by Brate

Follows Protection

Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters from Magnificent Seven. Dang.

Notes: Seventh and final in the Haven series. I may write more in this universe, but this first series is complete (finally!). And to anyone who wants to write in this AU, it is open. Thanks to Jennye. Heidi, and Gem who made sense of my chaos.

Chris Larabee and Vin Tanner drove up to the guardhouse at the outer edge of the Travis Estate in Silver Spring, Maryland. Ever since the attempt on his life a month before, federal personnel secured the judge's home. Chris and Vin had their IDs checked and their arrival announced before they cleared the security gate. They drove the car up close to the main house.

Orrin Travis had invited Larabee to his home to discuss something, and Chris had invited Vin along. Walking toward the house, the two sentients could see that the rear of the house had been rebuilt. It had been a month since its destruction while trying to protect the chief justice. The two men sincerely hoped Mrs. Travis had forgiven them for allowing her home to be damaged and her assortment of ceramic dogs to be destroyed.

Halfway to the door, Tanner called out, "Hold up; there's a shit- load of people in there."

Chris stopped beside his friend and watched as Vin tilted his head toward the building, apparently running a telepathic scan. "Is it a trap?"

Vin shook his head as he finished the scan. "Nope," he said, giving a shit-eating grin. "Let's go." Tanner started a slow stroll toward the house.

"Who's all in there?" Chris called out after him.

"Ya'd better not be late for this meetin', Cowboy."

Larabee sighed in frustration since it was obvious the longhaired telepath wasn't going to share any information. He started to walk again, passed Vin, and looked back over his shoulder. "You coming?"

"Hell, yeah," Vin replied with a smile. "This'll be too good ta miss."

Chris knocked on the front door. Orrin Travis, himself, opened the door. Seeing the sentients, he swept his arm aside, inviting the men inside. After some casual greetings, he led them into the main living room at the front of the house. Larabee stopped in shock as he saw who was waiting in the center of the room:

The President of the United States, Maxwell Hawthorne.


At first Vin was amused at the idea of Chris meeting with the President, but now that he was inside near the Secret Service men, the reality of the situation hit and made him nervous. He kept his head down and remained in the background, his long hair obscuring his face.

"Perhaps we could discuss this alone," the President said. He motioned to his security team to leave them, but allowed his key staff to remain. The lead agent moved to the President's side, clearly unhappy with that decision. After a tense discussion that the rest of the people in the room tactfully ignored, the lead agent signaled his men to go into the next room. They begrudgingly stepped outside the room, giving the illusion of privacy to those inside.


Once the Secret Service had left, Hawthorne turned to Larabee and said, "Officially, as Chief Executive of the United States, I'm in charge of making sure the laws are enforced."

"I learned that in elementary school," Chris drawled. "Doesn't explain why we're here." He sat down in a chair and crossed his arms over his chest. Since Hawthorne had gone along with the PCCA, the telekinetic had little respect for his Commander-in-Chief.

"I asked Orrin to get in touch with you. He told me how you helped save his life, even though you were fugitives at the time."

"Cut to the chase, sir. What do you want?"

"I want you and your team to work for me."

"What?" Chris leaned forward in surprise.

"Even though the PCCA has been abolished it doesn't mean the struggle is over. As with desegregation, it'll take time to change people's minds."

"And that's where we come in?"

"Yes, Mr. Larabee. I need your help -- the country needs your help." Hawthorne paused, letting the statement settle in for a moment. "We need your particular talents to ensure peace is kept… for psionics as well as others." The President faced the sentients. "Knowing you have been hunted and on the run for so long, I understand your reluctance. But there is an issue I believe only you can help with." He took a deep breath. "When news of the dissolution of the Guild hit, Paul Baines disappeared. We think he may be holed up in the facility referred to as 'The Dungeon'."

Vin had remained quiet, watching from a corner until he heard this. "Ya knew about the Dungeon?" he demanded, outraged. "And ya did nothin' ta stop it?"

