by Mary Ann

Alternate Universe: In The Year

Main Characters: Vin

Thank You to Patty T for the beta Just borrowed the guys for this story though wish they were mine.

A large black horned horse cantered over the rough ground, his dark eyes watching for any kind of movement. A mouse brown colored horned horse beside him matched his strides, but stayed slightly behind the heavy jeans clad leg that gripped the barrel of the black.

Vin Tanner pulled his coat closer around him as he glanced up at the grey sky and dark rolling clouds that seemed to crowd over his head and touch the landscape all around them. He frowned as the wind picked up and the sky appeared to lower more. His blue eyes scanned the country ahead of him as he drew in the air, smelling rain and something more.

Not sure what the other scent was but thinking it wasn’t anything good he urged the horses into a bit faster gait.

A streak of lightning raced across the dark grey sky ahead of them and Vin started looking around for a place they could wait out the storm. The land ahead of them looked flat for miles in every direction; there wasn’t even a tree or bush to break the monotony of it. Clumps of prairie grass, tough and mostly unpalatable to most animals grew everywhere. It wasn’t good for pasture but some people cut it and mixed it with mud to make adobe or mud houses that usually lasted longer than wooden ones. Wild deer grazed on the plants in the spring when it was growing, but after it got over five inches high it changed, so the animals left it alone to grow to its full height of nine or ten inches.

Wind blew harder and the lightning flashed more, and now thunder added its loud voice to the day. Vin knew this storm was going to be bad and wished he could find a place to wait it out. He was miles southeast of 4C and still a good half a day’s ride from home.

More lightning flashed, though now it seemed to be all around him. The thunder’s noise was so loud he could feel it vibrate through him and he was unable to hear the pounding of the horses iron clad hooves. He reached for the radio that hung from his saddle, thinking he’d let the others know he would be later than planned.

Just as Vin’s hand touched the weather proofed radio a streak of lightning passed overhead and struck the ground less than 200 feet from them. The crash of the instant thunder covered the roars of fright from the two horses as they quickly turned away from the ozone smell and flare of fire that erupted from the strike.

The horse being lead bumped into Peso as they turned, his horns barely missing Vin’s chest as Vin lurched back in the saddle. Grabbing the rope in one hand he worked to control Peso with the other as he guided the horses back the way they had been traveling. Finally he had the horses lined out and headed towards home once again when he suddenly smelled smoke and looked back as another streak of lightning struck behind them. His blue eyes opened wide in surprise.

A wall of fire was quickly consuming the ground behind him, pushed along by the blowing wind. It was spreading so fast through the dry grass it looked like it was only yards behind them.

Swallowing, Vin looked forward, leaning over Peso’s neck he urged the big black into his mile eating run. He tugged on the pack horse’s lead and it jumped into a run beside them, its horned head again by Vin’s leg.

The two horses raced over the land as fast as they could move and Vin prayed they could out run the fire. He cringed every time lightning flashed. The thunder was deafening, and as they ran, no rain fell yet. Vin’s eyes were never still as he scanned the grey land ahead of him for something to get away from the fire. He knew the river was still miles away and hoped if nothing else they could reach it before the fire caught them.

Smoke bellowed around them all of a sudden and Vin leaned down farther, almost touching Peso’s neck. The horse’s long, thick mane slapped the side of his head and curled over his shoulders, mixing with his long brownish blond hair, his hat rested on his back, knocked off his head by the black mane. The hat string held it to him, as it was tied around his neck, it wouldn’t fly away. A crash overhead caused the horses to surge forward in a desperate race against the fire and smoke.

As they raced over the dry, thirsty ground, Vin fleetingly thought of the last week. A week ago a cloud burst several miles from town had undermined the train tracks for over 500 feet and stopped the supply train from coming to 4C. The town had enough supplies for a time, but there were some medical supplies that Nathan desperately needed that had been returned to the last town. Vin had volunteered to go after them and left the next morning leading a pack horse.

Knowing the supplies were badly needed he pushed himself and the horses to 4A only to find the train hadn’t received the message to leave them there for him, and they were taken farther back along the line. The supply manager of the town sent a message and caught the train before it left 3T. Assured the supplies were to be waiting for him, Vin left after letting his horses rest two hours.

Two days later he arrived at 3T and after picking up the medical supplies he sent a message to 4C that he had them and was starting home.

He was several hours out of 3T when he realized how tired he was, and found the small water source in the green area they were passing through. He unsaddled and let the horses graze and rest while he ate then slept for several hours.

Feeling more awake, he set off after another quick meal and some coffee. The horses were rested and wouldn’t need to stop again until sometime the next day. Though it wasn’t morning yet they headed home, a three day’s journey.

