This is the second story in my au LB Haven. My thanks to Brate for letting me try making her au Haven a LB one. You might need to read the first one Mind Matters to understand parts of this one. If anyone is interested it's an open au.
Vin is 10, JD 8, and Ezra just turned 18. They are sentients with psi- powers as are the others. //denotes telepathy// mostly Vin but the others too.
This is also part of the series "Home" that we are writing. It's been fun.
Also thanks to Chris aka Niteowl for betaing for me. I needed a quick one. And to LaraMee for putting a picture together for me.
Vin Tanner lay along the high limb of the old tree. His long legs hung down and swung back and forth as he concentrated on listening to the adults in the kitchen of the near by house. He had to work hard to hear the four male voices. Sweat beaded on his forehead as he frowned and strained to hear everything. His whole future depended on this conversation.
Chris' voice came clear and strong as always. "Buck, we've put this off as long as we can. It's too dangerous to have the boys with us for this new mission." Under the voice came flashes of bodies lying around a burning house and Chris screaming as if his heart had been ripped from his body.
Buck shook his head. "And where would they be safe, Chris? That's why we decided to keep Ezra all those years ago. He was safer with us then on his own among normals."
"Buck, Ezra was sixteen - not ten and eight. He could take care of himself."
"Seems to me, Vin and JD have proven to be self reliant and can take care of themselves" Nathan said.
Josiah decided it was time to add his thoughts. "Living on the streets does that. There are other considerations besides Baines and the Guild. They need schooling, medical care, and some kind of stability in their lives. We need to find someone, sorry Nathan, who just might be able to help Vin talk again."
Nathan cleared his throat nervously, and all eyes turned to him.
"What? Spill it!" Chris demanded.
Nathan looked at each of his companions "I didn't want to say anything but well, one night when Vin was sleeping, I, uh, I examined his throat more thoroughly."
"What do you mean you examined his throat more thoroughly?" Chris practically growled. This was not going well at all and definitely not the direction he'd planned.
"You need to understand it's easier to sense things when someone is open and relaxed as in sleep, especially someone as skittish as Vin. He don't know it but he sends out a, uh, force field of some sort. It makes anyone scanning him receive scrambled data about him. Like if another telepath tries to scan him they get a false idea of who or what he is."
Buck frowned, "Huh?'
"So?" Chris spit out.
"So, when he's relaxed I can get a clearer picture of him, physically anyway. See more of what they did to him. It ain't pretty." Nathan looked at the others, seeing and feeling their concern and anger. Nathan licked his lips. "Bottom line is I don't know if there's anything to fix. His whole larynx is distorted and scarred. That's why he eats all the time, but never very much and very small bites. It's hard for him to swallow. I've been working on that and I think it's getting better. But I'm not sure I can fix his voice."
A flash came to Chris of a younger Vin strapped down on a hospital like bed. His mouth was open as if he were screaming but no sound came out. Blood trickled out of the corner of his mouth as he tried and tried to scream out his fear and pain.
"Chris? Chris?" Buck reached over and tapped Larabee's arm. "Hey buddy, where'd you go?"
Rubbing his face, the blond looked around. "The bastards did that to force him to use his telepathy. If he were mute and tied down, the only way he could communicate would be telepathy."
Nathan nodded sadly "Yeah, and once the dam was broken they assumed they could control Vin, with various incentives to make him do what they wanted."
"Incentives? Like food, pain or the lack of it," Josiah said softly.
"Yeah, but no drugs because that would dull his talent."
"You got all of this when he was asleep?"
"Most of it, some by just watching him. We can't just leave him anywhere. Can't with JD either. I know you been working with him Buck, but he's got a long way to go before he can function with non sentients without falling apart."
Josiah placed his hand flat on the table. "This only proves that we keep the boys with us. We just have to figure out how." Josiah looked out the window. "If I'm not mistaken, that is Ezra and JD coming back from the promised ride."
They all heard the roar of the motorcycle soon after Josiah spoke. JD's joyous laughter brought smiles to all of them as he came running inside. "Vin? Where's Vin? It was great, Vin. You should'a come with us. Vin?" The little boy skidded to a stop in the doorway. Dark eyes scanned the room. "Where's Vin?"
"He's outside watching for the deer to come down" Buck answered.
"Oh" JD ran to the back door and down the steps shouting, "Vin?"
//Ya don't have to shout, JD. I'm by the big tree.//
Relived to hear his cousin, JD ran toward the tree.
Chris smiled at the sound of the little boy and his eyes scanned the area spotting Vin climbing down. He froze staring at the tree.
Buck tried to see what Chris was looking at. "What is it, Pard?" When he got no answer he put his hand on Chris' shoulder, "Chris?"
"It's it's Vin, he heard us."
"How? No way, you're wrong. He's in the pasture - it's too far."
Larabee shook off Buck's hand "He heard us: he was listening and he heard every word. I can feel it. I've got to talk to him." The blond rushed out the back door and began running toward the tree and the boys.
Ezra, who had been standing in the doorway listening walked into the room. "Perhaps it would be prudent to 'explain' to all of us." He followed the blond man out to the tree.
//Vin, we need to talk.//
//You don't understand - you didn't hear everything. I need to explain.//
//No, you just want to get rid of us. What else can you say?//
//Never, I never want to get rid of you or JD or Ezra.//
//I don't lie.// Reaching the tree he tried to catch his breath and looked at the younger of the two boys. "JD, why don't you go help Buck and Nathan fix supper while Vin, Ezra and I have a grownup talk. We'll tell you all about it later."
The dark haired boy looked up at the man. Cocking his head and glancing at his silent cousin who nodded at him, he said, "Okay Chris." He took off at a run toward the house.
The boy wouldn't look at him.
Sighing, Chris sat down on the ground. "Okay, here's the story as far as I know. You know Ezra that we want to do more then just rescue a few sentients at a time. We need to change public opinion and stop people like Baines.
"Your point Mr. Larabee, in rehashing this old news?" Ezra interrupted.
