Takes place after the main series.
Josiah scuffed his back against the tree, licked a finger, and turned the next page in his book. The empath felt Vin nearby, pretending to fish from the cabin's dock. He hadn't placed any bait on his hook before dropping it; Vin just seemed to enjoy going through the motions.
As Josiah was finishing the chapter, he heard a vehicle pull up and the engine cut off. He took a break, looked up, and saw Chris getting out of his truck. He waved a greeting as he stood; Chris waved back.
Vin didn't lift his head from the chair back or look out from beneath his hat. The telepath merely gave an elated shout of, "Welcome back, Cowboy!"
Pausing for a moment, Chris shook his head before continuing inside.
Josiah watched him go before walking down to the dock. His boots plunked a hollow rhythm on the wooden dock. He stood over Vin and held a hand over his eyes to shade them from the sun glinting off the lake. "Why do you do that?" Josiah asked.
"What?" Vin pushed his hat back with one finger, maintaining an expression of false innocence.
"Call Chris 'cowboy.'"
Vin shrugged. "Jest havin' some fun." He picked up his fishing pole and started to reel the line in.
"I think Chris would disagree."
"He's got no sense of humor."
"Really," Josiah drew the word out.
"Thing is, he has a mental wince every time I use it."
"And yet you keep using it."
Vin shrugged, ducking his head to hide a smile."I never could keep my tongue from wiggling that loose tooth."
Josiah chuckled. "You are cruel."
"I like to think of m'self as well-rounded… keeps him on his toes."
"Do you know why he's affected by the nickname?"
"Nope. It's just fun messing with him a mite."
"Hmmm." Josiah pondered a moment before walking up to the house.
+ + + + + + +
Vin forked his steak off the grill, poured sauce on it, and sat down to eat. Chewing a bite, he picked up his beer. It was almost to his mouth, when the liquid fountained up explosively, drenching him.
Droplets of beer scattered as Vin shook himself.
"Mr. Tanner, perhaps you've imbibed enough," Ezra said, avoiding the spray.
Buck cackled, head thrown back. "You're s'posed to take a shower in the bathroom, not outside."
"Did you shake it before you opened it?" Chris asked with a butter won't melt in my mouth expression.
Vin's eyes narrowed. "It's been open for five minutes."
"Delayed reaction?" Chris offered with a smirk. "Must be the mountain air."
"Mountain air, my ass," Vin mumbled. "More like a telekinetic jackass."
+ + + + + + +
Chris eyed the packed grocery store with distaste. None of the men of the Magnificent Seven were comfortable in large crowds. It took too much concentration to keep their shields up for long. So they took turns running errands as well as doing the chores around the cabin. Chris had drawn the short straw this time.
Ten minutes later, Chris was standing in the pasta aisle, holding a jar of sauce in each hand trying to decide which kind to buy. Regular? Low sodium? Did it even matter?
He nearly dropped them when the Village People began singing from the pocket of his jeans. Quite a few customers caught his eye and smiled knowingly. Chris shoved both jars in his basket and dug into his pocket. It took him a moment to wrangle the cell phone open, ending the rendition of "YMCA."
JD's voice came over the line. "Vin wanted me to ask you to pick up some red licorice as long as you're out."
"Tell Vin he can get his own damn candy!" Chris snapped.
Chris sighed. "Never mind. I'll be back in half an hour." He ended the call, regretting his tone. It wasn't JD's fault Vin had changed his ringtone.
Unfortunately, Chris had no idea how to change it back.
+ + + + + + +
Inhaling deeply, Vin got a lungful of pine-scented air. He walked down the back stairs and headed to the chopping stump. It was his turn to split the wood for the nightly fire. The cabin relied on a wood-burning stove for ambient heat during the chilly nights.
Vin snatched up the leather gloves next to the axe and slipped the first one on. As he went to put on the second, he paused. Wiggling his gloved fingers, he felt something mushy. He took off the glove and found someone had squeezed grease into the fingers of the gloves, and the black, viscous substance now coated his hand.
He tried wiping it on his jeans, but the damn stuff stuck fast.
+ + + + + + +
Chris walked to his truck and leaned over, rummaging through the back. He was sure he'd thrown the cigarettes in there after his shopping trip. But after a few minutes of searching, he had to admit they weren't there. Maybe they got stuck in with the groceries.
Sighing, he slapped the truck and headed back into the cabin. Within a few steps, he tripped over an invisible rock, his momentum sending him straight into the puddle he'd been maneuvering to avoid.
Flinging mud from his face, Chris looked up to see Vin trying to hide the grimace of pain that came with using his psychokinesis.
"Gotta watch yer step, pard," Vin said.
+ + + + + + +
Vin jerked his head up, awakening with a snort. His hand tightened on his fishing pole, keeping it from slipping away. He pushed his hat back, looking around to see what had woken him. Josiah, Ezra, Chris, and Nathan were sitting on the porch, playing cards. JD and Buck were on the other side of the yard tossing a football.
Nothing seemed out of place.
Shaking off his anxiety, Vin stood to reel in his line. He got halfway up before he realized his legs were bound together.
He dropped the reel, arms pin-wheeling to maintain his balance. Failing, he shouted a yelp as he took a header into the water.
Vin broke the surface and heard laughter.
Lots of laughter.
Spitting water, Vin used his arms to pull himself up. Sitting on the edge of the dock, he reached back and pulled his knife from its sheath. He leaned over and sliced through the fishing line wound around his ankles, most certainly, by the psychotic tendencies of the nearest telekinetic. Vin attempted to tune out the continuing chortles from the porch and yard.
No matter, he already had some payback in mind.
+ + + + + + +
Chris turned full circle, mouth hanging open. He faced it again, rubbed his eyes, and hoped that he was seeing things.
But there was no change.
His truck was pink. Not just any shade of pink. It was neon, bright-as-fuck pink.
Where the hell did Vin even find this color of paint? And how did he get it done so fast?
That fucking Texan was going down.
+ + + + + + +
Spitting into the sink, Vin rinsed the last of the toothpaste from his mouth. He dropped the toothbrush into the cup, then turned to exit.
And damn near pulled his arm out of his socket when the door refused to open. Vin checked the lock: it wasn't engaged. So he tried pulling again. The doorknob turned, but the door wouldn't budge. He yanked on it a couple of times before he realized what was going on.
Oh, hell no.
Vin stepped into the tub and tried to open the room's only window. Same thing.
The damn telekinetic had locked him in. With Chris' power, something minor like doors and windows could be kept closed forever. But Vin refused to give the man the satisfaction of banging on the door like an idiot. He was stuck until Chris let him out.
Vin sat down on the toilet lid. //Nice one, Chris,// he sent out psychically.
There was a short pause before he received a response. //I have no idea what you're talking about.//
"Yeah right." //When do I get let out?//
//When you learn to respect your elders.//
//I respect the hell outta Josiah.// Vin felt Chris' snort through their connection.
Chris thought back, //Maybe when you learn to respect your betters, then.//
//Reckon I might as well get some sleep. That'll be a while.// Vin stood, shivering in the cool air. He was clothed only in his boxers and a t-shirt, serving as his pajamas. Looking over the small room, he grabbed two towels off the nearest rack. He climbed in the tub and laid down, tucking a towel under his head. He used the other towel to cover himself and tried to hold back another shiver.
Vin settled in for an uncomfortable night.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah watched Chris glance at the bathroom door and smile before joining the rest of the men in the kitchen.
Well, it looked like their fun was about to end. Josiah and the other four men who were not actively engaged in the prank war had been having a wonderful time watching the escalating battle. Too much of their life was grim and serious, it was nice to relax and let loose once in a while. Vin and Chris seemed to need the release most of all.
Josiah was just thankful there was another bathroom in the cabin. It might've gotten unpleasant if Chris had locked the other men away from the only real toilet.
Standing at the stove, Nathan removed the bacon sizzling in the pan. Buck finished setting the table. Ezra brought the platter of eggs over, JD the toast, and they all dug in.
A few minutes into the meal, a loud whine beckoned. "I'm hungry…"
Chris pushed his chair back and stalked to the door. "You ready to behave?"
His question was met with silence.
"Last chance, Vin."
"All right, all right. You win…" Vin said.
Chris nodded, satisfied. The door clicked open.
Vin walked out, head down. "You win," he muttered at the floor. Then his head lifted and he gave a lopsided grin. "Cowboy."
Josiah hid a smile. It looked like the fun might not be over quite yet.
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