Vin stopped in the middle of the next night for five hours. When they set out he could feel the change in the air and knew the sun wouldn’t be up this day. The full moon was gone and with the dawn came the slate grey sky and dark rolling clouds.

Vin pushed on not stopping during the dark grey night and now they were racing the wildfire that was eating up the ground behind them in leaps and bounds as the smoke swirled on the wind, sometimes overtaking them. He coughed as smoke engulfed them once again, this time it seemed to sear down his throat and into his lungs. Vin was unaware that his mind was touching Chris’s through their unusual connection as he cursed the smoke and tried to urge the tiring horses faster.

Eyes streaming from the smoke, Vin wiped them and tried to see ahead through the swirling grey cloud. He thought they were getting closer to the river and hoped they could get across it before the fire overtook them.

Time seemed to crawl as they fought to stay ahead of the fast moving flames. The wind was still blowing the fire after them, the heat was getting unbearable. As a cough over took him, Vin heard Peso let out a loud roar, then the pack horse sounded out. For a moment Vin thought he’d heard other roars, but he wasn’t sure as the sound of the fire was filling his ears. He felt Peso slow a bit and the pull of the lead rope almost dislocated his shoulder as the brown almost stopped. He was blinking, trying to see ahead and felt Peso start sliding and grimly held on to both horned horses.

They had reached the river. Vin knew it was wide and three to four feet deep, it should stop the fire. He concentrated almost blindly on staying on Peso as the big horse slid and lunged down the bank, and hung tightly onto the lead as the other horse first balked then lunged after them.

His shoulder burned and pain shot up and down his back and left arm, but he didn’t let go. He wasn’t sure what the horse would do, but for a fleeting moment thought it would run back and into the fire if freed and he wouldn’t let that happen, the medical supplies were too important.

The four feet deep water slowed the horses as they lunged and splashed through it. Vin was coughing again when they reached the other side and suddenly stopped.

Hands on his leg and arm made Vin reach for his blaster, but his hand froze before he touched it, as he heard,

**Just us Vin.**

He was helped off Peso and a cool, wet cloth was placed over his eyes and a canteen was pressed into his hands. He listened to the activity going on around him as Peso was unsaddled and another horse was tacked up. The pack horse was treated the same way. Vin was grateful for the fresh horses; Peso and the brown were worn out, and he didn’t think they could have made it much farther with their burdens. The two tired horses were quickly rubbed down and given a little water and grain, and ten minutes after coming out of the water they were heading for home, moving at a steady canter.

The wild fire raged along the far bank for a while before burning itself out, it had used all the fuel in front of it and with the river too wide for it to cross or send burning embers over it, it could go no farther ahead of the wind. The thick grey smoke began to disappear.

After several miles the men slowed their mounts to a walk and Vin woke from the half doze he’d been lulled into. He shook his head when he noticed he was sandwiched between Chris and Buck, their horses inches from his legs. Grinning at them, he thanked them for watching over him, and then asked, “How’d you know to come? I didn’t have time to call when that fire storm started.”

Buck laughed out loud as the others grinned and answered, “Chris was just finishing his breakfast when he sort of went blank. We knew he was listening to you. When he was back with us he said we had to ride.” With another chuckle he continued, “He said there’s a fire and you were cussing up a storm and was tired. We took off within five minutes. Several times on the way to the river Chris mentioned you and some words not meant to be used in polite society.”

Chris gazed at Vin, **Some of those words … I was worried.**

The pink tinge on Vin’s face deepened when he turned to his soul brother, **Sorry, didn’t realize I’s sending them your way. That damn fire had me nervous.**

**Me too, though, scared is a better word.**

Vin nodded, knowing what had gone through Chris’s thoughts.

“Thank you all for meeting us. Wasn’t sure we’d out run that fire, or it’d stop at the river.”

“No problem Junior, you’d of done it for any of us.”

“Our pleasure Mr. Tanner. When we get to our abode we can partake in a nice lunch as some of us didn’t get to break our fast today.”

“Just happy you are all right brother.”

“Glad you weren’t hurt. Would have been bad if you’d been injured, and the supplies were lost.”

“Was racing the fire scary?”

With a grin at Chris and his ‘brothers,’ Vin looked forward, home was only a few miles farther and he relished the feeling of having someone to watch his back, to be there for him, brothers and one special ‘brother.’

Above a loud crash of thunder sounded, making the horses jump nervously. All of a sudden the dark grey clouds opened up and the rain poured down on everyone. Vin laughed out loud as he threw his head back and let the clean rain wash the soot and grim off as it hit his face. He had survived a fire storm, his friends were there, it was a good day to laugh.


Feedback to: