Hide 'n Seek


Ahnika.jpg Max.jpg

Date: 7/23/10 - ICly after Max's encounter with E'ro in Honor Amongst Men?
Location: Beast Cavern
Synopsis: Against her better judgment, Ahni returns to the Beast Cavern for goat's milk for the kittens, and she finds Max there. The two dance awkwardly before things heat up and then spiral out of control, leaving one broken-hearted and the other hurting as well.
Rating: PG18/R for adult content and sexuality
Logger: Ahnika

Eastern Weyr: Beast Cavern

Sweeping upwards from the tunnel's entrance at the easternmost end, this cavern arches well over the heads of its inhabitants; both two- and four-legged. Wooden stalls and pens have been built in rows. Two rows are built into the north and south walls and two are back-to-back down the center, leaving two aisles up and down. Each animal enclosure is spacious, well-built and solid; the whole place smells of new timber and sawdust, with the subtle undertones of leather, animal and hay. The western end opens out into the feeding pens and from there into the upper bowl. The opening is large enough to allow a decent amount of sunlight to enter the cavern, but not quite big enough to allow the adult dragons inside.

How Max found his way back to the Weyr after his encounter with E'ro, is anyone's guess. But there he is, stretched out on the mattress in the far corner of his office, an arm flung over his eyes and for all intents and purposes, appearing to be asleep. Wearing just a pair of drawstring trousers, the beating he's just taken isn't easy to disguise. Bruises along one set of ribs, a welt across an upper arm, a split lip that's begun to heal along with a broken nose that's left the young beast manager's face with dark bruising, have certainly stripped away any good looks he might have had before. Fight Club anyone? At least he's managed to bathe all the blood and grime off of himself, though even a good scrubbing won't erase the faint scent of booze on the air.

And Max’s very convincing impression of Punching Bag is certainly unbeknownst to Ahni, who has delegated the responsibility of the kittens to the young drudge Davel since being made Candidate that fateful day after Max kissed her. This included Davel taking on the duties of getting the goat’s milk, but when he reported that the goat Max promised had gotten loose, and she was able to learn that it finally got found again, she felt it /her/ duty to try to fetch some of that milk that those kittens needed. And so, our little obliviously intrepid redhead makes her way up into the tunnel and emerges on the other side, starting to walk through the aisles, trying to find that elusive goat. She isn’t trying to be quiet, or sneaky, but neither is she as distracted as she was before when she came here, causing more noise than necessary. A small satchel is thrown over her shoulder as she moves, looking around for the goat.

Having not been asleep, the sounds of someone moving about in the beast caverns, is given due notice. The beast manager lets it go, sure that the young night hand he'd recently hired will deal with whomever it is. After a few minutes have gone by and it starts to become evident that the young Syron may well have deserted his post again, Max's voice sounds out in gruff irritation, "Syron, you lazy son of a goat, get your ass moving." At least most of the slur is gone by now.

Ahnika draws to a sudden, tense stop at Max’s voice. Well so much for hoping he’d be elsewhere, in his cups, or in … something else. But she knew this was risky, and the consummate organizer usually has contingencies in her head ahead of time. She mentally replays the defamation of character given by Randi and Max’s own mother, closes her eyes to steel herself for those eyes of his, that face of his (as she remembered it), and that bare chest of his, and exhales a long, slow breath. “No,” Ahnika’s voice responds almost sing-songy, an attempt to hide any nervousness, “Afraid you’re wrong there. Neither am I Syron nor a lazy son of a goat. Sorry to disappoint. I promise I won’t be long, though.” She continues along the aisle between stables, poking her head in those that are not obviously already occupied with runners, to try and see where the goat is kept, approaching Max’s stable/office at the end.

The unexpected voice that greets his words has Max's arm falling away from his face, dark eyes turning toward the door that stands ajar, a frown starting to form between his brows. Great, just what he needed right now. Physical reminder of the bastard he was, according to both dam and weyrwoman. Pushing himself up from the mattress into a sitting position, hands move toward the clean shirt he'd taken out but not as yet bothered to put on. Words limited and voice thick with a conscience at war, "Goat's tied up next door." The one where the kittens had been. Passing a weary hand over his broken face, a deep sigh spills out as his attention tracks the sound of Ahnika's unseen footfalls. Giving quietly, "Shout if you need a hand." Not having moved much further than to have that shirt clutched in the one hand and arms dangling over bent knees. "Ahni" the beast manager starts and then stops thinking better of it.

