Bridling Fire:9Mature

Our little moment lasted a bit longer than I had expected, but pleasantly so.  Nothing really happened, actually; Felix kept kissing me for a little while, after we got over the awkwardness of doing so in each other's arms (neither of us really like to be touched; I was too tired on that one night with the bear hug to care, and probably so was he).  I ended up falling asleep when we both sat down again, my head on his shoulder and my legs over his lap and his arms keeping me from falling backwards and breaking my head against the rock.

I woke up to a rhythmic moving sensation.  It was still dark, and Felix was carrying me back to camp.

"That's a long way to carry me," I muttered.  "Not like I'm complaining or anything, but I can walk if you get tired..."  I drifted off again to the sound of his whisper-laugh.

When I woke up a second time, it was barely light and I was in my own tent with Felix's jacket over me.  It smelled like him; mostly clean, a hint of sweat and something like cinnamon but a little sweeter.  I did not want to get up.

Eventually, though, I did, and I was unbelievably thankful that I didn't see Felix as I stepped out; I really had to pee, and that was something I wasn't terribly keen on him knowing about.

When I got back to camp, I ducked inside my tent and grabbed his jacket again, then emerged and looked around.  I still didn't see him, which was odd - while no one is usually awake this early, he's almost always playing with what's left of the fire - but Crossfire was tied to her string next to Momo.  I was a tad confused, so I walked sleepily to his tent and ducked inside.

He was dead to the world, on his back with one arm across his chest and the other outstretched.  He was wearing a dark gray tee-shirt and the blanket was tossed around his waist.

"How late did you stay up?" I muttered, almost to myself, as I sat down in the space where his arm was flung out.  He didn't move.  I yawned, thought what the hell, and tucked myself in the curve of his body with my head in the space where is arm met his shoulder.  I pulled his jacket tighter around myself and fell contentedly back to sleep, on the verge of purring at how comfortable I was.

It was maybe an hour before he moved, and I was still lightly napping when he grumbled a sleepy "hey" and sat up against the arm that was now officially my pillow.

"Shut up and stop moving," I mumbled.  "I'm comfortable."

"Mmkay," he said without protest, seemingly too tired to care.  He tightened his arms around me and settled back into his pillow.  I was at that perfect level of warmth and comfy-ness that I never wanted to move.  Ever.  And he smelled good which wasn't going to help at all.

Eventually, though, we had to get up; the sun was rising higher and we had to move again soon.  We were getting closer to the ocean, I remembered, suddenly giddy with excitement.

After I had dressed (thankfully no one seemed to notice me dart back to my tent in a tank top, boxers and Felix's hoodie) I made my way to Alex's tent.  I wanted badly to know when we would hit the sand of the beach.

"How long will it take to get there?" I asked, sitting down at his little table with the map spread out between us.  

"Going down the mountain is easier than going up it, so we might actually get there tomorrow, maybe midday, if we
set a good pace," he said.

I nodded.  "Sounds good."

I ducked out of the tent, padding barefoot toward the fire where Jacie sat talking with Kylar.  Their discussion didn't seem terribly private, and they didn't stop talking when I sat down next to the dying flames.  

"There's food," Jacie announced.  I nodded, taking the apple she offered me along with a piece of some meat.  Probably venison, but it was also likely one of the strips of dried beef or elk meat that we kept, just in case food ran low.  Which it probably was; the meat was tough and lacked much texture.  Or taste.

"We should hunt today," I said.  I didn't say it with much excitement.  Yes, I was a bit happier now, after last night and this morning and talking to Felix about my problem.  But... The problem still applied.  Which totally sucked.

"Yeah," said Kylar.  "No kidding.  This beef jerky stuff just isn't really doing the job."  

Jacie laughed a little bit.  Kylar seemed the only one able to make her laugh.  I had assumed for a while that there was something going on between the two of them, but it didn't seem to be affecting anything so I let it drop.  If they wanted to have a little bit of a secret romance, as long as it didn't get in the way of anything, that was fine with me.  Not like I had any room to protest, after my thing with Felix.

That was another thing that was confusing me.  It hadn't really occurred to me until now, but I guess I had liked Felix as more than just a friend and teammate for a while and hadn't realized it.  Yes, it sounds kind of cheesy, but it did feel...right, both when he kissed me and when I fell asleep in his sleeping bag this morning.  However, I had had no idea that maybe, possibly he might have had feelings for me for a significant amount of time.  Or something.

Ugh.  I could never dwell on emotions for more than a matter of seconds before losing it.  That was okay, though; I was good at letting things like that go until further notice.  

We did not stay long that morning.  It was still fairly early when we set out down the slope again, shooting a few birds down and plucking them on the way to stop and cook for lunch.  It was mostly seabirds at this point; the occasional flock of geese would pass overhead, from which we shot down quite a few.  They were pretty easy targets.

