Title: Running Wild
Disclaimer: The characters depicted here are come from my imagination and are of no relation to the people whose names they share. No profit is being made from this and no offence is intended.
"Sorry, Rupert," Pascal had told him as they strolled into the courtyard that morning. "She's had a little trouble with one of her hooves, so we're resting her. We've got a stand in, though, just for this week. Beautiful mare."
Beautiful she may have been, but the dismay had been plain to see on Rupert's face from the moment he clapped eyes on the animal, with its wild stare and skittish feet. But, never one to make trouble, he tried his best. A peace offering of a sugar cube almost got his hand bitten off and as for the actual moment where he had to mount up...well. Talk about nerve wracking.
No one could say he wasn't good with horses, either. He'd formed a pretty instant simpatico with his usual partner, who carried him with constant good grace and frequently nudged her head against him in search of a scratch. It was just this creature.
"D'you want to swap?" Tom asked dubiously, watching as Rupert tried to keep her still in vain, the sound of hooves clattering on stone ringing around them. "I think yours is broken."
"Thanks," Rupert said, shooting him a quick, tight smile before focusing his entire concentration back on not falling off. "It's just teething problems, I suppose. We'll be alright."
"Right. Okay. Are you sure?"
"Do you think I've pissed someone off?" Rupert asked distractedly. "Is this punishment for something?"
"Beats me, mate. Maybe you should just give it a break. Our scene's not up for a good hour or so yet anyway."
Rupert was about to agree and give up, and that might well have been that if it hadn't been for the sharp 'bang' of a hunting rifle somewhere in the farmland nearby.
"Shit," he cursed, eyes widening as he felt the horse tense, and then another shot rang out and she was off.
Tom could only watch, frozen, as she hared off into the forest, Rupert clinging on and hunkering down closer to her neck. He heard one of the stable hands let out a cry of exclamation and someone from the production crew laugh in disbelief, and then he was nudging his own horse up into a canter, taking off after them.
"Don't worry," he called back over his shoulder. "I'll go and fetch him."
The same thing had happened to Bradley a couple of years before, and he'd managed to hold on tight until his horse just simply ran out of steam, coming to a slow halt before calmly walking back to the set. Everyone, including Bradley, had laughed at that auspicious start; at the fact that his fears about being new to horse riding had come true.
This, though...this was different. As he made his way through the trees, Rupert's voice ahead of him vainly ordering the devil-horse to stop, Tom felt his heart pounding heavily in his chest. They weren't trained to gallop through this kind of terrain, certainly not on an unpredictable horse with a mind of its own. He hoped to god there weren't any sheer drops nearby.
"Rupert!" he yelled, needing convey some sense of support, wanting to hear some reassurance in return. He heard the horse scream out a whinny, and then god damn it to hell another one of those gunshots was fired. Through the trees, he saw Rupert come to a jerking halt, still managing to hold on until the mare reared up and back and that was it. He had no chance. Tom saw him fall, heard the smack as his head hit the root of an old oak tree and the thump of his body against the earth. He only barely managed to avoid the horse’s flailing hooves, but when it reared up again Tom’s heart just about packed in. If one of them came down on Rupert...
He urged his own horse on, wanting to shout but keeping his jaw clenched for fear of scaring the beast any more. Rupert let out a yelp of fear and just managed to roll over to his left side as the hooves came down near his head, thudding into the dry ground with terrifying speed. Tom was there a second later, grabbing the horse’s reins with one hand and using the strength of his own to tug and lead it away, looping the leather over a branch and hoping his own faithful steed might calm the other.
“Rupert?” he called urgently, dismounting quickly with practiced ease. He got a faint groan in reply and turned to see Rupert trying to sit up. “Whoa, whoa,” he cautioned as he rushed over, dropping to his knees and taking Rupert’s pale face in his hands. “Stay still a minute, mate, take it easy...”
Barely having managed to lift his head, Rupert did as he was told and let it drop back down onto his arm, his chest heaving with every breath and a perpetual wince giving away that every single one hurt.
“Christ, Rupert,” Tom exhaled, sitting down heavily and keeping his hand on one side of Rupert’s face, slipping a thumb under his jaw to feel the frantic pulse there. “Christ. I thought you were a goner.”
Rupert huffed out a breathless laugh, closing his eyes. “You’re telling me.”
“Are you alright?” Tom asked, eyeing the hand that Rupert had pressed over his solar plexus. There were a couple of cuts across his left cheek where branches had whipped at his face, and Tom's stomach flipped as saw how close they were to his eye. “You hit the ground like a tonne of bricks.”
“Just winded, maybe,” Rupert murmured.
“I saw you hit your head,” Tom countered, sliding his hand up into Rupert’s hair and probing the back of his head gently, quickly finding a lump there that made Rupert bite his lip. “Sorry,” he said contritely, curling his hand around the back of Rupert’s neck and squeezing. “There’s no blood or anything. They might have to check you out for a concussion, though.”
Rupert muttered something unintelligible, then more audibly asked: “Can I get up, now?”
Rolling his eyes, Tom hooked his arms under Rupert’s and helped to haul him up right, propping his back against the tree and regarding him with suspicion. “If you’ve got a punctured lung or something and die now, I am not being held responsible, alright?”
Rupert gave another of those exhausted laughs and leaned forwards, dropping his head onto Tom’s shoulder and slumping boneless against him. Tom wrapped both arms around him and held on, closing his eyes as he pressed his face against Rupert’s curls, breathing in shampoo and leather, sweat and earth.
“You scared the shit out of me,” he admitted, feeling the faint but continuous tremor that wracked Rupert’s body. “Why the hell did they give you that horse? What use is a stunt horse that doesn't like loud noises?”
