Dark Times
Broken Friendships

by Jackie and Lanna

Nathan hurried down the boardwalk toward the Church. He stopped when he saw Ezra emerge from the saloon, John Calhoun next to him. They exchange words and Nathan's brow raised when they warmly shook hands, then Ezra headed off.

Nathan stepped back into the shadows and watched as John turned his attention to something across the street and, when he didn't move or even blink for quite some time, Nathan followed his line of sight to see what he was looking at. The focus of the man's attention was Chris Larabee, who was staring back with intense coldness. A shiver raced down Nathan's spine as he watched the pair, wondering why neither of them blinked. Or was it his imagination? No one could go that long without blinking.

Finally, John tipped his hat to Chris and turned, disappearing back into the Saloon. Nathan's eyes moved to Chris and watched as the leader slowly turned away and headed for the Church. Trying to shake off a deep sense of foreboding, Nathan hurried after Chris, entering the building right behind him.

The others were already there, all with curious looks on their faces. Except for Vin, who was looking at Ezra with what looked like wariness.

"What's up, Nathan?" Buck asked, drawing everyone's attention to the black man. "You learn something about what happened?"

Nathan nodded and Vin gave him an encouraging look. "I want you ya'll to keep an open mind, all right? You're likely to not want to believe what I have to tell ya." He paused, then finally said, "I suspect McDonald was attacked by a...a vampire."

Nathan's revelation was met by a stunned silence, which lasted for several seconds, the men looking from one to the other, gauging each other's reactions.

Chris was the first to speak. "Oh c'mon that's ridiculous. You're not still going down that alley are ya? There's no such thing as vampires."

He looked at Vin who had been leaning against the wall, keeping quiet. "D'you still believe this, Vin? I thought you had more sense than that."

Before Vin could respond, everyone turned to look at Buck who had begun to laugh heartily. Through his mirth he managed to speak.

"Y...you don't mean that there's actually two of us that believe this?" he spluttered, wiping tears from his eyes and managing to pull himself together. When Nathan and Vin both looked back at him steadily he sobered. "Vin? Nathan? This ain't true, no way. And if you believe it is then I reckon you've been brainwashed by all them Indians you two have spent so much time with."

Vin's eyes darkened. "Watch yer mouth, Bucklin," he warned quietly and before he could do anything else, Nathan said, "I know it sounds extremely far fetched, but boys it's true. I saw all the signs on the body." He looked at Josiah. "Josiah? You believe in these things, don't you?"

Josiah tilted his head. "Seen a lot of strange things in my time, brother. So no reason why I shouldn't believe in vampires. Just finding it a bit hard to take in is all."

Chris shook his head in disbelief. "Are you serious?" He looked from one to the other of the men until his eyes rested on JD. The young sheriff was sitting wide eyed, his mouth slightly open. "Reckon we've had enough talk about vampires, yer scarin' the kid." He looked back at Vin. "Can't you come up with anything better than that? 'cause that just ain't doin' it for me."

Josiah stepped forward. "Now hang on Chris. If you've got a better explanation than Nathan's then I'm ready to hear it, otherwise we better start figurin' out a way to deal with this."

Chris looked from one man to the other. Buck tensed when he saw the signs of anger coming over his friend. After a moment, Chris growled softly, "There is no such thing as Vampires. I suppose ya'll believe the Goddamn tooth fairy is real too." He glared at them all, then said, "You listen up and you listen good. McDonald was killed by some crazy bastard who we are going to catch. As far as this town is concerned, that's how it is. I will not have the people here running around in a panic believing there are fairy tale monsters on loose. You want to continue playing make believe, fine. But this room is as far as it goes, do I make myself clear?"

"Chris," Vin began quietly. "Just 'cause you don't believe in it, don't make it not true. You can't go round dictatin' t' people what is and isn't. Things don't work that way."

Nathan continued where Vin left off. "I've known of this before, Chris. It ain't no fairy tale, believe me. I wish it was. Maybe we just need to get a plan together and find this murderin' ....." he shook his head frustrated, trying to think a way to describe it. ".......thing, before it kills anyone else."

Ezra nodded. "Well gentlemen. Whatever it is that did that despicable thing to McDonald has to be apprehended quickly. Whether it is a vampire or not."

JD couldn't remember ever seeing Chris look so angry as he glared coldly at Vin and Nathan. "It is not a Vampire," he growled, "It is not a fucking boogie man! It is a real live human being who we are going to catch. I will not sit here and listen to his shit! And I swear to God I will shoot the next person to suggest that this guy is anything but a man!" His last words were nearly shouted. Turning, he stormed out of the church, the door banging shut behind him.

JD blinked. "Why did he react like that?"

Nathan had an idea. His mind flashed back to what he had witnessed between Chris and Calhoun, wondering if Calhoun wasn't somehow involved. Not thinking, he said, "I think Calhoun got to him."

"D'ya wanna expand on that, Nathan? Or do we have to figure it out for ourselves?" Buck asked impatiently. "First ya talk about vampires, then ya start implyin' that Chris is in cahoots with Calhoun!"

"No!" Nathan shot back. "That's not what I'm sayin'. I think Calhoun's somehow got a hold on Chris that Chris can't do anythin' about."

Vin frowned. "You sayin' Calhoun's hypnotized him?"

"Mr. Tanner," Ezra began with a chuckle. "Please pinch me. Because that last remark has finally convinced me that I must be dreaming all of this."

"I don't believe you guys!" JD exclaimed, eyes flashing in anger. "You all think John is some kind of monster?" He glared at Buck. "Thought it was just you. When did the rest of you reach this conclusion?"

