Falling Part Deux


Ahnika.jpg Max.jpg

Date: 7/31/10
Location: EW - Beast Cavern, Runner Path
Synopsis: Max gives Ahnika her first riding lesson and a riding accident leads the couple to make some important declarations and previously kept secrets.
Rating: PG-13 - Lots of mushy stuff and some language
Logger: Ahnika

The beast caverns the usual easygoing hum of activity, men and animals going about their business. Down near the tunnel entrance, with a big black stallion and a smaller bay coloured mare, is Max, checking girth straps and stirrup leathers while studiously ignoring the looks being sent him by those that pass by. One dares a double edged comment with a deep smirk in place, and he earns himself a warning look and rather colourful comeback in return. Another, leading out a pair of visiting runners stops to ask a question and then is on his way, shooting a backward glance at his pensive boss.

Ahnika left the weyrling barracks early morning looking fresh and tidy in her usual ‘work’ attire, having been somehow put on stable-duty for the day. Having bathed the night before, she smells and looks clean, and since she’s not started her day yet, her hair manages to appear still all in place. No doubt she fully expects to be in some kind of smelly, sweaty state of disarray by the time her work day is concluded. She spies Max at the tunnel entrance as she approaches, and the redhead can’t help but smile thoughtfully, watching him work around the runners with such expert and confident ease, admiring him as she comes up the tunnel toward him. She’ll wave from the distance, but it isn’t until she gets within hearing range not requiring a shout that she will greet him with that same warm look mirrored in her tone, “Good morning.”

Not dressed in his usual work attire it seems Max has seen fit, for some reason (duh), to instead don a black short sleeved shirt and dark blue trousers that speak more to after hours than sweating over fence poles and recalcitrant animals. Which could be the reason for the smirking looks he's been getting from those working under him. With Starflight, dancing and snorting at his side, eager to be off and stretch his legs, he almost misses Ahnika's path toward him. It's when Spring Breeze grabs the brim of his hat and plucks it off his head that both redhead and greeting garner his attention. A wide smile breaks free of the previously pensive expression as he snatches the hat back from the mare and gently whaps her with it before clamping it back to his head. "Welcome back to stable duties, candidate," warmth and not more than little pleasure evident in his tone. "Ready to take that leap and trust me? Us…" this with a glance toward where the mare is currently stretching her neck out in order to better investigate the new arrival.

The candidate takes him in again, this time with greater scrutiny for his clothes, and then the runners beside him, and his words and hint of pleasure in his voice coaxes out a rarely seen coy smile from her. She lowers her gaze to her own clothes, the tunic and breeches, which while they are clean and fresh, aren’t terribly flattering or considered after-hours attire. “I seem to have misjudged my duties and dressed poorly for it,” Ahnika says, then lifts her head to settle her grey eyes back on Max once more. The coy smile deepens and then fades a little as she regards Starflight and Spring Breeze. The hat trick does not go unnoticed, but the only thing she says of it is, “I suppose it is good that I didn’t bring a hat, though,” in a mildly pensive tone. She then looks back to Max, but is keeping her distance a few paces away, and nods, her smile less coy this time, “I’m … ready.” Not exactly phobic or extremely nervous, but let’s just call it ‘respectful’ of the mounts he’s chosen for them, until such a time as she can be properly introduced or somehow given instructions.

Dark eyes continuously straying back to the candidate would bear testament to the man finding pleasure in her presence alone, clothing suitable or not aside. Gathering both sets of reins together in one hand, Max takes a step out to her, a crooked smile on his face, "Look just fine to me, Ahni" From a bale-stack of hay nearby where a hat is lying, either purposefully placed there or discarded by another, the beast manager takes it up and plops it on her head, "There you go, now she can play with you too." Spring Breeze as if on cue, trying to nibble whiskery lips towards its brim, turns a slow blinking look over to her handler when a light tap to her neck stops her hat-stealing plans, "Behave old girl, she's new to this." The coy smile bleeding into cautious respect for the animals at his side, has him extending a hand with an encouraging smile toward Ahnika, tone held low, "Come closer and meet Spring Breeze. She promises to be gentle with you," turning his head toward the mare who in testing her bridle in her mouth ends up doing an odd nod-nod of head, "See? She says, yes." Humour dancing in his eyes and tone.

Ahnika’s knee-jerk reaction to the nibbling lips is to duck and dodge, which may or may not be good, though she manages not to shriek this time. In fact, she actually chuckles a little, regaining some footing and miraculously keeping the hat on her head, and then more bravely taking Max’s encouraging hand with her own, her fingers cool this morning, and slightly rough and calloused – though likely not as much as a beast manager’s might be. She steps closer, both to him and the animals, though her attention is more for the much larger beasts, warily attentive to their movements. “Don’t be tense,” she murmurs Zen’s advice to herself, “Don’t kick.” And she tentatively reaches a hand out toward Spring Breeze’s cheek.

Laughing softly for the duck and dodge movement, "You're learning already," Max comments with approval. His hand, warm and work calloused closes around hers, a thumb brushing lightly along its back as she steps closer. He can't help the chuckle and lifted brow, "Don't kick? You're planning on kicking her into submission?" Spring Breeze for her part turns her head lazily into Ahnika's hand, brushing her cheek against it as a solemn brown eye regards the young woman with gentle interest. Starflight, all nervous energy and bunched muscle, is not to be left out and ceases his constant hoof shifting to give Ahnika a thorough eyeballing. A shift closer, and the great beast lowers his head, ears pricked forward to snort a rough breath of air in greeting toward her. Keeping a firm muscle cording grip on the big runner's cheek strap lest he try something a little rougher, Max grins, "He says 'Howdy' too."

Her hand going tenderly over the soft, fuzzy cheek as Spring Breeze presses it there, Ahnika smiles even more, that soft, gentle look that overcomes young girls when encountering gentle vulnerable creatures like kittens or unassuming old runners. Then there is a lilting bit of laughter from the redhead and she blushes a good bit at Max’s commentary, “Just reminding myself of some tips I was given. Things to avoid, not encourage.” She then looks back over her shoulder a little to both Max and Starflight right there, the warm breath from the stallion starting her enough to give her pause, though not enough to make her jump, and so Ahni chooses to release her hand from Spring Breeze to tentatively try and pat Starflight’s cheek next, as opposed to releasing Max’s hand. “So, you speak runner-language, hmm?” She asks Max, smiling at him with a coyness once more, “One wonders what other languages you speak.”

