The sentients were concentrating so hard on the men in front that they hadn't seen Baines coming around from the rear. He'd made his way down the freight elevator, exited, and crept around the side of the building.
He was startled when he recognized two of the attackers. It was that goddamned Larabee! Larabee and his men had been making trouble for Baines for more than a year now. And it looked like Tanner had teamed up with those troublemakers; this would not do at all. The head of the Guild still had hopes of recruiting Vin, so he raised his gun, setting his sights on Larabee. Baines tightened his grip and pulled the trigger.
Vin kept his three guards down and tracked the others out of the corner of his eye. He saw Buck and Chris dispatch their guards, and then the telepath started scanning for Ezra's imminent arrival. He connected with his friend just as the clairvoyant saw Baines raise his gun. Ezra's alarm shot through the link and Vin reacted. He threw himself at Chris as the shot rang through the air.
Larabee was using his TK to hold the doors of the Harcourt Office Building closed, ensuring no one else would be coming out of there although the police would be on their way soon, and the fire engines were already sounding in the distance. He bellowed for Buck to retreat and turned to relay the same message to Vin, when he was hit solidly by the telepath and went down hard. Chris heard the bullet hit the building behind him.
Ezra saw Vin save Chris, and pulled his pistol out firing at Baines. He didn't hit him, but scared him enough to back away. The gambler raced his car over to his friends, screeching to a halt and ordering them inside. Buck ran to the car, jumping in the front passenger seat of the Buick, and looked back to his other friends.
Chris motioned for him to head to the car and started running himself. Vin was relieved when he saw his leader wasn't hit, but it turned quickly to dismay. The telepath realized in his haste to protect his friend he'd released the security guards under his control. Vin looked back and saw the guards he'd formerly had control over draw their weapons and point them at the fleeing sentient.
//Chris, DUCK!// shouted through the blond's mind. Chris dropped to the ground, grunted as a bullet blazed through his upper arm, and hearing another pass just over his head. Vin rushed to his side. Larabee saw the men preparing to fire again and tried to push them away with his TK, but couldn't summon enough energy to hurl more than one of them away. Vin grasped his arm to pull him up, and energy flowed into the telekinetic, allowing him to toss the two remaining guards aside. Chris found himself yanked to his feet and shoved into the back seat of the Buick. Vin jumped in after him, slamming the door behind.
"Go!" ordered the telepath.
Ezra took off in a flash, leaving a trail of rubber on the pavement behind.
Buck leaned over the seat watching the blue-eyed telepath take his overshirt off and press it against the older man's wounded arm. "You all right, pard?"
"I'm okay," said Chris harshly, holding back a groan as Vin increased the pressure on his wound.
Buck looked over his shoulder at the driver. "Anyone following us?"
Ezra glanced in the side mirror and shook his head. "I'm certain that they did not have time to summon vehicular assistance."
"Change of plans, then. We're heading to Nettie's."
"No," Chris argued. "We'll endanger everyone. Go back to the trailer like we planned."
"Chris, you're hurt."
"That's right, you will 'cause we're taking you to Nathan. If we can't go back safely, we'll ditch the trailer."
"Thank God," murmured Ezra, who hated living in the traveling camper.
"You will do as I say, dammit!" yelled the blond.
Buck ignored his oldest friend and looked over to Vin who had been sitting quietly, awaiting the outcome of the argument. "Vin, anyone on our trail?"
The telepath closed his eyes and scanned, reaching his mind out as far as he could. "No, we're clear."
"It's settled." Buck turned around and dropped down in the passenger seat, pointing at Ezra to continue on. "Nettie's it is."
"You're a dead man, Buck."
Wilmington called ahead to let his friends know about the change of plans. As they pulled up the gravel drive to the Wells' ranch house, Ezra saw the healer come onto the porch and watch their arrival. The clairvoyant stopped the car as close to the house as he could, and Nathan was next to it before the engine was shut off.
"What happened to you?" Nathan demanded to know as he helped Chris out of the back seat.
"Tried to outrun a bullet."
"I see you lost," Nathan motioned to the men around him. "Okay, let's get 'im inside." The healer took Chris on his injured side, and Buck grabbed the leader's other arm. They slowly made their way into the house, with Vin and Ezra trailing close behind.
Chris was starting to show some weakness from blood loss, but that didn't stop him from barking orders. "Ezra, I want you to get rid of the car in case it was spotted. Buck, follow in the van and bring him back here. We can't stay long; we don't want to endanger Nettie."
"Don't give me any of that, Chris Larabee." Vin hadn't noticed the smaller grey-haired lady before she started her tirade. "You'll stay until you're well, and if you try to leave before, I'll have Josiah tie you down!"
