One Soul by Mary Ann

Main Characters: Chris, Vin

Not mine, just borrowed for the story

Thanks to my great beta, Lacy for her catches.


"What's the matter, stud?" Buck asked looking across to his friend.

Chris tipped his hat back and ran a hand through his blond hair as he looked around the area. "Not sure. Guess nothing."

"You've been edgy for weeks Chris; I thought this little ride would calm you some."

"It is. It's beautiful up here, and I am enjoying it." Chris smiled lightly.

"Truth?" Buck squinted.

Chris shot a look at Buck, then sighed. "I don't know what it is. I feel ... like ... I don't know. Something's missing ... or something's coming? Someone is out here needing help? I don't know. Something's wrong ... It's so strange."

Buck looked at Chris, surprised at his words. Chris had never been much of a talker, but when he did, it was usually short and to the point, nothing like the confusion evident through the words he was saying now. Worried green eyes met his dark blue ones and Buck could almost feel the bewilderment his friend was feeling and wished there was something he could do to ease his mind. For a minute Buck sat quietly, trying to think of something to say, and not wanting to distress his friend more.

"Chris, it's just this time of the year. You know you've gotten those feelings almost every year since Sarah ... It will be alright," Buck said quietly.

Chris looked hard at Buck for several moments, his horse shifting under him uneasily. "Buck, it is NOT Sarah or Adam. They have nothing to do with this feeling. Yes, she was my wife and we had a close relationship, but this is not about her or any feelings about her. It's something else, it's ... deeper ... like someone calling out to me, but I can't find them, or they can't find me. Strangest feeling I've ever had, and it won't go away."

Buck nodded. He'd had that same feeling almost a year ago. One evening a mop-haired young man had knocked on the ranch door asking if they needed another hand. Buck had felt as if his heart wanted to jump out of his chest when his eyes connected with the youngsters hazel ones, and it felt as if a bolt of electricity had flashed between them. The young man's eyes opened wide in shock and he stepped forward, then stopped, not sure what to do. Buck smiled and pushed the door open wider and almost pulled him inside. He grabbed his duffel bag off the porch before he shut the door. They had connected almost instantly, even before knowing each other's names they knew something about each other. Buck led him into the large living room where Chris, Ezra, Josiah, and Nathan were sitting talking over some ranch business. The large screen TV had a football game on it that they glanced at now and then. The four had looked up as they entered, noting the huge smile on Buck's face.

"He needs a job," Buck said by way of introduction.

"Umm ... Welcome. I'm Chris Larabee, that's Ezra Standish, Josiah Sanchez, Nathan Jackson and I guess you met Buck Wilmington?"

"No, sir. Nice to meet you all. I'm John Daniel Dunne. JD for short. The man at the feed store told me you might be looking for more help on your ranch Mr. Larabee. I came to apply for the job." JD said as he shook hands all around, but stayed close to Buck after shaking his hand.

"Looks like you're hired. Do you know anything about horses?" Chris asked.

"Yes, sir. Mom worked as a cook on a thoroughbred farm in Massachusetts, near Boston, I helped in the stables. She died several months ago and I left. Something drew me here," JD glanced at Buck and again felt something tingle through him and shook his head; he could almost read the big man's thoughts.

"Don't call any of us 'sir.' We answer to our names. I guess if you're staying, Buck, you better show JD where the spare room is and get him comfortable. Did you get dinner JD?" Chris looked at JD with a smile.

"No, si ... Chris. I came right out from the store."

"I'll get you something, go with Buck, and clean up. It'll be ready when you both get back," Josiah rose and headed towards the kitchen.

"Thanks," JD said, picked up his bag and followed Buck to the stairs that were across the back of the large room.

When the two disappeared from sight, Ezra sighed and glanced towards the kitchen then at Nathan. "Looks like another soul brother has been found," he said with a wide grin.

Nathan grinned back at the younger man, his glance shifted to Chris then back to Ezra. "I'd say so, and Buck is walking on the clouds I believe."

"He'll never be the same," Chris grinned.

The men fell silent, their eyes going to the big TV set in the corner of the room where the football game was still in progress, business complete. They all had connected with someone over the last few years. It was a deeper feeling than just friendship, the connection so alive that they could feel their bonded almost as if they were in each other's skin. None of them could explain this strange connection, but it was not unusual in these days and times. Each of them had friends that had this bond, and no one thought anything about it. It was common with the population, had been for the last fifteen years or so.

Josiah and Ezra had connected one day out of the blue, when Josiah had wandered into a bar for lunch while in town for supplies. The dapper Ezra was in a booth eating and contemplating his next card competition in the city when the big man had walked in. Something sizzled between them when Josiah started to walk past the booth Ezra was in. Instead of moving on Josiah had dropped into the seat across from the chestnut-haired man and they had started talking. When Josiah left, Ezra was beside him.

He was welcomed at the ranch and took over the bookkeeping and paper work that was never ending on the large ranch. Under his hand the ranch was showing a nice profit and Chris was able to expand.

Nathan, had met and married Rain within three months of meeting her. They both were doctors at the hospital at Golden, near Denver and lived in a well appointed apartment on the ranch, thanks to Chris's generosity. Living on the ranch had benefits they both enjoyed, in their spare time they helped where they could, though being a surgeon Nathan had to be careful with his hands. Their connection had happened when they had both gone to a play and Rain, though she was with several girlfriends, had felt the strange tingling and looked around. Her eyes meet the surprised dark eyes of Nathan sitting two rows in front of her. At his nod of invitation, she had joined him, feeling that with this tall man her life was complete. They had been married now for four months and were so happy they seemed to always be smiling, infecting everyone around them with happiness.

Chris's life had been up and down after he got out of the Navy Seals, and even though he had married eight months later and had a small son nine months later, he'd never had the deep connection others were experiencing. He mourned long and hard for his wife and child when they were killed in a plane crash three years earlier as they were returning to Denver from a trip to visit Sarah's Aunt in California who was dying. The airplane had hit some bad turbulence from a storm over the Rockies and before the pilot could correct the plane lightning had struck it several times. When the instruments went out he was flying blind and crashed into the side of a mountain, the ensuing fireball was seen for miles. They were only twenty minutes out of Denver. Chris, at the airport waiting for the flight almost collapsed when it was announced that the flight had been terminated. Buck, there with Chris, had grabbed the blond and got him seated before going to find out what was happening.

Chris had known in his heart that Sarah and Adam were gone and when he saw the look on Buck's face he'd ran from the terminal. Buck had caught up with him near the dark Dodge Ram and held Chris while he cried his heart out. Back at the ranch, Chris dove into the bottle of whisky and drank himself into obliteration. For over two years he mourned the loss of his little family, while Buck, Josiah, and Ezra tried to keep the ranch together. With Nathan's help he finally began to come around to himself again. He finally realized that he was destroying the ranch he loved and what they had all worked so hard to make successful. Chris knew that Sarah would have been very disappointed in his actions, and he began to drag himself out of the hell hole he had fallen into, and though he was missing his family, he slowly began to live again. He was trying hard to overcome the loss, but now, there was something pulling at him and he didn't know what it meant or what to do about it.

Buck stretched in the saddle. "Shall we head back?"

Chris looked around at the beautiful, frozen vista laid out around him. Mountains crowded close to the huge meadow where a small blue-green lake with ice covering half of it lay nestled at the foot of a rocky bluff that towered almost 2,000 feet over it. Snow lay across the tops and in the crevices of the mountains, proving that winter was there to stay. Pine and fir trees were scattered around and through the meadow, the tallest had white tops of snow. The knee deep grass had turned a honey yellow color and was frozen in place, crackling when the horses moved through it. Behind them was the low hill that they had rode across. Trees crowded over it, their tall shapes stark green against the cloudless grey sky.

"Yeah. We need to get back. A storm is brewing."

"Oh?" Buck looked at the sky. "Your ol' bones telling you that?"

Chris laughed, "No, I listened to the radio this morning. They're calling for a big storm late this afternoon. We've got maybe three hours before it hits."

"Smart ass. It'll take us four hours to get home."

"Then what are we waiting for?" Chris turned the horse's head towards the trail through the trees. His mind, though, was still on the odd feeling that was coursing through him, and he scanned the area again as they headed for the trail home. Reaching the trees he cast a last look over his shoulder before facing forward and urging his horse into a running walk.

Buck and Chris arrived home just as the sky opened up to a torrential downpour. They quickly took care of their mounts and helped JD and Josiah get the other horses settled into their stalls for the night. The four men made a mad dash for the house, but still got soaked. The house smelled of fresh baked bread and spaghetti, and while they took quick showers to warm up, Ezra got the table set and their meal on it. After dinner they listened to the news, learning that snow was predicted for the higher elevations, and then a football game while keeping one ear on the pounding rain. They all wondered if they'd get snow, as the ranch was just over 3,000 feet above sea level, but they weren't worried, they were prepared. If the power went out they had enough firewood to keep the house warm and even cook, water could be heated for baths too, for months if need be. The barn was insulated enough that the horses would be fine, even though there might not be lights in there, powerful flashlights and florescent lanterns were stored in a cabinet just inside and to the side of the barn door, easily accessible. If Nathan's apartment got too cold, they could move to the house, there was plenty of room. If Nathan and Rain were caught in town, there was a small apartment on the hospital grounds they could use, provided by the hospital. As the evening went on the lights flickered several times and the men made sure that wood boxes were filled before turning in for the night.

Chris woke suddenly, feeling as if he was freezing. His teeth chattered together as he pulled his blankets and quilt tighter around him. He looked towards the clock, wondering if the power had gone off, but the digital readout said 2:23, so he knew all was okay with the power. For several minutes he lay wrapped tightly in his blankets, shivering and wondering if he was getting sick or something. Finally he threw the blankets back and went to the bathroom for a drink of water. He ran his hands over his bare arms and was surprised at how warm he was. Confused as to why he was shivering but was still warm he made his way back to bed and snuggled down into the blankets. Lying there he tried to get back to sleep, when he closed his eyes he could see swirling snow and hear the wind howling.

