Disclaimer: Not one of these gorgeous guys is owned by me much to my distress.
Notes: AU, set in different present. Second in the Haven Series.
The ultimate loner was now part of a team. Vin smiled thinking about it. He had no idea what would be happening next, just that it felt right. The cabin he woke up in turned out to be the main house of a small, isolated ranch, bordered by the mountains. Now stronger, and able to leave the cabin for the first time since he'd awoken there two days before, he sat out on the porch enjoying the sunset. The telepath had only been out there for a few minutes when he felt a presence behind him. Even without scanning, he knew it was Chris. He'd become increasingly aware of the older man over the past couple days; even separated from the others, he'd still felt a strong connection to this man. Seemingly without trying, the telepath knew where Chris was, and, at times, what the man was thinking. Vin didn't know how to feel about this, and wasn't sure whether he should share that information. He didn't like keeping something like this from his new friend, but could tell how private the man was.
Tanner held his hand out behind him. "One of those beers better be for me," he said. He was rewarded with the cold, damp bottle being placed in his hand. "Thanks."
Vin patted the seat next to himself, and his new, unofficial leader sat down. It was only unofficial because the man refused to say he was in charge of the others, yet if there was a decision to be made, Vin had already seen, that all eyes sought out the man in black for an answer.
"How're you doing?"
"As well as you can expect. Nathan said he was surprised at how fast I bounced back from the overload."
"You surprised us all. Do you remember what happened at the docks?"
Vin nodded, taking a swig of alcohol. He had been doing nothing but thinking over the past two days, since Nathan refused to let the others near him while he was rebuilding his shields. Once Tanner had agreed to join the motley crew, the healer had put his foot down and demanded the telepath rest and recuperate fully before charging full speed ahead. The five other men had accepted this, and Vin's opinion was not asked. He'd wanted to learn more about his newfound friends and they were anxious to hear about their most recent addition. But the healer was obeyed, and Vin kept himself content by scanning the others at intervals, as if to remind himself he was alone no longer. And he convinced Nathan that he would recuperate much faster if he had a room with a window. From there he was able to watch his new team as they moved around the ranch.
Yesterday, he'd meditated and recalled what had brought him to this place of camaraderie. Vin was on his way to meet the ship so he could get out of the city, when he'd felt a presence. It tickled his mind, and he started to look around. He saw Chris, standing across the street, although at that time he hadn't known who Chris was. Just a stranger with whom, when their eyes met, he seemed to make a connection. Next thing he knew, he was reeling on the ground, being pummeled mentally by a focused attack. His shields were automatically thrown up, but being systematically torn down again, little by little. The stranger ran to his side and before he'd blacked out, he remembered the leader holding him, calling out for help. "Thanks, by the way."
"You're welcome." Chris took a swig out of his own beer bottle. "Sorry we couldn't stop the ship in time."
Vin turned away to watch the last of the sun's rays disappear from the horizon. "Hopefully, they're in a better place free."
They sat in companionable silence for quite a while, until the blond spoke.
"Can I ask you something?" At the younger man's nod he continued. "Do you extract?"
Vin drained the last of his beer. "Are you asking if I can read minds?"
"Can you tell what I'm thinking?"
Vin sighed, not sure how much he should say. So he decided to avoid the true question, while giving an honest answer. "I don't actively look into others' minds; that would be invading their privacy. Usually I only do a quick scan to see if they may be harmful."
"Harmful to whom?"
"Me or mine."
"The sentients you protected?"
Vin squinted his eyes as he looked sideways at the blond. "What exactly do you know about them, anyway?"
"Let's see you were hired as a bounty hunter to hunt down sentients that were known, but not controlled. Within two weeks you disappeared from Baines' radar, and the hunter became the hunted. All the while you were trying to remain concealed, you still hunted down sentients. Except, instead of turning them in to collect your reward, you helped them to get away. Now you are on Baines' hit list, as well as on his wanted posters."
"I have my moments." The blond leaned back in his chair, smiling smugly.
"No I just never thought you could say that much in one day."
The older man deliberately lifted his middle finger. The telepath could barely see it in the fading light, but chuckled. Chris laughed along, glad that this somber youth was starting to enjoy something. "So what other tricks do you do?"
"You make me sound like a dog," Vin said, disdainfully. "Why is it all about me? What about you and the others?"
"What do you want to know?"
"What kind of tricks can you do?"
"You're funny, Larabee. Stop, my side is hurting."
Chris chuckled at the young man's monotone. "Sorry, couldn't resist. Moving furniture, people, and small stuff like that is pretty easy. If I concentrate harder I can do cars and trucks. But those use a lot of my energy."
