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The night was dark with only the moon gleaming like a pearl. Tiny stars twinkled, little diamonds speckling the fabric of the sky. The stables were quiet, with only the occasional snuffle or snort from sleeping horses and the soft calls of the crickets hiding in the bushes.

 

All was peaceful and silent until the wooden gate creaked softly. Footsteps sounded lightly on the hard concrete as if the intruder was trying to be sneaky. Ears pricked up inside the stable stalls, and horses began to stir.

 

Curled up in his little empty stall, Jongdae unfurled himself, blinking sleep from his eyes. The horses were restless, hooves thudding and occasionally clip-clopping on the concrete floors. He dragged himself to his feet, peering over the half door.

 

Stormdancer was awake, his grey dappled muzzle hanging out of his stall. His ears were standing upright, twitching.

 

“Hey boy,” Jongdae let himself out of his stall, brushing hay from his pants. That stuff clung everywhere, especially if you slept in it. He ruffled his hair, yawning as he reached over, running his fingers over the stallion’s velvety nose.

 

“Why are you up, huh?” He murmured softly, as he stroked the stallion’s nose. Every horse in the stable had their merits, and they were all beautiful creatures. Which was unsurprising given the price tag on every one of them.

 

But Stormdancer was Jongdae’s secret favourite. He rejoiced whenever he had the chance to take him out, whether it was to let him out to pasture or to lunge him in the practice arena.

 

He was the best in the stables too, winning his rider medal after medal. His colouring was gorgeous, a light dappled grey that made it seem as if he had been sprinkled with stars. Coupled with his near flawless conformation, he was the best looking horse in the stables.

 

Stormdancer tossed his head, whinnying at the moon and Jongdae laughed, shushing him.

 

“Shh, you’ll wake the others.”

 

The stallion lipped at his shirt, wrinkling his nose as Jongdae petted him. They both turned when they heard the footsteps, boot heels clicking on the concrete floor.

 

A slender figure stopped, right at the stall beside them, and the horse inside poked its head out, whickering softly in greeting.

 

Jongdae was glad for the darkness of the night when the moonlight revealed the figure’s face, soft and delicate. His silver hair was ruffled, mussed by the night wind as he cooed at his horse.

 

“Couldn’t sleep?” Pretty brown eyes turned to him, pink lips lifting into a wry smile.

 

“Yeah,” the man shuffled a little, reaching up to rub his horse’s forehead. Stormdancer snorted, leaning over to nuzzle at the other horse.

 

“Thinking about how you’re going to lose to Junmyeon hyung again?” Jongdae teased gently, fingers curling into Stormdancer’s mane.

 

The man before him was one of the stables’ newest riders. But he was already rising in the ranks with his horse, Onyx Star. An oxymoron of a name, Jongdae thought.

 

“Hey, maybe I’ll beat him this time,” the rider smiled back, dropping a kiss on Onyx’s muzzle. His fingers were pale and delicate as he rubbed her cheek, the horse snuffling happily into his palm.

 

“I doubt that,” Jongdae turned back to Stormdancer, ruffling his forelock.

 

“Stormdancer’s the best, aren’t you boy?” He cooed and the stallion snorted, as in agreement.

 

“You watch your back, Kim Jongdae. One day, you’ll be out there riding, and I’ll beat your ass.”

 

Jongdae laughed, more bitterly than he had wanted. Him? Out there in the show ring?

 

The Exordium was one of the most prestigious competitions in the state and the price to pay just to enter was exorbitant. Far more than his stable boy job would ever be able to afford. Not to mention the fancy breeches, the boots, crop and gloves, the show jackets and of course, the horse.

 

“I don’t have to, Baekhyun. You know I’ll never ride for the Exordium.”

 

Baekhyun’s eyes narrowed and he nudged him hard.

 

“Never say never.”

 

Jongdae did not know what to say to that. He merely shrugged, rubbing Stormdancer’s neck as the horse butted at him for more pets.

 

There was a beat of silence as the wind picked up a little, whistling through the stables.

 

“You know that you can sleep in the hotel right? I heard Junmyeon hyung has a spare bed in his room. He’d offer it to you in a heartbeat,” Baekhyun said eventually. Onyx was getting bored of him, turning her head away to lip at her hay bale and Stormdancer looked as if he was already falling asleep.

 

Jongdae shrugged again, scratching Stormdancer’s cheek gently.

 

“I like it out here,” he said, rubbing Stormdancer’s forehead, “it’s quiet and the hay is comfortable.”

 

And it was away from all the rich, snobby riders who would turn up their noses and sooner clean their own tack than speak to him. He could do without the riders and their personal drama, thank you very much.

 

Baekhyun was frowning at him, his hands stuck into the pockets of what Jongdae would assume, a very expensive black coat.

 

“You should join us,” he said again, as if hoping he could change the stable boy’s mind, “not all of us are anything like Ryeowook hyung.”

 

Jongdae wrinkled his nose, shaking his head.

 

“I’m fine, thank you.”

 

He would much rather be out here in the stables, where the air always smelled like horse and hay. Or in the tack room, scrubbing and polishing the saddles. The horses were all much better company than the riders.

 

Although he had a special place in his heart for Baekhyun.

 

Even without looking, he could feel the other man staring, his eyes full of something that Jongdae could not identify. He shoved his hands into his pockets, suddenly very aware of just how outclassed he was.

 

He was only a stablehand.

 

“You should get going. It’s getting late and you still have to beat Stormdancer tomorrow morning.”