"We have information, sketchy information for sure, but we can't ignore it. We've come across Intel that in the desert country of southern Arizona there's a large " Chris searched for the right word, " a large compound where at least a thousand sentients are being detained by the PCCA. Guards, barbed wire fences: there's also a large medical facility being used for more than healing the sick." Chris glanced at Ezra to see if the youth understood his meaning.
"How? How could such a large number of people be held without it being exposed?" Ezra asked in a shocked voice.
"Same way it's always been done through out history. Indifference and fear. If Aunt Josephine acts a little odd you keep your head down. You don't attract attention in case they notice Aunt Jo. You try not to think about the 'others' living over the hill."
"Yes, but oh so human."
//Different is dead.// Vin's silent voice echoed in their heads.
"Yes, but if we are able to 'open' this camp, we not only free a lot of people but we strike a blow to the PCCA they might never get over. Which leads to what you overheard, Vin. This is going to be a long, dangerous mission. We want to keep you, JD and Ezra safe. We want all of you away from the action and we would come and get you as soon as we could."
"Me, sir? I assure you I know and understand the dangers fully."
"I know you do Ezra, but we want you to be there for the boys. No matter how many we finally get out I would feel so much better if you were with them, keeping them safe in case anything happens. Besides, you need to continue JD's lessons."
"Anything? As in if you fail, or are captured, not to mention killed?"
Larabee's eyes hardened. "Yes Ezra, in case we are captured or killed. I know you'd be able to keep the boys safe."
"Vin, this isn't open for discussion."
//NO, We're better together. We're safer together.//
Changing tactics Chris said, "So you see we weren't trying to get rid of you. We were discussing how to keep you safe."
The boy eyed the blond sorting the words spoken as well as the ones not said aloud. He looked around the quiet country setting. //We could just stay here. No one would find us. We've been here for months and months. I like it here.//
Chris nodded sadly. "We could ignore everything and hide here. Ignore what's happening to others. Maybe that camp has second gens or even very young third gens. We could just let Baines have them, like he had you." Larabee hated doing that. It wasn't fair to Vin but the boy had to understand as well as he could what was at stake.
//I know.// Came the soft whispered voice in his head as the boy walked away. //But I hate it.//
'Me too," Chris said softly to the retreating back.
Ezra watched Vin with down cast head and slumped shoulders leave. "Oh, well said, Mr. Larabee. A low blow to be sure, but well said." The teen turned on his heel and left the man in black alone.
Chris held his face blank while small rocks flew past banging forcefully into the near by fence. Each blow echoing like a rifle shot expressing the anger that boiled inside the man.
~~~~~ ~~~ ~~~~
Nothing was said at the tense supper or the clean up afterward. The boys were subdued as they prepared for bed and didn't pull their usual high jinxes.
Walking past Nathan, Vin stopped. //Stay outa m' head. If ya want to know something, ask - don't go sneakin' around."
"I'm not sorry, Vin. I need to know things if I'm to help you. Things you might not remember or be able to tell me."
Clenching his teeth, Vin walked past the healer. //I 'member everything.//
Nathan watched the boy walk down the hall. "God, I had no idea. How could he remember and not say? How could he remember and cope, he's only ten." With that thought he remembered what Chris had told him once. Vin had been angry with Chris and said. "I'm not a kid, not anymore, not since they had me." His healer's heart yearned to reach out to the boy and 'make it all better'. But that wasn't gonna happen, not now, maybe never.
~~~~ ~~~ ~~~~
It was several days before the camper was packed and ready. They took their time because they waited for the important call giving the last details needed to find the camp and put it out of business.
When the call did come it was surprisingly short, and as Larabee flipped the cell closed he called out. "Buck, Nathan, Josiah, load up, we're leaving."
Buck stuck his head around the door, "Now?"
"Yes, now. Soonest. Get the boys. Do you know where they are?"
"I think so: they were taking vegetable scraps out to the critters."
Chris nodded and closed his eyes to help him concentrate, //Vin, get JD. It's time to go.// He sent the thought out knowing Vin would catch it.
JD glanced from the scraps they scattered around the hay. Vin had stopped suddenly and stood stiffly. "Vin? What's the matter?"
//We gotta go. JD, head for the house. Now.//
"But we ain't done yet."
//Yeah, we are.// Vin sent the thought back to his cousin, and grabbing JD's hand he pulled the smaller boy along.
Once they appeared Chris looked over at them as he pushed another box into the trailer. "Go to the bathroom, boys, and grab your back packs. We're leaving."
JD hesitated. "Are we coming back home soon?"
Vin pulled on the smaller boy. //Ain't home. We ain't ever coming back.//
Chris and Josiah took the first shift of driving. They sat in the big cab of the pickup with Vin between them. Nathan, Buck, Ezra and JD rode in the fifth wheel. For three days they drove, stopping only briefly for gas or more water and restrooms.
It was late afternoon on the Arizona border with Buck driving when they got off the interstate. The large man frowned as he looked at the weather worn buildings and said softly, "I know this place."
Ezra coming out of his daze asked, "What did you say Buck?"
"I know this place. At least I'm pretty sure I do." He drove through the town's main street and turned into the quick stop gas station. Stopping, he got out and knocked on the door of the trailer. "Pit stop, guys. Chris, we need to talk." Then he walked into the little store to pay for the gas.
A young Hispanic woman was behind the counter. "Howdy darlin', we need to fill up the truck."
The girl punched some buttons and waited silently while Buck counted out several twenties. Buck looked up and smiled. "This town seems real familiar to me. Did there used to be a place called the Owl Bar here?"
"Yeah, but it closed down a long time ago."
"Uh huh, you ever hear of a man called Jax Freeman? He'd be, oh, close to seventy now."
"Sure, Ol' man Freeman lives out at his place west of town."
Buck nodded. "I's just a little feller when my Ma and I were here last. It's only a few miles right?"
"Yeah, you just go down the old highway about five miles, turn left onto the dirt road. You'll see a huge "Keep Out" sign. But Ol' Man Freeman don't like visitors. He just might shoot you."
Once outside Chris asked, "What the hell was that all about?"
Buck patted JD on the back. "Son, why don't you ride in the back for a bit and let Chris ride with Ezra and me?" Then he answered Chris' question. "Not sure, maybe something good for us. We're only around a hundred miles to the camp, right?"