"Calm down, Mr. Dunne," Ezra spoke calmly. "I for one think Mr. Calhoun is a delightful man."

"Me too," Josiah added. "We had a nice talk over lunch the other day. Very interesting man."

JD glared over at Nathan, Buck and Vin. "So it's just you three then," he said accusingly.

"Well, three n' three seems like an even split t' me," Vin answered matter of factly. "Reckon Chris ain't too keen either."

"We aren't bein' cautious for our health JD," Buck's face turned thoughtful. "On second thought, maybe we are." JD huffed but that did not deter the ladies man. "Just the way he's gettin' us split up the middle worries the hell out o' me."

"Wait a second, We're getting off track here," Nathan interrupted. "We're supposed to be talking about the way McDonald died. Not whether or not we like the latest stranger in town!"

Vin took a deep breath and nodded. "Nate's right." He looked pointedly at JD, Ezra, Buck and Josiah. "Do you boys trust me and Nate?" he asked quietly. "Do you trust that we've both seen a lot of things and aren't exactly normal and that maybe we aren't crazy?"

Nobody answered right away, the four men mulling over Vin's question. Ezra was the first to respond. "I must confess that you two seem to have seen things that would make my hair curl. So I am open to any suggestions which you might make."

"You can count me in on that too." Josiah added before looking pointedly at Buck.

"Aw what the hell. Nobodies offered up a better explanation, and Vin and Nathan sure seem to have seen a lot more strange stuff than the rest of us. Just find it hard to admit that I'm actually believing that there's a vampire out there." The ladies man went to stand beside JD and looked sideways at him. "What d'ya think kid? D'you trust Vin and Nathan, or are ya gonna go ask Calhoun what he thinks?"

JD gave Buck an icy cold look before replying, "Yeah, I trust 'em." 'About this anyway,' he added silently to himself.

Vin nodded. "All right then. Josiah, if ya got any extra crosses, ya best hand em out. Vampires don't react too well to 'em. And if ya got any holy water, we could use some of that too."

"What are we gonna do about Chris?" Nathan asked.

"Don't let him know what we're doing. Don't want to set him off," Vin replied.

Buck chuckled. "That's easier said than done, Vin. Chris has got eyes in the back of 'is head, you know that."

"Jest a chance we gotta take. Right now we gotta concentrate on gettin' the right stuff together to kill this thing," Vin replied with a shrug.

"And, when we are armed with all of these ...uh...weapons....how do you suggest we go about finding this creature?" Ezra asked.

"Well," Nathan replied slowly. "All we can really do right now is keep a real careful eye out. Since Vampires only come out at night, we need to watch the saloon for strangers and follow any townsperson who leaves with a stranger." He paused. "The other way is to get right up and personal. Get friendly with every stranger ya see and if any of them seem to have a distaste for crosses, we'll know he's our guy. Or she."

Buck's eyes lit up. "Well leave the new ladies in town to me!" The comment lightened the mood and had everyone smiling.

Vin's face was the first to grow serious once more. "When did Calhoun first arrive in town?" he asked.

"About three days ago, I think," Nathan replied.

JD growled. "Oh so now John's a Vampire? Little problem there since ya'll just said Vampires only come out a night! Ya know, I'm getting real sick and tired of you guys ripping into him!" He paused, then his eyes took on the look of a decision being reached. "If you guys can't lay off and accept that John is just an ordinary guy visiting a friend then I guess that means we're gonna have to part ways." He pushed himself away from the wall. "Your choice," he added as he headed for the door.

Josiah grabbed JD's arm as he passed, to stop him from leaving. "JD, I agree with you about John, but right now you can't be so hot headed. We can talk about who's a friend and who's not when we're rid of the evil that's chosen to inflict itself on us."

The preacher stared steadily into JD's face and after a few moments the younger man's shoulders sagged. "Alright," JD said softly as he pulled his arm free. "But we will talk about it afterwards," he said louder as he glared from one man to the next, daring them to say otherwise.

"I certainly agree that we all need to have a long talk," Ezra stated, brushing the dust off his sleeve. "This is getting ridiculous."

"All right," Vin interrupted. "Josiah, if ya have any extra crosses, would ya get em?"

Josiah nodded and disappeared into his room. A moment later, he came back with several tiny crosses hanging from chains.

"Wear these at all times," Nathan said as Josiah passed them out. "They'll probably be the only protection we'll have while we're trying to find this guy."

"What about Chris?" Buck asked with a frown. "We can't leave him without protection. Whether he's lookin' for the vampire or not."

"Do you want to tell him why you are asking him to wear a cross around his neck?" Ezra asked wryly.

Buck grimaced. "You got a point Ezra."

"I'll watch 'is back." All eyes turned in Vin's direction at the Texans' soft statement, and Josiah slapped him on the back. "And we'll watch yours Brother," he promised.

The room fell quiet for a moment while everyone placed the crosses around their necks and hid them under their clothes, each man thinking of what was ahead.

"Alright then. Where do we start?" JD asked expectantly.

"Can't do much till after dark," Nathan replied. "Tonight, everyone just keep an eye on any strangers who show up in the saloon. Follow anyone who leaves with a stranger to make sure they're safe." He paused. "If you come across it, try and get a look at him without actually trying to fight him. If you do end up in trouble, shoot it. It will stun it long enough to get away."

Buck pulled out his pocket watch and looked at the time. "Well, if that's it, I gotta go." He looked up and grinned. "I got a date with Daisy an' I wanna look my best."