The President's Chief of Staff, Robert Aims, came forward to defend the President, but Hawthorne waved him off. "I understand that you are upset; I would be, too, if I were in your place."

"Yer mind is closed; you ain't in my place."

"Closed?" The President looked to Travis for an answer.

"A slang term for people without psionic ability," Travis answered. "A closed mind means free of any power or abilities."

"Clever," President Hawthorne acknowledged. "But the question on the table is whether I knew about the Dungeon. I'm ashamed to say that, up until recently, I did not. I let Baines and the Guild control themselves. Once their group was dissolved, their budget was open for inspection and various questionable expenditures were found."

"Questionable?" Vin scoffed.

"Outrageous. Including millions of dollars disappearing into a still unidentified facility. Only recently we discovered it was being used as a place for the experimentation on psionics." Hawthorne shook his head, sadness and defeat etched on his face. "I had no idea what was happening within my own administration. And I don't know how to go about stopping him permanently. That's why I'm offering you men this opportunity."

"What exactly is the 'opportunity'?"

"The seven of you will become a Psionic Task Force. You will report to Orrin, who reports directly to me."

Vin and Chris stared at Travis. The older man smiled. "As of tomorrow I will be officially retired from the Court."

"And the government is okay with this?" Chris asked. "Sentients on the payroll?"

"The budget of Psi Team Seven has already been approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee in closed session. Gentlemen, your team will have the resources and money previously set aside for the Guild."

"How do you know you can trust us?"

"I don't know. I am trusting my old friend who trusted you with his life. It seems to have worked out for him."

"We'll have to speak with the others about this."

"Of course." Hawthorne motioned to Aims, who handed the President a file folder. Maxwell Hawthorne handed the file to Larabee. "Inside you'll find all the details of the proposal. There is a phone number as well; it is my direct line. Call if you need anything."


Vin drove while Chris read the file Hawthorne had given him.

"It could work," Chris mused aloud.


"I think we can do it."

"Ya want us to work fer the government? They're the ones that've been chasing people like us fer years."

"It needs to stop somewhere. And this way we'd have some level of control."



"Jest like Baines."

"I think he's an extreme example."

"He's extreme all right," Tanner murmured as he swung the car onto the highway onramp.

"We'll have backup."

"What kinda backup?"

"Says here a platoon will be available to us to provide force in numbers when needed," Chris stated.

"Who are these guys?"

"Soldiers specially chosen to work with us. They even have some sentients in it."

"We get ta boss soldiers around?" At last there was something that seemed to impress the stoic telepath.

"Imagine so."

"But still…"

"You might like another aspect of this deal," Chris prompted.

Vin tried to contain his curiosity. He failed. "Okay, what?"

"A Presidential pardon."

"For me?"

"No one else needs one. Hawthorne is going to pardon you for what happened with Jess Kincaid."

"But I didn't do it," the telepath reiterated, slapping a hand on the steering wheel. "And ya know it!"

"Yes, I know that, Vin, but there's no way to prove it. This is the best we can hope for."

"Sometimes the best tastes bitter."

"Can't help the taste, but the charges will be gone."

Vin laughed bitterly. "Gone, but never forgotten." He cleared his throat. "Just like the fact that a lotta people died because of Baines and Eli Joe; everyone lost on the boat when ya found me. And they died fer nothin' -- the Act's repealed, makin' all of their struggle fer nothin'."

"It means everything! Because of the people we saved from the Guild. Hell, we saved you, too. So don't say the fight for freedom means nothing, because all of us --including you -- would lay down our lives to prevent them from going to the camps, or worse."

"Don't have ta do that now."

"The fight's not over yet. We've got a long way to go to clean up this mess, and get the public to accept sentients."

"What happens to the people at Haven?" Vin asked.

"I guess they can stay there or come back to the States."

"It's been awhile fer some. Might not feel like home no more."

"Then we'll help with that, too."

"Ya know I'll follow where ya lead," Vin told his best friend. "Jest be sure you don't lead yer way off a cliff."