“Thank you,” comes Ahnika’s immediate reply and she makes a slightly faster pace to get to that extremely memorable stall. She is about to push the stall door opened, one hand resting on the rough-hewn wood there, when he begins with her name, her familiar name, and she loathes the way the sound of it in his voice makes her heart skip a beat. She waits to see if there is more, and as nothing seems to be forthcoming, she lowers her hand, and leans forward to rest her forehead on the stall door instead. After a sigh during which she gave herself a severe internal talking to, she slips to the entrance of the stall next door, that would be the one Max’s voice is coming from, and with obvious hesitation she looks in. The half-lidded glows in the stall seems to cast dramatic shadows therein, making the marring of Max’s face look even worse than it already is, which is pretty bad in its own right. Whatever she was about to say, if anything at all, is immediately barreled over by a gasp (sans shriek, fortunately), and it is covered by one hand. Then, just as quickly, the hand is lowered as alarm and genuine concern sets in and the would-be-headwoman shifts gears into problem solving mode, rushing over to him where he sits, “Oh, Max!” She gushes with frank worry as she nearly slides into him, now kneeling, and reaches tentatively toward his face with one hand to better examine the injuries while the other reaches to try to and grab his hat for better lighting. “What happened?!”

For all that he's experienced far more in life than she probably has, the truth of the fact is, that there is but a scant few turns between the young beast manager and the newly knotted candidate. As much as the young redhead is giving herself an internal talking to, so would he be doing the same as he stays hidden away in the relative safety of his office. And then she's appearing in his doorway and Max is being forced to confront her. Where most might have turned their heads away from such a reaction, he doesn't, merely fixing Ahnika with a grim faced stare from across the stall, hoping what he currently looks like will send her away again. The only sign of discomfort coming in the tight curl of fingers around the shirt clutched listlessly in one hand. Throat shifting up and down as he swallows slowly, dark eyes lift to meet that worry and concern coming off of the girl when she suddenly arrives and drops to her knees in front of him. The initial reaction is to jerk his face away from her touch, (unsurprising, considering.) wariness warring with a seemingly out of character need to be taken care of as silence spreads out. Finally dark humour sets in "Fell off Starlight," the big black stallion he's known to ride. Which might not explain the faint smell of alcohol that hovers about him, or the stain of bruising across his ribs, but there you have it.

As he jerks his face away, Ahnika pulls that hand back, her lips pursing. She seems irritated if her expression is any indication, but if it is at his words, his flinching, or something (someone) else entirely, she apparently chooses not to explain. Instead, she mutters bitterly, “Oh good grief,” and turns her attention to his bedroom-stall/office, as if looking for first aid supplies or something that would work as a substitute, “I swear, sometimes I wonder how men ever get on without a woman to look after them.” Though if that is a commentary on Max falling off a horse, or if she drew her own conclusions otherwise, she doesn’t say. “You need something warm and soft on that face of yours,” she says, trying to recall what she could of her failed attempt at pre-apprenticeship Healing. She sighs a bit, returning her attention back to him, her worried gaze of grey surveying him a little more and longer, perhaps looking for more injuries and finding the other bruising on his torso. She purses her lips again, her gaze flying up to his face, seeking to meet his own eyes. And then she is looking away again, just as hurriedly, and awkwardly trying to get back to her feet, “I don’t suppose you’ve already been to the Infirmary?” there is an impatient edge to her timbre.

Brief apology flickers in and out of his eyes but not giving voice to it. Instead Max simply sits there, arms dangled over bent knees, dark eyes fixed to Ahnika's mouth, studiously avoiding her eyes as she speaks. "On my desk," he finally conjures with a movement of head in the direction of where a simple first aid kit has obviously been rifled through; its contents left sprawled across the wood surface from when he'd tried to doctor himself. Words of his needing a woman to take care of him, draws a short bark of laughter that carries a bitter edge to it. Jarring in the quiet of the stall. The beast manger, meets that look from the redhead fleetingly and then drops his attention down to the shirt in his hands, thumb brushing over a button. To her query on having seen the healers, his mouth twists to one side in a faint grimace, "Saw them a few days back." Now that the candidate has moved away, eyes lift and track her movements, "You shouldn't be here," he states quietly.