Vin snorted. "Yer best days are over Bucklin." His joke earned him a hard punch on the arm.

They all started to walk towards the door.

"Just be careful tonight, all of ya. And someone keep near Chris," Nathan instructed.

+ + + + + + +

Full dark had finally descended and JD was out patrolling the quiet streets. He could hear drunken laughter coming from the saloon not far off and decided he would head there for a drink as soon as he had a look at the next street over. He stopped as a noise in an alley caught his attention. He listened and when he heard the noise again, drew his gun and carefully moved to investigate. "Hello?" he called out. "Whoever's there, show yourself!" he ordered.

What sounded like a moan was his answer, drawing JD further into the alley. He saw a shape ahead and squinted into the darkness, wishing he had a lamp.

"Who's there?" he demanded and watched as the shape divided into two. One was slumped against the wall, being held upright by the other. JD gripped his gun as icy fear shot up and down his spine and quickly raised the weapon.

"Identify yourself!" he snapped, hoping his voice didn't sound as weak as he thought it sounded. A low growl was his reply as the form holding the first turned and JD found himself staring into a pair of blood red eyes.

JD was frozen in place as the...thing turned completely toward him, the person he was holding up sliding bonelessly to the ground. JD blinked and found himself pinned to the wall it moved so fast. His vision blurred with the hard blow and so he couldn't truly make out the features of what was holding him, but he could see...fangs. Razor sharp fangs and he could definitely smell blood.

"You have reached the place," it hissed, its voice sounding silky and rough at the same time. A surprisingly soft finger brushed his lips and JD got the sense that it was smiling. "You are mine. I will consummate the union by drinking from you."

JD, who had been too terrified to do anything but look in those red eyes, suddenly snapped to his senses that those words.

"No!" he screamed and the gun that he had managed to keep a tight grip on came up between their bodies and fired.

The thing cried out and stumbled back, releasing JD who wasted no time in running from the alley as fast as he could in blind terror. He had to get to the saloon, had to tell the others...

He didn't see the form that suddenly appeared in front of him and thus ran into it. He screamed, thinking the creature had caught him again and began to struggle. His arms were gripped tightly and a familiar voice suddenly penetrated his terror filled mind.

"JD! JD calm down, son! It's me, It's John!"

JD stopped struggling and looked up and into the kind, yet very worried looking face of John Calhoun. "John!"

"JD what happened?" John asked, "You look like your most worst nightmare is after you!"

JD's eyes were wide with terror and his mouth moved several times before any sound came out. "V...V...." He pointed behind him, towards the alley. "V...Vampire.....teeth.......tried to......bite....shot it......ran..." the terrified young sheriff began gasping trying to catch his breath.

Calhoun spoke soothingly, trying to calm him down. "Ssshhh, it's alright. Take some breaths, don't try to speak yet. Wait until you are calmer."

JD concentrated on Calhoun's voice and could feel his heart beginning to slow to a more acceptable level. He opened his mouth to speak again but he was startled again by a loud voice.

"What the hell are you doing! Let him go before I put a bullet in you!"

JD recognized the voice of Chris Larabee and began to panic again.

"N...no!..d...don't...he's help...helping me...saving me from the vampire."

"Vampire?" Chris' face grew scarier than it was. He actually drew his gun and pointed it at Calhoun as he reached out and grabbed JD, pulling him back behind him. "I've had enough of this shit," he growled, cocking the gun.

Calhoun raised his hands and took a step back, but his face remained calm.

"Chris what's goin' on?"

Chris kept his gun and his eyes on Calhoun as he answered. "Vin, get JD out of here. I got some business with Calhoun."

Vin looked from one to the other of the three men. "What happened Chris? What did Calhoun do?"

JD jumped in before Chris could answer. "I was attacked by the vampire and I ran into John after I got away."

The tracker looked thoughtfully at JD and then turned back to Chris. "That don't seem to be any reason to shoot someone Chris. Why don't ya put the gun away and let JD show us where he was attacked?"

Chris didn't answer and Nathan, who had arrived with Vin, noticed that the Chris and Calhoun were staring into each other's eyes. He nudged Vin and whispered very softly to him, bringing the other man's attention to what he was seeing.

Vin nodded and slowly walked around until he was almost standing between Chris and Calhoun, his eyes going from Chris's staring eyes to his cocked gun. "Chris?" he said quietly. "You with me pard?" He took a final step until his head got in the way of the two men from seeing each other.

Chris blinked and looked at Vin. "What?"

Nathan put a careful hand on Chris' shoulder and said, "We need to see where JD was attacked. See if we can find some clues."

Chris blinked again, then nodded and slowly put his gun away. "JD take us there."

JD nodded and started to lead the group back to the alley. Chris, before following looked at Calhoun and said, "Get out of here before I change my mind about shooting you."

He then turned and followed. When he arrived at the alley, Nathan was bent over the still body of a girl. "One of the saloon girls," Nathan murmured quietly.

"She dead?" Vin asked, peering over Nathan's shoulder. The healer turned sorrowful eyes to the tracker. "Fraid so. Same way as McDonald too."

"It had red eyes and smelled of blood," JD informed them, wide eyed. "That's the biggest loada shit I ever heard. Get out of my way." Chris grabbed Vin by the arm and pulled him away from the body, almost sending him hurtling into JD. "Nathan, ya can't see worth a damn down here. How d'ya know she died the same way?"

Nathan looked up at Chris. "I don't...yet. But you don't think JD was making up what he saw do ya?"