Chris chuckled before turning serious. "Did you scan him?"

"Who? The Prez?"


"That'd be immoral." Tanner retained an angelic expression for a few seconds before sliding into a sly grin.

Larabee snorted. "So what did you see?"

"He's tellin' the truth." Vin shrugged. "He wants ta make it right."


Chris and Vin arrived back at the ranch. Ezra Standish had purchased the property after the announcement recalling the Psionic Control and Containment Act. He used one of the dummy corporations he'd set up to make the purchase. Still wary of announcing their presence, the seven men continued to maintain a low profile. Although the anti-sentient law was declared unconstitutional and they were technically "free," they felt no reason to advertise themselves. Just proclaiming something doesn't make it so; there were years of prejudice to overcome.

Vin pulled the car in front of the house. He and Chris got out and went inside, disappointed to find themselves seemingly alone in the two-story house.

"Where is everyone?" Chris asked.

"Don't know. Prob'ly didn't 'spect us back so soon."

Josiah came out of the kitchen munching on a sandwich. "Brothers, you've returned."

"Yeah, and we have some things to discuss. Where's everyone else?"

"I believe Ezra is out back, JD and Buck are riding, and Nathan is upstairs."

"I'll git 'em," Vin said to his leader. Chris needs y'all at the house, he sent to the four missing men.

Josiah Sanchez looked between both men, a question on his lips. Vin shook his head and waved him off. The empath nodded and retreated into the next room.

Nathan Jackson arrived first, quickly followed by Ezra. Larabee asked them both to wait in the living room with Josiah. Tanner leaned against the wall and smiled as he heard Buck Wilmington coming in from the back.

"I swear if that boy does that again, I'll smack 'im a good one."

JD Dunne could be heard right behind. "Come on, Buck, it's the quickest way to get in touch with all of us."

"Coulda killed me!"

"Maybe you should learn to control your horse better."

"I can control him s'long as someone ain't blabbing inside my mind!" As the sentence ended, Buck crossed the threshold and saw the telepath across the room.

"What's wrong, Buckley?" Vin laughed at the tall man, whose jeans were dirty and grass-stained. Buck's red plaid shirt had an elbow torn open as well. "Fall off yer horse?"

"Goddammit, Vin! Ain't you ever heard of a cell phone?"

"Yep. Never use 'em, though… they can cause brain damage." Vin tapped the side of his head.

"Like you could tell," Buck shot back. "What's the ruckus, Chris?"

"Got something to talk to you all about." Chris told everyone to take a seat in the next room and followed them in.

The main gathering room had a relaxed feel. The huge fireplace was the centerpiece, with comfortable furniture spread out. There was a television in the corner, and a coffee table in the center. Josiah and Nathan sat down on the large couch, while Buck sat himself on the smaller one. Ezra sat in the lounge chair and Vin perched himself on its arm. JD had managed to make a seat for himself on the rug in front of the fireplace.

Once everyone was settled, Chris outlined President Hawthorne's offer. Vin watched as Larabee talked: Ezra had on an impassive face that would rival a statue; Nathan sat forward, listening intently; Josiah wore a pensive expression. JD smiled, his eyes shining; Buck sat back with his legs stretched out, hands laced behind his head. No one seemed overly shocked by the idea of working for the government.

"What exactly are we supposed to accomplish in this group?" asked Josiah.

"Anything that needs to be done," Chris said. "Apparently we have free rein."

"Anything?" JD had trouble closing his mouth.

"Anything." Ezra smirked, the light glinting off his gold tooth.

"One good thing the government managed on their own was shutting down the camps," Nathan commented. "That part is done."

Buck grunted. "So what's our first mission gonna be?"

Chris looked around the room at his friends and team members. "We need to find the Dungeon and put it out of business for good."

That stunned the gathered sentients.

"That's no easy task, pard." Buck looked around at his team with wide eyes. "How many people have gone up against Baines and lost?"

"This time we have the resources and the support to do it for good," Chris growled. "We need to get rid of Baines."

