"Ezra? Can I talk to you for a minute?" Chris asked, standing in the doorway of his home office.
Ezra looked over at Vin, who simply shrugged, indicating he didn't know what it was about, either. "All right," Ezra agreed and got off the sofa to walk over to his guardian.
Chris motioned for the teen to precede him into the room and then shut the door. Of course, it was really only the illusion of privacy, for if Vin really wanted to, all he needed to do was extend his hearing. For the most part, though, Vin was fairly good about respecting the privacy of others. And, he was still cautious about using his enhanced senses, especially if Ezra wasn't right beside him.
Somewhat apprehensive, Ezra wracked his brain, trying to figure out just what it was Chris wished to speak to him about. Surely the small poker games Ezra had put together with some others at his school were beneath the man's notice? The amounts involved were a mere pittance! Sitting down in the chair opposite the desk, Ezra folded his hands in his lap and looked up expectantly at Chris.
"I had an interesting call from one of your teachers today," Chris began, and he watched Ezra closely to gauge his reaction.
For his part, Ezra was still baffled as to what it could be about. He hadn't been in any trouble, so why would a teacher be calling... oh.
Chris caught the small spark in Ezra's eyes when the teen realized what the call had been about. "Yes. Imagine my surprise when Mrs. Hampstead tells me that I really should reconsider not allowing you to travel to Japan with the other selected representatives from your class. She was quite confused when I informed her that I had never received any news about said trip. She then proceeded to fill me in on the itinerary, how the students were chosen, and how very important it was for you to participate. So... my question is, why didn't you tell me about this trip?"
Ezra looked down, chewing his lip self-consciously. "I just didn't see the point. There was no reason for you to know about the trip, as I do not plan on going."
At that, Ezra looked up in disbelief. "Given the circumstances, the reasons should be obvious."
Chris shook his head. "You mean because of Vin? Ezra, you need to be able to live your own life. Vin will understand. He might not be happy about it, but he'll accept the fact that you can't be with him all the time. You've managed to attend different schools, after all," Chris pointed out.
"Yes, but we still see each other every day, and he knows that I am close by at night. That's hardly the same thing as being on the other side of the world," Ezra stated. "And what if he zones?"
"Vin's usually pretty careful about not extending his senses when you aren't around. And, if necessary, we can always call Blair. He's been able to pull Vin out before." Chris paused, drumming his fingers on the desk. "I really think it's important for you to have a life outside of the Sentinel/Guide thing. You know that Blair has attended some conferences without Jim. Ezra, you're entitled to your own life."
Ezra didn't reply, and Chris sighed. "Look, why don't you call Blair and discuss it with him, OK? In the meantime, I'll have a talk with Vin."
"All right," Ezra agreed in a quiet voice. "But if Vin doesn't want me to go, I won't. He needs stability--it's something he hasn't had much of in his life."
"I know. I get the feeling you two have that in common. But you have me and the Team now, right? Both of you. We're not going anywhere," Chris promised. "Now, why don't you use this phone, and Vin and I will take a walk." He got up and moved to the door. "Just remember, you can want things for yourself, not just for Vin. I don't think he'd like it if he realized he was holding you back."
"He's not holding me back," Ezra protested.
Chris cocked an eyebrow at him. "No? Then I suggest you start getting ready for a trip."
Huffing a sigh in exasperation, Ezra reached for the phone. "No promises," he stated as he dialed.
Chris just smiled as he walked out, closing the door behind him. "Vin?" he called out, and a brown, curly head popped up over the sofa, blue eyes questioning. "Let's take a walk."*****
They walked in comfortable silence for awhile, both just enjoying the other's presence. Finally, Chris took in a deep breath. "Vin, there's something I need to discuss with you."
Immediately, Vin tensed and he looked up warily. In his experience, when there was a 'discussion,' it rarely ended well... at least for him. "Did... did I do somethin' wrong?" he whispered.
"No, no, nothing like that," Chris was quick to reassure the boy. He hated the fear that he could see already growing in Vin's expression. Stopping, he knelt down so he could look his son in the eyes, his hands resting on Vin's shoulders. "You've done nothing wrong," he stated clearly.
Vin nodded uncertainly, sensing that Chris was waiting for some sort of agreement.
With a gentle squeeze of Vin's shoulders, Chris stood back up and gestured toward a fallen log. "Come on, let's sit down."
"Now, I know that this whole Sentinel and Guide thing has sort of thrown you for a loop," Chris began, "but you have to realize that you and Ezra still have your own lives to live, separate from each other."
