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Cross-posted from DA

Title: The Road to Recovery
Rating: OT
Author: kira
Chars/Pairs: Gilbert Beilschmidt (Prussia), Elizabeta Héderváry (Hungary), Ludwig Beilschmidt (Germany), Feliciano Vargas (Italy), Lovino “Lovey” Vargas (Romano), Antonio (Spain), Mr. Kirkland (England), Kiku Honda (Japan), Feliks Łukasiewicz (Poland), Francis (France)
Genres: drama
Warnings: none
Word Count: 5806
Summary: Sometimes the best medicine is a Cucumber Salad…
Author’s note: Thanks go out to my beta Jen for looking this over for me as well as helping me with a title and summary. Thanks also go out to my friend Kat for her cheerleading.
Author’s note 2: An Equicizer is a piece of equipment that looks like a horse without legs and was originally developed to help jockeys who had been injured to get back in the saddle. It is now used along with real horses in Equine Therapy.



“Come, Gil, your brother said he has a surprise for you,” Elizabeta Héderváry said as she held out a pair of crutches to her fiancé. She smiled at him, her green eyes sparkling with excitement as she knew what the surprise was.

Gilbert Beilschmidt refused to look at her; instead he continued gazing out the window, in the den that now served as his bedroom, at nothing in particular. He had been home from the hospital for about a month, but he still could not shake the feeling of helplessness that had settled around him like a shroud. He had come a long way in rehab, having recently been able to get around with the help of crutches, but he found it hard to accept the fact that things would never be “normal” for him anymore.

“Gil honey, please…” She set the crutches next to him and ran a hand through her long brown hair, pushing it back from her forehead. Elizabeta always hated it whenever one of his moods hit as he was hard to deal with at such times. She sighed softly.

He looked at her. “I hate surprises,” he said flatly, his carnelian eyes as dull and listless as his tone.

“I know…” she soothed.

“You don’t know shit, Lizzie!”

“Gil…”

He glared at her.

“Please, Gil. Try to look at things more positively.” Elizabeta knelt at his feet.

“Positively?!” He was genuinely surprised by her statement and it showed through his anger.

“Yes, a month ago no one could have predicted you’d be up and about on your own after everything that had happened to you.” She reached up to brush his premature grey hair from his eyes, before cupping his cheek. “Gil honey, you’ve had head trauma, your right leg was broken so badly they seriously considered amputating it, and-”

“He’s dead, Lizzie…” Gilbert said softly. “Dead and I’m a cripple cuz some goddamned kids had to throw a firecracker at us.” His eyes welled up with tears at the partial memories. “I never got to say good-bye.”

Elizabeta sighed softly. “It wasn’t your fault, Gil.”

“I shouldn’t have gone riding, Lizzie.”Damn it… it was… what’s the date with the firecrackers…? Why can’t I remember…? I know I should have known better than go… But why…?

“You didn’t know they’d be doing that in the park, Gil.”

Gilbert looked away. He wiped the tears that silently ran down his cheeks with a shaky left hand. “Blitzkrieg is dead, Lizzie…”

“I know and he was a great horse, Gil.”

He nodded. He reached for the photo of himself and his horse, a big black Friesian he called Blitzkrieg, as he choked back a sob. His hand shaky and unsteady, Gilbert ran the back of his right hand down his cheeks. To someone unfamiliar with his injuries, he appeared to be hitting himself in some sort of palsied attack, but to his friends and family, it was a small miracle. He had been badly injured when the kids startled his horse, the Frisian rearing up and nearly unseating him, before falling over when Gilbert reined him sharply. The fall had broken the horse’s leg and Gilbert’s when he fell on him. He had also suffered a concussion as he had hit his head pretty hard on the ground, despite wearing a riding helmet, and probably would have been a lot worse off without it. Everyone was concerned about him breaking his neck, but Gilbert was lucky in that regard. Still, it took a long time to get him to this point as he had to relearn how to do even the simplest of things.

“Anyway…” Elizabeta continued, “Let’s at least go see what your brother and Feli have for you.”

“Feli?” Gilbert frowned as she helped attach the cuffs on top of the crutches to his upper arms.

“You remember Feli,” Elizabeta smiled. “Ludwig’s little Italian friend.”