As most of these injuries are a few days old, he is well past the stage of needing a warm compress, but Ahnika is, point of fact, a failed wannabe Healer. So, she follows his gesture to the first aid kit on the desk, and looks through the supplies in a much more systematic and orderly fashion than the rifling he’d done earlier. She flinches a little at his sudden bark of laughter, not expecting it, perhaps. And then her shoulders relax, “A few days back?” she echoes, “Well, good then,” the worried frown in her voice fading more, and her sifting through the kit slows. Her back remains to him, though, and she looks at him over her shoulder as he says the last, “Well, obviously that’s working out just swimmingly for the both of us,” she says, unusually sarcastic. “I’ve been distracted to the point of being manhandled and you … “ she gestures, “ … well, just … have you seen yourself lately?” She shakes her head a little and turns back to the kit, then adds in a less harsher tone, “What did the Healers say?”

Max isn't about to point out that he hadn't been at the infirmary for himself, or that all injury he'd sported then, had been a cut lip and bruised jaw. Dark eyes glitter with threat when Ahnika speaks of having been manhandled and he starts to get to his feet, wincing a little at complaint from his ribs. Closing the distance quicker than one might expect him to be able to; he appears at her back just after she turns back to the first aid kit. Growling out low, "Who?" Comments of what he might look like set aside in favour of a rough snort, "Said I'd live." Lying easily. Intent focus set on the back of her head as he waits reply, fingers of a hand already sporting bruised knuckles, curling into a fist.

“You need more numbweed,” Ahnika mumbles, completing her examination of the kit’s contents, the fine hairs on the back of her neck rise a little with his close proximity, sensing and hearing him behind her more than feeling or seeing. She takes up the cleanest looking cloths among the materials and turns her head, swallowing at his closeness, and not daring to look up into that face of his. She focuses on the hollow of his throat instead, her eyes looking nearly closed with that lowered gaze, “And hot water,” the last said at a whisper. “You must shoe your runners. Where is your smithy hearth in this place?” And evidently, she has no intention of answering his question.

More numbweed. The beast manager doesn't dispute that, simply stating distractedly as she turns toward him, "Can't reach the ones on my back," for why he needs her help to begin with. Max pays what the redhead says about needing hot water bare attention, giving her a short spoken, "Out back, near the tunnel entrance." With no answer forthcoming on who it was that had manhandled her, and those grey eyes lowered so that he can't read them, the clenched hand at his side relaxes and moves to tip two fingers under Ahnika's chin and try lifting her chin to meet his gaze. "Who?" asked again, this time with quiet intensity strung into the word.

For a moment, Ahnika looks absolutely horrified, her eyes widening and her gaze darting to his shoulder, as if trying to see over it at his back, and saying in an equally startled voice, “Your back?!” She turns a little more in what space she has, now facing him and her bum brushing up against his desk, her arms lifting to reach for his shoulder, meaning to try and turn him to get a good look. But his second answer has her turning her head toward the door to the stall entrance, in the direction he indicated. So when he lifts her chin to bring her gaze back up to his and asks the question she so unsuccessfully evaded before, she jerks her chin away, heat filling her cheeks, and she moves to try and slip past him, not wanting to be sandwiched between him and the desk. “Please don’t,” she murmurs. Don’t what? Touch her? Pretend to care about her? Want to defend her? She leaves this unclarified.

Well not exactly his back, but the parts of his side that disappear around under his arm and thus difficult to reach without being some kind of contortion artist. Far too many words for Max to try and string together right now however. At Ahnika's touch to his shoulder the muscle under her fingers does a strange leap and twitch, something flaring in his eyes, before he's obediently lifting his arm above his head and twisting to one side. "Just can't seem to reach it." He states needlessly before turning back again. The manner in which she then jerks away from his touch, draws a frown from the beast manager, his hand falling away from her instantly. He should probably step back and give her some room. Hell, give himself some room for that matter. Instead he simply stands there staring down at her helplessly. "Ahni" that same stop and start from earlier, except this time, there's dark troubled eyes roaming about her face, "talk to me. Tell me what I've done wrong." Genuine concern threading into his lowheld voice.

