Disclaimer: Not mine, no money made, just for fun.
Thanks: My deepest respect to Heidi, Cin, and Gemini who saved this story from the junkyard.
Notes: AU in different present. Number four in the Haven Series.
"Goddammit Larabee! I told ya already, I ain't gonna do it."
"You have to, Vin. It could be our best defense."
"Best weapon, ya mean."
Five members of the Magnificent Seven watched as the battle continued between the other two. The two friends had been arguing for the last twenty minutes. Luckily they had this half of the island to themselves, so nothing they said or did was going to be heard or seen by anyone. Standish had gotten a deal on the lease for part of a private island off the coast. After they'd left the Wells' ranch, the trailer was put into storage. Now the men were "roughing it" -- at least by Ezra's standards -- in a five bedroom cabin.
The reason for the argument was simple. Chris had been impressed with Vin's ability to "push" people, displayed previously at the fight in front of the Harcourt Office Building. He wanted the telepath to become more proficient at it. Unfortunately, the only way to do that was by practicing. And the only people available to practice on were Vin's six friends; this was something Vin wanted no part of in any way, shape, or form.
The biggest fear of the public at large seemed to emanate from the idea that they could be hurt, or forced to do things against their will. Vin was terrified of his friends fearing him, and that his abilities might turn them against him. It would kill Tanner if he had to be alone again.
Chris tried to understand the telepath's concern, but he knew none of these men would ever abandon Vin. They trusted him with their lives as well as their minds. Everyone had already agreed to let him inside their minds, to test and improve his ability, but they knew better than to force the issue with either the man in black or the buckskin-clad man. They would wait until a decision was reached and go from there. So they remained silent, watching.
"Vin, you have to listen to me," Chris said quietly. He took in the posture of the young man before him, knowing that if the wrong word was said, it could end this discussion forever. He moved the Texan away where the others could not overhear. "Vin, you've scanned all of us. You know we trust you, right?"
"I could tell that without scanning y'all."
"We would never hurt you, and we already know you're a freak," the smile on Larabee's face showed the gentle teasing for what it was.
"Then what is the problem? Cut the crap."
"I'm scared, okay? I don't like using people; what if I hurt them?"
"Even if it can save all our lives and the lives of innocents?" Chris could see that Tanner was wavering so he added, "Please."
Vin looked over to the five men trying to inconspicuously watch the outcome of the debate. He looked at each man in turn, studying them, before sliding his blue eyes back to his best friend. I'll try it. No guarantees though, he sent.
"Is there ever?" Chris yelled over to the men, "It's on, boys!" and laughed at the cheers and catcalls coming from Buck and JD. Ezra nodded briefly, Josiah grinned widely, and even the unflappable Nathan gave a smile.
"So how do you want to do this?" asked Larabee.
Knowing that Vin was nervous, Chris figured it'd be the easiest to start with the most gregarious of the men, so he sent out Buck. The ladies' man found Vin down at the beach looking at a pile of driftwood he'd collected.
"So, Junior, are ya ready to become the Puppetmaster?"
Vin flinched. "That's not funny."
"Sorry, just trying to break the ice. Ain't been so nervous since I had to undo sweet Wendy's bra in seventh grade." Buck wiggled his mustache and smiled in fond remembrance.
"This is a bad idea." Vin took a couple steps toward the path back to the cabin.
"Now don't go storming off like a wet hen. I'm just saying that I am a tad anxious. Don't mean I don't want to do this. Anything to help in a fight --hell, I'm all for that!" He looked the younger man directly in the eye and asked, "How do we start?"
Vin sighed and ran an anxious hand through his hair. "I figure I should try to make you use yer power, so I guess I need to know a bit about it."
"Sounds fair I make fire."
"Yer a real help, Buckley." The telepath was starting to get more comfortable with the teasing remarks of the older man.
"Let's see, I don't actually throw the fireballs. Does that help?"
"But I've seen ya do it."
"Well, if I really touched the dang things I'd get burned like the rest of you guys. I kinda tell the fire where to go and it goes."
"I don't get it."
"Shit! Josiah could explain it so much better. It's like I can collect the energy required to produce a flame or a fireball." He paused until he saw the telepath nod. "Once I have it, I need it to go somewhere. My body isn't actually in charge of it or containing it, my mind is. But in order to help me picture what I want it to do, I use my body."
"Kinda like a baseball pitcher imagining a strike as he throws it across the plate?" asked Tanner.
"Exactly!" Buck grabbed the lean man in a loose hug, glad to have gotten his message across. "I just 'toss' them physically and they are thrown psychically."