The telepath smiled at the feistiness of the old lady. She noticed his grin and sent him a wink.
"Nettie," Nathan called, "could you find some alcohol for me?" At her nod, he continued his directions. "Josiah, I'm going to need my bag from the other room, including the bandages." The preacher responded immediately, heading to get the specified items.
Chris groaned as another wave of pain shot through his injured arm. Nathan moved him into the dining room. "I want you to lie down on the table."
"I'm fine, Nathan, I can sit up."
"You will lay down or else I'll knock you down."
Instantly Chris positioned himself on the table, knowing better than to tempt fate with his healer.
Nathan Jackson noticed all the people crowding around, waiting to see if their friend was okay. Even the rescued teens moved toward the back of the room, standing close together with fearful eyes taking in everything. Nathan waved his hands. "Can y'all stand back for a bit? I gotta check him out." Everyone maneuvered their way out of the dining area, gathering around the doorway. The healer thought that was better, but not by much. At least they weren't hanging over his shoulder anymore. Nathan placed his hands upon Chris' wound and closed his eyes.
Louie was nervous. He'd never seen anyone shot before. Taking in the dark clothes and western boots, he asked nervously, "Is the cowboy going to die?"
Chris' head whipped around, pinning the boy in place with his glare. "Did he just call me a cowboy, JD?"
JD glanced at the redhead, not that much younger than himself. "I think he did, Chris."
"Don't do that," the green-eyed man said quietly at the boy. It was the low timbre that made Louie even more anxious. He scooted farther away from the door.
Chris wasn't upset, although he despised that nickname; he was actually relieved to see the three susceptives safe, knowing their mission had been successful. The telekinetic also struggled to keep from crying out as his healer pressed against his wound.
The telepath happened to be scanning his friend, trying to pick up on how badly he was injured when Chris reprimanded Louie. So Vin realized just how much Chris hated being called a 'cowboy.' He could definitely have some fun with that.
Sighing, Nathan opened his eyes. "It went straight through; he'll be fine with rest," he told those gathered around. The healer accepted his bag from Josiah, and started to unpack. He picked out some thread and a needle, handing them back to the empath. "Can you please soak these in the alcohol Nettie's bringin'?" Josiah nodded his assent.
"I'm not a damned sideshow," roared Larabee. "Everyone go away."
The healer nodded and pushed everyone except the preacher out into the living room, not wanting his patient more upset than he already was.
After Nettie Wells delivered the alcohol, she patted Chris' head gently before retreating with the others.
An advanced knowledge of the body and his healing ability let Nathan fix the damage quickly, sparing his leader any more pain than absolutely necessary. After the damage to the muscles had been repaired and he'd stitched up the wound, Nathan once again placed his hands over his friend's injury, willing Chris' body to start healing. Josiah watched the deep concentration of his friend, swearing he could see sparks fly from the healer to his wounded friend.
The healer smiled as he finished and bandaged the arm. "The bullet went straight through the upper arm with no nerve damage or injury to the bone. It'll be fine, although it'll hurt like hell."
"Nothing new," commented the injured man.
"Ain't nothing to be proud of." Nathan scowled. He and Josiah helped Chris into the living room and onto the couch, so he could be near his friends. Ezra and Buck had returned; both were relieved to hear that their friend was on his way to a recovery.
Louie, Tamra, and Angel sat together on the floor near the fireplace. Not sure of their place in this group, by mutual yet indeterminate assessment, they decided to remain silent. That resolve didn't last long as Josiah, who felt the unease fairly flowing off the children, decided to intervene.
"Tamra?" The small blonde glanced up at the huge preacher. "How are you doing, my child?"
"Fine," she answered softly. Josiah could sense her confusion.
"Is there anything you want to know?" She shook her head. "How about the rest of you?"
Angel looked over at Louie, who nodded back at her. The older girl cleared her throat nervously, glancing at the group of men and Nettie before asking, "What's going to happen to us?"
JD smiled, "It's okay, we're going to send you to Haven."
"What's Haven?" Louie asked.
The preacher smiled. "Just what the name implies a safe place."
"Sort of a refuge for people like us," Nathan added. "Somewhere Baines and the Guild can't find you."
"How did they find us?"
"Probably in a sweep," Tanner answered.
Angel perked up. "What's that?"
"It's where a Guild Scanner goes around, trying to pick up signs of sentients or susceptives."
"What's a scanner?"