"What's the heaviest thing you've pushed?"
"Shit. Not bad."
"Knocked me out for three hours." The blond smiled. "Woke up with one hell of a headache."
Vin was startled by someone's arm being thrown across his shoulder. "I thought you were the most powerful mind in the world, Junior," Buck said with a laugh. "Can't you tell it's dark out?"
The telepath shrugged the mustached man's arm off. "Speaking of dark, Buckley, how 'bout that black hole you call a brain?"
Chris tried to hold in a snicker. "Buckley?"
"Hey now. You been rooting around where you shouldn't?" Buck asked, tapping the side of his own head.
"Don't worry," Vin said, "ain't that much there."
Chris laughed at the morose expression on his mustached friend's face. With a head tilt, Chris motioned Buck to stay and talk to Vin. Buck nodded his understanding, and Vin was nice enough to ignore the exchange. "Well," Chris said, rising from his chair, "I'd better go check to make sure Ezra hasn't fleeced our youngest again."
"Good night, Chris."
"So what do you want to know, Buck?"
"What makes you think I want to know anything?"
"Um I'm a mind reader."
"Oh, yeah." Buck shrugged. "I just want to see how you're doing. We'll be leaving soon."
"Nathan tells me I'm good."
"Not exactly what I meant." He couldn't see the telepath anymore, and reaching over, grabbed an oil lamp from the table on the porch. Buck concentrated his force and the wick bloomed with fire.
"Geez!" Vin jerked in his seat. The telepath had kept his shields up, so while he knew the mustached man had power, he hadn't known what kind. Vin relaxed back into his seat as the grinning man placed the lamp on the porch's railing, illuminating their small area. "Nice."
"I thought it'd be easier to talk if we could see each other's faces."
"What can I say, when you're hot, you're hot." The telepath groaned at Buck's pathetic attempt at humor.
Tanner was normally not a talkative man, but his curiosity was getting the better of him. In order to work with these men, he had to know what they could do. "How much energy can you put out?"
"I can light a match."
"Hell, Buck, I can light a match."
"Toss some fireballs."
"Eighty feet or so."
Vin whistled, impressed. "This sure is a formidable group I joined."
"And this is just the beginning, Junior," Buck replied, grinning shamelessly. "Wait until you see us in action."
The two men sat on the porch, watching the flame on the oil lamp, and listening to the animated conversation from inside the cabin. Buck and Vin heard Larabee yelling at Ezra to shut up.
"You're good for him, y'know." The telepath remained silent, which Buck took as agreement. "This is more alive than I've seen him in three years."
Tanner tore his gaze away from the lamplight in order to look at Wilmington. "How long have you known him?" he asked quietly.
"Going on ten years. We been through a lot."
"I'm not trying to take yer place, Buck," Vin was quick to assure.
"I know that, pard. There's no way you could. I am and will always be Chris' oldest friend." Buck watched the young man's face as he continued. "But, I believe he may have found a new best friend." It took the longhaired youth a moment to realize what the older man was saying. Buck saw Vin glance up in surprise. The smile he gave Buck was hesitant, but the blue eyes showed a depth of understanding.
"But nothing, Vin. I have enough trouble keeping JD in line; I don't need to be watching out for Chris, too. It's time to let someone else take over."
All the men had gone to bed save Vin and Ezra. The telepath was still up because he said he'd had enough rest the past few days to last a lifetime, and Ezra never went to bed until the wee hours. The two were sitting at the table in the main room, and Ezra was showing Vin how to play poker. Ez fancied himself a gambler, and was horrified when he discovered the telepath had no idea how to play the game. After a few minutes instruction they got down to business. They played for a while before Vin spoke.
"So why am I supposed to team up with you guys?"
"To save the world from the tyranny of the Guild."
"I'm the savior?!"
"Are you insane? With that outfit?" The well-bred Southerner gestured at the buckskin coat the telepath was wearing. "I'm sure a savior would have better taste than that," he added scornfully.
"So why am I here?"
"I should've said, 'To help save the world from the tyranny of the Guild'."
"Y'all don't start small, do ya?"
"Actually, I don't know if we can succeed."
"You don't know?... Well, why would you?"
"I'm clairvoyant." At Vin's astonished glance he laughed. "Third level only, I'm afraid, much to the chagrin of my dear mother. Although, until I joined this band of merry men, I had only been level two."
"So you can't see everything?"
"Lord, no," Ezra chuckled. "I just receive enough flashes to get me in trouble."
They played for a few more minutes when Ez suddenly folded his hand.