“The… jockey?” Gilbert frowned. His brother’s friend Feliciano Vargas was one of those memories that were hard recall. Sometimes he remembered him; sometimes he confused him with his brother, Lovino, whom he had met through his friend Antonio. It was shortly before the accident that the Beilschmidt brothers had met the Vargas ones at one of Antonio’s parties. Gilbert’s friend had found it hilarious when it was discovered that both sets of brothers had no idea their brothers were friends.

“Yup!” She beamed at him. Parts of her fiancé’s memory were fuzzy, but he slowly getting better. She considered herself lucky that he remembered her and his brother of course as well as his father when he had woken up, the rest of his friends and family were simply strangers that he gradually recalled. Except for Gilbert’s friend, Matthew, no matter how hard he tried to remember him; every time Matthew came to visit, it was as if Gilbert was meeting him for the first time. While everyone laughed it off as a joke, Elizabeta knew it hurt Gilbert as much as it did Matthew.

“Oh…” Gilbert frowned.

“Ready?”

“As I’ll ever be, I suppose.” Gilbert gripped the hand grips on the crutches and waited for her help.

“Okay.” Elizabeta carefully helped him to stand. She waited several heartbeats, before kissing him on the nose and smiling.

Gilbert harrumphed like a grouchy old man, the ghost of a smirk tugging the corner of his mouth upwards. No matter how angry he was at the world for the moment, his Lizzie still could lift his spirits. He had no doubt he would be in a lot worse shape if were not for her or his family. “You know Cookie’s coming soon.” He took a few unsteady steps.

“Cookie?”

“Yeah, the Asian guy who comes over to torture me.” Gilbert smirked.

“Oh, Kiku!” Elizabeta giggled.

“Yeah… Kiku…” Gilbert frowned. He was sure the guy’s name was Cookie and he hated being corrected, even if he had gotten it wrong. He was certain he had called him that numerous times since he began working with him in physical therapy. He never corrects me about it… Damn…

“Something wrong, Gil?”

“No…”

The two of them slowly made their way outside. It was hard going, especially when Elizabeta made him close his eyes, before stepping through the sliding glass door and out onto the patio. He could hear his brother’s friend Feliciano talking animatedly, but then that was typical for little Italian jockey. Gilbert could picture his taller, broader, and blonder younger brother, blushing profusely whenever Feliciano looked at him. He never tired of teasing about it too. His brother Ludwig called out to him as he came over to them and Gilbert groaned softly and was half tempted to open his eyes at all the nonsense.

“What is it, West?” he said, calling his brother by the nickname he had given him when Ludwig got accepted at West Point. Turning his head towards his fiancé, Gilbert added, “Can I open my eyes now?”

“Yes,” they chorused.

“About time…” Gilbert opened his eyes and frowned at what he saw. “What’s Feli doing with that horse?”

“Ummm,” Ludwig began; his cheeks stained a bright pink.

“He’s for you!” Feliciano finished for him. “He’s a retired racehorse and Mr. Kirkland was going to sell him for dog food and Lovey said I was an idiot about it, but anyway, I was sooo sad when your… you know, ummm… anyways, Luddy and I thought he’d make a great present!” He beamed at the Beilschmidt brothers as he ran a hand through his mop of chestnut colored hair. “So ummm, his name’s Cucumber Salad.”

Gilbert frowned. He tried to rein in his anger, but it was hard. He could not believe they went out and bought him another horse without asking. He was still mourning Blitzkrieg’s loss and he felt like this was belittling his memory. So he said the first thing he could think of, “That’s a stupid name for a horse.”

Bruder!”

“No, he’s right; Luddy, but then again most race horse have silly names.” Feliciano laughed. “Did you know, Gilbo, that his sister’s name is Plum Pudding? She just won a race over at Belmont two weeks ago. I would have loved to have ridden her too as she’s a great filly, but I was out in California at the time. Anyway, in case you’re wondering, he was retired cuz he was developing tendonitis in his left foreleg so he started favoring it and that slowed him down and if they stop winning races what good are they as racehorses? Anyways...” Feliciano paused to take a breath, “He can still be ridden, just not raced anymore.” He rubbed the horse’s nose while holding firmly onto the lead attached to his halter. The last thing he wanted was for Gilbert to get accidentally hurt, in case the horse decided to see if he was hiding any treats.

Cucumber Salad blew softly into Feliciano’s hand. Ears forward, he continued sniffing and nuzzling Feliciano, while looking for more of the baby carrots he had been feeding him. When he chuckled, Cucumber Salad nickered back at him and pushed him with his nose.