"Yeah," Chris said cautiously.
"Well, if the old man remembers me, and if it's the right man, I just may have a place for the boys to stay."
"It's the best plan you've come up with. I'll drive." Buck started the engine and mentally crossed his fingers.
They drove down a bumpy dirt road for about a half a mile after they turned off the old highway. Buck could see the old house that needed painting on the other side of a large locked gate. The wind gently moved a wooden rocker on the large porch but there was no other sign of life.
Buck stopped and cut the motor. "Ezra?"
"Nothing, Buck. But please use caution never the less."
"I will." The lanky man got out of the truck and walked to the gate. His eyes swept over the yard and the lock on the gate. The minute he touched the latch three huge dogs came barreling out of the house. They didn't bark but stood at 'point' in a semi circle watching Buck and the truck. The middle charcoal gray one curled her lip and let out a low growl.
"Silver, quiet!" came an order from inside. An old man appeared carrying a shotgun at ready. He stepped off the porch and the sun shone on his silver white longish hair. His face was a mass of wrinkles but his dark eyes were bright and intense.
"Can't ya read, young feller? Sign says no trespassers."
"I saw it, I'm looking for a man I knew when I was a kid. Me and my ma stayed with him for a couple of years. She worked for him in the Owl Bar."
"That place closed down years ago. What'd you say your name was?"
"Didn't, but its Buck. Use to call the man Unc Jax. He was real good to me and ma."
The shotgun didn't waver. "Huh, it's been close to twenty-five years since Meg and her boy were here. What are you doing here?"
"Me and my friends are on a little road trip. I thought I recognized the town. Didn't remember it at all until we stopped for gas. I had to see if you were still around. I hoped you remembered me."
"How 'm I supposed to know if you're really Buck?"
Wilmington who had been leaning on the top rail of the gate stood and cupping his hand let a small flame appear.
"Buck," Chris called, concern showing in his voice. Damn fool, I hope he knows what he's doing.
"It's okay, Chris. Jax taught me how to control it. He called me a 'light in the wilderness'."
The old man chuckled as the shotgun lowered. "That's 'cause when the power went out you'd light all the candles at once. I also called you a firecracker. Down girls," he called to the dogs as he walked to the gate to unlock it. "Come on in, you can park that rig behind the house. Won't be seen there."
Buck smiled. "Thanks, Jax."
Once parked the others stretched as they came out of the trailer. JD went over to stand just behind Buck.
The old man smiled down at the dark haired boy. "You got a son now?"
Avoiding long explanations Buck nodded. "Yep, this is JD."
Jax held out his hand. "Howdy JD."
JD put his hands behind his back. "Hi."
Freeman frowned and looked up to Buck.
"JD don't like to touch new things." Then trying to take the attention from JD he said, "The tall blond is Chris, the boy is Vin. The big man stretching by the trailer is Josiah and the teen is Ezra. The black man is Nathan."
"Interesting group of friends you got here Buck. They all like you?"
"More or less."
"It's dangerous traveling around here. People tend to disappear."
Ezra walked up behind Buck, "Just people or sentients?'
The old man squinted an eye at the teen, "Well now, I'd say both if it matters." He said it slowly scanning over the group, stopping at young Tanner for a brief second and then moving on to the others.
Standish raised his chin just it bit. "It matters if you are the one getting shot at, Mr. Freeman."
"Now that's very true. What do you 'see' now, young man?"
Ezra turned his attention inward and then said, "Nothing at the moment. How?"
Freeman smiled a sad smile, "It's my gift, to know. It's gettin' on to suppertime. We're serving Surprise stew. Won't take much to make enough for everybody."
JD looked around Buck's leg. "What's Surprise stew?"
"Well boy, it's made of whatever I have on hand. That's the surprise. Come on now, you and your cousin can set the table while the grownups get settled out here. By the way, there are enough beds for everybody inside. You don't have to sleep out here at least for tonight."
Vin and JD followed the old man inside and into the huge country style kitchen. In the middle of the room was a long table big enough for twice their number to sit and eat.
"Vin, if you would clear off all those papers and stack them on the desk. JD can get the dishrag in the sink to wipe down the table. Don't worry, it'll be safe for you." Jax gave the orders as he set the shotgun barrel up by the back door and went to an ancient cook stove to stir the stew pot. It looked like it could hold several gallons of stew.
JD glanced at the other boy and getting a nod he did as Jax said. He carefully picked up the square of cloth and was surprised when no impressions came to him. He quickly wiped down the table and set eight places with large bowls and spoons.
"Vin, if you'll look in the pantry you'll find some loaves of fresh bread. Bring one in and we'll slice it."
Vin nodded and went into the walk-in pantry.
"Your cousin is a quiet one." Jax remarked quietly.
"Vin don't talk," JD said not looking up.
"Okay. JD there's some milk in the ice box and butter for the bread."
Vin came back with the loaves of bread and Jax began slicing it. "Vin, if you'll call the others I think it's all ready." He watched as Vin nodded and turned toward the door. He smiled as the telepathic call went out.
Once they were all seated and served the conversation became easy and friendly. JD squinted at the various bite sized colored chunks and he carefully poked at the meat wondering again what the surprise was.
"Go on kiddo, it's good. Jax here is a great cook."
The little boy looked at Buck. "Why's it called Surprise stew?"
"Well, most folks put the same ingredients in their stew every time. But we always put in whatever we found that day. Even the meat would change. It'd be what Ma found at the marked down counter at the grocery store. In the summer it was what ever we picked from the garden. We always had a big garden. I remember one of the dogs at the time and I'd go 'grazing' for sweet peas every evening." Buck got a far away look on his face, happy and relaxed.
"Meg was a fine cook and a hard worker. I sure missed her when you all left."
"Ma never could stay in one place long. We stayed here longer then anywhere I can remember. I kept hoping we'd come back but we never did. And then she died, I hooked up with Chris here an', well, time just passed." Buck said starting strong and slowly finishing.