With him not stepping back and giving her space meaning that in order to squeeze past Ahnika will have to brush against him, the redhead hesitates a little, her attention drifting from his twisting frame so she can see the injured area better to his face as he speaks to her with that note of genuine concern in his tone. But it is mere hesitation, and she looks away again, brushing against him as she tries to squeeze herself free and away, trying to find her breath in the process. Why is it that he seems to take her breath away so easily? She worries her lower lip a little, then answers in a voice raw with uncertainty, “Tell me what the truth is. Is it true? Is it true what they said about you?” The latter question coming with a glance back for him once more. They? Ah yes, that would be both Randi /and/ his mother.

And why is it that he even cares what she thinks of him? Because for some reason she stirs within him the need to try and be a better man. "Ahnika," eyes closing and then opening again in a gesture quick enough to hopefully have been mistaken for a blink at the contact made when she brushes against him. Too late his arm reaches out to try and stop her from moving away and falls away uselessly to rest instead on a hip, the other brushing through his hair in frustrated gesture. Staring down at the cluttered desk top for a moment, Max slowly turns his head to meet both question and gaze, jaw tightening against the self loathing that darkens his eyes for the truth, "Yes." No need to even ask who They might be. Nodding slowly at some or other internal decision made, he steps back away from the desk, further away from the redhead, "I'm no good, Ahni. Whatever they said, it's true." For the barest heartbeat in time his soul bares in an expression of the demons that haunt and then he's turning away and heading back to his mattress, unable to bear those grey eyes upon him any longer.

With a little more breathing room between them, Ahnika watches him carefully, not for fear of him doing anything to hurt her, but to try and assess and gauge him by his words and every nuance of his body language. For lack of anything better to do with her hands, she fidgets with the cloth in them, her grey eyes closing a long moment and then reopening to find him moving back to his mattress. She frowns, looking down at the ground a moment, and then at the cloth in her hands. She doesn’t respond to him and his answer. After a lengthy silence, she lets the satchel sink to the ground at her feet quietly, and then walks calmly from the stall, in search of some warm water near the hearth. It could very well look like she is abandoning him now, but save for the satchel on the ground. When she returns, eventually, the cloth in her hands is wet and wisps of steam drift up from it. She is silent in her approach of him again, safe for the sound of her boots on the ground, and she kneels down beside him on his mattress, and offering in a murmur, “Press this where you are sore, where you can, and where you can’t, I will. I won’t go until I know you have been tended to.” There is a sadness in her gaze, which she keeps averted from his, and then she swallows, “I don’t rightly know why you want to beat yourself up so much,” whether she refers to his physical injuries or his intangible injuries to his own ego, “but I know that … whenever you’re hurting, all you need to do is call, and I’ll tend to it as best I can.” Then she shifts a little where she is kneeling and adds, “When you’re all right again, you should go and make things right with Weyrwoman Randi,” said with a slight shake in her voice, unable to hide the pain of giving him up, “So that you can be happy with her again. And Max … “ she says, this time looking into his face, “real men don’t treat people like … well, like side dishes.”

Relief at not having to face any more questions or that solemn graze of eyes any longer, is what greets Ahnika's departure and finds Max leaning his head back against the stall siding, eyes closed and a deep breath exhaling. A jerk of head forward again, when the redhead appears, bowl of steaming water in hand has the beast manager's mouth twisting around a discomforted line. For all that he knows she's trying to help, he makes no move to do as bidden, choosing instead to stay where he is, an unreadable expression set in place while she talks. A short frown followed by a quick shake of head on the subject of the goldrider, "There ain't nothing between us." Initially all he'll make comment over before lapsing once again into brooding silence. With his head having gone back against the wooden panelling once again, the beast manager turns it to put a long look onto the young woman kneeling at his side, "What do you want from me, Ahni? I've told you I'm no good. As have I am quite sure, both my mother and Randi. Why do you keep coming back?"

When Ahnika finds what she believes is an uncooperative patient, there is a small sigh before she wrings out the cloth and moves to try and apply it first to his bruised ribs, and if allowed, will hold it there with her hands, fingers flexing a little, perhaps not as gently as a fully trained Healer might. She hears him out in silence, her gaze for his bruises and scrapes and not his face. Her hands and fingers still as he explains there is nothing between him and Randi, which is a bit perplexing, especially after her visit with Indira. In her mind, she hears the echo of her own words to his mother, of wanting him to like her the way she likes him, but that wouldn’t answer what he’s really looking for and she knows it. In truth, she’s not really sure herself, except perhaps that she senses in him a need for something and she yearns to be needed. She lets out a long exhale, and says, “I wasn’t going to.” A little bit of the hurt from being thrown out the other night re-emerging with the memory, “The kittens needed milk.” She then looks up from his injuries on his torso, seeking his face and adding with a small shrug, and a smirk that seems just shy of genuine humor, “Now that I’m here, it seems as though I may be of some … little use to you.” Then she nods, dropping her gaze once more, “It’s good to be useful for … something.” Anything. Besides, when his face doesn’t look like someone smooshed it in a waffle iron, he’s pretty easy on the eyes.

