Larabee sighed as he headed for the small kitchen for another cup of coffee. He couldn't decide why he was doing this. He'd sat with the boy all day and all last night. He was tired and grumpy and yet he just couldn't leave the child alone.


He didn't even know Vin existed two days ago. Pouring the coffee he stood in front of the window over the sink and stared out at the gray sky. It had rained off and on all day, which didn't help his mood much.

Then his eyes seemed to play tricks on him. Instead of his own reflection he saw Vin those big blue eyes staring at him. The painful haunted layers of knowing too much too soon screamed at him from the silence.


Shaking his head the blond turned to go back when a shadowy motion caught the corner of his eye. Setting the mug down he rushed back to the tiny room only to find the window wide open and Tanner missing. Climbing out the open window Chris followed the boy running after him.

"Vin, stop," he called catching up to the running ten year old. Wrapping his arms around the boy's shoulders he fell to his knees trying to hold onto the wildcat he'd unleashed. Vin squirmed, clawed and fought trying to get loose but never made a sound.

"Stop it, Vin. I'm not going to hurt you. Stop or you'll hurt yourself." Larabee ground out trying to convince the struggling boy to stop fighting. Chris gasped as the world tilted and he felt seemingly giant white covered arms with plastic hands reach down and hold him, hurt him, twist him into impossible painful positions. The man panted short, shallow breaths feeling helpless and at the mercy of the faceless arms. He couldn't scream, he could hardly breathe and then he couldn't see as his eyes were covered. Terror enveloped him. Panic twisted through every fiber of his being as sharp things pierced his head.

The man's body folded over the boy's and they both fell to the ground. Minutes passed as they lay still. Chris blinked, and blinked again. He was himself, he shivered from the damp coldness of the ground. Larabee became aware that his arms were wrapped around something. Something that felt warm and yet was shivering, teeth chattering from either fear or cold.

"Vin? It's okay it won't ever happen again," he whispered as he tried to sit up and still hold the boy close. "You're freezing," he stated and picking up the boy as he climbed to his knees and stood. Arms wrapped tight he headed back inside. He could feel the terror building again and threw up his shields to stop it from blinding him. The denial of what he'd said rolling off the boy in waves. "I promise, Vin, I won't ever let them have you not a second time. The Guild won't ever have the chance to hurt you again." Chris opened the door, rushed into the bedroom and grabbed the top blanket. He wrapped it around the boy and then sat on the edge of the bed and looked into those fathomless eyes.

Vin searched the man's face looking for...something, //Promise me, you'll kill me before they ever take me again.//

Chris pulled back. How could a child ask such a thing?

//Ain't a kid, not for a long time. Swear! Swear you'll kill me first.//


//Swear. You don't know what they can do to someone.//

"And you do?"

//I 'member some... enough... it hurts 'm head to 'member....Swear to me you won't let them take me or JD... Swear!//

Chris swallowed dryly as he stared into the too old eyes. Nodding once, sharply, he said. "I swear, I won't let the Guild have you or JD."

The blond felt the tickle of Vin's mind searching his for lies. He half smiled at the already familiar feel of the boy's psychic touch. Chris waited for Vin to reach his own conclusions.

Mentally pulling back Vin nodded.

//Okay,// whispered in the man's head.


It was dark and Buck and even Ezra were exhausted. Shopping with a six year old was a new experience for them and one they weren't anxious to repeat soon. JD was curled up in the back seat of the old sedan blissfully asleep. Ezra kept looking over his shoulder.

"Something wrong, Ezra?"

The teen looked at the older man, "I have that tingle. I feel we are being followed. Not closely though."

"Should we not go back?"

"No...It's alright for right now ...I just... does the expression 'ants in my pants' tell you anything."

Buck laughed, "Other than you're really worried to use it? Yeah, I think I understand."

The rest of the drive they watched carefully and turning off the headlights they rolled into the yard. Buck went into the darkened house. "We gotta move now. Ezra says they're coming."

The men nodded and it took no more then five minutes to gather what was theirs and Chris gathered Vin into his arms and carried him outside. He laid the boy down beside his cousin and slipped into the driver's seat. "Buck, you're with me, Ezra, you ride in the back with the boys. Josiah, you and Nathan take the first stint on the bikes. Use the walkies only when we have to."

"I protest, I'd be better use on the bike."

"Ezra, listen, the boys know you, it'll be scary enough for them as it is, they need you with them."

The teen stared at the leader trying to come up with a sufficient argument only he couldn't. Sighing he nodded and got in the back seat of the van pushing the sleeping boy over a bit so that Vin's head rested on his lap. He watched as Buck sat the smaller boy between himself and Chris, holding him with one reassuring arm.

Chris started the van and rolled down the drive without turning on the lights. He turned onto the empty road and traveled several hundred yards before turning on the lights. They traveled through the night watching for trouble, sometimes the van leading, sometimes one of the bikes.

They stopped an hour after dawn at a RV park. There were a few RV's parked around and Chris chose the parking spot as far away from the others as he could. When the engine stilled, the boys woke. Vin sat up and looked out the window. //This is a new place.//

"Yes, Ezra felt we needed to move. We'll stay here until tomorrow in that fifth wheel." Chris answered him yawing and pointing to a camper.

//They were coming.//

"Yeah, they were."

The boy nodded and looked around carefully.


Larabee and Wilmington got out of the van and stretched. Then they got the tarps out of the back. Stringing them between the van and the few trees they created a small private place for them to sit, and talk.

Setting some fruit and sandwiches on the table they fed the boys and then talked quietly among themselves.

"Chris chewed on an apple and watched the boys. "We'll head for the camping spot up past Lookout Mountain. There won't be any campers there this time of year. It's two days of travel and we can slowly pick up supplies at each little town to avoid suspicion. Ezra, you and Vin will be my sons and JD will be Buck' s. That way we'll say we're taking them on a last camping trip before they have to go back to their mothers. That should cover most casual questions. Ezra, you'll have to be younger, say 15 or 16 for a while."

"No problem. So Vin is to be my little brother?"

"It's the easiest explanation," Chris said looking at the two boys at the end of the table. They ate quietly without the usual horseplay that normal children exhibited. It saddened him a bit, which surprised him. He'd considered himself numb to any feelings for so long. They needed to find a place for the boys, somewhere they were safe and where they could be normal children again.

Josiah watched as the boys finished eating and seemed to be at al loss as to what to do next. He smiled and went to his saddlebags on his bike. He pulled out a shopping bag and walked back to the table. "I know you want to stick close to us for awhile. Here's something you can do." He pulled out two big coloring/puzzle books and a large box of 64 crayons and some colored pencils. "You two have fun, when we get more settled we'll go over and play at the little play ground for a while. It's going to be a long afternoon."