Vin wormed his way from the bigger man's grasp, not quite comfortable with the unexpected display of affection. He tried to avoid contact with other people. It was easier to block out any unwanted thoughts and information if he kept his distance.
The pyrokinetic let him go smoothly, rocked back on his heels, and gave a big grin. "Ready to play with my head?"
The telepath took a deep breath and nodded. "I'm gonna try to make ya do some stuff, and I want ya to fight me as hard as ya can. I'll try not to go too deep. Don't want to root around in that porn site ya call a mind."
"All right," the ladies' man agreed. "Don't you be stealing my best lines neither, you hear?"
"Ya got any?" Vin quickly dropped his smile as he attempted to enter into the other man's mind. He closed his eyes and pushed against Buck's shields, not surprised when he came across a block. He pushed gently, and then a little harder. Tanner had picked the beach on purpose, hoping that in case of accidents, water would be close enough to contain any catastrophes. After a few tries, the telepath made his way through Buck's shields. Vin pictured the pyrokinetic setting the pile of wood on fire; he imagined the energy building and tried to focus it enough to control, but somehow he couldn't do it. Pushing a little harder, while taking care not to hurt his friend, Vin got an idea. He smiled and opened his eyes to stare at his friend.
Wilmington watched the longhaired telepath close his eyes and concentrate. He felt the gentle push against his shields, and prepared himself to try to keep the telepath from invading his mind. It was important for Vin to be able to harness and use his power; Buck knew this, which was why he was happy to let his friend try on him. He could sense when Tanner broke through and Buck felt his power trying to coalesce, but he was suddenly freed. He almost beamed in triumph, but stopped when he saw the Texan open his eyes and smile. It was the smile of a cat that had just cornered a mouse.
Vin turned to look at the pile of wood, and when Buck turned to see what caught his friend's attention, the telepath projected an image into the pyrokinetic's mind. Tanner didn't want to have to resort to this type of trick, but the team needed to see what he was capable of. When Buck looked at the woodpile, he saw the Larabee homestead intact on that horrible day. Gasping in surprise he returned his gaze to Vin, only to find Chris standing in his place. Chris nodded at the house and ordered, "Burn it." The ladies' man flashed back to that day years ago when he'd seen his friend's family killed. The anger and sadness radiated through him and he gathered his power, throwing a fireball at the home, just as he did so long ago.
And then Vin left Buck's mind.
Buck came back to himself. "Mother pussbucket!" He looked at the fire roaring on the sand and grinned in appreciation. "That was one helluva trick, Junior."
Vin merely nodded. He was anxious whether the tall man would be upset by the method he used.
Seeing the young man's look of distress, Buck assured him, "It's all right, you did what you had to." The mustached man slapped his young companion on the back. "Now that we have a campfire, should we invite the others?"
The five men were glad to come down to the beach and enjoy the bonfire. When Buck told them it was a result of Vin's connection, they congratulated the telepath. Chris wasn't surprised to see the young man shy away from the attention, instead choosing to sit on the outside of the circle.
"Hey, Buck, can you cook this hot dog for me?" JD asked, holding the wiener in question.
"Hell, JD, I ain't a short-order cook."
"Maybe it's because you aren't aiming high enough."
Conjuring a golf-ball sized fireball, Buck threatened the youngest in the group. "I have pretty good aim, squirt, so I'd be careful if I were you."
JD held his hands up in surrender and Buck let the fire disperse.
"So why do you think there are so many more of us now than in the past?" JD mused.
"Sentients?" asked Nathan.
"Jest lucky, I guess," tossed out the telepath.
"Sentience is a dominant gene," the empath said.
Nathan motioned at the older man. "Josiah here taught paranormal studies before the fear closed everything down."
Vin turned to look at Josiah. He could imagine the older man learning all he could about psions, and being willing to teach it as well, no matter the cost to himself. Tanner would love to be like that: unable and unwilling to hurt anyone. Just this afternoon alone showed him that dream was impossible; he hoped he would never be asked to push his will upon others, but he would do what he knew he must.
Noticing that Vin was inwardly focused, Sanchez moved over and sat next to the telepath, breaking into the man's introspection. "What troubles you, Brother Vin?"
"I didn't like it."
Josiah knew what the young man referred to. "Good."
Blue eyes showed surprise. "Good?"
"When you start to like controlling others I'm afraid we'll have to shoot you." The slight grin and slow wink belied the comment.
Vin ran his hand through his hair in frustration. "Then what the hell am I doing this for?"
"So it will become second nature to you instinct. So that you can do it without question and not be distracted." The empath felt the guilt rolling off Tanner at this. Josiah knew the telepath felt that he "allowed" his best friend to be shot when he lost his control over the guards at the office building. "It wasn't your fault, Vin."
