Race Home

by Mary Ann

In the Year AU

Thanks Melissa for looking this over

**Head talking**

The horses flew through the night. Their pounding hooves sounded dull on the snow covered land. But they never broke stride, as they raced through the semi-grey darkness of the late night.

One rider slumped over in his saddle, and the riders that flanked him watched to be sure he didn't tumble off the stallion. The black horse's long mane struck the rider's chest and face as it ran, its excellent eyesight surveyed the land for any danger. Beside him another black horse raced neck and neck, a large grey one ran close to his other side. The following blood red horse was almost on their heels, keeping its horned head above the rumps of the three in front.

Snow started falling, as they came up to the edge of the plateau, and skidded to a stop. The center black stopped then side stepped as he felt his rider start to slide. Buck grabbed Vin's shoulder and held him steady, while Chris helped him settle once more in the saddle.

"Got to keep going, don't have time for me, go on. You got to get to town for the Judge. He's goin' ta need you." Vin words slurred as he gripped his reins and saddle horn.

"Not leaving you out here all alone, can be anything on your trail now. I think you should be tied to Peso in case you can't hold yourself on to get down this mountain," Chris growled into the blowing snow.

"I've got a rope, it's a good idea Chris." Josiah said from behind them. A moment later Josiah was standing at Vin's side and began to wrap the rope around his leg.

Vin looked down at Josiah and tried to move his leg, only to have it gripped in an iron fist. "Stay still brother, we will not leave you out here alone. Now let me do this."

"Don't have time for this," Vin muttered as Buck started tying his other leg to the stirrup fender. He looked at Chris and saw there was no fighting what was happening, and he resigned himself to the inevitable.

A rope was placed around his narrow waist and the saddle horn. With a few tugs to check things, Buck and Josiah stepped back to their horses.

"You won't fall off now Junior. So just hang on and we'll get to town in good time. How are you feeling?" Buck asked as he mounted.

"Fine, really like a tied up turkey. Now can we go?" Vin ignored the pain that had settled in his lower back and his left shoulder. He knew he needed to get to Nathan soon, or the wound would turn bad. He was pushing himself so they could get to town, he didn't let the others know how bad he hurt.

**I know how bad you are hurting, but I will not leave you anywhere out here. No matter if I have to tie you across that saddle to get you home**

Vin shot a look at Chris, then kicked Peso into a canter and headed towards the narrow trail off the plateau, the sooner they got home the better it would be. He found the head of the trail easily in the dark.

The horned horses slowed when they reached the trail, and carefully made their way down the narrow rugged, slick track. It was the fastest way to get to 4C, and they were glad that Vin knew of this trail. It cut a full day of travel off their trip. But they were worried about what had happened and what they would find when they reached town.

The four had delivered several prisoners to the El Paso prison over a week ago. They were still days from home, when they'd been attacked by a large band of robbers. The running battle lasted for over an hour before the peacekeepers managed to get the upper hand. They'd lost their pack horse in the midst of the battle and once the few robbers, that were left, finally fled, they transferred everything from the fallen pack horse to their mounts. An hour later, they found Vin had been wounded, when he passed out and fell from his horse. Once they took care of him, they were on their way again. Not really wanting to stick around the area in case the robbers regrouped and returned. The dead bodies would draw the huge wolves, that would attack, and eat anything they could find. Once out on the flat, the static from their radios lessened and Mary managed to get a radio transmission through to them. She informed them that they were needed in town as soon as they could get there. Judge Travis needed them for a trial that was to be held in three days. They were almost five full days away.

Vin remembered a short cut over a plateau and through a pass. He warned them that the trail was dangerous but it would cut a lot of time off their travel time. Needing sped, they chose to use the trail. Now, they slipped and slid down the treacherous trail. Snow and ice made the footing difficult on the unsafe ground. Several times Vin called out to let them know the trail was bad. Buck cringed as the trail narrowed from wide to inches in numerous places. All he could see over the edge was swirling snow. He could hear Josiah praying for their safe descent.

Finally, Vin slumped in relief as Peso took a last large step, dropping off the steep trail and onto the frozen dirt trail that crossed the valley. He knew where a narrow stream and grass could be found. He urged Peso westward. Shivering with cold, he wanted nothing more than to get his blanket and wrap it around him.

The men stopped by the stream, and Buck, after surveying the area, instantly went to work. Snow still swirled around but he'd spotted the dead brush and limbs that littered the area. He grabbed handfuls of dried grass from under a log for kindling, and began to put a fire together.

Josiah and Chris released Vin and got him out of his saddle. Vin waited while Chris dug out the pot and a bag of coffee. Josiah pulled Vin's blanket out and placed it over his shoulders before moving to tend the horses. Chris helped Vin to where Buck had just put a match to the limbs and grass. Chris filled the pot at the stream and sat the pot on the rocks beside the fire to heat for coffee.

The men warmed themselves around the blaze, drinking hot coffee and eating some jerky they relaxed for a short time. Vin wrapped himself tightly in his blanket and sipped the hot coffee; he could feel it warming him from the inside out. After a short time the men moved back to the horses. Once more Vin was tied to his saddle before they rode away. They still had a ways to go.