“Hey! Behave!” Feliciano said as he grabbed the halter with his free hand.

Cucumber Salad tried to pull his head away, but when he saw Feliciano meant what he said, he relaxed. He shook his head the minute he let go and Gilbert could not help chuckling at the horse’s high spiritedness. His attention drawn by the sound, Cucumber Salad took a step towards him. Curious, he pricked his ears forward and blew softly at him in greeting.

Gilbert blew back at him; the way used to do when greeting Blitzkrieg, and took a cautious step forward. Despite the feelings of loss that washed over him, he could not help interacting with the horse and Gilbert hoped that his clumsy movements would not spook him. He spoke softly, smiling for the first time in what felt like forever when Cucumber Salad nosed him for treats. “You know, if you keep eating like that, you’re gonna get fat like a Shetland pony,” he said softly.

When Cucumber Salad shook his head as if the horse had understood what Gilbert had said, he and Feliciano laughed. Ludwig breathed a sigh of relief. No matter how loud and crotchety he feared his brother’s protests were going to be about keeping him, Ludwig had a feeling the horse would be staying. Aside from the silly name, he was not a bad piece of horse flesh and was just as black as Blitzkrieg had been, but shorter at only sixteen hands tall and more delicate looking compared to the Friesian. The important thing in Ludwig’s eyes was that Gilbert was willing, at least on the surface, to accept him.

“Does he have a stable name?” Gilbert said as he attempted to feed Cucumber Salad the baby carrots Feliciano placed in his nearly open right hand. The horse, much to Gilbert’s amazement, avoided his fingers and he made an attempt to stroke his velvety soft nose.

“Mr. Kirkland always called him ‘Freddie’.”

“Yeah?”

Feliciano nodded. “He said something about him being foaled in January and called him Freddie after Frederick the Great.” He chuckled. “Mr. Kirkland is a bit of a history buff, although my brother claims ‘he doesn’t know shit’. And that’s a direct quote.”

Gilbert laughed. “I can just hear Lovey saying that too. But he doesn’t look like a Freddie, nor did anyone call Old Fritz ‘Freddie’.” He grinned. “Maybe Voltaire called him ‘Frédéric’,” he said in bad French, “but that’s about it.”

“Yeah?”

Gilbert nodded. “I wonder if he’d mind if I called him ‘Fritz’ instead.”

“So you’re gonna keep him?!” Feliciano cried. “That’s awesome!”

“I didn’t say that!” Gilbert frowned.

“You didn’t have to have to, Bruder,” Ludwig said.

Gilbert sputtered. “I can’t ride him!” he finally managed to say.

“Not now, but maybe one day…” Ludwig said.

Gilbert shook his head. The moment had gone. He had wanted to ride this horse in the worst way, before reality set in. This horse, who was probably just as lame as he was he in more ways than one, was in reality nothing more than a glorified dog and he felt his brother should have known that. Gilbert shook his head again when he felt his eyes sting from the unshed tears of frustration that he felt over his situation. “Whatever. I’ve gotta go, Cookie’ll be here soon to torture me. Anyway, thanks for the horse.” He turned as best he could and hobbled back towards the house.

Bruder!” Ludwig stood there helplessly, before turning to go after him.

“Leave him, Ludwig.” Elizabeta sighed. She hated seeing her fiancé looking so sad and she was sure saving Cucumber Salad had been the right thing, but now… She shrugged.

“Lizzie’s right, Luddy, just leave him alone and Gilbo’ll come around. He really does like him.” Feliciano rubbed the horse’s velvety soft nose. “He had that look I’ve seen on other jockeys’ faces, you know, the ones who’ve fallen off or had a bad accident; they’re itching to get back in the saddle. Some were hurt just as bad as your brother was and they did it.” Feliciano smiled. “You’ve just gotta believe. Anyways, let’s get Freddie-Fritz here settled into his new home.” While they led the horse to the stable, Kiku Honda pulled in the driveway for Gilbert’s physical therapy session. He got out of his car and walked around to the back of the house, where he normally found his patient.

“Hey, Kiku,” Lizzie called out, feigning a cheerfulness she did not feel as she walked over to him.

“Hello, Miss Elizabeta. How’s our patient doing?”

“He was doing okay.”