 

Baekhyun blinked, as if startled out whatever he had been thinking of. He nodded, and to Jongdae’s surprise, he shrugged off his coat, draping it over his shoulders.

 

“What-,”

 

“You keep this for now. The night is cold.”

 

Without a backward glance, the rider walked away, his shoulders hunched over as the wind blew across the stables, stirring up the dried leaves on the ground. His silver hair gleamed like quicksilver as Jongdae watched him leave, until he had disappeared around the corner.

 

He looked at the black coat still draped around him, a slow smile spreading across his cheeks. 

 

Huh.

 

“Good morning, Jongdae!” The voice was way too cheerful for the hour. Jongdae groaned, sitting up. Something slid off his body and he blinked groggily, grabbing the thing.

 

It was a black coat with silver buttons that shined like pennies in the dim overhead light .

 

“Why do you have Baekhyun’s coat?” He rubbed his eyes and looked up to see Junmyeon staring down at him over the open Dutch door.

 

The rider was already dressed in a white t-shirt, not a single hair out of place. He had his helmet settled on one hip, the other hand stroking Stormdancer’s cheek gently.

 

“I don’t- Um,” Jongdae stuttered, folding up the coat quickly. There was hay caught in it and he would have to dust it out later but for now, it was time to tack up Junmyeon’s horse.

 

“I’ll fetch the tack!” Junmyeon chirped, a teasing smile curving on his lips and Jongdae jolted. Tack was his job.

 

“No, no, it’s fine! I’ll get it!” He leapt to his feet, breaking into a run down the corridor to the sound of Junmyeon’s musical laughter.

 

When he got back, huffing and puffing from the weight of the saddle in his arms, Junmyeon was already inside the stall, running a curry comb along Stormdancer’s flank. He smiled brightly as Jongdae set down the tack, hurrying to join him in the grooming.

 

“I wondered where Baekhyun had run off to last night,” the rider said conversationally as Jongdae picked out the horse’s hooves, using a hoof pick to loosen any rocks that might have been stuck in the area between the hoof and the shoe.

 

“He came to see Onyx,” Jongdae kept his head down. Junmyeon’s eyes were burning into the back of his head as he reached for the other hoof, Stormdancer snorting at him like the diva that he was.

 

“Hey!” He yelped when the stallion danced just out of reach, startling Junmyeon. Stormdancer’s eyes were gleaming, mischievous and Jongdae laughed, running his hand along the stallion’s foreleg again.

 

This time, he allowed him to pick it up.

 

“You know you should ride with us sometime,” Junmyeon said as he moved on to the right shoulder, “I’d let you ride Stormdancer.”

 

Against his will, Jongdae’s stomach lurched. Ride Stormdancer? The horse of his dreams?

 

“Really?” Hope was fluttering in his stomach like little butterfly wings. He rose to his feet, reaching for the grooming spray.

 

“Yes, really,” Junmyeon was grinning as he finished up with the curry comb, “he likes you and you’re gentler with your hands than Yifan is.”

 

“You’ve watched me ride?” Jongdae tried to hide his flush as he sprayed down Stormdancer’s mane, running the mane comb through it.

 

The comb caught and he tugged gently, carefully detangling the hair. They would do a more thorough job later before the show, but right now, all he had to do was to get the tangles out.

 

“When you take those ponies out, yeah,” Junmyeon grabbed the dandy brush, sweeping it along Stormdancer’s flank, “you’re good with horses, Jongdae.”

 

Jongdae’s cheeks grew warm at the praise. He had taken lessons when he was younger, just a little bit, whenever they could afford it or when he had worked enough to beg for a class.

 

The Elyxion stables was prestigious enough that he usually had to save for months to even be able to afford a single lesson.

 

Even then, he would never have been allowed to ride Stormdancer. He was just far too valuable for a mere stablehand to ride.

 

“Thank you, hyung, really,” he stuttered as he moved from the mane to the tail, tugging out the knots.

 

Stormdancer was already growing impatient when Junmyeon finished his brushing and sprayed him down with flyspray. His tail twitched as Jongdae wiped down his face with a damp sponge.

 

Junmyeon flung the rug over the horse’s back, setting the saddle atop it neatly.

 

“Allow me,” Jongdae led the stallion out, his hoofs clip-clopping on the concrete.

 

It was still unbearably early  and the sun was not even rising yet in the horizon.

 

Junmyeon thanked him as he tightened the girth, stepping up onto the mounting block.

 

Jongdae dropped the stirrups, holding the stallion still as the rider swung into the saddle. Stormdancer snorted at the weight of Junmyeon on his back, tossing his head as the rider clipped on his helmet.

 

“I’ll be back in about half an hour,” he smiled warmly, turning the stallion away from the mounting block.

 

Jongdae stepped back as he watched the horse and rider disappear out of the stable. The little hope butterflies were still fluttering about in his stomach at the very thought of being allowed to ride such a perfect horse.

 

He had just enough time to duck into the nearest bathroom to freshen up before the next early bird arrived at the stable.

 

Yixing was also one of the kinder ones, with his pretty dimple and sweet smile. He almost never asked for any help if he could help it.

 

He appeared, dimpling sweetly when he saw Jongdae dart out of the bathroom to greet him, his hair a little wet in the front from washing.

 

“Morning, Jongdae!” He smiled cheerfully, already carrying an armful of his own tack.

 

“Good morning, Yixing hyung,” Jongdae bowed. Yixing was one of the riders who had started out with barely anything. He had been terrible at almost every event, given the worst horses to ride because the instructors refused to believe in him.