At that, Vin frowned. What did that mean? Was Ezra leaving? Or did that mean he had to leave? "I don't understand," he finally said.
"Yeah, I can see that," Chris said as he sighed, rubbing his face in exasperation. "OK, you know how you and Ezra go to different schools?" He waited until Vin nodded. "Well, it's the same type of thing. Sometimes, one of you will want or need to go away while the other one stays home. Or maybe you'll both need to go somewhere, just not the same place. Understand?"
Vin nodded, frowned, and then shook his head. "Do I have to go somewhere?" he ventured.
"Ah, no. This time, it'll be Ezra. He's been selected to go on a school trip to Japan for two months this summer," Chris said. "Before you say anything, just think about what this kind of opportunity means to Ezra. He'll get to travel, experience a new culture, probably start speaking like a native."
For a moment, Vin couldn't respond. He just sat there in stunned disbelief as Chris expounded on how good it would be for Ezra to get away from Vin... And maybe Chris was right. Ever since he'd found out about the Sentinel/Guide stuff, he'd been clinging to Ezra like a lifeline--and maybe that wasn't the best thing for Ezra. Vin had gone from a friend to a burden... and he knew what happened to burdens. Flinching internally, Vin schooled his expression. He had forgotten the lessons he'd learned in foster care--don't bring attention to yourself, don't cause problems, and, whatever you do, don't get too close. Clenching his fists so that he could feel his short nails biting into his palms, he forced himself to reply casually, "Oh, that's cool. Ez'll like that. Is that it? I... um... have some homework to finish up."
Chris blinked. That wasn't exactly the response he'd been expecting. "Don't you want to talk about it?"
Vin shrugged. "Nah, nothin' to talk about." He stood up, suppressing a shiver. He felt kind of sick and wanted nothing more than to return to his room. "So... can I go?"
"Sure, Vin." The words were no more than out of his mouth, and the eleven year old was running back to the house. Chris had an uneasy feeling that something had just happened, but he wasn't exactly sure what. Shaking his head, he began his own, much slower, trek back to the house.*****
Ezra frowned in concern when there was no response to his quiet knock on Vin's door. Usually, it would be opened the moment he raised his fist. "Vin," he called. He hesitated for a moment and then tried the door knob, relieved when it turned easily under his hand. "Vin?" he called again as he poked his head in. It was dark in the room, but he didn't want to turn on the overhead light, knowing that it sometimes hurt Vin's eyes. He glanced down the hall and then eased into the room, shutting the door behind him. While he waited for his eyes to adjust, he listened carefully. His senses were nowhere near as acute as Vin's, but they were still above average. Finally, he could make out a lump in the corner. Moving slowly, he knelt down and skimmed his hand just over the blanketed form.
Vin jerked upright and plastered his back against the wall, his eyes wide open and searching. Seeing it was Ezra, he let out a soft sigh and settled back down. He reached up and removed the noise-cancelling earphones that he'd been wearing. "Geeze, Ez, you liked to give me a heart attack," he complained.
"Are you all right? I noticed you didn't eat much at dinner..." Ezra said.
"'m fine," Vin said, looking down. "Just wasn't very hungry."
"Are your senses bothering you?"
Vin shook his head, still looking down.
"Vin..." Ezra began, but Vin cut him off.
"I'm OK, really. I was just taking a nap."
Ezra stared at him for a few more seconds. Something wasn't right, but he couldn't quite figure it out. "Chris talked to you about this summer?" he ventured, sure that his trip was at least part of the problem, if not all of it.
"Yeah. It'll be good, Ez, don't worry," Vin said.
"I told Chris that I wouldn't go if you didn't want me to," Ezra stated firmly. He was startled by Vin's rather vehement reaction.
"No!" Vin almost shouted as his head jerked up to stare at Ezra, his eyes wide and a bit panicked. "Don't say that," he stated more softly, his eyes dropping again as he started plucking at his blanket. "You should go, Ez. You're real smart, and you shouldn't be stuck with me."
By the end, Vin was almost whispering, so Ezra had to lean in closer to hear what he was saying. "Hey, what are you talking about? I'm not 'stuck with you,'" Ezra protested.
Vin blinked up at him. "Sure ya are. Ever since this... Sentinel thing..." Vin waved his hands, "you've had to deal with me. That's not what you were expectin', and it sure can't be what you wanted."
Stunned by the usually quiet boy's impassioned words, Ezra tried to quickly order his thinking. "Vin, we're partners, correct? Haven't we been since the beginning? What do you think has changed?" he asked gently.
