Title: Secrets
Time Period: April 15, 135 A.E.
Characters Appearing:

Summary: Sometimes they spill out.

Afternoon's a good time. After Cas is done with his work around the stables and before Mariah has to get back to the Dovetail for her own duties. And while the stablehand has his obligations, it's just lucky that horse training is something Mariah can sit by and watch. It's something of a treat, even.

She's brought something along this time, in the form of a familiar picnic basket, but this time, along with food for the pair of them, there's a small bag of apples for the horses as well. Or at least this horse. She sets the basket down outside the fence as she herself hops up onto it to sit. It's a little warmer today, at least for the moment, and she's in a light, breezy dress that dips off her shoulders. It doesn't even seem to have much in the way of underskirts like her usual outfits, but there is a coat draped over the basket. Just in case.

The training today has some differences, but nothing that Cas hadn't told her about— A lead rope has been attached to the halter around the horse's head, ears twitching a little as he trots in circles around the young man. As he spots Mariah, he shortens the rope to indicate a slower pace, until the horse comes to a stop next to him. It takes some time, giving her plenty of time to get set up.

Once she's done, Cas scratches the horse's neck with his fingers and begins to lead the way over to the fence. "He likes being touched, which is good for me," he says with a grin, rubbing the horse's neck as he steps closer, but also trying to keep the horse from getting to that basket. Even if it's protected.

"I brought some things today, too," he nods toward the fence. "I was planning to try and brush his mane and tail out today, If it's too tangled we may have to cut it off and let it grow back naturally— but I'm hoping it won't come to that," he adds, turning back to the horse and rubbing his neck. "Do you mind if he joins us for lunch? I'll tie him to the fence— he needs to get used to getting tied off, too."

"Well, who wouldn't," Mariah says, apparently attributing the desire for touch to the company, rather than the horse's taste. Her lips spread into a smile as they make their way over, and she reaches out to rub the horse's muzzle in warm greeting before she leans over to press a kiss to Cas' lips. His greeting is a bit warmer.

"I don't mind at all. I brought something for him, too, if it's alright." She doesn't have the apples out where they can be seen, just in case, but there's a nod toward the basket for Cas' benefit. "Seems like he's doing good so far, yeah?"

"You're going to spoil him," Cas says with a grin, despite feeling a little spoiled himself with all the kisses he's getting. In fact, he lingers there for a time, kissing gently before he has to pull back.

"He's doing okay. I think he'll be ready for the bridle in a day or two. Then the saddle blanket— then the saddle. I was able to check his hooves today, too. I'm not an actual farrier or anything, but I my family didn't hire one anyway, so we all had to learn the basics. If a mule had a bad hoof we didn't sell it."

From the look in his eyes, he doesn't want to think about what they did with that mule too much.

"His hooves look good, though," he adds with a smile, as he steps over to the fence to tie the end of the rope he'd looped up. The amount of length he leaves the horse gives him plenty of room to wander for now, and as Cas moves back to the blankets, the piebald follows.

Mariah doesn't seem to mind spoiling either of them, as she drapes an arm over Cas' shoulder and leans deeper into all that kissing. When he leans back, she tips forward for a moment, but straightens with a sigh and a gentle smile. "Maybe I just want him to like me the best," she says with a crooked smile. Teasing.

She nods as he explains the next steps, her head tilting in gentle curiosity, "A little at a time. I see." Her attention turns to the horse and she rubs his nose a little more, "You'll be ready to ride in no time, 'ey?" But as Cas moves back to the blankets, so does Mariah. And it seems she brought sandwiches this time, along with the apples. "I thought you might not have stopped for lunch," she explains, as his is pretty sizable. Hers is a bit more manageable, though. She'd much rather focus on this than lingering on the idea of what you do with a mule you can't sell. She was in a merchant family, she's got the picture.

"It's a slower method of breaking than some people like to use, but… I don't like forcing them into the saddle immediately. I take it slow cause it's less likely to hurt them— or me, really. He weights like… five of me…" Cas looks over at the stallion, not as big as some horses, but still built. "Should be ready to be ridden at least before the end of Spring. But not earlier than that," as he settles down onto the ground for the sandwiches and apples, the piebald following behind him.