There comes no objection to Ahnika taking matters into her own hands, just a low hiss as fingers press against bruised flesh, sitting silent under her ministrations and gaze. Still not quite getting that he'd made her to feel like he was throwing her aside, Max frowns a little, "Why not? Said you were welcome to come back any time you wanted." Never mind that that's contrary to what he'd just said earlier about her doing the exact opposite. Seeing that humour appear, the beast manager can't help but meet it with a short lopsided one of his own. With his voice dropping down low the next words are gruffly spoken as he leans forward toward the young redhead, a hand seeking out the back of her head to draw her mouth closer to his, "You're more than just of use to me, Ahni." And dang it, as if the man hasn't yet had the lesson literally beaten into him, he's going to have a good go at kissing the girl yet again. This time with a touch more heat behind it than the last.

Ahnika’s frown matches Max’s, both from his sudden hiss and from his first statement. Her grey eyes dart from her hands holding the hot, wet cloth to his flesh and then to his face, and then back to his torso once more. “You did no such thing,” the girl says, somewhat petulant but also somewhat uncertain, like she is doubting her memory of the events now, especially as he says his last, and she tries to counter somewhat bitterly with, “In fact, you couldn’t get me out of here fast enou—“ and that is all she manages as his hand grasps the back of her head and she is drawn down to his lips. Her eyes close and her fingers instinctively tighten a little with the wet cloth, and then they relax and slide up toward his shoulders to better brace herself against him. There is a little startled hesitation in the teen whose virtue is still very much evidently intact, but the hesitation is fleeting compared to their first kiss. Something inside her gives way and soon she is responding to his kiss with similar heat, though also awkward and somewhat clumsy with inexperience. That does not, however, prevent the throaty whimper of pleasure that comes from the girl, one laced with desire and need. She grows more breathless with each passing second of their embrace. This could potentially be some serious trouble here for them both.

Anything Max might have had to say in reply to her, evaporates in light of the young redhead's response to his advances. Her touch of hands to his shoulders draws a low sound from the man, who taking that to be sign of encouragement shifts position to wrap an arm around her waist to draw her in closer against him. Any discomfort from the recent beating taken, washed away by the taste and feel of her. That awkwardness and whimper coming from Ahnika simply serving to drive his hunger ever higher, his own breathing drawing ragged and uneven. Serious trouble indeed, as his mouth breaks contact with hers and starts laying down a trail of kisses from chin to throat.

Following Max’s lead, Ahnika doesn’t seem to resist him pulling her more down to rest against him, shifting her legs in the process from the kneeling position she had taken beside him to straddle his hips. It is perhaps fortuitous for them both that she is not wearing her skirt, but is instead in her breeches, not that that seems likely to stall them for very long as fast as things are moving now. In the process of her shifting, the bowl of hot water on the floor next to the mattress gets kicked over, but Ahnika seems not to notice. Her chest heaves fast and shallow, made audible when he breaks the kiss with her lips and begins to trail those kisses down her chin and throat. She tilts her head back, arching her throat to better expose her flesh to his lips’ desires. Another whimper catches in her throat, edged with the mild timidity and anxiety of cresting new horizons of such passionate proportions. Everything in her very physical being responds to him and wants this, and it shows … everywhere, but the inexperienced girl is also scared. Just plain scared of it all. Things are moving too fast for her to absorb it all. Her heart races. Her fingers dig into his shoulders and try to press him back and down, not to hurt, but more to pin him down some, or get his attention, or perhaps even to help shake herself out of this spell he’s so easily cast on her. “Max,” her whisper is pained, “Max … Max … “ and she opens her eyes, shaking her head, “Y-you-you’re in … no condition,” coming out in an excruciating stammer, “And I need … to get back to … weyrling barracks … before I’m missed … Please … Max … oh Max … “ she tries to breathe, finding it hard to do so.