"Then whose was it?"
"It was Baines' for kidnapping three innocent teens from their families and for bringing us into that situation." Josiah could feel no easing of the guilt and knew his words would not soothe this young man's conscience. "My turn."
"What?" The non-sequitor stumped Vin.
"Try to get inside my head, use my gift."
Vin reminded him, "You're supposed to fight me."
"I know what I must do. You do what you must." The empath nodded his readiness and closed his eyes.
Vin glanced around and saw that no one was paying attention to either of them. He focused on the mind of the empath. Working his way around the blocks with little difficulty, he pushed himself into Josiah's consciousness. Wrapping himself in the empathy, the longhaired telepath scanned the group assembled and could sense no feelings of resentment or accusation, just friendship, deep and pure. He practically leapt back from the older man's mind.
Josiah smiled kindly. "You see? No one blames you, son."
Vin blushed and looked away. He spotted Standish standing away from the group watching the waves. "I, uh, I'm gonna go talk to Ez." He ducked away, hearing the empath chuckle behind him. Walking across the cool sand, he went to stand next to the Southerner.
"Is there something of significance I can help you with, Mr. Tanner?"
"Wondered what was so int'restin' out here."
"You of all people should be aware nature at its finest." The Southerner spread his arms wide, as if encompassing the water, trees, and beach.
"When did you become such a nature lover, Ez?"
"At birth, I assure you. Have you come to read my mind?"
"No." Tanner turned to walk away.
"Mr. Tanner Vin," Standish called to his friend's back. The longhaired telepath stopped but did not turn around. "I apologize. That was completely uncalled for. You are doing exactly as we asked as we need you to do."
Vin finally turn back to face his friend. "It's okay, Ez. I know it's what I have to do." He walked back to Standish's side. "You want ta try?"
"I am ready for anything. Go ahead whenever you want."
Gently at first, the telepath pushed against Ezra's shields. They held, so he pushed harder, trying to chip away at the barrier, but having no success. Trying another route, he backed away, before returning to batter at the clairvoyant's shield. Two further unsuccessful tries later, Vin gave up.
"Sorry, Ez, it's a no go."
"Actually if you were a bit more persistent, perhaps you could get through. I could feel you trying to break in, and you certainly gave me a run for my money."
"Nah, I'm good. Thanks." And yet the telepath did not step away.
"Was there something else, Vin?"
"There is something I have been meaning to ask ya."
"And that is?"
"Does anyone else know yer a scanner?" He referred to those sentients who were aware when others carried the psionic ability.
For once, the gambler seemed at a loss for words. "I... I don't know what you mean," he finally stuttered.
"It's okay, Ez, I won't tell no one if'n ya don't want me to." He smiled at the flustered clairvoyant. "I am curious why you haven't offered your services to the Guild. I'm sure they'd pay ya a butt- load of cash."
Ezra snorted. "I'm quite certain that no amount of remuneration would be worth what they do to people like us."
"Yer right," the telepath agreed. "I jest wanted to hear you say it."
"You believe the worst of me?" Ezra's normally enigmatic face easily showed his hurt.
"Nope, the best." Vin grinned, his blue eyes sparkling. "I want you to believe it, too, that's all."
Standish stared at his friend, trying to read what he was hiding. After a few moments, he came to realize that what the telepath said was exactly what he meant. Giving his friend a slight smile, he said, "I will endeavor to do so, Vin."
"Good." He slapped the gambler on the back, throwing him slightly off balance. Maybe he was getting the hang of this male-bonding stuff. "Don't stay away too long. JD's liable to eat all them marshmallows." Ezra gave a salute as Tanner walked back to the circle to join the others.
"Want one?" JD held out a hot dog to Tanner with a questioning look when he sat down next to the black-haired psychometrist.
"No, thanks, I'm good." From across the fire he heard the teasing tone of Buck's voice. Chris answered back with a slug to the ladies' man's chest. Vin couldn't hear what was being said, but he was glad to see the old friends enjoying each other's company.
"So, did you get through to Ezra?" JD asked quietly.
"Oh." Dunne seemed disappointed. "Why not?"
"This is so cool." The young man was almost bouncing in his excitement.
"Well, yeah. I mean if you can control bad people, you can help good people."
"Good people like Casey?"
JD blushed lightly. "Who told you about her?"
Teeth showing in a shit-eating grin, Vin said, "Take a guess."
"Buck's got a big mouth." He scowled and shot a glare at Buck.
"Yes, he does, but it weren't him."
JD puzzled through it before comprehension dawned. "Miss Nettie?!"
