In The Year
By Mary Ann

Characters: The Seven
Universe: New AU - I created - In The Year
This is a new AU that I have created. It is now open to anyone who wishes to play here. I do ask that you keep to the guidelines in here and on the Info Sheet. If you have any questions, please contact me, I'll happily answer them. I have only borrowed the Seven for this story line to give them another place to play in.

Background: This is a new AU. Set in the future, years after a devastating nuclear, world wide war that wiped out millions and millions of people. Those who are left live mostly in large cities and small towns scattered all across the different countries. In what was the USA and Canada, the states and providences are no more; most are combined into areas that are under the jurisdiction of a new type of government. What had been Canada is split east and west. What had been the north eastern states are all one from North Carolina to Maine, known as the Northeast Costal (Region). Southeastern Coastal reaches from what had been North Carolina south to Florida; the Southern Region covers Alabama to mid-Texas then north encompassing Oklahoma and Tennessee. Mid-Eastern included Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, and Illinois. Mid-West included Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa. The Southwestern (Region) area encompasses western Texas, to California, including Nevada, Utah, and Colorado. Western Coastal takes in California, western Oregon and Washington to what had been British Columbia. Northwest (Region) extends from eastern Oregon/Washington west through Idaho, Wyoming, Montana and the western halves of the Dakota's; and the Northern Region encompassed the eastern halves of the Dakota's, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Each region-area has an appointed official, selected by the "Legislative Body' of men and women who work with the ruling body to keep the country functioning. There is no President, but a ruling body consisting of someone chosen from each region who knows what his or her Region needs and are able to work with each other and the legislative body in helping to bring the country back from the disorder it had been in. Usually a previous judge is the chosen official, and they are allowed to appoint up to three helpers, who have to be approved by the legislative body, to handle everything from new settlements to appointing town protectors to handing out justice. The areas have one to up to four major cities, ex: In the Southwest they only have two, Denver, and Las Vegas, and the 'Judge' is required to travel to each city twice a year. The Judge and/or his helpers are also required to visit each of the larger towns in their assigned area once a year if not more. The Judges appoint lawmen or protectors for different areas in the region they preside over. Usually the lawmen numbered from five to twenty individuals, and can have up to 700 square miles to patrol in an appropriate way.

Due to the devastation from the war, the land has changed drastically in many parts of the world. The population has dwindled, from war causalities and from fighting with each other over land, food and anything else they can think of. Fertile areas, coasts of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the Great Lakes and the Gulf areas provide about 80 percent of the food for the country. What had been the mid-west, and mid-Canada, now Mid-Eastern, Mid-West and some Northwest and Northern Regions produces large amounts of grain and corn, and hay for the ranchers and farmers around the country.

Supply trains (or wagon trains) travel back and forth across the country carrying food supplies to outback towns and cities across the country, usually on a monthly schedule. Automobiles are scarce, found mostly around the more populated areas of the country. Airplanes are almost non-existent and the ones that are still useable travel to over seas countries, building them is time consuming and can take up to five years to complete a new one. Large trucks are found in cities and well populated areas, and some large trucking companies travel back and forth between the larger cities over well known routes. Buses travel through the country on tight schedules, hauling passengers and as the main mail carriers. Communications are mostly by something similar to CB radios though more sophisticated and usually can reach through radioactive clouds that cover the land off and on. Though usually no longer dangerous, the clouds can cause a multitude of transmission problems.

The towns are scattered, normally around 100 miles apart, depending where the population is. In the southwest the towns are closer to 200 miles apart, as the populace is sparse and if any town falls under 50 residents they are required to move to the next larger town, that town closing down totally. In the southwest, the town's names are now mostly numbers and many don't even remember what the town's original name had been.

The land of the southern regions had suffered the most, leaving miles of almost sterile ground, and then a surprising lush area would appear in the grey barrenness. The green areas are frequently found in canyons, and mountainous areas, but also in the middle of no-where, with no rhyme or reason as to where it is located. Water, had always been fickle in the southwest before the war has suddenly appeared in unknown areas. What had been desolate for years is suddenly green and fertile. Small holdings, farms, and ranches have taken over most of the green areas and in doing so they help provide the closest town with their products, though they are able to sell their items anywhere they can.

It will never be the same but, the people are survivors, inroads are being made, and civilizations are slowly coming back.

Part 1 ~~~~~

The seven had left 4C, named for its location where the old states of Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico had met; for almost a month as they chased down outlaws, who had robbed and killed several homesteaders near the town 5A. Having to track down the killers had taken time, but once they were caught the seven had to deliver the five men to the Yuma Outpost Prison for trial and incarceration. They'd kept in touch with the town they were hired to protect when they could get their radios to work through the radioactive clouds above them. They knew something was wrong at home but couldn't return until their job was finished per Southwest Area Judge Orin Travis' orders.

The countryside they passed through went from total desolation with nothing but broken rocks and boulders, grayish-tan sand and bare ground, to lush heavy greenish-grey fields with brush and stunted trees with water bubbling out of the ground and traveling a ways before disappearing again. Several different types of wildlife inhabited these areas that could extend for many miles. Large birds resembling eagles weaved through the air picking up any air currents in the warm atmosphere. The deer and antelope that had survived the devastating war 78 years before had intermingled and bred, creating a new species of deer that were quicker, larger and the males sported antlers that were of impressive size and sharp enough to kill quickly in a confrontation. The females had smaller antlers, but they were equally as deadly. They protected their young with a vengeance. A small herd of buffalo traveled back and forth across the country, but the huge animals were protected, a small chip was implanted in them, and if one died a thorough investigation was instigated. The 4,000 to 5,000 pound animals were the last of their species and the new government wanted them to survive.

Predators were plentiful. The worse ones, other than some humans, were the half starved wolf animals that traveled in packs from five to up to forty animals. They were very large animals and a large pack could easily take down a full grown buffalo. Bears, not often seen roamed the mountain areas, but would now and then venture to a town if hungry enough. The 2,000 to 2,500 pound animal usually didn't have any enemies unless a pack of wolves came into its territory.