 

Until his father bought him an almost wild mustang, jet black everywhere except a white star on its forehead, fiery in every way.

 

Yixing tamed that horse, his placid nature tempering the horse’s feisty one and with her, won several state championships.

 

He would have been their stables’ best rider too, because of his story if Junmyeon had not come along with Stormdancer.

 

“Do you need any help?” He asked, out of courtesy, even though he knew Starfire would let no one else touch her. She was devoted to Yixing and Yixing alone.

 

Yixing grinned, his soft dark hair flying around his head as he shook it.

 

“Not unless you want to lose a finger or a hand,” he laughed. Jerking his chin towards the entrance of the stables, they could both hear the creaking of the gates.

 

“Looks like Baekhyun’s here,” his smile turned mischievous as he walked past Jongdae, nudging him gently with his shoulder, “he’ll need help.”

 

Jongdae blinked, ducking his head as Baekhyun appeared around the corner, his boot heels clicking on the concrete.

 

He peered into Stormdancer’s empty stall and raised his eyebrows.

 

“Junmyeon’s already gone?” 

 

“Yes, he’s early everyday,” Jongdae replied, already heading down the direction to the tack room.

 

“He’s determined to keep his place, Byun! It’s between you and me for the silver today!” Yixing’s voice floated out from a few stalls down and Jongdae did not even have to look to know that Baekhyun was grinning when he spoke.

 

“Not today, Xing. I’m going for gold.”

 

Jongdae turned out of the tack room just in time to see Baekhyun wink in his direction.

 

“I have something to prove.”

 

Yixing whistled as Jongdae passed him, his curry comb working over Starfire’s hindquarters, his eyes glittering.

 

Jongdae shook his head, smiling to himself as he let himself into Onyx’s stall, moving to grab the hoof pick from the grooming box.

 

“You really think Onyx can beat Stormdancer in the show ring?” He teased as he picked out Onyx’s hooves. The mare was a perfect angel, standing perfectly still even as Baekhyun began to brush out her strawberry roan back.

 

“She’s been practicing,” the rider grinned, patting his horse gently.

 

“You’d have to score your best in dressage to even consider winning,” Jongdae mused, setting down Onyx’s leg.

 

The Thoroughbred snorted as he made his way around her to pick out her back hooves. Around them, the stable was beginning to stir to life as riders began making their way down to prepare their horses for the show.

 

“I won’t beat him in showjumping, that’s for sure,” Baekhyun retorted. He dropped his curry comb into the grooming box and their fingers brushed when they both reached for the dandy brush at the same time.

 

Jongdae snatched his hand back, startled when their eyes met, Baekhyun’s gleaming with challenge. He suddenly felt hot in the tiny stable, dressed in his skimpy tank top.

 

“You do it,” he gestured, ducking behind Onyx’s hindquarters to hide his face. His heart was pounding so loudly in his ears that he thought Baekhyun could hear it even as he withdrew, moving back to rub the brush over the horse’s body.

 

“You really don’t think I can beat Junmyeon hyung?” Baekhyun asked quietly as Jongdae worked through the tangles in Onyx’s mane. The horse whickered, lipping at her hay net and Jongdae shrugged. It was difficult to keep the pride from his voice as he said.

 

“Stormdancer is the best in both cross country and show jumping. I don’t see how you can beat them both even with a perfect dressage score.”

 

The other man was quiet for so long that he was afraid he had really offended him.

 

“I’ll do it, you know. I’d really beat them,” he said, the conviction in his voice so strong that Jongdae almost believed him. There was a little part of him that was hoping that Baekhyun would win too, if only he could see him smile that big gummy smile.

 

Squashing down the traitorous thought, he merely smiled back, reaching for the fly spray.

 

“Just do your best, Byun and we’ll see.”

 

Junmyeon was already back and in the outdoor courtyard with Stormdancer by the time Jongdae was finished with Onyx. He smiled brightly at Baekhyun, waving as the other rider led his horse to the mounting block.

 

Jongdae ducked into the tack room, pulling out Junmyeon’s special box of grooming supplies he used for show days.

 

They always braided Stormdancer’s mane and tail for dressage days so that the Arabian would look his best.

 

He took the brush from Junmyeon to finish up the job while the rider applied the hoof polish and began the braiding process. Stormdancer seemed to have gotten out most of his nervous energy as he stood quietly, only occasionally, snorting when Jongdae brushed under his belly.

 

The stables were really bustling now with horses being led out to the cross ties and they could hear Ryeokwook throwing his customary before show fit as the stablehands his father had hired scrambled to get everything done.

 

It was a shame really, Jongdae thought, Little Prince was such a lovely horse. A pure bred Andalusian with perfect temperament and conformation. He would be a show winner too, if he did not have such an awful rider.

 

Junmyeon was smiling as Ryeowook screeched something about Little Prince’s mane and tail, rubbing a soothing hand over Stormdancer’s flank when the horse startled at the piercing voice.

 

“His Royal Highness is at it again, huh?” A deep voice joined them and Jongdae looked up to see Yifan, with his blue roan Lusitano horse, Cosmic Blue. He tied the horse up to the set of cross ties next to them, a stablehand hurrying up with his grooming kit in hand.

 

“When is he never?” Junmyeon replied and Jongdae stopped his grooming to pet Blue’s show companion, a little poodle dog called RouRou that rarely ever left Yifan’s side.

 

Yifan shrugged his shoulders, smiling in thanks before the stablehand rushed off. His smile slipped a little when they all heard a car roaring into the nearest parking lot, spooking the horses.