JD looked up at the big man and smiled, "Thank you, Mr. Josiah. Vin says thanks, too."

"You're welcome, both of you."

A few minutes later Nathan came over, he watched the boys color for a minute and then sat down. "How are you feeling, Vin?"


"No headaches no tummy ache?"

The boy shook his head.

"Okay, if you get tired you can go and lay down," he said resisting the urge to touch the boy and 'see' what was really going on inside him.

//I'm fine. I'll tell if I get sick.//

"Okay then." Not wanting to push the boy he left him alone.


JD sat in Wilmington's lap as they watched the cars go by. They were resting again and Ezra had go into the near by town to check it out.

The boy wiggled around and looked up at the man. "What do you do, Buck?"

The rogue raise an eyebrow, "What do you mean what do I do?"

"You know, grownups do special things. What's your special thing?"

"Ohhhh, well, I can make fire."

"No, you can't. No one can make fire, it'd burn."

"I beg your pardon. I do sort of make fire. Look." Buck twisted around away from the highway and holding out one hand concentrated. A small blue flame appeared above his palm. It was the size of a small candle flame.

"Wow!" JD said in wonder. He leaned closer extending a finger, and as suddenly as the flame appeared it disappeared. "Hey!"

"Nope, can't touch. Just like you can't touch real fire. It'll burn."

"That's so neat. You don't ever have to have a lighter or matches or anything. And you're never stuck in the dark."

Buck smiled, "Nope I'm never stuck in the dark."


It was late, Vin could tell. He knew Ezra was sleeping beside him in one of the beds. He searched for JD and 'found' him asleep with Buck. The other one, Chris was outside. His thoughts were all jumbled up and twisted. The other two were asleep outside somewhere near in sleeping bags.

He didn't remember falling asleep or going to bed. Yet here he was with Ezra. He rolled over and tried to ignore the bombardment of images and words that surrounded him. Then Ezra rolled over and mumbled something, and his arm flung out across Vin. The boy eased out from under the arm and went outside.


Ezra walked out of the fifth wheel trying not to wake anyone. He headed toward the motorcycle, the sweat from his nightmare drying in the cool night air.

//Weren't your fault you know.//

Ezra's head jerked around, "Vin?"

//Weren't your fault.//

The teen searched until he saw the dark shadow standing by the edge of the trailer.

"I have no idea what you are talking about."

//Sure ya do. Ya was having a nightmare 'bout when Sarah and Adam died. You couldn't have done nothing.//

"What do you know?" Ezra whispered fiercely. "My so called gift deserted me when it was most important. They... they could have gotten away if only I'd had some hint that danger was coming. Instead I was rendered helpless and Chris's family was killed. Pray tell, who's fault was it, if not mine?"


Ezra stared at the boy. How did he know these things?

//I saw it, in your dream. The Guild had a...a box thing. I seen one like it before. It...it shuts down a persons ...gift? Make it where you can't use it. That's why you didn't know.// Vin frowned thinking, //The man must 'o dropped it when Chris kilt him, it was all smashed.//

"How do you know this? I was unconscious when Buck and Chris arrived."

Vin looked up at Ezra sadly, //You ain't the only one to have bad dreams. Chris has 'em an' Buck. Like I said it ain't your fault. Nobody blames you 'cept you.//

Ezra hung his head, "Chris does."

//Na - huh. He just worries and sometimes when grownups worry it seems like they're mad.//

The teen swallowed and looked up at the boy. He noticed Vin was shivering. "You're cold.."

//Ain't bad.//

"Get back to bed."

//Only if you come, too.//

"Very well," the teen stepped beside the boy and carefully placing an arm around his shoulders went inside with him.

They climbed into the high bed and Ezra pulled up the blankets and covered both of them. He sighed and closed his eyes hoping that he'd be able to go to sleep and not dream this time.

Neither noticed the specter of the man in black who had listened quietly and never said a word.


Buck lay still watching JD as he repeatedly folded and refolded his small blanket. Each time his hand would run slowly over the soft fabric. Finally Buck sat up. "What's wrong, JD?"

"Nothin'." Reaching out Buck put his hand on the boy' s back. "JD, what are you doing?"

The boy sniffed and finally looked around at the big man, "Mama isn't coming back is she?"

Buck took a breath; he really didn't want to answer the boy. "No," he said softly. "I don't believe she's coming back."

"The helmets kilt her."

"How do you know, Kiddo?"

The boy shrugged as he continued to stroke the blanket.

"Buck? If my mama isn't coming back, who's gonna look after me? Me and Vin don't have no one else."

Buck gathered the weeping boy into his arms. "I'm gonna take care of you, Little Bit. Me, and the rest of us, we will take care of you and Vin. You don't ever have to worry about that."

JD leaned back his big eyes searching the man's face. "Promise?"

"Yeah, I promise."


Vin watched as Chris threw the last of the bundles into the back of the van. Sighing he sent the thought, //We moving again.//

Chris stopped and looked at the boy. "Yes, I have a place in mind that we might be able to stay for a few weeks. Make some plans. Get things settled."

Appraising eyes looked up at the man. //You mean 'til you figure out where to dump me an' JD.//

"That's not what I meant. But you and JD would be safer some where else. With a family away from us and what we do."

//No one'll want a freak like me. An' if JD starts doin' weird stuff no one'll want him either.//

"You're not a freak."

Vin grinned a lopsided, sad grin and raised a questioning eyebrow.

"Okay, if you think like that, then we're all freaks. But that's really not it. What we do, it's dangerous, I just don't want to put you kids in anymore danger."

//You don't think we're in enough danger by just having the helmets after us? You don't think I want to fight them as bad as you?//

"That's not the point. You're a child."

//Ain't no kid. Stopped being a kid when they had me. When I could see into people's minds. Grown ups is ugly people sometimes. I seen...// Vin stood suddenly and walked away a few steps and turned. Tear filled blue eyes caught and held startled hazel ones. //I seen your ugly, an' Ezra's, an' Josiah's, an' Nathan's. I can't help it. Ain't something I want, it just is. But I ain't a kid no more.//

Chris tried to think of something to say, he looked down at his hands and the sun caught the wedding ring he still wore. His ugly, his ugly was seeing Sarah and Adam murdered, seeing Ezra beaten because he tried to stop it. His ugly was how he killed the Guildsmen that did it and the ones he'd killed since. Had he unknowingly visited those visions on a child? Visions he could hardly stand as a grown man. God!