Nodding Jax said, "I understand. I've been keeping track of what's going on, quietly of course. To most I'm just a harmless old eccentric who keeps to himself and his dogs. I have an untraceable wi fi where I can keep an eye on the PCCA and Camp Normal. I assume that's why you're here. That and the bounty on one Vin Tanner, dangerous telepath." He looked straight at the ten-year-old.
//You know? You know who I am?//
//Yes boy,// Vin felt Freeman answer in his head.
"Hey, no private silent conversations when others are in the room. It's a rule."
"JD!" Buck said.
"Well, it is." JD defended.
"The boy is right it's rude. Sorry, JD." Jax said to the others but winked at Vin.
The shy boy smiled back.
~~~~ ~~~ ~~~~
Later the adults sat on the porch sipping coffee. It was a warm comradely feeling the five men were experiencing. Josiah looked around and frowned. These were not men who trusted easily and yet they all seemed to trust Jax without question. Even Vin had been more relaxed at supper then he ever remembered. The empath ended his search staring at the older man, trying to understand him.
As the conversation ebbed and flowed, Freeman looked over at Josiah. //Often a situation calls for some help in the trust department. I've waited for almost thirty years for Buck to remember his time here and come home. We don't have time to build trust the usual way.//
Josiah was startled by the voice in his head but hid it from the others. It seemed Jax had many hidden gifts. He would watch and wait.
//That's all I ask.// The voice said again.
"Why didn't you tell me about yourself?" Buck asked the old man.
"Buck, you were a child. Too young to understand your own gift, let alone mine. That's why you and Meg stayed so long, so I could help you where she couldn't. But then it got too dangerous for you to stay. Your mom didn't just decide to leave, Buck. I convinced her it was best."
Wilmington stared at the old man shaking his head, trying to make this new knowledge mesh with what he'd always believed was true. "Ma never said. She never told me anything."
Freeman turned to Chris. "You're going to Camp Normal." It wasn't a question but a statement of fact.
Chris didn't hesitate. "Yes, we plan on destroying it and hopefully freeing the sentients that are being held. But I also want to get concrete evidence against Baines and the PCCA if we can."
"Of course. You were going to take the boys into this?"
Chris looked at the others. "No, we tried to find somewhere the boys and Ezra could stay and be safe we just haven't found that place yet."
The old man nodded. They sat in silence listening to the sounds of the night. Clearing his throat Freeman said, "If it's agreeable you could leave them here."
"You don't know what you're offering."
"Yes I do, even more than you do. Those boys can stay here and be as safe as possible for as long as needed."
Chris stared at the old man and without looking around he asked, "Buck?"
"Yeah, it's better then taking them. Jax took good care of me and ma."
Sanchez chewed the inside of his lip, thinking about what Jax had said and not said. "Yes," he said finally.
"Yes. They'll be safer than with us."
From the shadows behind the men came a voice. "Tell me gentlemen, do we get a vote in this impromptu election?"
"Ezra, we've already settled this. You and the boys are staying in a safe place while the rest of us go on. We just hadn't had a specific place before."
"And I told you Mr. Larabee, that I would be more use if I went. I can take care of myself. I can also tell when things will go sour while none of you have that particular gift."
"And who will watch over the boys if you go? Who else knows how to help JD or Vin?"
The old man watched the argument escalate and decided to add his opinion. "Ezra, why do you think the mission will go better with you along? Have you had a premonition?"
"No, of course not. My pre-cog does not work that way. Usually I get a flash right before something happens."
"Have you tried to get something earlier?"
The teen managed to sound insulted and scornful as only a teen can. "Of course I've tried. My visions just don't come on demand."
"Really?" Freeman asked nodding. "Well, would you mind if I tried a little something?"
"Nothing dangerous or hurtful I assure you. Just perhaps a small nudge to your gift to expand it."
Larabee stepped over to stand beside Ezra and laid an easy hand on the teen's shoulder. "Ezra, if you want to try we'll watch your back. It's up to you."
Ezra looked at his almost father and then at the old man. He tried not to show how much it pleased him that Chris was letting him make the decision instead of ordering him or questioning his choices. "Alright I'm willing. I relish the opportunity to expand the use of my talent. What do you need for me to do?"
"Do? Oh, not much - just sit down here beside me and relax. I'm afraid this will be dull watching for the rest of you. If you'd rather go do something else I'll understand." Jax said to the rest of them.
"I'm staying." Chris said emphatically much to Ezra's relief.
"What now?" the teen asked.
"Now? Now you relax and close your eyes and try not to think of anything."
Ezra nodded, and taking a deep breath he let it out slowly. He felt his heart begin to pound faster and faster as he surveyed the scene playing out before him.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~
The two boys were huddled into a corner with Chris and Buck in front of them, each with weapons drawn. They seemed to be searching for something.
Buck finally called, "Josiah? Josiah, did you find him?"
There was no answer yet. Ezra 'saw' the older man struggling forward, limping heavily carrying a body. Ezra started as he saw that the body was his. As Josiah neared the sheltered place explosions appeared overhead and behind him.
Vin cringed and opened his mouth in a silent scream. JD's screams were not silent as Buck fell and then Chris, blood everywhere.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~
"NO!" Ezra screamed as he jerked himself out of the vision. Tears ran down his face as he looked accusingly at Jax. "How dare you, sir? How dare you plant such an abomination in my mind? "
"I did no such thing. I merely helped you expand your own ability more then you are used to. Search, you will find no trace of me in what you saw."
Ezra stared in horror as the truth spoke to him.
"Ezra? What did you see, son?" Chris asked.
"Failure. Death. If we go with you " The admitted words left a bad taste in his mouth. He took a deep breath and spit out the rest. "The boys and I must stay here if you are to have any chance of success."
Larabee looked long and hard at the teen and then nodded. "It's settled then. You will stay here with Vin and JD and we will come get you after the mission." The words came out more abrupt than he wanted them to. More gently he added, "We I need to know that the three of you are safe. Buck is certain Jax is the one to keep you safe."
Finding nothing to say Ezra simply nodded and went back inside the old ranch house.
Chris watched him go and turned away staring into the dark. He tried very hard to convince himself it would all work out.
Josiah broke the quiet that weighed on them all. "We thank you Jax, for taking literal strangers into your home. All three boys are dear to us and they will be a challenge for you."