 

They all knew who that was.

 

He turned to his horse, snatching his curry comb out of the kit. Jongdae shook his head in sympathy as he finished up his grooming. Junmyeon would do the rest of the braiding himself, as he liked to and Jongdae would not see Stormdancer again until he was in the showring.

 

“Thanks for your help, Jongdae! Think about my offer!” Junmyeon called after him as he walked away quickly, determined to avoid the heavy footsteps that were clomping down the corridor towards them.

 

Yifan’s face was scrunching as he left, the stablehands vanishing to help the others as a man dressed in a business suit approached him, his face like a thundercloud.

 

Jongdae pitied him, really, but he was not suicidal enough to stick around to watch the show.

 

It was a flurry of activity, the morning passing in a blur. He saw no sign of Onyx or Baekhyun, not even in the warm up arena until he heard their names being called over the loudspeaker.

 

Stuffing the rest of his sandwich in his mouth, he hurried over to the show arena.

 

Onyx Star was well known as being the best dressage horse in the stable, Little Prince being the second and her performance was always worth watching.

 

So far, Ryeowook was in the lead, with the lowest score of 37. But Jongdae knew that Onyx could beat that.

 

Baekhyun often averaged around 28 to 35 for his dressage scores and Jongdae had no doubt that he could reach that today.

 

Onyx Star was calm and collected in his hands as they rode out into the arena, stopping in a perfect square halt before the judges. Baekhyun saluted to the judges, a tiny smile on his face and the judge saluted back, signalling the beginning of the test.

 

They performed supremely, Onyx only briefly faltering at the piaffe.

 

Baekhyun was grinning as they left the arena, and Jongdae could not help the whoop he released when he saw the score of 27 appear on the screen.

 

Right after, the bell sounded, and Stormdancer entered the ring. Junmyeon looked perfectly poised in the saddle, his gloves pulled up neatly, not a hair out of place.

 

Dressage was not Stormdancer’s strong suit, especially with his temperament, but he adored Junmyeon enough to give a good performance and ended with a great score of 36, just one point under Ryeowook.

 

Little Prince and Ryeowook would have come in third place, had it not been Yifan’s shocking performance with Cosmic Blue, beating them with a score of 36.5, the Lusitano horse’s breeding showing when they performed a flawless flying change.

 

That was enough for the diva rider to fume silently as they exited the arena, Jongdae running out to give Stormdancer a massive hug and congratulations to Baekhyun.

 

Yixing, who had come in fifth with a score of 37.5, nodded to them as they passed, his bright smile a little dimmer than usual. Yifan was standing at his side, murmuring lowly into his ear.

 

Ryeowook appeared just as the scores were announced, glowering at the taller man.

 

“Your horse sounds like a paint sample,” he sneered as the announcers called out the placings and Yifan raised an eyebrow, wrapping an arm tightly around Yixing to pull him closer.

 

“And yours is named after a fairytale,” he retorted, Yixing giggling in his arms. Jongdae swallowed back the laugh that threatened to explode out of his mouth when Junmyeon spread his palms out.

 

“Boys,” he said calmly, clearly trying not to laugh, “our horses all have ridiculous names. Let’s not be childish over it.”

 

Cosmic Blue chose this very moment to stick his head over the fence of the cool down arena, bumping his nose against Yifan’s shoulder for treats.

 

“We’ll see you in cross country, Junmyeon,” Yifan replied, smiling as he turned to pet his horse, “Yixing’s going to trash you.”

 

The rider in question whacked him hard on the chest, muttering something about being a traitor while Junmyeon merely laughed it off.

 

It was a running joke between all of them that Starfire would ace the cross country event, if she did not get too into her head and stop listening to her rider. She was a mustang after all and with Yixing’s careful and meticulous training, had more than enough stamina and speed to outrun the rest of them.

 

They all turned away when the taller man leaned down, the look in his eyes warning them what was to come.

 

“God they’re disgusting,” Ryeowook sneered as they left with their horses in tow.

 

Jongdae shrugged, preferring to keep his mouth shut. He doubted Ryeowook cared to hear his opinion.

 

He thought it was sweet. Rivalry in the stables ran deep, but Yifan and Yixing never seemed to let the business side of things get in the way of their relationship.

 

They were so fully supportive of each other. Jongdae could only dream of having such a relationship.

 

Sneaking a look at Baekhyun, he allowed himself to dream a little. If he came from a wealthy family, if he could afford a horse like Stormdancer, perhaps he could catch Baekhyun’s attention.

 

“Hey,” Junmyeon nudged him gently, his smile kind, “where’d you go?”

 

Jongdae felt his cheeks flush red and he took Stormdancer’s bridle, the horse snorting and tossing his head.

 

“Nowhere,” he muttered and Junmyeon laughed, disbelieving.

 

“Come get some food with me after you put Stormdancer away,” he said, giving his horse a slappy pat on the shoulder.

 

Stormdancer nickered at him and Jongdae nodded dumbly, despite the fact that he had just eaten.

 

He was completely oblivious to the sour look on Baekhyun’s face and the smirk on Ryeowook’s face as they dragged Junmyeon away.

 

-

 

“Who- oh hey,” Jongdae startled when he opened the door to the feed room to see Yifan and Yixing huddled up inside, the latter pushed up against the wall with a feed bucket in hand.

 

It was already evening, the sun’s rays spilling red over the land.

 

Most of the riders had already left, in their fancy sports cars to go into town for dinner and drinks.