Dawn broke, overcast and grey through the falling snow. But they were on familiar ground, and the horses picked up the pace wanting to get home as much as the men needed to. They reached the rocky, narrow pass, just before dark and slowed their horses to go through it. With exhaustion hanging heavy they were glad it only took two hours to reach the other side. Vin lay against his horses neck, his hands wrapped deep in the long mane. Once out of the pass, they found a place to make camp. While Buck gathered wood for a fire, Chris and Josiah worked to free Vin from his horse. It seemed to take forever, but once Vin was comfortable, the men made short work of setting up camp.

The next morning they were all up early. Vin had a fever and his shoulder felt numb. Being numb it didn't hurt as much, and he was ready to get out of there. The snow had stopped, the sun was trying to burn away the clouds and the horses were well rested. Vin was once again tied to Peso. After everyone was ready, they headed for home, letting the horses run.

Midnight arrived. The four weary riders rode into 4C and made their way to the livery. There Tiny and Nathan were waiting for them, forewarned. Chris had made a radio call to Ezra, who was on guard duty at the jail. It took only a few minutes before Vin was taken to the clinic by Nathan and Tiny, while the others put up the horses. Since they were now wide awake, the three made their way to the jail, to find out what was going on from Ezra, who was still on duty.

Once there, they found out that Ezra, JD and Nathan had caught the man who was robbing the bus riders and arrested him, holding him for the Judge. The convict insisted his friends were coming for him and would destroy the town, he didn't care that the Judge would hold the trial as soon as he arrived. In case the man's threat was valid, 4C needed all its peacekeepers on duty. Not only to protect the town, but also the judge.

They had made it in time. They were relieved the trial would start in two days. Next they checked in with Nathan, and found that Vin's wound had become infected. It wasn't as bad as it could have been, and he would be fine in a couple of days. The town would be seven strong if the attack really happened. With that information, the three tired men headed for their beds'. Their timely arrival would guarantee a safe trial.

Two days later, Judge Travis arrived on the bus. He took time to have a lunch with his daughter-in-law before calling for the trial to order. The seven peacekeepers were scattered around the building that was being used for a courthouse. Vin took to the roof of Ezra's business, the hotel being the tallest building. He had a clear shot across the road. From his vantage point, he could see most of the main street. He saw Chris, guarding the front door, and watching the judge's back. Ezra was leaning against a post under the overhang below Vin. Nathan sat on a barrel, his shoulder touching the wall, several doors past Chris. Josiah stood across the road, and down two doors from Chris, and Buck was leaning against Potter's store across from Josiah.

JD, being the sheriff, stood inside with the prisoner. There were six other men, townsmen, besides the judge in the room. The six were sworn in as jurors, and Travis started the trial. It didn't take long before the man was found guilty and sentencing was made instantly.

Rutledge, the prisoner, cursed the men in the room and swore his friends would be there to take him away, and kill everyone in the town. Judge Travis calmly informed the man to shut up or he'd be gagged.

In handcuffs, Rutledge was led from the room and out the door. Chris fell into step on one side of the prisoner. JD walked on the other, his hand gripping Rutledge's arm. Josiah and Buck followed, their senses alert to anything.

When the three reached Nathan's position, a loud whistle sounded from the rooftop. Ezra backed into the hotel's doorway gun flashing into his hand. From the alleyway by the jail, the thunder of hooves could be heard and horned horses burst out and swerved towards Chris and JD. Chris shoved Rutledge and JD into Potters store. He drew his blaster and shot at the riders. He heard a yelp come from JD but didn't take his eyes off the riders who rode straight at them. Gunfire and blaster shots intermingled as horses reared and roared in anger; their heads slashing back and forth as the riders forced them to head into the gunfire.

Chris heard the deep throaty sound from Vin's mare's leg and a man flew from his mount. He shot at a rider coming directly at him, and then the one behind him. The other peacekeepers were firing on the outlaws as they rode up the road then turned around, coming back at the seven. JD appeared in the doorway, after having Mr. Potter cover the prisoner, not wanting the older man to get into the fight. His guns barked as the outlaws came racing back. More shots from the mare's leg brought a couple more men down.

For long minutes, the gunfire and blaster blasts sounded in the town, echoing with the roars of the horned horses, some in anger, several in pain. One took to bucking so violently, that his rider flew over its head to land on its lethal horns. The man screamed, and fell silent as the horse bucked once more, tossed its head, and then raced from the town leaving the dead man in the middle of the road.

The last three riders finally raced out of town, leaving behind six bodies and two wounded men. Six of the seven peacekeepers stepped from their secure spots. Nathan walked quickly to Chris, his dark eyes looked him over before he turned to JD. Sure the two were all right, he turned his gaze to Buck and Josiah, then across to Ezra who stepped out of the hotel door. All were all right, then his gaze turned up to the hotel's roof, as he looked for Vin.

"Tanner! Where are you?" Chris yelled as he started to head for the hotel.

Vin stepped out of the hotel's door. A pleased smile on his face as he took a bite of the large apple fritter in his hand.

"I'm fine Lar'bee. Inez's bakin' goodies." He said as he chewed. He took another bite of the treat as he gazed at his soul brother and the other men he was happy to call brothers.

Chris shook his head, a crooked little smile crossed his lips. "Get the prisoner back in jail. Then we can all get a cup of coffee, and a donut before greedy here eats them all." The others laughed as they moved to do his bidding. The undertaker showed up to haul the bodies away.

And so it happened. A short time later the seven were seated around their table in the restaurant. Two large cats prowled around the men's legs under the table, as they drank coffee and enjoyed the hot donut treats Inez sat in front of them.


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