//Weren't your fault. You can't help what you dream anymore than you can help what's close to your heart.//

Chris stared at the boy and Vin stepped back from the look. It was the look that said, 'You're a freak. Nobody normal could know that.'

Larabee saw the boy back away and hastily said, "It's a little discerning to have someone know what you're thinking even before you know yourself. It's all right, Vin. It's no secret what happened to my family....I just...don't talk about it. No one does."

//Ezra thinks it's his fault.//

"I've told him over and over it's not."

//He still thinks it's his fault. Every time he dreams about it he tries to change things. Tries something new to make it come out different. He tries and tries but they die, over and over they die. It's eating him up inside. That's why he works so hard to help sentients, why he tries so hard to make it up to you.//

Chris looked at the boy he had no answer to what Vin had told him. He had no words to make it better or change it. He had no way to make it better. Isn't that what leaders and fathers were supposed to do, make it better?

Vin reached out and patted the man's arm. //It's okay, Chris, no one can make it better, not now.//

Larabee turned and walked away. Going to the van he opened the back and pulled out the bottle. He needed a drink. Hell, he needed several. But he stopped, they were leaving and he had to drive. Slamming the door he walked around and got behind the wheel. "You all coming or am I doing this by myself?"

Chris pushed himself, not letting Buck or anyone else drive. He needed to focus on the driving and not allow himself to think about what Vin had said. If he were tired enough or drunk enough once they got to the lodge then he wouldn't dream and Vin wouldn't see his 'ugly' for once.


Another roadside rest area to make a hasty meal and stretch tired muscles. This one was better than some others. It had reasonably clean 'facilities' and a playground of sorts for the kids to run off a little steam from sitting in cars. Ezra had insisted the boy's come with him to the swings and swing. The teen pushed JD while Vin halfheartedly pushed himself.

Buck sat down beside Josiah and watched the kids for a few minutes. "What's wrong with them, Josiah?"

"What do you mean, Buck?"

"They don't act like normal kids. Sure I didn't think of it the first few days but they've been with us a while now and they still don't act normal."

Josiah took a drink from his longneck and then looked at Buck. "What's 'normal', Buck? What makes 'normal' for boys like them?"

"Ah, hell, Josiah, I don't know 'normal' you'd have to ask Chris for that one but they don't ... they don't run and squeal, shout, get restless, complain there's nothing to do, fight with each other. I've seen kids travel and they don't sit quietly all the time and try to make themselves invisible."

"Well, for them, being invisible and still is normal. How old is JD? Six? From what Ezra has said they've been on the run all his life. He doesn't know anything else except being still and quiet. Survival depended on no one noticing him or Vin. It depended on him being invisible. Play is a learned activity and they never learned it."

"Ezra knew how to play and have fun."

"I suspect Ezra knew first how to pretend. How to blend in and he had Adam to teach him about playing. These boys have us. We are not the best role models for light hearted activities."

The rogue studied his bottle and twisted it in his hands. "No, I suppose we ain't. How's JD doing really, Josiah?"

"He's coping," Josiah raised his hand. "I know you wanted me to tell you more. But it's not that easy with a six year old. You ever read any stories about children that were captured by Indians in the 19th century? Well, those children, most of them after a short time completely forgot who they were and where they came from. They became someone brand new in order to survive.

"JD doesn't have to become some one new, but he does have to adapt to survive. He has to become who we expect him to be. Not that we'd make him, this isn't on a conscious level, you understand. I'm hoping when we get to the lodge we can relax and when we relax the boys will, too. And then you can teach him to play. After all you're just our big kid."

"Yeah, right," Buck snorted and then watched the boys again.

Josiah's attention was however drawn to the dark figure standing in the shade watching the boys. "I do however worry about our leader."

"Chris? Why? He's handling having little boys around better than I thought he would."

"Yes, he is. He seems drawn to Vin. He doesn't understand it but for once he doesn't try to explain it to himself. He's just going with it."


Chris pulled the van into the gas station. He leaned back against the head rest and closed his eyes just for a minute. He glanced to the back and saw that the two younger boys were awake and looking around while Ezra slept on. A twinge of guilt hit Larabee for putting so much responsibility on such a young man.

Buck opened his eyes and looked at his best friend. "We stopping?"

"Need some gas. Why don't you take the boys inside and let them pick some snacks and pay for the gas?"

"Okay. How 'bout it boys? You want to go inside and get some snacks?"

Vin nodded and JD opened the door, and would have charged across the parking lot without looking around.

Buck jumped out and grabbed the boy. "Hold on, Kiddo, wait for the money man."

Chris smiled and shook his head as he got out of the van and went to the pump. He stood looking around as the gas poured into the tank.

Vin was walking up and down the rows of goodies trying to decide which he wanted when // No! No not again. Guild! Run! They're here!// It was Ezra only it wasn't the dream. This was new. This was now. Vin looked outside searching for something, anything out of place.

//EZRA, WAKE UP!// Vin mentally shouted at the teen. Then he grabbed the smaller boy and went searching for the back door.

Ezra jerked awake. He went from nightmare to full blown pre-cog warning. Sitting up quickly he jerked the door open saying as he did. "Chris, we have to go now. Chris!"

Larabee was replacing the hose when he heard the call and turned toward Ezra. Then he fell as if pole axed.

"Chris!" Ezra jumped out of the van and started toward the fallen man.

Buck glanced out side and saw Chris fall. "Chris!" he shouted and ran out slapping the money down on the counter.


A shrill childish scream pierced the air. "MAMA! HELP, MAMA. I HURT MY SELF."

All eyes turned to the small frightened screaming little boy running around the building. His pants half up and half zipped. Every man present cringed as they watched the frantic little boy pull on his pants.

//Buck, get Chris!// came the command into Wilmington's head. //Josiah and Nathan are coming.//

Buck ran toward the van and helped Ezra lift the unconscious man into the back.

//Now, JD, run the other way.//

The urchin turned and ran back the way he'd come with Guild members watching and then coming out of their stunned motionlessness.

Vin grabbed JD's pants and jerking them up then took the held out hand and the two of them started to run.

//Buck! Pick us up around the corner by the big bush.//

Buck looked around and gunned the van. He pulled around the corner and stopped long enough to let the two boys climb in and then took off. He drove changed lanes, turning corners and looking for a place to stop and hide.


"I can't wake him. He's got something sticking out of his neck."

//Pull it out. Throw it away.//


//Do it, Ezra, it's sending out messages! Can't you hear them?//

Ezra carefully reached down and pulled the feathered dart out of Larabee's neck. Once it was out he threw it out the window. The boys rode in terrified silence for the next hour.

