Disclaimers: I do not own any of the characters herein.
Notes: Thanks to JJJunky and Gemini for the quick betas.
Set in the Haven AU - takes place after the main series.
"What kind of coffee does Ez drink?" Vin Tanner called across the grocery aisle.
"That French roast crap," answered Chris Larabee, pointing at the specific brand.
//This one should be high enough.//
The coffee slipping from his grasp, Vin asked, "What did you say?"
"I didn't say anything."
//It'll be over soon.//
Vin spun sharply, but Chris was intent on filling the grocery cart.
Normally, Vin held his mental shields at "half-mast," so it didn't completely surprise the telepath someone had snuck through. What did surprise him was the feeling that the thoughts he was hearing were internalized not meant to be broadcast across the psychic plane. Lowering his shields entirely, Vin searched for the particular voice, filtering out the extraneous sounds vying for his attention.
//You can do this.//
There it was. Extending his range, Vin pinpointed the direction of the voice's owner. Tanner took off at a run, hearing Chris' confused shout behind him but paying it no heed. Racing out of the store and around the corner, intent on following the psychic trail, Vin wasnt aware Chris was close behind.
Pausing for a moment, Vin realized he'd lost the link. Panicked, he tried to reconnect. If asked, he couldn't say why it was so important, but he knew it was.
//Peace is within my grasp.//
He had it. Backtracking slightly, Vin darted into a building, flicking his gaze around for the stairwell. Feeling his time running out, Vin pushed himself harder. Ripping open the door, he started up the stairs at a fast clip. Adrenalin pumped through his veins, lending him an extra burst of speed. He quickly outdistanced Chris, jumping the steps three at a time.
Filled with increasing and unreasonable dread, Vin burst onto the roof, scanning for his target.
On the edge of the roof stood a young man, in his teens; his loose-fitting tee-shirt wafted in the breeze and his baggy jeans just about covered his sneakers. Caution returned in an instant. Vin slowly walked toward the would-be jumper. Sensing another's presence, the youth turned, warily watching Vin's approach. Silence stretched for a long moment.
Finally, he gave Vin a warm smile and jumped.
Vin watched in horrified slow motion, unable to grasp that he hadn't arrived in time. Reacting instinctively, he reached after the boy, as if he could halt the boy's downward progress, and began to fall over the edge. A sudden stop halted Vin mid-dive, but Vin remained connected mentally to the disturbed young mind as the body shattered against the unforgiving pavement.
The end of a life flared in Vin's mind, burning its way through. Too shocked to fight his way out, Vin gave in to the waiting shadows, grateful for the release.
Panting furiously, Chris followed his best friend. He had no idea what had happened. One minute they were shopping for food, the next he was racing out of the store and down the street, hell bent for leather.
Larabee had tried yelling to Vin, but had been ignored. He even tried contacting him mentally, but couldn't seem to get through. His only option was to try and keep up. When Vin stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, Chris thought he could finally ask what the hell was going on. But before he could catch his breath, Vin was off and running again, this time into an office building.
Gasping for air, Chris chased his friend up the stairs. By the time he had passed the fifth floor, he was convinced his heart would give out at any moment. When he reached the rooftop and saw Vin falling off the building, he thought it had. Using his telekinesis, Chris stopped Vin from going all the way over the edge. Hurrying to his friend's side, Larabee physically pulled the telepath back, shaken by the emptiness in his blue eyes. Looking down onto the street below, Chris saw a broken and bloodied body lying among a field of chaos: people were yelling and crying, traffic piled up as everyone in cars stopped to gape.
Realization dawned and Chris kneeled next to Vin in alarm. "Vin?" he hesitantly called. "Vin?"
There was no response from the catatonic man merely a wide-eyed stare.
//Vin?// Chris sent mentally. //Are you all right?//
It was like hitting a brick wall.
He needed to get Vin somewhere safe; the police would show up soon. It could undermine the efforts to establish good normal/sentient relations if two sentients were found at the scene of a suicide. Since the dissolution of the PCCA, the balance of public opinion was too precarious.
