6/24/18 - hey guys. as you may have already known, i've been slowly editing all the old chapters of lodestar as i move them to archiveofourown. i'm pleased to announce all the edits are complete, and have now been applied here, as well as a new chapter after several years of waiting. both ffn and ao3 will be updated in tandem from now on.

sorry for all the spam, and thank you, as always, for your love and support - this story is a lot of me. i hope you enjoy.

He was hired without her knowledge in mid-winter.

She couldn't raise hell about it, or rather she shouldn't, because she was neither the owner nor the foreman. She was just Maka, owner's daughter- not someone to ask advice or take orders from, and low on the totem pole of her own design. She'd decided from the start not to be that kind of ranch princess.

Still, she found herself wishing murder to befall the guest house. A sellout! How could they possibly have hired a sellout Evans!? If anyone was going to act the princess part it'd be that guy. Angel's End would be the laughingstock of the next stock show when word got around they were so desperate for hands that they hired a- a- a dude.

"Spirit didn't like him at first either, Maka," said Sue Strickland, actually Tsubaki Nakatsukasa-Strickland, twenty-seven, as they cleaned up the catastrophe that was the breakfast table.

"Oh good, maybe there's some sense in him after all," Maka muttered, sweeping toast crumbs off the table and onto the floor.

"At first. Patti made him watch the guy rope and he changed his mind."

"What? Just over that- that's ridiculous, I can rope so we don't need a-"

"Maka you're not home everyday anymore, remember?"

Her hands tried to choke the broomstick handle into little plastic pieces. Maka was sometimes forgetful of the fact that her hesitant career path had recently placed her in the city on weekdays. If she wasn't forgetful, she was resentful. "Urgh."

"Mifune and Kyle are decent but Kyle's a deputy now and Mifune can't do it by himself. We both know Black Star can't rope his way out a paper sack, and I'll be beyond pregnant come spring."

Maka eyed the small bump that was Tsubaki's stomach and groaned. "...Why an Evans, though?"

Tsubaki laughed. "He ropes better than you."

"HAH. Fat chance!"


He did rope better than her. It was utterly infuriating, but Maka Albarn, dishwater blonde, twenty-four, wasn't the type to not give full credit where credit was due. Turned out the Dude wasn't so much a dude, and was also district roping champion last year.

Maka hadn't participated in any rodeo contests, because rodeo was still a place segregated by gender, and she didn't want to compete unless it included men. Wasn't any sense in testing her mettle if the arena wasn't close to simulating real life. Oh no, but the delicate women had to compete in a girls-only rodeo. Misogynistic swine! She may as well be riding sidesaddle! Women's rodeo only gave a fraction of the winnings that men's awarded, and any title Maka could have won in competition didn't mean horseshit to the men's circuit.

In any case, the numbers didn't lie. Evans could rope a calf in just a hair over six seconds while she was pushing six and ninety-two hundredths.

She wanted to bash his face in and tie him up with his own damn piggin' string.

Maka scowled as the YouTube video ended, regretting the time she'd spent waiting on it to buffer with their sub-par internet just to watch something that would give her indigestion at five thirty in the morning. Black Star, actually Blake Strickland, actually eternal thorn in Maka's side, twenty-five, made the mistake of trying to cheer her up by saying, "Well you're so damned short, you hafta try twice as hard with your little legs," before she knocked his hat off his stupid head. "What? Maybe you should get a little Shetland so you don't gotta jump down so far, shortstack."

She snapped her laptop shut and stalked out of the house, glaring at the rising sun as she climbed into her truck and turned the engine. She gave a disgruntled wave to Black Star as he stomped into his boots, still laughing.

Unfortunately, the drive to town was long and boring, so she had plenty of time to mull over that disgusting six-point-eleven-second calf rope, that irritating grace Evans exuded jumping off his horse and tearing across the arena, the matter-of-fact way he wrapped the calf's legs, all the while his horse keeping the rope taut like she wouldn't rather do anything else in her life.