Shivering with cold his eyes snapped open again. He couldn't figure out why he was having this ... 'vision' ... was the only word he could think of. Rolling over he closed his eyes again and almost immediately felt cold, as if he was out in the snow storm. For several minutes he strained his eyes, trying to see what was around him, where the vision was coming from. For over a half hour he tried to see something other than blackness and hear the wind blowing the snow and a sudden loud knock on his door startled him. With a glance at his clock, Chris threw the blankets back, it was 6:45am, and he was usually up no later than 6. He hadn't realized he'd fallen asleep.

"I'm coming," he said to the door as he threw on long johns then grabbed his jeans and quickly stepped into them. Moments later he had his socks on and was headed for the door, buttoning his dark shirt as he went, a warm sweat shirt lay over his arm.

"Hey stud, thought you were going to sleep all day." Buck laughed as he watched the disheveled blond rush out his bedroom door. "Hey, what's wrong Chris? You look like hell, Pard."

"Didn't sleep well."

"Oh. Well it snowed during the night. We have about three, four, inches out there. Not to cold though, so the horses can go out I think." Buck said as they walked down the stairs.

"Yeah," the short reply came from the blond.

Buck smiled and shrugged, Chris was in a bad mood and he wasn't going to antagonize the grumpy man, at least not before chores and breakfast was done. His smile widened as he followed Chris to the mud room where they put on their barn boots and coats, the barn might be quiet this morning. In a couple minutes they were headed to the barn where light was coming from the windows already. Buck knew that JD and Josiah were out there. Ezra would be up and making breakfast by the time they finished taking care of the horses and cleaning stalls.

It was 8:15am when the four men tramped back into the house. It had started to snow hard just as they left the barn and they were covered with white. Pulling off boots and coats they washed up then entered the warm kitchen that was filled with the smells of coffee, bacon, eggs and pancakes.

Ezra glanced at them as he sat the plate of bacon on the kitchen table, "Timed it just right. Sit down, everything's done." He reached for the coffee pot and started pouring mugs of coffee and handing it to each man.

As Chris ate his breakfast he started shivering again. For a bit he ignored it, but when his hand shook hard enough to spill his coffee and he had to grab it with the other hand. Feeling his face flush, he glanced at his friends wondering what they were thinking. Josiah rose and walked into the other room and returned a minute later carrying a heavy sweater which he handed to Chris. As he pulled it on over his sweat shirt Chris shivered harder, and his eyes closed. He felt someone grab his shoulders then felt himself being helped to the other room. He stumbled as he walked, a moment later he found himself lying on the couch. A quilt was laid over him and he pulled it tighter against his chest shivering uncontrollably. He felt the others gather around the couch, but kept his eyes closed tight. The vision was back, he could see the snow flying again, but this time it was lighter and he strained to see what the snow was covering, or what was in it.

Suddenly Chris saw a thin hand grasping something maybe two feet long and dark colored, as black boots tried to push through the deepening snow. Mountains, he could suddenly see mountains, partly obscured by flying snow, but they were there and he concentrated on them, trying to place where he had seen them before.

Another thin hand appeared and abruptly was buried in the snow, and Chris moaned in pain. He was in pain and freezing, the vision wasn't helping at all. Snow covered the other hand along with the dark container and everything went black. Chris shivered and cried out again as the blackness overtook him.

For several seconds the men near the couch looked in shock at Chris when he cried out, his face pale, his body racked with heavy shivers. Snapping out of his frozen state Ezra grabbed the phone and dialed Nathan. Buck moved closer to the couch and knelt on the floor beside Chris. Putting his hand on Chris's shoulder he felt the shivers that shook the lean man, "What's wrong Chris?" Buck asked as he rubbed the shoulder gently.

Chris finally gasped and forced his eyes open, hoping to see something other than the deep blackness. A fuzzy mustached face took shape then sharpened as he gazed at it. "Buck?"

"Yeah Chris, it's me. What is going on Pard?" Buck asked worriedly.

Chris looked at Buck then noticed where he was and that the others were standing nearby. With a frown he pushed himself up as he pulled himself together. The vision was stuck in his head and he knew he couldn't ignore the call. Someone was lost and he needed to find them. Blinking he looked at Buck, "I'm fine. But ... I need to go hunting. Now. There isn't much time." He ran his hand through his hair as he glanced at his friends.

"Okay. Do you want to tell us where you are going in this snow? What are you hunting? How long you'll be gone?" Josiah asked from his seat across from the couch.

Chris shook his head. "I don't know. A person. They're by Roberts Roost. I'd guess near the trees to get some shelter from the weather. But, something's wrong, there's a lot of pain and I can feel it. I have to go."

Just then Nathan hurried through the front door. He had been on his way home when Ezra's call had come through. He pulled off his snow covered coat and rushed to Chris's side. "Chris what's the problem?" he asked instantly, noting the pale face and the dark circles under Chris's green eyes.

Chris pushed Nathan's hand off his wrist, "I'm fine Nathan. It's some sort of ... connection I think I'm feeling. I need to go, there isn't much time." Chris rose from the couch and the men backed away from him.

"You can't go alone. It's snowing like crazy right now; you need help to find whoever it is. Bsides we don't want

you lost in this storm. I'm going with you," Buck told Chris.

"I'm going also. If it's to Roberts Roost, we can take the snowmobiles. The trails there are pretty open, and with this snow, there should be plenty on the ground for the snowmobiles. While we get ready, will you guys get them gassed and loaded?" Josiah asked the others as he stood up and moved to Chris's side, "Nathan, will you check the first aid kit? We'll take it. We'll need something hot to drink too, and make sure there's plenty of blankets packed." Orders given, Josiah looked at the blond, "We better get ready Chris, it's already 9am, and with this storm it will be dark early."

With a shiver Chris nodded his thanks to Josiah and the other men and stood up, "Let's get moving." He said as he headed for the stairs to change into warmer clothes.

In less than twenty minutes the big Dodge truck was headed out. The trailer behind, held three snowmobiles, their saddlebags were stuffed with first aid supplies, trail food, and blankets. In the second seat of the Ram was a box holding some food and thermoses of hot coffee and matches. A tent, tarp, and sleeping bags were stacked on the floor, in case they were needed. Chris was riding shotgun, Buck wasn't about to let him drive in the condition he was in, not knowing when he would start shivering again, or have a vision. Less than an hour later Buck drove the truck into the snow covered parking lot at the trailhead to Roberts Roost. Pulling on their heavy coats, the three men unloaded the snowmobiles and headed up the trail.


The long-haired young man stepped down from the bus and moved to the side, waiting for his backpack and gun case to be unloaded. He was bone tired and just wanted a hot meal and a room to collapse in for the night before he set out on the next leg of his journey. He couldn't believe that less than a month ago he was overseas, in a hospital ward waiting to get released to come back to the states; to, home. A week ago he was at Fort Lewis Army Base in Washington State, having a last checkup before the rest of his discharge papers were signed. He was happy to see the last of doctors and hospitals, figuring three months in the one in Germany was more than enough for a lifetime.

"Tanner?" The bus driver asked as he pulled the dark blue back pack with the attached case from the belly of the bus.

Vin Tanner stepped forward, "That's me, sir," he answered, handed the ticket to the man, and claimed his belongings. He turned and walked into the bus terminal and made his way through it to stop on the wide sidewalk outside the main doors. Pulling his jacket tighter against his thin frame he looked around the area. Salt Lake City spread out all around him, wide streets, and thousands of lights. He glanced around and spotted a hotel/motel sign several blocks down the street to his right. He walked quickly along the wide sidewalk, feeling the cold wind cut through him. He made a mental note to himself to get some warmer clothes before he continued on. Winter was there, he could almost feel snow in the air. A neon sign blinked "Vacancy" over the glass front entrance to the Crystal Hotel/Motel, and Vin turned into the warm lobby. Crossing to the reception desk he carefully filled out the registration form and received a room key. Before going up the stairs he asked the clerk if there was a restaurant nearby and was told there was one just around the corner that was open until 11pm. With a thank you he hurried upstairs and down the hall to his room. After a quick shower he dressed, then headed for the restaurant and the first decent meal he'd had in days. It was almost 10pm when he made his way back to his motel room, happily filled and content he fell into bed, asleep instantly.

The next morning the city was covered with a layer of snow, and the wind was bitter cold. Vin got directions to a Wal*Mart within walking distance of the motel, and after breakfast he headed for it. There he purchased long johns, a sweat shirt, heavy flannel shirt, warmer socks, and a stocking hat. After paying for his purchases he headed for the bus terminal hoping there was a bus going out at a reasonable hour.

At the terminal he slipped into the men's room and pulled on the long johns, not surprised that they fit well under his loose jeans. He had lost a lot of weight before and during his stay in the hospital and was finding it hard to put it back on. No matter how much he ate, and he always seemed to be starved these days. Once he finished re-dressing he walked out into the terminal. He found the next bus didn't leave until 4pm so he found a seat near a door and made himself as comfortable as he could in the plastic chair. For several hours he watched people going and coming. After the first hour he noticed that it had begun to snow again. Around noon he went to the small deli in one area of the terminal and bought a sub sandwich and large coffee for lunch and found another seat. A while later he fell asleep, and slept until 3pm. Vin woke with a start and looked around; noting that the snow was still falling heavily outside and the traffic had slowed considerably. Making his way to the counter he found out that all buses traveling east had been cancelled, and they weren't sure when the route would resume. It was the first snowfall and the roads were slick under the new snow, snow plows were just beginning on the surrounding roads and highways.