Jax chuckled, "You think Buck wasn't?"
"True, but you were a lot younger then."
Don't let appearances deceive you, Mr. Sanchez. You of all people should know that."
~~~ ~~~ ~~~
Vin Tanner lay very still as the footsteps faded down the hall. He slowly gathered his shields around him like a blanket. When he was sure JD wouldn't hear or feel anything he let the tears begin. He'd managed to hide from Buck and Chris that he was awake. He'd listened as Buck had told the sleeping JD goodbye and then Chris had leaned over him.
"I'll be back. Somehow I'll come back for you and then we'll go home. I love you, son," Chris had whispered as he'd gently brushed a stray curl from Vin's forehead.
But Vin knew better. His mom hadn't come back. They'd looked for months and hadn't found Aunt Cindy. And now Chris and the others were leaving. He'd been a fool to let himself relax, to feel like the cabin was home. That maybe things were going to be better this time.
It was okay he tried to tell himself. He'd take care of JD and keep them safe. He didn't need their help. He'd his thoughts failed there. All he could think about was how sad Chris had sounded. He didn't want to be alone again. With Chris and the others gone he was so alone. He watched through the tears as the golden thread that went from him to Chris got thinner and thinner until he couldn't see it anymore.
The soft whisper of an old voice invaded his cocoon. //You're not alone, kid. You and JD are welcome in my home as long as you need or want.//
//How? How did you do that?//
//I'm old, Vin. There's a few tricks I can teach you..// The voice chuckled.
//My shields, you shouldn't be able to break through them. No one has ever //
//It's a good shield kid. But I've been doing this a hell of a long time. Now you relax and go to sleep. I'll keep watch. Tomorrow you, Ezra, JD and I will make some plans while we wait for the others to return. Sleep now and only sweet dreams.//
Vin felt himself relax and sleep drifted toward him. He went to sleep with the old man's voice soothing voice in his head.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~
The bird sang the same song over and over. "Dang bird. Shut up." Vin thought as he pulled the covers up over his head.
"Come on, Vin. Mr. Jax has flapjacks cooking. They just look like pancakes but he says they are flapjacks. Don't matter what he calls them they sure smell great. But I can't have any 'til you and Ezra are up an "
//JD shut up. You talk too much.//
"Do not. Hey Ezra, I don't talk too much do I?" JD shouted into the next room.
"Yes Mr. Dunne you most certainly do."
"Well get up anyway. I'm hungry," JD said bouncing on the bed, forcing Vin to roll off the unsteady mattress.
Tanner headed for the bathroom pulling on his jeans and shirt as he went. //I'm up, go get Ezra.//
//Thanks a lot.// Ezra shot silently toward Vin as he headed for the kitchen. "I do hope there's coffee."
"Good morning, Ezra. Of course there's coffee - and flapjacks, bacon, eggs if you want them and fresh honey." Jax replied cheerfully.
"Coffee will do me nicely at the moment, Mr. Freeman."
"Mugs are in the cabinet left of the sink. Help your self. My name is Jax."
Vin's bare feet made no sound as he walked into the large kitchen. He quietly slipped into a chair and waited.
"Ezra, there's a jug of fresh milk in the ice box. Would you please get it and pour the boys some?" Jax asked not even turning around.
//I want coffee.//
//You'll get milk. Coffee is for adults.//
//Ezra ain't an adult.//
//Yes, he is, more or less. When you are his age you can have coffee at my table. Until then, milk or water.//
His mouth full of flapjack JD looked at the back door again. "Ezra, did you go wake Buck and the others? They're sleeping awful late."
Oblivious to the silent argument between Jax and Vin, Ezra took a sip of coffee. "They left, JD. Last night while we were all asleep."
JD dropped his fork. "Left? Without us? Without saying goodbye?"
"They needed to do a lot of traveling under the cover of darkness. Buck and Chris came in while you slept and said their goodbyes. We were all asleep. You know how important this mission is?"
JD lowered his eyes before anyone saw the tears. "But I didn't get to say bye," the boy whispered. "They left us here?" The eight year old looked at his cousin. "Did you know?"
"And you didn't tell me."
//No. You were asleep. Chris thought I was asleep too. I couldn't tell you.//
"JD, they thought it would be better if you didn't know just when they left," Ezra said cringing as angry brown eyes centered on him.
"Better? Why, 'cause I'm a little kid? I'm not a little kid. I know what's going on!" JD screamed as he jumped up and ran outside.
Vin stood to follow but Jax held up his hand. "Finish your breakfast, Vin. Ezra, relax - I'll have a little talk with JD."
To Ezra's surprise he and Vin began eating again and watched the old man follow JD outside. Ezra raised an eyebrow. "Who is that man?" he asked the walls.
Freeman followed the rain cloud trail JD left behind. He turned the corner of the old barn and saw JD sitting on a bale of hay, his head buried in his arms. His small body was shaking with sobs. The old man went over and sat down beside the crying boy.
"Go 'way," came a tear stained voice.
"Nope, can't do that. I promised ol' Buckie I'd take care of you."
JD sniffed. "Buckie? You called him Buckie?" The boy looked up at Jax.
"Well now, not since he was 'round your age, and that's the truth. I'm not sure I'd try it now. He's a formidable man now."
"He saved me and Vin, him and the others. The helmets took everyone else, but my mama hid me and Vin."
"That was very brave of your mama."
"Uh huh. Since then we've been with Buck an' Chris an' Josiah an' Nathan. Nathan takes care of owies you know."
"How long is that?"
"A long time ago, maybe last summer, I think. Jax, will Buck come back?"
Jax paused before he answered. This wasn't an ordinary child and he needed more than just an ordinary answer. "I hope so, JD. The thing they want to do is a very dangerous and wonderful thing. I feel that if anyone can make this work its Buck and the rest of them. I want you to know that you and Vin and Ezra will stay here with me until they do come back. In fact, we need to think up a cover story about you three while you are here."
"Oh, you need to talk to Ezra 'bout a cover story. He's really good at that."
"Hmm, you think so? Then I will think on your advice. Let's go back inside, finish breakfast and talk."