God, and Evans's horse was something else, too. Six months prior, a rowdy bunch of Morgans were put up for bid, and Patricia Thompson, buxom, just barely seventeen, stalked the daylights out of the sale. Angel's End's wrangler always had an eye for good horses, and even if she couldn't buy one herself she'd wanted at least one of them to go to someone she knew.

(Fate saw fit that a mare would go to the younger brother of Pat's sister's boyfriend. This absurdly coincidental transaction had been the starting point of what Maka does not fondly call 'The Sellout Weeding onto Albarn Property'.)

The horse was a ridiculously handsome blue roan, beyond energetic, and responded to Evans with such enthusiasm it made Maka consider keeping antacids in her saddle bag. The fact that the horse hated her guts didn't help, either.

Well, the feeling was mutual! Who'd want to get along with the horse of a cow's ass whose family would give up their ranch to land-greedy, market-inflating, corporate cattle assembly lines and move to the city?

Maka growled angrily at her steering wheel while the radio finally picked up an FM station.


She met the county sheriff for lunch. Or rather, she waited for him impatiently at the usual cafe while Elizabeth Thompson, southern bombshell, twenty-eight, raved about her rodeo star boyfriend.

"A man that can ride a bull like that knows a thing or seven, if'n you catch my drift," Liz said while pouring Maka's sweet tea with such a lecherous grin that Maka could only grimace. "He's real nice though, specially accountin' for the rep he gets 'cause of his family. Which is jus' dumb, seein' as how that had hardly nothin' to do with him! S'not like he gave up ridin'. He jus' got a pool now is all."

"Mmm," Maka inadequately said to her tea glass, the guilt for adhering to certain bad reputations like fly paper and eagerly using said stigmas to openly condemn certain ranch hands with whom she hadn't even exchanged words leaving her a tad mentally exposed.

"I'm sure his brother gets much less trouble, still cowboyin' and all. He's a good kid."

Maka spread the guilt more thickly over her conscience.

"He used to bullride too, didja know?"

"What, really?" Evans didn't seem the type for such an outlandish, dangerous sport- that was more of Black Star's territory. "I thought he just roped?"

"Well he does now, but before? He was 'bout as good as Wes, til that black one hooked him good. Wes worried hisself sick over that. Said his brother got a scar from shoulder clear to hip!" she said, drawing a line diagonally across herself. "Hum," she muttered, resting the sweating pitcher of iced tea on her own hip, "bet that's fancy lookin'."

Maka scoffed. "Your appetite will go down in the history books."

"I'm jus' sayin'," Liz smiled brightly. "If he's anythin' like his brother, you outta look into rippin' that tag off before someone else does."

"Whose tag are we ripping off?" a male voice interrupted their conversation, as one-sided as it was.

Liz, ever used to Sheriff Albarn's overprotective temperament, explained without missing a beat, "Why, there's a big sale goin' on at the Justin Boot, and I was just tellin' Maka how she outta get herself a new pair seein' as her present ones ain't even hardly fit for a sixteen step!"

Oh, she was good. Maka tried her hardest not to openly gag. Liz was always great at playing on cowboy heartstrings for a girl vying to move to the city. Maka couldn't help but shake her head in wonder, watching Liz pour the sheriff some coffee. "I wouldn't be caught dead doing a sixteen step," said Maka.

"Whaaat?" Liz dramatically says. And then, in a stage whisper, "Shut up, I'm tryin' to get your daddy to buy you some new shoes, geeze!"


After lunch, she was inevitably led to the boot store by her father and, despite her intentions - or at least lack of interest - she was drawn to a certain pair.

Black snakeskin, punchy toed with a shallow scallop and ready for asskicking, she looked up to them, because the designers for the displays hadn't considered criminally short women browsing the shelves. Worked leather permeated the air-conditioned western store and Maka dully regarded the boots though she pictured them quite easily on her feet.

"Do you want them?" asked Spirit Albarn, reddish brown hair, forty-two, still wearing his cowboy hat, handheld radio chattering on his belt.

"No," she replied. Because they're expensive and he would buy them for her regardless of price, and she wouldn't be that kind of freeloading ranch princess.

She found them in the bench seat of her pickup when she got out of training that evening. Scowling at home, she noted they fit her perfectly. Tsubaki rubbed her belly and noted that snakeskin looked good on her. "Like that moccasin you killed last summer."