Chris looked steadily back at Nathan. "No I don't. I just think he was mistaken. All the talk you two been spoutin' about Vampires has put ideas in his head and he's seeing things that weren't really there."

"I wasn't imagining it!" JD jumped in hotly. "It was real dammit! It had red eyes and fangs! I know what I saw! And it talked to me. It said..." he trailed off and looked away.

"JD?" Nathan asked. "What did it say?"

"It said I'd reached the place and it was gonna drink from me," JD mumbled.

Nathan frowned. "Reached what place?"

JD ran shaky fingers through his hair. "I don't know. Didn't understand what he meant. Unless the alley is 'the place'."

Chris snorted. "Yeah, sure it is. It's just some crazed guy, out to spook the town. He's just sayin' weird stuff to scare ya JD."

Nathan stopped any further conversation by lifting the girl into his arms and standing. "Lets get her out of here," he murmured and quietly left the alley, heading toward the undertaker. On the way, another saloon girl ran up to them, having heard someone had been killed. "Lizzy!" she exclaimed, tears running down her cheeks. "Oh God Lizzy!"

Vin grabbed the girl gently by the arm and stopped her getting closer to her dead friend. "Easy now. Let Nathan take 'er fer now."

The girl's face crumpled and did not struggle when Vin pulled her into a light, comforting embrace.

Chris looked on gritting his teeth. "I'm gonna find the murderin' bastard and hang 'im up by the balls," he growled so only Vin could hear.

"I just saw her a couple hours ago!" the girl sobbed. "She was...she was with that doctor. Ca...Calhoun..."

Chris and Vin shot each other a look and then both pairs of eyes turned to look at JD. "Calhoun huh?" Chris said quietly. "Did they leave together?"

The girl nodded. "Y..Yeah. They spent a lot of time talking this afternoon in the saloon and then I saw them leave together just a few hours ago."

"Reckon you should go back inside, honey. Can't do anythin' fer Lizzie now."

The girl nodded at Vin and turned to leave. Vin grabbed her arm again, and she looked back at him. "An' be careful."

Letting go of her arm the three men watched her re-enter the saloon. "So," Chris began. "Seems we need to have a little chat with your friend Calhoun, JD."

JD glared. "Just cause he was with her for a few hours don't mean the man killed her! Why are you so ready to believe he's a monster?"

"'cause right now, he's the only lead we got, JD." Chris answered truthfully. "And I for one don't trust 'im."

"Gotta agree with Chris here, kid. Yer friend is the only suspect we got. We ain't sayin' he killed her, but we gotta go talk to 'im." Vin tried to reason.

JD nodded shortly. "Fine. Let's go talk to him then." He turned and headed for the saloon, not looking to see if Chris and Vin were following. Chris glanced at Vin, growling softly under his breath.

"Can imagine how I'd feel if a friend o' mine was accused of murder," Vin drawled as the two men began to follow JD.

"Point taken," Chris replied, knowing only too well how that felt. It angered him that Vin still had a murder charge hanging over him, and hated it when people openly called him a murderer.

"D'you reckon he's got something to do with these murders, Vin?" he asked the Texan. "Right now, I'd believe jest about anything," Vin replied as they reached the saloon.

JD came back out, Calhoun right behind him. "Gentlemen," Calhoun said. "JD here tells me you wish to speak with me."

"We sure do," Chris responded tightly. "Shall we take this somewhere more private?"

John nodded. "Of course. My room is right this way." He turned and led them to the hotel and up to his room. "Can I offer you gentlemen a drink?" he asked once inside.

Vin and Chris both eyed the decanter warily. "Uh, no...I'm fine, thanks," Chris answered.

"Reckon I'm not thirsty either," Vin agreed, darting his eyes around the room, looking for anything that would give them a clue to what Calhoun was up to.

John sat down in a chair and looked at them expectantly. "So what is this all about?"

JD stepped forward. "They think you're a murderer!" he blurted out.

"JD, we didn't say that." Vin countered. "We're jest followin' up on somethin' is all."

"Murderer?" John's eyes filled with surprise. "Who died?"

"I think that's more than you need to know Calhoun," Chris responded. "We just need to know where you were tonight and who you were with."

"Well," John replied carefully. "I had a lovely dinner with an equally lovely young lady. Afterwards, I took her back to her place, said goodnight and have been at the saloon ever since." He paused. "Actually, I ran into JD first." He looked over at JD. "All you all right now, son?"

"Y..Yeah, I guess so," JD faltered.

Chris sighed impatiently. "So you say you were on your way back from walking her home? How long was it between when you left her and when you ran into JD?"

John thought for a moment. "Ten minutes or so. She lives at the very end of town."

Vin stepped forward, suddenly angry. "Well then, how come we found her dead, in the same alley JD was attacked in? There's no way she coulda got back there before you."

John's eyes filled with shock. "Excuse me?"

"Why'd ya need excusin'? What d'ya do?" Vin's face was now only inches from Calhoun's. "Did ya kill her down that alley? Huh? 'cause right now that's the only thing that makes a darn piece o' sense."

"Wait just a minute!" JD moved in, shoving Vin away. John's eyes had filled with remorse.

"She's dead?" he whispered, then closed his eyes.

Chris grinned evilly. "Yeah she's dead, as if ya didn't know. Ya really got it all worked out haven't ya? Get JD on your side, then act all innocent when your really a conivin' murderin' bastard."

"That's enough!" JD shouted, moving quickly and pushing Chris hard. "Look at him! He ain't no murderer! Can't you see the news has actually upset him?"

Chris narrowed his eyes. "Or maybe he's just a good actor."