Jax smiled and followed the boy back into the house satisfied his damper was working.
Ezra listened in astonishment as the excited child explained what he and Jax had discussed.
" an' Jax says we need a cover story for us all being here and I told him you was the best at cover stories."
"I see. I'm at somewhat of a loss as to just what we need," Ezra said looking at the old man.
"Well, my neighbors are pretty private people mostly but even they will be curious about three kids, no offense Ezra, showing up at my house sudden like."
"Yes, I see the difficulty. We cannot all be brothers as we are too different. Vin and I have upon occasion passed as brothers, our coloring is similar. But JD is so dark and looks nothing like us."
"True, but he does resemble my son," Jax said quietly.
"You have a son? Where is he?" JD asked.
//JD, that's not nice.//
"No, it's okay Vin. My son left with his mother many years ago. But I have heard from him occasionally over the years. Until he was killed a few months ago." Jax cleared his throat. "Can you forge documents?"
"Yes, I'm quite good at it."
"You can forge a brief note from my son introducing JD as my grandson. I also had a much younger sister. She had light coloring and Ezra, if we could adjust your age down a couple of years to say fifteen then you would be just about right to be her son and Vin also."
"I suppose you also have letters from her."
"No, she never wrote and she died before the troubles began. We shall have to come up with a better story for you two. But I do have some letters from my son."
A week later two very tired looking boys got off the Trailways Bus. Curious townspeople watched as the older boy led the way to the quick stop. Once inside the older boy asked, "Excuse me, but could you tell me where to find Jaxon Freeman?"
"Well, he has a place outside of town about ten miles. HEY! Kid, leave that alone." The clerk spoke louder at Vin who had wandered away and was fingering the small package of chips. "Hey kid, did you hear me?"
Ezra turned quickly and pulled the unresponsive Vin to him. He leaned down so that his face was even with Vin's. "You know better. Don't touch."
Vin nodded and hanging his head stood closer to Ezra.
"I am truly sorry. My brother is deaf and he didn't mean anything."
Shouting the clerk smiled. "That's okay kid."
"I on the other hand hear perfectly."
//Smart-ass, be nice.//
//Shut up and play dumb.//
Vin sent a mental picture of him sticking his tongue out at Ezra, but he did as Ezra wanted.
"Oh, look, there's Jax over at the feed store. Hmm, I guess that cutie is his grandson." Before she finished speaking Ezra, dragging Vin behind him was out the door and crossing the street.
"Sir, are you Jaxon Freeman?"
The old man turned, "I am."
"My name is Ezra Stanton and this is my little brother, Vin. May I ask sir, did you have a younger sister by the name of Linda?"
"I did, but I haven't heard from her in years."
"I have some papers for you then, sir." Ezra fished out a large manila envelope from his backpack and handed it to Jax.
While Freeman looked over the papers Vin looked around and said to everyone, //They're all watching. Some can even hear us. Be careful JD. Remember you don't know us.//
JD peeked around Jax, //I know Vin. I'm not a baby.//
"I don't understand. This simply says my sister died three weeks ago and she left her small estate to me on provision I take in her sons. You, I presume."
"Yes, my brother is a special needs child and few people would want him. I am too old. Mother hoped you would still be here and be willing to take us in even though you don't know us."
"Special needs? What sort of special needs?"
"My brother is a deaf mute. He never learned to speak. He reads lips very well but you must face him. He also is extremely shy."
"My house is your house and is becoming a boarding school for wayward boys. JD, this here's your cousins Ezra and Vin."
"Hi," JD grinned.
"Hello," Ezra answered.
"Well, don't waste time, get in the truck. Stock needs to be fed. We'll see about the legalities later."
The three boys dutifully climbed into the truck. As they drove out of town Vin grinned into the rear view mirror. //It worked. They all believed us and will tell others.//
"Yep, soon it'll be as if you've always been here. No one will think twice about it and no one will question why Vin doesn't talk. Right Vin?"
//Huh? I didn't hear that.//
JD started giggling and was soon joined by the others.
Another week of waiting passed. After the younger boys were in bed, Ezra joined Jax on the porch. The dogs were stretched out asleep at the old man's feet. Ezra sat and enjoyed the silence but he finally turned to Freeman. "How long do you intend to keep them under your spell?"
"Spell? Ezra, I'm no wizard. I don't do spells."
"Pardon me. I don't know what to call it. Perhaps blanket would be better. You've successfully blocked the worry and anxiety they would normally be feeling. How long do you plan on keeping it up?"
Jax puffed on his pipe and looked at the stars. "And you know I'm doing this, because?"
"I felt the edges of it the first day. It was not hard once I recognized it to shield against it."
"You're very talented, Ezra. There's very few that can feel much less shut down one of my blocks. 'Course I did aim it mostly at the boys. I felt they needed a rest from the worry."
"Oh, I am not holding you at fault about what you are doing. In fact I am grateful. I would hate to see what the last few weeks would have been like if you had not done so."
They sat again in silence. Again Ezra took a deep breath and asked the question he was petty sure he didn't want to know the answer to. "It has been too long, has it not?"
"Are they dead?"
Jax felt the fear behind the question. But Ezra acted like a grown man and deserved to be treated as one. "I don't know."
Ezra nodded and looked down at his hands. "I see. If if you were to turn Vin loose, so to speak, he might be able to tell us something. You see he and Chris, they have some sort of bond. None of us understand it. But it's been there from the beginning. Perhaps Vin could tell where and how Chris is."
"And the others by association?"
"Hopefully. They are extremely resourceful men. Then " Ezra's voice hitched, "then we will know and make plans accordingly."
"No matter what, Ezra, you have a home here."
"HOME? None of us have had a home since Sarah and Adam were murdered," Ezra said through clenched teeth. He abruptly stood and walked away.
Jax sighed at the feelings of sadness and despair he caught from the young man, as well as the flashes of fire and death. Freeman finally understood the darkness that haunted the teen and the men he loved as family. He waited for Ezra to return and as he did he slowly loosened the hold on Vin and JD, perhaps a little less on the tender soul of the younger boy.
Silver stood and came to stand beside him whining. Jax reached out and stroked her silken ears. "I know girl. But I have to."