“I see. Has the depression returned?” Things had been so bad at one point, that Kiku had suggested psychological help in addition to the physical therapy. While Gilbert was doing much better since he had been released from the hospital, Kiku was always on the lookout for a relapse, having come to see him as more than just another patient thanks to a game of chess. He remembered the first time they had played that Gilbert had been so intent on the game, that he never realized Kiku was working on his fine motor skills. So any sign that things were not right, became worrisome.

“Kinda.” Elizabeta frowned as she tried to describe it. “Some days he just sits there, staring out the window, and doesn’t really move unless he has to, other days he’s fine and full life, like the Old Gil, you know before his accident.” She sighed. “The worst is when he jumps from mood to mood, like today. He was kinda listless before, then he seemed to perk up once he saw the horse Ludwig and Feli found for him and he got over being angry, then he crashed and burned, when he realized he couldn’t ride him in his condition.”

Kiku nodded. “What made his angry, yet happy?” They walked to back of the house and entered through the sliding glass doors.

“Ludwig and his friend Feli got him another horse. Gil really seemed happy about it too, until he realized he couldn’t ride him.”

“Aaah… he wants to ride again? Perhaps we can use that as a carrot to get him to focus on his exercises…”

“But wouldn’t that end up hurting him?”

“Not if he’s serious about working towards that goal. Realistically, he’s not going to ride at the same level he had been, but with help, he’ll be back in the saddle.” Kiku was silent for a bit as he thought about it. “I believe your fiancé might benefit from equine therapy.”

“Equine therapy?”

Kiku nodded. “Horses have been used as therapy animals since the ancient Greeks, although, in modern times, they not only help with physical limitations, but mental as well. And since Gilbert is such a horse lover, he’s a good candidate for it.”

“Yeah… It can really help with his bouts of depression?”

“Yes, as well as helping him deal with the accident, by helping him overcome any fears and anxiety he has about riding. It’s funny, but I had read an article about it in one of my journals the other day and it made me think about him. Hmmm… the guy they interviewed in the article, Feliks Łukasiewicz, works with children, but a colleague of mine knows him, so I can get in contact with him, if you’d like.”

“If you think would help, please do.”

“Okay, when I get back to my office. Right now my patient is waiting for me.”

She smiled. “Have fun.”

“According to your fiancé, I have a lot fun torturing him, except if we’re playing chess, where he tends to beat me.” Kiku smiled back at her. He knocked on Gilbert’s bedroom door before letting himself in. Kiku hoped today would be a better day than the last time he was there.

Several days later, Gilbert was slowly making his way to the stable, more specifically the paddock. Where he knew he would find Cucumber Salad or Fritz as he had taken to calling the horse. As he approached, he was surprised to find his fiancée, standing there with another man, watching the horse trot around the paddock with one of his brother’s dogs.

“Uh, Lizzie?”

“Hey, Gil,” Elizabeta said. She turned to the man standing next to her. “This is Feliks, the guy Kiku was talking about.”

Feliks held out his hand and took Gilbert’s. “Hi! I’ve heard a lot about you and don’t worry,” he grinned. “It’s all good.”

“Oh…” Gilbert smiled, but it did not reach his eyes as he was not sure what to make of him. He was blond, slightly tanned, and his cowboy hat made him seem like a gay caballero, but he seemed friendly enough, although, it soon became apparent he had no sense of personal space. He was in Gilbert’s face, but not in a belligerent way and he was sure that had he been able to easily take a step backwards, the man would soon get the message. Then again, the more they chatted, the more he had the feeling this Feliks guy would not.

“So you work with lil kids?”

“Yeah, but I do take on adults on occasion,” Feliks said. “And I have to admit, your case intrigues me. Your accident is horse related and well, it could hurt as much as it helps, and I hope you’d be willing to give it a try.”

Elizabeta looked at him expectantly and Gilbert had the feeling everyone was in on some huge conspiracy to get him back in the saddle again. It was not like he did not want to be there, far from it, but a part of him was afraid. Another part was insistent he was too crippled to even think about riding again. He wanted to prove that part wrong, but he always assumed it was an impossibility.

“Ummm…” Gilbert looked from one to the other. He sighed. “Okay, I guess I can give it a try.”

“Yay!” Elizabeta hugged, giving his cheek a little kiss.

Gilbert noticed even Feliks looked happy, if his Cheshire cat grin was anything to go by.

“Sweet! I’ll make room in my schedule for you. By the way,” Feliks said as he turned back towards the paddock. “He’s a beautiful horse. What’s his name?’

