Three On A Match

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There was a lot of work to do at the stables. Particularly more than usual. With several of his fellow stable hands out sick with colds, Silas was left to most of the chores on his own. A single man could only handle so much at once, and as a result the things on the to-do list had built up.

Thankfully, his posting for a temporary helping hand had proved noticeable enough to bring in some interest. From what he'd gathered, the individual in question was a young lady. One who went by the name of Juniper.

She had yet to show up, but wasn't too late quite yet. Still, that didn't stop Silas from nervously shooting glances at his rusty old pocket watch, a relic he'd inherited from his parents a good while back.

He was in the midst of checking it for the third time when he thought he'd heard something. Looking up, his attention turned to the wooden double doors. Had Juniper arrived, or was he being subjected to yet another false alarm?
A few years ago, Juniper would've never dared to spend any time around animals. She didn't know how she'd react to them--after all, she had a monthly habit of eating other animals, big and small. These days, things were a little different; Juniper had some awareness of her limits, enough to maintain control. Having a dog in the apartment helped, and by now, she felt comfortable answering a help-wanted call from Stoddard.

That said, coming here today, she didn't think she'd be working with the horses. Juniper was all on-board for manual labor and putting her immense strength to use, and that was fine by her. What mattered was that she felt comfortable being around creatures her worse half would consider a meal, hooves and all.

Upon arrival, the tiger had been directed by another harried worker to the vast stables, to look for Silas. The thing was, she didn't know what Silas looked like, so she was left to wander for a bit. It was good she'd gotten there early. The young girl poked around a shed before crossing the fields, and peeking into a smaller stable. Finding most of the horses were out to pasture, she wandered through the stable and headed for the main stable. The scent of churned mud and bruised grass filled her nose.

She poked her head in through the big double doors. The building was big enough to have its own ring, filled with recycled and shredded sneaker material. Stalls lined both sides, with an equipment room near the back. Eyes skirting over these details, the girl quickly picked out the lone human.

Stepping around the door, she grinned politely, ducking her head and waving in a distinctly teenaged fashion. “Hey,” she said, looking around and then shrugging her narrow shoulders. “Are you Silas?” She wore a pair of old, oversized overalls and a t-shirt--the shifter ran hot despite the nippy weather.
This time he had not looked up in vain. The sound was that of the door creaking open, not due to a breeze blowing in but rather because a head belonging to a certain young lady was peeking out from behind them.

Silas locked his piercing blue gaze onto her as she entered the stables and came closer. A tomboyish girl with a bit of an awkward demeanor from what he was seeing. And not clad in what was entirely typical for such a currently chilly climate.

The man frowned a little, concerned by this. Why was she dressed as if it was the midst of a warm summer evening?

Perhaps it'd be too rude to pry on that matter. So he wouldn't, unless something happened that would prompt that sort of reaction. “Yes.” He spoke quietly, almost whispering as he bowed in greeting. “A-and you must be...Juniper...”

He tucked his pocket watch away and took one step nearer, hesitant to close the distance much further just in case she might be frightened or intimidated by him in any way. She seemed friendly enough, but looks could very well be deceiving. He'd learned and relearned that painful lesson far more times than he was able to count.
Juniper didn’t know what Silas looked like, but once she laid eyes on him, she was sure never to forget. The blue eyes struck her first, and then, she couldn’t quite pin down why his forehead looked strange, until she realized he was missing his eyebrows. Or they were very very fine, but with how dark his hair was, she didn’t think they’d be a different color. He just didn’t seem to have eyebrows.

He spoke in a whisper that would’ve had her wishing he’d speak up if her hearing weren’t so sharp and as he bowed, Juniper awkwardly and unthinkingly mirrored him. Hers was a shallower bow, and she straightened when she realized what she was doing. “Yeah, that’s me,” she said, also whispering. When he took a step closer, she didn’t show any trepidation. He seemed an odd fellow, but there was very little on this planet that June found threatening. She went on with a widening grin. “M’here for the want ad. I know I don’t look it, but I’m strong and I’ve done farm work before.”
Silas could not be fully certain about whether or not the young lady was finding him frightening, intimidating, or anything in between. She'd stood her ground while he made a careful approach, which wasn't an averse reaction so far as he could tell. Still, the reason behind her equally quiet response was difficult to decipher. She didn't appear to be mocking him, but it did make him a tad paranoid. And he could have sworn her gaze had lingered on his bare brow a little too long.

