Adam's life had relaxed considerably in the weeks following the snowstorm and Noël's arrival. The mare herself was trouble disguised in beauty. Sixteen hands of furious anger waiting for the next unfortunate fool to try and handle her so she could rip chunk out of skin, clothing and stable. She was underweight, food aggressive, stubborn, vicious and so battered she looks like someone had beaten her to the brink of death with a whip. And, not that Adam blamed anyone for not wanting her back; she had no means of identification. But somehow, a trek back home in the snow had forged a tentative peace treaty between Josef and Cain. Which meant for the first time in seven years Adam wasn't worried about the two men tearing the barn apart if left unsupervised.
It had also opened Adam's eyes to how much time he spent fixing the farm's social problems. In all the free time he'd managed to empty his inbox, one again for the first time in seven years, research the stallions Anne wanted to breed the mare to for the season, purchase some new horses and track down Carmen Hawthorn, no-longer-resident AWOL eventer. She was living in the Netherlands now and hadn't had much to say to Adam when he called to check on her. Had refused to speak to anyone but Adam himself.
"I refuse to let history repeat itself." Had been her only defense, which made no sense to Adam, Josef or Liam. Isabel had nodded in understanding but refused to share. So everyone had accepted the fact that she was gone and they didn't understand why. No one, however, accepted that she might never return.
Adam's own family had left with the end of the Christmas break, only to return in February for mid-winter break. And in that time Adam's grandest scheme had been put into action. So the moment his sister, niece and brother in law had walked in the door he'd pulled Kim into his office and shut the door. With a flourish, he explain his idea, finally slapping a folder of papers down on the desk in front of the blonde athlete.
"Kim, I already agreed to it. He'll stay here and she can spend her vacations over here in England. It will do her some good." Adam said, looking at his sister with a fond brotherly I-know-better-than-you-trust-me smile. Kim opened her mouth to protest but then shut it.
"I suppose there's no arguing with you on this, is there?" She asked, glancing at the paperwork. "But a stallion? Really?"
"What happened to not arguing? It's not like she's never ridden before. She was telling me all about the riding school over in Belmont." Adam sighed. Kim smiled and was about to answer when there was a knock at the door.
"Adam, Cain's waiting. Something about 'bring a helmet'." Yin said poking her nose around the corner of the door. Adam groaned.
"Come to watch me get pushed around by someone almost ten years my younger?" Adam asked his sister. Kim laughed.
"Wouldn't miss it for the world." She replied, grinning at her older brother fondly.
Cain was waiting, rather impatiently, down by the arena. Swag stood quietly next to him, waiting for whatever. The horse knew something had changed and was waiting with far more decorum for it than his handler. When Adam showed up Cain shoved the reins roughly into Adam's hands and gestured at the mounting block.
"Well, get on if you have the guts." Cain barked, jaw tense. Adam sighed and looked helplessly and Kim and Yin, who were standing by the side of the arena watching with Ian and Domani. He took a good look at Swag and sighed. No time like the present. So, trying not to think of all the ways this could potentially go wrong, he led the grey stallion over to the mounting block and pulled the stirrup down. They looked gigantic, and far too long.
"Is this right?" Adam asked. She, he knew eventers rode with slightly longer stirrups but these seemed more suited to Cain's six foot two frame than Adam's thinner stringy five eight. Cain raised an eyebrow and Adam could've counted to the exact millisecond how long it was until he was berated for cowardice.
"Please tell me you know how to get on a horse." Cain growled. Nope. It was worse. Adam bristled.
"Watch it Giraud. I hold your livelihood in the palm of my hand." Adam seethed, glaring at Cain from over Swag's withers. The stallion's ears were flicking back and forth, listening to the argument, trying to decide who to defend.
"Le cadet de mes soucis." (Like I give a shit) Cain growled. Adam sighed. This was getting nowhere. No matter what you held over Cain it never amounted to anything. Swinging his foot into the stirrup Adam awkwardly swung onto the stallions back. Shockingly, the stirrups were the right length, though it was still the weirdest feeling Adam had ever remembered. The last time he rode with long stirrups was when he was learning to ride for god's sake. Once in the saddle the rest of his lesson with Cain progressed with varying levels of success. Cain was one of those people who, growing up, had suffered and still suffered a lot of racial prejudice and as such despised being low man on the totem pole. Now that he got to flaunt his superior knowledge and skills over the man he worked for he was taking great delight in it the only way he knew how.