The seven men's horses galloped effortlessly, their large hooves beating on the dry ground. Pack horses ran loose along with them. Over the years they had evolved into 17 to 22 hand high mounts, eyesight beyond comprehension, strong, fast, and evolving to sprout lethal horns on their foreheads for protection. Through the long, heavy forelocks the first, upper horn, grew to slightly curve up, and was at least a foot and a half long weapon. The lower one, just inches under the upper one, grew from two to three feet long, also curving upwards somewhat, both were razor sharp and as strong as steel. Long heavy manes and tails protected their necks and hind quarters, partly feathered legs gave the illusion they were heavier then they really were. Their lightning fast movements were deadly when they fought, and the speed they traveled was a lot faster then many of the motorized vehicles that were left. The horses were loyal to their masters and would fight side by side with them when the cause arose. Chris had a ranch several miles from 4C where he and Vin bred and raised the horses. Several of the mounts the men were riding, and packing, came from his well known ranch. The legislative body had recently given Chris and several other ranchers around the country permission to raise the horses, the trained animals were sold to farmers and ranchers to help them with the work they did. Un-trainable animals were sold for meat.

As the men headed home they hunted, knowing that meat was generally short in the area around the town, the supply train that came monthly, never seemed to have enough for each town it stopped at. Towns in their area were around 200 miles apart, with up to 400 families in them. The population had been scattered across the land in little pockets when the war ended, and had tried to pull together. Millions had lost their lives, and now those left had a fight on their hands to survive in what remained of their decimated countries.

Taking a couple of extra days the seven men cut and dried the meat of several deer they'd killed, packing the meat onto five horned pack horses. Mounting up, the men were finally off; they'd be home in three days and all were looking forward to it.
The radio attached to Chris Larabee's mount crackled and he answered it. Through the static interference, he heard the voice of Mary Travis, asking when they'd be home.

"Tomorrow evening," Chris replied several times in hopes she could hear him.

"Need … help … too … attack … hurry …" Static broke Mary's message up badly as she tried to answer him.

Vin Tanner, riding next to Chris, glanced around the country they were traveling through, and then back to him. "We can rest ahead. About two miles, should be enough water and grass for the horses. Rest four hours, should be able to push through, get home by dawn."

"We'll do it. Lead on," Chris told his partner.

Vin's huge black surged forward, tossing its horned head into the air, Chris's matching its gait. The other riders surrounding the pack animals followed their leader. The pack animals ran easily even under their heavy loads, in the circle of the seven, without having to be tethered.

Less than twenty minutes later Vin pulled to a halt near a two foot wide creek that cut though a swath of grass and disappeared 50 yards away. Dismounting, he quickly un-tacked his horse as the others copied his movements. Minutes later the seven mounts and five pack horses had spread out along the creek to drink and eat. The men gathered around a small fire built by JD Dunne. Josiah Sanchez and Buck Wilmington quickly prepared a meal. When finished eating they all rested awhile. It was going to be a fast ride through the murky darkness.

Just over four hours later they were on their way again, racing north, glad their mounts could see well in the dark grey light reflecting from the black/purple sky above them. As they rode they prepared the guns and blasters on their hips and saddles.

Outside of 4C the men slowed and gathered the pack horses' close, then with Chris and Vin leading they cantered into the totally silent town. Both men felt the hair on their necks raise, something was wrong. As they cantered towards the huge rock livery, dark grey shapes exploded from two alleyways, left and right of them, jumping at the horse's throats and riders.

Guns and blasters blared out in the early morning, as they all fired at the huge shapes that resembled a cross between wolf, Great Dane and Mastiff, standing almost four feet tall at the shoulder. Gaping mouths were filled with long serrated teeth that could tear a man apart in seconds, and they were on the hunt, killing machines that were hard to stop.

Steel clad hooves and the long horns on the horses' heads struck and slashed at the hungry wolves that poured out of the alleys as the men fired into the savage black, grey, brown, and reddish shapes.

Within seconds Chris and Vin were cut off from the rest of their partners, but they kept firing as their black mounts fought with them. Both men winced in pain as teeth tore at their legs as several wolves got through their defenses. Shooting blasters into the faces of the wild animals they finally were free of the teeth tearing at them, trying to bring them down.

Finally, after what felt like an hour but was only minutes, the last of the dark shapes disappeared into the gray dawn. Over thirty wolf bodies littered the street as the horses calmed, eyeing the dark figures wildly, some standing with their forefeet firmly planted on the dead bodies. People began to appear on the rock and wooden walkways in front of their adobe and rock houses and businesses.

Blood flowed from torn legs as Chris and Vin dismounted, then collapsed to the ground when their legs gave out. Nathan Jackson and Josiah reached them as Rain ran from the medical clinic she and Nathan ran. With help from the others, the two men rose, and were hustled towards the clinic. Mary appeared, her hair hanging free over her shoulders, the blaster in her hand resting along her jean clad leg.

Buck, Ezra Standish, and JD paused behind the others as Chris looked over at Mary. "How many lost?"

"Three in town. We think maybe Nettie and her close neighbors, we can't raise them."

"NO!" A scream of pain and anguish erupted from Vin as he collapsed in Nathan's arms.

Part 2 ~~~~

"Get them inside," Nathan ordered as he lifted and carried the unconscious Vin into to the clinic, closely followed by Josiah half carrying Chris. Rain, Buck, Ezra, and JD followed. The horses stood as silent sentinels, guarding the clinics doors, shaking their heads to free their horns from the blood and gore of the wolves. Town's people gave the 12 horses a wide berth as they went about collecting the bodies of the wolves. They would be skinned, and their hides used for blankets and coats while the meat, if good would also be used.

Nathan placed Vin on an examination table as Josiah helped Chris onto the another one. Going to the sink Nathan quickly washed up, carefully cleaning his hands. Within minutes Nathan and Rain with Josiah and Ezra's help had the two men stripped and were examining the extent of damage to their legs. Blood flowed freely from many deep lacerations as Rain wiped their legs down with antiseptic, and Nathan set to work cleaning the wounds.

"They'll be fine in a few days," Nathan remarked a while later straightening up as Rain gave both men an injection to numb their legs. The bright overhead light illuminated the area as he picked up a tiny laser and turned on the beam, ready to close the wounds after the deep cleansing. "Better get the meat we brought back taken care of Buck, and check the town in case the wolves didn't leave."

"You sure they're going to be all right?" Buck asked feeling a little queasy, and noting the green tinge on JD's face after seeing the damage to their partner's legs. At Nathan's nod Buck turned towards the door, "As long as they're going to be fine we'll go take care of everything. Yeah, the horses need tending to also," Buck added grabbing JD's arm and throwing the clinic doors open.