Cursing his luck he walked outside and paused, he had enough money for the motel but he hadn't planned another night's stay. With a sigh he turned to walk back to the Crystal Hotel/Motel in hopes he could get a room again. As he stepped to the edge of the sidewalk to cross the street, a large green SUV pulled up in front of him. The front window slid down and a smiling face looked out of the warm interior at him. Vin stopped, his senses screaming - caution.

"Hi. We're headed for Denver and wondered if you were going that way too. We could use one more body to help with the gas. I'm Rex Sommers, that's John Matthews, and we have plenty of room. This is a four-wheel drive so the snow's no problem. Are you headed that way?" the older man smiled kindly at Vin.

Vin paused, he wanted to get to Denver, then he was headed south to Texas, or that's where he figured he was going for now.

The man's freckled face seemed open and very friendly. Matthews leaned around Sommers and waved. "We're

making a stop down the road a little ways for dinner and snacks for the trip. Are you interested? If not we'll ask some of those other people."

Making up his mind, Vin nodded to the men, "I'd like to get to Denver. I'll ride with ya."

Sommers smiled and jumped out of the SUV and quickly opened the back door, "Just hop in and we'll be off."

Vin got into the rig and closed the door behind him. John Matthews turned around, his hand reached over the seat and he shook Vin's hand, "Thanks for riding along. You can call me John."

"I'm Rex. We've got interviews in Denver in 3 days for jobs, so we need to get there, and we found out the buses had stopped, for who knows how long."

"Vin Tanner, I'm headed for Denver and maybe Texas. Looking for a job," Vin answered as he shook their hands.

John pulled the SUV into the traffic and they soon were headed out of town. On the outskirts they pulled into a large truck stop for dinner and bought snacks to last for awhile. It was after 5 before they were on the road again heading south on I-16 until they reached highway 50 that cut across to I-70 E. From there it would be straight sailing on 70 to Denver, or that was what John told Vin as he drove.

In the snow they almost missed the first turn off three hours later. Due to the snow they had been traveling at a lower speed. The new road was slower than the highway had been and it took them almost an hour to travel the thirty miles in the snowy conditions. Finally they hit I-70 and were able to go faster; the road was good with snow plows working to clear the snow. Even with the snow coming down they were able to hold a steady speed on the highway. It was past midnight when they saw a turn off for Green River and John pulled off. He was tired of driving in the blowing snow and they all needed a break. There was only one motel in the town with a vacancy sign and he pulled into it. They got the last room available and wearily settled down for the night. The two friends took the large queen bed; Vin was left with the pull out couch. He was too tired to care and fell asleep almost instantly.

The morning was clear, but still grey. After they had a hardy breakfast they were on their way again. The three men took turns driving, but as night came on they decided to stop. It had become slow going due to the slick highway. Pulling into the town of Silvertone they found a motel and spent the night. Vin had a separate room this time and was glad. Nightmares took over shortly after he'd gone to sleep, of his time in the Rangers and when he was so badly wounded. He woke up in a cold sweat, knowing he had talked or yelled in his sleep. He didn't go back to sleep. When Vin met the other two men in the morning he was tired, and was looking forward to the drive so he could sleep awhile. The back seat wasn't that comfortable but as tired as he was, it wouldn't bother him, he could sleep anywhere.

Vin noticed that John and Rex were acting a little strange when he met them that morning for breakfast. He couldn't put his finger on it, but it seemed something was bothering them. After eating they loaded up and were on the road again, and the snow started to fall once more. Vin dozed off and on, then fell deeply asleep, not waking until he felt the SUV stop a couple hours later. Opening his eyes he looked around. He had no idea where they were, but knew they weren't on the highway anymore and the snow was still coming down obscuring everything.

John and Rex got out of the SUV and motioned Vin to get out. Slowly he moved out into the snow, his backpack gripped in his hand, the gun case still in place, strapped to the front of it. "What's going on?" He asked as he pulled his coat on.

"This is where you get out. We aren't taking you any farther. If you go that way you will run into a road that will take you into Denver." John said pointing to a trail that was partly covered in snow.

"Why are you doing this?" Vin asked puzzled.

"Just go. Be happy you're alive. We weren't going to let you live, but you have nothing we want. We already have your money, what little there was. Now go before we change our minds," snarled Rex, and aimed a .44 at him.

Swallowing, Vin looked at the trail, then back at the two men and with a nod he walked off, following the dim trail in the snow. He didn't look back as he walked, not wanting to antagonize the men and earn a bullet in his back. He pulled his jacket close, ducked his head, and kept walking away. He didn't hear when the SUV left, or what direction it went as he passed through a stand of trees. Vin hoped they hadn't lied, and after a half hour he began looking for the road that was supposed to be there. He was at a loss as to why they had dumped him in the middle of nowhere, but he was alive at least he figured, and if the road was there, he might be able to catch another ride into the city.

Shivering with cold Vin kept moving, knowing that to stop he might not make it. He prayed the road would appear,

but as the light began to fade there was nothing but forest and several open meadows. Before it got darker he stopped and looked around, he needed shelter for the night. There was nothing. Snow fell silently all around him; he couldn't see ten feet in any direction. Moving carefully forward he found a thick stand of trees and left the trail. They'd at least protect him from the wind that was starting to pick up. He pushed himself farther into the trees, finding that they were close enough that there was barely a skiff of snow on the ground under them, and it seemed to be a bit warmer. In the half light he pulled his knife from its scabbard attached to his lower leg and quickly cut branches off some of the surrounding trees. Twining several limbs into the lower branches of the largest tree he could find he shortly had a limb roof. Using more branches, he made three walls and then closed himself into the small shelter, his back against the rough bark of the large tree. It was still cold and he continued to shiver, but the wind didn't reach him and the small space would hold most of his body heat, he hoped anyway. He pulled his flannel shirt out of his pack and pulled it on under his sweat shirt and jacket. He took his boots off and pulled on another pair of wool socks then another pair of jeans before putting his boots back on.

Vin leaned back against he tree and pulled on the stocking cap. He had no idea where he was; his mostly healed wounds were reacting to the cold and were aching with the non-stop shivering. With a sigh he dug into the backpack again and pulled out several trail bars, thankful that he has something to eat. As he slowly ate two of the bars he wondered again where he was. He needed to get to a road. He decided he had to go back the way he came and hoped he could find his way back to where the two men had dumped him off. Anger flashed through him. How stupid could he have been? He had fallen for this trick, hook, line and sinker. He was mad at himself, he'd let his guard down, trusting when he shouldn't have. He knew better! How stupid, he berated himself over and over. Now he had no idea where he was or if he'd get out alive. His hand felt the gun case hooked to his backpack and he calmed. He did have means to protect himself and he could hunt if he had to, but he needed to get out of this snow before he froze to death.

Wrapping his arms around his raised knees, Vin shivered in the total darkness. He hurt and he was cold but, he decided, he was going to get out of here even if it killed him. After awhile he fell asleep, dreaming of a warm fire in a huge fireplace, hot food and someone there with him.

A heavy thump woke Vin from his fitful sleep hours later. He was surprised that he'd slept in the tiny shelter, but when he moved to get out, he gasped and froze in place, his branch door hadn't moved. The wounds hurt, stealing his breath away. He was so stiff he could barely move. For several minutes he sat there rubbing first his arms then legs and soon felt a little warmer, some of the stiffness had gone. He tried again to push the limbs away and get out of his shelter, before the panic he felt rising in him took over. This time he made it outside and stood up. Looking around he gasp in surprise, there was at least six inches of snow now under the trees where the evening before there had been nothing. Shivering he pulled the backpack out and checked it to be sure the gun case was still intact. After stuffing a trail bar in his pocket he moved towards the trail. It was covered with drifting snow. For a few minutes he gazed around the area, snow was still coming down and swirled around him in the wind gusts. He could hear the wind whistling through the trees and the thumps of snow falling off branches and realized that's what had awakened him. Taking a few steps he tried to get his bearings. A sudden wind gust cleared the snow for a moment and he saw a steep, jagged mountain clearly.

'Where the hell am I?' he thought as he studied the mountain and the other ones crowding up behind it until the falling snow obscured it again. With a shiver he turned and made his way through the knee high snow, following the slight indentation, which he hoped was still the trail. Several times he fell, catching himself with a cold hand before going clear to the ground. Something snagged his backpack and it was ripped off his back as he passed a dead tree. As he reached for the gun case that had come loose, the wind cleared the snowfall for a couple minutes. Picking the case and backpack up he gazed up at the mountains again. They were beautiful and looked closer. He finally knew he was headed in the right direction, from the view he'd glimpsed earlier, he was headed back the way he'd come. Optical illusion, he decided as they disappeared in the snow once again. Shakily he re-attached the case to his pack, slid his arm through the bindings and started his slow walk again. He was shaking uncontrollably when he slipped on a buried root and fell heavily. His hand disappeared into the snow as he landed. For a moment he lay unmoving, and then struggled to rise. He had barely gone ten feet when he slipped again and went down hard, pain erupting through him. For a minute he lay there, telling himself to get up, not to just lay there. His mind was screaming for him to rise, but his body just wanted to stay there in the comfortable snow and rest a bit. Slowly Vin's eyes slid closed.

+ + + + + + +

Three snowmobiles roared up the trail. It was hard to see through the heavy snowfall, but they all had been on this trail many times. The men had taken the horses into the high country several times this way, and with Chris's unerring sense of direction, Buck and Josiah followed in his wake. They reached the first wide meadow and split up to cover it better, looking for any unusual lumps as Chris had told them.

Chris was worried, he knew someone was out here but he didn't know where. He cursed the snow that continued to fall as he slowly guided the snowmobile across a third of the meadow. At the trail he stopped and waited for the other two, then took off up the trail again with them slightly behind and to each side of him. Another, smaller snow covered meadow opened in front of him, and Chris slowed to scan it. The snow was almost even across the white expanse so he continued up the trail. No one was there.