Buck found a place to stop. It was an old abandoned garage. He carefully pulled around to the back and getting out stood at the back corner of the building until he heard the motorcycles coming. "Vin, call to them. Tell them where we are."

As the bikes pulled to a stop, Buck said, "Nathan! They drugged Chris with something in a dart."

"I know. Vin told me." Jackson went directly to the unconscious man and placing his hands on the wound he concentrated on reversing the effects of the dart.

As Nathan did that Josiah pulled Ezra over out of the way. "I think I saw a vehicle we can get to replace the van. I'll need you to come with me. And bring your stash."

Ezra nodded and reached into the van and got his backpack. "We shall be back shortly. Vin, JD, you two did a wonderful job. You saved us and yourselves."

Vin blushed and grinned before he turned worried eyes back to Chris.

Buck watched the two ride away and then his attention turned toward the frightened little boy standing and watching. He called softly, "Hey, Kiddo, you okay?"

JD looked up at the big man. "We helped. Vin told me what to do and we helped. I's scared."

Buck picked up the boy, "You were very brave and you did help a lot. Both of you."


Ezra rode behind Josiah on one of the bikes looking around. They were around half a mile away in a run down neighborhood when Josiah stopped. In front of a house was an old pick up with a 'for sale' sign on the window. Josiah went to the door and knocked.

"What do you want?" a voice asked from behind the door.

"We'd like to see that truck for sale. Does it run?" Josiah tried to seem his friendliest.

"Just a minute."

They waited as the man got some keys and came out. "She runs good. Just with the price of gas an' all I don't need her anymore."

The three went over and inspected the truck, looking under the hood and starting it up. The truck ran smoothly.

Josiah looked at the man. "Your sign says 1800 will you take 15?"

"I don't know..."

"In cash. Right now."

"Sure, I'll get the title. Come on inside."

Josiah followed the man in and watched while he signed the title and he slowly counted out the money Ezra had given him.

Handing over the keys the man said, "Nice doing business with you."

Taking the offered hand Josiah said, "You, too."

Going back out side he said to Ezra, "You ride the bike, I'll drive. Keep an eye out for anyone following us."

Nodding the teen got on the bike and headed out.


Chris wanted to scream. But he couldn't. He wanted to move, run. But he couldn't. He could feel hands on him but couldn't respond to them. He could hear voices but couldn't quite tell what they were saying. He felt his heart start to pound with his frustration and he couldn't calm it down. He could see nothing, it wasn't black, wasn't anything or any color just some sort of void and he'd been there forever.


Someone was calling him.

"Chris?" This time he felt the familiar mind tickle of the boy Vin. He searched tried everyway he could to find that voice. Then from a long way off in the nothing color was something. He tried to call, "Vin."

"Keep yelling. I'm coming."

The something grew larger and came closer. It was somebody it was the boy. "Vin? Where? How?"

The boy stepped closer and reached out. "It's okay, Chris."

Larabee reached out and took the small hand. He felt the warmth of it and it soothed him. "Where are we?"

Shaking his head the boy said, "Don't know, some where inside your head."

"Inside.... what happened and how come you can talk?"

"Not really talkin'. I'm inside your head and that's why. You got hit with a Guild dart. We pulled it out but Nathan can't make you better for some reason."

"Guild? Are you safe? You should run. What about the others?"

"Everyone is safe, but you. I...I don't feel so good. Don't worry we'll take care of you 'til you're yourself again. I..." And the boy was gone.

Larabee looked down at his empty hand. He was alone again.


Vin opened his eyes and saw Nathan leaning over him. "Vin? You alright? What happened?"

Vin felt sick to his stomach, he took a deep breath to try to settle it. His head hurt a lot.

//I'm fine. Chris is okay. I talked to him. Told him what happened.//

"You ain't fine. Your heart almost stopped. Don't do that again."

Pulling his hand away from Nathan's Vin sat up. //I had to find Chris and tell him it was okay.//

"Did you?"

//Yeah, but...but he's scared.//

"I know, Vin, but we'll help him."


They made a bed for Chris in the back of the pickup and lay him on the bedrolls then they packed the rest of their belongings around him. Once that was done Vin climbed into the truck and sat down beside the unconscious man.

"Vin..." Nathan started.

//I'm riding with him, he needs me,// the determined boy broadcast so that everyone heard.


"Leave it, Nathan. There's more room back there and he can tell us if anything is wrong. He's small enough he won't be seen, the rest of us would." Buck laid a calming hand on the healers shoulder.

Nathan chewed on his lip for a second. "Alright, but, Vin, if you feel any change in Chris you holler loud. Okay?"

The boy nodded. Once they were moving the ten year old lay down beside the blond his hand resting lightly on the man's chest. //It's okay now, Chris, I'll take care of you.//

Chris looked up and around at the seamless endless gray. "Vin?" He spun around trying to find the boy. But the movement made him dizzy and nauseous.

"I'm here, Chris," and he was right in front of the man.

"What's going on?"

"We're riding in a pickup. Josiah and Ezra got it and we left the van. Now we're moving again. When are you going to wake up?"

"I don't know. I tried to get out of here but I can't."

"Here? Chris, here is inside your head."

"No, no you can't stay. Go away."

Vin felt the man closing his mind down. Pushing him out. "No , Chris, it's alright." He tried over and over to get past the man's shields but couldn't. Finally he settled for just letting his hand rest on the man's shoulder.


Vin sat watching the landscape go by. It seemed like hours since Chris had literally pushed him out. Vin tried over and over to reestablish contact with the man but to no avail. Nothing worked. He rode in resignation now keeping one small cold hand firmly grasping the blond's shoulder.

Vin was jerked from his thoughts by the feel of a tremor under his hand. He looked down to see the whole frame shiver and then the back arch up, the muscles straining, the hands becoming claws. Chris seemed to collapse in on himself and then the cramp seemed to reassert itself.

//Nathan!// Vin called. //Stop, something is wrong with Chris.//

Glancing back at the boy through the rearview mirror Nathan pulled over and stopped. He jumped out of the cab. By the time he reached the unconscious man, Chris was gagging. "Get out of the way, Vin," the healer said as he climbed in beside and rolled the blond over. Great gouts of black bile came gushing out of his mouth. Over and over the vomiting occurred. Nathan was only aware of the man in his hands. Then the sound of the boy gagging penetrated his consciousness. Glancing up he saw that Vin was mirroring Chris. "Ezra, get him out of here. As far away as you can but stay in sight."

The teen grabbed the boy around the waist and was surprised when the ten year old began to fight him. Wrapping his other arm around the boy's arms he carried the struggling child away from the pickup. Vin fought the arms holding him and he fought the urge to vomit without reason or will. But the further they got from the pickup the less the urge to throw up was until he lay exhausted and panting in Ezra's arms.