Ezra nodded. "I must agree with that. He is a sadistic…"

"…self-righteous…" Josiah added.

"…goat-roping…" Vin snarled.

"…son of a bitch," Buck finished.

"Goat-roping?" Chris asked with a raised brow.

Vin shrugged. "Seemed ta fit."

JD was excited by the prospect. "We'd be psionic regulators."

"Lawmen?" Standish asked, clearly skeptical.

"Of sorts," Chris acknowledged.

"What's the pay for something like that?"

"Dollar a day," Vin said with a smile, "plus expenses."

"For that incentive, how can I say no?" The clairvoyant looked upwards and sighed. "I can see it now, my mother will be appalled."

"Tell 'em the name, Cowboy."

"What name?" JD asked, looking back and forth between Vin and Chris.

Vin chuckled as he watched the various expressions cross his best friend's face. "The Judge and the Prez gave the team a new name," Vin told the others when Chris didn't say anything.

"What is it?" Josiah pressed.

"Come on, tell us," JD added.

"Psi Team Seven," Chris grudgingly admitted. Amid the stifled laughter, he left the room to call Orrin and inform him that they would be accepting their new position as civil servants.


Ezra Standish stood at the door of the Travis residence. He hadn't discussed his ideas with any of his teammates, wanting to be sure it could happen before hopes were raised and possibly dashed. He knocked on the door, and when it was opened, he asked to speak to Justice Travis.

Orrin showed no surprise at the clairvoyant's arrival. Standish was ushered into the justice's private study and seated in a chair across from Travis.

"What can I help you with today, Mr. Standish?"

"I'd like to propose an idea, Your Honor."

"Which is?"

"I believe it would be beneficial to have a type of 'halfway house' as it were, in order to help reintegrate sentients into society."

"Sounds practical. What do you need from me?"

"I would like you to lend your name and reputation, be a mentor to the program."

Travis asked, "Why me?"

"You are widely known as a man of integrity, and I believe with your name involved it would ensure the endeavor would thrive." Standish cleaned an imagined piece of lint off his tie in an attempt to hide his nervousness. "I've already discussed this with Ms. Wells, and she is willing to run the organization at her ranch." Ezra smiled. "She is looking forward to the challenge."

Standish showed the justice some information he had gathered, and some charts and diagrams he had developed, outlining the proposal.

"I see that you've thought this through very carefully," Travis said, scanning through the documents. He looked at the sentient before him. "I will be happy to help in any way I can, Mr. Standish."

The two men moved to the nearby desk and started making plans.


Over a week had passed since the men had accepted the job -- and title --of Psi Team Seven. Unfortunately, they were no closer to finding the Dungeon. JD had spent many hours tracking leads on his computer. The best intel they had so far suggested it was based in southern Utah, but they couldn't pinpoint an exact location.

Larabee was certain Baines was hiding and he was determined to find him. The telekinetic refused to let the team dwell on the possibility that the ex-Guild leader might get away with the atrocities he'd committed. Chris knew what had to be done, but he was hesitant to ask, since Tanner hadn't offered. Finally he could wait no longer; he'd have to confront the telepath. He walked into the kitchen and sat down beside his friend. Vin was munching on some popcorn. He offered some to Chris.

"Thanks," Larabee said, snatching a handful of corn. He tossed some in his mouth, started to say something, cut himself off, and started again.

Chris hesitated the third time as well, so Vin said, "Spit it out."


"Whatever ya got stuck in yer craw. And I ain't talkin' 'bout the popcorn."

Larabee chewed and swallowed the kernels he had in his mouth before speaking. "We really need to find Baines."

"I been tryin', Chris," Vin said with a heavy sigh, "but I haven't found 'im yet. Must be disguisin' himself somehow."

Chris saw frustration mount on the telepath's face. "I have an idea. I talked to Josiah and we think you might be able to track him astrally."


"You could use astral projection to home in on him. Tell us exactly where he is."

Vin started shaking his head. "No, no way. I can't." He stood up and prepared to leave.