Maka hated snakes. The black serpent had been stalking Crona, two-and-a-half, chihuahua, at a campsite near the lake. "Shoulda left my dog alone," she muttered with mild satisfaction, fixing the drape of her jeans over her new boots. "You want more... pickles or something?"


Black Star slinked across the hallway and accused his wife of sonar and hidden cameras.

As if the outburst hadn't occurred, Tsubaki teased Maka with, "I thought you weren't taking handouts?"

"I said 'no'! He snuck them in the damn truck when I wasn't looking. ...Which means he still has my spare key that son of a-"

"He knows you so well."

"That'd be fine if every housewife in the county didn't know him so well, too."


Winter was a hardworking season, even for the more southern climates such that Angel's End enjoyed. Ice could still cover all the grazing pastures, and cattle must be fed every day, bright and early. Freezing temperatures would seal up ponds and stock tanks, leaving cows dehydrated. A winter workday on a ranch started before sunrise and stretched beyond sunset, and supper for a cowboy wasn't so much a sit-down meal as it was a drive-through.

So, it wasn't any surprise that after Sue cooked a feast fit for dixie kings, the sovereign couldn't come in to immediately enjoy it. The woman napped in a recliner in the living room, little Crona in her lap, while Maka dried the newly-cleaned cookware, keeping an eye on the pot of chicken and dumplings still keeping warm on the stove top.

Spirit, still in his sheriff's uniform, finished his supper and looked over the financial records his general manager had left for his perusal. The papers rustled as he flipped through the many pages. He didn't mention the fact that his daughter was still wearing her new boots in the house.

Maka didn't mention not knowing if her father was home late because of work or because of desperate housewives.

She glanced at him out the corner of an eye, running a dishtowel over a wet rolling pin. Her papa didn't look pleased with what Sue had left him, but he didn't mention that, either. Standing and grabbing his empty plate, Spirit walked up to next to Maka, sneaked the dish into the soapy water still drawn in the sink, and kissed the top of her head. "Stay warm. Storm's rollin' in."

"Are you working with us tomorrow?" she asked, trying to keep the hopefulness out of her voice.

"Not this time, 'hon. I need to look into some complaints 'bout that Lazy S ranch, first thing."

Her disappointment was quickly overtaken by this interesting information. "Aren't they the ones that bought the, ah, Evans property?"

"That'd be the one."

"...What kind of complaints?"

"Just some questionable reports. I want t'find out for myself first, sweets. I'm goin' to bed. G'night."

Maka sucked her lips into a thin line, and put away the rolling pin. "Mm. Night, Papa."

The stairs leading to the bedrooms on the second floor creaked as her father climbed. Half-hoping she'd be too quiet to be heard, she said, "Thanks."

"You're welcome," his voice softly echoed down the stairs.

Maka finished drying the dishes in relative silence, kept company by only the whistling kitchen window. The north wind was solid with cold, crashing into the fogged glass and worming its freezing temperatures into the house. She sighed, curious as to what kind of complaints had been lodged against that other ranch.

Lazy S had a lot of rumors circling it - most of which sounded far-fetched and just a hair short of old wives' tales - but the hard truth was the business running the place had a lot of money to throw around, and their practices were making it rough for ranches like Angel's End to make profit every autumn. Maka wondered if they'd manage to break even next year. She didn't want to think what would happen if they didn't.

She hung her dishtowel on a drawer pull and walked over to the kitchen table, taking her own gander at the books Tsubaki meticulously kept for Spirit. The numbers were strong, indicative of a promising calving come spring, but even so she knew once they were shipped off in the fall, they'd somehow be outshone by cattle with that Lazy S serpentine brand.

Hearing boots on the back porch, Maka swallowed her unease and looked to the door. The cowboys were finally coming in from the weather, close to midnight. Blake came in first, followed by Mifune and Patti, with Evans bringing up the rear. They all look tired and cold, but Maka was surprised to see Liz's younger sister still present.

"Pat, what're you still doing here? Does Liz know?" she asked, quickly bringing down clean plates from the cupboards for the newcomers.