"Don't worry, kid." Vin patted his shoulder sympathetically. "She's jest lookin' out for her niece."
"We're just friends, Vin.
Anxious to get off this discussion, JD said, "Shouldn't you test me to see if you can take control?"
Tanner smiled, seeing the distraction for what it was. But he let the kid off the hook, anyway. "Sure, if you want." He glanced around to make sure there would be no interruptions. Chris and Buck were still talking, Ezra had joined the discussion between Josiah and Nathan; it looked like the coast was clear. "Just put up your shields and fight whatever I try."
The youth nodded his understanding and Tanner began. Much like with the clairvoyant's, JD's barriers were too strong to breach. After a few attempts, the telepath retreated into himself.
"That's it?" JD asked.
"You couldn't do it?"
"Oh." Again, JD seemed disappointed.
For some reason, Vin felt the need to reassure him. "Maybe next time."
"Well," Vin announced to the group at large. "I'm going to go to bed, I'll see y'all tomorrow." He moved off toward the house, but was stopped by Larabee. The blond caught up to him on the path back before he went too far. They stopped well out of earshot of the others.
"You all right?" Chris asked.
"Yeah, jest tired is all." Vin was starting to get a headache from the energy expended to fight through his friends' shields; he needed some down time away from everyone.
Chris read the pain in the blue eyes, but took the words at face value. "Let's get you off to bed, so you can rest that pathetic body of yours."
"Look who's talking, old man."
"Hey, I'm all ready to party all night, kiddo. Let's go." Larabee raised his fists up to defend his manly prowess.
"Okay, I give," Vin smiled as he held out his hands up, backing away. "Why doncha go back to the fire with the guys."
The blond nodded, and lowered his arms, laughing. "Get some sleep." Chris reached out and clasped forearms with Tanner in a firm shake.
The telepath smiled, grateful for the supportive contact. "Thanks, Chris." He turned and followed the path, comforted by the sounds of his team enjoying themselves on the beach.
Nathan woke up early and crept outside. He saw Vin watching the sunrise, but didn't want to bother him, so he turned to go back inside.
Without looking, Vin said, "Stop sneakin' around and sit down, Doc."
The healer grinned as he sat next to his friend. "Good morning, Vin."
"Mornin'." The telepath smiled as he nodded at the colors bursting in the sky. "Beautiful, ain't it?"
"I used to watch 'em with my ma."
Seeing the contented smile on Tanner's face, Nathan said, "You must've been very happy."
"We was. After she's gone I got up early jest to watch 'em. M' uncle and cousin slept in late so I could be alone. Talk to her, y'know."
The dark man nodded his understanding. "My mama liked sunrises. Always said it was the start of a new day, with an even chance for happiness."
"Your mama sounds like good people."
"She was." Nathan glanced at his friend, who was peacefully enjoying the first light of the new day. He was anxious to get this over with, but didn't want to upset the telepath.
"Go ahead and ask me, Doc."
"Whatever it is that's got you so antsy."
"I was hoping you could try to control me."
Vin looked at the dark-skinned man with his eyebrow raised in question. "In a hurry?"
"As a matter of fact, I'd rather do it sooner than later."
"Let's do it, then."
Tanner made quick work of Nathan's shields, and forced the healer to stretch his hand out to lay against the telepath's chest. Pushing harder, Vin could feel the blood pumping faster and faster as his power was used. He could trail the energy flowing from himself through the healer and back again, feeling it with every breath. The Texan let the control slip away.
Nathan shook his head to clear it. "That was strange." He smiled at Vin. "Piece of cake, huh?"
"Not especially." Tense, and a bit curious about the sensations, he'd felt, Tanner asked, "When did ya find out that you could heal?"
"I was always bringin' home a buncha injured strays. Settin' up in my little homemade hospital and fixin' what I could. Dang near drove my mama crazy."
Tanner laughed at the image his friend conjured.
"Never knew I had any psi power," Nathan continued, "until I got in a car accident. I was okay, knocked around a bit, but my pa was unconscious and bleeding from 'is head. We was a ways out of town, with no one around so I tried to bandage his wound as best I could." The healer put his hands out in front of him, as if reliving the memory. "When I put my hands on his wound to apply direct pressure, I felt something. I didn't know what it was o' course, but I could see his wound and did my best to fix it. Guess I just moved on from there." The healer stared at his hands as if he still couldn't believe his power.
"And we thank you for that."
Nathan smiled as a wave of understanding passed between the two men. He knew his ability was special, but not since he'd helped his father had he been truly thankful for it.
"Hey, Nathan said you wanted to talk to me?"