We stopped in the middle of the day and set up a fire, on which we cooked all of the birds and ate what we wanted before wrapping up the rest and moving on again.  We traveled at a pretty fast pace, and by the time night began to fall, I could smell the salt and brine and fishy smell of the ocean.

That night, Felix and I walked for a while, not really talking but keeping our arms pressed together at the shoulder (mostly because it was so damn dark and we'd wander off and lose each other otherwise.).  
We finally paused, in a little clearing that let in some light from the moon and stars.  It was still pretty dark, but basic details were easier to make out.

"So... One night means a lot of nights, right?" I asked, facing him and waiting to be held because I felt too awkward to do it myself.

"If you want it to," Felix said, putting his arms around me like I had hoped.  I cuddled against the warmth of his chest.  I could just hear his heart, if I listened.

"Good.  I don't want it to affect anything with the team, but... I guess... Ugh."  I tried to suck it up and just spit out what I was trying to say, but I still sounded unsure and awkward.  "I guess I've kind of liked you for a while.  I had no idea I did, but... Yeah."

"I didn't want to like you at all after the river incident, but I didn't really have a choice, did I?"  He chuckled.  "I was stuck with you from then on, and I started to like you as a friend against my will.  I kicked myself several times when I figured out I'd been crushing on you, too."

"Don't kick yourself.  That hurts.  And leaves bruises.  I hate bruises..."

I was content to just stand there and be held.  I'm a bit of a cat; if you pet me, I'll probably literally purr.
We moved so that Felix was leaning against a tree, and I was leaning against him, perfectly capable of falling asleep standing up.  It wasn't really that I was tired, just so friggin' comfortable there that it was almost impossible not to be sleepy.

Of course, I was tired, too, after little sleep and lots of travel, so I only vaguely remember him kissing me quietly before picking me up and carrying me back to camp.  This time, it was not that far, so I didn't bother protesting.  He was a man, and he spent his life doing exercise-y stuff.  He could carry a girl a few hundred yards without much of a problem.

When I woke up in the morning this time, I wasn't in my own tent.  I faintly remembered telling Felix that his arms were too comfortable and that I didn't need my own sleeping bag, thank you very much, I don't take up much room I promise.  So I drifted awake slowly, becoming aware of my face pressed against Felix's collarbone and my arms and hands tucked between us, against my chest like a rabbit's.  His own arms were draped casually around me, so that I was warm and comfortable and still sleepy and totally did not want to get up.

But, just like yesterday morning, nature calls and I finally disentangled myself from Felix with a depressed sigh and a shiver.  

"Be right back," I whispered, but he had barely woken up anyway.  I slipped silently from the tent and out of camp.
Alex caught me as I was heading back.  

"Hey," he said.  "There's something you should look at."

I followed him to his tent, a little bit impatient to get back to my so-comfy spot in Felix's sleeping bag.  I was, however, awake by then, so I didn't mind terribly.

"What is it?" I asked as he sat down by his map.  

"There's a port here marked 'abandoned,' so there shouldn't be anything coming or going using that one, right?"  I nodded as he pointed to a dot that was tucked away in a small bay.  "Well, I was up on that ridge last night," he said while jerking his thumb to the South, "and I could see that place from my spot.  It was being used.  I think there's probably some sort of illegal trade or something going on there."

I nodded.  I was definitely interested, and I voiced my thoughts.  "If we could maybe hit a city or two in this area before we go down there, we could see if that's a section of the Black Market."

"Exactly.  Up here-" he pointed South and little East to where we were on the map "-is a small cluster of towns.  They aren't too far away.  We could ride up in about an hour or two, hit them, then be back here by twilight; we'd have to make our way to the bay in the morning, but we'd be supplied."

I thought it was a good plan.  "Alright, let's do it."

I started to rise, and Alex said, "Tell Felix the plan, will you?"

He looked like he was trying not to smile.  I growled and left.

Felix was still asleep when I got back to his tent.  I wondered why he had been sleeping so late these past few days - it was already getting lighter and he still hadn't gotten up.  

I lay down facing him and poked him awake.  He blinked, blue-gray eyes looking half-blind with sleep.

"Hey, lazy.  Did someone drug you last night or something?  You usually don't sleep this much."

"I usually have sleeping problems," he mumbled, rubbing his eyes and sitting up.  I sat cross-legged in front of him, my head tilted to one side.


He raised an eyebrow at me but said, "I don't know, I've just always had a hard time falling asleep and then when I do I wake up a lot.  I have no idea why I've felt so rested these past few days."

"It's me.  I'm magical," I said, getting up and kicking the side of his butt where he sat.  "Come on, man, we're gonna hit some cities today.  Get yo ass outta bed and get ready, I still gotta tell you about the pirates."

"Pirates?" he said, getting up.  I was already gone, however, heading for the horses.  It was Sadie's turn to put out the feed, and she was still there, wrapping up the canvas bags which had been distributed.  Usually the horses can graze their fill on grass, but we keep grain or hay with us as well.  Unfortunately, that stuff is a bit hard to carry around; for a while Kylar and I had been discussing the advantages of acquiring a pack horse of sorts.  It was definitely a complicated decision, and we didn't even know where we could get another horse.  The topic was, obviously, still being debated.