His eyes burning with unshed tears, Vin shook his head. "You ain't got a choice, now," he rasped out. "Didn't mean to trap ya. Maybe they'll go away?"
Frowning, Ezra reached forward, ignoring Vin's flinch, to place his hand on the younger boy's arm. "You didn't trap me. I'm right where I want to be," he assured Vin. "And, no, I don't think your senses will go away. Do you really want them to? I don't. They're a part of you."
"But..." Vin started to protest, but Ezra stopped him.
"Listen to me," Ezra said, giving Vin's arm a small shake. "Have you ever known me to do anything I didn't want to?"
Reluctantly, Vin shook his head. He couldn't think of an instance off hand, but this seemed different. Since Blair and Jim had explained about the Sentinel/Guide stuff, Vin's emotions had ranged from elation at the thought that he and Ezra would always be together, to fear that the older boy didn't really want the bond. "Just don't seem right," he whispered.
Ezra sighed, dropping his head. Once Vin got an idea in his head, it was nigh impossible to get it back out. He couldn't help but feel a flash of anger at Chris, though. Sure, the man had been doing what he thought was best, and usually he handled Vin very well, but in this instance, Ezra sensed that some old fears had been awakened in his friend. Fears that would not easily be put to rest.*****
Jim frowned as Blair excitedly expounded about Ezra's upcoming trip to Japan. "Wait, he's going to be gone for two months?" he asked, shocked dismay clear in his voice.
"Yeah, so?" Blair asked, a puzzled frown of his own growing.
"Blair, he's Vin's Guide. I'm not so sure it's a good idea for him to go that far away for so long," Jim said.
Blair waved a hand in the air. "It'll be fine. Vin has us if any problems arise. Ezra shouldn't feel he has to give up good opportunities because he's a Guide."
At that, Jim scowled. "Is that how you feel? That being my Guide has cost you 'opportunites?'" he asked, making an effort to keep his voice low.
"Well... maybe sometimes," Blair reluctantly admitted, not meeting Jim's gaze. "But it's totally worth it. Being your Guide is the coolest thing in the world, and if that means I can't just go on an anthropological field trip to Brazil or an archeological dig in Egypt, it's a trade off I'm willing to make."
If anything, Jim's scowl grew darker. "Blair, we're partners. I know that in the beginning, I was a bit... inflexible, but I thought we were past that now. If you have a chance to participate in some type of expedition that you're interested in, we can work it out."
Blair blinked. He hadn't expected that. Sitting down, he looked up at Jim. "I..." Had he even ever asked Jim about participating in any programs that would take him out of Cascade for any length of time? He'd just assumed that the older man wouldn't go for it. "Oh man..." he groaned.
Jim came up behind him and rubbed his shoulders comfortingly. "What is it you're always saying about the importance of communication?" he asked thoughtfully.
"Yeah..." Blair snorted. "Guess we both need to work on that, huh?" He closed his eyes, leaning back into the back rub. "That feels good. I had no idea I was so tense."
Jim grunted in agreement, but didn't stop his ministrations. He could feel his Guide relaxing, and it made him smile. "Now, about Vin and Ezra..."*****
Chris sighed as he watched Vin run out the door once more. Since he'd talked to the boy about Ezra's trip, it seemed that Vin spent as much time as possible away from the house. He always had some sort of excuse--studying with a friend, wanting to go to the park, even visiting the library. That was the one that had really surprised him. Vin wasn't really a reader and, in fact, had problems with it due to his dyslexia. Still, Chris didn't really have a reason to tell him he couldn't go. But... he missed the boy. And he had the feeling that Ezra did, as well. Looking across the table, he saw that the teenager was glaring at him again."He'll get over it," Chris said, trying to believe that himself.
Ezra snorted, but didn't refute him. Instead, he simply picked up his plate and started clearing the table. It was his turn, which was why Vin could leave as soon as he finished eating. Not that the younger boy had eaten very much. Ezra was worried. If something didn't change soon, he was afraid that Vin might just decide to leave... without him. He closed his eyes, that thought actually causing him almost physical pain. Vin had started to pull away from him, something he had never expected of his friend. Oh, Vin would answer questions put to him, but he never initiated conversations anymore... and he no longer spent his free time with Ezra. In fact, he'd seemed pretty insistent that Ezra should cultivate friendships with those in his own school... almost desperate, even. He'd mentioned his concerns to Blair, but the other Guide thought it was a good idea, mentioning that establishing other relationships was healthy. Ezra shook his head. He didn't think Blair understood Vin. He had thought that Chris did, but now he was having doubts. Oh, he knew that Chris loved Vin; he just wasn't sure that Vin knew that. Once the dishes were done, Ezra retreated to his bedroom to do his homework.