"Nope." Vin smiled as he watched the black-clothed man walking toward him.
"What're you grinning at?"
Instantly Chris was given a mental picture of Mary Travis hugging him.
"On my honor," Vin stated, holding his hand up, "Buckley didn't say one word."
Larabee narrowed his eyes at his friend. "You read him!" he accused.
"It was right in front. Must've been on his mind from this morning." Vin had been reading the newspaper and noticed that one reporter, namely Mary Travis, appeared to be supporting the sentients, writing articles detailing the good they've done. The telepath had wondered aloud about this. At Buck's snort, Vin looked up to see Larabee's glare directed toward his oldest friend. Seeing Vin's questioning glance, Buck stated he'd swallowed something down the wrong pipe. Vin didn't even have to scan them to know that was a lie.
Chris looked at the telepath, his gaze inscrutable. "So you know."
"Nope. All I got was that image. Have to admit, made me damned curious."
Reluctantly, Chris related the story. "It was about a year or so ago. I was walking through a town in New Mexico when a kid ran out in the street and almost got squashed by a semi. I tackled the boy and used my power to push the trailer away. The kid was Mrs. Travis' son."
"Husband died a few years ago."
"Interesting," Vin smirked. "I bet she was appreciative."
"Actually, when she hugged me I passed out at her feet."
"Real romantic, Cowboy."
Chris ignored the jibe. "She gives us an inside track. Helps out in her paper when she can."
The silence lasted for a few minutes until Larabee could no longer control his curiosity. "So, how'd you do?"
"I could control three of you. Buck is so open naturally; he doesn't have strong enough shields. Josiah is most likely open because of his talent; Nate for his as well."
"Ez and JD it'd be too hard to bust through their shields without damaging them or me."
"I can get inside but wouldn't be able to control you."
"What do you mean?" Larabee hadn't tried to block his friend, and didn't remember him trying to get in.
"I can tell; we're linked somehow. Even from far away, I can still feel you. I can't read your thoughts or nothin', but I know you're there."
Chris absorbed this new information. "I think we need a break. Let's get the boys and get the hell out of here."
The team was eager to go into town on the mainland for dinner. The isolated location of their island cabin required access by personal watercraft or relying on the island's ferry service. Not wanting to be trapped in any location, the men had rented a boat to carry themselves back and forth to the mainland. Piling in the rented craft, the group filled the small craft, although it was still sturdy enough to get them to the docks, where they'd left their current vehicles.
After dinner, the group of seven walked through the park across from their restaurant, enjoying the feeling of freedom. The men watched some teens throwing a Frisbee, one late picnic, and a few dog-walkers. The older team members sat down on some benches and JD and Vin plopped on the ground in front. Soaking up the relaxed ambience of the park's patrons gave the sentients time to unwind. They'd been sitting for less than twenty minutes when Chris' attention was drawn to a point across from him.
"No, it can't be," murmured Larabee. He stood up and walked toward what had attracted his attention.
Vin heard the barely stated words and glanced around, trying to see what so upset his best friend. Sharp blue eyes searched the area and the telepath even sent out a light scan, but neither saw nor sensed anything out of the ordinary. He shrugged his shoulders at the questioning glances sent by the other men, rose to his feet, and trailed after his friend, ready to lend support if needed.
Buck and Nathan followed at a distance, motioning the remaining three sentients to stay seated.
Chris increased his pace toward his goal until he was running, pushing people aside in his mad dash. He stopped suddenly and stared.
Vin, Buck, and Nathan hurried to catch their friend and almost slammed into him at his abrupt stop. "What is it, pard?" asked Buck quietly. None of them wanted to cause a disturbance here; it was too public and the threat of capture too immediate.
"It's him," Larabee growled.
"Who?" The ladies' man and his two companions looked where their leader pointed, but all they saw was a middle-aged man playing catch with his son.
"It's him," Chris said again, his tone adamant.
"Who is he, Chris?" Nathan tried asking in his most soothing voice.
"He killed Sarah and Adam." The blond spoke in broken whisper, just loud enough for Vin to hear.
When Tanner looked back at the father, Vin could see his startling resemblance to one of the Guildsmen he'd seen in Larabee's dream one of the men who'd killed the leader's family. "Oh, shit," Vin breathed. "We gotta get 'im outta here now!"
Trusting the young Texan enough to ask no questions, Nathan and Buck each grabbed one of Chris' arms and tried to lead him away. However, the telekinetic wanted no part of that -- he had a mission. As soon as his friends' hands touched him, he struck out with his telekinesis, tossing the two men away like rag dolls.