"You really are the world's biggest bastard." Ian said, shaking his head as he watched Adam guide Swag around the arena in a large figure eight. Cain's lips curled into a sneer.
"He asked for my help. If he can't take it then he can ask Isabel." Cain said, knowing full well asking Isabel would be signing both Adam and Swag's death sentences. The girl could barely communicate her own wishes and desires, forget a riding lesson. And then there was the fact that she was a worse thrill seeker then Cain.
"Lean back, heels down, half halt and bring him back to walk." Cain ordered. Just as a gleeful squeal lit up the barn. Small footsteps came pounding down the aisle and a blond head skidded to a halt by Kim's elbow.
"Mommy, is it true? Did Uncle Adam really buy me a pony?" The little girl cried delightedly. Kim threw a grateful smile at Adam as the blonde barn owner pulled his own horse to a halt by the gate.
"Yes. Now what do you say?" Kim asked her daughter, ruffling her hair.
"Thank you uncle!" Kim said, rubbing Rachel's shoulder.
"Thank you Uncle Adam!" Rachel grinned, her blue eyes lighting up so her entire face seemed to shine. "He's beautiful."
Rachel stood on tiptoe to whisper something in her mother's ear. Kim hummed and then nodded.
"Cain, would you teach Rachel how to event her pony?" Kim said, glancing up at Cain.
"What?" Demanded Adam and Ian at the same time.
"Mrs. McCraw, please consider-" Ian started as Adam looked at his sister incredulously.
"I don't think Cain's would take on a beginner." Adam said quickly.
"You had no problem with Rachel hanging around him in Belmont. And I'm sure he can speak from himself" Kim pointed out. "Besides, Rachel's no beginner. She's been riding since she could walk. She's just never jumped before."
Cain looked at the little girl at Kim's hip, conflicting emotions flashing across his golden eyes. On one hand he could spend time around the little girl who reminded him of his dead sister. On the other, he could screw up big time and loose everything.
"I'll try it." Cain said, effectively ending all argument. Rachel seemed to dance in delight, running across the arena to throw her arms around Cain's legs, hugging him. Cain stood a little lost for words, the expression on his face a priceless mix of confusion and apprehension.
"You look like you just got bitten by a snake." Ian grinned, quickly recovering from shock and moving back to his usual place of teasing Cain senseless. Cain shot him a murderous glare as Rachel skittered off to go and tack up her pony.
"I'm done for the day, but I suggest you keep him working. I'm going to go groom my horse." Cain said, turning toward the arena exit. Adam and Ian both looked at each other, it taking a minute for what Cain had said to sink in. His horse.
"Damn. Two months and he's fallen in love with another one." Adam said, ruffling Swag's mane. Four years. Four years since he allowed himself to love another horse after Cat. Ian however seemed less than pleased, and as he walked after Cain the look on his face was of a man who'd just been told he had an incurable disease.
"Cain, she is not your horse." Ian said as he paused in front of Noël's stall. Cain paused momentarily as he curried the mare's smooth winter coat.
"No. She's property of someone who abused her and neglected her." Cain snapped. Noël's ears laid back across her skull and she gave Ian and look, her nostrils curled, baring her teeth slightly. Ian took a step back, kicking the grooming box Cain had left outside the stall door viciously.
"You don't know that! They could've just rescued her. Someone could be out there looking for her, worried sick because all they wanted to do was help her!" Ian yelled. The brushed in Cain's hand hit the floor and the wood splinted as Cain rounded on Ian.
"Until you have solid proof of their innocence Noël's going nowhere, even if you do manage to find her owners. I will not lose her to ease your conscience. You lost that mare because you were cocky, stupid and so convinced your family name made you untouchable. Well guess what Daymian, in the real world there are people who don't care if your family has ties to the Russian mafia, they'll still happily screw your life over." Cain voice carried through the barn better than that of a show arena announcer. Ian froze, flinched and then bristled.
"Ira was stolen from me. And I can assure you that if I had found out she'd gotten away and was being held by a local stable I would've snatched her back in a heartbeat. And don't you dare tell me my own pride took her away from me when your blind arrogance own killed your entire family." Ian yelled, not even bothering to try and hide the insults.
"At least I tried saving them. What did you do for Ira? Sat on you backside and sulked like the spoiled rich boy you born to be?" Cain said, voice low and tight as he fought the emotion flooding his mind and making it impossible for him to swallow. Ian had spilled one of his biggest secrets at the top of his lungs and all Cain could hope was that no one else was in the barn isle at the time.
Ian stared at Cain slightly slack jawed. The life of his father heir, the life of his father's favorite, the life to which Cain was referring had been stolen from him the moment his younger brother proved more deceitful and less moral than Daymian. And Daymian wanted that life back. Wanted it and couldn't have it. So he'd made it his life mission to never come close to having anything in his life his father would've approved of. The insinuation that Daymian had failed, that his father's bloody guilty crimes were still smeared all over him and deep down he would always be Iosef Romanov's son… Ian almost lost it.
"Am I interrupting something?" Rachel's voice asked as she led a little dun pony down the aisle to stand in front of Noël's stall. Her wide eyes were glass and innocent and Cain breathed a small sight of relief. She was innocent to the crimes of the two men standing in front of her. Which meant they hadn't been overheard. Cain picked up the bridle laying on the floor by the stall door and slipped it onto Noël's head.
"Yeah. Let's go." Cain said, leading the rose grey mare out of her stall. Daymian reached out to grab Cain's shoulder as he passed, glaring at Cain, anger still brimming in his blue eyes.
"This isn't over." He said darkly. Cain gave him a sneer that spoke for itself before following Rachel and her little dun down the walkway to the arena.
"So, what's this little guys name? Cain asked as he paused by the glass door so he could open it and lead Noël through. Rachel smiled, her chest puffing up.
"His registered name is LRS Ivezno. He's a pure bred Ocha Sport Pony." Rachel grinned as she led the stallion through the doors and into the arena. Adam was still working Swag and pulled up the grey stallion to watch Rachel work with the little pony.
"Ivezno. What a mouthful." Cain muttered, glancing at the pony stallion.
"Oh, don't worry, I've nicknamed him Zero." Rachel grinned, taking Cain's annoyance at the mouthful of a registered name for approval of her nickname.
"Better." Cain admitted. "Check your girth and I'll give you a leg up."
Rachel's lesson went significantly better than Adam's. Cain cut out all the snarky comments, critiquing and general rudeness and turned into… a decent person. Adam watched, slightly shocked that Cain could make the switch from monster to man so seamlessly. When later asked about it Cain's only comment was it had served him well in his youth.
Zero proved to be the right choice in mount for Rachel. He was calm but not quiet, obedient with spunk. He reminded Cain of Ivory in an odd way. At the end of the day Kim demanded picture of the three riders and their horses, even though Cain hadn't mounted Noël all day, just led her around as he was teaching. He was itching to be left alone with the mare however, in the two months he'd been working her he'd figured out strangers made her nervous and she responded a lot better when she was alone. He kept trying to get away from the picture party. Finally Adam took pity on him and led Rachel away, horses in tow, promising Kim pictures of Rachel and Adam riding together soon.
Cain let out a breath he'd been holding all afternoon. Even when he wasn't arguing with them people were exhausting. So many people didn't appreciate what they had, or the fragility of life. And unlike Carmen he didn't want to drown himself headfirst in other people's problems so he didn't have to look at his own.
"People's problems." Cain scoffed as he left Noël loose, thinking about his argument with Ian. There had been some really low blows in there. Noël took five steps then dropped to her knees with a groan and rolled, back and forth, her legs up in the air. Cain sat down in the sand a good distance from her, slumping against the arena wall. It was odd, not having anything to do with his hands… he used to smoke. Quit because… well, he wasn't sure really why he quit.
Noël got up and took a couple running steps, preforming a charming crow hop before settling back down. She nosed around the arena for a little while before coming over to stand next to Cain. In the months he'd been handling her, this had become their ritual. She'd explore and then report back. Each time she did she was ever so slightly warmer. Today when she walked up she actually put her nose on his shoulder and rested her head there.
"Just a broken soul aren't you?" He muttered, reaching up to stroke her forehead. This was why he knew, instinctually that her abuse had been recent and fresh. Because after two months of being handled right by one person Cain had become the one human at the barn she trusted. It hadn't extended to everyone, just him. And it was very tentative. The way he figured it, if she'd been treated right before she'd at least consider trusting another of the riders. The mare gave a soft sigh, her nostrils quivering beneath his touch and her good eye closed. Cain sighed, blowing air onto her nose.
"You and me both." He muttered, closing his eyes. When dinner time came and Adam sent Josef out in search of the missing stragglers he found Cain asleep against the arena wall, Noël next to him, standing over him, calmly watching the world pass them by.