"It's someone who can sense sentience," Ezra said. JD chuckled at his friend's tongue twister. The gambler glowered at him and said, "Not a very constructive ability except for its usefulness to the Guild so they can hunt down sentients more successfully. Luckily it's a rare talent and easily hidden, so Baines has a hard time finding anyone to hunt for him." He looked up to see Vin watching him. Ezra raised his eyebrows in question, but the telepath merely shrugged and looked away.
Tamra broke her silence. "But why does that man want us?"
"Baines is a power hungry son of a bitch," Larabee snarled. He yelped when Nettie slapped his wrist.
"I'll not have that kind of language in my house, young man." Six of The Magnificent Seven chuckled at the mortification of their normally unflappable boss. Their smiles were smothered when he turned the glare on them all.
"Sorry, Miss Nettie."
Josiah chose that time to deflect some unwanted attention away from his leader. He resumed the discussion of Paul Baines. "If he thinks you have a power or special ability, he'll try to use it for his own gain. And if he can't have it, he'll keep anyone else from having it."
"But we can't do anything!" Louie protested.
"Yet. You all are still unrealized; you're strictly susceptives." Buck referred to the fact that they haven't come online with their abilities thus far. "But when you get older and your power comes to you, who knows what you'll be able to do."
Angel took all this information in. "So where is this Haven you were talking about?"
"Can't tell y'all its actual location," Vin told the teens. "Very few know it; too dangerous."
"Its full name is Potter's Haven, but no one calls it that anymore," Josiah said. "Gloria Potter started it years ago after her husband was killed in one of the Guild's experiments. Mr. Potter was a wealthy businessman and after his death, Gloria wanted to do all she could to make sure no one has to go through the kind of pain she had to."
"She bought some land outside the country's borders under assumed names. The government has no authority over it, and she's hired protectors, so our friend Baines has no hope of finding it."
"And we'll be safe?" Tamra asked timidly.
Josiah ruffled her hair. "As safe as we can make you."
Once again the three teens traded long looks. No words were spoken, but at the same instant they turned back to the group nodding. "We'll go."
Angel frowned. "What about our folks? They'll be worried about us."
"You can phone your parents to say goodbye, but they can't go with you. And you can't tell them where you're going. It wouldn't be safe for those at Haven or for your parents."
Each child nodded sadly, appreciating the truth of the situation.
Nettie wanted to ease the look of devastation on the youths' faces so she announced that diner was ready. Chris begged off, claiming exhaustion, so Nate and Vin led him into one of the guest rooms.
Once the healer had placed Chris in the bed and fussed over him a bit, he withdrew, leaving the two friends to talk. The blond watched as Vin settled down into a chair next to the bed. "You were in my head, weren't you?" he asked.
"Yeah, sorry. It was reflex, just seemed faster."
"Can you do that anytime?"
"Holy shit," Chris breathed as the affirmative echoed in his head. "How?"
"If I work at, I can do it with most people. With you, it's as easy as breathing." Vin looked almost apologetic. "I don't know why."
"I ever tell you about Sarah?" Vin shook his head no. "Well," Chris began, "she was better than sunlight. As beautiful on the inside as she was on the outside. I wish I had a picture to show you."
"I've seen her."
"I wasn't gonna tell ya, but somehow I got in yer dream last night. I saw what happened." Tanner lowered his head and refused to look at his friend.
"Vin?" No response. "Vin, look at me." Still the young man refused to look. At Chris' soft, "Please," the telepath finally raised his head, blue eyes wary of the condemnation he might find. "I'm not angry." Chris almost chuckled at the look of relief on the young man's face. "I'm a little overwhelmed, but not angry." He lay his head back on the pillow and burrowed deeper into the covers. "Sarah and I were a pair from the start. Buck couldn't believe how fast she 'tamed' me. We got married, and within a year Adam was born. My God, I was never so happy in my whole life. Even Buck stayed around, content to share in my family..." Chris drifted off.
"What happened?" Vin asked softly.
"The Guild," Chris spat, snapping back to the present. "The PCCA had just passed and Sarah's pa tried to turn me in. He never liked me, but there was one thing he never counted on Sarah was a telepath."
Vin gasped in surprise; he'd had no idea.
"Nowhere near as powerful as you," Chris told Vin, "but we could communicate pretty well. The Guild found out somehow and probably figured that the son of a telepath and a telekinetic would be powerful in his own right. When Buck and I left town for a couple days, they tried to steal Adam away. Sarah, of course, tried to stop them. I came home just in time to see them die," Chris said bitterly.
Vin tried to stop his friend's story, but Chris refused. He had to get his anguish out; it'd been held it inside for too long.