 

Jongdae knew for a fact that Baekhyun had gone with them, along with Junmyeon and a few others.

 

He had resigned himself to spending the rest of the night feeding and watering the horses before going to bed.

 

“Hey,” Yifan said, as he pulled away from Yixing. His brows were knitted into a frown that made him look exceptionally terrifying and Jongdae could not help the little thrill of fear that crept into his heart.

 

Yixing’s cheeks were flushed as he straightened, flashing Jongdae a weak smile.

 

They both looked strained, as if something had happened but it was not Jongdae’s business. His business was the horses.

 

Yifan sighed heavily through his nose, backing away from Yixing. He nodded at Jongdae before slipping out of the room without so much a goodbye, his shoulders tense.

 

They both watched him go, Yixing’s smile slipping away completely.

 

“Should I feed Starfire, Yixing hyung?” Jongdae asked, hoping to diffuse the strange tension in the room.

 

The rider shook his head, waving a hand.

 

“No, I’m about to do it. But thank you, Jongdae.”

 

He disappeared out of the room after Yifan and Jongdae turned his attention back to the feed bins.

 

There was always drama with such elite horse riders and he preferred not to get stirred up in any of it.

 

But Baekhyun, his mind supplied him and he shoved the thought out of his mind. He should very much like to get involved with Baekhyun.

 

He scanned the diet list tacked up on the notice board briefly, mentally cataloguing which horses needed a different diet before filling the feed buckets.

 

Little Prince was happy to see him when he stopped by, putting his nose into his hand for pets before the food in his feed bucket distracted him.

 

Even thought Yixing said he would do it, Jongdae still made a stop by Starfire’s stall. She bared her teeth at him when he approached, lifting her head from her food.

 

Jongdae smiled to himself, lifting his hands up in surrender.

 

One by one, he stopped by the horses on his side of the stables, giving them their feed and making sure that they all had full water troughs.

 

Stormdancer was the last on his list, stamping and snorting with impatience by the time he opened the Dutch door.

 

Junmyeon preferred it if Stormdancer ate outside and who was Jongdae to argue?

 

He turned the horse out into the indoor paddock and hurried to the barn, where the hay was stored.

 

He had spotted quite a few empty hay nets on his rounds and that simply would not do.

 

Firebrand tried to eat his hand when he refilled his haynet, and Jongdae got out as fast as he could.

 

The Anglo-Arabian belonged to Park Chanyeol, one of the few riders who gave very little care about the results of his riding.

 

From what Jongdae had heard around the stables, Chanyeol was one of the wealthiest riders around.

 

His father was some businessman and his mother was a movie star.

 

The rumors also said that he was chasing after Kim Junmyeon though Jongdae had yet to see any evidence of it.

 

Stormdancer was already finished by the time he was done with the hay nets and feed buckets.

 

The horse nickered when he saw him, trotting up as he opened the gate.

 

“Hey boy,” Jongdae set down the armful of empty buckets he had collected, using both arms to hug the stallion tightly around his neck.

 

The stallion smelled like hay and leather, all things that Jongdae had grown up around. It felt like home.

 

Stormdancer nuzzled at his head, absently chewing at his shirt until he pulled away.

 

“Good boy,” he gave the stallion a slappy pat, leading him out and back into his stall, where he immediately went straight for his newly refreshed hay-net.

 

Jongdae watched him pull flakes of hay from the hay net with a smile. He would have to come back to check on him again just to make sure he did not eat too much.

 

“Jongdae,” he was just heading back to the feed room, buckets in hand when someone called his name.

 

“Wait up!”

 

Turning, his heart stuttered in his chest when he saw Baekhyun standing at the other end of the corridor, clutching a bag in his hands.

 

The dim stable light glinted off his silver hair as he strode down the hall, the bag in his hands rustling.

 

Jongdae stood stock still, waiting for him to reach him. He waved awkwardly, with a stack of buckets in his arms.

 

“Have you eaten?” The rider asked when he drew near, and Jongdae could see the take out box in his hands.

 

There was a wonderful smell wafting through the air, enough to make his mouth water.

 

He swallowed, balancing the buckets on his hip like a baby.

 

“I had a sandwich from the vending machines.”

 

Baekhyun’s smile could have lit up the entire stable as he thrust the box in his direction like an overexcited puppy.

 

“I brought you dinner! Chanyeol brought us to this amazing Greek restaurant and they had the best spanakopita.”

 

Jongdae laughed at his enthusiasm, ignoring the tiny squirm in his stomach at Baekhyun’s attention.

 

“Hurry and put those buckets away, it’s still warm,” the rider urged him, nudging him with his elbow and Jongdae obeyed, scurrying to rinse off the buckets.

 

He would have never imagined in his wildest dreams that he would be sitting on a hay bale with Byun Baekhyun, eating still warm spanakopita from the best Greek restaurant in town, Baekhyun’s coat draped over the both of them.

 

“Who do you think can beat Junmyeon tomorrow?”

 

Baekhyun was leaning against his shoulder, his weight grounding as Jongdae forked spinach pie into his mouth.

 

The rider was staring into space, one hand resting casually on Jongdae’s thigh.

 

His touch burned, through his jeans and Jongdae had to resist the urge to link their hands together more than once.

 

“If Yixing can get her to behave, Starfire, I guess,” he admitted reluctantly. No one, in his mind would ever be as good as a jumper as Stormdancer, who was the bravest and most precise horse he had ever seen.

 

Pair that with Junmyeon’s near perfect training and the trust they had in each other, they were practically unbeatable.

