Here you'll find
Nervousness on the eve of a horse race...
Before the Race
"Where the hell are you?"
The horse flicks its ears but hardly even glances at him, its whole attention focused on the hay it is munching. He listens to how its chewing echoes from the stone walls, sighs, shakes his head. Just the normal sounds of a stable everywhere, the occasional swish of tail or clank of a hoof against metal, the soothing scent of horses and straw and manure and sweat and the warm oats porridge they've given the animals a while ago. Only the gleaming bay gelding in its own box, no extra presence there.
He turns, shoulders sagging. He's already checked the harness rooms, his father has locked the storerooms for the night, and there's only one place left. An assessing glance at the ladder leading up to the hayloft, then brown hands grip the bars and he climbs up.
Of course. There's not too much light in here, but still enough to see that pale ash-blond head resting on arms crossed on raised knees. Out of habit he treads quietly across the floorboards, knowing that he'll be heard anyway, and crouches next to the silent figure.
"What is it?"
"You should come down and eat something. And you need to sleep, too, or you'll be no good tomorrow."
"I can't." It's just a hoarse whisper, and the shirt-clad shoulders recoil from his touch. "My stomach hurts like hell."
"It's because you haven't eaten anything since noon." He doesn't say out loud the other, more important reason. "Come, we'll go down and have some tea and sandwiches."
"Told you, I can't eat anything!" At least now there's some heat in the voice. "I'll just throw up if I do. Leave me alone!"
"Fallada..." He sits down on the bale of hay, shifts close enough to let their thighs press together, wraps both arms around the reluctant youth. "All right, even if you won't eat, at least you need to sleep. Tomorrow's going to be one hell of a long day, and you won't make it through if you're dead on your feet."
Fallada is shivering a little, but it's not because of cold; it's rather warm up here, above the stables. The silence stretches, slowly he feels how the tenseness seeps away under his arm, how their bodies begin to breathe in the same warmth and melt into one. And when the ash-blond head tilts to touch his shoulder, he knows it's all right to speak again.
"What is it now?" he murmurs and hears the sigh.
"Father expects me to win tomorrow." It comes through clenched teeth. "As if I hadn't been nervous before."
"Oh boy," he says and would chuckle if it wouldn't hurt his young Master too much right now. "Well, in a way it's understandable. You and Maelstrom have been in such top form recently, I think even I've lost count of how many consecutive races you've now won... It's just that he doesn't know a thing about racing, doesn't understand that those have been local events and this is a whole different matter. We know that, you and me and Dad, but your Father doesn't realize it."
"He expects me to win," Fallada repeats in a strangled voice. "I know I don't stand a chance of winning, and that I mustn't even try to. I remember what your Dad has been telling me! Just focus on getting us through the course in one piece, both me and Maelstrom, make sure to clear the hurdles without him falling, and spare energy until the end, and not let him run himself legless, yeah, I remember all that and I'll try my best! But – but – Father's going to be so disappointed with me..."
"Fallada," Birjann says, hand finding the smooth face and turning it finally towards him, "so what? If your father expects something unreasonable, just because he doesn't know enough of things, so what? He's not going to stop you from riding or racing, or take Maelstrom away from you, and you know that full well. I understand if you want to make him happy, but there's possible things and then there's impossible things."
A muscle in Fallada's jaw tightens but those deep brown eyes are so desperate and earnest that Birjann can't help smiling.
"You're barely seventeen, this is the very first national level cross-country race for both you and Maelstrom, and even though you're damn good, you'll do wisely to do exactly what Dad has been training you to do. Don't even dream of doing anything more. Dad knows what he's talking about, we both know that."
Fallada nods automatically, yes, he trusts the Master of Fern Valley's stables absolutely, and even up here in the hayloft that faith makes itself known. Birjann gives his shoulder an encouraging squeeze.
"Remember, we'll both be there tomorrow, me and Dad," Birjann continues in a low voice. "I'll be riding Maelstrom to the start so all you need to do is take care of the final warm-up, and Dad will drive in the carriage with you. I'll talk to Dad about this, and you can be sure he'll spell out some facts to your father."
"Promise?" Fallada is bone tired, Birjann can feel it as the youth turns to fully face him. He pulls Fallada closer, chest to chest, and plants a kiss on his temple.
"Dad'll set your father straight about some things," he repeats. "Come, let's go down. We can't sleep up here. You need to get into a proper bed and get a good night's sleep. And maybe some tea."
"My stomach hurts," Fallada complains as Birjann rubs his back, slowly, soothingly, palms going round and round and round. This is how Fallada always reacts when he's nervous and this is how Birjann always gets him to relax, eventually, though his guess is that this time it's going to take longer than ever before. But then, tomorrow's event is unlike anything Fallada has ever been to before.
Birjann closes his eyes and wills his young Master to feel his own confidence. He's excited about tomorrow, a little nervous too but mostly just excited. He knows how fit and well trained Fallada and his horse are, how hard they've trained together under his Dad's all-seeing eye, and how they enjoy the thrill of competition, once they actually get to the start. He's not going to let Fallada's father spoil all that now.
"I know," he whispers. "It's because you haven't eaten tonight. Let's go now, shall we?"
"I want to sleep with you." Fallada's voice is petulant and pleading at the same time. Birjann has already expected this, he smiles in the soft darkness and hugs the younger man tight.
"All right. Come on then."
At the foot of the ladder he waits as Fallada climbs down. He can already see that young, trimmed body naked save for the sheen of sweat, feel that round tight ass under his hands, see himself pulling the boots down those slim calves. Taste Fallada's skin and eager kisses, hear his moans of pleasure, feel his release. Fallada is beautiful, his young Master and friend and love, and when he glances over his shoulder, Birjann grins when he sees again the sly glint of those eyes.
"Did your Dad send you to get me?"
"Yes," Birjann says truthfully. "He told me to find you and make sure you rest tonight. But I would've come to find you anyway, and you know that."
"Yeah, I know." Fallada takes a deep breath, one hand rising absently to rub his stomach, but Birjann grabs him by the wrist.
"Come on now. We go to my room and I put you to bed. Understood?"
"Yes." Fallada's lips twitch just a little as he follows Birjann towards the other end of the stable building. "Birjann, do you think he knows?"
Birjann considers this for a while, then shrugs. "I'm pretty sure he does."
"Really?" Fallada stops at the door, eyes wide. "You think so?"
"Well, he told me that he trusts me to know what to do to make you sleep tonight," Birjann explains as he opens the door. "Besides, it's been nearly two years, and I'd be terribly surprised if he'd never heard anything... Why? Does it bother you?"
"I – I hope he doesn't mind too much." Fallada's forehead is deeply creased in thought, but Birjann just pushes him into the room and gropes for the lamp.
"I don't think he does. He likes you so much. Besides, don't you think you have more reason to worry about what your father will say if he ever finds out that I shag his only son and heir?"
"Oh, shut up!"
The crack of matches, then the flame of the lamp rises and Birjann smiles when he sees the tray on the bigger table. A steaming teapot, two mugs, some small sandwiches on a plate. His father sure trusts his ability to handle his sometimes volatile young Master. Fallada looks at him moodily, stretched on his back on the bed.
"Whatever you say," Birjann says and goes to pour himself some tea, turning his back so that Fallada wouldn't see the smile tickling in the corner of his mouth.