"We'll be back shortly," Buck said over his shoulder as he stepped out, pulling JD behind him as the others followed.

The doors closed and Nathan turned back to work, Rain beside him and ready with bandages. Taking a few seconds, Nathan kissed his wife thoroughly then returned to work. It had been a long month away from the town and his wife and he had missed her tremendously having been married only for six months. Nathan was thrilled that she had come into his life just when he was in need of a fully trained nurse. The clinic was the only one in the area. With the settlers who had recently come into the district, the clinic had been kept busy with new babies coming and injuries that happened when people did things they'd never done before, along with sicknesses and other maladies.

The population of the town and surrounding area was now just over 300. Nathan was happy that he had been able to get his doctor training and find a place that needed his skills as fast as he did. It sometimes took up to two years to find a permanent placement, but with his knowledge of the south he was interviewed by Judge Travis, and two weeks later Travis had contacted him and told him of the need at a town called 4C. It had taken him six days to get to the town from Las Vegas, and he had been overjoyed to find a fully equipped clinic with everything he would need for treating allergies to surgery, from bandages to lasers, and more. It was kept stocked and funded by the ruling body, and he had a small income from them to keep it open. Anything he made on the side he could keep, and he even had a nice apartment above the clinic. He had everything he needed to run the clinic efficiently, except a nurse. Then one day a vision walked into the clinic when he had his hands full with three children with allergic reactions to the radioactive cloud that had come in the day before. Within minutes she had helped him get the children all inoculated and their worried parents calmed. When they were alone she introduced herself as Rain his new assistant, and from that day onward they worked side by side when he wasn't out on patrol or having to ride with the other protectors.

The wounds in Chris's and Vin's legs, though not life threatening were deep in their thighs and calves, and would take time to completely heal. There was the possibility of infection from the wolves' saliva; he prayed that he had gotten the wounds completely cleaned. Fever was a given, but he wasn't worried about rabies. Though everyone knew the symptoms there now was one shot that would protect humans and animals from contracting it, even after being bitten. Rain would give the two men the inoculation as a precaution as soon as she finished wrapping Vin's legs, the shots lasted for several years. Nathan made a note to himself to remember to give the rest of the men the vaccine too as the possibility that any of them would be in contact with wolves again was high. He wanted them all protected just in case something happened.
Rain bandaged Vin's legs as Nathan finished with Chris' wounds. Without a word she moved to the locked cabinet and opened it then prepared the rabies shots and antibiotic IV's. Giving first Vin, then Chris an injection she then set up the IV racks and hung bags of antibiotics for each. After getting the men hooked to the IV's, she started cleaning up around the tables. Chris was half awake but Vin was still out and green eyes watched her efficient movements.

Stepping to the head of the table, Nathan patted Chris on his shoulder, "Rest for now. When the guys get back we'll get you both to other beds so you can get some sleep. You both will be fine."

"Got … to find out about … Nettie."

"I know, but neither of you are in any shape to be riding out right now. Let Buck and the others go out to her place. They can get along without you or Vin for a day. I want you two down for at least 36 hours, no arguing."

"Buck, yes, he will … Get them to go, as soon as possible," Chris commanded, his voice slurred.

"I will. They'll stop here before they head out." Nathan pulled blankets over Vin then Chris, "Rest until they return."

"Yes … sir …" Chris's eyes slid closed and he drifted into sleep. Nathan smiled at Rain; she'd slipped something into Chris' IV.

An hour later the clinic door opened and four men filed in, their gazes going automatically to the two men lying on the exam tables, IV's in their arms. Pausing they looked to Nathan and Rain seeing them break out in tight smiles. "They'll be fine," Nathan reassured his friends. "I'm going to keep them here for now. If you'll help move them over to the beds, I'd appreciate it."

Within minutes the wounded men had been settled into two beds on the other side of the room, IV's checked, and blankets pulled over them.

Blue eyes blinked open and looked wildly around the room, finally settling on Buck's tall form. "Nettie?" Vin hoarsely asked.

"Don't know yet Junior. We're heading out there in a few minutes."

"She can't be dead! I have to go," Vin forced himself up, only to sway dizzily and fall back, his eyes filled. "NO!! I have to go! I need to see her! Please …"

Nathan grabbed Vin's bare shoulders, "You are not going anywhere. The guys are heading out, they'll find her. You already have a fever; you'll only hinder them if they have to take care of you."

Tears leaked from anguished eyes as Vin looked up at Nathan. His mouth opened but he slammed it closed before a sob could escape. Nettie was more then just a close friend to all of them, she was his surrogate mother, and like a mother to all the rest of the seven. The only mother he'd known since he was five years old and living wild, traveling the country, trying to stay away from the man who said he was his guardian after his mother died from an infection that had lingered after a firefight. Someone had tried to take over the young woman's and her small son's little farmstead. His mother had protected her son and home, ending up wounded from a blaster shot, but dying several weeks later from the infection that had invaded her weakened body. He had run even before her funeral, scared of the man who would be his guardian, not wanting to have anything to do with him or his family.

Two years later, Nettie Wells had found him, injured after a wolf club had attacked him. She easily carried the slight boy back to her home on her horse. Nettie and her husband, Allen, had nursed him back to health and gave him a home. Nettie and Allen had treated him as the son they thought was lost, until Allen was killed in an ambush when he, Nettie and several other families had gone for their food supplies, Vin had been down with the flu and couldn't leave. Vin was almost 13 when it happened and was devastated by the loss of another person he'd loved, and blamed himself for not being there to help. He had left days later, only returning once a year to visit Nettie. A couple years earlier he had shown up for his yearly visit just in time to help her move to the 4C area.

Nettie had found her son the year before, and was ecstatic to find that he had married and had a child. Her joy was short lived, as he and his wife were lost in an outlaw attack, leaving their 15 year old daughter alone to run their small 8 cow dairy. Nettie had packed her belongings and loading them into her large wagon headed out with Vin beside her. Once he was sure she was safe in her new home he disappeared again riding away on his half wild horned horse.