No, no. She was grinning. No need to worry, now was there?

Silas would stay put for her sake, regardless. He'd let her approach him. There was no need to chance frightening her off when she was here to work! “Ah, yes. I've been expecting you. And I am sure that here you will fare perfectly well.” She did not appear especially brawny, but then again, neither was he. There was another concern at hand, though. “But before we begin...are you not freezing, my friend? You look as if you've been equipped to catch a chill...”
Juniper’s smile brightened at Silas’ vote of confidence. She thought so too, but he was, ostensibly, the expert and her employer, so his initial judgement was important.

As he went on to express his concern at her shirt, the tiger hooted a laugh and shook her head. “Nah, I’m good. I run hot and it’s this or get like, really stuffy.” Hands going to her hips, she grinned and shrugged. It was hard to explain her metabolism, but sometimes guys wore gym shorts in the dead of winter, so it couldn’t be too weird, right? Dropping her hands, she tucked them in her wide pockets. “So, whatcha need me for? I’m, like, good at lifting stuff, but I haven’t worked with horses very much.”
She ran hot? Well, that was a little worrying. Silas did take another step closer to her once she mentioned a high temperature. He almost reached out to touch her forehead but common sense forbade him to. “If you are most certain you're not running a fever...” he merely commented instead. She didn't appear to be sick, but he couldn't help but be cautious after so many of his helpers had called out.

Juniper did seem like a capable enough young woman, though. He had to assume she was in a fitter state than himself, if nothing else. She looked stronger and even claimed she was decent at heavy lifting, a task he often struggled with. With that statement, he had a perfect selection of chores for her in mind.

“I was thinking we could start with that exactly. Some shipments of bedding arrived earlier this morning and I've gotten several of them as far as inside this building, but I've yet to replace the old with the new.” Mucking out the stables was unpleasant but it had to be done. “And the hay feeders may need refilling as well...”
Grinning at his continued concern, Juniper's head jiggled as she nodded repetatively in the negative. She was fine, but she appreciated Silas' worry. That was kind of him, especially when she was just a temporary worker he didn't strictly need to care about. Decent fellow.

As he went on, she nodded once more, bit this time firmly. She could muck out the stables, it wouldn't be the first time and she rarely shied away from dirty work. Still, she asked, “Will you be around with the horses? Like, you take 'em out, I get in there and lay the hay down or?” She tilted her head, curious for the details.
Well, wasn't she an enthusiastic young thing? Even despite running that temperature. Perhaps that was simply natural for her. He'd stick with that theory for now, because it seemed to be the most reasonable one he could come up with.

Silas gave his head a quick shake at Juniper's question. Hopefully the next bit of information he gave her wouldn't disappoint her too much. “Oh, they have already been taken out to the pasture. You may have already seen some of them grazing outside...”

There would be no close contact with horses, in that case. Not yet, at least! As he beckoned her to follow him to find the boxes of bedding, he went on, giving her an incentive. “Perhaps if there is time once we are finished, I can bring you outside to say hello...”
It was a little disappointing. She didn't deflate, but nodded her head, intending to act professional. The girl in her did like horses, although she was curious to see how she reacted to them. Or how they reacted to her. Hopefully they wouldn't smell tiger and run.

But then, Silas went on as they crossed the stables to the boxes of bagged bedding, offering the opportunity spend some free time with the horses. Juniper's expression lit up and she practically bounced along behind him. “Yeah? Alright, that'd be so cool,” she said, cheered.

Reaching in, she lifted one of the bags from the bin with minimal effort. It wasn't very heavy, only about thirty to forty pounds, but to her, it was barely anything. The main thing was that it was unwieldy as she hoisted it onto her shoulder and reached for another one, preparing to carry them to the first stall.
If she had felt any disappointment towards the delayed interaction with animals, it hadn't shown. The sign of a truly dedicated worker, or so Silas thought. Though the pessimistic side of him had him wondering if she was merely used to dealings with the letdowns of life.