With her straddling his hips in the way she does, it's probably painfully obvious just the effect she's having on him, a low groan of pleasure spilling from those lips at her throat. However, Max appears to come to his senses at about the same time Ahnika does. The light trail of kisses stopping right where fabric hides further skin and he leans his forehead against the base of her throat, shoulders moving in rhythm with the heavy rise and fall of his chest as he struggles to regain control. Slowly that head lifts and dark eyes burning with his need for her , seek hers out as agreement comes in a voice thick with desire, "I won't be the one to take your chance of standing away from you." Touching on the very real possibility of what such a coming together could ultimately result in. Of course, there are other ways to soothe high frustrations, but would that really be fair to either one of them? A corner of a smile edges out on the undamaged side of his mouth as a finger lifts to trace a soft touch down the candidate's cheek, "You're beautiful, baby. Don't ever forget that. And, you're welcome here any time." Whether or not he'd said it before, it gets said now. No kicking to curbs this time round.

Just about the time her protests seem to stop and Ahnika is about to lose her mind, throw caution to the wind, and let him have his way with her, he seems to meet her half-way, agreeing to the stay of execution for her virtue. At least for now. Her hands slide down from his shoulders to rest lightly on his chest, fingers spread out, and flexing now and again, as if some part of her is intrigued at this intimacy and wanting to memorize it tactilely as well as visually. She seems utterly awed by him, bruises and swelling and all, staring down at him in the dim glowlight, and working to try and control her breathing back to normal as he and his lips retreat honorably and he makes his stand on higher, noble ground—at least in her mind. She smiles a sad, soft smile, nodding once, “I know,” very sure she seems to be now, when a moment ago she was fixing to panic, “You’re mother … she told me.” And with that, Ahni lifts one hand toward his face, meaning to trail her fingertips against it in a reassuring manner, but she stops just short of making contact, not wanting to hurt him, and instead moves to sift her fingers through the hair on the side of his head above his ear. She blushes and the smile blossoms into a blissful expression of her heart’s satisfaction of his own touch of her face and appraisal. What girl, or woman for that matter, doesn’t like hearing she’s beautiful? Especially from the man she is desperately falling hard for. His last statement earns an arching of her brows and she stills without actually tensing, “Do you mean that? Any time?”

Max keeps very still under those explorative hands of hers on his chest until he can't stand it a moment longer and growls out softly, "Keep that up and we'll be right back to square one, baby." Nerves strung out to their last chord as they are. Shadows darken his eyes briefly at mention of his mother and her failed candidacy, "And she never lets me forget it either." A deep breath and then he's exhaling through a rueful smile for the way in which she seems so scared of hurting him further. Turning his head, lips find the palm of the hand that brushes at the side of his head. Shifting under her, the beast manager frowns a little for the question posed to him, "Ahni, I didn't send you away to hurt you the last time. I only did so to try and keep you from getting hurt. A girl's first kiss should be something special, not something surrounded by anger and accusations." And just to prove it he'll tip his head up to lay claim to gentle press of lips before clasping her about her waist to move the girl to the side of him, "Stay there any longer and I won't care about dragons, jaw pounding werywomen or the wrath of the woman that is, Indira." Grinning crookedly at Ahnika.

“Oh,” Ahni says, blinking, then smiling ruefully and filing the gentle protest away as indication that is was really a good thing, something he liked. Her hands on his chest: check. Mental note to remember to do that again. She sighs a little and the smile fades as he talks about his mother not letting him forget it. What a buzzkill. She mentally kicks herself for even mentioning it, but she won’t let him talk about his mother like that and get away with it. “You know, she’s hurting, too,” which Ahnika really doesn’t know for sure, but she can just imagine how terrible it must have been. “Don’t be so hard on her,” the redhead adds more gently, and then remembers the conversation she had in the headwoman’s office and adds, “I think she’s afraid she failed you somehow.” Anything else she was about to say is stalled on her lips as he kisses her palm and her heart flutters again, then again as he leans up to kiss her before shoving her off him. She tries not to protest the ‘first kiss’ piece and just swallows her pride there. It was true after all, though in her teenager’s mind she is loathe to think about how he might have been able to tell. “Sorry,” She murmurs and actually pouts a little at being moved off him, but it fades as he doesn’t seem inclined to kick her out entirely for the moment. She curls up against him on the mattress instead, if possible, leaning her head against his chest and just loving the feeling of him there next to her. There is another crack in the fortress surrounding her heart as her crush on him strengthens. After she settles, she says, “Don’t do it again … “ her voice is small, a whisper, and unable to hide the ache in the words. “If you … if you have a care for me at all … don’t ever toss me away again,” she says, a little more strength and threat behind those words now. Clingy much? Oh boy.