Right up until he gets to the end of his lead and has to stop. There's a sound from the horse, disappointment, and he tugs against it once.

"It's okay, mate— you'll get something to snack on, soon." It would seem Cas planned the length just enough to keep him from reaching his spoiling snacks. Or them.

Unless the lady hands them over.

"I don't mind you feeding him. But I figured we didn't want him sitting on us," he says, glancing back. The piebald has given up straining the lead, at least, but he's watching them.

"Well, no reason to rush it. I'm sure it'll help you two get along better, too, if you ease him into it." Mariah looks over to watch as the horse stops, and there's a chuckle at the tugs, but it's more indulgent than mocking.

She scoots over to settle next to Cas, just a bit more interested in him than the horse. "Not sitting on us is probably best," she says with a light laugh, "Not that he isn't wonderful company. But you're sure about me feeding him?" She does glance to the apples, but she ends up reaching for her sandwich first. Might be that she's hasn't had a proper lunch yet, either.

"He could use a little extra fat. He probably lost most of it over the winter," Cas says, looking back over at the piebald with a smile, one that seems rather fond. Often he looks at horses as if they're great and lovely, but this one… might be his. "But just one at a time," he says with a finger held up, and a chuckling shift in the way he sits.

"So how's everything this week with you?" he asks, tilting his head to the side as he looks at her, before reaching to get his sandwich. Only after she's got her own, though. "I imagine you're still… uh… busy. Most nights."

"Once at a time, got it," Mariah says, her own fond smile directed his way instead of at the horse. The question gets a lift of her eyebrows for a moment, and she opts to take a bite before she actually answers. At first, it's a simple see-saw of her hand, at least until she's finished that bite.

"I'm less busy. Than usual." She doesn't explain why, but she doesn't exactly look disappointed about her lessening business, either. Rumors around the Dovetail vary in their explanations as to why she's getting less business lately, but if it's left her struggling, she's good at hiding it. "As for my week," she says, a smile coming to her face as she leans over to nuzzle his cheek, "it's better right now than it has been." She punctuates the comment with a kiss before she exchanges her sandwich for an apple and gets up to close the distance between her and the horse.

It's at the sight of the gesture that his eyes drop. Toward his sandwich, though her tries to hide whatever expression crosses his face by eating. Eating would be a good mask— if he didn't radiate worry so easily. And he doesn't even get a bite in before he gets distracted by her from it.

It isn't until she goes to feed the horse that he finally takes a bite, and watches to see how the piebald responds to a hand not his.

The apple makes the transition easier. The smell of her is immediately associated with the sweet snack, and he steps forward, mane hanging in black in front of his eyes, white nose sticking out. "Be careful— he's not used to getting fed by hand yet," he says anxiously.

If she wanted to keep him from asking too much more about her work, she picked a good distraction.

Mariah nods to the warning, glancing back to give him a reassuring smile before she turns her attention back to the horse. Her free hand moves to the horse's neck, fingers gently brushing his mane while her other hand offers the apple out toward him. She's slow about it, but just enough to not startle the horse, rather than because she's afraid.

And it looks like she's talking to him, too, but her voice is low enough not to carry very far. But the horse is calm about taking that apple from her, however excited he might be for the snack. And it gets a smile out of Mariah, that it all goes smoothly, a gentle, but genuinely happy expression. Even when the horse has the apple, she lingers to rub his neck and generally spoil him with attention, too, but her gaze moves from the horse to where Cas sits, her smile softening a bit.

After she turns away and stops, she misses out on the squirming mess that is Cas. But when she looks back at him he hasn't eaten anymore of his sandwich, and seems to have shifted in his seat on the ground. Knees in a different position, as if he half got up, but then decided to sit back down. His smile is weaker than sometimes, nervous.

"You— uh— " he has to clear his throat so he can finish, voice strained. "You're doing good. I mean you did good, I mean…" he trails off and decides to eat on his sandwich again finally. Now that she's looking at him he needs something to hide behind again!

She turns to look at the horse, as if it might somehow be able to share in her amusement, but with a final rub to his muzzle, she leaves him behind to come back over to Cas instead. "Thank you," she says with a hint of that amusement in her half-smile, "I think he doesn't mind me too much."