"I decided to stick around an' help," Patti replied, yawning. "Lizzy's out with Wesley tonight."

(A man that can ride a bull like that knows a thing or seven, if'n you catch my drift.)

"Oh," Maka said dumbly, only half-aware of Blake eagerly taking the plates from her hands.

"Aaaand my Jeep's broke."

"What? What's wrong with it?" Maka hissed, concerned. "Did you wreck it again?"

Patti gave her an exasperated look. "That weren't me, it was Lizzy, I keep sayin'! And no, I didn't wreck nothin'- Soul says it's prolly the alter-nayter." She turned her head to Evans. "Right?"

"Should probably get it tested, but yeah." Evans walked by the counter long enough to grab two biscuits in a basket to Maka's right, and inclined his head marginally to her in passing. She tried to keep her eye from twitching with irritation.

To her curiosity, Evans didn't take an empty plate from Blake. He walked back to the door again, turning his head to Patti. "I'll warm up the truck," he said, before taking a giant bite out of a biscuit.

"Okee dokee, thanks," the girl replied quietly, as to not wake up Tsubaki in the adjacent room. Wind whistled through the back door as Evans shut it behind him. Patti bumped her hip against Maka's, interrupting any confused thoughts regarding certain Sellouts, and held her hands near the still-warm pot of chicken and dumplings while Blake scooped out a mountainous serving for himself. "Sorry I'm not stayin', but I got somethin' in the crock pot at home waitin' for me. Ooh, nice boots..."

"Buh, ah," Maka stammered, looking down at the footwear in question. "Thank you?"

"I'll see ya'll tomor- er, today. I'll come back to get the Jeep workin'."

"Bye, Pat."



"Tell Sue I sed 'bye'." Cold air swirled in again as the younger Thompson left.

Maka swatted at Blake. "Wash your damn hands first, Black Star." He rolled his eyes and obliges. "Papa says a storm's coming in," she informed him.

"I believe it. Prolly ice more'n anything." The faucet handle squeaked as Blake shut off the water. "How's she doing?" he asked, jerking his head in the direction of the living room.

"Ate like you and went to hibernate."

He laughed, relieved, and took his plate to the kitchen table to dig in. As Mifune pulled a fork out of a drawer, he quietly mentioned that the calf count was wrong.

"You're sure?" Maka asked, now more fully aware of the incoming weather than ever.

"Counted twice." Twice was a big deal for the meticulous foreman. "Missin' one."

Blake swallowed a mouthful of chicken. "Thought so. One of the fall calves, wasn't it."

Mifune nodded, crossing his arms. "If ice is comin', it won't make the night."

Both men looked to the back door as if they could somehow see through it and into the pastures beyond. Maka read the weariness on their faces.

"I'll go," she announced. "I don't have class tomorrow."

"The horses are put up," Mifune warned.

"I'll take a feed truck. It has searchlights anyway. You guys eat and rest up."

Blake didn't bother swallowing this time. "Take a radio or somfin' wif you."

She was already shrugging on her thick parka. "Yeah I know. Which pasture were they in today?"


Searching for a black calf in the middle of the night during an ice storm was one of the more irritating things a person can be tasked with, unless that person was Maka Albarn. She loved a good challenge, and perhaps a bit too much more than a normal person. She found it easy to think like a critter, and she took pride in almost always knowing where a stray calf was wandering, or when a copperhead might be hiding in a pail, or when the coyotes were making their rounds. Maka didn't understand how gut instinct can be so right- maybe living on the land every day allowed a person to pick up on patterns and cues without knowing.

The northeast hills of the property were rocky, erratic, and all-around not friendly in the dark. It was riddled with ravines and drop-offs, shallow ponds, and plenty of places for a young calf to hide. Maka carefully maneuvered the heavy diesel feed truck around obstacles she nearly knew by heart, slowly inching forward while piercing the night with searchlights and hi-beams. She had a feeling, for whatever reason, that a calf would have enjoyed the area in this direction, when the sun had still been a little warm, and before a cold front had blown in.