Quiet through all that Ahnika says, Max lifts his arm as she curls up against him and wraps it about her shoulders in comfortable pose. The silence stretches out until finally, his voice comes low, entreating her to try and understand what he needs to say to her as his hand moves a slow caress up and down her arm. "Ahni, there's a lot you don't know about me. Things I've done. Things I still need to do," the frown he wears, easy to hear in his voice, "Things -you- still need to do. But I'll never throw you away, baby. And I'll always be here for you. More'n that, I can't promise." At least he's attempting to be truthful with that. If she's observant, she might notice the tension in his body as he awaits her reply to having understood or not. Any talk of his relationship with his mother, conveniently set aside.

The silence that stretches has its own effect on Ahnika as she remains curled against him, tensing herself in the quiet of the stable for fear she went too far with something she said, whether it is about his mother or about what she naively perceives as the beginning of their relationship (poor Max), it’s not until he starts to stroke her arm that she begins to relax against him again, and even closes her eyes. She delivers a light kiss to his chest where her head already rests, and then resumes lounging as she listens to him in the near dark. She opens her eyes again after he’s said his peace, conflict warring in her unseen expression. The distance from her head to her heart seems to be leagues, however. Before speaking, she shifts again, this time to curl up into a near sitting position to lean on her elbow beside him and she turns her face toward his, studying him a moment before stretching and leaning forward. It is her turn to initiate the kiss this time, and she moves in very gently – despite the heat in his earlier kiss suggesting he could withstand the pain – to brush her lips against his, closing her eyes as she does, and then pulling away merely a few inches to whisper, “Don’t you see? It doesn’t matter.” So sayeth the idealist teenager, “None of it matters. Not as long as we respect each other. Not as long as we do this together. Not as long as … no one gets … left behind. For good.” And then she pulls back even further, the warmth and softness of her presence leaving as she retreats, moving to a full sitting-up position, saying, “But for now, I need to be getting back, and Davel needs that milk for the kittens.”

Given that Max's knowledge of women have been those either older than him, or just as experienced, he has no idea of the type of paths the mind and heart of a young girl such as Ahnika, is likely to travel down. With the heat of earlier urgings having all but passed now, he's able to drop a companionable kiss down onto the young girl's head in return for the one laid to his chest. Surprise reflects in his eyes when it's her that makes the move this time, his mouth to be felt grinning against hers for the boldness she displays and then sinking in to enjoy it. He seems loathe to give up her lips, his mouth chasing after hers and then halting for the whispered words that come, a frown crinkling his brow together as the light slowly starts to go on in his head. As she pulls back, he tries to make a reach for her hand, her arm, anything to grab onto to make her look at him, make her understand, "Ahni, I'll always respect you. But" how does one actually say what he needs to without crushing another in the process, "I'm not one to be exclusive. Do you understand what I'm saying?" Dark eyes now filling with wariness for the look of hurt he's sure is to come.

His grasp on her arm does yield his desired results as she was just about to rise to her feet. Ahnika twists in her seated position instead, one hand set on the mattress beside him, elbow of that arm locked, and propping her up as she looks at him, quietly listening to his words. While Ahnika has some abandonment issues to deal with, she has at least had the kind quality upbringing to safeguard against the usual insecurities that other teens her age would naturally be dealing with. As such, her reaction to him isn’t one of simple acquiescence to His Way as some other girl with less self-confidence might yield. She’s smitten, but smitten with some backbone left in her. It does take a long moment before what he’s really saying seeps in, during which time her brow furrows as she is mentally working out all the threads of that particular tapestry’s tale. “But … I thought … I mean … you . . and I . . I thought we … ” she purses her lips together, struggling for words and understanding, and feeling something tighten in her chest. She swallows, pinning him with her grey eyes that are beginning to glisten in the dim glowlight. “You need me.” She takes a breath, “I need you. It’s simple. Why are you making it difficult? Is it because I won’t give myself to you?” She blinks back more tears and manages to choke out, “You won’t wait … for me?” Then she shakes her head, not waiting on his answer, “You don’t mean this, Max. You don’t want to do this.” Spoken with all the authority of a hurt teenager simply not wanting, not /willing/, to believe he wants it this way, “You don’t. Stop it. You don—“ Her voice cracks on an actual sob then, but she clamps her mouth shut with her hand and tries to hold back the tide of anything else. Oh what a dual meaning the label “Crush” can be for a lovesick teenager. She tries to shrug free of his grasp and struggles to get to her feet, her hands wiping at her eyes quickly, “You’re just confused right now. The injuries,” she tries to reason through the pain clutching her heart, “You’ll get some sense when you’re feeling better.” She swallows, “You’ll see.”