The last seven years of his life had revolved around the widowed, older woman, and he had always felt guilty for leaving her after only visiting her several days a year. He loved her as much as he had loved his mother, but was scared to remain too close to her; it seemed everyone he loved was lost to him. He had been caught once already by his 'guardian' near Nettie's home, and was now doubly careful. Since settling in the area, he now cherished his time with her and being able to see her as often as he wanted. Almost a year ago, on one of his visits, while escorting Nettie into 4C to get her supplies when the supply train arrived, he found Chris and the others. They had formed into a tight group of friends and protectors of 4C when he helped stop a bunch of thieves who attacked the train to take the supplies meant for the local residents, with the help of Chris, Buck, Josiah, and Nathan. Several days later they had met Ezra and JD who arrived on a scheduled stop by the bus that ran twice a month through the small town dropping off newspapers and mail for the area. No matter what he was doing, whether working on the ranch with Chris, or protecting the town, he and his friends were there for Nettie if she needed them.

He'd been thrilled when Chris asked him, only days after meeting, to live on his ranch and help with the raising and training of the horses they rode. He found out from Buck that Chris didn't offer his trust, lodgings and work to many, there was only a few he trusted around the horses he raised, and, into his life. Buck couldn't believe that it had taken only a couple of days for Chris and Vin to get together. Vin had felt honored, in all his life he'd never had a close friend, much less one who offered to open his home to him other than Nettie.

He wouldn't trade a moment of time for being able to work with the horses. He also found he and Chris had a connection since the first time they'd laid eyes on each other, that would last a lifetime and it was growing daily and he reveled in that connection.

Josiah gripped Vin's arm for a moment, to comfort the distraught 20 year old. "We will find her Brother for you. We'll be back soon, you rest."

Mouth clamped shut, Vin nodded as he turned his tear streaked face away. He was asleep before the door closed behind his friends thanks to the drug Rain had slipped him in his IV.

Buck, Josiah, Ezra and JD mounted their horned horses and raced out of town. The short respite was enough to invigorate the large animals again and they all knew it would be only a half hour before they were at Nettie's.

The four riders pounded into the yard around Nettie's large rock and timbered house. Several rock steps led onto a large covered rock porch. There were heavy metal plates over the large front windows, and the whole area was silent except for the horse's snorting, and the creak of tack as the men dismounted. JD rushed up the steps to pound on the door, and then tried the handle. The door swung open easily and he walked in, blaster at the ready, calling for Nettie and her niece Casey. Buck walked in the door and they quickly searched the house as Josiah and Ezra searched the large metal barn and checked on the cows that Nettie had. Meeting in front of the house a couple minutes later Ezra informed them. "Ms Nettie's wagon is here but two of her horses and tack are gone."

Josiah added, "There is some kind of drag marks behind the barn. We need to follow them. I don't believe they were caused by her cows. Oh, I tossed them and the horse some more hay, though they seem to be pretty content. They all are doing fine."

"Nettie's rifle and blaster are gone, so is Casey's blaster. Nothing's disturbed. It's like they were here then left. The radio transceiver is broken, but it can be repaired." JD told the men.

"Alright let's find them." Buck hurried to his huge grey horse and mounted, and with the others following him they set off on the trail behind the barn.

Vin twisted in pain, opening his eyes he stared at the ceiling, tears once again falling as he prayed that Nettie was alive, fearing she was lost to him forever. Glancing around, he was comforted by sight of Chris asleep in the bed beside him.

Part 3~~~~

Mid afternoon arrived and the four hunters were still following the trail, unsure where it would lead them. Their mounts were getting impatient. They wanted to go home to a warm barn and feed, but instead they were tramping through the desolate countryside following a trail that had smelled like a dead predator. Now though, it was just horse smell they were following.

Buck pulled his grey to a halt on a high, barren knoll and looked around the grayish brown country side. The sky was heavily overcast with slate tinged clouds. What little sun broke through gave off an eerie shade of orange-grey light. Several pairs of keen eyes roamed over the land, looking for anything out of place, and suddenly JD's red and white pinto snorted, her head rising higher as she looked across to a high outcrop a mile away. The other horned horses lifted their heads and Bucks grey let out a roaring nicker that echoed over the land. Everyone was watching the figures now, and Buck thought he saw someone wave.

Before he could say a word, Josiah's blood red horse surged forward, and the others followed in its wake. The four thundered across the land and several minutes later they stopped near the two figures huddled together, wrapped in blankets, blasters primed and aimed at them.

With a smile Nettie lowered her blaster as she and Casey slowly rose to their feet, "Boys I am so glad that you

Leaping from their horses the men surrounded the two women. "Ms Nettie, what has happened to you and Miss Casey?" Ezra asked, as he took in their disheveled figures.

"We were attacked by some wolves at home. We managed to kill several before they left. We waited two days to be sure they weren't coming back then got some ropes and dragged them away. We were returning when some wolves appeared and the horses spooked and carried us this way. When we lost the wolves we looked for some water and decided to rest for a bit. Unfortunately, the horses were still jittery and a noise set them off and they left us. They'll probably be home soon," Nettie told the men as they gave her and Casey a canteen to drink from.

"Would you like something to eat?" Josiah asked.

"Thank you Josiah, we just had some biscuits and jerky as we were walking. At least we managed to get our saddle bags before they took off. Why are you out here?" Nettie suddenly realized who had found them.

JD smiled, placing his arm around Casey's waist. "We just got home this morning, and were attacked in town by a pack of wolves as we rode in. Chris and Vin are hurt, but we killed around 30 wolves. Before coming to look for you we checked around for the rest of the pack but they seem to be gone," replied JD, as the nonstop narrative spilled excitedly from his lips.

"Vin and Chris! Are they all right?" Nettie quickly asked her concerned gaze going from one man to the other.

'Yes ma'am, they will be fine," Buck quickly reassured her. "Vin was awake when we left and we promised him we'd find you and get you in to see him as soon as possible. Are you ready to get out of here?"

"Yes! I need to get home to see if our horses are there, then we'll continue in to see Vin and Chris. Are you sure they are alright?"

"They will be. Nathan expected fever and Vin had one when we left. But he'd gotten the wounds taken care of and said they'd be fine in a few days." Josiah helped Nettie to mount Ezra's big bay horse, then mounted his own horse as Ezra settled behind Nettie. JD helped Casey onto his pinto and hopped on behind her. Buck mounted then turned his horse and they headed back the way they'd come at a fast gait.

It seemed like no time at all when they arrived back at Nettie's place to see her and Casey's horses standing calmly beside the barn doors waiting to be let in. Quickly checking the two horses over and not finding any injuries Nettie and Casey mounted them and they all headed for town. The land was getting darker as the waning sun set and they wanted to be in town before dark.