Vin looked at the gambler and asked, "You just got a flash, didn't you?"
"How did you know that?"
"I felt it."
Ezra tilted his head, seemingly absorbing this new information, then smiled slyly, showing off his gold tooth. "My friend, that skill could become useful," he said as he dealt another round of cards.
"Don't even think about it. I ain't connin' no one."
"You misunderstand me," Standish said.
"Sure I do. So that's why you always win at cards?"
"Certainly not. I would never use my powers to cheat."
"Ya jest did!"
"Only because I am playing opposite a mind reader. What other defense did I have?"
"Right," Vin grunted. He once again tried to get a handle on the gambler. The man's natural shields were abnormally strong, and Vin was hard-pressed to read him. The telepath guessed he'd have to rely on good old-fashioned judgment to deal with this new friend. "So you have no idea if we'll win?"
Despite the non-sequitor, Ezra knew exactly what the younger man wanted to know. "I'm unable to see if we will be successful in our undertaking."
"Well, what do ya know?"
"I know one thing for certain."
"If we stay together, we stand one helluva chance."
Tanner stood on the porch the next morning, watching Chris, Buck, JD, and Nathan putting their horses through their paces. The longhaired man was impressed at the skill with which these men rode, as if they had been born in the saddle. It reminded him of his childhood in Texas, watching all the cowhands work their steeds. Vin knew Ezra was still sleeping since he'd been up so late trying to teach a telepath how to bluff. And Vin also knew that Josiah would be coming out to have another conversation with him. He had talked previously with the grey-haired man, finding out he'd been a preacher at one time, and was an excellent listener still. That was more than likely due to the fact that, as an empath, he could sense what others were feeling and was able to put them at ease. Tanner didn't think that was the entire reason though. He believed Sanchez had an 'old soul,' very wise and understanding. The telepath had explained a few of his abilities, but the older man kept asking more. Vin didn't mind though, he knew it was for the good of the team.
"What now, Josiah?" Vin gently asked as he felt the large man next to him.
"Have you ever tried astral projection?" Josiah asked. Trying to figure out the extent of Vin's powers was taking up a lot of his time. Knowing what the telepath was capable of would help any operations they might carry out.
"Sending my spirit out of my body?" Vin leaned against the railing, as if debating whether to answer that or not. "Once," he admitted.
"Never again? Didn't you like it?" The preacher was curious.
"Have you ever done it?"
"Not part of my abilities, I'm afraid." Josiah turned to look at the longhaired man in front of him. The youth's pose was relaxed, but Josiah could see the turmoil behind the hooded eyes. "Why only once?" he asked, softly.
"I was scared." The voice was barely above a whisper, and the blue eyes that rose to look at the preacher were full of pain. "I was afraid I wouldn't come back." Vin sent his gaze to the mountains, surrounding the ranch. "Have you ever known pure freedom? That's what it is, you know. No cares, no feelings, no hurting just floating forever. Nothing else matters." He returned his gaze to Josiah. "That's why I never did it again."
The empath reached across and placed his hand on his new friend's, simply saying, "I would bring you back." The big man's heart was warmed by Vin's shy smile.
Tanner felt a little too closed in after the brief exchange, and told Josiah that he was going for a walk. Although Vin longed to be part of the group, his defense mechanisms kept kicking in, warning the telepath that if he cared, he could hurt. His conscious mind told him he could trust these men with his life, but that didn't put all his inner demons to rest.
JD was grooming his horse when Vin returned from his walk. "I like your hat," Vin said, pointing at the bowler resting on the youngest man's head.
"You do?" JD grinned widely. "Thanks. Buck hates it, but I fell in love with it as soon as I saw it. It's just like the one Bat Masterson used to wear."
"Yeah, the only problem is I can't wear it when we go out. It's too recognizable."
"I can see how that would stick in people's minds," Tanner agreed. He reached over the fence to pat the horse, and something fell from his pocket. JD picked it up, handing it back to the slightly older man.
"Were these your mother's?" JD asked of the keychain.
"Yeah, how'd you know?" He looked at the string of beads, remembering how he'd made it from his mother's favorite necklace. Vin put the keychain back into his jacket pocket.
"That's my gift, I'm a psychometrist."
"Uh huh. I hate to look stupid, but "
"Psychometry is the ability to obtain knowledge about an object or person connected with it through contact with the object."
Vin smiled, the kid sounded like he was reciting from a dictionary. "So you touch things, and can tell who had them before?"
"Basically. It depends."
"How long ago the object was touched, how long the person had the object, how strong the potential of the person lots of things."