Another opening in the trees appeared ahead of them several minutes later, and Chris instantly knew it was the right place. He slowed his snowmobile and eased into the open meadow. Stopping the vehicle he stood and looked all around.

"What's wrong Chris?" Josiah asked when he stopped beside the blond.

"He's here," Chris stated as he scanned the area. His eyes narrowed and he pointed to the thick tree line to their right. "Got to be along there somewhere. Look close, and check into the trees too." With that he gunned the motor and slid effortlessly over the snow, moving closer to the trees, his eyes fixed on the snow along the tree line.

Buck kicked his snowmobile into high gear and raced across the meadow to turn around and come towards Chris and Josiah slowly. Sometimes he disappeared into the trees when something caught his eye. Chris stayed on the outer edge of the trees or in the meadow while Josiah weaved in and out of the trees behind him. Suddenly Chris spotted an odd shaped lump in the snow twenty feet out into the meadow close to an old twisted dead tree and turned towards it. A sudden gust of wind cleared a little of the hump and he could see blue color. He yelled at the others and raced to the snow covered figure.

He stopped and jumped off the snowmobile and slid into the snow to kneel down beside the person in the snow. He brushed the snow away from the figure he could now clearly see. A minute later Josiah and Buck were at his side helping free the man from the snow that partly buried him. Buck had grabbed the saddlebags off his vehicle and as they uncovered the man he pulled out a blanket.

Chris easily lifted the thin figure from the snow and held him while Buck wrapped the blanket around him. He bent his head to the man's lips trying to feel if he was breathing. A sudden shiver shook the thin frame and he sighed in relief. He was alive, now to just get him warm and home.

Josiah helped Chris to rise and with Buck's help they stepped to Chris's snowmobile. When Chris settled them on the seat they wrapped another blanket around the unconscious man.

"Are you going to be able to drive and hold him Chris?" Josiah asked. "We can pony you."

"Better do that, not sure I can hold him and guide this. At least the seat is warm," Chris answered with a slight grin, thinking of the heated seat and handlebars of his snowmobile, wishing it was enclosed.

Buck quickly attached a strap to the handlebars of Chris's snowmobile and hooked it to his. Within minutes they were heading back down the trail, the man's pack and case safely tucked into Buck's snowmobile's saddlebags. Chris used one hand to steer his snowmobile, the other held the totally covered man in his arm tightly against him. Josiah was beside Chris in case he needed help.

It took them twenty minutes to get back to the parking lot, and Chris breathed a sigh of relief when he spotted the black Ram. The figure in his arms had moved only once, to snuggle tighter against him. He could feel the shivers that shook the unconscious man.

Stopping close to the Ram, Buck grabbed the keys from Chris and started it, turning the heater on high. Josiah opened the back doors and pulled the supplies out, leaving a sleeping bag to wrap the man in. He stored the rest in the box attached to the bed of the truck. Chris waited until the back was cleared then carried his burden to the truck. With Buck's help he was able to slide the man inside then he got in and they eased him into the sleeping bag. Buck closed the doors after Chris got out, and they quickly loaded and tied down the snowmobiles then loaded up. Chris climbed into the back with the unconscious man and held him in his arms trying to give him more warmth as Buck drove.

"Hospital?" Buck looked in the rearview mirror at Chris.

"Home. Nathan's home and Rain might be there by now too. He seems to be just cold," Chris stated as Buck turned onto the highway.

A half hour later they stopped in front of the huge ranch house. JD and Ezra hurried out to help them.

"Is Nathan or Rain home? Would you give him a call; we need one of them here." Josiah said as he helped Chris pull the man out of the truck.

"Nathan's on his way, already asked him to come over," JD answered, as he tipped his head at Buck. He'd heard the big man in his head saying they needed the doctor several minutes before, and had made the call.

Josiah carried the young man into the house, and looked at Chris, who nodded towards the stairs. "The room next to mine," he directed and Josiah headed that way with Chris following behind him.

As Josiah entered the room, Chris flipped on the lights and quickly pulled the blankets down. Josiah laid Vin down and then helped Chris strip him of his damp, cold clothes. They both gapped in horror at seeing the partly healed and scabbed wounds on the thin body. Trying to not let it affect them they pulled the blankets up and Chris hurried to his bathroom and grabbed a couple of thick towels. Back in the bedroom he sat down on the edge of the bed and lifted the man up so they could dry his head better. The long haired young man turned his head into Chris's chest as he shivered and Chris held onto him a little tighter, running his hands over his back and arms trying to get rid of the coldness. Buck entered the room, followed by JD, and Ezra who was carrying a mug of warm milk.

"How's he doing?" Ezra asked.

"Freezing. He must have been lying out there for awhile. Where's Nathan?" Chris asked with a glance at the door.

"He's coming. I saw Rain pull in, figure they're both on the way." JD answered quickly.

Just then they heard footsteps on the stairs and a moment later Nathan, followed by Rain ran into the room.


Nathan Jackson, followed by his wife Rain, paused on the threshold of the bedroom taking in their friends standing around the room and that Chris was sitting on the bed holding a young man in his arms. Then Nathan hurried to the side of the bed where Chris gently laid the half frozen man down and moved aside so they could get to him. Nathan quickly pulled out his stethoscope. Within moments he was listening to the stranger's chest, while Rain took his blood pressure.

Rain and Nathan rapidly checked the unconscious man over for frostbite and injuries, gently taking the blankets off as they closely looked him over. They noted many whip-like, mostly healed, scars all over his upper body and thighs, and several other, larger, odd shaped, healing wounds on his back, sides, and right hip. Through their connection, Rain expressed her horror over the deadly wounds; that he was alive after what his body had gone through was a tribute to a doctors' hard work. Once they were assured there were no broken bones, they gave orders to their watching men for heated blankets and warm drinks for the man to get his body temperature back to normal, and Ezra and Josiah left to get the blankets. The pale blue lips told their own story about how cold the young man still was and they needed to get him warm quickly. They had found several places that had become frostbitten and worked to warm them carefully and quickly as the rest of him was slowly warmed.

Awhile later they finished. The frostbitten fingers, toes, and places on his face had been warmed and salve was on them to keep them from peeling. Rain and most of the men left the room, some heading for the kitchen to begin making dinner and to make soup for the stranger. Chris and Buck stayed back; Buck looked at his friend askance.

"Chris, what's wrong? You've been acting strangely for a while now. Is it this guy?"

Running his hands over his head, Chris looked down at the figure on the bed then his green eyes slid to Buck. "Something about him ... I don't understand. I've never had the connection you and the others have, never thought I would. Even with Sarah I didn't feel this way."

Buck grinned. "I think you just met your connection, or found him. How do you feel, right now?"

Chris looked up from the seat he'd taken beside the bed, his green eyes clear and calm. "Good. Calm, not so confused. Worried ... like I need to ... protect ... this man. Is that what these connections are all about? Protecting someone?"

"Well, I guess that's some of it, and just that you are there for them, and they for you. It, sort of feels like there is another part of you that is here," Buck placed his hand over his heart. "You sort of feel them here and maybe as a shadow in your head. They can feel you, hear your thoughts if you want them to, they're a part of you. As much as you want to let them in, that is. Kind of like your attached twin? Hard to explain, it's a great feeling though, you're never alone again, if you don't want to be." Buck tried to explain to the blond, even though he didn't understand the connection himself, just the feelings he and JD shared between them.

Chris nodded, "Thanks Buck. I have a feeling you don't know that much yourself. Guess I'll find out more when he wakes. Go get something to eat. I'm staying here."

"I'll bring you something to eat, and Junior there too, he might be awake by then." Buck smiled as he went out the door.

Chris pulled the blankets up closer around the thin, still shaking figure on the bed. Placing a hand on the man's forehead he could feel that he was a little warmer, not as icy cold as he had been in the truck. He rose and turned on the bedside lamp, then the overhead light off. Slowly he walked around the room, and paused to look out the window at the wind driven snow that was still coming down. It was one of many bedrooms in the large ranch house that he had helped build.

When he and Sarah had decided to build their home, they decided larger was better, and that she had wanted seven children helped decide on how many rooms it would have. Chris wasn't quite sure where she came up with that number, but he had bowed to her wishes. He had inherited a 700 acre ranch from his Aunt and Uncle when they died 15 years earlier. The ranch was cross-fenced into paddocks and pastures, and the barn had been only a year old, and could easily house 20 horses. His relatives had started to build a log and rock house, but had barely got going on it when they died one after the other from a virus that had swept through the country. When he got out of the Navy he checked the ranch out, and with Buck's help began to bring it to life once again in his spare time, while he was employed in the Denver Police Department as a chief investigator. When he and Sarah married things went along at a faster pace on the ranch with several mares and a good breeding stallion at home there. He trained horses when he had time and a few years later, he quit the DPD to work full time at home.

The horse training business was going very well, and the breeding part of the operation was even better. Buck had moved in a short time before Adam was born and helped Chris full time. They, and the contractors, finished the house a couple days after Sarah and Adam came home from the hospital, and the three had a quiet celebration in the newly finished house for the newborn and that the house was complete. The ranch prospered over the next few years and Josiah came into their lives. Josiah, the bear of a man, who was disillusioned by his God, having left the priesthood and then his college philosophy teaching career, was looking for something totally new and different. He knew horses and threw himself into helping on the ranch. Chris purchased adjoining acreage and began raising his own alfalfa hay for the ranch. Josiah loved working with the land and took over the whole operation, from plowing/disking, to planting to harvesting. He was thrilled when his first crop of alfalfa was good enough for three cuttings, and the next year he got four cuttings, enough for the ranch and with 100 tons of hay they could sell.