Chris woke in the clinic and looked across at Vin who was twisting in a fevered dream. Nathan and Rain were there, placing a cooling blanket and cloths on Vin and trying to get him to calm down. Sitting up, Chris swung his legs off the bed and rose, pausing for a moment to get past the pain in his legs and to wrap the blanket around his lean hips. Hobbling across to Vin's side he took his hot hand in his and looked at the longhaired youngster. A moment later Vin's head turned his way, his eyes fighting to open, urged on by the command he could hear in his head.

Dazed blue eyes met sea green ones a minute later and Vin calmed as he heard Chris talking to him in his head. A weary smile crossed his cracked lips as Nathan held a tall glass with a straw in it to his lips. Taking a drink he rasped, "Thanks Nathan, 'preciate it."

**You alright now?**

**Yeah. Thanks for waking me, strange dream. Feel like somethin's eating my leg though.**

Chris grinned and shot a look at Nathan. "Said he thought something was eating his leg, better check it."

Nathan quickly pulled back the blanket and with the scissors Rain handed him, cut the bandages off the worst of Vin's wounds in his thigh. The deepest one was swollen and red under the laser-ed closure. Rain was at the medicine cabinet instantly and a moment later a hypodermic was prepared and handed to Nathan who quickly injected it into Vin's IV port. Two minutes later the youngster was unconscious and Nathan quickly cleaned the area and slit the wound open, and set to work cleaning out the infection that had built up. A half hour later the wound was once again cleaned and packed with antibiotics. Deftly he bandaged the wound, opting not to close it until he was totally sure the infection was gone. Nathan exchanged a quick glance with Rain, and she hurriedly filled another hypodermic and handed it to him. Injecting it into the IV port, Nathan finally stepped back and looked across at Chris.

"Found some dirt deep in the wound I missed earlier. It is clean this time. We gave him a massive dose of antibiotics. It should take care of anything else he comes up with."

"Thanks Nathan, Rain. Don't know what we'd do without you two."

The couple smiled, but before they could say anything they all heard the thunder of approaching hooves. Rain moved to the small window and then smiled. "It's the guys and they have Nettie and Casey with them." She moved to the door throwing it open as the horses stopped outside. Moments later she hugged Nettie as the little grey haired whirlwind swept into the room, slapping the dust off her pants. Nettie's faded grey eyes took in the tired Nathan, then Chris sitting beside Vin's bed wrapped in a warm blanket with bandages showing under the lower edge, his hand wrapped around Vin's. She looked at the sleeping youngster who she considered her son, bundled in a cooling blanket.

Striding to the bed near one of the windows, she paused while Chris pulled himself up out of the chair beside Vin's bed, gripping the blanket tightly around his waist. She critically looked him over then gave the blond a quick hug, glad to see him up and moving around, even though it was slowly and gingerly on his wounded legs.

"Glad to see you're all right Nettie. We were all worried abut you."

"I'm fine. A wolf took out my transceiver and I couldn't get the radio to work. JD said he'd come out tomorrow to work on it. You need to go lay down before you collapse, son. How's my other boy?" She asked, her eyes sweeping across to Nathan.

Nathan helped Chris back to his bed and said, "He's got some fever, but now that you're here and safe he will be able to rest and get better. Glad you're all right Nettie."

"Thanks Nathan, I'm fine and will be a lot better when Vin wakes up."

"… 'm … wake … Nettie?"

"Yes son. I'm here, safe and sound. Buck and the boys found us. Now you need to rest and recover from these wounds. Go to sleep," Nettie firmly told Vin as he fought to open his eyes, her hand on his tousled head.

With a little boy smile Vin said, "Yes … ma'am," and with a deep sigh let himself fall into a healing sleep.

Part 4 ~~~~

Vin leaned on the high board fence, watching as his soul brother, Chris, worked the young horned buckskin mare. She moved gracefully through her paces, long flowing mane and tail drifting like flags around her, her two razor sharp horns glistening in the early morning greyness. Little puffs of grey dust rose with each hoof fall.

Smiling at his partner Vin threw comments Chris' way as he pulled his long hair into a pony-tail and started
to tie it with a strip of leather as the wind picked up. Suddenly the filly bucked then twisted almost in mid-air turning towards Chris. A loud roar sounded within the enclosure and she lowered her head and charged the blond before he could react.

Vin yelled as her horns struck Chris in his thighs and tossed him like a rag over her glistening shoulder. Whirling around, before Chris could move, she stomped him with her steel clad fore hooves. A scream of pain echoed as hooves caught him in his stomach, chest, and hip. Vin vaulted over the fence and ran towards them, hair flying behind him as he waved his arms and tried to catch the angry horse's attention. Swerving hard she charged him before he could get his blaster aimed. His first shot missed her by inches, giving her enough time to hit him in his upper right thigh with her horns pushing him back and impaling him hard against the fence. The second shot caught her squarely in the head below her ear and she went down dragging Vin along with her, his leg still trapped by her horns.

In shock and pain Vin pushed mightily with his other leg to get himself free of the horns, blood pouring from the damaged artery in his thigh. His blue eyes never left the crumpled, bloody form of Chris several feet from him. Finally free he dragged himself to his partner, only to scream in anguish, not able to find a heartbeat or any response from him. Cradling Chris tightly in his arms he rocked, crying, and cursing as his life's blood poured out of his torn leg, to soak into the dry, moisture hungry, grey-brown ground.

"Vin! Vin! Wake up … It's all right. Chris is here, he is right beside you. Come on Vin, it is alright!" Soft words were spoken into his ear and Vin suddenly gasped for air, not knowing he'd been holding his breath. Breathing deeply he felt as if the desert had settled in his throat as he slowly opened his eyes, feeling the tremors that were running through him. How could Chris be there? Chris was dead and he was dying, his leg mangled, the artery torn apart, no one was around to help him.

"R…Rain? 'ris?" His tormented blue eyes took in the woman bending over him as she wiped a cool cloth over his face and neck; fuzzily he looked around the clinic as gentle hands slipped a straw between his dry lips. Gratefully he drank the cool water, becoming more aware of his surroundings.

"It's alright Vin he is right here! And finally, your fever has broken." His thirst slaked, the straw was withdrawn, and Rain smiled at him and patted his shoulder.

A moment later a cool hand gripped Vin's arm, green eyes looked down into his as the blond sat down on the edge of his bed, Rain moved away, giving the men some privacy.