"Will you listen to me now?" Ezra asked.

Vin nodded.

"Feeling better?"

Again the boy nodded.

"Good, we'll stay here until they call us."

//What happened to Chris?//

"I don't know, perhaps a reaction to the drugs in the dart."

Vin eyed the teen and then nodded again. Then he looked back at the truck. The men seemed to be cleaning the back up and talking. He tried to 'listen' but he couldn't concentrate on anything, his head had begun to pound. //Ezra? I don't feel......//

Ezra turned as the boy began and caught him as he fell. Gathering him up he started back to the truck. "Nathan! Vin's collapsed," he called as he hurried back.

Heads turned at Ezra's call but it was JD's shrill screech, that got their attention. "What's wrong with Vin? What'd you do to Vin?"

The small boy jumped from the truck cab and ran toward Ezra. Buck reached out and grabbed up the running little boy. "Whoa there, Kiddo. Ezra didn't do anything to Vin. Let's wait to see what Nathan has to say."

The boy struggled for a second and then wrapped his arms around Buck's neck. He watched as Ezra took the unconscious boy over to the healer. "Okay. Is Vin going away, too?" he said as he leaned back and stared into the man's eyes.

"No, Kiddo, Vin's not going anywhere," the big hearted man said hoping he was right.

Nathan laid the boy down beside Chris and as he examined him he asked, "What happened?"

"I don't know. He said he was fine. He'd stopped gagging and said he felt better. Then he started to say something about how he felt and just collapsed. I... I didn't do anything."

"I know, Ezra. It's not your fault. I don't understand how but I'm afraid the two of them have formed some kind of bond..."

Josiah frowned, "In so short a time?"

"Yes, that's the odd thing about this. They hardly know each other. Yet Chris has been drawn to the boy from the beginning. And it seems that Vin also feels this bond."

"Is that usual? Forget it, nothing we do is usual or normal."

Nathan shook his head. "I have no idea. I can't find anything wrong with Vin. Buck, no more circular driving we need to go to the lodge right now. I need to get them both inside and where they can rest. What ever the drugs are that they shot Chris with, his body is trying to fight them off and he needs a stable place to do that."

Buck looked around at all of them. "Ezra?"

"Nothing at this time."

"Okay, load up we'll go straight to the lodge. Nathan, you ride in back with Vin and Chris. If anything changes let me know. Ezra, ride with Josiah on the bikes, and JD and I will drive the truck."

It wasn't long before Vin started moving. Nathan watched as he brought his arms up around his head holding it tightly.

"Vin? Is your head hurting?"

The boy barely nodded and wrapped his arms tighter.

"Wait, I'm going to start rubbing you head. It should help." Nathan placed his fingers spread out on the boy's head. He began to gently massage opening himself to feel where the pain was coming from. He found the point of pain and called on Vin's own defenses to fight the pain. The boy relaxed under the massage and soon slept.

When he could Vin, opened his eyes and looked around. He rolled over so that he was facing Chris. //Is he okay?//

"He's not having seizures anymore or vomiting, but I wouldn't say he's okay."

Vin started to reach over to the man only to draw his hand back. // He pushed me out.//

"I don't understand?"

Vin looked back at Nathan and sighed. //I was with him...inside his head but he pushed me out. He won't let me back in or even talk to me.//

"Does he know what's happening to him? Can he hear us?"

//Not really, he hears us but can't really understand what's being said. I told him it was a Guild dart.//

"Vin, how do you feel?"

// 'M fine.//


//Head's better, stomach is still icky, but I'll do.//

Nathan patted the boy on the shoulder, "That you will, Vin Tanner, that you will."


They reached the lodge after only an hour of driving. The sun was just going down. It had been a hard hour's drive over rough dirt roads but there nestled in the trees was the lodge. Well, more of a cabin. Josiah's father had once used it as a religious retreat and when they had needed a place to hide out Josiah had remembered it and offered it for them to use.

Nathan and Josiah carried Chris into the lodge and laid him on the bed in the room closest to the kitchen. "While I undress him and clean him up a bit you put some water on to heat. I suppose you'll have to start a fire first. Bring the groceries and bags in. Put Vin on the sofa, I don't want him moving around too much."

JD walked around the large room, he peeked through doors and then he spotted the circular stair case going up to a loft. Smiling he started to climb. Once up there he looked around. There were tiny windows on three sides, a couple of chests and two big mattresses lying on the floor.

He went over to the railing that opened into the big room downstairs. Laying down he looked over and watched for a few minutes. Then he hollered. "Buck! Can Vin and I sleep up here? It's so cool."

Buck looked up at the boy. "Well, now I don't know...only if Ezra can sleep up there with you and Vin."

"I protest, Mr. Wilmington."

Buck raised an eyebrow, "You don't want to be up there with them?"

"No, I just protest you volunteering me."

Sighing heavily Buck asked, "Ezra, would you mind sharing the loft with the boys?"

"No, of course not, Buck, I'd be delighted to stay with them."

"Well alright then." Buck smiled at the teen. Now let's see what we can do about something to eat." Then glancing over at the sofa he asked, "You okay there, Vin?"

The boy tiredly lifted his head enough to nod.

"We'll have something to eat soon then you can go to bed and it'll be much better tomorrow."


The house was quiet. Only Nathan was awake sitting up with Chris. They'd cleaned him up, and even gotten him to swallow some water, not much but some. Nathan was worried. The blond hadn't moved or shown any signs of returning to consciousness. He'd done everything he could think of to counter the 'poison' in Chris' system but nothing seemed to work. There had been a couple more bouts of vomiting black bile but they were less and less. Nathan was startled out of his reverie by a moan.

Leaning forward he said softly, "Chris?"

Slits of hazel and red showed under the partially opened eyelids. "...'than? Wha... pened?"

"You caught a dart. The Guild found us but we got away."


"He's okay, the boys are upstairs sleeping. Chris? How do you feel?"

Chris blinked several times and then answered, "D...don't feel....Nathan?"

"Take it easy, it's probably just the residual effects of the dart." The healer took the blond's right hand, "Try to squeeze my hand."

The fingers barely moved before another moan came from Chris. "Hurts, hurts," he gasped out. Then in an entirely different tone of voice, " 'm thir...sy." His tongue was not working right.

Nathan reached for a cup and held the blond's head up. "Drink slowly."

Chris got most of the cup of water down before he drew back, " nuff."

Setting the cup down Nathan began massaging the back of his neck and head. "I'm gonna stimulate your sleep centers. You need to sleep."