"Hey, Sadie," I said as I made my way to Momentum, who was still happily munching on his mouthful of grain.  

Sadie nodded to me and brushed her red hair out of her face, then collected the feed supplies in her arms and made her way back to her tent.

"Hi Momo," I said to my horse.  He whinnied a small greeting, reaching out with his upper lip to poke me in the face.  I scratched his chin, which he hates, and he tossed his head in protest.

"So what was that about Pirates?"  I turned around to see Felix standing behind me, one hand in his hoodie pocket and the other holding an apple, which he took a bite out of before giving the rest to Crossfire, who stood lazily next to Momentum with her weight shifted to one hind leg.

"Alex has found an 'abandoned' port in this half-hidden bay," I explained.  "He said there shouldn't have been anything there but when he saw it from this ridge up there-" I pointed "-there were ships or something going in and out of it.  I think."

Felix moved so that he was leaning against Crossfire's shoulder.  "Interesting," he said.  "Are we going to do something about that?"

"I guess so," I shrugged.  "We think it's probably a Black Market thing.  The team is going to hit those cities up there-" point again "-and then we'll head down early in the morning."

"Sounds like a plan to me," said Felix.  Does everyone else know what's happening?"

"Nope.  If you could spread the word that'd be great."

"Will do."

As he turned to leave, I couldn't help but notice how much he reminded me of a cat.  It was mostly the way he moved; he looked like he completely trusted his body and had no reason not to feel comfortable with whatever he did.  I was a bit jealous; I used to be kind of like that, but since the eye thing... My blind side was scaring me a bit.  Maybe more than a bit.

Within half an hour we were on the move, loping casually though the trees toward the cities.  Something had been bothering me about the cities, but I hadn't figured out what it was until we were almost there.

"Hey, Kylar..."  I rode parallel to him.  "Do you think this is still the other riders' territory?  We're not exactly far from where we tangled with them."

He looked thoughtful.  "I didn't think of that.  But I don't think so, and if it is, we'll fight them for it.  We were a pretty decent match for each other last time, I think."

That was true.  I just didn't want to see that guy again.

"Alright," I said.  "Makes sense.  Thanks."

I drifted off into my own little world again, and was brought back maybe forty minutes later by Kylar saying, "Found 'em."

I looked up.  There was the glitter of a chain link fence a bit too close to jump; we had been walking for the past twenty minutes.  

The fence was four and half feet, ish.  "Circle back, drop your stuff off and canter up," I said, but everyone knew what they were doing anyway.  We turned as a group and then spread out a little, so nopony's nose was in another pony's rear end when we jumped.  I was in front, flanked by Kylar and Felix, and as we broke out into a canter, I couldn't help but feel a little happy again.  I loved raiding, loved the wolf-pack-ish-ness that came with it.  Alex had already roughed out a plan for us, but we were mostly improvising, since we didn't know what this city looked like on the inside.

Momo's strides lengthened as we neared the fence.  His gait became long and flowy, like lazy ocean waves.  It seemed as if he exherted no energy at all when he flew over the fence, like it was just an effortless thing to do that required no thinking.  I leaned into the jump, savoring it all the way until I leaned back to brace my hips against his shoulders as his front hooves kissed the ground.

The raid began.

Felix and I were to find the center of town, and we did so fairly easily, even though we went about it in different directions.  It wasn't too hard to find; this city was huge and glamorous and I couldn't help but kind of curiously wonder what it might be like to live in an apartment in one of the soaring buildings I passed.  

The city seemed to have a delayed reaction as my team thundered through its polished streets.  People in exotic clothing gaped like deer in headlights as we passed, but we took no notice of them.  Well, that is, until I noticed that they didn't seem frightened in the least.

Upon finding the central square of the city, Felix and galloped the perimeter to scope it out.  We did not hear screams of horror, which was odd but didn't seem too serious, and soon we found what we were looking for.
A long, narrow street stretched from the central square, lined on both sides by booths and vendors and people shopping.  Unfortunately, as I turned to charge down and grab things hanging on either side, I found that Momentum could not move.

I little blond girl of maybe three or four stood at my horse's legs, reaching up to his face.  Momo was prancing on the spot; while he could definitely be a fearless warrior, he knew a child when he saw one, human or foal or puppy or whatever.  Everyone, horse or not, had their morals, and Momentum simply refused to run the girl over.
Not like I was trying to get him to.  I just didn't realize she was there until I found out I couldn't get my horse to friggin' charge.

Momo was snorting in confusion as the smiling girl jumped up to get at his bridle.  What the hell is wrong with her?  I thought.  She wouldn't get out of the way and didn't seem scared in the least.  

Then, out of nowhere, a buckskin horse and his golden-haired rider darted in, picked the girl up by her little dress and galloped off.

The End

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