She parked the truck, leaving the lights on, and hopped out of the cab. The wind cut into her like knives, slicing through the neck of her coat and into her sleeves. Her new boots were stiff and ungainly, and she walked less than gracefully to the edge of a narrow ravine, holding a flashlight. The end of her ponytail whipped into her face as she tried to discern any movement below.

The wind was so loud that she didn't hear the other truck approaching - it was the headlights moving across the ground to cast her shadow in another direction that caught her attention. She looked back and instantly regretted it, her night vision destroyed by looking directly into another truck's hi-beams. Maka heard a door slam shut and watched a cowboy's silhouette cut across to her. She squinted, but then balefully recognized that lean, six-point-eleven-second gait, and frowned.

They were the first words he'd ever spoken to her directly. "Mitch's calf?"

For a guy that hadn't been on the ranch but a week, he sure caught on quick. "Not yet, but I have a feeling," she called over the wind.

"You're alone?"

He didn't say it incredulously, so she probably shouldn't have taken it as a challenge to her ability, but she did, and her pride quipped back, "They trust me." Blood hot, she shined her flashlight back down, searching more deeply into the ravine. As much as she valued her instincts, she still didn't know whether to go left or right. Immediately, her irritation tripled - she hadn't been on the ranch much this week, and the longer she was away, the less connected she felt. "I'll take east! You have a light?"

Evans clicked his own flashlight. "Be careful."

"Ah, uh, you too," she awkwardly returned, Liz's reenactment of Evans's scar flitting through her mind a moment before she turned eastward. The north wind buffeted her left side as she traced the edge of the ravine, shining her light alternately at her feet and into the drop-off. A small (but not small enough) part of her wanted to find the calf she knew was around here somewhere before him, but she tried to choke out this weed of competitiveness, knowing full well that it didn't amount to shit who found the critter as long as it was found before it froze to death.

Her new boots fought her feet as she stumbled over rocks and clumpy, half-dead vegetation. It was when she regained her balance, arms flailing, that she saw the beam from her light reflect off two bovine eyes in the dark.

"There you are, sweets. We'll get you outta there soon." Maka darted around, looking for any kind of defining landmark, and settled for scraping together some loose gravel and dirt into an obvious mound with her boot. She took off west, left ear glad to be away from the wind; right ear sending tingling shocks of cold through her system. "Evans!" she called out, hoping her voice would carry and not be trampled by the storm. Sleet began to fall, pelting loud against her parka. "Evans! This side!"

She saw a distant pinpoint of light shine in her direction. Maka shined hers back, waving it around to get his attention. The ranch hand trotted back as quickly as one safely could in the dark next to a ravine. "Alive?"

"Looks stiff already. We're gonna have to haul it out."

"Lemme grab a tarp."

Maka walked back to her makeshift cairn, Evans not far behind her. She directed her light back in the ravine, and those two little eyes were still there, watching. When he caught up to her, they shared a hesitant look, though his wasn't much more than a shadowy cowboy hat and a clenched jaw as far as she could tell.

"Welp," he said, and hopped in.

She was thankful that much communication wasn't needed; Mister six-point-eleven had a ration of common sense, and seemed to know what Maka wanted before she asked. Together they maneuvered the weak calf into the tarp, and helped carry it out of the ravine with few mishaps. Honestly, the low point of the evening was the moment of being distinctly aware of new boots sinking into a less-than-day-old pie, but she only ground her teeth at that.

They got the calf settled in Maka's truck, laying it across the passenger side of the bench seat. She clapped her boot on the side of a tire before walking around to the driver's side, shaking the sleet from her hair. Climbing in, she watched Evans point the heater vents to point at the critter, sleet gathering on the brim of his hat. "Meet at the barn?" he asked.

"The house."

He nodded, and gently shut the passenger door before hopping in his own truck. He led the way, a little slower than she'd like, but she was still grudgingly impressed (and slightly disappointed) that he didn't get a flat.

Maka shut her vents to direct more warmth through the ones pointed at the shivering little calf. It was already beginning to look a little more lively, its long, gangly legs twitching in the tarp it was wrapped in. She turned on the windshield wipers before draping her arm across the small, cluttered console separating her and the calf. Reaching to scratch the critter's ear, she asked, "Have I been unfair to the sellout, little one?"