With Ahnika's hand leaving her cheek, Spring Breeze tries to follow it and simply ends up finding her back. No problem, warm breath likely announcing the arrival before the mare dips her head to the candidate's lower back where she'll then try to nibble lips in search of a piece of fabric to take purchase on and playfully pull the young woman's attention back to her. Her blush draws amusement once again from Max, who with a considering look asks, "You asked for advice before coming riding with me?" if anything, he seems pleased by this notion. Starflight having gone back to his on-the-spot dance of impatience keeps his head still long enough for the redhead's fingers to graze a touch to his cheek and then jerks it away again. The beast manager's fingers curl tighter around her hand, as if in silent steadying support against the big beast's rougher nature. A low laugh spills out at the question put to him and finds him catching at his bottom lip to refrain from speaking what first comes to mind, although the devilish glint in his eyes might do that for him. More appropriately given their location and those still coming and going about them as he turns a look between the two animals, broad shoulders shrug, "I just understand them. Let them tell me what they need or what they want and take it from there." A squeeze of her hand and then he's asking quietly, "You think you're ready to get up on her yet?"

The teen’s hand instinctively jerks back as Starlight’s head jerks back, and Ahni pulls her hand back to curl against her own chest, and at the same time her own other hand tightens around Max’s in kind, while she tries to ease out from lip-reach of Spring Breeze, “Well, I—“ she starts to answer his first question, but leaves off abruptly as she finds the mare has got ahold of her tunic enough to draw it off her shoulder on one side. Ahni laughs with all this, but it is a laughter tinged with nervousness and uncertainty, and then her smiling grey eyes seek Max’s face with his glint in his eye and his words. She seems ready to say something, opening her mouth to do so, and then closes it, apparently deciding not to. She lowers her eyes to the ground a moment and then looks back at Spring Breeze once more, humor in her eyes as she responds, “If getting up on her will keep my clothes on, then I think I better.”

Catching that moment when Ahnika was about to say something but decides not to, dark eyes hold steady to hers until she drops them away. Leaning forward to dip his hat covered head down near her ear, Max intones quietly, "Languages, like riding, are easily taught to a willing student." Just then, probably fortuitously so, Waine, the big strapping, built-like-a-rock-outhouse 'hand happens along and finds the beast manger calling him closer. Handing Starflight's reins over to the lad, "Hold onto him while I get the lady situated." And with that, the time has come as he keeping his next words filled with amusement, for just her ears he moves closer to help her up into the saddle, "I've half a mind to let Spring Breeze carry on with her game and see what comes of it." That having been said he turns back to the business at hand. A hand on the mare's neck to keep her in place, instructions are given, "Put your hands to the front and back of saddle," indicating with his free hand where to place them, "then put your nearside boot up into the stirrup. As you step up, use your hands to pull you up and throw your other leg over her back." His free hand now holding the stirrup steady for the redhead to step up into.

The beast manager’s quiet words (on both counts) bring a wash of goosebumps over her skin and Ahni furiously works to right her tunic once more, her cheeks flushing. She avoids meeting his gaze for the moment, especially as another man appears to take Starflight’s reins, and she dips Waine a polite nod before following Max’s lead and instructions and standing by the saddle. “Front and back,” Ahni repeats dutifully, putting her hands where indicated, then looking down at her ankle boots, thinking about this a moment as she repeats, “Nearside boot,” she lifts first the wrong boot, and then thinks it through and lifts the other, correct one, leaning a little with her long legs as she works to get it into the stirrup he is holding for her. It takes a couple tries, and Ahni purses her lips in concentration, but once it is done she heaves herself up, pausing a moment as she stands in the stirrup before swinging her leg over and settling into the saddle proper, tensing without meaning to and grabbing hold of the front cantle as Spring Breeze shifts a little with the added weight, and issuing a brief gasp.

Forgive him, but when Ahnika struggles a little at first, Max without thinking sets a hand to her ass and gives her a boost. Natural instinct to help. The gasp from her once she's up there draws a crooked grin from him as he lays a hand lightly to her thigh, "Just relax, darlin'. Don't clamp your legs tight about her or she won't be going anywhere. It's all in the thighs and the hands," the controlling of a runner. Hooking a long tether to the mare's cheek strap, he moves back over to Starflight Waine it seems, is all knowing smirks at this time but at risk of another cuff to the back of his head, remains silent, block shaped hand simply handing over the stallion's reins to the beast manager before sauntering off with a casually tossed, "Don't ride her too hard." Which has Max sending a dagger edged look after the big lout. Swinging up easily onto his own mount, reins and tether are gathered up together as he twists in his seat to put an encouraging look over to the candidate, "Ready, darlin'? We'll take it easy at first until we clear the Weyr and you're feeling more comfortable," indicating the tether rein, "I got a hold of you, so she can't go running off with you." Not that the congenial old mare probably would.

There comes a blush with his hand on her bum, but Ahnika says nothing, settling a little more into the saddle, and simply nods without looking at him as he lays that hand lightly against her thigh. She exhales a small breath she hadn’t realized she had been holding when he moves off to Starflight and she watches him but without any lecherous gazes as she seems more interested in watching him mount, the consummate student trying to take in every detail to file it away for later practice. The comment from Waine as he departs sends a nervous look from the stablehand to Max, and seeing as how she is on the mare and not Max, she took the tip as being meant for her, “Too hard? How do I not ride hard?” ‘A hard ride’ is not a phrase she’s entirely unfamiliar with, mind, but isn’t sure how to avoid doing it, being as this is her first lesson. To his final words of encouragement, the candidate nods, though her attention is for the mare’s neck and head, and then leans a little to one side to stare at the stirrup and her boot in it, toes flexing unseen within. As far as romantic date goes, it seems the student is concentrating more on learning the promised lesson than she is with any romantic element at this point.