Chris grabbed Vin's arm and held him in place. "You can do this. Josiah told me."

The telepath yanked at his arm, but the hold remained strong. "He had no right."

"I think he was waiting for you to say something. He only told me because he knew that there was no other way."

"What if it don't work?"

"Then we'll try something else." Chris assured him, releasing his friend and hoping he wouldn't bolt. He waited, knowing his friend would make the right decision.

Vin seemed to weigh the options in his mind. Decision made, he turned back to Chris and sent, You have ta be there.

"They couldn't drag me away. You can count on me."

Blue eyes connected with green eyes, the trust nearly blinding the older man. Let's do it.


Ezra maneuvered the car up the long driveway and parked it in front of the garage. The healer came out of the house to greet him.

"What have you been up to?" Nathan asked Ezra when he got out of the car. "You haven't been here more than a few hours this whole week."

"I had to make sure some arrangements were cemented prior to our entanglement with Baines. If something happened I wanted to ensure it would continue without my participation."

"Arrangements for what?"

Ezra tried to pass it off. "Nothing of interest."

But Nathan was exceptionally curious and wouldn't let the clairvoyant by until he'd explained the whole idea.

Ezra outlined the plan, along with Orrin's and Nettie's involvement. He was surprised -- no, shocked as hell -- when the black man extended an arm.

"What, may I ask, are you doing?" asked the gambler, eyeing the proffered hand.

"I would like to shake your hand, Ezra P. Standish," said Nathan. "I am proud to be able to call you 'friend'."

"N-nonsense," Ezra stuttered, astonishment opening his emotions wide. "I did nothing extraordinary."

"You did more than could be asked." Nathan smiled gently, letting Ezra know he was serious.

Ezra shook Jackson's hand and didn't even protest when he was pulled in for a quick hug.

The healer released his friend, patting him on the back. "Let's go tell the others." He turned and walked into the house.

Standish watched Nathan's retreat while taking a moment to collect himself before following.


After a celebratory round of drinks in honor of Ezra and the newly founded Haven Hills Halfway House, Chris told the other men that he, Josiah, and Vin would be trying something a little unusual in an attempt to find Baines.

Larabee told the other men to stay close to the house, for emotional support, but didn't tell them exactly what Vin was attempting. Chris knew the telepath was still shy about his abilities, even after all the time they'd spent together, and would rather the other men not know the specifics.

Josiah had Vin lay down on his own bed. The empath wanted to center the astral-traveler as much as possible, letting him connect physically with familiar things. But all three men knew that it would be the bond between the men themselves that would make the difference. He then took Vin through some deep-breathing exercises to let him relax. Once Josiah seemed satisfied with Vin's calm, the big man stepped aside, letting Chris take over.

Larabee had insisted Vin keep in mental touch throughout the entire journey. He hoped that the link would keep the telepath focused. He sat on the chair beside his best friend. Chris was not yet touching Tanner, but simply letting his presence be felt. Anytime you're ready, Vin.

Chris had no idea how, but for some reason he could feel the moment Vin's spirit left his body. It was as if his body was merely a shell left beside him.

"Good luck, brother," he heard Josiah murmur from behind. Apparently the older man was aware of Vin's "departure" as well.

Don't look so glum, chum. I'll be right back. Vin already sounded distracted.

Chris tried to focus his friend. Vin, go find Baines.

Baines ain't Timmy, Larabee. And I sure the hell ain't Lassie.


I'm goin' already.

Chris almost smiled at the petulant tone Vin used, but he was quickly reminded of the seriousness of the situation. He placed his hand on Tanner's arm, determined to keep contact with his friend in some way.


Josiah had explained to Vin he should be able to follow his psychic link to Baines, sort of like following a trail. As Vin relaxed, he pushed everything aside --worries, emotions, random thoughts -- and felt himself getting lighter. Instead of fighting against it, he let himself go. Soon he felt himself floating above his body. Vin looked at his friends, and at his own body lying on the bed. He grinned internally when he saw the intense look Larabee had as he sat next to the bed.