A low moan brought Chris out of his thoughts and he placed his hand on the side of the young man's face, feeling the soft stubble of his jaw. "It's alright, you're safe now. Sleep. I've got your back." The man instantly relaxed with a sigh. Chris smiled then shook his head; he'd never seen anyone relax as quickly as this man just did. Leaning back in the chair he glanced at the door when it opened several minutes later.

Buck walked in carrying a tray with a covered plate, coffee mug and a second covered mug of soup. Buck sat the tray on the bedside table and motioned to Chris. "Eat while it's still hot. Rain out did herself today," he laughed quietly. "The soup is really good, but she wouldn't let us have more than a taste, it's for Junior."

"He's asleep. Started to wake a bit ago, but went back to sleep. Not sure how to keep that soup warm for him."

"No problem there Stud, Rain thought of everything. Its one of those hot mugs, it'll keep things hot in it for hours. She said we had some in a cabinet. I don't remember them, but she found three. That woman is a wonder in the kitchen."

Chris grinned, "She is for sure. Nathan must be in heaven the way she cooks. I don't think Sarah could have kept up with her." Chris stopped suddenly, realizing what he'd said. For a moment he was frozen in place, then relaxed, the pain that usually flooded him when he thought of or talked about Sarah wasn't there. Not that she had disappeared or anything from his head, but pain of her loss didn't crash into him like it had, even the day before. He looked at Buck in confusion, knowing he'd heard him and what his reaction usually was. Buck just grinned at him and flung his hand towards the bed as he waked out of the door.

Chris ate the food on the plate, and agreed that it was as excellent as he knew it would be. As he was finishing his coffee, the tousled head on the bed turned towards him. He could see the man fighting to get his eyes open and wondered what he would think when he found himself in a strange place, with a stranger watching over him.

Brilliant blue eyes suddenly were looking at him. Chris stayed still, knowing he was probably just a fuzzy figure to the young man. The eyes blinked and Chris felt something go through him, like he knew what the younger man was feeling. He shivered, and noticed that the man was shivering also. Mmoving slowly so he didn't startle him, he pulled the blanket up again, tucking it close around his shoulders.

" 'm in ... hell?" a raspy voice asked.

"No, not yet," Chris snickered.

"Yer 'n black ... cold ... wha' 'pend?"

"We found you in the snow. Brought you here to my ranch. You'll be fine. You need to rest."

" 'k ... ya' a cowboy?"

"No, not really. I'm Chris Larabee. Who are you?"

"V ... Vin ... Tanner .... Cold," Vin muttered.

"Here sip this, it'll warm you some," Chris grabbed the mug of soup from the table, uncovered it and gently lifted

Vin's head so he could drink. Vin smelled the contents then sipped at the warm soup. After several moments Chris pulled it away, "Go slow, not sure when you last ate something."

" 's good. Warm." Vin said looking at Chris longingly.

The corner of Chris's mouth rose, and he held the cup again to Vin's lips, he couldn't refuse that look. But he made

sure Vin drank slowly. When the mug was empty he lowered Vin's head back to the pillow. "Next time you'll be able to do this yourself. Are you warmer?"

"Yes. I feel little warmer ... thanks. Could use ... more o'that soup, it's good. You make it?" Vin asked his voice not as rough.

Chris laughed. "I wish! No, was my friend's wife. She is a miracle worker in a kitchen. And a doctor, so you probably should rest or Rain will have my hide."

Blue eyes gazed at him for a minute, and Chris could almost hear what was going through Vin's mind. His eyes opened a bit wider when he felt warmth in his head and a raspy voice say, I know this man. But I've never met him. He is a cowboy, no matter what he says. Chris grinned and shot back in his head, I don't know you either, but I AM NOT a cowboy. The blue eyes opened wide in shock and Vin studied his face intently. A slow smile worked its way across the gaunt feature when Vin realized that they could hear each other. For a long minute they studied each other, then something like a massive head-rush slammed into them. All of a sudden they both knew the losses each had gone through, and a couple other life changing things.

Both men leaned back as the headaches overtook them, stealing their breaths away. Eyes snapped closed for several minutes before the headache disappeared as fast as it had appeared. When Chris opened his eyes he found that Vin had thrown his arm over his eyes and was shivering. As if knowing he was being watched, Vin lowered his arm and smiled at Chris.

"Damn. What was that? What a charge," Vin blurted out, as his eyes connected with Chris.

"Not sure," Chris answered rubbing his temples. "Gettin' to old for this."

Vin smiled as he let his eyes slide closed, "Not that old Cowboy."

"Did you ..." the words trailed off as Chris realized that the younger man was asleep. He rose and pulled the blankets tighter over Vin then settled back into his armchair. As he tried to figure out what had just happened his eyes closed and moments later he was asleep.

Half an hour later Josiah opened the door and peeked into the bedroom. With a toothy grin he silently walked in and took another blanket from the stack in the other chair, opened it and gently covered Chris. He turned the lamp very low and then picked up the tray of empty cups and dishes and silently left. The two would be fine.

Chris turned over, or tried and woke with a jerk. He wasn't aware when he'd fallen asleep and for a minute was confused as to where he was. Everything came back to him an instant later when he looked at the bed beside him and saw the tousled head of the man asleep in it, almost buried under the blankets. All he could see was the top of Vin's head of long brownish gold hair, the rest of the man was buried. For several minutes Chris sat in the armchair, the dim lamplight barely cutting through the dark room as he gazed in wonder at the mostly covered head on the pillow. His mind was crowded with questions for the other man that this strange connection had given him. The short talk he'd had with Vin made him realize he'd have to ask them slowly, he got the impression that Vin didn't like to be pushed around, nor did he talk much. Through the rush they'd had, he knew that Vin had been in the Rangers, a sharpshooter who had been abandoned when his spotter had been killed and he'd been wounded then taken prisoner. He also knew that Vin had lost his mother at an early age. Chris frowned as he tried to bring back the one thought that had flashed through his head. A priest had helped him get off the streets for a short time.

Chris sat up straighter in the chair, though he was stiff from sleeping in it, he knew who the man who had helped Vin was, and he was sleeping in another room down the hall. Chris grinned, who would have ever thought that Josiah would have meet a young Vin, even if it was only for a very short time? Standing up, Chris stretched then bent over to try to get the kinks out of his aching back. Josiah was going to be shocked, and he couldn't wait to see his face. The quick vision he had from Vin had shown Josiah with a white collar and darker hair, but there was no doubt who the man had been.

Chris looked at his watch and then settled back into the armchair. It was only 2:15am so he could catch some more sleep before it was time to head out to do chores. He pulled the blanket up over his shoulders and closed his eyes; within a few minutes he was asleep again.

Vin rolled over then settled again. Shudders raced through him as the nightmare took hold of him once again. He was laying on a brush-lined knoll, covered with long grass, his sniper rifle in hand. Another man lay beside him, James, also covered but with a scope to his eye. A gunshot rang out, and Vin's target went down. A moment later a blast knocked them both from their hiding place, when Vin slowly and painfully rolled over, James was headless beside him. With a cry of horror Vin tried to push back away from him, and then cried out in pain as a bayonet pinned him to the ground through his side, a bearded face above it grinned as he pressed down harder. The bayonet turned and he yelled in pain, feeling as if his side was being ripped away from his body. Hands were suddenly on him, and he fought to get away, screaming in agony as he was dragged away. The bayonet was savagely ripped from his body as his captors laughed as they drug him to their makeshift prison and then the painfilled nightmare of being tortured, beaten, starved, and mistreated washed over him.

Vin's first scream shocked Chris awake, the second tore at his heart as he jumped up and grabbed the blanket wrapped form. The third brought several men running into the room as Chris held the struggling figure close and began talking to him and calling his name. Through their new connection he could see Vin being stabbed several times when he had first been captured then tortured and beaten over and over again, and he held him tighter, trying desperately to get through to the younger man. He wasn't aware of the tears that flowed unheeded down his cheeks as Vin struggled and screamed in agony as his own tears tracked down his gaunt cheeks also.

"Nathan's on his way be here in a minute," Josiah said quietly so not to startle the already traumatized man, whose screams still echoed around the room. Buck held JD back from entering the bedroom as they watched from outside the door; Ezra was standing near Josiah, in case he was needed. He'd made the call to Nathan when they heard the second hellish scream. He had raced downstairs to unlock the back door for him, then he hurried back to see if he could help in any way.

Chris held onto the screaming body in his arms, he couldn't believe how strong Vin was, for he was thin as a rail. He kept talking into the younger man's ear, praying that he could get through to him, break through the torture he was reliving. Moments later he felt Vin start to weaken, the screams turned into racking sobs and Vin was suddenly clinging to Chris. One arm was around Chris's back the other clenched in the front of his shirt, his shaggy head buried in Chris's shoulder. Chris held onto him and gently rubbed the boney back. Saying over and over, "It's alright Vin, you're safe. I've got you, you are alright."

Nathan raced into the room and took one look. He opened his bag and quickly prepared a sedative and injected it into Vin's exposed arm. Within a couple of minutes Vin's sob's began to calm and his grip on Chris eased some. For several more minutes Chris held him against him, whispering reassurances, and rubbing his back gently. He was glad that the wild screaming and sobbing had stopped, but knew some of what Vin had gone through and it made his heart ache. No serviceman should have had to suffer through what Vin had.

Vin felt the arms wrapped around him and heard the calm, quiet voice in his ear. He suddenly realized that someone was holding him that he wasn't alone; that he had relived the nightmare that came in the dead of night to him. For some reason this time it had been a lot worse than usual. He was suddenly embarrassed over the show he must have put on, but it was too late to leave or hide, he was being held in strong, but gentle arms. He felt safe and at ease, and he finally raised his head and pushed back from Chris. He realized it was Chris who had been there for him the whole time, and that there were others in the room with them. His face flushed red and he ducked his head.