Tapping a bootheel lightly against Starflight's side (not that the big brute needed any encouragement), Max leads them out and into the bowl. Passing by Waine, a dark look is shot the lout's way before he turns a less disgruntled one over to Ahnika, "You don't. Not on her anyway. Waine was just being an idiot. Thinks he's very funny he does." The stallion's stride is quick and full of ill contained energy, while that of Spring Breeze is more sure and steady going, her gait an easy side to side sway of haunches. Concentrating on keeping his mount contained and under control while keeping a firm grip on the tether leading to Ahnika's, the beast manager slips into silence, casting glances her way the whole time to keep an eye on her. It's not long before the Weyr itself is left behind and their outward journey finds them on a path more fitting of romantic settings. Clear sky overhead, lush grass along the sides of the trail and just the soft chinking of metal upon metal overlaid by the steady beat of hooves ambling along. Ah, its good to be alive.

Ah, a joke. This earns Waine a look from the redhead as they pass him, and a small smile as if to mean Ahnika appreciates the humor even if she doesn’t quite get it. The companionable silence seems fine by the candidate, who is switching her attention from the path Max leads to the mare she is on, and the various equipment and trappings required to ride her. More than once Max has probably looked back at her to find her leaning so far over the saddle her foot is out of it on the other side, just to watch the way the saddle, girdle and bridle all work together. But each time she manages to right herself without assistance. Other times during their ride, she is examining the countryside around them, the clear sky, a bird call or Spring Breeze’s reaction to an insect landing on her ear, taking everything in with a bit of eager innocence and – it should be noted – supreme trust. After all, the fact that her guard is down enough to allow her to explore everything that captures her interest and attention suggests just how much she feels safe with him here and now. Her freckled expression holds a certain reserved awe within it, intellectually curious to this experience without being childishly over-excited like a six-year-old might be. After awhile, Ahni finally speaks, commenting, “I should have brought us something to drink or eat from the kitchen, “at least a waterskin. I’m sorry for not thinking of going back for one once I found out your intentions to take me out riding today,” though to be fair, he had told her that she only needed to bring herself. The wannabe headwoman within her, however, still finds fault in herself for not anticipating this need.

The points at which Ahnika leans out to inspect the equipment, has had Max having to bite back words of caution and concern, in favour of enjoying watching his new riding companion relaxing enough to explore this new experience. Starflight has settled down some, however, the taut bunch to his hindquarters would speak to his wishing to be given his head. For now however, he behaves, the man astride his back relaxing visibly for being completely in his element, his body moving in natural rhythm with the creature, as if the two were cast from the same mould. Broken from his reverie by the redhead's words, an easy smile appears, as he leans to one side and unclips a 'skin that had been hidden by his leg. Holding it up he reins his mount in slightly to bring them alongside as he lifts it up, "Never leave home without a 'skin and a blanket roll." This to the item tightly rolled and secured behind his saddle. Small concern slipping into his tone as he leans over to try brushing a knuckle down her cheek, "You want to take a break, baby?"

Ahnika can’t help but grin at the beast manager coming prepared. She licks her lips at the waterskin, apparently having developed a little bit of a thirst, and reaches for it while her grey eyes take in the blanket roll somewhat curiously, and then his knuckles are caressing her cheek and she closes her eyes to it, pressing her cheek to his knuckles in much the same way Spring Breeze pressed hers into Ahni’s palm. Her outstretched hand lowers some, and with his question she reopens her eyes and shakes her head gently, “No, not really, just … thirsty.” Those eyes leave the waterskin, however, and sparkling suddenly her gaze flies up to his face, eagerness apparently, “Do you think I could try … ?” She gestures to the lead connected to the bridle of Spring Breeze, ignoring the beginnings of saddle-soreness in her thighs and buttocks.

Tunnelsnakes will come, and tunnelsnakes will go. Such is the nature of the creatures. As is the case with one disturbed from its darkened corner by the sound of hooves and then in an ill advised move, seeks to scuttle across the pathway and back under another rock. Catching a good eyeballing of the creature as it appears in front of him, Starflight rears up, snorting and pawing at the air in objection of its presence.

Relinquishing the waterskin into her care, Max leans out to unclip the tether rein, a chuckle spilling out as he does, "Someone getting big for their britches now are they?" his easy laughter speaking to this having been a tease as the rein falls away, "just keep your reins low and steady. If she gets to pacing a little too quickly for you, squeeze with your thighs and pull her head in gently with your hands." That advice given as he leans down from his saddle to unhook where the tether rein had caught on his stirrup. Not usually one to be easily unseated, but currently more than a little distracted, the stallion's sudden rearing up in protest of the tunnelsnake catches him completely unawares and sends him tumbling over backwards off of the big runner. Tether and reins one way, hat the other, resulting in him landing with a hard THWUMP on his back on the side of the path. Breath knocked out of him and momentarily stunned. Initially no movement comes. Not even the rise and fall of his chest in breathing visible, pale for the apparent lack of oxygen.

Ahnika grins, a completely opened and naked grin full of genuine warmth and mirth for him as Max teases her and starts to detach the lead for her to take the reins. But her expression sobers into studiousness as he begins to explain the process of leading a runner. She listens carefully, her attention going to the reins, momentarily confused by the glimpse of a shadow scurrying across the path, and then Starflight rears up. Everything happened so suddenly, the redheaded teen is rather stunned, not even being able to immediately put breath to a scream that was on her lips before Spring Breeze breaks away from Starflight and the fallen, pivoting away and stamping a few paces to the side as Ahnika’s mind whirls along with the world around her. The reins having fallen away and out of reach, Ahni just holds on to the cantle, shouting, “Max! Max!?” until the initial skitter of the old mare comes to a stop. And then Ahnika, the failed would-be Healer, is faced with what appears to her to be an unconscious – possibly dead – beast manager. “Max!!” She screams, her heart stopping with alarm, and she swings her leg over Spring Breeze’s rump, momentarily caught by the stirrup and screaming again, “Max!!!” while the mare’s ears pin back and she dances a pace or two further. Finally, Ahni more or less falls out the last few feet to the ground, and she starts to crawl up into a stagger and finally upright towards Max, her muscles pulling and straining – already sore from the ride itself – until she slides to a stop at the beast manager’s side, leaning over him with terror written over her pale features. “Max!” Ahni cries again, her eyes tearful now, and her breath labored, she puts her ear to his chest and then his lips, and somehow determining he is dead or well on his way, “Oh shards you would pick needing me in the worst way possible!” When no response is forthcoming still, the redhead grabs his shoulders and tries to shake, “No! No! No!! Max!! No, Max! Don’t you dare leave me like this … “ the last comes out as a sob, “Don’t you dare!! Max!!” she lets go of his shoulders and cradles his face in her now dusty hands, staring into it, as she weeps, pleading with him in a more gentle tone through her tearfully anguished sobs, “Please … please … Max … come back … please … don’t leave me … please … I believe in you … in us … please … I believe in you,” she presses her lips to his, trying to stay the incredible pain of her heart just being torn out from her and crushed, “please,” she sobs softly against his lips, “please … I love you … Max … “