As he heard Ezra's door shut with a definitive click, Chris winced. He hated to admit it, but he was beginning to have some doubts about Ezra's trip to Japan. Ezra certainly didn't seem to be very excited or happy about it, and Vin... well, it was hard to say exactly what Vin was feeling. And that bothered him. Almost from the first, he'd had a connection with Vin, an ability to understand the boy, and it had been the same for Vin. But now... Now, Vin was just... gone. Even when he was in the house, it was like he wasn't. He rarely made eye contact with anyone and seemed to flee at the earliest opportunity. In a way, it would have been easier if Vin had been acting out; but as it was, Chris was at a loss as to how to address the problem. He'd had Blair talk to Ezra, maybe he should have Jim talk to Vin? The older man might better understand what Vin was feeling, being a Sentinel himself. Satisfied that he'd finally decided on a course of action, Chris got up from the table and headed for his office.*****
"I hope you can find out what's going on with him, 'cause he's sure not talking to us," Chris said, his anxiety clear to a Sentinel, if not to anyone else.
Jim nodded, but he wasn't sure he'd be able to help--kids weren't really his strong suit. Vin was a Sentinel, though, so maybe that would make a difference. If nothing else, Jim would warn the boy of the dangers of distancing himself from his Guide. Jim had learned the hard way and had almost lost Blair for good.
"He hasn't started packing things up and clearing out his room, has he?" Jim asked.
Chris frowned. "Noo... Is that something I should watch out for?"
Shrugging, Jim glanced out the window. He didn't like remembering that particular time, but it would be best if Chris knew some of the warning signs for a distressed Sentinel--and pulling away from his Guide was a big flashing light to Jim.
"Blair thinks it's a sign that the Sentinel is feeling threatened, something is encroaching on his territory or something," Jim muttered. The whole Sentinel instinct and response thing always made him feel embarrassed and uncomfortable. "You should talk to Blair about it." He glanced at the clock, scowling. "When did you say Vin usually got home?"
"About forty-five minutes ago," Chris stated with a scowl of his own.
Before Jim could respond, he was startled by the distressed cry of a cougar cub, and he felt his gut clench as he looked down and saw the cub bleeding on the floor, his breaths coming in fast pants. "Vin's in trouble," he stated, standing up.
Chris' phone rang, and he answered crisply, "Larabee." His eyes flicked to Jim and he said, "I'll be right there," and snapped the phone shut. "Vin was attacked outside the library. He was unconscious when the police arrived, and they've taken him to Denver General."
"I'll drive," Jim stated. Chris nodded absently, already opening his phone to call his team. "Call Ezra first," Jim instructed.
Chris paused, about to argue that he wanted to wait until he'd ascertained Vin's condition, but then reconsidered. Jim was a Sentinel himself, so maybe he should listen to the man's advice. After all, isn't that why he'd called him?*****
Ezra arrived at the hospital with Blair, green eyes wide with worry, and made a beeline for Nathan, who seemed to be on lookout for arrivals. "Any news?" he asked breathlessly.
"He's in surgery, so we won't know anything until the doctor comes out," Nathan replied, giving a polite nod as Blair approached at a much slower pace.
"And they know about his drug allergies?" Blair asked, his mouth set in a grim line. Surgery wasn't good, especially for a Sentinel.
"Yes, I gave them the list you and Rain compiled. Rain would be here herself, but she's at a conference in New York this week," Nathan said.
"Where's Chris?" Ezra asked, looking around the waiting room but not finding his guardian.
"He and Jim are talking with the police. I don't have any of the particulars, but I guess Vin was trying to protect some girl, and her boyfriend stabbed him for his trouble," Nathan said.
Ezra huffed out a breath. Wasn't that just like Vin? Sometimes, the Sentinel imperative to protect could be down right annoying. Before he could ask anything else, however, he spied Chris and Jim striding down the hall towards him.
"No news yet," Nathan interjected before they could ask.
"What did the police say," Blair asked, while waving towards some open seats.
Jim took the hint and deftly maneuvered Ezra into sitting down, causing the rest to follow. "They're looking for the suspect, Will Richmond, a seventeen-year-old male Caucasian and suspected drug dealer."
"Seems Vin has been meeting with Richmond's girlfriend at the library a couple of times a week for tutoring, and Richmond suspected something more was going on," Chris took up the story. "But why he would be jealous of an eleven-year-old kid, I have not a clue. Charlotte, the girlfriend, said she'd broken it off with him a week ago, but he was refusing to accept it. Today, he dragged her out of the library at knife point and, when it looked like he was going to force her into his car, Vin jumped him."