 

“She’d best him on pure speed alone.”

 

Baekhyun hummed at that answer, turning his head so that it was pillowed on Jongdae’s shoulder.

 

“What if I win?” He asked quietly, “make a bet with me?”

 

Jongdae laughed, shoving at the rider. He was smiling as he set down the empty takeout box.

 

“What sort of bet?”

 

Baekhyun sat up, turning to look at him dead in the eye.

 

“If I win,” he picked up Jongdae’s hand, the contact sending sparks rippling through his skin, “will you go on one date with me?”

 

“What?” Before he could stop himself, the word was spilling his mouth and Jongdae stared at Baekhyun, slack jawed.

 

Baekhyun shifted, his cheeks visibly heating up. His grip on Jongdae’s hand loosened, as if he wanted to pull away but he did not.

 

“Will you go on a date with me, if I beat Junmyeon?”

 

Jongdae stared back at him, frozen in place. He could not believe what was happening.

 

“In eventing? Or… or just cross country?” He stuttered and then was immediately cursing himself.

 

That was completely besides the point. Also, since when did Baekhyun have any interest in dating him of all people?

 

They were close, but only because Jongdae had been kind to Baekhyun when he first arrived, encouraging him to join in conversations with Junmyeon and the others.

 

Ever since he had grown in popularity, Jongdae had been slipping into the background, certain that such an elite rider would want nothing to do with him anymore.

 

But Baekhyun surprised him by choosing to hang out with him, a lot of times on shows and before lessons.

 

“Cross country, of course,” Baekhyun said immediately, “we both know that Onyx will never be better than Stormdancer in showjumping.”

 

Despite himself, Jongdae smiled, tugging Baekhyun’s hand closer.

 

“I’ll go on a date with you,” he watched Baekhyun’s eyes brightened, “if you beat your personal best timing with Onyx.”

 

Baekhyun’s smile was widening by the second and Jongdae’s heart leapt at the sight.

 

“Not Junmyeon? You’re so convinced that no one can beat him?”

 

Jongdae burst out laughing at the put out tone that Baekhyun managed to keep even with the smile on his face.

 

“I don’t want to pit you against your friend,” he reminded gently and the look on Baekhyun’s face softened.

 

“I’ll still try to beat him anyway,” he said, but it was soft, with no real heat to it.

 

“Of course you will,” Jongdae said affectionately, nudging him.

 

It was another early start after he had wrestled Baekhyun off to bed, his heart full to bursting with joy.

 

Junmyeon had appeared in the stable, perfectly composed yet again with knowing eyes when Jongdae awoke, Baekhyun’s coat sliding off his body once more.

 

“Are you fraternising with my enemy?” He joked as Jongdae followed him out.

 

Stormdancer nickered at him when he let him out, leading him to the indoor paddock for his breakfast.

 

Junmyeon never rode him on hacks in the morning before a cross country event, preferring just to lunge him gently to prevent any injuries.

 

“Do you need to walk the course?” Jongdae asked as Stormdancer munched, Junmyeon leaning against the fence to watch him.

 

“I will in a bit, Chanyeol’s coming with me,” Junmyeon said nonchalantly and Jongdae shoved down the smile that threatened to bloom across his face.

 

“I didn’t know that he was that close to you,” he busied himself refilling the water trough, “usually you ask Yifan or Yixing.”

 

Junmyeon’s eyes narrowed and he shoved his shoulder hard as Jongdae broke into laughter.

 

“We’re just friends, Dae. You and Baekhyun on the other hand…”

 

He trailed off and Jongdae had a hard time keeping his face straight when Baekhyun appeared, leading Onyx behind him.

 

Jongdae took the chance to shower the mare with affection, successfully distracting Junmyeon.

 

“Morning, Junmyeon hyung, Jongdae,” Baekhyun nodded at them, unlatching the paddock gate.

 

Onyx nickered as she trotted into the paddock, heading straight for Stormdancer.

 

“I thought she needed some exercise,” the rider said in reply to their questioning gazes.

 

He smiled in Jongdae’s direction and his heart quadrupled in speed.

 

It was rare for Baekhyun to be up early on cross country day. He rarely ever got up this early to exercise Onyx Star, relying on the stablehands to lunge his horse for him.

 

Had he come just to see him?

 

Jongdae ducked his head, darting through the open gate to pick up Stormdancer’s empty feed bucket.

 

He wished he could hang around them for a little longer but he still had other duties to attend to. Many of the horses needed warming up while their riders walked the course and got breakfast in preparation for the event.

 

“I’d best be off, see you at the event!” He rattled the bucket, darting off before either of them could stop him.

 

Baekhyun’s appearance flustered him and he found himself drifting back to the scene last night.

 

Had that truly been real? Or was it a figment of his imagination?

 

“So, did Baekhyun grow some balls last night?” A piercing voice cut through his thoughts and he startled in the middle of reaching for the hose.

 

Ryeowook was standing before him, immaculately dressed, pulling on his riding gloves.

 

Little Prince snorted at him from where he was tied at the cross ties, tossing his head listlessly and Jongdae bit back a comment.

 

The horse was tied too tight to the cross ties. If he spooked, something bad could happen.

 

But Ryeowook was hardly likely going to take any advice from him.

 

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he turned on the hose, careful to keep the water pressure low such that it would not spray onto the rider’s clothes.

 

He would throw an absolute bitch fit if his clothes got ruined.

 

“He talked so much about you at dinner last night,” Ryeowook rolled his eyes, “and half the stables knows he’s been wanting to bone you for like ever.”