Somewhere between the world going dark and the incredible crushing void in his chest when air went whooshing out of him and Ahnika's desperate scramble to get to him, Max starts to come to his senses. Slowly but surely, the muscles in his chest relax the spasm they'd gone into and breathe starts to return. It's unlikely, in her anguish that the redhead hears the low groan that slips from him. Eyes still closed against the throbbing starting to set up in his head, he's about to try gingerly testing limbs when he becomes aware of his head now being cradled in her lap, warm tears falling on his face. And those two sets of three words sink home. All thought of movement or anything else leaving the beast manger once again without breath, this time for entirely different reason. I believe in you. I love you. With a sound breaking from his chest that sounds suspiciously like a sob as something snaps internally, dark eyes flicker open and pin to those tear filled grey ones, his head lifting to chase after that mouth of hers to catch in a deep and telling kiss. Which doesn't last long when the need to cough deeply and force more air into his lungs breaks it off. Eyes watering either from the impact or her words has him finally trying to push up into a half sitting position, his hand sliding to the back of her neck as tries a weak tease, "I knew you liked me." Gravity returning swiftly in the uncertain cast of dark eyes searching her face, "Do you really mean that, Ahni?" Starflight who took off like a bat out of hell, has finally come to a stop and is grazing a ways down the trail.

The girl should really, honestly, be pissed. I mean, really. But as his eyes flutter open, Ahnika is more struck with such an incredible and intense feeling of relief that she actually cries harder, her shoulders jerking a little with each one, and she returns that deep, telling kiss with a fierce one of her own in kind – lips seeming to want to devour him and his lips hungrily for fear of never feeling them against her own again – and once he breaks it away, she showers the man with a smaller flurry of kisses as well as tears on his lips or cheek, wherever she can, even through his turning away for that coughing fit, her hands still cradling his face gently. To his question, the weeping redhead nods, and says something incoherently amidst sobs of adrenaline and joy at his having returned, it sounding something like, “Ahthokahlawsewefervah!!” Her whole body just simply trembles with the variety of deep, intense emotions, including her long-held demons of abandonment that nipped so terrifyingly at her heart moments ago.

Coughing fit over and enough breath in his lungs to breathe properly again, at least as normally as having had her kiss him like that and then continue to lay more down on him allows for, Max wraps both arms about Ahnika and draws her tight in against him, whispering soft soothing sounds as he simply holds her and lets her cry it all out. Shoulders move against the redhead in a chuckle for the unintelligible words that spill out of her as he draws back and with a thumb brushes the tears away from under her eyes setting a deeply intense look on to her, "I'll never leave you, baby. To do so would be to tear my own heart from my chest." Swallowing hard against the way that very organ lurches into life causing wide cracks to appear in the walls built around it. There, on the side of the road covered in dust, his mouth twitches in a small and still slightly uncertain smile as a finger traces the line of her lips, "I love you, Ahni." Stated low and simply spoken, he steps up to the plate and swings hard.

Still trembling, though much of her actual sobs starting to abate slowly, Ahnika allows him to draw her in against him and she curls up there as much as possible, weepy and soggy and sniffling, yet still not really wanting to put her full weight against him, not really sure how hurt he really is. As he pulls away to wipe her tears with his thumb, her shiny grey eyes stare back into his, raw and vulnerable and brimming with hope renewed. Her breathing is ragged from her sobs, and with his initial words she sucks in her bottom lip on a sharp inhale, her chin quivering anew, and her eyes squeezing against a new tidal wave that threatens. More tears spill out and down her cheeks, but she is able to keep her eyes opened long enough for those three most important words. Her response comes with a cut-off wail of a sob, and then she launches herself more against him, seeking his lips with her own as her eyes close and press more tears out, her hands sliding up his chest to his shoulders and around his neck as she cries against his lips once more in whispered sobs of breath, “I love you. I love you. I love you so much.”

Distress for the renewed flood of tears, he seems somehow to have set off, has Max uttering a low curse at himself for whatever it was he'd said or done wrong. The raw emotion of the young woman in his arms combined with his own vulnerabilities and scars of passed pain have him unable to say much for a while. Trying to his hands that have taken up slow stroking caresses along her lower back, to assuage her pain and keep his own locked down tight. He fails, when burying his face in her neck, the words spoken wracked with the pleas of a drowning man finally being offered a lifeline, "Don't let go, baby. Don't ever let go." Gruff voice cracking at the edges until shoulders relax under her touch drinking in those wet kisses, the repeated proclamations of love have him meeting her mouth with deeply yearning kisses of his own. "Aaah, my sweet, Ahni," breathed out in fiercely possessive tone, "I love you with all my heart, baby."

Slowly, but surely, her weeping turns into quiet moisture-filled eyes, sniffling, and occasional muted hiccups. Ahnika’s lips continue to move against his, the initial urgency and desperation is replaced with a growing experimentation, slowing the soft contact of her tear-laden lips against his, tasting him and his lips now, and her hands sliding down his chest, fingers flexing there for memory of that time previous when she found out he liked it. With another sniffle, she reluctantly pulls back, opening her eyes to stare into his face, “I won’t,” she murmurs, and then vows in a sober whisper, “I’ll always believe in you, Max. I won’t let go.” She licks her lips, pulling back just a few inches more and studying him, “Will you … can you … wait for me?” For the end of her candidacy, though she doesn’t elaborate, truth be told.