“Thanks. He used to be a racehorse called ‘Cucumber Salad’ and his stable name was Freddie, but I decided he looks more like a Fritz.”

Feliks grinned. “He does look like a Fritz. Where’d they get ‘Cucumber Salad’ from?”

“Who the hell knows?” Gilbert said. “Some guy named Kirkland used to own him. Maybe he pulled it out of his ass, or maybe that’s what he ate for lunch.” He gave a slight shrug.

Feliks laughed. He liked Gilbert’s sense of humor and he was looking forward to working with him. That was how he found himself two weeks later, in the stable, helping Gilbert groom Cucumber Salad, who everyone now called Fritz. It was a learning experience for both man and horse. Fritz was very skittish as Gilbert’s movements were clumsy and he often dropped the brush. A curry comb worked better as Gilbert could slip it onto his hand.

“That’s better, Gil.”

“Thanks. He seems to like it better too, doncha, Fritz?” Gilbert patted him as best he could with his other hand. It hard going as he needed the crutches, but puzzling out how to groom his horse, while using them, made the mundane task much more challenging. As the horse relaxed under his touch, Gilbert felt a sense of accomplishment that he never felt during all the physical therapy he had been getting.

Fritz whinnied. The man who moved strangely, but sounded nice and who also gave him treats was not as scary as he thought. He swished his tail at him, the way he would another horse. Content, Fritz closed his eyes as he stood there.

Feliks grinned, pleased with their progress. Horse and would-be rider were beginning to really bond and he hoped by the time he felt Gilbert was ready to start “mounting” his horse, Fritz would be comfortable enough with his jerky movements not to shy away. “Okay, that’s enough for today.”

“Yeah? “ Gilbert handed him the curry comb. Despite how physically taxing he found grooming his horse to be, he did not want to stop. That surprised him, since physical therapy to him was akin to torture.

“Yeah. What you can do is help whoever grooms him until I see you next week, okay?”

“Uh, sure.”

“You did well, Gil, and there’s no use tiring yourself out or Fritz. Remember, it’s all baby steps.”

“I know.”

“When did you learn to ride?” Feliks said, abruptly changing the subject to one, he hoped Gilbert would find more to his liking.

Gilbert frowned. “I think I was like… six or seven years old. Why?”

“Did you take off, flying down the meadow and jumping every hedge and stream?”

“No… Vati would put me on the back of his horse, I don’t think I could even reach the stirrups, and he’d slowly walk me around the paddock.”

Feliks nodded. “And then as time went on, he put you through your paces, right?”

“I think so… I’m sorry, Feliks; some things I can remember clear as day, others are a bit fuzzy.”

“Sorry. Well, when I learned to ride it was like that. I started out at a walk and then we slowly moved into a trot and so on.” Feliks smiled. “And once I learned how to ride, I learned how to take care of my horse and tack, stuff you do know. We just have to jog your muscle memory to that you can do it again.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. So start slow and get Fritz so he’s comfortable around you. I know it’s hard and frustrating as hell when he shies away from you, so you want him to realize that you’re not like the stable hands he knew from his Cucumber Salad days.” Feliks grinned. “You want him to be Fritz, the horse that likes getting knock on his noggin when you brush his forelock.”

“I see,” Gilbert said flatly.

“Gil, you’re going to ride again, if that’s what you want, and I want to help you get there. It won’t be easy, but I’ll be here as much as I can to help you and your friends and family too.”

“I don’t know…”’

“Well, just think about it, okay?” Feliks unclipped the lead from the wall and began leading him to the paddock.

“Sure.” Gilbert shuffled along next to him.

“Once you get grooming down to the point where Fritz enjoys it, we’ll start having you lead him in and out of the stall.” Feliks let him loose in the ringed enclosure. Fritz trotted over to Voltaire, the miniature donkey Gilbert had got him. “Who’s his new friend?”

“Voltaire.”

“Voltaire? That’s an unusual name.”

Gilbert shrugged. “I was reading a book about Frederick the Great and apparently they were friends, Voltaire and Fritz.”

“I see.”

“And Voltaire was a bit of an ass towards him too…” Gilbert smirked.

Feliks laughed. “I like it!”

“Thanks.”

“So I’ll see you next week?”

“Yeah.”

“Until then.” Feliks turned and left.