It was probably best not to pry on that matter and he didn't intend to, especially after her reaction to potentially meeting the horses had been so positive. It was for the best to keep in that spirit, not doubt!

He walked side by side with Juniper to the bin containing the bags of feed, pausing in his tracks to watch as she lifted one of them with a surprising amount of ease.

Only did she seem to struggle a bit when she shifted the thing onto her shoulder and reached for a second sack. Alarmed, Silas swiftly moved to the other side of the bin and reached out for the very same object. “I understand you are eager but please do be careful,” he urged. “These sacks really are very heavy. You don't want to put out your back..!”
Juniper was tempted to just ignore Silas in favor of getting the work done, but she slowed her roll. Affecting a self-conscious laugh, she let the bag of bedding drop back into the bin, exhaling and acting like it had been a heavy load.

“Sorry, yeah. I'm thinkin' about the horses,” she said, and that was half-truthful. Maybe she could wait till Silas was out of the barn and get everything moved then. Instead, while they were working together, she hefted the bag on her shoulder. “Are any of 'em yours?” she asked conversationally.
The way she had suddenly let a bag go only to let out that sigh right afterwards appeared suspiciously orchestrated to him. Subtly so, but enough to have him wondering.

It seemed hard to believe a petite young thing such as she could lift several bundles of feed with such incredible ease in the first place. And yet she had done just so, even if temporarily. Would she have put more weight onto her back if he hadn't intervened? And could she have actually handled it? It really was something to mull over.

Juniper had claimed consideration for the horses as her reason for her burst of strength and eagerness and he would accept it, albeit with some skepticism.

“Hm, yes. Well I can assure you they are in no hurry so you shouldn't rush, either.”

As for her question, he'd answer truthfully, though not without some regret. “No. I am merely their caretaker. Though it isn't to say that keeping one for myself is beyond my consideration.” He grunted as he lifted up the previously abandoned bag and shifted it onto his own shoulder. “In theory, one could live on my property.” One hand beckoned Juniper to follow. “Come this way...”
Silas gestured them down the line of stalls and Juniper followed with long strides. Catching the regret in his tone, she made a thoughtful noise as she looked around, catching the various unique smells of the different horses. “D'you have a big property? For horses?”

To her, Silas seemed like the kind of person who preferred rolling farmlands where one could actually see the stars at night.
His pace slowed a bit as he was asked the question, though he did not come to a full stop. “Yes...” he answered back, a soft smile touching the corners of his lips. One full of nostalgia and reminiscence. “I inherited it, you see...”

Would that answer prevent a slew of more queries? Despite possibly having sounded inviting toward them, he sort of hoped so. Silas wasn't wholly comfortable spilling his entire life story to somebody he'd only just met. Or anyone, really. Still, he could try to keep things vague if he found that to be necessary.

Here they were, though! At the first stall in need of a cleaning. With a grunt, Silas set the bag of bedding down at his feet and unlocked the compartment at the end of the row. Then, he politely gestured for Juniper to enter it. “After you...!” It wasn't in the prettiest state, but what lived-in space for a horse could be?
Juniper caught the slowed steps and the wistful look and grinned, crooked and faint. This guy was so weird, but in a fun way. He made her feel like she'd stepped out of the modern world and down into a place where things were slower and simpler. Like, did this guy carry a fire lantern and cook his own bread? Did he own a brush?

She had a lot of questions, but they were at the stall and that was where the work began. It was messy, as expected, and the tiger caught all the notes indicative of another animal's habitation. As she stepped into the stall, her work boots crunching over stale bedding, she could smell that the horse was a healthy mare with a good diet. “So, who lives here?” she asked of the stall's absent inhabitant as she picked up one of the nearby muck rake.
There came another question, though it wasn't personal so he'd be happy to indulge. Silas was happy to talk about his line of work as a general subject. Doubly so for somebody he suspected might eventually want to be permanently employed at a later date.