Vin placed a hand on Chris's shoulder to stop him saying more. "JD, is there anything you wanna ask John about the murder, seein' as you're the sheriff n' all. Even if he is upset, he's still the only lead we got."

JD looked at John, but before he could say anything, John said, "That poor girl reminded me of my niece. That's why I was with her. I took her to dinner, tried to convince her there was so much more she could do with her life. I even offered her a job with me as an assistant. She said she'd think about it. I walked her home and that's the last I saw of her. I'm afraid my word is the only thing I have right now. You can search me and my room if you so desire, I have nothing to hide."

JD put a hand on John's shoulder. "I believe you, even if others don't," he said, glaring at Chris and Vin.

Vin shifted his weight and tucked his thumbs into his gun belt. "Did ya see anyone around that looked kinda weird?" he asked, watching Calhoun's face closely. He did not believe anything the man was saying and was getting more and more convinced that he had something to do with what was going on....and that made him worry over JD. He could feel Chris bristling beside him and knew the gunslinger felt the same way as he did.

John shook his head. "No, I didn't see anyone save for a few cowboys heading for the saloon."

Vin and Chris looked at each other while JD shifted impatiently from one foot to the other. Finally Vin spoke again. "Alrighty then, reckon that's all we can do fer now."

"Yeah....for now," Chris added with a growl, glaring at Calhoun as only Larabee could. JD's eyes suddenly flashed with an idea. "Hey John, could I get you to hold this a second?" he asked as he pulled the cross necklace out and took it from his neck. He handed it to John, who looked at it and then up at JD in puzzlement.

"It's a very nice cross JD if that's what you want my opinion on," he said slowly.

JD grinned and took it back. "Thanks," he replied, shooting a triumphant look at Vin and Chris. "We'll leave ya alone now," he added as he began pushing the other two out of the room, ignoring Chris' growl of warning. "I'll talk to you later." He pushed them out into the hall, closing the door behind him and giving the pair another cocky look.

"What was all that about?" Chris asked agitatedly.

Vin sighed. "Chris, JD gave Calhoun the cross to prove he ain't no vampire. If he was....well, if he was it wouldna been able to hold it."

"You're still on that bullshit?" Chris growled. "Of course he ain't no damned Vampire cause Vampires do not exist! How many times we gotta go through that?!"

"Ya know what?" JD began loudly. "I've almost had it with you two." He looked pointedly at Chris. "Especially you! Who d'you think you are? Just 'cause you got a closed mind, don't mean we all have. I saw it, Chris."

Chris started to say something but JD did not give him a chance. "Oh, I know you think I'm just a stupid kid.....but I know what I saw....and Vin believes me....don't ya Vin?"

The sharpshooter nodded his head slowly, before turning and looking steadily at Chris. "Yeah, I do, JD. I'm sorry Chris, but I seen too many things in m'travels.....an' vampires are definitely somethin' I believe in....I ain't seen one myself, but I've heard plenty o' talk 'bout 'em. Enough t' convince me anyways." He narrowed his eyes as a question entered his head. "What I don't understand is why you're so hell bent against the idea, yer usually more open t' stuff. What's gotten inta ya Chris?"

Chris glared coldly. "Nothing's gotten into me. Real question is, what's gotten into..." he swayed a bit and blinked rapidly, going a little pale.

Vin place a hand on Chris's arm. "You alright Pard?" he asked.

Chris shook his head as if to clear it and looked at Vin quizzically. "Yeah, why?"

"Yer actin' kinda weird. Like yer dizzy or somethin'," Vin answered, not releasing his grip. "D'ya need t' sit?"

Chris shook his head. "No, I'm fine." He shook Vin's hand off and turned down the hallway. "I need a drink," he muttered.

JD looked at Vin. "So are you going to leave John alone now?"

"Fer now yeah," Vin replied, not taking his eyes from Chris's back. "Gotta be honest JD. I still don't trust 'im. But right now I'm more worried about Chris. I'm gonna stick with 'im. Wanna come?"

JD shook his head. "No. Think I'll talk to John some more. Make sure he's all right. You know, be a friend," he finished snidely.

Vin didn't rise to the bait. He really didn't want to fight with JD. He was more interested in sticking with Chris and making sure he was okay. But he was still worried about JD spending time with Calhoun. "Alrighty JD. Just watch yer back okay? Come by the saloon when yer done if ya want to." Vin didn't wait for a reply, instead he headed down the corridor after Chris.


JD turned, knocked quietly on the door and went inside. John looked up and offered a smile. "Was there something else, JD?" he asked, a slightly pained look on his face that he was attempting to hide.

JD shook his head. "Not really. Just wanted to make sure you were okay. I'm sorry about Vin and Chris, I really don't know why they're acting the way they are towards you."

John smiled, thought it seemed a little forced. "Have a seat JD. We need to talk."

JD sat automatically. "What about?" he asked, a worried look on his face.

John gave him a reassuring look. "Your future my dear friend. Our future." He caught JD's eyes with his and said, "Do you trust me, JD?"

"You know I do John." JD found he could not pull his eyes away from Calhoun's. But he was worried about what the man was about to say. However badly his friends had been behaving, he wasn't sure he was ready to hear anything bad said about them....and was pretty sure that was what was about to happen.

John nodded. "Excellent. I want to thank you for coming to my defense tonight. It proves that you are indeed ready. That you are in exactly the right spot."

He smiled again, his eyes full of warmth and kindness. And for some reason, an edge of pain.

JD frowned, that was not what he had expected at all. "The right spot?" he queried, then added, "And are you all right? You look like you're in pain.