“Mine’s in the garage,” Rupert replied softly, and Tom couldn't help but smile at that, rubbing a hand slowly up and down his spine.
“You should let me take a look at you. Can I?”
He didn’t wait for an answer, propping Rupert back against the tree’s enormous trunk and setting to work undoing the buttons of his tunic. Rupert submitted to it, worryingly, and then flinched as Tom’s right hand moulded around the left side of his chest.
“That hurts?” Tom asked in concern, looking closer to see a reddened patch developing over Rupert’s left side. “Must be where you hit the ground. D’you think anything’s broken?”
Rupert shook his head, eyes closed again. “I cracked a rib once before, I know what that feels like. It’s just bruised, I think.”
“You feel cold, though. Come on,” Tom ordered, “sit back down, it might be shock.”
Rupert was about to say something no doubt witty about the shock of being thrown off a horse, when the sound of thundering hooves filled their ears once more. Tom turned to see who it was as Rupert slid back down to the ground.
Eoin, wide eyed and breathless, pulled his horse up as he caught sight of them and leapt off with an enviable grace.
“Are you alright?” he asked, eyes darting from Rupert to Tom, to the pair of horses and then back to Rupert again. “What happened? When you didn’t come back we thought...”
“Rupert got thrown,” Tom explained, crouching down as Eoin did the same. “Hit his head, bruised his ribs, but nothing too serious. We think. Looked pretty bloody spectacular, though.”
Rupert shot him a smile, turning his head against the tree to extend that smile as a greeting to Eoin. “I’m fine. It was just one of those things.”
“Are you serious?” Eoin asked in disbelief. “You could’ve died!”
“He nearly got a hoof through his skull,” Tom added helpfully, amused by the death glare he received from Rupert in return. Concerned as he was, he knew what a mother-hen streak Eoin had in him. If it meant another set of eyes making sure Rupert was okay, then that was all for the better.
Eoin sat down awkwardly, reaching out and pulling Rupert into a hug. He took one of Rupert’s hands in his own and swore in surprise. “Fuck, man, you’re freezing. Tom, haven't you got any clothes to spare?”
“Hey, you’re the one always getting your top off.”
“Maybe so, but it’s fucking winter in case you hadn't noticed.”
Shaking his head in amusement, Tom patted them both on the knee and stood up. “I’ll go and get a couple of coats and a flask of tea or something. I’ll tell everyone you just need five minutes to recover before getting mauled by the medics.”
“Thanks, Tom,” Rupert uttered softly, looking up at him with a brief smile.
Tom held his eyes for a moment before nodding and turning away, rubbing a hand across his brow. As he jumped up onto his horse, he untied the now-calm beast that was Rupert's.
"I'll take this one back," he told them as he headed off, shooting Rupert a quick, unconvincing grin. "Bring you back a shetland pony or something."
Rupert shook his head, putting his hands over his eyes with a groan. "He'll never let me live this down."
"Yeah he will," Eoin predicted, watching as Tom kicked up into a trot and vanished into the trees. "He's fucking terrified. Couldn't you see it?"
"No," Rupert mumbled into his palms, before curling his fingers up and pressing his knuckles to his mouth instead.
"Then you must've taken a harder knock to the head than I thought," Eoin remarked quietly, reaching out to take both of Rupert's hands between his own and breathing on them slowly, trying to rub some warmth back in. "Are you really alright? You're shaking."
With his head dropped forwards, hair falling over his face, Rupert nodded wearily. “It’s just the adrenaline come down, I think. I’m not used to that kind of excitement.”
Eoin smiled, reaching out to stroke his fingers through Rupert’s curls, picking out a tiny piece of twig that had caught there. “Yeah, right. We all know you’re the life and soul of the party.”
Rupert didn’t answer, just smiled faintly, and Eoin let go of him to re-do the buttons of his tunic that Tom had left open. He regarded Rupert's hunched posture for a moment before coming to a conclusion.
“Let me slide in behind you there,” he suggested, manoeuvering into the space between Rupert and the tree trunk before pulling him back against his chest. He wound his arms around Rupert’s middle and Rupert dropped his head back onto his shoulder, sighing heavily and then wincing at the tug in his chest.
“Easy,” Eoin soothed softly, pressing a hand lightly over the damage. “You’re okay. You’re alright.”
“I feel like an idiot.”
“You are an idiot,” Eoin agreed, prodding a finger into Rupert’s good side. “You let Tom feel you up! I mean, you don’t know where he’s been.”
“And you're different, are you?”
“Me? I’m pure as the driven snow.”
Rupert laughed at that, low and throaty and dirty enough to make Eoin grin. Tilting his head, he pressed a kiss to Rupert’s cheek, cool skin and bristles against his lips.
“You need to take care of yourself,” he murmured seriously, lingering there and watching Rupert’s eyes flicker shut. “You hear me?”
"I hear you."
"Me 'n Tom can't be your knights in shining armour all the time, you know?"
Rupert placed one of his hands over Eoin's where they rested over his diaphragm. "I'm the damsel in distress now, am I?"
"Well, if the shoe fits. And what kind of gallant knights would we be if we didn't pledge to look after you after an ordeal like this and a long day's work?"
"Maybe you shouldn't volunteer Tom for things like that."
"Oh, believe you me, underneath that macho exterior lies a total softie," Eoin told him with a smirk. "One who cares a huge fucking amount about you, my friend. He'll just be glad he didn't have to suggest it in the first place."
Rupert smiled and uttered a quiet "Thanks" before turning his head and resting his temple against Eoin's collar bone. He flinched as another gunshot split the silence, and Eoin tightened the circle of his arms protectively, waiting for Tom's return.