“This one belongs to Radiant Ruby...” he replied, selecting a muck rake for himself. “An American Quarter Horse and one of our younger inhabitants.” Silas let out a light sigh as he marched through the old bedding and started getting to work. This wasn't the most enjoyable part of his job but it had to be done, regardless. “As feisty as she is healthy...and she is in very good health!”
If Juniper had been a horse girl growing up, a name like 'Radiant Ruby' would have put stars in her eyes. Unfortunately, her affliction precluded her from chilling with horses, either through video games or in real life. Regardless, the name made her chuckle softly in appreciation.

“Geez, that's a name. I'd love a name like that,” she chattered as she picked up a bucket and entered the stall. She dragged the muckrake through the dirty bedding, gently sifting the droppings out of the shavings. “I'd probably be like... Jumpy Juniper.”
Silas dipped his head in agreement that the name was fanciful. A bit much for his taste, but she wasn't his horse. And it did sort of suit the animal's lively demeanor. Giving it consideration, Juniper had potential to get on with the young mare.

A thought soon worth revisiting.

For the moment, he was concentrating on helping Juniper rake the bedding. He hummed at the title she'd come up with for herself, should she have been born an equine. “Oh...you aren't nervous, are you?” As jumpy implied to him. “Why not jovial..?”

They continued to work until the stall was about as fresh as a daisy again. Once they both exited the compartment, Silas turned around to face his youthful assistant. “Hm...I believe we are due for an intermission.”

His attention now fell on the large double doors which would take them outside and in the direction of the area where the horses were being kept. “Would you...care to walk with me?” Silas gestured toward the exit with an arm to suggest they were going their way. And through them.
Juniper grinned toothily. “No, I mean I can jump really well!” she said confidently, and as they cleaned out the stall, she went on to chatter about the times she'd managed a really high jump on the fly, from hopping a field fence to spanning a wide creek. She sanitized the stories from the truly wild feats, like doing a backflip on ice with zero figure skating experience, and kept them to the sorts of things one could imagine accomplishing with a running start.

As they emerged from the stall, Silas' suggestion got a surprised noise out of the girl. One stall and he wanted to take a break? She supposed they'd been quite thorough, but she was still brimming with energy. That was irrelevant though--Silas was her boss for the day, and what he said went. “Yeah, sure,” she said as she leaned the rake, tines down, up against the side of the stall and brushed off her hands. “Where're we heading?”
Juniper had shown surprise at what could have been perceived as a premature break, which he hadn't really expected out of her. Of course, she was a hard worker as she had demonstrated and she might have seen the pause as a disruptor of momentum.

Silas hoped this wasn't the case for either of them. He did tire easily and in general he'd known the youth to bore and move on with ease. Still, where he was taking his assistant would have to make the work she was doing feel all the more worth it.

“We are going outside...” Silas told Juniper as he led the way to the double doors and pushed past them. “I would like you to meet someone...”

Silas paced over to a sizeable fenced area which was just several feet from the stable. The pasture, as Juniper would now see, where about twelve different horses were grazing, drinking and otherwise enjoying themselves. Most notable amongst the herd was a cremello mare who was prancing playfully alongside a larger dun stallion.

Upon reaching the entrance gate, Silas whistled and called out a name that would sound incredibly familiar. “Ruby...! Come, girl!” Once he was confident the horse had heard him, he turned to look at Juniper. “Would it interest you to see our friend at a closer distance...? Or, perhaps you be more comfortable to wait out here while I bring her to us...?”
Juniper obediently trotted after Silas, her eyes lit with interest. As they stepped out into the chill air, her sensitive nose picked up the powerful smell of horses, right nearby and she turned her head in that direction before she even saw them. They weren't far, though, and it wasn't long before they were up to the fence, looking out over the misty pasture. It was full of the horses from the stable, the grand creatures milling about, grazing, resting, or gamboling.

Tiger or not, Juniper was still a young girl, and the sight of the horses made her face lift. The expression was a little guarded though. Instinct pushed at the inside of her ribcage, the beastly part of her interested in the way the enormous animals might taste. She kept her hands in her pockets.

Silas called to one of them, identifying the cream-colored mare as Ruby, and Juniper cooed at the color of her coat. When he addressed her with futher questions, she blurted, “Yeah? I think... Well, can you get her over here?”