"W…What 'pened?" Vin mumbled as he checked Chris over to be sure he was really all right. The shaking lessened then stopped, as he observed Chris up and moving; there was no blood or crushed bones to be seen.

"After a bout with another infection, you had a reaction to the antibiotics and had a fever from it. Your fever spiked a bit ago. It was causing you to have a bad, delusional dream. It was only a hallucination. I am fine. Well, other than the healing gashes from the wolves we fought, and, almost having a heart attack when you screamed; scared the crap out of us all. I'm just glad that Nathan was able to get Nettie to go with him and the guys to get some food before that happened. They'll be back shortly with some food for us." Chris looked down at the thin, pale young man on the bed and shook his head. Pushing Vin's long unruly hair back he smiled at the worry he saw in his friend's blue eyes.

Chris and the others knew that the young man would be unaware that the dream had happened several times in the last few days. Over and over the nightmare had taken him and he'd reacted the same way each time. Chris' connection to Vin had him reliving the dream with him every time. He was relieved that each time they'd been able to wake Vin before he'd stopped breathing all together. He didn't tell the others what the dream had been about, knowing that he and Vin had died in it. He wasn't about to let something like that happen, they would live for a long time.

He'd already walked that path once before when he'd lost his wife, Sarah, and two year old son Adam, a couple years before. They had been killed in a fire attack one night when he and Buck were away on a trip to deliver a team of horses he'd just finish training for a rancher to the west of the town. They'd arrived back in the morning to find ashes where the hidden cabin had been, and hundreds of footprints in the dirt all around the area. Chris never forgave himself for hiding Sarah and Adam at the cabin, he'd thought it was out of the way, hidden well enough that no one would find it, that they'd be safe for a day and night . He found out how wrong he'd been. Even though he'd been only 26 then, he knew he'd never get over his family's deaths.

Meeting the longhaired young man had suddenly calmed his troubled soul, the agony and guilt he had been going through was eased. He was living again. The youngster had burrowed under his defenses and had healed his broken heart, bringing him back from the brink of destruction.

"Sorry Chris. I'm feeling better now though."

The raspy voice brought Chris back to the present with a start. Grinning down at Vin, he replied, "I can tell. Your
eyes are clear. You're not incoherent either." He didn't mention that he'd shared the dream, with its screaming and horrible sobbing that had overtaken him. "You feel like eating something, if Nathan and Nettie allow you to?"

"Yeah, am starved. Haven't eaten since yesterday."

"Make that five days ago, when we first got back to town and were attacked. Seems you and wolf bites don't
agree, nor some antibiotics. But it looks like you are now on the mend." Chris gripped Vin's forearm in their brotherhood grip, **Glad you're back with us partner.**

**Me too,** Vin's gentle smile crossed his face. He was feeling better, and with his soul brother beside him he'd be out of the clinic soon.

**Rest until they get back. I'll wake you to eat.**

**Good, think I could eat a buffalo, as long as it has some of Nettie's chocolate on it.**

Chris threw back his head and laughed. **Now I know you are on the mend!**

Sheepishly Vin grinned then pulled the blankets up to his chin and closed his eyes. "Let me rest."

"I will Pard."

One eye opened and glared at the blond, then Vin smiled, "Why don't cha' get some sleep to, ya look tired. Probably need a shower too."

**Keep it up sonny and I'll eat your food!** A green eyed glare hit him.

Vin snickered and shut his eyes. **No way Cowboy. I'll fight ya f'r my food.**

With a last laugh Chris rose from Vin's bed and walked over to the window and looked out. Glancing over his shoulder he saw that Vin had relaxed into sleep. Smiling he turned back to the window.

A half hour later Nettie, followed by Nathan and Buck walked through the door carrying several trays of food. Nettie sat her tray on the little table by Vin's bed and glanced at the black clad man, an eyebrow lifting in question.

"He woke and is hungry," Chris quickly answered her as Nathan gave a tray to Rain and seated her at the large desk in the corner of the clinic. Buck, a smile on his lips handed the tray he carried to Chris.

"Here you go Stud. The best Inez had today."

Accepting the tray, Chris sat down near Vin's bed and uncovered the large plate of food, a grin of appreciation on his face. "Thanks Buck, this looks good."

A snuffling noise came from the nearby bed and a moment later the tousled head of Vin rose from the blankets and sleepy eyes looked around then fixed on the plate of food in Chris's hands. "That mine?" he rasped.

Chris smirked and moved his plate away from the arm that had snaked out of the blankets and reached towards the biscuit on it. "No way cowboy, this one's mine. I think Nettie has something for you, or is it Nathan?"

"Oh ..." Vin glanced around and saw Nettie and Nathan standing on the other side of his bed, a bowl, and spoon in Nathan's hands. "Aw … I'm hungry for real food, not that watery stuff."

"You'll eat what is given to you boy, or I will take you in hand," Nettie answered, hiding a smile at the look that crossed the handsome face.

"Yes, ma'am. Can I go home when I'm done?"

Chris quirked an eyebrow at the young man. "Supply train's coming in tomorrow, so if you're feeling better and
Nathan releases you; we'll head to the ranch after we get done here."

"Good, I want to go home."

"Let's see if this will stick with you first, before you get any wild ideas about leaving." Nathan watched as Vin pushed himself upright in the bed then handed him the bowl of soup and the spoon. Standing back he watched as Vin tentatively took a spoonful of soup. A happy look crossed Vin's face and he spooned the soup in as fast as he could. Finishing quickly he held the empty bowl out to Nathan.

"Can I have more?"

The people in the room broke out in laughter at the wistful look on Vin's face. "Lets give it a little time Vin, and if all goes well, you can have some more and maybe a biscuit too," Nathan told him.

Vin surrendered the bowl to Nettie and took the cup she offered him. Taking a drink of the tea he thanked her and settled back against the headboard. "So, what's been happening the last few days?" Not seeing the guilty exchange between the others in the room, he waited for their replies, and then listened to the mundane everyday activities in the town. A few minutes later he handed the cup back to Nettie and with a yawn settled down into his blankets and slipped into sleep.

Part 5 ~~~~

Two days later, Chris and Vin pulled their blacks to a halt near the bottom of a trail that led upwards 200 feet between house sized boulders. Checking the ground they didn't see any tracks in the dust-covered trail and urged their mounts onwards. No one had used the trail that lead into the valley where their ranch was nestled.