Chris let Vin ease back minutes later, and shot a look at the men in the room, who quietly left, except Nathan. Chris could feel the confusion and embarrassment going through the long haired man. He smiled and used a finger to tip Vin's head up so he could see his face. "It is alright Vin; there's nothing to be embarrassed about, what you went through, well, I am just happy that you are alive, and here. Don't worry about this, we all understand."

Vin shakily wiped his face and looked into Chris's eyes. He knew the blond spoke the truth; he could see it in his eyes and feel it through the connection between them. He relaxed more, feeling a lot calmer. Nathan moved to his side, and gripped his shoulder lightly; Vin turned his eyes to the tall black man.

"I gave you a shot to help you calm down. You will probably be able to sleep a few more hours now without the

nightmares. Oh, I'm Nathan Jackson, my wife and I checked you over when Chris brought you home. We didn't get a chance to meet you earlier."

"Thanks, Mr. Jackson ... " Vin started.

"Please. Mr. Jackson was my papa. Just call me Nathan, or Nate. You can call my wife Rain, when you meet her." Nathan quickly told Vin with a smile.

"Okay, thank you Nathan. I appreciate your help. Did I have frostbite or something worse?" Vin asked, blinking his eyes as he relaxed more and leaned slightly against Chris.

"Just found a little frostbite, and other than you need to put some weight on, and finish healing. You are fine, or will be as soon as you get some good rest." Nathan grinned over Vin's head as he slumped more against Chris. Vin's eyes were blinking, between the shot and the emotional outburst, he was worn out.

"I don't know how ta repay ya. I's ... robbed ... " Vin fell asleep in the middle of his sentence. Chris eased Vin down onto the bed then pulled the blankets up over him.

Chris stood over the bed for a moment looking down at the sleeping figure.

"He'll be fine Chris. He's exhausted from what he's gone through lately and his ordeal in the snow. Not sure how long he was out there, but he survived and with rest he'll be fine," Nathan reassured Chris, then took another look at Chris. "Chris, why don't you go to bed and get a few hours of sleep. I can stay for now." Nathan said, noting the weary look around Chris's eyes and the overall drained look of him.

For a moment Chris looked up at Nathan then shook his head. "Thanks Nate, but I'll stay. I want to be here if he wakes again. I don't have much to do tomorrow. Once chores are done, I'll rest then. Are you working tomorrow?"

"No, I'll be here. Just yell if you need me." Nathan gripped Chris's shoulder for a moment then stepped away, his dark eyes going to the figure on the bed. "Vin has some bad scars; it looks like he was tortured. But everything is healing nevertheless. I have a feeling he recently got out of the hospital. It will take him awhile to get back to normal, or what is normal for him. I think we can help him. At the least, we all will be here for him."

"Thanks Nathan. I think he needs us too, and once he's up and around, I'm asking him to stay."

Nathan grinned. "Yes, I think you should. I'll see you later. Try to get some sleep." Nathan headed for the door, knowing that Chris would do everything he could to keep the young stranger with them; it was good to see Chris in a protective mode. His grin widened when he found the other guys in the kitchen, questions on their faces. Before anyone could ask, he held up his hand and said, "He'll be fine. Chris is with him. Get some sleep; it's only 4:20. I'll see you all later."


Chris woke up at 6am, his regular time and quietly heaved himself up out of the chair. It was still fairly dark and through the partly opened curtain he could see snow hitting the window. He looked down at the sleeping figure on the bed and pulled the blankets closer around Vin when he saw he was trembling. Vin snuggled deeper into the blankets and Chris smiled. Chris stretched as he headed out the door, leaving it opened a little in case Vin called out. In his bedroom, Chris quickly changed into warmer clothes then headed to the kitchen. He grinned at the sight of Ezra standing over the coffee maker in a brocade robe with a pair of heavy wool socks on, his eyes closed as he listened to the coffee dripping into the pot.

"Are you holding the pot up or just standing there asleep?" Chris asked.

Ezra jumped and whirled around, a hand flying to his chest, "Damn it Chris, you about gave me a heart attack! Don't sneak up on a body that way. Hell, I think I just lost five years of my life!"

Chris grinned, "Naw, don't see any grey hairs yet. I'm headed out to the barn. I'll be back in awhile."

"Josiah will be there in a couple minutes," Ezra answered as Chris closed the door to the mud room and plopped down on the bench to pull on his barn boots.

As Chris donned his coat he watched the heavy snow swirling in the wind. He was glad that they had put yard lights on the ends of the barn; he could just make out the closest dim light through the snow. He pulled a warm stocking cap over his head and headed out into the storm. Chris was surprised at how deep the snow had gotten, it was over his knees. As he plowed through the snow he breathed a sigh of relief that they had found Vin the day before. Vin would have died out there and never been found until spring. Shivering he opened the barn door and entered the warmer building, flipping on the lights. Many horses nickered greetings to him as he went to the feed room and opened the grain bin, grabbed the measure and started filling buckets with grain. Chris was cutting wire off bales of hay when the door opened and three snow covered men hurried in. With few words the men set about feeding the horses and cleaning stalls. Once finished they headed for the house, knowing Ezra would have breakfast ready. Instead of turning the horses out into the snow storm, they would use the small indoor arena to exercise them later.

The four men pushed through the snow back to the house. Above them the sky had lightened somewhat, but the way the wind and snow were blowing, they were sure the storm would go on for many more hours or even days. As they reached the house, Buck said, "I'll get the tractor going after breakfast and plow out the driveway. I figure better get it done before the snow gets to where I can't push it."

"I think you're going to have a time pushing it right now. You see how deep it is." Josiah commented.

"Yeah, I know. It will be a pain, but I'll get it done. JD can go get the tractor running when he's done eating, then it'll be warmed up when I go out." Buck smiled at the young man.

"Thanks!" JD answered as he helped Ezra set filled plates of food on the table. "Besides, I know how stove up you old men get in this weather, so I don't mind going out for you." JD ducked and scrambled around the table when Buck's long arm reached out to smack his head. JD laughed from the other side as Buck caught himself before his chair tipped over with him.

Chris and Josiah smiled at their antics as they dug into the hearty breakfast Ezra had made. Chris sat back, sipping on another cup of coffee a while later, and watched as JD headed out the door to get the tractor started. Buck was finishing his coffee and wondering if they should fire up two tractors to plow the driveway. He finally decided to see what he could do before calling for the help of another tractor. He stood and carried his dishes to the sink then headed for the door.

"I'll see you boys later."

"Don't freeze to the tractor Buck," Chris called after him.

"HA, HA. It's enclosed and has a good heater," Buck called back from the mud room. Josiah snorted a laugh and rose, dishes in hand.

"That man has an answer for everything," Josiah remarked.

"Yeah, and then ... " Chris stopped, his head cocked as he grew silent. Swiftly he rose from his chair and headed for the door.

Alarmed, Ezra asked, "Chris what's wrong?"

"Vin ... He's awakening. I have to go to him ..." Chris rushed out the door and towards the steps.

Ezra and Josiah exchanged looks then followed him, not sure what they would find or if Chris would need help.

Chris slowed at Vin's door and took a deep breath then pushed it open and walked quietly in, his eyes going instantly to the figure on the bed.

Vin was stirring. His head turned on the pillow as an arm reached out of the nest of blankets and slowly felt around. A frown creased his forehead and he slowly opened his eyes and gazed around the room. Total confusion was written across his face as his gaze reached Chris. Vin felt something sizzle through him when his eyes met the sea green ones of the other man. He had no idea where he was or what had happened, but the man gazing back at him made him feel safe and he relaxed, letting the breath he'd been holding escape in a sigh.

'Where am I? What happened?" Vin asked of the man he knew, but didn't know.

"I'm Chris Larabee. You're at my, our, ranch. We found you yesterday morning out in the snow and brought you here." Chris answered easily, watching the other. He felt the confusion through their connection, and realized that Vin didn't remembered much of the previous day and night.

Vin shook his head as he gazed at the blond who sat down in the chair beside him. His frown deepened as he looked at Chris. Then Vin grinned crookedly as a burst of memory flashed through him and he saw an answering smile on Chris's face.

"Don't remember how I got here, but you gave me soup and stayed with me all night," he stated.

"Yes. I did. Would you like some breakfast? It's ready and still hot," Chris asked.

"I'm starved," Vin said as he sat up and threw the blankets back and instantly froze in place, he was naked under the pile of blankets.

"My ... "

"Here Vin, some warm sweats for you to wear," Josiah tossed the clothes to Vin's side, a heavy pair of wool socks landed on top of them.

"Thanks ...?"

"I'm Josiah, this is Ezra; we live here and work the ranch with Chris, Buck, and JD." Seeing the look on Vin's face Josiah continued, "They're out plowing snow right now."

Chris grinned as Vin hurriedly donned the warm clothes. Vin realized he wasn't quick enough, that the others saw the scars and healing wounds on him. His face turned red as he dressed, knowing what the men were seeing.

"I'll have a plate ready for you when you get to the kitchen Mr. Tanner. We can visit over a cup of coffee," Ezra said and turned from the door. Followed by Josiah the two walked down the hall.

"Bathroom's through that door," Chris pointed to a nearby door, "the master bedroom shares it."

"Thanks," Vin rose and pulled the pant string tight and shakily turned towards the door. A warm hand on his elbow steadied him and he felt the warmth all the way to his heart, and grinned at the man helping him. Chris stopped at the door and let go of his arm, and he entered the bathroom alone.

Chris waited, and when Vin walked out he led the way out of the bedroom and down the hall. Vin followed, his

bright blue gaze taking in everything. At the top of the stairs he paused and looked down at the large open living room. Chris waited a couple steps down, not wanting to get too far ahead of Vin, in case he needed help.

"Nice room," Vin commented as he slowly made his way down the steps his hand gripping the carved banister tightly.