The next morning Vin came down with dark circles under his eyes. When he looked at Jax, there was an awareness that wasn't there before.
//You kept me from knowing.//
"Knowing what, Vin?"
//That Chris that they're hurt that he needs me.//
"No, I kept you from worrying, that's all. Because you weren't worried, you didn't search for Chris."
Tanner nodded and looked down, thinking about what Jax had said. //What about JD? Does he is he gonna be sad like me now?//
"Not so much. He's younger and I wanted to protect him longer."
"Ezra carries his own hurts."
Vin smiled, //Ya couldn't block him.//
"Nope, seems not. Now before JD comes in, tell me, show me what you learned."
Vin opened his mind, letting Jax feel and 'see' what he had throughout the night. What he saw was Chris, hurt, cold and something else. Something he couldn't quite recognize. He had the impression Larabee wasn't alone, there was someone else being held by the Guild as well.
//Don't tell JD about Buck, he's too little, he don't need to know.//
"Is that who's with Chris?'
//Yeah, I think so, feels like him.//
Freeman looked at the boy surprised. "I won't. Not until we have to. You're sure they're both alive?"
//Yeah. There was something weird about Chris, he just wasn't right, but I did sense his worry about Buck.//
"Can you tell me what you mean?"
Vin frowned and twisted his mouth this way and that, //No. It was Chris - but not. That's not it. Maybe it was 'cause he was so far away Jax, ya know how someone sounds if they've been drinkin' too much?//
The old man nodded.
//It was sorta like that, but not. We need to get them now.//
"We need a plan first, Vin. We need to find out about the others."
Vin just stared at Jax and then he turned and walked away. //Chris is strong; it'll take him a long time to die. But the helmets will kill him.//
Jax looked away from the door Vin went out to the hall. Ezra stood there not moving, "You heard?" The old man asked the teen.
"Yes and saw. My Mr. Larabee is a very determined man. If he feels his death is the only way to protect us, he will find a way."
"Then we must stop him. Can you take JD and keep him occupied while Vin and I attempt something that I don't know will even work."
"Yes, but what?"
"Vin and I will try to contact one of the others. I don't want JD around."
"In case of failure or success?"
"Either. If we do find out exactly where Chris and Buck are we have plans to make. If not we will have our own grief to handle first."
Jax sat on the old couch, his feet propped on the table in front of him. Beside him Vin sat his arms wrapped around his middle. "Do you understand what we're going to try to do?"
"Who are we trying first?"
"Yes. It's going to feel strange having me help you reach out. Alone neither of us has the power. Together we have a chance. If we manage to contact Nathan, you lie quiet and let me talk to him through you."
"I have to hold you Vin. Physical contact is a must. Okay?" Freeman felt Vin mentally pull away. He knew the boy was fighting his aversion to be touched.
Finally a whisper came to him. //Okay.//
Jax held very still while the skittish boy climbed into his lap. He slowly wrapped his arms around the boy. "Lean back, close your eyes and think of Nathan. Picture him in your mind. Think of all that you like about Nathan."
Gently with a quiet almost sub-vocal voice Jax talked to Vin, guiding him to do something he'd never done before.
Nathan twitched in his sleep. He opened one eye to check on his patient and closed his eyes again. He twitched again feeling like a feather tickled his nose. He swatted without opening his eyes.
//Nathan, please hear me.//
The healer's breath caught. //Vin? How?//
//Yes it's Vin and Jax. You can here us?//
//Yes, it's like a whisper that tickles. Where are you?//
//We're at my place. Where are you and who's with you?//
//I'm not sure exactly. Josiah found a cave we've been hiding in. He found it before we anyway Josiah and I are here. He's hurt but healing. I don't know where Chris or Buck are. They covered our backs while I got Josiah and the ones we rescued away.//
//Chris is alive, Buck too we think. But we need to get them out. Is Josiah conscious?//
Nathan looked over to his friend. //In and out.//
//What do you need?//
//Everything. I go into town at night and find some things. But I can't go often - there are patrols everywhere. Jax, don't worry about us - just keep the boys safe. That's all any of us ask. Just keep our boys safe.//
//As if they were my own. Do you know where you are - a name, landmark, anything?//
//Josiah said it use to be called Three Battles. We can see Cochise Peak from the cave opening looking south.//
//Gotta go, we're losing you.//
Jax blinked several times. In all his life he'd never felt anything so strong. He looked down at the boy in his lap. Vin lay against him limply, his face pale, his eyes closed, his breathing rough. Touching the too cool skin Jax tried to wake the still boy. "Vin? Vin, can you wake up for me now?"
The eyelids fluttered, //Did it work?//
"Yes, how do you feel?"
//'M head hurts somethin' awful.//
"I bet it does. I'm going to lay you down here and I want you to try to sleep."
//'Kay. Jax, did it work?//
"Yeah kid, it worked. Everyone's alive. Nathan said Josiah is hurt but alive."
//Good, Nathan could make m' head stop hurtin'// Vin said through a groan.
"Nathan's gone for now. You rest and I'll bring you some aspirin."
When Freeman came back with the water and aspirin the boy was sound asleep. Brushing him with a light mental touch he decided to let the boy sleep. "Sorry, Vin. I had no idea it would be so hard on you." He covered the boy with a small quilt and went to study his topographical maps of the region. They were very old maps showing a great deal of detail, detail the newer maps didn't have. He was so buried in his research he didn't realize hours had passed until Ezra and JD came in.
"Vin! Vin where are you?" JD called loudly as he ran inside. "Jax, where's Vin?"
"Shush, JD. Vin's sleeping. He's very tired." Jax whispered.
Ezra raised an eyebrow asking a question.
"We were successful. But it was very tiring to Vin. Why don't you see if he's ready to wake up?"
Standish nodded, "Come on JD, lets see if Vin is waking up. Then you can tell him all about our adventures."
"Okay," the little boy whispered and ran into the other room.
"Well?" Ezra asked as he turned back to the old man.
"They're all alive. Josiah is hurt but healing. We didn't get any details but they are alive."
Ezra paused closing his eyes in relief before he followed the boy. His step was much lighter with the news.