JD, Ezra, and Josiah witnessed their teammates being thrown and gasped in shock. "What is Chris doing?" JD asked.
"I have no idea, Brother, but I suggest we get over there right away."
"There are far too many people present to gamble on a fine, upstanding citizen not calling the Guild," added Ezra. "The odds are simply atrocious." All three hurried to join their friends.
Vin broke out of the shock at seeing Chris hurl the others away. He glanced over and saw them raising themselves up, more surprised than hurt. He ran in front of the telekinetic, trying to block his view of the man he thought responsible for his family's demise.
"Get out of my way," Chris slowly snarled.
"Chris, ya gotta listen to me. It's not him." Vin was taken aback by the pain and accusation shining through the green eyes of his best friend.
"You weren't there."
"Cowboy, the men are dead, you already got justice for your family."
"There was no justice," Larabee denied. "There won't be justice until they feel my pain." Chris smiled without mirth. "He will feel my pain."
Buck and Nathan got up and joined the other team members who'd gathered around the pair, trying to hide the tense scene. However, their wish to avoid drawing a crowd was not to be. The people close to the team, enjoying their day in the park, were fascinated with the ongoing drama; they stopped whatever they were doing to watch.
"What's goin' on, Junior?" Buck asked in a stage whisper.
Not willing to risk breaking eye contact, Vin called over his shoulder without turning, "Thinks the guy playing catch killed his kin."
Buck shot a glance at the man and squinted his eyes. He did bear a resemblance, but Buck knew the real one was dead; he saw him die with his own eyes. "Pard, he's dead, you killed them all," he tried to reason with his friend.
Chris was beyond reason. "Apparently not yet," he snapped before making a fist in front of his body. He slowly clenched his fist tighter. At that instant the father, who was watching the proceedings with wariness, clutched at his chest and fell down. Larabee slowly increased the pressure on the man's heart, wanting this man to die slowly, feeling all the pain and anguish he had suffered.
Cries of shock sprang from the crowd, with two people rushing forward to assist the collapsed man. The son knelt by his father's side, shaking his arm, and pleading with him to be okay.
Josiah, the strongest of the seven by far, attempted to wrap Chris in a bear hug and drag him away. Unfortunately he couldn't get close to his friend; the telekinetic had thrown up some sort of force shield around himself. No one could get within a foot of him.
JD commented with awe, "I didn't know he could do that."
"I don't think he knew he could do that," Josiah reasoned. "I think it may be purely instinctual."
Nathan said, "We have to stop him." He glanced anxiously at the growing crowd. It wasn't a busy day at the park, but there were still a number of people present.
Vin saw no other way. "I'm gonna try to get through to 'im," he announced, closing his eyes. Nathan understood what the telepath was telling them and went to Tanner's side to lend support. Buck, Josiah, and the others stayed around Chris, hoping to somehow reach their leader, but knowing that Vin was their only chance.
Fighting hard against the telekinetic's blocks, the telepath pushed with his mental energy, pounding at the block until it gave with the slightest crack. He wedged into that crack and felt the anger and rage pouring from his friend. Tanner felt as if he were drowning in his friend's memories and emotions, but he refused to give up. Chris, you have to stop!
His plea was ignored.
Nathan watched as the telepath winced in pain and started to sweat. "Vin Vin, you've got to let him go. You're killing yourself."
The telepath dimly heard the healer's pleas, but couldn't listen to them. It was taking all his strength to stay sane against the rising pain. He realized he needed to do something drastic; his energy was nearly spent and an innocent man was going to die. Chris was killing him slowly, for sure, but he was killing him, and Vin had little time. "Josiah," he called out shakily.
The empath heard the raspy whisper and moved from his place around Chris to his other friend's side. Josiah was unprepared for the quick hand that shot out and grabbed him, but didn't fight the intrusion into his mind, knowing that it must be necessary.
Not having to fight through any blocks allowed the telepath to quickly latch onto Josiah's power and focus it on the dying man's son. Stark terror and sadness shot into the empath then the telepath. His head felt like it was going to explode, but he wouldn't desert his friend. He was fighting against his friend's overwhelming anger and rage, getting weaker by the minute; pain was all he could feel. Vin sent the boy's feelings along through his link with Chris as his last chance to break through to him.
Buck saw the effort the telepath was making just to stay upright. "Stop it, Chris. You're killing Vin!"
All the men watched the battle raging, hoping that it wouldn't end in tragedy. Apparently realizing something dangerous was going on, many of the park's patrons started to run away from the congregation. The team could do nothing except watch them leave.
