by Amelia

Patience was a talent Vin had learned in order to survive. Yet as he stared into the flames, his stomach did a slow roll. This time, he didn't think he could wait.

Vin nodded his head and looked away from the campfire, his decision made. He had been asleep when it hit him, the memory that had been lost for so long. It now stared back at him in his mind, triggered by something he had seen earlier in the day before he and the others had left Nettie's and ridden into the hills to go fishing.

Vin stood and gathered his bedroll before moving silently through the campsite where his friends still slept. He carefully saddled Peso and tied the rolled up blanket behind the saddle. Vin looked back at his friends and knew he should leave some kind of message, to let them know he had left of his own free will and that no foul play was involved. The bounty on his head was seldom discussed, but he knew they all thought of it whenever he arrived late after a patrol. He would rather they were mad than worried on his account. Looking into his saddlebag he found the one thing that would work, that would let them know where he had gone. Easing back into the camp he placed the item where he had recently been bedded down, and then slipped back out of the circle of friends toward his mount.

Vin walked Peso away from the campsite as quietly as possible, not wanting to mount until he was a good distance away from the riverside camp. Looking at the angle of the moon, Vin realized he had only a few hours before sunrise. He would have to push Peso hard in order to make it back to the house in time. If he was lucky, he would arrive at about the same time the others were waking up and realized he was gone. Patting Peso on the neck, Vin fed the horse a sliver of dried apple that he kept on hand for trips like this. He whispered in the animals ear, "We gotta make good time so I'm givin' ya free rein, boy. Show me how ya can fly." He rubbed the velvet nose as he spoke, staring into the dark eyes of his beloved horse. Peso shook his head as if understanding the importance of what they were about to do. Swinging into the saddle, Vin patted the horse´s neck on ce again as he settled in. "Okay boy, show me what you can do."

The horse took off, his hooves pounding the surface, never breaking stride, or missing a step as he leapt over objects that appeared in their path. Peso showed his true heart in his strength and speed.

Vin knew the dangers of running his mount at night. There was always the chance of something unexpected occurring, but still his mind wandered to the reason for his trip and he again hoped he would make it in time. He shook his head to clear his mind as he came close to losing his balance as Peso caught sight of a depression in the landscape and took flight, landing softly on the other side. They could say what they wanted about Peso being mean spirited or unstable, he knew there wasn't a horse more sure-footed or smarter in the territory.

+ + + + + + +

Vin crested the hill as the sun was beginning to send its rays over the valley, casting the land in the soft morning light. Nettie's house lay below, a small wisp of smoke coming from the chimney. Vin let out a breath he didn't know he was holding as he realized he had arrived in time.

Kneeing Peso on, they moved down the small rise and into Nettie's yard. Vin dismounted and walked the animal over to the corral, and removing his saddle and bridle he turned the tired animal loose inside the fenced off area.

Vin walked up onto the porch and came to a stop in front of the door. He hesitated slightly, but the memory assaulted him yet again with the scent of what once was. As he raised his hand to knock and the door opened. "Been expecting you, Son. Come on in."

Vin frowned with confusion. He had made this decision in the middle of the night, how could Nettie possibly be expecting him? He looked questioningly at Nettie as he stepped into her home.

Nettie smiled softly and pointed to a chair at the table. Once Vin took a seat she began to explain. "Saw it yesterday when you picked one up and just stared at it as if you was lost. Then, when Mr. Sanchez called out for you to go help unhitch the team from the wagon, you walked away with that same dazed lost look. You didn't even realize you were still holding it or that you dropped it into your saddle bag. Your eyes never saw the here and now until it was out of your hand and out of sight. I was going to ask you about it, but then you took off on your fishing trip. I thought about it for a long while after you left and I wasn't sure until you rode up this morning if I was right or not."

Walking over to her stove, Nettie grabbed a towel, opened the oven and pulled out a pan. Setting the steaming pan on top of the stove, she reached for a bowl, a spoon and a ladle. She filled a bowl with the hot treat that had monopolized Vin's thoughts and set it down in front of the man. Stepping back, she watched as his eyes once again seemed to see things which only he knew, as the aroma overpowered his senses.

Vin looked up with a smile. "I had forgotten about the birthdays, my ma's or mine. She would always fix a peach cobbler for us. Said it was her favorite present... peaches and me. It was my favorite too, right up until the time she passed. I can't believe I forgot that." Vin's voice had dropped to a whisper.

"It happens, Son. No fault of yours, it's just time gets by us. Now you get to eating and I'll get you a cup of coffee."

"I'm sorry, Nettie. I hurried here 'cause you said you was gonna make the cobbler for the bake sale to help with the school building fund. All I could think was getting' here before ya left to see if I could buy me some. I got some money. I can pay for my portion," Vin explained.

"No need, son. That large pan over by the back door is for the bake sale. I made this pan for you and your friends." Netting patted his shoulder as she walked past, heading back into the kitchen. She suddenly stopped and looked at Vin with a frown. "Vin Tanner, where are the others? I watched all of you leave to go fishing yesterday. Did they let you ride all the way back here alone after those bounty hunters tried to take you down four days ago?"

Vin swallowed the bite of cobbler and was about to reply when...

"TANNER ! ! You had best be here and in one piece so I can shoot you myself!" Chris's angry voice rang out from the front yard as they heard a horse ride in.

"I left that peach from my saddlebag laying where I had been bedded down last night. Figured they'd know I's all right and headed here. Guess Chris figured it out," Vin replied, taking one last bite of the tasty treat before rising to go out and face his friend.

Nettie pushed Vin back down into his chair and moved to open the door. Standing just on the other side was a very pissed off and worried Larabee. "Well, don't just stand there," Nettie huffed. "Get on in here and have a bowl of cobbler and a cup of fresh coffee, and stop that hollering before you scare my hens into not laying."

A combination of shock at the old woman's words and relief at seeing Vin, crossed Chris's face. He too had seen the look in Vin's eyes yesterday and knew something was upsetting his friend. Chris had been angry upon waking and seeing the peach, an anger that only grew on his ride to the Well's place. But now he felt that anger melt away as he noticed the look of peace on Vin's face as he ate the cobbler. Chris walked into the room and took a seat at the table, only to find a bowl of peach cobbler and a cup of coffee appear in front of him. Looking up to say, thank you, he met Nettie's gaze as she nodded once and smiled. Returning the nod, he turned back to his bowl only to find a spoon attached to a tan hand dipping into his bowl of cobbler. Chris slapped the hand away and pulled the bowl closer, "Don't make me shoot you, Tanner!"

The End