Kisses turning from gentle statements of love and comfort, to a deeper more passionate nature, Max meets her mouth with growing hunger of his own, a soft groan spilling against her lips for those hands at his chest. A hand tugging impatiently at the end of her braid, seeking to free those glorious tresses from their bonds so that he can get his hands into. Ahnika's lips soft and exploratory and his more insistent as his tongue seeks to own her mouth as if could devour her whole and keep her with him forever. When she pulls away, his eyes fix to that lick she swipes across her lips, and then flow back up to her, shadow stained by past demons, the hard swallow indication of just the chords her vow strikes in him. The hesitant question put to him serves to draw a rueful twist to his mouth, eyes dropping down to the loop of white at her shoulder as a low chuckle spills out, "Already got myself a cold stream all picked out, baby." Which he's probably going to be making very good use of.

It’s not a difficult thing to loosen that braided bun of hers, considering she only uses a simple leather tie around it all, and so her coppery-red hair comes loose, the braid requiring a little more attention from his hands to unravel, but unravel it does. All this, and Ahnika does not seem to complain, much more interested in his mouth and, now, his tongue, but alas, their conversation cuts short that claim for the moment. With his low chuckle, she grins coyly, her face still streaked with drying tears, but her eyes merely glassy for all her tears, and her breathing would be much more normal if the couple could ever stop kissing, but she seems perfectly willing to make such a sacrifice. Moving in again for a taste of his lips, she murmurs, eyes half-lidded as they consider his lips, “Do that again. Show me,” she breathes, “that thing with your tongue,” and then the teen stops again, “No wait.” She looks up into his eyes, “Are you hurt? We should get you to a Healer. This can all wait,” says the pragmatic candidate with a little wave, and she starts to pull away and tries to put her feet more under her in preparation to stand. “You need a Healer.”

As she speaks, his hand has taken to sneaking up into her hair, apparently holding an irresistible allure for the man. She wants more? Max is more than happy to do so, his tongue snaking out to sweep across her lower lip before almost claiming her mouth again when she pulls away and looks ready to stand. Blinking a little, the fall that had started all of this clearly pushed right to the back of his mind, the part where a dull throbbing has been happily pounding away in the background, in all that had unfolded. Lifting a hand to rub at the back of his head it comes away free of blood, "Uh no. I think I'm fine. Taken worse falls before," such as the one he laid claim to when she'd found him beaten in his stall. "But that brute's going to get bored of just standing around," head turning to where Starflight has been slowly grazing his way back over, "and head for the Weyr without me and I'd rather not try explaining to someone what had happened," slight sheepishness for having been so uneasily unseated creeping in. "We should probably be heading back before someone notices we've been gone too long anyway." Practical.

Mmm. That tongue. Ahnika shivers a little with that quick, sweeping kiss, and then returns – with considerable effort – to the important matter at hand. Uncertain by his assurance that he is really fine, Ahnika watches him a little more carefully and scrutinizing his actions for signs of concussion, not that the failed Healer girl would know what they are, but she looks nonetheless. Chewing on her bottom lip a moment, Ahni finally nods, seeming to accept his assessment, “Okay,” then leans back in for a hurried, brief kiss, growling out against his lips, “Don’t you ever do that to me again.” There comes a shuddered sigh for punctuation, and she clarifies, “The fall. You can kiss me whenever you want to,” a brazen grin against his lips now, and then she withdraws once more, awkwardly starting to get to her feet, only to fall back over again for all her soreness and a turned ankle from trying to wrench her foot free of the stirrup. “Shells,” she mutters, shifting to try again.

The growled warning has Max grinning against her mouth and trying to lightly catch her lip with his teeth, "Worth it," he quips through a chuckle. "Whenever I want to? Even like this… " fingers brushing aside her hair where it falls across her neck to lay a kiss down on her skin, "and this…" kissing the hollow of her throat. He'd have offered up other places to kiss her but then Ahnika's standing to her feet. Catching her up against him as she falls back again, a frown deepens his features, "You're hurt, baby." Settling her beside him, the beast manager pushes stiffly to his own feet saying as he does, "Stay here, I'm going to catch him and then you can ride with me. I'm not letting you ride on your own with a twisted ankle." Starflight doesn't appear to put up too much resistance in fact, following along behind his handler as then moves to gather Spring Breeze's reins up.

It’s so terribly hard to resist those kisses across her skin, about the only thing helping is the way they tickle some, and so with giggling, she got up, only to fall down once more. “I’ll be okay,” Ahnika says stubbornly, rubbing her ankle as he gets up, and realizing her hair is all undone and she must look a mess, she starts looking around in the grass for her hair-tie while he goes to get the runners. “I must look a terrible state,” she says, but there is humor in her tone. “My hair is all over the place and I’m probably all puffy from crying so much.” She frowns, not immediately finding the hair-tie, and starting to try and stand up without it. “How can I be expected to work in your stables today looking like this?”

"You will sit there like a good girl," Max meets the stubbornness with a raised brow, the stern face he'd tried to affect is spoiled by a warmth softening it and a chuckle, "Look beautiful to me." Spring Breeze soon has the tether rein snapped back to her head strap and he's leading both runners over to where Ahnika is trying to stand again. Free hand to hip, he fits her with another pretence at sternness, "Carry on like that and I'll just toss you over my saddle like a sack of tubers and take you home that way." Now he'll bend to offer his shoulder for her to lean on as she stands, his arm moving to wrap about her waist in steadying support, "You're going to sit in my office and take care of some of my paper work." Easy solution.

Her smile returns, warm and loving as he tells her she is beautiful, but the rest, the threat, earns another, “I’m fine,” repeated stubbornly, but despite her words his threat does give her pause and Ahnika frowns at the memory of her Search, and that makes her think about not being told she’s likely to end up dead on the sands and the darkened expression on her face deepens. So, distracted, she waits until he is there, offering to help her up, losing the thoughts on the Hatching and instead relishing the closeness of him and taking advantage of the moment to brush her lips along his jawline and earlobe. She straightens more as he puts his arm around her waist and really does look to be relatively okay. Most of her awkwardness coming from stiff muscles unused to riding and the bit of a turned ankle from the stirrup, all which in time will be right as rain again. She looks pleased at the idea of doing paperwork for him, “Oh, that sounds very good then. And you can come and visit me in your office and boss me around and give me more kisses.” She smiles at him.