"We kind of like it," Chris said as the corner of his lip rose. And I want you to be here to share it. The unbidden thought went through Chris and he felt Vin look at him.

"Me? I don't even know you Chris," Vin half whispered in trepidation.

Chris stopped at the bottom of the stairs and looked up at Vin as he stopped on the last step. "We do know each other. Oh, not in the sense we've known each other for years, but it's something different. And I'm still trying to figure it all out myself. This is all new to me. Josiah and Ezra have this, connection, bond, or whatever it is, and so do Buck and JD, and Nathan and Rain. I ... Just want you to stay ... we'll work it out together ... I hope ..." Chris said hesitantly.

Vin stared at the older man, his thoughts in turmoil. Too much had happened to him in the last months, he wasn't sure of anything right now. But ... he shook his head as his eyes closed for a moment ... this felt 'right' to him, and he had never felt safer anywhere than right here with this man and in this place. He felt warmth growing within him, and realized that Chris knew what he was thinking. Opening his eyes he gazed at the lean blond, into his eyes, as his thoughts were filled with reassurance and hope, joy and concern, all at one time. He didn't want to do anything but enjoy the warmth that flowed through him from the other, he felt ... Vin's eyes opened wider, home, he felt as if he was home, where he belonged. Home ... it was here at this place ... He felt wanted, more than he had ever felt since his mother's death. Home? Yes, he wanted the peace and security he could feel slipping into him, he wanted the home that was being offered with all his being.

Chris watched the emotions racing across Vin's thin face, and felt warmth flow into him from Vin. He thought of one thing, 'home, you are home,' and saw a look fly through the blue eyes and across the pale face. Vin's thoughts of home flashed through Chris and he agreed instantly and thought, You are home, you belong here and we want you to stay.

Chris grabbed Vin's arm when he swayed as he stepped down off the last step. "Come on lets get some food into you, then we can talk." Chris guided Vin towards the kitchen and released him as they entered the warm room. Vin sat down on the first empty chair he came to at the large trestle table. Josiah sat a cup of coffee in front of both men as Ezra slid a plate with pancakes, eggs, and ham across to Vin.

Vin dove into the food hungrily, and ate quietly for several minutes. As his plate began to empty, Ezra rose and moved to the stove, "Would you like some more Mr. Tanner?"

Vin paused, fork halfway to his mouth. He realized he was eating like a starved person and red flushed his face when he noticed the three men watching him and ducked his head.

"Don't worry Vin, it is good to see a man appreciate his meal," Josiah said. "I believe you could give our JD a run for his food. He has a good appetite too," he added with a toothy grin.

Ezra slid several more pancakes onto Vin's plate, "Eat up, there is plenty."

"Thank you," Vin muttered, keeping his head down as he buttered the pancakes then poured blackberry syrup over them.

The men drank their coffee and talked about the snow and how Buck and JD were doing in getting the driveways cleared off. They could see two tractors working almost side by side plowing snow. The two were pushing snow into several piles well away from the house and outbuildings. It was still snowing and they figured the driveways would have to be cleaned again the next day.

Vin straightened and thanked Chris as he refilled his coffee cup. A shiver overtook him as he looked out the windows that lined half of the west facing kitchen wall. On the north side of the kitchen another three windows faced trees and part of a driveway. Out of the west facing windows, he could see several dark shapes, and from Chris's thoughts picked up that it was the barn with an apartment to the side of it where Nathan lived. Another one was the garage/shop where the tractors were parked. He wondered who Nathan was and grinned when he heard Our resident doctor, in his head.

Josiah, who had left the kitchen moments before returned and placed an afghan over Vin's shoulders. "You look like you are cold."

"Thank you, I am a little." Vin looked at the big man who picked up his empty plate and took it to the sink. Ezra had already put the food away and poured himself and Josiah a cup of coffee and both men sat down across the table from Vin.

"Well, Mr. Tanner, I wish to welcome you to our ranch. We hope you will stay. I am Ezra Standish and this is Mr. Josiah Sanchez. I am the bookkeeper and purchasing agent for the ranch among other things, and Mr. Sanchez is our hay manager. Soon you will meet Mr. Buck Wilmington, all around play-boy and co-owner, mechanic and in charge of ... some things." Ezra grinned at Chris who rolled his eyes, "and young Mr. JD Dunne, is our computer and electronics expert and all around go-fer. I'm sure you will enjoy it here. We've been together a couple years now. Though this ranch is mainly Chris Larabee's he has welcomed all of us, and we do work very well together."

"Thank you Mr. Standish. I don't know right now what I'll be doing."

"Please call me Ezra. I am not my father."

"I'm Vin, not Mr. Tanner. What kinda ranch is this?" Vin asked as he leaned back in the chair and pulled the afghan closer around him.

Ezra looked at Chris who answered, "Well, basically we raise and train horses. Josiah has increased our hay raising double and triple so we sell a lot of hay too."

For a moment Vin looked at the three men then asked, "You all make enough working here to make this profitable?"

"Well ... I retired from the Denver Police as an investigator, and if they need me, I help out now and then, Buck too. So that is a little income, but mostly, we survive by our horse operation. We have become a well known training and breeding facility in several states." Chris said.

Before Vin could say anything the outer back door slammed and two voices could be heard in the mud room, and moments later two men barreled through the door on a wave of cold air. Vin pulled the afghan tighter around him as the cold reached him. He looked up at the tall, mustached, dark haired man who had a neck lock around a shorter, black haired young man who had a hand full of the other man's shirt. Laughter rang around the room from the two.

"Ya big lug let me go!" Vin heard the younger man say.

Realizing the stranger was seated at the table, Buck let JD loose and smiled at the long-haired man. "Hey, nice to see you up and around. We didn't get much of a chance to meet yesterday. I'm Buck Wilmington and this little squirt is JD Dunne. Did they feed you?"

Vin had to smile at the vivacious man who's hand reached over to shake his. Vin shook hands with the large man, shivering at the feel of the cold hand.

"Sorry, just got done plowing the driveways, its cold out there. Chris, we need to order some more diesel for the tractors. If this storm keeps up, we'll be plowing more often, and we've got less than a third of a tank left in the diesel storage tank." Buck told Chris as he moved to get himself and JD a cup of coffee.

JD grabbed a covered dish off the counter and sat down next to Vin, "I'm John Dunne, everyone calls me JD though. Here, have a cookie, Ezra made them yesterday while we waited for them to find you and bring you home."

Vin jerked back into his chair, he suddenly felt disconnected with what was going on around him, JD's words bringing home to him he was a stranger in this place. Confusion overcame him. The past weeks swiftly crowded in on him and he felt himself shiver as his nightmare of being captured and alone started to run through his head. All of a sudden he felt a warm hand on his forearm and grasped it like a life line as the dream began to overpower him.

"It's alright Vin, you are safe now. Come on, we are here, you're safe ..." a gentle voice sounded in his ear and Vin turned his head towards the warmth he felt beside him. He fought to open his eyes, while his brain screamed at him it was a trick of his captors. Finally he forced his eyes open and gazed in anguish around him. Blinking he saw he was in a different room, he had no memory of moving from the kitchen. Across the room a fire burned in the large fireplace warming the room, and he found he was wrapped warmly in another blanket. Five men were scattered around the room sipping coffee and watching him, concern written on their faces. A warm arm was around his shoulders and he knew instantly that it was Chris beside him. He felt his face flush red in embarrassment and his head dropped.

"Vin," the voice beside him said and a hand under his chin pushed his head up again. His eyes connected with Chris's intense, sea-green ones that glared a moment at him before changing into soft pools of concern. "Vin, it is alright, you are really safe here with us. If you want or need to talk, you can trust us, what is said stays here. If you don't that's fine. But believe me, us, you are here to stay if you want to. We all want you to stay, so no matter what, this is to be your home."

Vin's gaze turned for a moment and rested on the handsome black man who was seated near Chris and he wondered who he was.

As if reading his mind, the man smiled, "I'm Nathan Jackson, the resident doctor here. We met a couple of times in the last hours. I am here if you need me."

Warm brown eyes gazed into his for a moment, before Vin nodded his thanks and turned away. He shuddered as Chris took his hand away, and raising his head, he looked at the other men. He saw the concern and worry each had on their face. Drawing a deep breath, Vin shook his head.

"I'll tell you how I came to be here." He stated and settling deeper into the chair, pulled the blankets closer around himself and took a drink of the coffee Nathan handed him.


Vin burrowed deeper in the blankets surrounding him, and let his eyes drift half closed. "Seven months ago I was on a mission. I'm a, or was, the sharpshooter, or sniper for ... an Army Ranger unit. Sorry can't say much more about the mission or my unit. Anyway, after I took the shot, the guy's men shot back at us. A canister or grenade exploded almost on top of my spotter and me. He was killed ... his head ..., I was badly wounded. When I came to, the soldiers were there, had me pinned to the ground with a bayonet, til their commander arrived. After several days of questioning by them, I was taken to some outpost of theirs, and ... they ... I ..." Vin stopped, his body had started to shake.

The hand resting on his shaking shoulder gripped him tighter for a moment and Vin turned anguished eyes to Chris. "It's all right Vin."

Taking a swallow of his coffee, Vin calmed down and continued. "I was their prisoner for three months; starved, tortured, beaten; whatever they wanted to do to me they did almost daily, trying to get some information out of me. All they got was my name, rank, and serial number. I was praying to die, trying to, but they wouldn't let me. Then someone, well seven or eight men, were there, and got me out and a couple of other, more important prisoners. I think I was in the right place at the right time, as I found out later it was the Navy SEALs that came in. Never knew their names or anything, they were after some high profile guy that had been taken and he had them bring me out too."