They were almost home. The previous day the supply train had arrived and pulled to a stop alongside the huge rock warehouse where the men had unloaded the supplies. It had taken all morning and into the early afternoon to unload the train cars. Once the iron-clad train had left, the rest of the day passed slowly as they helped sort and store the supplies. Vin was released by Nathan, on his word that he would take it easy and not wear himself out. To Vin's frustration he'd been assigned to stack light-weight staples as his friends and town's men stored heavier items.

When the supplies had all been taken care of, the Potter family prepared to hand them out that evening and the next day. The workers headed for showers and dinners. Nathan had been called back to the clinic just as they finished so the others had cleaned up and met at The Saloon. Ezra had purchased The Saloon several months before and with the help of Inez and his friends had turned it around, from a rundown, flea-bitten place to a well known and organized business and the larger of the two drinking establishments in town. The Saloon also housed several comfortable rooms and a few apartments and had an excellent restaurant. Even though the bus came through twice a month, there weren't many passengers. Some stayed longer, renting the apartments while looking for a place to live. Others rented rooms for a short period of time, or until the next bus arrived. Reasonable prices and the lure of a clean bed and good food drew them to Ezra's establishment.

This morning Chris and Vin escorted Nettie and Casey home after they had received their supplies and packed them on each of the horses before they left town. Chris and Vin would pick up their supplies when they returned to 4C, knowing they had enough stored at the ranch to last them several weeks. Reaching Nettie's, they helped carry her supplies in then headed to the barn. While Nettie and Casey tended the few cows that had calved and needed milking, the men quickly cleaned out the cow's pen and the two horses' stalls, throwing down fresh straw for them. Opening the metal doors they made sure the pasture gates were closed then turned the horses out. The eager horses headed for the green grass immediately. They could see the bubbling water at the lower end of the pasture. Nettie's son had made little canals directing the water to dry areas and bringing grass to over 75 more acres. Nettie and Casey kept everything working well and the small herd of cows thrived under their care. Four red white-faced calves romped around the cows when they were let out, their mothers calmly moseying out into the field.

Nettie insisted that they stay for lunch and she and Casey quickly prepared a meal. Once the dishes were cleared the men took their leave and headed for the ranch.

Reaching the trail to the ranch they smiled as the sun came out, the wind finally blowing the heavy grey clouds away. The sun beat down on their heads as they topped the ridge and started down into a huge green valley nestled between the tall cliff walls. Trees dotted many of the fields, and a thick stand of them were in the northern area of the valley and swept up to the canyon's walls. Over two thousand mostly flat acres were nestled between the walls and stand of trees, and water ran freely through the fields. Fences bisected the fields, tall enough that the horned horses couldn't easily jump them, preserving many of the fields for later grazing. With plentiful water the grass grew eight months out of the year. Several tall open-sided sheds were strategically placed across the land, and when they had time the grass was cut and dried then piled in the sheds. Since there was no way to get any kind of tractor or farm machinery into the valley, if there was any available, it all was done by hand, and hauled in a wagon that had been brought into the valley in several pieces.

Near the bottom of the ridge, 300 feet from the end of the trail, a rock and timbered house stood on a hump, with several trees growing around it. The large front windows faced the valley and fields, overlooking barns and corrals that were slightly to the left and below the house. A long deep porch extended across the whole front of the building and several deep couches were scattered under the overhang. In the back of the house a rock and cement area held an open barbeque pit, a long rock table, and comfortable chairs, protected by a wood awning. A wide trail led across the yard and up the hill to a shed built into the cliffside, power lines traveled from the shed to the house. On the other side of the shed were more lines coming into it from higher up the cliff where a vast bank of solar panels were located, assuring that the house would always have power. Another line snaked higher up the cliff, almost to the top, where it was hooked to a tall antenna that connected to the large communications radio in the house; it was powerful enough to reach several towns, but mainly 4C. If they were needed in town, it was easier to call than to ride out to get them.


A year before Chris met Sarah, he and Buck had stumbled into the valley and saw the potential of it. There were already several outbuildings and some cross fences. The old owner wanted to leave and Chris and he talked it over and came to an agreement on a price. Chris was able to get a loan through the bank in 7D, the only town in the whole area with a bank, and within the month he and Buck were working to improving the ranch. They had the help of several old friends they had worked with before and who needed jobs. The house was half done when Chris married Sarah and they settled down in the valley, finishing the house within a couple of months. A small herd of horned horses lived in the valley and once they completed a couple of high corrals, they ran the herd in and separated them. Chris immediately set to work breaking the younger horses. Before the month was out, five of the horses were trained enough that he could sell them. While he took the horses to Denver, Buck continued to work on the fences.

Chris came home with a contract for more trained horses and with the money he'd made on the sale of them he paid off the loan. The three had a mortgage burning party and celebrated not only that, but that Sarah was going to have a baby in six months. Chris and Buck changed one of the bedrooms into a nursery and then Chris went back to working full time with the horses. By the time the baby arrived, he had made another trip to Denver. With Buck's help they had taken 15 horses and came back with two new mares.

Everything had been going well and Chris and Sarah's new son was a happy addition to the small family, with 'Uncle Buck' doting on the child. Adam had grown like a weed and was walking before he was a year old, and they all had to keep a close eye on him. If he could get outside he'd be down at the corrals wanting to pet the horses his dad and uncle were working with.

The fateful day that they had left Sarah and Adam hidden in the small cabin outside the valley, thinking it was well hidden, only to find out it wasn't, had changed Chris into someone that Buck didn't want to be around. Chris had gone back to his ranch, and only Buck being there kept him from destroying everything they had built over the last three years. Chris, in a drunken fit had packed a few clothes and disappeared on his black stallion. Buck had ridden after him but when he found him there was no talking to him. Buck told Chris what he thought of him and let him know where he might be able to find him again. Buck had returned to the valley but it wasn't the same without Chris and his family. Turning the horses out into the pastures, he left, drifting where ever the wind took him for almost a year before arriving in 4C. That he was amazed to see Chris there and sober was a pleasant surprise, and then the supply train had pulled in, and was attacked. A young long haired man on a wagon carrying an older woman, had grabbed his old sawed-off rifle and blaster, and with a glance at Chris as he jumped from the wagon had headed for the shooting, Chris in step with him. Buck caught up with them by the warehouse and noticed Nathan the town's doctor and Josiah, the preacher, coming on the run. After heavy and intense shooting for over 15 minutes the five men were finally able to subdue the attackers. A few blaster grazes were the only injuries to the defenders, but most of the attackers were dead.