After being directed by his friend to go, Vin went. He turned his mind over and concentrated on Paul Baines. Just as Josiah had said, it was if there was a visible tether he could track. He kept his attention on the thread and followed it along.

I have it, he sent to Chris. Trackin' 'im now.

Astral distance was traveled rapidly and he flew across the miles in seconds. He could feel himself getting closer and closer to Baines, something he normally would avoid at all costs.

I found 'im. He's in Utah all right, he thought to his best friend as he passed over wind-blown arches of stone in the Utah desert.

More specific, please, Chris returned.

Ain't no names written on the ground, Cowboy. I need ta find somethin' ta point me in the right direction.

Vin kept trailing the thread, leading him straight to Baines. The former Guild leader was sitting alone in an office, going through files and making notes. Vin memorized all he could before moving off to find some source to let him know the exact location of the facility.

He moved away from Baines and wandered. Coasting through various rooms, he saw sentients being tested, tormented, and confined. At these sights, Vin normally would have felt pity and sadness, but in his astral state, he could feel little. He did keep his wits long enough to venture into a room with a large wall map.

Vin quickly communicated to Chris. Moses Lake, Utah. He also sent his friend a mental image of the area so that he would know what to look for.

Chris received the message. Okay, Vin, come on back.

In his ethereal state, Vin could hear someone calling his name, but with his mission complete, he heard the siren's call of the astral plane and felt no desire to return to his body. He left the Moses Lake area and drifted without purpose.


Larabee knew that his request had been ignored. His stomach tightened and his heart leapt into his throat. Vin had warned the telekinetic of the lure of astral freedom, but Larabee had never imagined his best friend wouldn't return. He couldn't lose him.

"Vin, you need to come back now," Chris said with quiet urgency. He tightened his grip on the telepath's arm. In his fear, he didn't realize he was speaking aloud as well as mentally. He worriedly called louder, "Vin! Come home… now!" There was no response from the unconscious man.

Josiah watched the exchange in silence before stepping forward and enclosing one of Vin's hands in his larger ones. His deep voice rumbled as he spoke, nearly breaking with emotion, "I once told you that I would make sure you came back, son, and I never break a promise to a friend. You have to return to the people depending on you."

The large empath drew upon all of his feelings of affection throughout his body, pulling from Chris as well, and poured them into Vin.


The telepath halted mid-flight. He heard his friends calling to him and felt a strong pull… friendship, love, family. It broke through his ambivalence and straight into his heart.

It was if a rubber band had reached its maximum extension and snapped. He went speeding back into his body at an incredible rate.

Vin groaned and rolled over. He blinked his deep blue eyes open, saw his friends, and grinned. "Told ya I'd be back."


Vin had recovered from his astral flight and Nathan could find no ill effects from his journey. Yet the healer had insisted Tanner rest, so Vin reclined on a couch while Larabee mustered the troops.

"We know the Dungeon is in Moses Lake, Utah," Chris announced to the team gathered. "What are we going to do about it?"

"We'll need to hit them hard and fast," Josiah said.

"Outside communications shouldn't be a problem," Buck commented. "Good news is that they shouldn't have any additional support comin'."

"Yeah," JD agreed, "I bet all the men Baines could get to support him are already there."

"So, we need to shut them down and shut them out," Nathan said.

Buck summoned a small fireball and offered, "One blast should knock out the electricity."

"And if there are generators?" JD looked at his friend.

The rogue shrugged, letting the fireball disperse.

Josiah proposed, "If a couple of us can sneak in, we might take them out before the attack begins."

"We'd have to bypass any alarms," said Nathan.

Ezra suggested, "A timed assault would be best…"

Vin was trying to remember details from his time at the Dungeon, both years ago and recently in the astral state. "We can't take out the power," he said suddenly.

Every head turned to him in surprise. "Why not?" asked Chris, voicing all of their thoughts.