Larabee felt his eyelids getting heavier and heavier. "No. Tell...Vin....tell....him....I...." But he never finished his thought as he drifted off to sleep.

Gently laying down Chris' head Nathan covered the sleeping man, "You can tell him tomorrow, Chris, when you're better."


Vin sat looking out the window. He was only partially aware of JD and Ezra at the table. The teen was showing the little boy how to blend the colors the page he had. He saw Nathan come out of the room Chris was in and nod at Ezra.

"Now?" the teen asked.

"Yes, take them as far as you have to, to protect Vin."

"I will. Come boys let us go for a hike."

"A hike? Where? Why?" the littler boy asked.

"Oh, just to see what we can see," the teen answered.

Vin sighed a silent sigh and getting up followed Ezra. Before he left the cabin he looked back at Nathan, //Won't help you know.//

Nathan shook his head. He'd 'heard' the boy loud and clear but he had to try to protect him somehow.

Walking back into the bedroom he leaned over the still man on the bed. "Chris? Look at me."

Hazel eyes drifted open and slowly focused on the healer.

"I'm going to try something. But I want to warn you it won't be pleasant. Josiah and Buck are going to help me roll you over and prop you on pillows. Then I'm going to go down your back, I just feel that the poison is still there. If I can dissipate it or move it so that your body can pass it on as waste you should get better. But moving you is going to hurt, a lot. Do you understand me?"

The blond just stared at him and then barely moving his lips asked, "Vin?"

"He's okay, Ezra has taken him and JD for a long walk. He'll be far away, he won't feel anything."

Again the blond stared as if weighing what the healer said. Then with a dry raspy voice he said, "Do it. Don't....don't let the boy be near me."

Nathan nodded at the others and placed Josiah at the blond's shoulders and Buck at his knees. "Now when I say go, pull him over where he's leaning against the pillows. Then help balance him there until I finish. No matter what he does or says don't let go and don't let him roll back. Especially you, Josiah, you'll feel his pain more strongly then us."

"I understand, Nathan."

Nathan on the opposite side said, "Ready? Go!"

They rolled Chris as gently as they could yet the movement sent a fiery pain up and down his spine causing him to shutter. He grunted but didn't make any other sound.

Nathan let go and placed his hand at the base of the skull. His thumbs gently stroking the center as he slowly, excruciatingly slowly moved down the blond's back. By the time he was to the bottom of the shoulder blades Chris was biting the pillow, his hands fisted and trembling and unbidden tears seeped out from under his eyelids.

Nathan was aware of all this but he chose to ignore it and concentrate on what was under his hands. Slowly he rubbed and moved slowly down the spine. Sometimes stopping, and with circular motions, he would concentrate on one spot for what seemed a long time. Then his hands would move downward again.

Josiah watched his friend turn gray from effort, sweat beading on his forehead. He could feel the echo of Chris' pain envelope him as well. Yet he didn't waver or release his hold. He knew that if Larabee could have moved he would have done anything to escape, but he just lay there.

Finally Nathan was below the small of the back. He spread his hands wide as he finished. In his mind's eye the poison had appeared as large clotting black marbles. He had rubbed them one at a time, causing them to shatter into smaller and smaller pieces until they were small enough for the blood stream to carry them away.

"Okay, roll him back," the healer, ordered the others.

Once Chris was laying flat again, Nathan wiped his face.

"This had better work," Larabee growled.

"It will, it already has."


"You want me to get Vin? He's outside somewhere with Ezra."

"NO! No, keep him away, I don't want him to go through....to ... I want him to stay away...to be safe," the blond gasped out.

"I don't understand, Chris."

"Keep boy away...He can't be linked to me.....if I die he can't be linked...." the blond never finished, falling asleep mid sentence.

Frowning the healer looked at Josiah.

"He was linked to Sarah, when she died. He told me that they were always linked to each other."

"Oh my God, he felt her die? He knew what she felt and...."

"Yeah, and that's part of what's eating him."


Vin stood watching the cabin and the translucent thread that stretched between him and Chris. He could feel everything, every single thing that Chris was going through. Distance only muted it but it was still there.

Ezra was examining some small piece of wild life with JD but he kept looking back at the boy. Finally he said, "Vin, Nathan has to do this. But he wanted to spare you. That's why he asked me to bring the two of you out here."

//I know. Chris is afraid.//

//Afraid? Mr. Larabee is afraid of nothing.//

//Yeah he is,// the boy turned and gazed at the teen,//he's afraid we'll die, too.//


Josiah watched as Nathan helped Chris fall asleep. The blond's ragged breathing slowed and evened out as his body relaxed. It was then that the empath noticed how shaky his friend was. "Nathan? You need to lay down also."

Exhausted brown eyes glanced up at him. "I'm alright. I need to make sure Chris is truly resting."

"No, you need to lay down. I'll watch over him. If anything changes I'll call you."

Rubbing his hand over his face Nathan said at last, "Perhaps you're right." He started to stand and swayed.

Josiah reached out and giving the healer support escorted him to the other bed. "Lay down before you pass out," he ordered.

Laying back Nathan said almost to himself, "It was so hard. I never did anything like that before." Jackson looked at his hands, "It was so strange...I could almost see these black gobs moving and I knew it was the poison latched on and twined around Chris' spine. But they moved away from my hands." Nathan's hands began to tremble.

"Sleep, brother, you need it as much as Chris does."

Nathan's eyes slid shut and then sprang open again, "The boys!"

"Don't worry about the boys, I'll take care of them." Josiah reached down to the foot of the bed and brought the blanket up to cover his friend.


Buck watched through the window as Nathan helped his oldest friend stretch out on the lounge on the porch. He watched as Nathan said something and then Chris frowned and said something back.

Shaking his head Nathan left the blond alone.

Buck quickly poured a cup of coffee and carried the steaming cup outside. "Brought you something, Stud," he said as he handed the mug to the blond.

Chris looked up and the tall rogue and reached out for the cup. Willing his hand not to shake he took a sip of the brew. Smiling he said, "I do admire how you make a cup of coffee, Buck, always have."

"Thought you might like a little extra pick me up."

A chair scooted over closer to the lounge. "Sit and spill it." He watched as Buck sat down and stared at his hands.

"I been thinking about the boys."


"No, let me finish. I been trying to think of some way, some place we could take them. Some place they'd been safe, be happy. I've thought of Nettie, Inez, and the Travis's. But that would only bring them into greater danger. I thought how we could take them to a drop off place and get them to Haven. But even though they'd be safe from the PCCA, they wouldn't have anyone to take care of them. They would be alone." Buck paused and looked down at his hands again.