"Mmhm," showing by his tone that he's not buying it. The dark expression she starts to wear has Max chucking her under the chin, "I was only kidding, love." The endearment falling out without him even realizing it. Teasing lips at jaw and earlobe, has him turning his head to briefly capture her mouth, growling out playfully, "Any more of that and I'll drag you to the cold stream with me." Once she's standing upright against him, he looses his arm from around her waist telling her as he swings up onto Starflight's back, and then leaning down his arm extended, "Give me your arm and push off with your good foot as I lift you." The idea being to use momentum to swing her up behind him. Chuckling for the office comment, there comes a regretful shake of head, "Much as I'd love to, I don't think we should be too open about this just now, aye? Next thing we know someone will it deem it unfitting and prevent you from seeing me." Because she's a candidate.

The chuck up of her chin draws her attention briefly, and Ahni tries to hide anymore dark thoughts behind a smile that doesn’t quite reach her eyes. However, the playful kiss from him earns a more earnest smile and then he says that about keeping their relationship secret and she goes still and quiet, the smile fading some. She looks off to some point ahead, and then mutely reaches up with her arm as he instructed, pushing off as he instructed, but neither agreeing nor disagreeing to his suggestion of secrecy. Her expression remains clouded.

Ahnika's continued silence once she's settled behind him has Max twisting in the saddle to try and catch her eyes, a frown lingering, "What is it, love? Talk to me." This as a light touch to the stallion's sides sets him forward following the path back to the Weyr with Spring Breeze trailing docilely along behind him.

After all that’s happened between them in the last few minutes, how can Ahnika answer that? How can she tell him what’s really going on in her head? That despite her declaration to the contrary, she still wonders if he will be faithful and true, and that the secrecy of the relationship will enable him to be unfaithful so … or perhaps Max is just ashamed of her for some reason, unwilling to declare his love to the whole weyr. Darkness descends even more strongly on her face. And then there was Zen telling her she was a weak woman for not talking to Max … but … how can she? The contemplative expression continues to weigh it down to such a degree that it takes Max twisting in his saddle for her to realize she still hadn’t answered him. Blinking a little and trying to smooth her expression neutral or even pleasant if possible, Ahnika leans into him seeking warmth and stability from his strong frame by resting her cheek against his back and shoulder, and sliding her arms around his middle as she settles in behind him on Starflight’s back. Knowing better than to try and get away with a boldface lie to Max, Ahni chooses to say, “It’s something Zen said to me. It’s not that important.”

Silent as Starflight strides forward, the long haunch swaying walk of the big stallion, offering rocking comfort. As Ahnika's arms go up around him and she leans into his back, Max sets a hand possessively to the top of her leg, a way of trying to maintain contact in return and offer encouragement for her to speak her mind. Quietly, eyes on the path ahead rather than trying to pin her with the heart stopping worry of her having changed her mind about him, that shadows them, "If it took your smile away, it's important. What did Zen say?" The tension in his tone starting to translate through his body.

Resisting the urge to rub the back of her neck as Ahnika often does when she feels uncomfortable or stressed, she keeps her arms around him, and finds comfort in his hand on her possessively. She lifts her head a little from his shoulder and back to bestow a light kiss to the back of his neck. And then she throws poor Zen under the bus, because, really, that is just a helluva lot easier than what she was really thinking. Teenagers. Besides, the bastard still hasn’t apologized to her. Cue sniff. “He called me weak,” she says, “A weak woman, he said.” She lowers her cheek back to his back and closes her eyes, hoping that will be the end of it.

The kiss to the back of his neck sends a light shiver through his frame, the hand on her leg tightening its grip in response. But still his focus remains forward, the doubt and wariness warring across Max's features for all the declarations having gone before. "You're not weak, love," pausing to guide Starflight around a tumble of rocks in the path, "But that doesn't explain why you suddenly went quiet." More silence before shoulders lift and fall in heavy sigh, "Ahni, if we've any hope of making this work, then we need to talk to each other, no matter how hard that might be sometimes, aye?"

There remains a long awkward silence after that, and Ahnika exhales. Her shoulders hunch over a little and she bows her head so that her forehead is resting tilted against his back. He may feel the roll of her head from side to side a little as she shakes it that way. Her hands move up his middle and then down again, a gesture meant to be affectionate and even loving. Then they go still. Finally she takes another breath and asks in a tiny, timid voice, “You’re not ashamed to … be with me, Max, are you? To love me?” Heartache over the original rejection many years ago resurfaces and she feels the sting in both her eyes and her heart.

Well that's not something he was expecting. The way he straightens in the saddle and then twists to get a better look at Ahnika evidence thereof, "What?" silent for a moment as he tries to figure out how she'd drawn that conclusion. "Why would you think that? Of course not, love. I just…" frustration wrangles into his tone, "I don't want to do anything to make your candidacy more difficult for you, or for them," whoever They might be, "to use what I feel for you as reason to try and keep us apart because of that knot. I've seen it happen before." With deep sincerity, his hand squeezing a comforting gesture on her leg, "I love you, Ahni. Nothing's going to change that." Save for her laughing it off in his face and thus ripping his heart out.

That does seem to make her feel incredibly better, though there is some lingering doubt at the edge of her mind, it is far enough now with his words that it would take something pretty convincing for her to buy any story to make his intentions seem less than true. “As you say,” she says, her tone suggesting she believes him now. “You’re weyrbred and know this … experience better than I, true.” Her arms squeeze around his middle briefly and she smiles against his chest a moment, seeming satisfied. “I love you, too, Max,” she says gently, “And because I do, I … should tell you something.” She pauses to bite her lip again a moment and then just blurts it out to get it all over with, her voice coming fast and the words almost mashed together, “I’m a nobody, you see. No one of breeding or consequence or anything. I don’t know my real name. Or my parents. I don’t even know my real Turnday. They just,” she leans into him, needing him more than ever as she whispers the last, “they just left me … like I was nothing to them. Useless.”