When she sits down again, though, she tilts her head and rests a hand on his leg as she looks his way. "You're nervous again," she points out, smile evening out.

"I'm always nervous," Cas says with a sheepish sounding laugh as he puts down his now half eaten sandwich for a few moments. The piebald even eats the core of the apple, leaving nothing left over except some juice. His statement could be true, if she hadn't seen him not nervous plenty of times.

"I didn't think he'd mind you, I— sometimes horses like to bite hands, and he nipped at mine once when I checked his teeth and…" he trails off, looking back at his sandwich, and then shifting his eyes to the hand on his leg.

Mariah accepts the statement with an amused arch of an eyebrow, which is as close as she gets to challenging how true it might or might not be. "Well. I didn't mean to stir it up," she says, which is probably also true, even if she does think he's cute when he's nervous.

"I'll leave the teeth checking to you, then," she says, her smile widening as she glances back to the horse, "Maybe he just thought the apple would taste better than my fingers." When she looks back to him, seeing him looking down, she's pretty unapologetic about where her hand is, but when she leans in toward him again, it's just to rest her head on his shoulder. She'll get back to her lunch eventually.

There's a few moments of silence, as Cas leans his head against hers, eyes closing. Only the sound of the wind, the bugs, the nearby birds, and the horse moving around and grazing, finishing off his sweet apple snack with some old fashioned grass interupts them. At least for a few moments.

"So— uh— I saw you talking to him. Did you tell him a secret or something?" he asks with a nervous laugh as he moves his own hand around to take hers, half covered as it is by a dark glove.

The question gets a soft laugh in return, and Mariah turns her hand to lace her fingers with his. "I might have. You don't think he'll spread it around the other horses, do you? I hate to think the mares'd be gossiping about me when I come by," she says, teasing eased with a squeeze to his hand.

She lifts her head to look at him, amusement still in her features. "Don't you ever tell them your secrets?" Her eyebrows lift there, curious; there's not even a hint of a tease in the question this time, either.

"I don't have any secrets," Cas says with a smile that's just too sly and knowing to be telling the truth. The nervousness is lessened by his statement, too, or perhaps by her teasing. "But I usually tell them everything. They don't gossip— though the other stablehands do." So he might keep his secret sharing to a minimum when he's actually in the stables.

"Well, not Colm, but he wouldn't overhear me anyway— oversee me maybe, but not overhear me. You know Colm, right? He's— actually I'm going to have him help me with the training. Once I get far enough along that I'm sure he won't get hurt. Last thing I wanna do is get the boss' wife mad at me, you know?"

"Oh, come now. Everyone's got at least one secret," Mariah says, that sly smile drawing a laugh out of her. "Mm, I understand that. The girls around the Dovetail gossip like they breathe. Sort of have to take care where you whisper secrets to around there." Which might account for her secretive nature. At least to a degree.

She nods at the mention of Colm, and chuckles a little at the end, "Aye, probably best not to. I hear mothering instincts can get a little scary." She smiles over at him, though, "Does he know how, or would you be teaching him fresh?"

As for his secrets, Cas gives her a smile in return, then laughs at the talk of gossiping women at the Dovetail. "That why you snuck me around a few times?" he asks with a grin. Even if they got caught at least once. And the rest of the time… He tilts his head a bit, as if he might be about to ask something else.

But he doesn't.

"I don't think he knows how— I asked him if he ever tried to train them to see if they could understand the handsigns…" he displays a few, the ones he can remember. "He's teaching me some. I'm not very good yet," he admits. Kind of like her trying to teach him how to read, likely.

"He can ride just as well without talking to them, but certain things are easier with spoken commands. Like if you're leading a draft horse, one your not actually touching, that sort of thing. I'm not even sure how it'll work, but— if I can learn a few a horse can, right?"

"That's part of it," Mariah admits with a chuckle. "There's always speculation on which girl is favoring which… visitor," she says with a wave of her hand, "And I'm just ornery enough to try to stay out of their chatter when I can." She can't, not terribly often. Too close quarters.