Larabee took another sip of his coffee and looked out toward the trees. Ezra had taken the boys on another 'nature hike'. It was the one thing all three seemed to enjoy. They younger ones discovering a whole new world they never knew and the teen was allowed to be just a teen again.

"What are you saying, Buck? Should we keep them with us like puppies we found on the road side? You say you want them safe, do you think they'd be safe with us?"

"They ain't puppies, Chris, they're sentients second gen sentients, and they have to be protected until they're grown and have their full powers. What ever that means."

"You think I don't know that. You think I don't realize ... how precious... What kind of life would then have with us?"

"I don't know but have you asked yourself what kind of life they'd have on their own. With us, at the very least, we can make sure that Baines never gets his hands on them."

The two men looked hard at each other, each seeing a decision and a promise in the other ones eyes. Buck gave Chris a short nod.

"On the other hand, I couldn't fight off a hummingbird at the moment."

"Well, hell, Chris, you never were any good in a real fight."

"You'll pay for that, Stud, as soon as I'm up and around."

"I look forward to you trying. Thanks, Chris."

"No problem."


Vin watched from the pre-dawn shadows as Chris paced. He steadied himself holding on to the railing of the porch. His steps dragging as he willed his body to work again. Occasionally he would stop and lean on one of the upright poles, his forehead touching the rough wood. Vin would almost go to him then, he looked so sad and so defeated. But before he could move the tall man would push himself upright and begin again.

Each day he got more control back and by night he'd be so tired he slept well for several hours.

Until the dreams started again.

Until the nightmares came.

It was the same dream as always only the last few nights it had begun a second chapter. But Chris woke him self up before that part of the dream could start. Then he would get up and walk back and forth on the porch forcing unresponsive muscles to work.

The nightmare would wake Vin. And unlike when Ezra was caught in his nightmare, he couldn't roll over and go back to sleep. The man's dreams frightened him, they had such an intensity about them. So now he sat shivering in the cold watching Larabee fight his demons both physical and mental.

Chris had withdrawn inside himself and spoke hardly a word to either Ezra or Vin during his recovery. The ten year old had simply retreated into his quiet shell but the teen fought back. Picking and jabbing with sharp words until everyone feared that Chris would actually hurt the teen.

Tanner wanted desperately to help Standish and to help Larabee but he wasn't sure how to do it. Last night had been one of the worst.

~~ Ezra slipped into his leather jacket and gloves.

"Where the hell do you think you are going?" Larabee's angry voice came from the darkened room.

Without even looking up Ezra answered, "Out, Mr. Larabee. I have a need for some fresh air."

"No. It's too dangerous."

"You are neither my parent nor my guardian, Mr. Larabee, and since I am of age I shall do as I please."

"That's the problem, Standish, you always do as you please, never mind about anyone else."

"Chris!" Josiah's voice boomed through the room, "Ezra, don't forget those items I asked for while you are in town."

"I won't, Uncle Josiah," and before anything else could be said the teen was gone.

Chris turned on Josiah, books and a chair hurled through the air at him. Josiah dodged everything and stared at the angry man. "Do you really think throwing a temper tantrum will help, Chris?"

Larabee stood absolutely still for two breathes and then stomped out of the room.


Vin sat huddled, hugging his knees and crying. Chris spotted him as he made his way to the porch. He'd woken from his own version of a nightmare and needed to get outside where he could breathe. As he passed by to go outside he heard the ragged breathing of the boy in the room. "Vin?"

The huge tear filled eyes looked at him, //Weren't your fault. Weren't Ezra's neither.//

"What are you talking about, Vin?"

//Both of you, you have the same dream but both of you blame yourselves for what happened. Weren't your fault.//


//You dream about it all the time. I see it. Every night. I see yours, I see Ezra's. It's always about the same thing. 'Cept you see it different.//

"Do you see everybody's dreams?"


"I'm sorry, Vin."

//Ain't your fault. Ya carry around your hurting like a scab you keep picking at making it bleed all the time. When you dream, it's almost like you're yelling. You gotta stop, Ezra's gotta stop.//


The next day Vin watched as Chris and Ezra avoided speaking with each other. They even avoided being close to each other. Finally Vin sent them both a message. //I can show you.//

//What do you mean, show me?// Ezra sent back.

Vin struggled for the right way to explain it. //I think I can show each of you what the other sees. We need to be by ourselves.//

Nodding the man and the teen headed for the trees. They stopped when Vin joined them. // Give me your hand, Ezra, and Chris you take the other one. Then clear your minds.//

They did as Vin said. Both tried to drop their shields to open themselves to Vin. Then suddenly Ezra was looking down on the house that had been home. He saw a boy wrestling with a guildsman. The man was much bigger and stronger than the boy and another came up behind and struck the boy on the head. He fell curling up and clutching his head.

Ezra watched the crumpled body of the boy until he heard a scream as shots were fired at the back of the house. He looked up and saw Sarah running pulling the younger boy with her. Shots echoed through the valley and they fell and didn't move.

Ezra heard Chris screaming, he felt the terror and then the anger bubble up and fill him. He watched as the guildsmen were lifted one by one into the air and dropped screaming to their death.

The youth heard Chris crying, "NO! Not...not all of them. I can't lose all of them."

Ezra opened his eyes. "How did you do that? I felt like I was Chris."

Vin shrugged and turned to the older man. //Your turn.//

This time Chris stood in front of the house facing men that were two feet taller then he and at least a hundred pounds heavier. The bodies of the family dogs lay where they fell. He felt his heart racing in fear yet he resolutely stood up to the Guild, "You, sir, are trespassing on private property. I must insist that you leave."

"Get out of the way, kid, or we'll go through you," the giant in front of him growled.

Then before Ezra could answer another man shouted, "There they go out the back! Get them! "

In desperation Ezra attempted to tackle one of the Guildsman to stop him or at least slow him down. He fought as hard as he could until his head exploded in pain and bright light. As he cradled his splitting head his eyes squeezed shut he heard shots and then voices, screaming. But the scream he heard loudest was Larabee's agonized denial. The last thing he felt was guilt, he'd failed the most wonderful person in his life. They should all hate him.

Chris opened his eyes and looked at the teen. "I don't hate you, Ezra. I was terrified that I'd lose you too that day. I couldn't stand the thought of that happening..."

"So you left my care to others."


"I...I tried."