 

Jongdae flushed at the crude remark, focusing his attention on the bucket. He scrubbed at a particularly stuck pellet, trying to think of a reply that would not spread gossip around the stables.

 

“Leave him alone, Ryeowook,” Yifan appeared around the corner, his brows knitted. He looked tense, the smile he directed at Jongdae strained around the edges.

 

He glanced at the both of them and then at Little Prince before sighing.

 

“Are you trying to choke your horse, Ryeowook? You’ve done the cross ties too tight.”

 

Jongdae bit down on his tongue as Yifan reached over, loosening the ties and Ryeowook’s eyes narrowed.

 

He made his excuses as quickly as possible, determined to avoid the theatrics that was sure to unfold.

 

As he was leaving, he heard Ryeowook snarking.

 

“And where were you last night? Too busy sucking face with that fifth place loser to come for dinner?”

 

Sucking in a sharp breath, Jongdae hurried away. Stable gossip was none of his business.

 

 He finished his chores just in time to head back and help Junmyeon tack up, double and triple checking the stirrups to ensure that they were strong and nothing was amiss.

 

It could be fatal if the equipment was faulty or tampered with, on such a high intensity course.

 

“Good luck,” he gave Stormdancer a slappy pat on the neck as Junmyeon mounted, a picture perfect rider atop the Arabian.

 

“We’ll do well, won’t we?” Junmyeon patted his horse as well, pressing his heels in to turn the stallion away.

 

Jongdae grinned as he opened the gate. Stormdancer’s performance on the cross country field was always one of the crowning jewels of any eventing competition and he could hardly wait for them to begin.

 

The bell sounded for them just as he was halfway across the arena to the seats and he picked up his pace.

 

Yifan, who had finished his event earlier gestured for him to come over, much to the distaste of many riders around him but Jongdae gritted his teeth and ignored them.

 

“How did you do?” He asked as he sat down, reaching down to pet RouRou. The poodle was lying on top of Yifan’s boots, dozing.

 

He yapped when Jongdae touched him though, leaning into the pets.

 

Yifan shrugged, his eyes fixed on the screen where they were broadcasting the last of Yixing’s performance.

 

“Fine, I guess,” his tone was clipped, and he tensed. Jongdae looked back at the screen and saw Starfire sail straight over the water jump and gallop in the direction of the next one.

 

He could tell that Yixing was having trouble holding her back, trying to steady her for the next jump.

 

“He’s not going to make that,” he muttered to himself and there was a collective wince when Starfire leapt into the air far too early, her hind legs dropping low enough to completely knock the poles from their brackets.

 

Yixing managed to keep her in check for the rest of the course but from what Jongdae could see, they had knocked far too many jumps for their timing to save them.

 

There was no time to breathe as Junmyeon and Stormdancer were entering the course, the Arabian in his element as he galloped as if he had wings, Junmyeon perfectly in control as they approached the first jump, a log pile haphazardly arranged.

 

Junmyeon was crouched low over his back, urging him in one, two and three strides and they were airborne, Stormdancer landing neatly on the other side.

 

Arriving at the coffin jump, Stormdancer did not even hesitate, leaping over the log and straight into the ditch. He climbed the several strides needed and jumped again, over the log at the top.

 

They were making it in good time as Junmyeon navigated around the course, clearing the double combination and brush fence with ease.

 

At the water jump, Stormdancer faltered briefly but Junmyeon urged him on, his heels pressing into his sides and the horse snorted.

 

They could all see the trust in the stallion’s eyes as he ploughed into the shallow creek, eyes ahead at the jump planted in the middle.

 

He jumped, landing with a splash and Jongdae smiled to himself when he saw Junmyeon’s mouth move even as they continued on the course, clearly praising him.

 

Jongdae applauded with the others when they finished the race with three minutes to spare from the safe time, the best score so far.

 

The next one to race was Baekhyun and they were doing brilliantly, clearing every jump and well ahead of the safe time.

 

Until they approached the water jump.

 

Jongdae watched with bated breath when Onyx approached the jump, Baekhyun crouched low over her back.

 

His lips were pinched in concentration as he urged her on.

 

At the very last moment, when it looked as if she would stride into the water, she slid into an abrupt stop,  jostling Baekhyun sharply.

 

Jongdae cursed under his breath as Baekhyun took her round again, his lips pressed into a grim line, circling back to the jump.

 

This time she plunged in and leapt, her hooves barely brushing against the pole.

 

The pole rocked but did not fall and they finished the race with no further issues.

 

When he came out of the arena, Jongdae hurried to him.

 

Baekhyun’s face was downcast as he met him, Jongdae reaching to take the bridle of the horse.

 

“I didn’t beat my time,” he muttered under his breath and Jongdae cast a glance at the LED screen.

 

He was only seconds away from beating his personal best.

 

“Hey,” he grabbed Baekhyun’s gloved hand, the leather sweaty against his fingers, “don’t worry about it. I’m still going on a date with you.”

 

“Really?” Baekhyun looked up, as if he was surprised.

 

“If you plan it,” Jongdae replied, smiling when he saw some of the light come back into Baekhyun’s eyes.

 

“Nothing fancy. Just something simple.”

 

Jongdae was just about settling in for the night when Baekhyun appeared in the doorway, grinning happily.

 

He was practically glowing with excitement as he flopped down next to Jongdae, who was already curled up in the hay, half covered with the coat that he had stolen from Baekhyun.

 

“What’s up?” Jongdae asked, curling in close when Baekhyun settled against his side, warmth blooming in his chest.