John nodded. "I want to show you something. There's something about me that I want you to know." He began undoing the buttons on his shirt.

"I'm afraid my counterpart doesn't have very good people skills. I'm not surprised you reacted the way you did." He opened his shirt, revealing to JD's eyes a very angry looking red wound exactly the size of a bullet in the exact spot JD had shot his assailant earlier.

JD's eyes grew wide and he edged backwards along the bed, his eyes not leaving the wound on Calhoun's chest. "B...but you can't be.....it's not....you're not....." he gulped. "You're the vampire?"

John's smile was full of pleasant warmness. "In a way. He lives within me. Look at me JD."

JD tried to keep his eyes averted, but a stronger force was working against him and he felt himself being drawn to Calhoun's gaze. He tried to focus on the wall, a glass, anything that would stop him from looking into the eyes that burned into him, but to no avail, before he knew what was happening his eyes were locked with Calhoun's.

John moved to sit next to JD and put a comforting hand on JD's shoulder. "Easy JD," he murmured. "It'll just take a second." He leaned in, out of JD's line of vision then changed into his other form. The demon gripped JD tightly and sank his fangs into JD's neck. JD felt a sharp pain and then it felt like he was falling into a deep abyss. A dark cloud seemed to cover his mind, trapping his free will behind a prison of darkness. And then the pain was gone and he was filled with one desire. To serve and protect the master.

John wiped his mouth as his other side retreated. The wound healed completely with the new blood and the pain vanished. He snapped his fingers to get JD's attention. "Now we need to discuss a few things, JD."

"I'm ready," JD answered, still mesmerized. "What do you want to discuss?"

"Your friends. You do realize that they are now your enemies, do you not?"

"My enemies, yes. Your enemies are my enemies," JD replied, not doubting it for a second.

John smiled. "Good lad. I'm in this town on business and until I complete that business, I want you to keep them from discovering me, as you have been doing all along. I intend to recruit Standish and Sanchez as well which I will require your help with when the time comes."

"Just tell me what to do and I'll do it," JD said determinedly. "What business are you in town for? Or don't I need to know?"

"At the moment, you don't need to know. I'll tell you when the time comes." John paused, then said, "Before you leave, understand that you are to keep my mark a secret." He lightly ran a finger over the bite mark on JD's neck. "If anyone sees it and inquires about it, make something up. If anyone gets suspicious, alert me immediately. Understand?"

"Yep, don't worry...I won't let you down." JD stood up, ready to leave. "Your secret is safe with me, I swear. You are my one true friend...I'll never forget that."

John smiled, pleased. "One more thing, JD. I have given you strength far beyond your normal capacity. Be careful with it."

JD's eyes lit up, his youth not being able to quell the excitement. "Ya mean, I'm stronger now? That could be good!"

John nodded. "Yes. But use caution. I don't want to be forced to flee this town before my business is completed."

JD's face sobered. "Of course, John. I'd never do anything to betray you."

John smiled and squeezed JD's shoulder. "I know. Off with you now. I'll see you in the morning."

A smile lit up JD's face. "G'night John. See you tomorrow!" He opened the door and stepped outside the room, turning back to face Calhoun he grinned wider. "Thanks John." he said before closing the door and whistling as he ambled down the corridor.

+ + + + + + +

Vin looked up from his drink and watched as JD entered the saloon. He had told Nathan what had happened and they were discussing it as they kept an eye on Chris, who seemed better now that he was sitting down. A little bit anyway.

As Vin watched JD move toward the bar, he felt a shiver go up and down his spine. A tremor next to him drew his attention to Nathan, who looked uneasy.

'Maybe I shouldn't have left JD alone,' Vin thought as he took a sip of his drink.

"JD's here," Chris informed them, confirming that he was still a little out of sorts since JD's presence was quite obvious. "Wonder what Calhoun filled his head with this time."

Vin shook his head. "Don't know, but I don't like it."

Chris looked at Vin quizzically. "What, you can read his mind now too?"

Vin glared at Chris. "Don't go off at me jest 'cause you got a problem about the vampire thing, Chris," he said angrily. "No, I can't read his mind, can't read anybodies.....I just got a bad feelin' ....you should know all about those."

'Whoa' he thought, startled,'Where the hell did that come from?'

"Yeah, I know all about 'em," Chris muttered. "Been having 'em for more than a year," he added under his breath, taking a sip of his whiskey.

Nathan watched the two men seated at the table with him warily. He was about to speak to calm things down when Vin's angry voice stopped him. "What's that supposed to mean? You got somethin' ya wanna say?" None of the men noticed JD walk over to the table.

"Just realizing how many near heart attacks I've had over the last year or so," Chris replied casually.

"HI guys....what's wrong, things feel a bit tense around here," JD said as he sat down. He could feel the satisfaction inside him and hoped it didn't show in his voice.

Nathan shivered and suppressed the urge to get as far away from the table as he could. "Chris and Vin were just tossing ideas around about the murder," he said, giving the pair a hard look.

Chris ignored both Nathan and JD, eyes fixed on Vin.

"Stop glarin' Larabee, yer eyes'r gonna pop clean outta that hard head," Vin muttered darkly, eyeing Chris back.

"You find out any useful information, JD?" Chris asked, eyes flickering over to the kid.

"Nope, I didn't ask him anything," JD replied sticking his nose in the air.

Just then Buck entered the saloon, and spotting the others he walked over to the table.

"Boys," he greeted, sitting down. He stiffened slightly as the tension washed over him and looked at the group warily. "What's up? Can practically see the tension here."