“Bye.” Gilbert briefly looked over his shoulder and watched him go before returning his attention back to his horse. It was the start of some more enjoyable physical therapy and as time progressed, he reached the point where he could at least sit on Fritz and not be afraid of falling off. He still could not ride him, but his family and friends thought it was a miracle. Even Kiku was impressed, but all Feliks said was, “Next time I see you, we’ll start riding.”

When the following week arrived, Elizabeta helped a nervous Gilbert get dressed for riding. “Relax, Gil honey,” she said as slipped his foot into his boot.

“I know and I’ve hung on to Fritz numerous times when he’s been walked around the paddock and I’ve sat on him too, but Feliks says I can start riding him. He says it’s good for my balance and if I keep it up, he thinks I’ll be able get rid of the crutches and use a cane to get around.”

She smiled. “I know; I was there when he told you.” She helped him with the other boot.

“But I…” He frowned.

“It’s okay to be scared, Gil.”

“I’m not scared, Lizzie.”

If you say so, Gil honey… “Anyway, I’ll be there on one side of you and Feliks’ll be there on the other.” She smiled as she stood up. “And who knew, Fritz would turn out to be a great horse for pleasure riding?”

“Yeah…” Gilbert smiled and when he held out his hands, she pulled him to his feet. “Uh, Lizzie, can you hand me my cane?” He stood there, feeling he his old self. He still had some problems with his balance, but had gotten better since acquiring an Equicizer, which he rode in addition to his other therapy sessions. He looked at it, chuckling softly at what he liked to call a “glorified rocking horse,” although it resembled a horse without legs, rather than the whole horse like the antique one that stood opposite it. Both stood in the large bay window area of his bedroom along with his first horse, a beautifully hand carved one that his father had made him for his fifth birthday.

“Here you go.” Elizabeta handed him the cane.

Gilbert took it and together they left his room. The stairs were still a bit of a challenge, but it was not long before they reached the first floor. From there, it was a simple matter to go outside through the sliding glass doors in the kitchen. When they had stepped outside, Gilbert paused as memories of the day Fritz, or as he was known back then Cucumber Salad, had entered his life. He remembered being full of hate that day; for his situation, at his brother and his friend for getting the horse without asking him how felt about getting another one, Elizabeta for going along with them when he felt she should have known better, and most of all the horse for being a poor replacement for an old friend. Now, he was glad things had happened as they did. He was recovering nicely and while he always suspected there would be things he would no longer be able to do, Gilbert was glad riding was not one of them. He was also happy he had made some new friends like Feliks and he enjoyed helping other like himself.

“Gil honey?” Elizabeta said, pulling him from his reverie.

“Hunh?”

“You okay?”

“Yeah.” He smiled. “Let’s go. I don’t want to keep Fritz and Feliks waiting. You know how much he looks forward to me coming to the stable every day.” They walked as quickly as he could mange towards the stable.

“You know, we were all worried that you wouldn’t like him.”

“Who? Feliks?” Gilbert smirked.

She laughed. “No, silly, Fritz.”

“Oh…”

“Yeah,” Elizabeta said as they entered the stable. “Hi, Feliks!.”

“Hey there!” Feliks greeted them. “You ready to go riding, Gil?”

Gilbert hesitated. Feliks had gotten the tack out of the tack room, so he would not be able to stall for time there if he felt he needed to. Taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, Gilbert took a step forward, before Elizabeta could ask Feliks to call this off. He was afraid, but he had done this numerous times before the accident and he had been on horseback since. Still, actually sitting in the saddle and riding were proving to be a bit daunting. When Fritz whinnied at him, it startled him and Gilbert jumped.

“You okay?”

“I’m fine, Feliks. Let’s do this.” Leaving his cane behind, Gilbert shuffled over to Fritz’s box stall and opened the door. Fritz moved away from the door as he had been taught to do whenever Gilbert opened it. Only when he was inside the stall did Fritz stretch his head out towards him, blowing softly in greeting. Gilbert reached up and took his halter as he returned the greeting. Horse and would-be rider bonded over a handful of baby carrots, while Gilbert snapped on the lead. “Come on, Fritz,” he said softly as he led him from the stall.

Elizabeta found herself tearing up at the sight, but Feliks just grinned.

“Today, you’ll be a real rider, Gil,” he said. “All that sitting in the saddle and just moving yourself, and riding ‘Seabiscuit’ was all just preparation for this moment.”

