The Broken Road

by Laurel

Summary: A reflection on the past and the present

The ground crunched beneath the black gelding's hooves. His breath misted in the air as he snorted his frustration at being held to a prancing trot when he'd rather be racing free, tail high swishing in the air behind him. The crispness in the air had the gelding feeling frisky and fresh and he tossed his head repeatedly and snorted clouds of frozen air out his nostrils at his rider's continued hold on the reins.

The horse knew his rider's moods and knew that his rider was concentrating on things other than him which gave him ample opportunity to toss and prance and try to break free. The steed also knew that while his rider was focused he wasn't sad or hurt; he wasn't tense or angry, the touch at the bit was steady yet light, firm yet soft. The way his rider sat calm and rock solid in the saddle as he pranced and sidestepped, occasionally striking out with a foreleg into the cold air or half bucking in his eagerness to shake out his energy told the horse volumes about the human's mood.

While the horse didn't know the words to describe his rider's mood some would have called Vin Tanner contemplative, reflective, meditative, lost in thought – well, Ezra would have used those words, all four such words/phrases essentially meant the same thing and Vin Tanner was all of those on this day as he rode his prancing, dancing, eager to break through the bridle, grab the bit in his teeth and run like lightning across the plains horse.

Vin smiled in amusement as he felt Peso gather underneath him again and just when he felt the horse begin his half buck behind he kneed him forward, driving the spirited beast into a ground eating lope that Peso quickly increased to a full-out gallop. Vin rested his hand on the bundle laid across the withers of his horse and stretched low allowing Peso to burn off some of his pent up energy and then as they came to a slight rise in the road he sat up, taking care not to lose the bundle he'd carefully bound and was carrying in front of him and gathered in his horse.

Peso for his part seemed willing to be slowed although he put on a small show of defiance once again snorting his disgust at not being allowed to continue on in his flight and tossing his head several times before finally settling down in a prancing trot that after a quarter of a mile or so he gave up on and settled into a smooth jog that he could maintain for a long time without tiring.

Vin breathed deeply inhaling the wonderful crisp air, smelling the hint of snow—actually the promise, he could see up ahead on the hills where it was already starting to fall. The weather was perfect for snowfall, not enough to send one into a frenzy of fear of an impending blizzard but enough to send children to smushing their noses against window panes looking in wonder as it covered the earth in a dressing of pristine white and sent children, young and not so young outside to throw snow balls, and make snow angels and occasionally muster up enough for a snowman.

As Peso continued to jog along the road he knew well Vin thought back to a year ago at this time. Then he'd had no place to call home, never thought he would ever have a place to call home nor want one as he'd never really known a home, not since Ma died.

He remembered other winters past when he lived with the People, true enough he'd been welcome there and he remembered those years with both sorrow and joy. They'd needed to travel a bit, move with the buffalo and even though he felt welcome and knew he was welcome, it wasn't home.

As the years passed him by Vin had gotten accustomed to the nomadic life, he'd buried deep any sense of need for a home, a place to settle, a place to return to where lights welcomed him and people waited up for him or had a plate ready of 'the usual' for him. There wasn't a particular moment that that had happened, Vin didn't remember making a conscious decision that he wouldn't have a home or familiar faces waiting to see him, it had happened, fate had conspired or it was just the way of things; he didn't know.

After a while he didn't even think about it. He found comfort in the lonely trail, in unfamiliar towns where he passed a few days or weeks while he earned a little money doing most any honest day's work The ever changing landscape became his 'backyard', Peso the friendly face that greeted him and he'd learned to hold his own counsel and seek his own thoughts and not wonder that he was missing more.

It was only now in hindsight that he realized that perhaps he had been missing something all those years. Now that he had someone holding him a place or knowing his favorite foods or waiting up to make sure he came back in one piece from patrol he realized how much he'd missed on those lonely roads.

As Peso jogged away on the familiar road sure in his destination Vin breathed deeply allowing the cold air to fill his lungs and clear his mind. Smiling and even chuckling he wondered how he'd ever lasted so long on all those lonely trails over the years, all those times of staying awake at night or trusting Peso's quick responses and his own skill with the knife and the gun to keep safe.

Would he have appreciated all that he had if it weren't for the lonely miles, the unfamiliar faces and the constant movement? Vin hoped that he would have.

Topping the little hill Vin applied a bit of pressure and slowed Peso until he finally halted. Seated there he gazed at the scene below and felt the now usual and welcome warmth rise in his chest and the grin that broke out across his face. Yes, he thanked God for all the lonely times, cold nights, meals ordered and eaten alone for he knew what he had now and he appreciated it all the more for not having had it in the past.

Gently kneeing Peso forward the two of them entered Nettie Well's front yard. He'd barely reined to a stop when JD and Casey emerged and took Peso telling Vin to get inside where it was warm, they'd care for Peso and put him in the barn with all the rest.

Stepping on to the porch he met Buck who grabbed the carefully bundled package Vin had brought and carried the smoked portion of venison into the kitchen for Nettie to add to the feast.

Inside the door Josiah took his coat and Nathan handed him a mug of warm cider.

Ezra emerged like a scalded cat from the kitchen with Nettie hard on his heels for stealing some of her fresh baked cookies. She relented slightly when she saw him quickly pass one to Vin who saluted the nimble fingered gambler thus earning Ezra a full reprieve from Ms. Nettie.

Grinning Nettie returned to the kitchen now that all her 'chicks' were safely accounted for.

The glowing fire in the fireplace was inviting and Vin ambled closer eager to chase the chill from his bones. Seated in a chair near the fire but not right next to it was Chris, looking up from the book he'd been reading he smiled as he saw Vin and then leaned over and plucked his hat from where it rested on another chair that was drawn up close to the fire.

Yes, thought Vin as he settled into the warmth of the fire and the comfort of his friends, God bless the broken and lonely road, that led me straight to here.

December 2007
(Thanks to Rascal Flatts for God Bless the Broken Road as that was the inspiration.)