"I think there's only one way in." Vin frowned as he thought about his time there. "A big ass elevator. Straight up, straight down."

"And if we knock out the power, there's no way in," deduced Ezra.

"Or out for those inside," Josiah added.

"We'll have to come up with another way then."

"Okay, we need ideas, gentlemen," Chris instructed. "Let's use those heads for something besides knocking together."


The next day, Josiah and Nathan flew to Washington, D.C. to see if they could track down some floor plans or blueprints for the Moses Lake Facility. Ezra left to finalize plans for the shelter at the Wells' Ranch. JD went with him in so he could visit with Nettie's niece, Casey, and Buck went along as a "chaperone."

Vin Tanner decided to use the time to practice his latest gift, psychokinesis. A few months ago he had used his telepathy to break through to his best friend, Chris Larabee. The telekinetic had nearly killed an innocent man, thinking he was the Guildsman who had murdered Chris' wife and son. Vin had somehow absorbed some of Chris' fury and power during the bond and, as a result, received the new ability. Unfortunately, it pained him every time he used it. He was trying to learn to work through the pain so it didn't incapacitate him.

He walked out into the backyard and over to the horse corral. He took a moment to center himself and focused his power on an apple, lifting it off the ground and sending it floating over the fence into the corral. Holding it in midair, he pushed it to the nearest horse. The horse was somewhat upset by the floating fruit, but after a few seconds, hunger overrode its nervousness and the horse reached forward to eat it.

By the time he released the apple, Vin was doubled over in pain, fighting a blinding headache. The telepath had hoped the more he used the power, the less pain it would cause, but it seemed to remain steady at brain-squeezing agony. It would be useless to use in battle if he couldn't control the pain.

"What the hell was that?!"

Vin jumped at the harsh voice. He lowered his head, reluctant to turn around and face the ire of Chris Larabee. The telepath had thought the older man gone. Finally, sucking in a deep breath, ignoring the ache in his head, he turned to face his friend.

"Hey there, Cowboy," Vin said easily. Reminders of the pain could be seen in his pinched expression.

"Don't you 'cowboy' me." Chris indicated the corral and horse munching happily on the apple. "What the hell was that?"

"It's a horse… and yer startin' ta repeat yerself."

"And you're avoiding the question."

"What question?" Vin inquired, entirely in innocence.

For that, Chris telekinetically shoved him against the corral fence.

Tanner grunted in renewed pain. The shove wasn't hard, just enough to show Vin that his friend was serious, but the telepath was reluctant to admit his concern. He didn't want Chris to feel guilty for inadvertently giving him the painful power. "I was hopin' ta surprise y'all."

Chris wasn't so easily fooled. He could tell Vin was trying to hide something. "Bullshit."

"What?" Vin was startled.

"I said bullshit. You were trying very hard to keep it secret."

"I don't know what ya mean."

Bullshit! Chris sent, loud and clear. Tell me what's going on.

Vin quickly sped through possible escape scenarios in his mind. Most were dismissed since Chris would be able to toss him 50 feet without blinking, especially in the hyper-emotional state of anger he was currently in. The last resort would be to tell the truth, but that was something Vin could not do. He'd have to pull an "Ezra": Give a half-truth and hope it sounded sincere.

"Lately I been noticin' I can move small things with m'mind." Tanner avoided telling exactly when he'd noticed it.

"So, what… you're suddenly telekinetic?" The green eyes were wide with incredulity.

"No, I'm not." Vin shook his head. "I been lookin' through Josiah's books. I'm guessin' I got psychokinesis, which seems ta rely on mental power. Yers is telekinesis, more of a psychic force."

"So you're saying it's all in your mind?" Chris asked, vaguely bemused.

Vin caught the dig. "As you been sayin' since ya met me."

"I still don't understand why you didn't tell us."

"It ain't useful. Can't use it without bein' knocked on m'ass."

Chris eyed his friend through half-shuttered lids. "No more practicing unless one of us is with you."

Vin held up his hands in surrender and nodded. He knew this was the best offer he'd receive.


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