"I didn't think so for a long time. I suppose finding Buck and the others saved my life."
Vin had noticed how strong the connection was between the jovial man and this young one before him. "He saved you?"
"Imagine, knowing everything about anyone who touched anything you touch. I knew exactly where all my food came from; anyplace I went and anything I tried to buy had a story to it. I could picture the inspectors of my underwear for God's sake. I was bombarded; overloaded on useless information."
"Buck found me crying over a dead dog. It had belonged to a little girl whose father told her it was going to live on a farm. The dad just took it into the city and pushed it out the car to fend for itself."
"I know. With all the crap going wrong in the world, I break down over some mutt. Can you believe it? Luckily, Buck understood what was happening. He took one look at my scrawny ass and brought me in. With Josiah's and Buck's help, I learned to block what info I didn't need, and open my shields only when necessary."
"Must be hard constantly having them up."
"Nah, it gets easier every day. I guess it's like a muscle, the more you exercise it, the stronger it becomes."
Over the past two days, Vin had worked on strengthening his body as well as his mind. Since the mission his new team was about to embark upon had many dangers, he wanted to show his new friends that he could be counted on in any situation. And this was the final test. If Nathan said he was good, the team would be able to leave.
Vin was curious about the abilities of the healer. They were in one of the bedrooms and Nathan had the telepath sit down in a chair while he moved his hands over Vin's body, checking for injuries.
Even though Vin knew Nathan had done this before, he'd usually been unconscious and now was feeling a bit awkward. And his mom had always told him, the best way to learn is to ask questions. "When did you become a doctor?"
"I ain't no doctor."
"Then how do you know what to do?"
"Some is feelings and the rest is common sense. Any library carries medical books; I read a lot."
Vin thought back to the warm comfort he'd felt as he was recovering in the bed after his overload. "Can you heal psychically?"
"A bit. I mostly help people boost their body's own ability to heal. And I can usually tell what the problem is even if'n I can't heal it."
"You read the wound?" Even with all that Tanner had seen, for some reason this struck him as ridiculous.
Jackson sensed Vin's amusement. "No, smart boy. I read the people, and they tell me what's wrong with them."
"How can they do that?"
"A person's brain carries all the information about their body. It's just impossible for some to find and then interpret the correct info needed to access the damage and heal the body. That's what I do."
"And you do it very well."
"Thanks, but flattery won't get help to clear you if you aren't all right." Nathan's hands stilled and dropped down to his sides. He stepped away from the telepath to sit on the edge of the bed, worry touching his features. "Do you really think you're ready?"
Vin understood what was being asked of him. He looked his friend directly in the eye and said, "I'm ready to help people, and to be a part of this team."
The seven gathered around the table to eat on their final night in the cabin. Chris informed the men they'd be leaving come morning; there was someone who needed their help. Vin was nervous about his first mission with the group, but tried not to let it show. Not an easy feat in a room full of sentients.
After the meal was done, the telepath pushed back from the table. "So, what do you fellas call yerselves?" Vin asked, stretching out in his chair, lacing his fingers behind his head.
"We don't have a name, we just do a job." Chris stated.
"Told you we should have a name," accused JD in a stage whisper to Buck.
"The lad's right," agreed Josiah, easily overhearing the comment. "It's a bonding thing."
Chris groaned, "Couldn't we just go kill and eat some small furry animals?"
"Maybe after, pard," Buck consoled his old friend. "But, first we need a name."
"Now, Chris. You gotta admit, if we're going to strike fear in the hearts of Baines and his crew, he needs to know who we are," said Nathan.
Ezra nodded. "A prestigious moniker could be of some use in getting the news of our achievements out to the populace."
Chris growled, "We're not doing this as a popularity contest."
No one spoke for a moment; they knew better than to get the man in black riled. Of course, the newest member held no such fear of the man. "How 'bout the Psychic Seven?" grinned the telepath. Chris' expected outburst didn't come, so that the others were comfortable adding their suggestions.
"Better yet, the Mystic Men," said Buck.
Ezra smiled. "I think the Sensational Sentients is appropriate."
JD listened to the ideas, and looked over at the television to a western he'd been watching. "How about the Magnificent Seven?" he asked softly. Though the tone was low, the sentiment carried throughout the room.
"I like it," said Nathan first.
"Seems kinda conceited, don't it?" questioned the Texan.
"Not when you're as good as we are," grinned Wilmington.
"Okay, we have a name, now go to bed," Chris ordered. "Everyone get a good night's sleep, we leave early and that means you, too, Ezra."
Continues in Confrontation
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