Better safe than sorry. She didn't want to risk the rest of the horses smelling her and getting spooked.
Interestingly, his assistant seemed hesitant to follow him past the gate and into the field where all of the beautiful horses were. Was she frightened of them? Concerned, perhaps, that a horse might become agitated by her presence as a stranger? Silas was beginning to wonder if she was more of a Jumpy Juniper than he'd initially thought.

But he wasn't one to force people out of their comfort zones as he could barely do so with himself. Nodding, he unlatched the gate and stepped forward. “Yes, very well then...she isn't nearly as difficult to wrangle with, not as much as when she was a foal...”

With that said, Silas went through the gate and whistled for Ruby yet again. “Ruby!” The cremello horse's ears swiveled around, all of her focus now on him. “Come! We have a visitor...” he called out to the beast. And she did obey, moving forward in a gallop until he gave another command. “Easy, dear...!”

Ruby slowed to a trot, finally coming to a halt when she reached the man. He stroked her muzzle and gave her a loving pat before leading her to the spot where Juniper was waiting. As they both approached her from behind the fence, the animal became a tad less relaxed in manner. She hesitated, snorted and occasionally shook her head. “Settle down, girl...” Silas cooed to the horse. “Our young friend here will do us no harm..!”

Once he felt that Ruby had calmed down enough, Silas turned his attention to Juniper. “Here she is. Never mind the fuss! She has always been a wary thing around newcomers...”
Hovering near the gate, Juniper looked across the herd with a wary smile. She was in control, but she didn't trust the horses to behave around her. While she didn't expect her scent to send them stampeding, she wasn't sure if they would act strange enough for Silas to notice or not. She was hopeful though, and remained so as her boss for the day skillfully drew Ruby from where she frolicked.

A bit of Juniper's fear was realized when the horse showed reluctance to approach, but Silas calmed her without issue. Juniper grinned as the elegant beast paced over, her ears rigid with attention. Withdrawing a hand from her pocket, the tiger gave the horse a stiff smile, and held out a hand for her to sniff.

Ruby stretched out her head toward Juniper's hand, her big nostrils flaring and blowing hot air across her fingers. The shifter didn't know what the horse caught, but she didn't seem impressed, tossing her head and making a low nickering sound.

“Yeah, nah, that's alright,” Juniper laughed, tucking her hand back in her pocket and smiling apologetically at Silas. “I don't wanna scare her or anything, y'know?”
Silas kept a steady blue eye on both the horse and his assistant as they interacted. He smiled softly, but that only lasted for a short moment. As friendly as Juniper was being, Ruby seemed troubled. He could see the signs of it all over her. Horses could be fickle beasts of course, but even still, there was something off.

Even Juniper appeared to sense that as she shoved her hand back into her pocket. While she laughed, Silas had a feeling that she had to be a tad disappointed, or nervous. Maybe even both. It saddened him a bit that the two hadn't gotten on quite as much as he'd hoped they would.

“Oh, she is fine...” he told Juniper, mirroring her apologetic expression. “Though maybe she isn't in the mood to mingle today...” With that said, gave Ruby a gentle pat on the shoulder and sent her away. The mare went happily, letting out a rather relieved neigh as she galloped back to the other animals.

“Well, I guess this means we should go back to work,” Silas said as he pushed past the gate and locked it back up. A sigh left him as he began a stride back in the direction of the stable. “I hope she did not frighten you, of course...”
“Maybe later,” Juniper agreed, hopefully--maybe later she would be able to get into Ruby's good graces. Perhaps it was just a matter of letting them get used to one another.

Watching Silas send the horse back to the rest of the herd, she was sincerely impressed with the way he handled the big creature. It only took a few gentle calls and touches for him to direct them where they needed to go. At his motion to go back to work, Juniper ambled out of the paddock, but as Silas checked in with her she chuckled.

“Oh, no, I'm fine, I don't scare easily,” she offered, scratching the back of her head. “Animals just get nervous around me? But, I dunno. I have a dog at home- maybe she smelled my dog?”

She didn't like lying to the man, but that was how it was.
Silas dipped his head in a nod and smiled just a tiny bit bigger than before. He was very pleased to hear that Juniper hadn't been frightened. Ruby was nothing to really fear, of course, but he would understand it if she, or anybody, felt intimidated by a large animal like her.