Lifting Vin, Chris discovered his friend would walk when led. Maneuvering the telepath down one flight of stairs to the elevator banks, Larabee pushed the button for the ground floor. Stepping back, he looked up at the mirrored walls of the elevator car. Vin's unfocused eyes reflected back at him, piercing Chris' soul. After a few agonizing moments, the doors opened and Chris could see the commotion at the front of the building. He guided Vin out a side entrance, avoiding as much attention as he could. Hailing a cab, Chris shoved Vin in the back, barking out the address.
Chris noticed the cab driver glance repeatedly in the rearview mirror. "Is he all right?" the cabbie asked.
"Yeah," Chris answered gruffly.
"He don't look it."
"His girlfriend just dumped him," Chris offered.
"Ah." The cabbie nodded. "That'll do it. I remember when my third wife left me "
Chris tuned out the conversation, knowing he wouldn't be required to add to the monologue. He forced himself to concentrate on the passing scenery and not his increasing worry over his friend's sanity.
Arriving at their rented country house, Larabee tossed money at the cabbie and pulled Vin from the cab to the house. JD met them at the door.
"Where's Nathan?" Chris demanded, leading Vin inside.
"He's in the"
JD ran off to find the healer as Buck appeared, helping Chris steer Vin to the couch.
"What's wrong with him, pard?" Buck asked.
"I think he was connected with someone who killed himself."
"When they died?" Buck was appalled.
Chris merely nodded.
"What is it? What happened?" Nathan burst into the room with JD at his heels.
As Chris briefly relayed what he knew, the healer placed his hands on either side of Vin's head. Tense silence enveloped the room as the men waited for Nathan's prognosis.
Finally, Nathan's hands dropped to his sides. "I can't help him," he announced softly.
"What do you mean?" Chris raged. "You've got to!"
"It's not his body, Chris, it's his mind. He needs Josiah."
"Well, where is he?"
"Josiah and Ezra went to watch a fencing match," offered Buck. "I don't know when they'll be back."
"Vin needs help now."
Buck shrugged. "Normally, we'd have Vin call 'em back mentally, but under the circumstances "
"Um " JD hesitantly began.
"What is it, JD?" Chris snapped.
"We could try this." The young psychometrist held up a cell phone.
There was a release of embarrassed laughter at their irrationality. In their blind panic, none of them had been able to think clearly.
JD dialed Josiah's number. He walked away from the group, conversing in low tones before hanging up. "He's on his way."
Chris paced restlessly. Josiah had been locked in Vin's room for over twenty minutes. The continued vigil threatened to snap his already frayed nerves.
Just as Chris was certain the empath was never going to come out, the door opened. Everyone's head turned at the sound, looking expectantly at Josiah. Chris' stomach tightened impossibly at the look on his friend's face. He tried to ask about Vin, but he had lost his ability to speak.
Luckily, Ezra had not. "How is Mr. Tanner?"
Josiah shook his head and didn't say anything.
"Josiah " Nathan pleaded.
"It's not good," Josiah said. "He's dug in deep."
JD asked, "What does that mean?"
"He's trapped inside his own mind. I don't know if we can get him out." Sanchez looked at Chris. "We need outside help."
"Absolutely not," Chris answered immediately.
"I concur," Ezra said. "As an intensely private person, Mr. Tanner would never forgive us that lapse."
"Even to save his life?" JD asked.
"It's not safe," Buck agreed. "I wouldn't trust anyone beyond our team. Not for something like this."
Josiah unwillingly accepted their decision. "Then it's up to us." He took a deep breath. "Chris, I think you have the best chance."
Chris started then nodded. He knew his bond with the telepath was the strongest in the group. He walked into the bedroom, followed closely by Josiah.
Vin was lying on the bed, his eyes closed. If he didn't know any better, Chris would swear the telepath was sleeping peacefully. Chris heard Josiah talking to Nathan.
"I'm afraid we have to do this alone, Brother."
"But what if y'all run into trouble?" Nathan responded.
"If we do, I'm afraid it won't matter if you're here."
Chris cringed at the declaration. He hated seeing Vin so vulnerable helpless. Vin was normally so strong even when overpowered by his "gift." Everything that had been thrown at Vin had been conquered, but Chris worried this might prove an exception. He felt Josiah move behind him. "What do we do?" Amazingly, his voice sounded strong.
