Manuel was frozen stiff. He and Ash were miles from shelter in the pouring rain. Ash's ears dripped water and Manuel's furiously gelled hair threatened to flatten.
"Seven more bloody miles." Manuel muttered darkly, staring at the muddy road in front of his horses feet. Then he smiled slightly. All this time with Anne and Carmen and he was beginning to sound like a Brit.
They passed under a tiny, lonely tree and the rain poured off the leaves and onto Manuel's head. He coughed and sputtered, throwing the reins onto Ash's neck so he didn't jerk the horses mouth, and choked on the water lodged in his windpipe. Ash slowly slid to a stop and turned around to look at his rider. Manuel could see the concern written over the horses face and smiled weakly.
"I'm okay, bud. Let's just avoid that in the future." Manuel coughed out. He picked up the reins and turned Ash back to the path. With one command he asked Ash to run. Digging his heels in Ash threw himself forward with renewed purpose.
The cold rain lashed at his face and beat as his soaked sides but he kept moving, tugging on the bit every once in a while so Manuel stayed with him.
Adam paced by the gate intercom. He'd gotten wind that Cain and Shy were hiding from the storm in a shelter along the road but no one had heard anything from Manuel. It was times like these that drove him crazy. He'd always been in the role of protector. It was no different now and the fact that parts of his adopted family was missing... it was giving him one hell of a migraine.
"I'm sure he's fine. He's got Ash." Liam said, trying to be hopeful and failing sorely.
"And you sure everyone else is safe?" Adam asked, trying to focus on what he could control.
"Anne's with Edith cooking, Alex, Diego and Adrian are cleaning stalls, Josef went somewhere with the truc-" Liam started.
"STOP! Josef. Truck. Rain." Adam spat out. Liam thought it was almost comical until Adam slammed his fist viciously into the table.
"Hey, Adam, jeez, relax. He's with Carmen. You don't think I'm such a bad friend I would let him go out alone, do you?" Liam said, almost offended. Just then there was a weak cough from the intercom. Both men rounded on it.
"Hey, can you open the gate? It's Manuel." Said a voice. Adam rounded on Liam.
"Get Edith and a stack of blankets down to the stable stat. And Astrid, the stallion tolerates her." He barked, the turned back to the intercom.
"Manuel get yourself to the stable we'll met you there." Adam said, his tone ever so slightly warmer.
When Manuel pulled Ash up at the stables he just about turned around and walked out again, despite the fact that he was frozen stiff on the stallions back. Cain was in the cross ties, rubbing Shy's legs down. The blood bay mare stood almost protectively over him. The only other person in the cross ties was Brian who was decidedly ignoring both horse and rider. He could usually ignore Cain's barbed insults and rude behavior but right now he was so cold he felt like if he fell he'd shatter. And Cain had a knack for bring out the worst in people. Even Yin, sweet charming and fluffy as she was, couldn't stand the guy. If he walked in there, even with Brian trying to keep peace, it would likely end in a cockfight.
It was only when Liam showed up, Edith and Astrid in tow, holding coffee and warm water that Manuel was able to pry himself out of the saddle. Astrid led Ash into the stable, trying him up in his stall, stripping him of his tack and throwing a couple coolers over his steaming body. Edith dragged Manuel under the cover of the barn and shoved a fleece sweater into his shaking hands. Manuel pulled his sodden shirt off, his body so numb it didn't notice a drop in temperature, and yanked the sweater over his head.
"When you all get sick with pneumonia I'm not going to nurse you back to health. All of you, stop ridding in the sodding rain." Edith scolded, wrapping blankets around Manuel's shoulders. Manuel let out a small laughed. Edith huffed and puffed but she couldn't stand to see anyone hurting, be it human or animal. Liam poured lukewarm water into Ash's buckets and the stallion drank heartily as Manuel watched carefully, clutching the cup of hot coffee he'd been givin in an attempt to regain the use of his fingers.
"All right, up to the house. Cain, Brian, last one up shuts the barn up." Liam said pleasantly then shepherded Astrid, Edith and Manuel up towards the mansion. At a dead run. It was still pouring and in the time it to to get inside everyone was soaked. Liam had accidentally run through a puddle, splashing it over Astrid and Edith had tripped and fallen.
When they got inside Adam took Liam aside and soon the two were deep in discussion. Manuel sat at the kitchen table and drank copious amounts of warm herbal tea while Edith and Yin cooked, both watching him like hen's with chicks. He didn't understand why. They could exactly watch away the chill he was feeling.