Run For Life

by Mary Ann

In the Year AU

Thanks to beta Melissa

Time moved slowly for Vin Tanner, even though he was racing across the dusty land as fast as Peso could run. He could feel the big black tiring as much as he felt it himself. The horse’s body was hot under his legs and wet lather spread down his legs and across his backside, making his pants cling to him . He looked ahead but could see nothing they could take refuge behind, and they were hours from 4C,or even the ranch. He was going to have to slow down soon, neither one of them could continue this pace.

Glancing back, he could make out the figures of the men chasing him. At least they were far enough back that he didn’t have to worry about being shot by a blaster or rifle. Yet, they were still coming and not slowing down.

Peso snorted as he jumped a small dry creek bed, and Vin twisted his hands tighter into the horned horse's long mane, and gripped his sleek sides harder with his wet legs. As Peso straightened out into a run again, Vin thought of what happened hours ago.

Vin made camp for the night, having left well before dawn from T5, three days from 4C. He delivered a bundle of important papers for Judge Travis. He intended to be back in 4C early. He planned to ride all the next day and through night to arrive home quicker. But this morning, as he ate his breakfast, three men rode up. He saw them coming, and his hand rested on his gun as he studied them. They had stopped back from his camp and asked if they could use his fire and make themselves some coffee. He didn't sense anything but friendliness from the men. As soon as he told them they could come on, the leader had dismounted and walked to the campfire. Vin moved back giving the man room to get to the fire. He wasn't prepared for the men to draw on him. Before Vin could say anything to the man, the stranger reached for his gun. As Vin reached for his gun, the other two pointed their drawn revolvers at him. The first man informed him he was wanted and they were taking him to the man, one way or the other. He fought. Taking the three by surprise, he managed to escape. He had his sawed-off, and throwing himself onto Peso, they raced away. The men shot at him but missed. When they came after him, two more men joined the chase, leading several horses.

Vin discovered that the strangers switched horses. Every other hour, at least, two had fresher horses. He thought he'd escaped free and clear, for the first hectic hour. The riders hadn't gotten in gun range after he'd escaped, though there'd been a lot of shooting. Now his side had begun to hurt. He felt warm blood slowly seeping from a wound in his side. Feeling under his shirt he discovered a ragged, bloody graze across his left side. Pulling the bandana from around his neck, he'd stuffed it under his shirt over the wound. That had been almost six hours ago, and they were still running.

He tried to think who wanted him so bad that they’d send men after him. Then a niggling thought hit him, Jake Phillips, he was the only man he knew who would be that mad. Over six years had passed since he’d been in the man’s hands. No way would he let himself be taken by Phillips again. The man would kill him this time, he figured, he needed to escape.

Looking ahead, Vin could now see the low hills that could provide the shelter he needed. He hoped they could make it before Peso collapsed from exhaustion. He would not be taken. He’d go down fighting. With a glance back, he slowed the tired horse to a canter and let him rest. It wasn’t the best, but it was better than nothing at this time. They needed a break from the headlong run.

He twisted his hands more into the black mane and held on when Peso hit some rough, rocky ground. Forcing him to stumble and jerk his way across. The sky was changing colors above him and he knew it wouldn’t be totally dark this night. The sky had the radioactive cloud coverage that left everything a orange-ish night color.

He needed a place to hole up, but they were still too far from the hills. He turned his thoughts to Chris and sent them his way. He didn’t think he had a chance of reaching him, but it was worth the try. He knew their connection was good over a long space, but figured this was pushing it to the limit. His head slumped tiredly forward; he just wanted to rest a little while.

A gunshot rang out and Peso roared in anger as Vin tightened his hands and legs, and let the stallion break into a run once more. His glance back showed him the followers were a lot closer, and he was now within their gun range.

Bending more over Peso’s neck until he was almost flat. His arms were hidden under the cover of the long heavy mane. His fingers locked in the long hairs. More gunshots rang out behind him. Within seconds they were out of range, as Peso surged forward, long legs carrying them ahead of the pursuers. The short break from the long run let Peso get his breath back. Vin buried his face into the whipping mane and he kept thinking of Chris, hoping they could reach safety before he would be captured or killed.

More hours passed. Peso's nostrils were opened so wide, pink could be seen in them as he gasped for air, his mouth opened and closed often. His chest worked mightily, as he tried to pull enough air into his lungs so he could continue. Lather covered his sides and chest, and where his rider's body touched him. His long legs were tiring as the strain of the run began to take its toll. He snorted and shook his horned head, and kept going. 