"Before we do anything, I want to explain how serious this is."
"I know it's serious, Josiah," Chris impatiently snapped.
"I'm not sure you do," Sanchez responded calmly. "We are taking a big risk. Our attempt might actually drive him deeper to a place you won't be able to follow. If we go in and are unable to bring Vin out, he'll die." Josiah waited a beat, letting his statement sink in. "Not physically, but he'll be lost inside his own mind forever. No one will be able to reach him not even the world's most powerful telepath."
Terrified, Chris stated, "We're both coming out. I'm not leaving him behind." Chris lay on the mattress next to Vin and grasped his hand. Josiah sat at the foot of the bed, placing his hands on their legs, completing the circle.
"I'll take you in as far as I can," Josiah said. "I'm hoping Vin will unconsciously bring you in the rest of the way."
Chris nodded his understanding. "I'm ready."
"Close your eyes and concentrate on Vin only on Vin."
Doing as instructed, Chris felt himself pushed bit by bit before suddenly being wrenched forward. Opening his eyes, he found himself in a desert landscape. It looked so real; he could feel the light breeze on his face and smell the earthy bouquet. Distant mountains were silhouetted against a vibrant sunset of pinks and peaches. Vin sat at the edge of a cliff, watching the scenic vista. Chris was nervous having the telepath that close to the drop off; it was a bit too similar to the incident that sent him here.
Without turning around, Vin called. "Hey, Cowboy. Howdy, Josiah."
Chris swiveled. Josiah stood several feet back, motioning him forward. Beyond the empath was a cluster of storm clouds, black and menacing.
Sitting beside Vin, Chris refused to look over the edge, training his eyes on the sunset. "It's beautiful," he offered, unsure where to begin.
Of course, Vin never made it easy on him. "Yep."
Chris tried again. "What are you doing?"
"Where are we?"
Vin looked at Chris, visibly confused. "You oughta know, pard, you managed ta find me."
It suddenly hit Chris that Vin didn't know he was in a false reality. "Vin, how long have you been sitting here?"
"Awhile now, I guess."
"And the sun has been setting all this time?"
Vin nodded. "Imagine so."
"Shouldn't it be down by now?"
The telepath frowned, but didn't answer.
"Vin, this isn't real."
"'Course it is." He reached over and gave Chris a shove. "See?"
"Vin, this is all in your mind," Chris said. "You're actually lying in your bed back at the house."
"What're you playing at, pard?"
"It's no game, Vin, it's your life. Don't you remember what happened today?"
"Sure," Vin said, not taking his eyes off the sky, "we took Nathan to see his sister."
"That was over a month ago."
Vin chuckled. "I 'member it clear as day, Chris. We was at her place coupla hours ago."
"Then how did you get here from Baltimore?"
"This isn't real," Chris repeated.
"Stop it." Vin was getting angry.
"A couple hours ago you and I went to get groceries. You ran out of the store."
"No." Vin started shaking his head.
"Yes." Chris continued to push. "I followed you up to the roof of a building."
"No!" Vin yelled, closing his eyes. "No," he repeated, softer.
From the corner of his eye, Chris saw the storm clouds moving closer as if pushed by a mighty wind. Vin started rocking back and forth, clutching his head in pain. Chris backed away, scared. He didn't know what the hell he was doing. What if he was killing his best friend? His reverse momentum was stopped by an unyielding wall Josiah.
"You have to keep pushing, Chris," Josiah barked over the growing wind.
Raindrops splattered on Chris' face. He focused his gaze on Vin, who was rocking and moaning. "I don't think I'm helping!"
"You are," Josiah countered. "This storm means his memories are surfacing; the self-induced amnesia is crumbling. You have to be there to help him deal with the memories and bring him back to us." Josiah lightly pushed Chris toward Vin. "Keep doing what you were doing. Keep him talking. If he remembers he can deal with it."
Hesitantly walking back, Chris looked down at his friend. Vin was kneeling, eyes still closed, as if he was praying. Perhaps he was. If anything, this would be the time to seek the help of a higher power.
"Vin, listen to me you have to remember what happened."
The clouds moved overhead; the rain began to fall steadily in pelting drops.
Vin opened his eyes and looked up at Chris, scaring the telekinetic with the intensity of his anguish. "I don't want to remember."