Vin watched Freeman make notes as he studied his maps.
The old man put down his pen and looked at the boy. "What's wrong Vin?"
//Chris won't let me in.//
"What do you mean, son?"
//I found Chris easy this time. I know the feel of him I guess you'd say. But he's put up a wall - a shield - and I can't get to him. He's not mad at me is he?//
Jax chewed on his inner lip. "No, I'm sure he's not mad at you. But he may be trying to protect you. Some very bad people have Chris, you know that."
//He doesn't want me to know what the helmets are doing to him and Buck.//
"I think that's a lot of it."
//But I need to to I need to know he's there.//
Jax started to reach out to the child but stopped. "I suggest you listen for him to 'call' you. He will, and when he does the best you can do for him is to listen and let him know that you miss him, love him and are waiting for him to return."
//I shouldn't mention that we're coming?//
"No, we don't want to worry him."
Tanner stared at the older man for several breaths then nodded and left. No matter how hard he tried he just couldn't 'see' inside Jax's head. Unlike the others who were easy to read, Jax seemed to be able erect shields he couldn't breach. Never since he began hearing other's thoughts had he been so completely locked out. Yet Jax could enter his mind so easily. He couldn't understand why.
Vin wandered around outside trying to forget his disappointment at not being able to feel Chris or talk to him. It made his stomach knot and hurt just thinking about it. Vin shook his head. Why was he thinking about Chris when he should be thinking about JD? He'd promised Aunt Cindy he would take care of JD. He'd gotten lazy letting Chris, Buck and the others watch out for his little cousin while he he had forgotten to be careful. He'd trusted the others too, but now what? There was no one but him and maybe Ezra to look after JD.
He admitted he liked Jax, but he didn't understand why the old man was taking care of them. Why he was trying to help the others? That's why he'd tried so hard to get inside Jax. He wanted to see for himself why Freeman was helping.
"If you think any harder my friend, there will be smoke coming out of your ears," Ezra said walking up beside Vin.
"I could tell. Something bothering you?"
//Chris is blocking me. Why Ezra? Don't he think I know what the helmets can do?//
Ezra looked at his young friend. "He does it because he's a grownup, and grownups forget that kids know and understand more then they want us to."
//Us? You're always saying how you're a grown man.//
"A man yes, but not so far away from being your age and being on my own. Don't be angry at Chris: he is very protective of you and JD."
Ezra smiled, "And me."
//Ezra, why are you staying? Why are you taking care of us?//
The teen looked around at the scenery and then at Vin. He cleared his throat and said, "Over the last few months I've come to feel we seven have drawn together not just as comrades in arms, but as a family in some sort of odd way. I've come to think of you and JD as my little brothers."
//We need to get the others. Do you think we can trust Jax to help us?//
"A good question. Yes, I do. I know that sounds strange coming from me. While JD is busy with the kittens I propose we confront Mr. Freeman to see what his plans may be to free our our family."
//Yeah, what you said, I think.//
"JD, I'll be in the house," Ezra called as he and Vin headed inside.
Nathan sat watching the shadows lengthen from the mouth of the cave. He knew he needed to go out tonight. They needed water and food. Perhaps he could hear something about the camp. He'd learned over the last couple of weeks that the townsfolk were very good at ignoring the camp and anything connected with it. It was as if the camp and the town were in two different realities.
Even odder was when he went scavenging into town there were unopened bottles of water and sealed packages of food left in the garbage bins where he looked. He also found pages from ledgers, memo's, odd bits of information that told him many things. The best was that they had been somewhat successful in their raid. There were over four hundred detainees missing from the camp. Once free of the confines of the camp they had melted into the countryside. Jackson was no fool; he knew he owed his life as well as Josiah's to whoever these kind people were.
"Something troubles you, Nathan?" Josiah's weak voice came from deep inside the cave.
Nathan turned and went into the semi darkness. "What makes you say that, Josiah? Here drink this. Don't give me that look, its just water." The healer opened a small bottle of water and helped Josiah drink.
"I'm an empath, Nathan. I can feel the worry rolling off you. What bothers you, brother?"
The healer snorted, "You name it Josiah. There are just too many things. I'm going into town to get some supplies."
"Any word on Chris or Buck?"
"Sort of. Vin with Jax's help talked to me. They said they're alive."
"Alive? You're sure?" Josiah breathed out as the realization hit him, "God! What are we going to do?"
"Jax said to hold on, they'll work something out. To stay put and they'll be here in a few days."
"They? They who? Jax and the boys? Lord, Nathan that's crazy. What's one old man and three boys going to do?"
"I don't know Josiah, but they offered the only hope I've had in days. You're just now doing better. I wasn't even sure Buck and Chris were alive. I don't know what else to do, Josiah, except hope Jax can serve up miracles."
Josiah shook his head feeling the helplessness and worry from Nathan. "I understand, Nathan. Are the boys doing okay?"
"Far as I could tell. It was odd; Jax seemed to be enhancing Vin's power. It seemed like I was 'talking' to Jax but Vin was there too. Now how do you suppose that took place?"
Shaking his head Josiah said, "Don't know. Buck might tell if he were here. He's the one that knows or rather knew Jax."
"I'll be back around dawn. It's better to go at night."
Later Josiah watched until Nathan was out of sight. It was going to be a long night. He took another swig of water and wished it were something stronger.
Jax leaned back and looked at Ezra. "Well?"
"It could work. As with any plan there are variables that could go wrong, but this one sounds good."
Freeman looked at his notes again. "Do you think JD will be alright with this? Can he do his part?"
"Most assuredly. JD is very bright and he's been working what you might call cons his whole life."
"We'll leave at first light. That will give us all time to rest up."
"Vin, we need to try to contact Nathan and tell him were coming."
//Not Nathan - Nathan's too hard. We should try Josiah first.//
Jax looked, really looked at the boy. "You've been trying to talk to Chris." He said it as a statement rather than a question.
//He won't talk. He's worried about all of us. Besides, he don't want me to know how hurt he is.//
"Did you tell him anything about our plans?"
//No. Just I miss him an' we want him back.//
"Good boy. Okay, relax and just like last time think about Josiah "