A child's fear shot into the telekinetic. Chris looked -- really looked -- at the man whose life he was seeking to steal. He saw him clearly for who he was, and wasn't. He focused on the boy, crying over his father's prone form, begging him to get up. He realized with horror what he was doing and recoiled, bringing all his power back into himself. Through the link, Vin received more than his weakened mind could handle.
Larabee turned in time to watch his best friend collapse before his eyes. Vin held his head between his hands as if trying to block out whatever input he was receiving, then crumpled in a limp heap to the ground. "Oh my God!" The blond ran to his fallen friend's side, gathering the still form in his arms. "Nathan!" He looked to the healer next to him, begging with his eyes.
The healer simply looked at the collapsed telepath. "We'll need to get him to a safe place; can't risk a hospital."
Ezra received a flash, breaking into the scene he was witnessing. Police. Handcuffs. Guildsmen. Captivity. "We have to leave," he commanded.
"I don't know if we should move him," Nathan admitted.
"And I'm saying if we don't leave now, we won't be able to." The desperation etched on the clairvoyant's face said this was more than a guess. Chris Larabee snapped to action.
"Josiah, can you handle him?"
The big man replied by stooping down and gently throwing Vin over his shoulder in a fireman's carry. "Let's get out of here."
The six took off running through the park toward where they had parked the vehicles. Buck and Nathan ran ahead, clearing the way for Josiah and his precious burden. Chris stayed close to his friend, fearful of whether his inability to control himself might have killed his best friend.
The team quickly reached the two vehicles. Chris got in the backseat of the Suburban and Josiah deposited his cargo carefully next to his leader before getting behind the wheel. Nathan sat next to Sanchez in front, but watched the pair over the back of the seat. Chris stroked Vin's hair, as his head lay on the older man's lap. Jumping in the other car, Buck drove with Ezra next to him, and JD in back. Making remarkable time, the convoy got to the docks, and the men hurried to their boat. Josiah and Buck stayed behind to take the vehicles someplace else; just in case someone in the park saw them, they wouldn't want them to be traced to the docks. The two would follow along in another boat or take the ferry.
Ezra drove the speedboat as fast as he could safely push it, not wanting to think about what might be happening -- that they might be losing one of their own. Although Vin had just recently joined them, the telepath's humor, compassion, and willingness to do what was right, no matter the cost, gained him an immediate and permanent place in their team. And Standish knew that if something happened to Tanner, the hole left in the team -- as well as their hearts -- would never be filled.
"Is he going to be okay?" JD's question brought the clairvoyant out of his reverie. The young man was shouting to be heard over the boat's racing engine.
"I don't know," Nathan remarked slowly, removing his hands from the unconscious man's arm. "He's gone into a coma."
Chris tightened his grip on Tanner at Nathan's pronouncement. "What can you do?"
"We need to get him back, somewhere safe where he can recover himself."
"What do you mean?" Dunne asked, watching his friend with concern.
"He was in pain, he retreated. We need to bring him back."
The rest of the trip was made in silence. Ezra pulled up to the private dock and slid the boat in expertly. JD hopped out first, tying the boat to the deck. Ezra got out and helped to steady the boat while Nathan and Chris carried Vin. Slowly, the group made their way into the rented cabin, laying the still unconscious telepath on the bed in the main bedroom. JD and Ezra stood by while the healer checked out the Texan. Chris gradually backed away toward the door.
Nathan called out, "Stop!" JD and Ezra jumped in surprise. The healer snapped his head around to look at the fleeing man. "Don't you dare walk out of this room."
Larabee looked back at the healer guiltily. Now the leader better understood the telepath's earlier reluctance to practice on his friends. "I'm the one who did this to him!"
"And yet you're the one he did this for."
"I never asked him to."
"You didn't need to." Jackson's face softened as he approached his leader. "Vin needs you to be his anchor, to bring him back home."
Chris motioned to the two men watching the debate. "Let someone else do it. I've hurt him enough."
"Face it, you're the one he has the deepest bond with, and he needs that. Now stop acting like a two-year-old and help me save your best friend!"
Larabee looked down at his friend. In sleep, the telepath looked too young to be carrying such a burden as he did. Sighing deeply, Chris asked, "What do I need to do?"
"Stay with him, talk to him. Let him know someone's still here." Nathan gestured for the others to follow him and they left the telekinetic alone with Vin.
The blond sat on the chair next to the bed and clasped his friend's hand. "Dammit, I never asked you to do this. What the hell were you thinking?" But Chris knew exactly why Vin did what he did. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. By sacrificing himself, Tanner pulled Larabee back from the brink. If Vin hadn't stopped him, he would've killed an innocent; just like the Guild. "Tanner, if you don't wake up right now " He let himself drift off, knowing there was no threat he could make.