 

“We’re going on our date tomorrow,” the rider mumbled as he huddled under the coat, basking in Jongdae’s warmth.

 

Jongdae raised his eyebrows.

 

“Where are we going?” He asked, turning to face Baekhyun.

 

They were pressed so close that he could feel Baekhyun’s breath puff against his lips when he exhaled.

 

The rider nuzzled his head against the crook of Jongdae’s throat and kissed it, slinging an arm over his chest.

 

“On a hack to see the sunset,” he murmured and Jongdae squirmed. The little puffs of air he emitted tickled.

 

He draped his arm around Baekhyun’s waist, revelling in their closeness as Baekhyun snuggled closer, whining like a little puppy.

 

“Did you forget that I don’t own a horse, Baek?” He asked, amused at the way Baekhyun relaxed at his touch.

 

“Junmyeon said you could take Stormdancer as long as he rests for the entire day before we go,” Baekhyun mumbled back, inhaling and Jongdae laughed when some of his hair went up the rider’s nose, causing him to sneeze.

 

“Gross,” he nudged him sharply, though his heart leapt at the mere thought of riding Stormdancer.

 

“You’re sure that’s what Junmyeon said?”

 

“Yes, now stop talking before I kiss you,” Baekhyun grumbled. He dropped his head against Jongdae’s shoulder, humming as he wrapped his arms and legs around him as if he was a giant teddy bear.

 

Jongdae’s heart skipped a beat at that and Baekhyun seemed to know exactly the effect he had on him too, as he smirked.

 

Jongdae huffed, hugging him back.

 

He could hardly wait for their date.

 

Junmyeon had indeed allowed Jongdae to take Stormdancer, to the amazement of Chanyeol and Ryeowook.

 

He had sent them away with a wave of his hand and a knowing smile.

 

Jongdae’s cheeks were burning by the time they left for their hack, various riders stopping by to whistle at him, marvelling at the fact that he was going on a date with the Byun Baekhyun.

 

Baekhyun had revelled in the attention, occasionally popping in when Jongdae was polishing tack to keep him company or feed him.

 

He put up with as many catcalls as he could until they could leave, tacking up the horses as fast as they could.

 

Excitement bubbled like champagne in his bloodstream as he mounted Stormdancer, Baekhyun holding the horse still.

 

Stormdancer snorted when he was seated, as if acknowledging his new rider and pawed at the ground, impatient to be off.

 

Baekhyun was grinning too as he mounted Onyx, turning around to see Jongdae nudge Stormdancer forward.

 

“How’s he feeling?”

 

Jongdae could not stop the grin splitting his face as they walked the horses out towards the trail.

 

“Wonderful.”

 

The sun was about halfway down the horizon when they arrived at the top of the hill, their horses panting slightly from the exertion.

 

Jongdae slid off Stormdancer, patting his shoulder gently.

 

His eyes were fixed upon the sunset, glowing golden rays spilling all over the land. The landscape was coated in gold, slowly turning to red as the sun sank further beneath the horizon.

 

The clouds turned from cotton candy pink to purple and a deep dark blue, until stars sparkled in the sky.

 

“It was very kind of Junmyeon to lend me Stormdancer,” he said softly, stroking his fingers over the stallion’s shoulder.

 

Stormdancer whinnied, dropping his head to lip at the grass and there was a soft thud when Baekhyun slid off Onyx, walking closer to him.

 

Jongdae felt warmth spread through him when their shoulders bumped, Baekhyun’s eyes never leaving his face.

 

“Yes, it was,” the rider agreed, reaching out a hand.

 

Jongdae’s heart fluttered as he took it, entwining their fingers together.

 

The rest of them had gone off to town to celebrate their wins and the ending of Exordium. In a couple of hours they would have to wake up and drive back down with the horses to the Elyxion stables and their lives would go back to normal again.

 

Or as normal as life could be.

 

“How’s this date?” Baekhyun asked, his shoulder brushing gently against Jongdae’s.

 

Jongdae turned to look at him, long lashes framing his eyes. Baekhyun was looking at him hopefully, leaning in close.

 

“It’s wonderful, thank you,” he murmured, his gaze lighting upon Baekhyun’s lips.

 

“You know, I’ve liked you since the beginning. Remember when we first met?” Baekhyun stepped closer, leaning against Jongdae.

 

Jongdae nodded.

 

Of course he did.

 

Baekhyun was just a scrawny rich kid dressed in too expensive white breeches and fancy boots. He had been hiding away in the barn with his lunch because he was too afraid to join the others and Jongdae had found him.

 

They started talking and gradually, Baekhyun gained the confidence to talk to Junmyeon and the rest, earning his place among the top riders of the stables.

 

“You were so shy, what happened?” He commented, smiling when Baekhyun pouted, nudging him.

 

“I really like you,” he confessed and Jongdae’s heart was practically goo at the shy smile sent his way.

 

Baekhyun’s fingers squeezed around his hand and he squeezed back.

 

“I thought you liked Junmyeon hyung at first,” he said and Jongdae laughed, tipping his head back.

 

Baekhyun was still staring at him when he stopped, lips curled into a kittenish grin.

 

“I’m not surprised,” he stated, patting Stormdancer once more, “he does have an incredible horse.”

 

He closed the gap between them, giving in to the urge that had been tugging at him since he had seen Baekhyun’s face framed by the light of the setting sun.

 

He was proud when the rider let out a little gasp when their lips connected, the kiss soft and sweet.

 

“But I like you more.”