The calf, not wanting to be touched by anyone who wasn't its mother, tilted its head away. Maka replaced her hand back at the wheel.

She heard a crackle of static, and a beep. "Wouldn't know. Have you?" replied the handheld radio in the console's cup holder. Maka regarded the painful silence in the cab, recognizing that six-point-eleven voice. She groaned, reaching over to switch off the handheld.


In the mud room of the main house of Angel's End was an over-sized, scratched-up, cast-iron bathtub. Maka filled this halfway up with warm water. Mifune - who had stayed up waiting for her return - and Evans eased the calf into the tub to help stave off any lingering hypothermia. Maka rested her hands in the water with the animal to bring feeling back into her numb fingers.

"We'll have to cut the ice tomorrow," Mifune said quietly.

Evans took off his hat and rubbed his bandana-covered head. It was the first Maka had seen of the top half of his face not shrouded in shadow. She didn't get more than a glimpse of curiously pale lashes and flaxen eyebrows before his hat went back on. "Alright," he gruffly said. "I can in the morning."

Maka piped up against the complaints of her weary body. "Both of you go get some rest. I can mother up this one myself."

The ranch hand looked like he was about to protest, but the Mifune spoke up before he could. "Appreciate it. See you in the morning, Maka. Evans," he said and took his leave.


"Night, Mitch."

The calf shook its head, floppy ears splashing up water. Evans hesitated a moment before crouching next to her and stretching a hand to scratch under the calf's wet chin.

"If you're sure."

Maka couldn't stop the wry, sideways smile. She may have made an ass of herself over the radio, but that didn't blind her from seeing a guy who'd just worked a twenty-something hour day. "Go sleep. ...And thank you. For stopping."

He gave a small shrug. "Was planning to look anyway. Glad I wasn't alone." It was the longest string of words he'd said to her. He grunted, standing upright. "G'night," he said, heading to the back door.

"Night, Evans."

Slowly his feet stopped, and his bootheel quietly rested on the mudroom tile. He swiveled around a quarter turn. "Soul."

Maka looked to him, unable to see his face, and settled for focusing on the familiar brim of his hat. To her dumbfounded blinking, he repeated, "My name is Soul." With that, he turned back around and walked out into the cold.


Well, she knew his name was 'Soul'. Soul Ethan Evans, district roping champion, twenty-six to his brother's thirty, and, after a long YouTube buffer, victim to the black bull Ragnarok two autumns prior.

Anyway, she'd been calling him 'Evans' in an attempt to stop calling him 'Sellout', but it seemed he disliked either brand equally. Maka closed her laptop and settled more deeply in the bed she'd had most of her life and absently stroked Crona's fur. Her feet ached, and her body seemed to retain a chill she knew she wouldn't be rid of until she saw the first blade of grass in spring.

There was a deep-rooted part of her that wouldn't forgive a person who would give up the kind of life she cherished, but she'd found that out of all the Evans family, she may have been nailing her judgment on the one person who had tried to give up the least.

(Wouldn't know. Have you?)

In the dark, she tried to slap the embarrassment off her face.


Morning found her in four and a half hours. The coffee Tsubaki brewed for everyone could pass for tar, it was so strong, and Maka was grateful enough to drink two cups of it before the other cowboys had rolled out of bed. She rinsed her cup in the sink, exchanged words with bleary-eyed Blake, nauseated Tsubaki, and her father. Glancing out the kitchen window, she noticed the horse stable and a very unsaddled resident. Evans's mare, Harley, stood out like a sore thumb.

Oh, how quickly her judgment jumped on this occasion. "Looks like our hand isn't up yet. Wasn't he supposed to be cutting the pond, Mitch?"

Mifune clucked his tongue once as he spooned a portion of Tsubaki's scrambled eggs onto his plate. "I'll get it then."

"Oh no, I've got it. You go ahead and eat," she said a shade too chipper. "You have to worry about feeding them today, don't you?"