Vin paused a moment, forcing back the memory of the time he was a prisoner, and continued, "I was sent to a hospital in Germany, was there for three months. No one expected me to live, but I'm a Tanner, they didn't know how tough I am," Vin smiled tightly. "Doctor Keckeis thought he'd lost me several times that first month, infection and then some reactions I had to the medications, other complications. I was just skin and bones he told me when I got there and my heart'd stopped already a couple of times. I guess they almost gave up on me making it out of the hospital. I was in there three months before they'd even think about releasing me. The Army wanted me to re-up but I had enough. I got sent to Fort Lewis in Washington, where I had to be checked out again before they would totally release me. I was there a couple days before I caught a bus south, ended up in Salt Lake City. Got snow and these two guys offered me a ride to Denver. So I went with them. I don't know what happened. I'm usually a good judge of people, but I sure mis-judged them," Vin huffed as he made a face. "I woke up when the rig stopped and they had guns on me and made me get out. It was snowing; they told me the road was just up the trail. I left before they started shooting at me. Found some trees and made a little shelter for the night and then tried to get back to where they dropped me off." Vin looked around at the men in the room, "you all know the rest of the story better than I do."

For a moment there was total silence except for the snapping of wood in the fireplace, then Nathan asked, "You are plagued by nightmares. Are they of the time you were a prisoner?"

"Yeah. I still can see James, he was my spotter, when I came to, his head was ... And, they worked me over til I know I was screaming at them to let me die. I can't seem to get the dreams to stop." He felt the hand on his shoulder grip him a bit tighter before loosening. He felt Chris's struggle to stay calm, and realized that Chris had been with him the whole time he was talking. Vin turned to look at Chris and noted that he was pale, and knew that Chris had lived his nightmares with him. Chris stared back at him as Vin's hand reached out and gripped Chris's arm. Chris's hand connected with his forearm in a warrior's grip, and they held on to each other for a long moment.

Slowly slight smiles broke out on the two men's faces and they finally let their grips relax and fall. Chris tipped his head at Vin, a crooked little smirk on his lips, and Vin grinned back. I'll be here Cowboy. I feel as if I have found peace at last and with your help and the others, I will get past the nightmares.

Welcome Cowboy. You belong here and we will be here to help you in anyway you need it.

When can I see your horses?

As soon as Nathan checks you over and says you are well enough to go out into that storm that's raging out there.

So I have to wait?


Vin huffed and looked at the other men in the room.

"Hey Vin are you staying? We would like you to. This is the neatest ranch in the world, you'll love it here, and there is always something to do. We're not that far from Denver either, we go there now and then for things and shows and ..." JD stopped when Buck's hand was placed across his mouth.

"Ignore JD, he talks a lot Vin. From the look on your face and Chris's, I take it that you are staying with us?"

Vin shot a quick glance to Chris before looking back at Buck, "Looks like it, if ya'll don't mind me being here. I am looking for work, got my pay too." A frown crossed Vin's pale face as he thought a moment. "They took what I had in my wallet. I had my pay held til I got a bank, only lost couple hundred dollars," he muttered.

"Mr. Ta ... Vin, do you have the men's name who dumped you out in this weather? Remember what they looked like?" Ezra asked after he sent a quick glance to JD who nodded his head.

"Yeah, but the names are probably alias's. I would know them if I seen them though. Why?"

Buck laughed, "Hey Junior, there's a couple ex-police investigators living here, and Josiah is a good profiler and JD and Ezra are a whiz on a computer. We can find those guys. And they should be up on charges for robbing you and leaving you to die in this storm. We are good at what we do, here on the ranch, and as cops. So we want everything you can remember about those men." Buck said sincerely as he leaned towards Vin.

Vin nodded, "All right I'll give you what I can." Over the next half hour Vin gave the men everything he could remember about the two men, and then just as he was finishing, he laughed and gave them the license plate number on the SUV. He had just remembered it.

Once Vin was finished, Chris, with a shit-eating grin on his face looked at Josiah, then Vin a moment. "Vin, I think we have someone here that you have met at one time or another," his grin widened at the puzzled look Vin shot him.

"With this ... thing ... or connection ... we have together, I happened to see something of your past, and you have seen some of mine. But there was one thing I saw that I need to ask you about. When you were a teen? Or maybe younger, you met a priest who helped you, do you remember him?"

Vin frowned as he tried to remember the man, then blue eyes rose as he smiled, "Father Joe, he helped me find a place to stay when I was living on the streets. I was around 10 years old. He found me a room with this Mexican family. They were a nice family, and I was there six months I think, before they fell on hard times and I left. Didn't see Father Joe after that. Well, I think he was transferred a couple months after I moved in with the Martinez's. Haven't thought of him in ... " Vin stopped seeing the look that had crossed Josiah's rugged face, and noticed the big man was blinking his eyes quickly. All of a sudden he realized who the man was as Josiah rose and walked to the side of his chair then dropped to his knees beside him.

"Father Joe?" Vin asked in a strangled voice filled with emotion.

"Vin? Vinny Tanner! I never put two and two together until Chris mentioned a priest had helped you. Oh my God! I was so worried about you and the Martinez family; I left the priesthood. That's why you never saw me after that first month or so. Now that I know you ... well you haven't changed all that much," Josiah grinned as Vin's cheeks changed color. "You still have long hair, and those blue eyes, who could miss them? And though you have gotten taller and leaner, you haven't lost your Texas accent. I don't know how I could have missed seeing it was you!" Overcome the big man wrapped his arms around the thin figure and hugged him to his chest as Vin hugged him back. For a moment, both men were at a loss for words.

Josiah drew back a large smile on his face. Vin grinned back at him as Josiah said, "Do not call me Father Joe either, I left him behind 13 years ago. Vin," Josiah shook his head as he stood up. "I would have never thought you would have ended up here, but I am thrilled that you are and am looking forward to many long talks to catch up with what you were up to since the last time I saw you all those years ago."

"I'd like that Josiah. I'm sorry I didn't recognize you right off, you haven't changed all that much."

Josiah laughed, "No I haven't, but I was younger and not all that happy in those days; you coming into my life at that time helped me make my life changing decision that I was wrestling with. I've never looked back even though I wondered what had happened to the little shy, sickly, dirty faced, long-haired, blue eyed street urchin that had appeared at that time. Strong willed, determined and so quiet, never knew when you were there," Josiah wrapped his warm hand around Vin's, "I am overjoyed you are here, and are staying with us."

"Me too," Vin half whispered.

Nathan stepped in; he'd seen that Vin's emotions were going to overpower him shortly, so he insisted that Vin rest for awhile. He chased everyone out of the front room and made sure that Vin was comfortably ensconced on the couch. Within two minutes Vin was sound asleep, buried in the blankets. Nathan checked the young man's pulse then rose and left the room. Vin would be fine with rest and nourishment, and he now was home where he belonged. With old and new friends, he would be taken care of until he was healed. Nathan smiled at the brooding blond in black, leaning against the arched doorway watching the sleeping figure.

"He'll be fine Chris, he needs this, and you too," Nathan said as he paused a moment beside his friend. Exchanging a look they smiled and Chris nodded and followed Nathan to the kitchen. It was almost lunch time, and they'd help Ezra prepare it.

Three months later - February

Vin stood outside the large box stall next to Chris as they watched the small black foal struggle to rise. Her mother kept nuzzling and licking the still damp coat of the filly. Long, gangly legs shook and wobbled as the foal rose to her feet and stood swaying for a moment before taking a tentative step towards the large dark grey figure in her sight.

The two men held their breaths as the foal wobbled and jerked to the mare's side, then her nose nuzzled around the mare's flank looking for nourishment. Moments later she latched onto the mare's teat and began sucking vigorously. Almost identical smiles crossed the men's faces as they quietly moved away from the warm box stall. They had no need to speak out loud, as their connection/bond was sizzling through them as they headed towards the barn doors. They knew the other's thoughts over the birth of the new foal and that she was going to make a good addition to the ranch. The two had spent the last couple of hours in the barn watching over the mare as she labored to give birth, there in case she had a problem, and now they could relax. The foal was fine, up and nursing.

Outside the barn door the two men paused. Vin lifted his head to the grey night, snow flakes lazily falling around them. The cold made him shiver and pull his coat closer around his lean frame. He closed his eyes for a few moments, reveling it the joy of being there, alive and healthier than he had been in December. He was still thin but he was slowly gaining weight and his face wasn't a gaunt mask anymore. Nightmares still plagued him when he was overly tired, but with Chris being there he hadn't had any like the first night when he arrived at the ranch.

As he slowly healed Vin had helped the men with the horses. At first he just brushed them, Nathan and Rain did not allow him to work at anything harder until they were satisfied that his injuries were well healed and he was gaining weight. Vin relished the freedom he had on the ranch. He could come and go as he wished, but they usually knew where to find him ... in the barn with the horses. Vin smiled as the snow fell on his upturned face. He loved it here and he didn't want to go anywhere else. He found, through his bond with Chris, that he was healing in his mind too, recovering from the months he had been a tortured prisoner, and the time he was another kind of prisoner - in a hospital.

He was no longer alone. He had a soul brother, a partner, that stood beside him and grabbed him when he faltered and fell, and wouldn't take no for an answer. Josiah's comment flashed through Vin's head, 'You and Chris are two men, but one soul. You are one in heart and soul. Without one the other is not. Your bond is the strongest I've ever seen in my life, relish it, there is none like it. You will be closer than brothers.'

He had found that Josiah's words had been true. The bond he had with Chris was strong and now carried him through his dark times, and he now felt as if the days were made for him. He had a chance at a good life and between Chris and the other five men on the ranch, who had come to mean more to him then a brother could; his life had filled to the brim. He was happy, totally happy for the first time since his mother had died almost 18 years ago.

A hand on his arm pulled him back and he blinked the snow out of his eyes and turned to Chris a smile on his face. Without words they headed towards the house, Chris's arm thrown across his soul brother's shoulder, joy emanating from both of them.


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