"I'm not proud of my reaction -- the men never had a chance -- but I don't regret it. I said goodbye to my family and then I told Buck to burn the house down with their bodies inside; I didn't want to take the chance on the Guild using their bodies for research."
Not normally a tactile person, Vin couldn't prevent himself from reaching out and covering his friend's hand with his own. //I'm so sorry.//
Chris was starting to blink from fatigue and his voice slowed. "Now you see why we have to stop the Guild. Why I have to stop the Guild."
"You were right the first time, Cowboy. We will stop them."
Larabee growled, "Just 'cause I have a hole in my arm doesn't mean I can't kick your ass, 'Cowboy'."
//In yer condition you couldn't beat a rug,// the telepath sent back at him.
"Fuck you, Tanner," Chris mumbled, drifting off to sleep.
Vin just smirked and settled in to stay with his friend. He was certain Larabee would sleep soundly, but didn't feel comfortable leaving him alone just yet. Buck knocked softly on the door before walking in.
"How's he doing?" the ladies' man asked softly.
"He'll be okay."
Wilmington looked at the younger man watching his oldest friend sleep. Buck realized Chris would indeed be all right with the help and friendship of the scruffy, blue-eyed telepath before him. He grinned and slapped Vin on the back, startling him.
"Watch it, Buckley."
Buck just grinned wider. "You go on and get something to munch on, Junior. Everyone else is done eating. I'll watch over ol' Chris, make sure he don't get in no trouble."
At Wilmington's insistence, Vin left the bedroom and made his way to the living room, smiling when he saw Josiah helping the kids call their parents from Ezra's cell phone. "Hey, Vin. Chris'll be fine, right?" Although he trusted the healer, JD knew that Tanner had a special bond with his hero.
"He'll be up and bitchin' by tomorrow, kid." JD smiled his relief. "Where's Ezra?" Vin asked, looking around the place.
"He and Nathan went to trade in the van for another vehicle so when Chris is better, we can leave."
"Mr. Tanner?" Vin glanced up at his name and saw the small, older woman standing in the doorway.
"Vin, please, ma'am."
"Vin, then. Come on, you need to eat something." She smiled as the lean man slowly entered her kitchen, looking around warily, taking in everything. Too long on the run, Nettie thought. Over the past few years she'd seen more than her share of people running scared. She motioned him to sit down at the table as she prepared a portion for him.
He followed her suggestion and watched her scoop up some stew in a bowl for him, adding biscuits and a glass of milk to the tray. Tanner'd heard the others talk about Nettie Wells, but, until today, had never met the woman. She was a key member in the Underground Railroad system that Haven set up to help sentients, and Vin felt instantly, amazingly comfortable with her.
"Would you like some honey for your biscuits?"
"Do you need some salt and pepper?"
"No, thank you."
"Manners, I like that. I ain't used to gentlemanly behavior."
"Ah, hell. I ain't no gentleman, ma'am."
"What did I say about language, Vin?"
"Never mind that. You eat up." She set the tray before him and sat down on the other side of the table. As Vin started on the stew, Nettie reached across and snatched a biscuit off the plate. She nibbled on it while he ate.
After a little while, she commented, "The group sure has taken a shine to you, young man." She watched his expression quickly change from guarded to smiling.
"How long have you been on yer own?" Nettie hoped she wasn't pushing too hard, but felt at ease and thought he needed someone to confide in. Vin finished his meal, taking the dishes to the sink and rinsing them off. The woman recognized the stall tactic for what it was. Once his self-imposed chores were done he came back and sat across from her once again.
"I been on my own fer a long time." Vin saw the openness of Nettie's expression and her willingness to listen. The story spilled out before he knew he started. "My mom died when I was just a little feller. I lived with my uncle 'til I got to be a teenager."
"When my powers started to show, he wasn't so kind. He called me a freak and kicked me outta his house. Told me I should consider m'self lucky he wasn't reportin' me to the hotline." Vin referred to the national toll-free hotline set up by the Guild so that people could turn in suspected psions for a possible reward. "I lived on the street, met up with Baines, and got away from 'im. Been on my own ever since. Well," he chuckled, "'til I met up with this bunch."
Nettie knew there was a lot left unsaid in this man's story, but he'd surprised her by saying as much as he had. "You're a brave man, Vin Tanner."
"I think yer mighty brave, Miss Nettie. Not everyone's willin' to take the risk and help sentients."
"Ain't courage it's fear. There's an old saying, 'The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.' And I don't plan on standing by when good people are hunted down and treated like animals."
The two new friends smiled at each other, enjoying the shared affection. Vin was content, knowing his circle of friends had just grown.
continues in Transference
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