Tension that had built up in him, drains away as Ahnika seems to relax, her further declarations drawing a warm smile from Max and having him twist about to try and lay a kiss on whatever part of her it lands. Turning back around again, he goes silent as she speaks, a frown forming and turning ever deeper the more words that come. Finally at the end there comes a low growl of anger from the beast manager. His voice low and tight with the sentiment, "First of all, you're not a nobody. You're -my- Ahni," laying open claim to her, "Secondly what does it matter what breeding you do or don't have? I love you, for you and could give a runner's ass about pedigrees." Taking a deep breath and expelling slowly in order to get a rein on his emotions, "and thirdly, you're not useless. If you were, my mother would never have offered you that junior headwoman's knot. And, you're something to me, love" Yes, he knows about that. As to her Turnday he tries forcing a small smile out, "Then pick a day you like and make it your own and we'll celebrate with cake and gifts and everything," now sounding almost boyish in his growing anticipation of spoiling her in such a manner.

On the surface, Ahnika is mollified by his reaction, and it is enough to get her to eventually – a good few moments after his little speech - relax against him once more, even if she inwardly still wonders what was so wrong about her that she had to be so anonymously given up, while other foster siblings may not have had a relationship with their parents, their parents were still not so ashamed of their offspring as to deny their existence. With a small sigh, she squeezes him again with her arms from behind him, and then chuckles softly, “My foster parents named me and assigned me a Turnday.” Which she tells him when it is, and it looks to be coming up close to about when the eggs are due to hatch. There is a little pause, “they’ve always been kind to me. I suppose we will stick with that name and Turnday, unless you have one better?” The smile is rueful and everpresent in her voice.

Drawing closer to the Weyr entrance now, Max lets a short chuckle, "They have good taste in names," he clearly liking it, "Although," a teasing smirk appears now, "Vixen might be a good one for you." On the subject of Turndays he twists and openly stares at her, "Mine too! We'll have to make it a double celebration or something," grinning for that. His turn to confess now, slipping into deep silence as he tries to find the right words. Finally, cautiously, testing waters he's actually loathe to get into, "I…I have a child…" tone turning strained for the pain that brings him, "a little girl" words trail at a loss of what further to say for having finally said it aloud. "She's…around 6 months or so now by my reckoning," wistful as he swallows hard against rising emotion, "Indira doesn't know," that last low spoken plea not to reveal it either.

To the compliment on the name, Ahnika clearly blushes, her grin pressing a little in his back and evident in her voice, "Thank you. Next time I write them, I'll be sure to tell them you approve." Some of her anxiety fades with that, and then the rest of it vanishes with her light laughter to his second comment. "Vixen?" She asks, chuckling, "Me? Hardly." But she looks plainly astonished when he states that his Turnday is the same as the one her foster parents gave her. That settles it in her mind. Destiny. She just gapes for a few moments, and then her face breaks into a broad grin and she leans against him once more, squeezing with her arms briefly before relaxing a little behind him - giving him space - now that they were getting closer to the weyr entrance. She seems to find the silence easy, as distracted as she is by the weyr entrance, but she stills and returns her attention to Max as he speaks of his daughter. Hands that had moved back a bit to make appropriate space while she rode behind him move in again, now, this time to rest gently, affectionately at his waist just above his hips. She moves those hands, lightly stroking up and down, and she says at long last, "I bet she is beautiful and smart and quite the little charmer already just like her father," Ahni says, trying to be comforting, but trying to understand why he is not with his daughter, and straining hard against her own history making her rush to any judgments. "As for your mother, it's not my place to tell her, Love," she says, using the term of endearment herself now. Then more gently, adds, "But you might want to think about telling her now … she obviously cares for you and wants you to be happy." One hand lifts to gently stroke some of the hair a little above the nape of his neck on one side, painfully resisting the urge to give him another little peck. "Have you … have you spoken to her about that note?" The one that brought the two of them back together more or less.

“You’re going to write them about me?” surprise evident for that which morphs into a low chuckle for the suggested nickname, “We shall see,” all Max will say on the matter. However the topic of his daughter drains all humour, his jaw tightening as he responds quietly, “I’ve never seen her, Ahni. Didn’t even know it was a girl until someone from back home mentioned it accidentally in a letter.” The hand that had been settled on her leg now moving to wrap tightly over one of the arms Ahnika has wrapped about him when she moves back in closer, as if to draw comfort from the contact. “No,” this to his mother finding out, “It’s complicated and until I’ve figured out how to get her back, I don’t want her or anybody else knowing.” His head rolling a little for the play of her fingers at his neck at first, he then turns it over his shoulder, a deeply shadowed and intent look pinning onto the redhead, “Ahni, I’m trusting you with this, to keep it to yourself. My daughter’s mother is…” lips compress thinly, “she’s not someone to take lightly.” Talk of the note his mother had left the candidate, set aside for the time being.

Ahnika leaves off all other topics, too, in favor of the more serious one regarding Max's daughter. She lapses quiet, listening to him attentively and somberly as he speaks, but as he leans back into her and covers her arm and hand with his own, seeking her for comfort, she snuggles up against him even more, only too happy to give it to him, no matter the risk of being potentially seen. She lowers the one hand that was teasing his hair and looks back into his face as he turns to pin her with his gaze, her own expression suggesting she may not understand everything he is telling her, but she understands, at least, that it is important. "My heart," Ahnika finally says when he seems to be finished, and she will lean up and forward to briefly brush her lips against his while he is looking back at her, and then she settles once more against him, the other hand now moving to join the first still covered by Max's own arm, and she will run her fingers lightly over his, "My sweet, dear heart, you've nothing to fear from that quarter." Her heart feels heavy with the trust he's placed in her, and she needs to take a breath before continuing, "I will say nothing to anyone about this without your say-so. But if I may say so, as forces to be reckoned with, now that we are together," she smiles up to him, "no one can stop us, including … including your daughter's mother." She isn't sure about this whole business of getting his daughter back, and there is a brief inner conflict stemming in large part from her own history that flickers in her grey eyes before she just nods once, "If you wish to have her back, then we'll riddle out a solution for it, my love. We'll riddle out a solution for it together." Realization of something strikes a chord with her and her heart does a little leap. He needs her. And for once, not in a healing capacity! He needs a problem-solver and Ahni, the would-be headwoman, counts problem-solving (at least other people's problems) among her best assets. She smiles up at him, a smile of certainty and confidence and reassurance.