"I know." Chris sympathized, but refused to relent. "I know, but we all want you back with us and this is the only way." He helped Vin stand.
The stinging rain pounded down on them. Chris grabbed Vin by the shoulders, yelling to be heard above the raging winds. "What happened on the roof, Vin? What did you see? What did you feel?"
Tears streamed down the telepath's face as he struggled to speak. "I saw I saw a kid he weren't nothin' but a kid, Chris."
Chris urged, "Go on."
"He was standin' on the ledge. I thought I could stop him. I thought he called fer m' help."
Thunder boomed and lightning flashed. The rain was coming down as sleet, whipping through his clothes. Chris fought to hear Vin's next words.
"He smiled at me I was relieved." Vin laughed harshly. "Then he jumped." The telepath held his hands together, trying to stop the shaking. "I was too shocked ta even think what I was doin', I jest tried to" Vin cut off; his eyes started to glaze over, the way they had earlier.
"No you don't!" Chris roared. He smacked Vin across the face, startling the telepath.
The sky darkened completely. The only time Chris could see anything at all was when the lightning flashed. He refused to release Vin, certain if he did, the telepath would fall from the cliff's edge and be lost to him forever.
"Let it go, Vin!" Chris shook his friend, screaming at the top of his lungs. "You have to let his pain go!"
"It's not the pain!" Vin shouted back.
Not understanding, Chris asked, "What?"
"He was happy, goddammit!"
"What do you mean?" Chris' confusion increased.
"His life had been so shitty," Vin cried, "he was happy 'cause he didn't have to die alone!"
The storm rose in a cacophony of sound, increasing in force and volume.
Larabee struggled through the darkness, searching for Vin. One by one, his senses awakened, letting him know he was back in the real world. Slowly he became aware of his body lying on the bed, back at the house.
"Chris Chris, wake up." Josiah's rumbled timbre appealed to him.
He didn't want to open his eyes and face his failure. He had failed Vin, failed the team. Chris realized he was still holding Vin's hand, but didn't want to let go of the final link to his friend. He tightened his grip.
"Either propose or give me m' hand back."
Chris knew he'd never heard a sweeter sound than the sarcastic Texas drawl. "Vin?" He sprang from the bed, bouncing it in his excitement.
"Whoa watch it, cowboy." Vin remained horizontal, rubbing his hand over his eyes. "I ain't got m' sea legs yet."
Forcing himself to calm down, Chris asked, "Are you okay?"
"No," Vin replied, blue eyes staring into Chris'. "But I think I will be. Thanks."
"Thank, Josiah," Chris said. "He's the one who figured it out."
Josiah countered, "You did all the work, Chris."
"But you got me there."
"But you were the one that"
"Hey," Vin interrupted. "Could you congratulate yerselves later? I could use some whiskey and an aspirin in that order."
Josiah smiled indulgently. "Of course, Vin. I'll inform Nathan of your medicinal requests." He left the room, still smiling.
"Dammit, you know Nate ain't gonna let me have any o' that stuff," Vin spat.
"Yep." Chris knew Nathan would be coming in soon to check Vin over.
"Damn empath," Vin grumbled.
Chris wasn't buying any of it. "You scared me."
Vin snorted. "Hell, I scared m'self." Scooting up, Vin rested his back on the headboard. "I never knew there was such immense power. It overwhelmed me."
"I'm not surprised. But you made it."
"I couldn't've done it alone," Vin said. "It was too hard."
"Lucky thing is you're never alone."
"Lucky, huh?" Vin smiled enigmatically.
"Pure luck," Chris added.
"I guess that's one way to look at it."
Chris stood and stepped back as the room was flooded with the rest of the team, anxious to see for themselves that Vin was okay.
Watching the lighthearted chaos, Chris quietly said, "We're all lucky."
Josiah moved beside Chris. "Amen, Brother."
"He's not okay, is he?" Chris asked in low tones, watching Vin joke around with JD while ducking to keep Buck from mussing his hair.
"Not by a long shot. He was connected with another person at his exact moment of death we're damn fortunate Vin didn't follow." Josiah grunted. "Now it's up to us to make sure he heals."
"Count on it."
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