"I think it'll be interesting to see how it goes. I'm sure you two can come up with a way of making it work with the handsigns," she says, her smile broadening as he shows the few he remembers. "And I'm also sure helping him teach the horses that way will help you remember them, too. They say one of the best ways to learn is to teach."

"I don't think I can teach a horse to read words, unfortunately," Cas says with a grin, looking over at the horse as if he's apologizing for practically calling him dumb. "Do it won't work for reading words— but it should work for the signs. At least for basic things."

The topic of the horse is easier. But he looks back at her for a moment.

"Someone mentioned that— the girls gossiping about that sort of thing. Though it was about me favoring you… Cause— I do. I mean, I don't… see any of the others. That isn't a problem for you— right? The other girls don't… bully you or anything?" Even as he says it, he laughs, as if that's a funny thought. "Though I don't imagine many of them would want me as a client anyway. I don't pay very well." The last is punctuated with a nudge of his shoulder.

The nudge at least gives her a sort of permission to chuckle, and Mariah moves to cover his hand with her own, despite holding it with the other already. "The other girls don't bully me. And definitely not because of you. But even if they did, I would just tell them to stuff it," she says with a grin of her own.

"Is that what's been on your mind?" She cants her head a bit, curiosity winning out. She didn't miss the unasked question, at least, but perhaps was expecting something a little worse. "Don't worry about the girls. They talk, but it's harmless."

"What?" Cas says with some genuine confusion. "No— no that's not what's bothering me. I— not exactly. I mean, I know you can take care of yourself. And… it's not that," he says, shaking his head a bit as he looks down at his hand wrapped around hers. He uses that moment to decide to finish his sandwich, with his one free hand.

With it finally gone, he uses the time it takes to chew to wipe his lips off and remove any crumbs, before laying his other hand on hers too.

"I am… worried about— things. But they're probably silly," is all he says in the end, with a smile.

Mariah gives him the time to decide how much he's going to say, and to finish his sandwich, although she keeps hold of his hand. But when he smiles her way, she returns it with a crooked one of her own.

"So why don't you tell me about them? So I can reassure you," she says with a chuckle, but it's a genuine offer all the same. "Might help just to get it off your chest, even. Hmm?"

"Thought you liked secrets?" Cas says with a sheepish grin, looking down where their hands meet. After a moment's pause, he brings his hands up, to kiss the backs of her hands, and then let them go, moving to stand up. "Don't go anywhere," he says with a soft voice of instruction, as he walks back over to the fence, not to the horse, but to the bag he'd brought with him. Likely it contained the lead rope and the harness, but also the brush, heavier comb, scissors and other grooming tolls. He slowly arranges them onto his belt, into small leather loops and hooks, so he can carry them over to the piebald, moving slowly.

"I told you about Isadora— at least a little," he says, loud enough that his voice carries, though he's looking at the horse. His voice sounds calmer, quieter than it might if he were actually talking directly to the person he knows is listening. He starts by rubbing the horse's neck, the nose, then begins to slowly comb out the mane, starting with the darker locks in the front hanging over his eyes. The stallion makes some protests, even nibbles on his sleeve for a moment, but settles as he continues. "I really liked her. For a long time. I mean at first it was just— she was a kid but she liked to come down and talk to the horses, braid their manes and ride. She actually spent more time with the horses than her father did— and he owned all of them. And she'd read to me from her father's library. She was given pretty much anything she wanted."

When he reaches a snag, he picks at it carefully, but one he actually cuts off with the scissors, but he doesn't look back at her, even as he hesitates. "It's been almost a year since I last saw her— and I still… miss her."

"I do, but it conflicts with my dislike for worry often," Mariah says with a crooked smile. She watches him kiss her hand and then get to his feet, which she might have followed, but his words get her to stay. Even if it is with a bit of a wry expression on her features.

But she sobers some when he starts to explain, and watches him with the horse as she listens. And her own fingers idly straighten her dress, which gives her something to focus on at those last words. Instead of looking at him, even though he isn't looking at her, either. She lets out a slow breath, steadying herself before she lifts her head to reply. She even pulls up a smile, slight though it may be. "I understand that's… normal. When you care about someone and lose them in some fashion."