"Don't know what yer talking about Buck," Chris answered.

"As usual," Vin added.

Nathan sighed, what the hell had come over those two?

Buck raised a brow, then asked, "Any luck finding clues to that poor girl's murder?"

JD growled angrily and stood, his chair scraping noisily along the floor. Placing his hands on the table he leaned towards Buck. "You would just love to throw John in jail wouldn't you? You've had it in for him since the minute you two met. Well that's too bad, 'cause he didn't do it! Okay?"

"Who said anything about John?" Buck replied in surprise. "I heard ya'll were questioning him but I'm guessing that didn't pan out. Relax kid. Have a drink."

"What if I don't want one now? Maybe I don't want to sit with people who can't stand it when a friend of theirs makes a new friend," JD continued.

"Hey, calm down pard," Vin said quietly, placing a hand on JD's arm.

"Yeah, what the hell's gotten into you?" Buck asked, standing. "Gettin' a mite paranoid aren't ya? Maybe ya should be talking to Calhoun," he added as he headed toward the bar.

JD shrugged off Vin's hand and spun around, grabbing Buck as he passed him making him turn to face him. "Can you blame me, Buck? He treats me like an adult, an equal, which is more than I can say for all of you!"

"I treat ya like an adult when you act like one!" Buck shot back.

"JD," Chris spoke up, "Take a walk."

"Mind your own damn business!" JD yelled over his shoulder. Turning his attention back to Buck he moved until his face was only inches away...."Got anything else you wanna add to that before I wipe the floor with ya?"

Buck's eyes darkened. "Yeah, do something about your breath."

Chris stood up. "Enough!" he barked.

JD ignored the command.....his anger rising up through his body, he grabbed Buck by his arms and almost involuntarily lifted him from the floor and hurled him across the room. The other three peacekeepers could only watch in silent shock as Buck hit the wall hard and landed on an empty table before slumping to the floor.

Nathan was the first to recover. He hurried over to Buck, who was struggling to sit up, shaking his head as he tried to clear it.

Chris moved quickly to JD's side and grabbed his arm. "What the hell are you doing?"

JD's anger had vanished as quickly as it had come. He blinked a couple of times as though trying to get Chris into Focus. "Uh...what? I'm sorry...what?"

Nathan helped Buck to his feet, taking most of his weight. "Be at the clinic," he said as he helped the other man toward the door.

Chris looked at JD carefully. "What's gotten into you?" he hissed.

"I don't know Chris, maybe I'm just growing up and realizing that there's more to life than six friends in a town called Four Corners," JD answered, shrugging off Chris's hand. "Now, I gotta go...see ya later." Without waiting for a reply he calmly walked out of the saloon.

Chris glanced at Vin and then followed. "Hold it JD! We're not finished! You don't just toss a man who could easily squash you without trying across a goddamn room like it was nothing!"

JD sighed but continued walking. He bristled when he felt Chris and Vin behind him.

"Chris is right, JD. What happened back there? ...and don't tell us nothing," Vin said

Chris grabbed JD's arm and spun him around. "Can talk about this just as easily at the jail," he threatened softly.

JD looked back at him steadily. "Let go of me, before I do the same to you as I did to Buck." he growled

Chris' eyes narrowed dangerously. "Try it," he hissed.

Vin stepped in to intervene. "How 'bout we all calm down," he said, reaching for each man with his hands.

'JD!' John's voice echoed sharply through JD's mind. 'What are you up to? I'm feeling extreme hostility coming from you.'

JD stood stock still, his eyes staring at nothing. Vin and Chris looked at one another and shrugged. "JD? You okay? Yer really actin' kinda weird lately pard," Vin asked softly.

JD blinked his eyelids rapidly and at last focused on Vin. "Uh...huh? Oh, sorry." He let go of Chris and gave him an apologetic look.

Chris stared at JD for a long moment, then said, "Go to bed, Kid. We'll talk about this tomorrow."

JD nodded. "Yeah, sure...why not...night." He nodded at the two men looking worriedly at him before turning and walking towards the boarding house.

'What was going on, JD?' John's voice whispered through his mind. 'You haven't done something foolish have you?'

'No! I haven't,' JD answered, startled that he could talk back in his head. 'I almost did, but you stopped me in time.' He decided not to mention the incident with Buck, it wouldn't amount to anything he was sure. He wondered if this was how Vin and Chris did their silent communicating. "Cool!" he said aloud as he entered the boarding house.

'Get some rest then. I'll talk to you in the morning.'

The next morning found John Calhoun climbing the steps of the church and slipping quietly inside. "Josiah?" he called out. "Are you here my friend?"

Josiah lifted his head and peered over the front pew. He had been mending the floor and was happy for the distraction. Climbing to his feet he offered his hand, grinning as only Josiah could.

"Well Brother, you are a sight for sore eyes. I needed an excuse to sit for a while. Join me?" He raised his eyebrows and offered Calhoun a seat.

John took the offer, sighing as he sat. He gazed over at Josiah. "I'm sure you heard about last night's tragedy?"

Josiah nodded his head slowly, "Yeah, the boys told me, Poor Lizzie. Such a sweet thing, I heard you walked her home. Just shows that when it's your time to leave this earth nothing can prevent it."

"I had hopped she would come back to Boston with me. She reminded me of my niece and I really hated to see her in the position she was in here." John sighed. "Did you know Mr. Larabee and Mr. Tanner suspect me?"