"You know, there are days when I'm almost positive that Sentinels have no self-preservation instinct at all," Blair said, shaking his head. It sounded just like something Jim would have done.
"Oh, we have one, Chief. It's just that it comes second to protecting the tribe," Jim assured him.
Blair snorted but motioned for Chris to continue. "OK, Vin jumped him, and then...?"
"Then, Richmond released Charlotte and stabbed Vin in the stomach. By that time, I guess he could hear the sirens, as one of the librarians had called the police, so Richmond dropped the knife and took off in his car," Chris finished.
"He dropped the knife?" Ezra asked, his tone conveying his disbelief. "It would seem that this Will Richmond is not exactly a criminal mastermind."
"Family of Vin Tanner," a voice called out, halting the conversation.
Chris stood up. "Here."
"Are you his father?" the doctor asked.
"Yes, Chris Larabee. How's Vin?" Chris asked.
The doctor frowned. "The surgery went well, but I'm concerned about his vitals. Do you know if your son has been taking any drugs?" he asked, as the rest of the group stood and approached, as well.
"No," Chris and Ezra replied at the same time. With a pointed look from Chris, Ezra subsided, but Chris reiterated. "No, Vin doesn't take drugs."
"Well, we're running blood tests anyway, but his system is reacting as though he'd overdosed on something."
Chris' face was darkening, and it was becoming apparent to those who knew him that Mount Larabee was about to erupt all over the good doctor when Jim stepped in. "Richmond was a drug dealer," he stated. "It's likely that his knife was contaminated."
"And it would only take a small amount to screw up Vin's system. Even less than for Jim, as he's so much smaller," Blair added.
The doctor's gaze shifted between the various men, still frowning. "I hardly think the amount on a knife could cause the kind of reaction we're seeing," he began.
"Doctor, Vin is extremely allergic to a great many things, and drugs are especially problematic. You should call Dr. Chadwick. She's had to deal with Jim's reactions to various drugs and contaminants," Blair cut in before the doctor could get himself any farther in Chris' bad graces.
"Is he going to be all right? Can we see him?" Ezra asked, not overly concerned with anyone's sensibilities. He wanted to be with his Sentinel.
Everyone else paused and looked to the doctor. This is what they really wanted to know.
Still frowning, the doctor looked down at his chart. "At the moment, I'm cautiously optimistic, but if his numbers don't improve soon, we'll have to move him to ICU."
Ezra paled and Blair moved closer to the teen, a comforting hand coming to rest on Ezra's shoulder. "He's strong, don't worry," Blair whispered.
"He's still in recovery at the moment, but as soon as he's moved to either a room or ICU, family can see him. I'll send a nurse out to inform you as soon as he's settled. Now, if you'll excuse me, I believe I will put in a call to Dr. Chadwick."
"Thank you, Doctor Ramsey," Nathan said, cognizant of the importance of not alienating the doctor.
As soon as the doctor left, Ezra collapsed back down onto one of the uncomfortable seats, Blair taking the one next to it. Jim gave Chris a nudge and then nodded toward Ezra.
Blinking, Chris took a deep breath and forced himself to calm down. There wasn't anything he could do for Vin at the moment, but Ezra was another matter. With a nod of thanks to Jim, he walked over and took the seat on the other side of Ezra.
"Vin's a fighter, Ez. He'll pull through this," Chris stated.
"Maybe. But maybe he won't fight as hard as he should. He's been pulling away from us for weeks," Ezra stated bitterly, unshed tears gathering in his eyes. "If he slips into a zone, I'm not certain I could reach him."
"You would reach him," Jim said, knealing in front of the distressed Guide. "You're his Guide. That bond is impossible for a Sentinel to deny, even when they might want to," he stated, with a wry look towards Blair.
Blair gave him a dirty look, but nodded. "Jim's right. Even when they are at their most obstinate, a Sentinel can't ignore the call of his Guide."*****
Vin opened his eyes and blinked. He recognized the blue-tinted landscape of the Spirit world. He'd been here before. His spirit animal, the cougar cub, was nestled against him and looked as groggy and confused as he felt. Scritching the cub behind one ear, Vin tried to remember what happened, and why he was in the Spirit world. He hadn't visited in some time. He seemed to be in a small clearing that was completely surrounded by thorn bushes A plaintive whine had him peering through the bushes, trying to see what had made the sound. The thicket was pretty dense, but he could just catch a glimpse of red.