If only Ruby had been less antsy about meeting a friendly new face. The man listened attentively as Juniper aired her grievances in regards to the way animals tended to get anxious around her, even offering up a possible reason why.

“Ah, yes. A dog will do it sometimes...” Silas responded as he extended a hand to push past the stable doors again. “Our equine friends can be very testy with them. They can distinguish the scents of predators and dogs...well, they are predatory creatures at heart.”

They were inside again. “Here we are...” Silas sniffled as he led Juniper back to the area where they had previously been. He was feeling a little tired which was nothing new, but all the same he hoped he wasn't coming down with the cold everyone seemed to be getting.
Horses being able to distinguish between regular animals and predators explained why Ruby had been confused about her, but not outright unwilling to be near her. She didn't smell like a tiger, but she didn't smell human either... But she supposed humans and tigers had the potential to occupy the same level of predator to a horse.

Regardless, she dutifully followed Silas into the barn and picked up her rake again. As she wandered back into the next stall, no hint of exhaustion in her frame, and started working, she called, “Maybe when I get here next time, I'll hose myself down with the garden hose before coming out to see the horses.” She was joking, grinning at the man to see how he'd react to such ridiculousness.
Back to work it was, then. Silas, too, grabbed a rake and entered the stall opposite to the one Juniper was in. He was happy to see she had energy, but felt remorse for her in advance if he was truly getting sick. Colds spread so easily and he would hate to end up passing it on to her.

He supposed they'd savor this moment while they were still able to. Well, as much as a session of stable mucking could be enjoyed. Juniper seemed to keep a sense of humor about everything, if nothing else. The joke she cracked brought a slight smile to his face and he even managed a chuckle. “An idea I wouldn't suggest going through with in such frigid weather. You'll be more likely to catch that nasty cold making the rounds, otherwise...”

The one he was beginning to seriously suspect he was coming down with. Silas was feeling fatigued and it probably showed. Still, he did work at cleaning the next stall and kept up with the friendly conversation. “Though if you're implying you'll be visiting often then perhaps you can be situated with a more permanent role here. If that is what you wish for. The spark of youth will come in handy in the long run...”
A more permanent position was tempting but Juniper was quiet as she tried to work out how to say her schedule wasn’t regular enough for it. If she admitted that she was out once a month every month, that looked odd. She could say it was her period, sure, but she didn’t like the thought of someone looking over her history and lining things up with the full moon. Whether they drew the supernatural conclusion or not didn’t matter; it was more about the information being known. Juniper didn’t like to be known too closely.

“That’d be awesome, but uh… Well, my schedule’s a little all over the place,” she sighed as she flipped the rake and dropped some horse droppings in a bucket. “Like school, and uh- my- mom’s over in Boston and I go help her out for a week or so every month. It’s probably better if you like- keep me on the short list, call me up when you need it?”

The regret in her voice was clear, especially since Silas seemed a bit tired and smelled a little sick. The spirit of youth—she had plenty of that and working at the stables was hard work. She liked that. So she was regretful. She was glad to be telling most of the truth, though. The only thing was that Max’s mom wasn’t her mom. Close enough, though.
Silas let out a quiet hum to her response. The answer was disappointing indeed but as far as he could tell, he wasn't the only one who felt that way. Juniper, too, didn't sound too thrilled about her busy schedule. It was understandable, especially when it came to obligations which seemed to make up at least half of her agenda.

He was pleased to hear the alternative she offered, regardless.

“Hmm. Quite the busy one, aren't you...? And with a strong sense of responsibility...” He would have probably come off sounding more proud of her if only he wasn't wearing out, but he made his best attempt.

“I should count myself lucky you could come here today. Yes, indeed. It isn't every day that Stoddard is this short-staffed. Blasted sickness bringing everyone down.” He sniffled as if to prove a point. “But that is an excellent idea. If there's another unfortunate turn of events in the near future then I will be sure to have Crystal ring you. Yes, I'll have your name placed on the short list.”

He pulled his rake through a particularly tangled section of bedding with a grunt. “Are there...certain weekdays that work best for you?”