"I know." Chris reached out and pulled Ezra into a hug. Hugging the fourteen year old that was and the eighteen year old that is, he whispered, "I couldn't have stood it if I'd lost two sons that day. I couldn't have lived with that." The words came pouring out tumbling over each other now that the dam was broken. "Sarah took you to her heart that first day. You were such a sad boy and you were putting up such a brave front. It wasn't long before you became like a son to both of us. You were Adam's older brother in every way but blood. When I saw you go down and then Sarah and Adam I... I thought I'd lost all of you. I knew they were dead. I couldn't mind link ... with them ... when I was aware again Nathan kept saying how you were still alive, hurt but still alive."

Chris leaned back a little and looked into the teen's eyes, "That was the only thing that saved me, Ezra. You were still alive. I sat with you for almost a week. But I couldn't bear to be there when you woke... I couldn't handle the questions you'd ask.... the accusation in your eyes. So I left you to the others. They never approved but I didn't care. I had no idea...I never thought what it would do to you, I'm sorry, Ezra, so sorry."

Pulling the boy close again Chris felt Ezra finally return the hug as the teen let the new knowledge enter his mind and his heart and heal them both somewhat.


Vin went outside in the dawn light. He wrapped a blanket around his shoulders it was so cold. He walked out to this big rock away from the lodge and sat down. It was so quiet here. He turned his face to the rising sun.

Chris watched the boy. He looked so peaceful and relaxed. Not really wanting to disturb him but Nathan had sent him to fetch Vin. "Hey, Vin, what you doing?"

Big blue eyes gazed up at him. //It's so nice here. So quiet.//

"Yeah, it is."

//No, I mean there's no voices here. There's always voices crowding in my head. Here there's not any.//

"There's all of us."

//Ain't the same. I know ya'll, an' I can block if I want. Out there..// He pointed toward the city with his chin. //Out there there's a bazillion voices always screaming at me. Aunt Cindy was teaching me to block them before...//

"I think we need to talk to Josiah about that. He should be able to help you, teach you to block, too."

//You think so?//

"I know he will."

Vin looked around and up at the sky. //Are we going to stay here?//

"For a few days maybe even a week or more. But not forever, we have work to do."

//Fightin' the helmets?//

"Yeah, fighting the helmets."



Buck walked outside and spotted the little brunet sitting very still on the rock by the porch. "What 'cha doing, Kiddo?"

"Watching Vin."

Buck looked out into the field and spotted Vin sitting still on a log in the middle of the field. "What's he doing?"

"Seeing if he can talk to horses," the boy answered matter of factly.

"Can he do that?"

"Don't know. He's trying."

"Oh." Buck stood beside the boy and watched, too.

There were four horses grazing in the pasture. Every so often one of them would raise its head and look over to where Vin sat and then go back to grazing. But Buck noticed they were getting closer to Vin with each pass.

Vin sat perfectly still waiting. Finally a black with a white blaze walked over to him and sniffed his hair. Nibbling it and after finding it didn't taste too good went back to grazing. But every two or three bites the horse would look over at Vin and snort.

Finally the boy got up and walked toward JD and Buck.

Buck couldn't help it, "Any luck talking to the horse, Vin?"

The boy shrugged and then Buck 'saw' the grass, trees and boy from an odd, distorted perspective. The yellows and gold stood out brightest and Vin's red tee shirt was very bright. But the blue of the boy's jeans faded to where they were almost invisible. "Holy Shit. What was that?"

Vin grinned. //That's what the horse sees. They don't think much.//


Late that night the two old friends sat on the porch. Buck eyed the cane his friend still used occasionally. "You'll never guess what Vin was up to today."

Larabee glanced at his old friend. "What?"

"He was sitting out in the middle of the pasture. I asked JD what he was doing and the boy said he was trying to talk to horses."

The blond snorted in disbelief. "Well, did he?"

Buck shrugged, "He said they didn't have much to talk about but he...he did the strangest thing, he let me 'see' what the horses see. It was very weird, the colors were all ... I can't explain it. That boy has talents we will never understand, or even find out about."

Chris nodded, "I have a feeling that life with those two boys will never be dull, even if we didn't have the PCCA chasing us."

Buck stared at his friend. "Life with ... are they staying?"

Larabee looked down at the wedding band he'd never taken off. "If every body agrees, we'll keep them as long as we can."

Buck grinned, "That's good."

"Won't be easy, Buck."

"I know, Chris, but it'll be worth it," Wilmington said with total convention.


The next time Vin headed out to the pasture Chris went out to watch him. It wasn't long before Josiah joined him. They stood leaning against the rail fence watching Vin. The boy sat on a large rock perfectly still as the horses grazed around him. Once in a while one of them would walk over and lower its head to the boy and after several minutes snort and shake and go back to grazing. It was the most comfortable and relaxed they'd ever seen the boy. But they'd been here for two weeks now and the boys were blooming in the wilderness quiet.

"That boy has a true gift with animals," Josiah remarked breaking the silence.

"Yeah, he does. Why can't he talk, Josiah? He doesn't even make sounds when he cries or when he's hurt," Chris asked never taking his eyes off the boy.

Josiah chewed on his lower lip. "I don't know. Nathan says there's nothing physically wrong with his throat. That he is capable of making sound but he just doesn't. Perhaps it has to do with what the Guild did to him when they had him."

"Like what?"

"That's hard to say. I can tell by his nightmares that they hurt him physically and mentally. I'm assuming to force him to use his telepathy. From what Ezra was told he wasn't telepathic before they were taken. Perhaps a 'seeker' identified him and Baines thought he could force him and then train him to be his tool. The evil of that makes me shudder. How anyone could treat a small child in such a way?

I'm not even sure Vin really remembers what happened to him. He may have managed to block most of it out and only in his dreams does he remember the hurt and fear."

"He remembers enough," Chris said softly. "That first night before we ran, he asked me to kill him if the Guild got too close. He said...he begged me to kill him and JD before I'd let the Guild capture them again."

"God," Josiah groaned. "What did you tell him?"

The jaw muscles bunched before Chris answered, "I told him I would."

Taking a deep breath he continued, "I've decided, Buck agrees, but each of you need to decide. We're keeping the boys with us. There's no place safe we can take them. If it were a different world....I'd see them with a family safe.. happy....but that's not an option and we can look after them better than anyone." Chris paused thinking, and then continued, "They keep us focused on why we keep fighting. It's the second gens and the third gens we have to protect from Baines."

Vin looked their way and getting down off the rock walked toward them. //Nathan says supper's ready, that we're to come eat.//

"Okay, Cowboy, lets go eat."


"Sure, you looke

like a real cowboy out there with those horses."

Chris was rewarded with a rare grin as the boy; for once acting like a boy took off running. //Race you,// and he took off towards the lodge.

Laughing Larabee ran after him. Josiah followed smiling, walking at a slower pace.

The End?