. He lived, but it did something to him no one could fix. No one really explained it to me at the time. He went to live with his grandparents. They lived in a big city across the country. They had more doctors there to help. His brother told me he was doing pretty well a few weeks before the storm picked me up."
He was quiet for several moments as he took her story in and turned it over in his head. "Do you want me to teach you how to ride? Would you be comfortable with that?"
She grimaced at the very idea of spending more time than necessary with the animals. Still, there were any number of reasons she should take him up on that offer, including hypothetical escape from people that might want to hurt her. "Probably not, but I should learn."
"I don't want to force you into somethin' that scares you."
She ran her hands into Rose's mane. "A lot of things scare me but I do them anyway. Besides, what'll happen if I need to be able to ride?"
"Okay." He took her hand and moved it to the reins. "Untie her and lead her outside."
He was quick to reassure her before she could work herself up anymore or start to run her mouth again. "She's a good horse. I wouldn't put you on one I hadn't already looked at for you. I made sure she was patient and calm."
"She's the only one in here I'd let you ride." He stepped away from her. "Don't be scared. If you're relaxed she will be too. Take her outside and I'll be out in a minute." She hesitated with her hand on the knot and he rubbed her side. "You're goin' to have to trust me if you want to learn this. I promise not to do anything that'll get you hurt."
That sealed the deal. "Okay." She untied the horse and the tin man stepped away from her. She took a step back and the horse turned to follow her. Keeping tight control over herself she walked outside with her. The horse nickered softly as they walked into the sunlight and shook herself all over. She jumped at the movement, but Rose settled at once and stood looking around at the outside world.
She stood with the horse for about three minutes before she heard hoof beats coming closer. Looking up she saw Cain leading out Shade. The horse had something in a bag tied over the saddle. The tin man walked up next to her and nodded toward one of the paddocks around the stables. "We're headed right there for the rest of the day."
With a quiet sigh she headed that way, her eyes darting between the horses and where they were going. As they got to the enclosure she seriously considered heading back inside but fought of her thoughts. If she trusted anyone to teach her this it was Cain, and she still wanted to know what was so intriguing about a valley. For the life of her she couldn't work out what could possible have him so very interested.
Author Note: Really, people, I am a bad author. Grad school completely consumed my life. Seriously, it's insane. Hopefully another three shot will be a nice holiday gift and make up for my absence. So happy holidays! Hope everyone had a great time with family and friends! I'll try to have this bad boy finished in a day or two!