Remembering how the younger man talked of a link, Larabee closed his eyes and extended his mind, trying to somehow connect with the injured man. Unfortunately, the telekinetic had never tried to initiate a connection. He'd always been on the receiving end. Pushing out with his mind, he focused on the friendship he felt with the man on the bed. Trying to focus that camaraderie through their joined hands, the blond ran into a block. Nothing he tried had any effect.
Frustrated, but unwilling to give up, Larabee continued to sit with his friend. He heard Josiah and Buck return. Soon after, Nathan came back in.
"Nothing." He looked down at the telepath, longing to see those blue eyes open and to hear words to come out of that smart mouth of his. "I don't think he can hear me."
"He hears you." Nathan sat on the other side of the bed and ran his hand along the Texan's head, stopping and directing his healing energy into the patient. "Take his hand, Chris." He waited until the man did so. "Now, push as hard as you can."
"What?" The confusion surged through the green eyes.
"He's hiding in order to protect himself. You'll have to find him and convince him it's safe."
"This is impossible. You're the healer, can't you do something?"
Nathan shook his head sadly, not wanting to be the bearer of such bad news. "He's too far gone for me. It's up to you."
"Last time he overloaded he was out for three days."
"But this time you know him, and he knows you. I want you to push him, make him listen to you. Make him want to come back."
"You want me to yell at him?" Chris' tone was incredulous.
"In essence, yes."
"You want me to yell at him." Larabee tried to contain the anger he felt at the healer's suggestion.
Nathan saw his leader's anger and tried to explain what he wanted to accomplish. "What I want you to do is get this man upset enough to fight his way back. Using your thoughts, piss him off."
"You're our healer? This is your advice?"
Nathan crossed his arms and stood his ground against the green-eyed glare. "Take it or leave it."
Larabee growled. Closing his eyes again, he picked up Vin's hand and focused himself, projecting to his friend. Enough of this laying around, Tanner. Get your scrawny ass out of bed. Chris felt ridiculous. He popped his eyes open to look at Nathan. Jackson motioned for him to continue.
I order you to wake up. Nothing happened. The blond wasn't at all surprised. Like Tanner had ever followed an order before, why would he start now?
He had one more shot. Practically vibrating he shot out, I'm serious. If you don't come back to us right this minute I'm going to bring Nettie here to give you a sponge bath!
A groan was his answer.
Larabee jumped back like he'd been shocked. He stayed back and watched as Nathan bent forward over the telepath.
"Vin Vin, can you hear me?" the healer called out loudly.
"Vin, I want you to answer me!" Nathan was leaning close to Vin, but dared not touch him, fearing the telepath's shields might be down in order to connect with Chris. He didn't want his touch to aggravate the overload.
Chris chuckled at the admonishment of the barely conscious telepath.
Nathan rolled his eyes. "I mean it, Vin!" he yelled.
"M' head hurts, don't make it worse," Tanner spoke in a raspy whisper.
The healer smiled up at Chris, who was inching closer. "Vin, I need you to tell me how your shields are," Nathan insisted.
"I want to try to help rebuild them, can you handle contact?"
Vin seemed to contemplate this for a moment before answering. "I think so," he murmured. Chris released the breath he'd been holding.
Gently laying his hands on Vin's chest, Nathan sent his healing power surging into the telepath, trying to re-establish his defenses. Concentrating his energy, the compassionate healer started his friend on the road to recovery. He expended as much as he could and then released Vin. Noticing the awkward stance of his leader, he decided to leave his two friends alone. Nathan got up to tell the rest of the team that Tanner was going to be all right in time.
As soon as the dark-skinned man closed the door behind him, Larabee patted his friend's shoulder. "I'm so sorry, Vin."
"For what?" Vin felt he was waking up from a nap, and his synapses weren't firing yet.
"If I could've kept control, you would never have--"
"Stop right there, Cowboy," Vin interrupted. "Never apologize for what we share." Vin groaned and rubbed his head. "I don't know why we have this bond, but I do know it's the best damn thing that's happened to me."
"You can say that now?"
"I'll say it as many times as it takes for you to b'lieve it." The blue eyes were still closed when he said, "Now go away and leave me alone."
"Okay," Chris accepted this, and walked across the room. At the door he shot back, " but you keep calling me 'Cowboy' and I'm gonna have to shoot you."
Paul Baines looked down at the report lying on his desk. Over a dozen calls to the hotline had come in, reporting an incident in a park on the coast; Baines knew it had to be Tanner. This was his chance.
"Tina," he called for his secretary via the intercom. "Get me Eli Joe."
continues in Redemption
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