The five men headed for the saloon for a drink and over beers and whiskey exchanged names and they found out that what they had done hadn't gone unnoticed. Judge Travis, the Regions appointed official had been visiting his daughter-in-law and saw the whole thing. When the men were seated around a table he approached and offered them the job of protecting the town and area. Not sure, they had told them they'd think about it and he left them, letting them know he'd be in town until the end of the week.

Two days later Ezra Standish and JD Dunne arrived on the same bus, the con man wanting to just find a place to settle down and stay. JD, tired of the constraints of Boston and having just lost his mother to radiation poisoning received from the place where she worked at a chemical company, wanted something totally new. The youngster had made friends with Ezra as they traveled the last couple days together, and hoped they could settle in the same town.

Stepping off the bus, Ezra has stumbled and when he righted himself found he was face to face with a man from his past that he had hoped was dead. The man and his men had pulled Ezra away from the bus and started beating him. Fighting for his life Ezra didn't notice when JD jumped into the fray, then five others. In minutes the men had been taken down and Ezra and JD looked to the five that had arrived in the nick of time. Ezra had thanked them and introduced himself and JD as the youngster glanced around for a jail.


Judge Travis had been in the right place once again, having seen the attack and how well the new comers worked with the five other men. He approached the seven as they pushed the five men who'd attacked Ezra towards the jail. Once the attackers were behind bars, he invited them all to the restaurant for a meal. Eyebrows quirked at the invite but the men followed him.

Over a hearty meal the older man offered the seven men five hundred dollars a month, each, with room and board for them and their mounts.

JD jumped at the chance to start a new life and accepted the offer instantly. Travis looked the young man over and with a grin asked, "How old are you son? You don't look over twenty to me."

Puffing out his chest, JD replied, "I'll be nineteen in three days. And he doesn't look any older than I do." He looked pointedly across the table at Vin. Vin's face flared red and he ducked his head as Travis looked at him.

"All right. I don't really care about any of your ages; just, if you will accept the job … Well?"

Chris and Vin had exchanged a glance, everyone noticed the look in their eyes, then they both nodded their heads. "Guess we got nothing better to do. But, I have a horse training business and we need to be there. As long as we get time to work with our horses..."

Travis had quickly held up his hand. "With seven and maybe a couple towns people as back ups, I see no reason that this will take you away from your regular work. You can work out a schedule or whatever, just as long as there is protection for the town and surrounding area."

One by one the men agreed and within two days they had been officially appointed. With the Judge's help they worked out a schedule that was agreeable and guaranteed the town was secure. There were two of the seven available at any given time, with the town's men working a couple times a month, to give the seven men time off.

Chris and Vin mostly spent their off time at the ranch, often with Buck staying with them. The other men had rooms in town. Several times a month, on a day off they all gathered at the ranch for a barbeque or just a get together to enjoy a good meal and relaxing conversation. Many times they came to the ranch just to spend their time off in the peace and quiet of the valley.

Chris and Vin made their way down the trail and reined their horses towards the big rock and timber barn. Their gazes roamed the pastures, glancing over the horses. They spotted several new foals and wished they'd been there for their births. A chill ran through Vin as he saw a small buckskin foal move away from its mother's side. He shivered, as his dream of Chris's and his own death shattered him all over again.

Chris saw the vision that held Vin and grabbing his arm, shook him firmly.

"It's all right Pard. We'll train that foal carefully and if need be, will get rid of it. Don't worry. We'll be fine."

Vin tore his gaze from the foal and looked at Chris, sweat pouring off his face. "Let's just do it now." He begged.

"Let's check it out first, then decide," Chris reasoned.

With a hesitant nod, and a glance into Chris's eyes, Vin acknowledged the confidence in Chris's gaze, and continued on to the barn. After feeding their horses a measure of grain, brushing them, and turning them loose in a corral, they headed to the house, bedrolls under their arms. They opened the windows and started the power and quickly unpacked. Travis had given the seven a three day weekend, and the guys would be there in two days to relax after a job well done. Once done in the house they headed back outside to check on the mares and foals.

The mares came in answer to Chris's unique whistle, and in minutes the mares and foals were close enough for Chris and Vin to look over. Vin watched the little buckskin closely and then a smile crossed his face as he turned to Chris.

**It's a colt.**

**Good. He will bring more money trained than what a butcher shop would give,** Chris shot back at him, feeling the relief flowing through their connection.

**I'm going to break him.**

Chris grinned as Vin slipped into the corral and slowly approached the mare and foal. The tall mare looked at Vin and lowered her head for him to scratch behind her ears, knowing and trusting this two legged human. The foal peeked around from her other side, his head under her long tail with long tail hairs dangling over his head and neck. Finally his curiosity took over and he edged around his mother's back legs to check the stranger out.

Tiny buds on his forehead showed where his horns would appear in the next two months. By the time he was weaned the horns would be several inches long. When he hit his first birthday they would be almost a foot long, and by two years old they would reach their full length.

The foal edged closer, as Vin totally ignored him. He and Chris had found out years earlier that the horned horses were very curious when they were young. Their curiosity sometimes got them into trouble. Several times the two men had had to pull a foal out of a creek or water trough. They didn't let new foals in the barn unless it was bitter cold. The foals would check out everything in sight, catching their new horns, or hooves, in stall slats, buckets, grain bins and anything within their reach.

Chris watched the colt step closer to Vin, then reach its muzzle out and start to nose Vin's boot. Going from Vin's booted foot to his hair, where it mouthed through the long silky strands. Vin slowly touched the foal's neck and started to stroke up and down it. Within minutes the foal was leaning into Vin, his head bowed to Vin's knees as Vin rubbed and scratched him. A wide smile crossed Vin's face.

Chris grinned as he scratched the mare. He knew the joy that Vin was gong through. The foal's attention was centered on Vin as he rubbed and scratched his way over the colt's body, finding itchy spots that had the foal almost on his knees from enjoyment.

Finally Vin stepped back and the foal with a groan lay down and rolled, black legs thrashed the air. Chris moved to Vin's side, and as they walked from the corral he threw an arm across Vin's shoulders. They grinned at each other. Both understood their unusual bond and that they had the best of all worlds, and were more than happy to share their love of this life with their five friends.

Fini for now