"I— wouldn't really know. I mean she's the first…" Cas says quietly, before he remembers he's supposed to be talking to the horse. The stallions ears twitch a little as he works, and he soothinly rubs his neck. "I know, you need to get washed— we'll do that later," he assures, whether the piebald understands or not.

"Ya know I thought if I paid…" he hesitates and bites down, possibly on the second you he wants to say. "If I paid, I wouldn't be letting go of her really. Cause a few months ago I wasn't… ready to let go of her. But I— when I— Now that I'm not…" he bites his lip visibly, and hides himself against the horse's neck. For a moment. "Anyway— I might be ready to let go of her now. I mean… I think. Maybe." There's little conviction in his voice, either, showing he genuinely isn't sure. "But I still feel guilty. For leaving her in the first place and…." He's having almost as hard a time brushing the mane out as he is getting his words out. And the horse nips at his sleeve again, as if sensing his unease.

Mariah's supposed to stay put, and she really does try, but in the end, she's a hands on person. And she comes up behind him, her hand coming to slide over his, to help with the brushing. And for a few moments, that's all she does, steadying his work. But her other hand comes to rest on his waist even as she looks beyond him to the horse as well.

"I think it's okay, to need the time to work through things like that. And you have it, Cas. But if you're— " She pauses there, too, wetting her lips a moment and pressing them together before she goes on again. "I mean, I can't say I'm not glad, if you are working through it."

As she gets closer, Cas pauses, even seeming to tense a bit as she touches him. But he doesn't pull away, and the tension fades after a time. Her soothing him helps sooth the stallion, and he stops nipping at his sleeve.

Instead he sniffs at Mariah, as if trying to find the apple he already associates with her scent.

"You know you're not not saying you are glad either, though," he points out quietly, able to lower his voice now that she's closer. But he starts working again, at least not needing to cut off many more locks of mane.

Mariah didn't bring an apple with her this time, but she'll make it up to him later. She was a little preoccupied! But when he sniffs at her, her hand moves to rub his muzzle again, a little affection in place of the snack.

But it's Cas that really gets her attention, especially as he points out that little thing she was really hoping he wouldn't point out. There's a lull there, but she doesn't move away from him. And normally, she might take this sort of conversation and distract him away from the actual point, but this time, it's a little different.

"Don't you already know that I am?" Her tone is quiet, too, even if she doesn't try to stop him from working, she's at least dipping a toe into the conversation.

"I— I don't know," Cas says quietly, keeping most of his physical attention on the horse in front of them, and the careful slow grooming process, with the removal of knots in the thick mane. "Maybe you— I mean— you shouldn't— I— " He starts to stumble even more, and accidentally tugs too hard on one of the piebald's tangled white locks of mane and earns a snort, a throwing of the head and mane.

At which point he pulls his hands back. "Sorry— I— maybe we should finish eating before I— I mean…" he trails off, but starts to shift as if to move back, assuming she lets him.

Mariah does let him move back, but she reaches to take his hand just after, before he can move too far away from her. Her brow furrows, and she doesn't seem to know what to say, exactly, but she hangs onto him all the same.

"I shouldn't. I know. And it's all so… complicated. And I'm— " She swallows there, but her other hand comes up to touch his cheek, her thumb rubbing over his skin for a moment before she smiles softly. "I am glad. If you're starting to… be able to let go, I'm glad." She doesn't move to kiss him this time, but she stays close to him, provided he doesn't pull away.

The attempts to keep him close seem to work, as Cas turns toward her, looking up from the hand that touches his face and rubs his cheek. Even as she actually says those words, his eyes don't drop, but there's a flash of… guilt for some reason, before he reaches up to take her hand in his, pulling it from his face.

But holding onto it.

"I'm sorry," he says after a moment, looking away, toward the abandoned picnic basket. That might well be attracting animals and bugs if they aren't careful! "I'm sorry things got so complicated."

Mariah looks a little nervous herself when he takes her hand off his face, but when he hangs onto it, she lets out a relieved sigh, although quietly. But his words bring her attention up to his face, and she smiles softly as she steps in to press a warm kiss to his cheek.

"I'm not," she whispers to him before she steps away again, using her hold on his hand to draw him back toward the picnic.