The Weyr looming larger before them now, Max slows the pace of the runners down to a slow amble, listening as Ahnika speaks her words of support and encouragement. His expression softens a little under the granite mask that had settled about his features, "I know, love." Words being swallowed up by the pensive mood settled about him. With the hooves of their mounts hitting stone and heralding their imminent arrival into the Weyr proper, he reins them in behind an outcropping of rock that obscures them from prying eyes. Turning in the saddle, his hand lifts and traces its back softly against the redhead's cheek before laying a kiss onto her that resonates fiercely of his love for her, and all that he needs from her. "Thank you, baby." Quiet and solemnly spoken before turning back round again and setting a light tap of heels to Starflight's flanks.

As they go behind the outcropping of rock, Ahnika snuggles up closer to him from, murmuring on an exhale, “… don’t wanna go back yet …” And then he kisses her so fiercely, that the world slides away for her entirely. Weyr? What weyr? She returns the kiss with remarkable tenderness and depth of meaning for the usually lust-hungry and inexperienced ‘vixen’. She’s learning and she marks her lessons well each time he gives them to her. Her hands press into his middle just a little with that claimed kiss. He chased. She chose. And then he releases her and she exhales softly, working to catch her breath a moment as he moves Starflight on ahead. Reluctantly, she straightens behind him, affecting an appropriate distance while riding behind him, and but she voices aloud in a soft tone, “When can we meet again?” The little tramp. It’s going to be a very, very hard number of weeks to the Hatching. And then, perhaps under a blush, she adds as if in explanation, “I’d like to hear more … so I can help you figure out a way … regarding your daughter.”

Ahnika's response manages to crack a smile from him just before he turns back round, "Vixen," murmured against her mouth and then all the appropriate distances and expression are being set into place as hooves clop-clop over rock and the Weyr tunnel swallows them up. She does him good. It's that simple. Her query drawing a low laugh from Max, "Whenever you can get away again." Breaking out of the tunnel and into the sunlight of the bowl, the redhead's last words draw some silence from the beast manager and then he quietly states, "You're not going to like much of what I have to say about it." The topic of his daughter and her rather controversial existence.

Another reluctant sigh from the teen marks their entrance into the tunnel and her fingers flex a little against his sides. From a distance, it’s likely Ahnika is just holding on to him, though, as a second rider might. His response is met with silence for a time, and then as their progress continues and the potential for discretion gets more and more limited, Ahni leans forward quickly, murmuring, “I’m yours now …” she closes her eyes, loving the sound of the words, “and you’re mine, as are your problems that need fixing.” And hers for him, as well, likely, though she doesn’t make mention of any presently. Then she pulls back, once more an appropriate distance from him, adding in a nonchalant tone, “So, it doesn’t matter if I like hearing what you have to say or not.” And as they continue one through the bowl, her fingers and hands go still, casually resting at his waist.

Curving his back briefly against her, the movement is subtle and likely to go unnoticed by any going about their daily business. Never mind that the two of them quite literally look like they forewent the hay and took a roll in the dust instead. Of course those words murmured have the effect of a drawing an enigmatic smile from Max, who bends to 'adjust a stirrup' commenting quietly as he does, eyes flickering upward to Ahnika, "We'll see, love." Experience has taught him the hard way to never take anything as a given. Straightening once again as they enter the beast tunnel and he spies Waine, the lout's smirk even deeper than before as he takes the two of them in. "Wipe that grin off your face and come help the lady down. She took a tumble when Spring Breeze stumbled," which doesn't exactly explain his dusty state, but it's the cover story he's going with for now.

Ahnika smiles brilliantly down at him as he leans to ‘adjust that stirrup’ not seeming put off by his words in the slightest. It could be she is determined to prove to him how much of a help she can be, show him how much he needs her, which all tosses back to her earlier baggage. Well and so. Distracted with her Plan now, she misses Waine’s smirk entirely, but hears Max’s voice, and straightens a little to give a shy smile to Waine, “I’m a horrible klutz, it seems. He’s going to keep me from impaling myself on a pitchfork as a result, and I’m to work on some kind of paperwork.” Pause. “In his office.” Pause. “Alone.” Now, that could be seen entirely differently, depending on who is listening and how bent they are. But she slides her eyes to Max, grinning ruefully before reaching down for Waine’s shoulders so he can help her down from the stallion’s back. And Starflight’s too.

Block hands to Ahnika's waist, Waine lifts her easily and sets her on her feet, a grin being sent first to his boss and then down onto the candidate, "On your own?" Let's hope he has no ideas about paying the redhead a visit. Max however, is not quite the dimglow he may come across as being at times, at least not in understanding the way another man's mind works. Swinging down from Starflight with a bit of a wince for abused back muscles he sets a telling smirk onto the lout, "Think again, chuckles." With that the reins of both mounts are handed over to Waine, and setting an arm around Ahnika's waist (simply for the sake of helping of course) he starts back toward his office, calling over his shoulder as he goes, "Get those two rubbed down and situated and then go up to the top pastures and check on that new herd that came in a day or so back." Thus ensuring the big block of a lad would have no reason to go anywhere near, -his- Ahni.

Smiling conspiratorially to Waine, although for an entirely different and much more innocent reason than Waine perhaps may be interpreting, Ahnika murmurs a “Thank you,” as he sets her down on her own two feet. She looks down at her booted feet, testing the weight applied to the slightly twisted ankle, while Waine and Max exchange comments and looks that literally and figuratively go over her head. With only a hint of a limp as Max escorts her protectively toward his office, Ahni’s voice may be heard by other stablehands as she asks aloud, “So, when do I get my next riding lesson? Next time, I’d like to take the reins, if you please.” Any chuckles at that potential double entendre go completely missed by the redhead, it seems. This will likely not be the last time that Max will need to be her hero.

Closing Credits Theme Music: Enrique Iglesias "Hero"

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