Harley, by way of predictable, indignant snort, relayed a snooty 'I'm watching you, Albarn' as Maka passed by. Maka blew back out of habit, not even rising to the bait as she toted tack.

"Hey Skully," she called out to her partner in crime. Skully was an easy-going Quarter Horse, which suited Maka just fine. A horse that didn't startle as someone of her stature struggled to get a foot in a stirrup was immediately an ally. The bay gelding was bald-faced, the white patch covering the majority of his face giving the impression of a clean skull.

The horse nickered to her, breath coming out in big puffs in the frigid air. Maka's gloves were stiff with cold as she struggled with saddle buckles. When everything was situated, she led the horse out of his stall and to the nearby toolshed. There, she finally mounted, axe and shovel draped carefully across her lap.

She made her rounds to all the ponds, hacking long stretches of ice along the water's edge, and then overturning the frozen surface in segments to leave exposed water behind. It wasn't backbreaking work for her - she was used to this kind of thing - but it wasn't the most pleasant exercise at sunrise in boots that still needed breaking in. Resting a moment, she waved when Tsubaki, slowly driving a feed truck, passed by, Blake gradually knocking off hay for the cattle that followed them around the pasture.

Either Maka or Evans should have been helping Mifune in another pasture, because feeding was not a one-man job by any means, but she'd been cutting ice all morning, and Evans was still yet to be seen.

Her temper was hot and the weariness in her back and shoulders only made her angrier. After her rounds were finished, she mounted her horse once more, juggling axe and shovel, and headed straight for the guest house.

No hired hand slept in on her mama's ranch, no matter how late a night it may have been.

"Evans! " she hollered, and her horse twitched with her sudden outburst. She stroked his neck in apology before dismounting. "Evans, what in the hell is wrong with you? You better be dead in there else you will be soon!"

"'Bout time someone showed up," she heard a hoarse voice from a tiny window. "Been yellin' since sunrise."

Maka's face scrunched up in confusion, but she didn't let this deter her ire. "You best have a good explanation as to why I've been doing your work all... morning," she trailed off, glancing at the guest house and the placement of the window. "Are you... standing on the commode?" she ventured.

"I am."


"Albarn, I am iced in, and my horse needs fed, and the goddamn phoneline's been eat by some critter. Who in their right mind builds a house what faces north?!"

Maka's mouth opened, a cloud of breath erupting before she snapped it shut again. Her idiot papa was who, but that had been a long time ago and the only people who got to give him hell about it was her mama and herself. So like hell she'd volunteer that information to an Evans! "Don't fall in," she said lightly, and walked around to the front door of the small guest house, shovel and axe propped on her shoulder.

"Hey, wait. My horse-"

"That cow can wait another half-hour!" she shouted back.

"Cow!" His voice was faint but his irritation rang loud and clear in the crisp air. "Better than a rat that barks!"

"My dog is not a rat!" Maka took out her anger on his front door, using her shovel to wedge it under the thick ice covering the frame. "And neither is my dog any kind of-" she gave a mighty stab with the shovel, "fancy-assed," stab, "spoiled foul," stab, "high-collar," and her shovel was stuck into the doorframe, wedged, and this was when she realized she was chopping even more ice for Evans, "Lipizzaner dressage circus beast!"

The door slammed open, Evans having thrown his weight on it. Maka nearly stabbed him with the business end of the shovel. "AHH!"

A gust of warm air whipped out of the house as Evans stumbled into her. His look of surprise was quickly overwritten with a scowl. "She ain't no dressage horse, though your damned yappy dog is at least short enough to be yours!"

Maka was surprised to see his eyes: some kind of weird, thick hue of blood which accentuated the flush in his cheekbones. It distracted her a moment before she realized he'd made her the butt end of a joke regarding her lack of personal altitude, and she promptly smacked him with the handle of her shovel.

"Ow, son of a-"

"You... ass of an ass! Get to work!" Maka tossed her shovel at his feet for no reason other than just outright refusing to touch anything that had come into contact with him. She picked up her axe and took long strides back to Skully, mounting in one smooth motion. "You're welcome, your HIGHNESS!" she shouted, leaving Soul Ethan Evans behind.