He'd expected the hurt, perhaps even braced for it, but the denial was somehow far worse. Adding insult to injury was the truth in Ahnika's words of his needing her, which resonated deep within the man. And yet. And yet he couldn't bring himself to acknowledge as much, too tightly wrapped in his own insecurities and guilt. Nothing said during the entire time she speaks, with Max just sitting there, dark eyes shadowed and expression closed away behind walls of safety. Finding his hand empty, the contact broken, there is little he can say at this stage other than to push awkwardly to his feet as she stands and move over toward her, "I meant what I said, Ahni." That … he'd always be there for her? That she was beautiful? That he couldn't give her what she was wanting right now? All of the above and that not yet given voice.

Ahnika says nothing at first, unable to keep the tears at bay, and trying to busy herself with collecting her satchel from the ground where she had dropped it earlier, so that she can find some solace in activity and so that he might not see her tears, which is really pretty stupid by this point, but the teen tries to make them as invisible as possible just the same. As he moves over toward her, “Don’t,” she croaks, and twists away from him, not wanting him to see her face or touch her, and the heel of her boot connects with the turned over bowl from earlier and she loses her balance, starting to fall backward. Her hands flail out to try and brace for the landing.

Tears will put any man off balance and Ahnika's have Max swallowing a rather healthy portion of guilt. Stricken could best describe the expression on the broken up face as he tries to stop her from turning away from him, "Ahni…baby…please…" he starts and stops, helpless to know how to fix the situation he'd created. The hand he'd reached out toward her initially finds nothing but air as she trips and starts to go over backward. Roughed up as he is, the beast manager is still able to move pretty quickly. Without thinking, he jumps forward, both arms reaching for her to wrap strong arms about the girl and pull her toward him into what ends up to be a very close embrace. And there he'll stand with her legitimately captured, staring down at her a moment or two before saying quietly, "I told you I was no good," re-iterating an earlier statement, "I'll only hurt you." Gently he'll release her, step back and return to his mattress in the darkened corner of the room. Shadow to shadows.

Unfortunately for Max, Ahnika doesn’t have a voice to put to any gratitude for him saving her from the little tumble backwards as he grabs her and holds her a moment. Neither does she resist his grasp or try to pull away, though. Yet, while he looks down at her and speaks, she doesn’t meet that gaze, keeping her eyes averted off to the side and the ground. Her body is tense, even after he releases her. She is slow to let her arms fall to her sides, realizing just how his words assassinating his own character are an echo of his mother’s. She lifts a hand to scrub at her tearful eyes again, not looking in the direction of his retreat to his mattress. “Only if that’s what you choose to do, Max,” she says, her voice raw with emotion. “You’ve been told you’re a sorry sod for so long by everyone else, you’re takin’ to lookin’ the part. One day, you’re gonna stop beating yourself up, and you’ll see yourself for what you are and what you can be, what you want to be, rather than just what everyone else expects you to be. I just hope I’m still around to see it,” she says, choking on tears anew, “when that day comes.” The last is said in a rush as the redhead whirls on her heels and bolts for the door, not stopping as she makes a run for the tunnel and her escape. She leaves her satchel behind, and more’s the pity, any sustenance for those kittens as well.

It's strange how the wounds of a body will heal, while those of the soul will linger. The accuracy of Ahnika's words catching Max in the very gut of his, the tightening of jaw and tensing of frame in response going unseen in the darkened corner he's slunk back to. No comment falls from his lips, just dark eyes boring into the young redhead as she turns and flees. Later, much later once he's sure there's little chance of running into anyone, he'll see to it that the goat milk is delivered for the kittens. As to the satchel? That got taken up and carefully stowed at the foot of his mattress, in the vain hope that despite all that had just transpired, she might return for it.

Closing Credit Theme Music: Adam Lambert "Whataya Want From Me?"

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