“I know,” Gilbert said as he tied the lead to the wall. He patted Fritz’s back as he slowly made his way over to the bench, where Feliks had set the tack. Picking up the saddle pad, he shuffled back over to the horse and placed it on his back. Taking his time, Gilbert carefully tacked up Fritz. Rubbing the horse’s velvety soft nose, he said, “You ready, boy?” He grinned when Fritz blew softly into his hand. “Let’s go.” Taking hold of the bridle, Gilbert led him out to the paddock and the mounting block.


Elizabeta and Feliks followed at a safe distance behind them. “He’s walking a lot better than he was when I first met him.”

“I know. It’s great isn’t it?”

“Yeah. So when are you two getting married?

“I’m hoping to walk down the aisle with him this summer. I would have done it when he was still in a wheelchair, but he’s so damned stubborn at times.” Her smile broadened into a grin.

“I think that’s what kept him going. Hey, look!” Feliks nodded towards the mounting block, Elizabeta following his gaze.

Gilbert had reached the top, and after a few tries, he managed to get his left foot into the stirrup. He spoke softly to the horse in German, and with one hand the pommel, holding the reins, the other on the cantle, he slowly pushed himself upwards. From there, he swung his right leg over Fritz’s back, in what he hoped was one fluid motion, before settling into the saddle. He sat there, waiting for his fiancé and his friend to come over to him. “I did it!” Gilbert said, grinning like a naughty five year old. With the horse just standing there, relaxed, he felt his confidence returning.

Feliks laughed. “You sure did! Now, let’s go for a walk, but before you do, let me clip on a lead.”

“Okay.”

Turning to Elizabeta, Feliks said, “I bet by the end of the month, he’ll be riding by himself at the walk.”

“You think so?”

“Yeah.” Feliks entered the ring where Gilbert was waiting, while Elizabeta stood on the outside. He fussed with the lead rope, making a makeshift halter out of it, which he slipped on over the bridle. “Now hold the reins very loosely, like I know you know how to do, Gil, and with a light touch of your heels, urge him forward. Good… good… I’m right here, Gil. Now relax… that’s it.”

“I feel like I’m getting a pony ride.”

“Good. I just want you to feel comfortable and when you absolutely, positively, feel like you’re comfortable and in control, we’ll start working with a longe.”

“Yeah?”

Felix nodded. As he led Fritz around the perimeter of the paddock, Gilbert felt himself relaxing. In some ways it was like riding ‘Seabiscuit’; in others it held the same thrill he used to get from riding Blitzkrieg and Gilbert loved it. His zest for riding returning, he now looked forward to his sessions with Felix, whether it was helping out with a group of disabled teens or his own therapy sessions. He even set a date with Elizabeta for their wedding.

Months passed and while Gilbert still had some memory issues, they were not as frustrating as they had been. He grew stronger from riding as well as mucking out Fritz’s stall, and the only visible sign of the accident was a slight limp when he walked. Not that anyone noticed the day he married Elizabeta, everyone was just happy to see the two walk down the aisle. When they left the church, followed by family and friends, it was to get into a horse drawn carriage. The two of them rode in style to his home, where a large tent was set up for the reception.

The party was in full swing when he got up to make a toast to his brother. “I want thank the best brother and best man a guy could ever have,” Gilbert said. “I wanna let you all in on a little secret. I was nervous as hell before.” He paused when everyone laughed. “No, seriously, everything I went through before was nothing compared to getting married.”

“Wait until you become a father!” his friend Francis called out, despite Antonio’s half-hearted efforts to keep him quiet. “Then you’ll know what nervous is!”

“And sleepless nights!” someone else called out amid the laughter.

“Well, anyways…” Gilbert said when things calmed down. “This is kinda like when I finally did get back on a horse. Scary, exciting, and yet, fun.” He winked at his wife. “I really didn’t know what I was missing… what I was prepared to give up and I’m glad I didn’t. Thanks to all my doctors and especially to Cookie and Feliks.” Gilbert nodded in their direction. “And special thanks to Fritz.” He smiled. “And for those of you who don’t know who that is, let me tell you about a horse…”

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
lynne_monstr
Nov. 29th, 2014 05:40 pm (UTC)
Aw this is so sweet and has such a great sense of family. Great job!
kiramaru7
Nov. 29th, 2014 07:17 pm (UTC)
*blushes* Thanks, Lynne! I hadn't planned on writing anything other than a "boy & his horse" story; it just happened. XD Glad you liked it! :D
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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