Vin felt so exhausted, and his side burned like fire, he could barely hold on anymore. His hands were beginning to feel stiff and cramped. The hills were still a good hour away. To make matters worse, night had fallen and the air was cold. His coat happened to be back at the camp he’d had to abandon that morning. He hoped no one would take his coat or saddle. Vin chuckled grimly as a thought crossed his mind, he hoped no wolves found his coat, it might choke them.

Peso stumbled then caught himself, and Vin straightened. He wouldn’t kill his horse. He knew the stallion would run until he dropped dead. He wouldn't let that happen. Glancing around in the oddly colored gloom, he looked for anything that would give them some cover. A small hump appeared to his right and he nudged the tired horse towards it, it was the only thing he could see.

Reaching the hump, they went over it and Vin halted Peso and slid off, collapsing when his legs gave out. When Peso lowered his sweat and lather covered head to him, he rubbed the stallion below his horns

“Go on get out of here, I don’t know if they seen us stop, go Peso get…” Vin pushed the horse's head away and slapped him on the leg. Peso moved off a ways then trotted a bit farther, flicking his ears hearing Vin's order to go again. Vin spared a look after his horse then turned to the men coming towards him. Crawling up the hump, he flattened out and lifted his head to look over the top. He pulled his gun, made sure it was loaded. He shook his hands to get circulation moving as he watched and waited in the deep orange darkness.

The men following him were lined out, the freshest horse in the lead with the others following some fifty to a hundred yards behind him, each one spread that far from the man ahead of him. The first man never saw Vin when he closed in on the small rise. The leader spotted the black and his horse roared a challenge at Peso. Peso answered, and Vin shot the man off his horse. The other men scattered in several directions.

Vin knew he didn’t have good range with his mare's leg, he had to be closer to his target. He dug in and waited, trying to watch where the men moved. In the semi-darkness, another man raced towards him then turned to the side trying to draw Vin's fire so they could find out position. Vin just hunkered down and let him ride past.

Another rider, staying far back, began to circle the rise. Vin cursed. The man  was out of range for him. He knew if the gunman got behind him, he’d have a clear shot at his back.

Vin watched him and wished he had his blaster, as the man circled and got behind him. He had nowhere to go and was ready to roll when the man shot.

Unexpectedly Peso attacked. The black, free of his rider and breathing easier from the short rest, moved back towards Vin. When the man and his horse got between them, the black rushed them. The big stallion hit the horse broadside knocking him over. Peso was slashing with his horns when the horse went down, the man screamed as he was cut almost in half. With a roar Peso backed off and looked behind him, his roar sounded out, louder than before.

Vin still watched his horse and the dead man with a surprised look on his weary face, his gun aimed at the fallen man, when he heard the thunder of hooves. He looked beyond Peso, in the direction of home, and spotted six riders bearing down on them at a run in the semi-darkness. A horse answered Peso, and as Vin glanced back over the rise he saw the other riders gather together, for a moment they seemed to talk together before  they turned their horses and raced away. The two dead men's' horses dashed after their companions.

Vin’s head lowered in relief. He hardly heard his brothers arrival. But when Chris grabbed him he looked up.

“You came.”

“We were heading for the ranch, I sensed something and we headed this way. Glad we made it in time. Heard you a little bit ago. Are you all right?”  Chris asked as he helped Vin to stand.

“Am now. Thanks to your arrival, and Peso.” Vin grabbed Chris’s forearm in their brotherhood hand shake. Blackness overtook him, his  knees buckled and he passed out. Chris grabbed Vin and lowered him to the ground.

“All right, yeah,” Nathan stepped to Vin’s side and began to examine him while the other men collected around them.

“He’s exhausted. Check his side, we’ll camp here. He’ll be fine.” Chris said as he sat down beside them, he knew Vin would be ready to go when he woke up later. He watched his friends began to set up camp. Josiah was pulling out supplies to put a meal together. Buck and JD were disposing of the body and would unsaddle the horses when they finished. Ezra took over guard duty, in case the outlaws returned. It wasn’t the best place to camp, but at least it wasn’t raining, or snowing.  

Chris didn’t know what had happened. But he knew they’d find out when Vin awoke, tomorrow they'd get the answers they needed. He would bide his time and then they would go after the men.  He was happy they had arrived in time and Vin was safe.


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