Josiah grimaced and ran his hand through his short hair. "Yeah, I did. I don't know what's gotten into those two. I know they have to look over their shoulders all the time, but I didn't think they would go as far as to start accusing innocent people of crimes, just 'cause they're new in town." He shook his head. "Wish there was something I could do to convince 'em that they're way off this time."

"Well I don't think there's much you can do short of severing all ties with them," John said laughingly, all the while holding Josiah's eyes with his own. "Hopefully, the real killer will be caught soon."

Josiah tried to blink, but found he couldn't. He decided it was the sincerity in Calhoun's eyes that held him transfixed. "We'll find him, John. Never fear. Chris and Vin may be a little off target right now, but we'll all figure it out. I just hope we can stay as a united force, 'cause the way a few of 'em are actin' I'm not sure as I want to be around 'em that much right now."

"This reminds me of some brothers I counseled back home," John replied thoughtfully. "There were five of them. Constantly at each other's throats, suspicious of each other's friends and all that. Wasn't pretty. In the end, three of them moved to separate parts of the country and to this day, only two of them still speak to each other." He shook his head. "Terrible shame."

Josiah was silent for a moment. That sounded too close for comfort. A feeling started to rise in his stomach...and a truth emerged. The seven were divided. All because of pig headedness and jealousy. A sadness came over him and then a slight anger. He looked back at John Calhoun, right into his eyes, and shook his head in wonder. It had taken a stranger to make him realize that the friendship he thought he shared with his six fellow peacekeepers was not real at all. It was skin deep, did not reach deep inside. They were watching the town, and if they had to, each other's backs. But that was as far as the friendship went. He would have to re-evaluate his life here, and the people he chose to share it with.

His decision was made. He would help find the culprit who was going around killing people, vampire or otherwise, and then he was going to make some serious decisions about his future.

Finally he spoke. "John, I want to thank you for making me realize something I was turning a blind eye to.... and I hope to God in heaven that JD sees it too." He rubbed the knuckles of his right hand absently. "There's a few people I used to call 'friend' that I'd like to have a few words with one of these days."

The doors opened and Vin entered. "Josiah you..." he trailed off when he saw the pair. He approached, eyes on Calhoun.

John nodded and offered a pleasant smile. "Good morning Mr. Tanner."

Vin nodded curtly back. "Mornin'." He looked at Josiah. "Josiah, could I have a word?"

The preacher turned his eyes to Vin. He noted the fact that Vin had at least acknowledged John, but could feel the tension. "Is it town business? Or are ya gonna tell me to stay away from my friend here?"

Vin's eyes narrowed slightly but he didn't rise to the obvious bait. Not with Calhoun there. He shook his head, knowing a fight was coming and knowing it was inevitable. Damn Calhoun...

"It's town business," he replied.

John stood and tipped his hat. "I'll leave you alone then. Would you care to join me for lunch?" he asked Josiah.

"Sounds good." Josiah said winking slightly.

Vin studied the preacher intently, and stepped back until he hit the wall as Calhoun approached. He didn't want to get near the man. He made Vin squirm just to look at him...and getting near him sent a shiver down his spine.

When the man was gone, Vin let out the breath he hadn't been aware he'd been holding and looked at Josiah. "You seen JD by any chance? Chris is lookin' for him. Needs to talk to him about something that happened last night."

Josiah looked back at Vin with ice in his eyes. "That was the town business?" He stepped towards the sharpshooter. "Why couldn't you have asked me that when John was here, Vin? Is it because you still think he had something to do with it?"

He threw the hammer he had forgotten he was holding onto a pew, making Vin jump. "What's gotten into you? I thought you of all people would have made sure of your facts before goin' accusin' people."

Josiah's voice echoed around the church, and then the echoes were replaced by a deafening silence.

Vin took an unconscious step back. "Easy Josiah. Something happened last night that I didn't think would be a good idea to discuss in front of company." He paused, waiting until he had the older man's attention before continuing. "Something's wrong with JD. Last night, when he came into the saloon, it was like the whole place changed. Nathan got skittish and me and Chris started snipping at each other for no real reason. Kid hadn't been there five minutes before he started digging into Buck. He actually picked a fight with him. And mopped the floor with him. Tossed him clear across the room like he weren't more than a rag doll."

"JD beat Buck in a fight?" Josiah asked disbelievingly. Vin really had

got his attention now. "He picked him up and threw him?" He shook his head as Vin nodded. "What the hell is goin' on around here? There's forces at work, I can feel it Vin.....and it don't bode well for any of us."

"I've been feeling that for days now," Vin sighed, taking his hat off and running a hand through his hair. "I really have to wonder if more happened than JD said when he had that run in with the vampire."

Josiah cocked his head. "Are you sayin' what I think you're sayin' Vin?....that JD has been taken over somehow?" He shook his head again.

"This is getting stranger by the second. I'm just not sure what to think is true and what to think is overactive imaginations." He stared pointedly at Vin as he uttered his last words.

Vin gave him an ugly look. "Are those two deaths overactive imaginations Josiah? You saw the bodies same us the rest of us. And the fact we're being torn apart sure as hell ain't overactive imagination or have you missed that little detail? Dammit Josiah, someone's out to get us and we're all playing right into their hands!"

Josiah nodded his head, a knowing look coming over his face. "And you think it's Calhoun don't ya Vin? Well, I'm sorry to say I don't agree with ya....and as for something tearing us apart, from where I'm standing, I reckon the culprits are a little closer to home." The older man continued to stare hard at the tracker after the words had left his lips.

Vin closed his eyes and took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. "Can ya deny this all started when he showed up? Hell, if ya think about it, it started when JD went to Eagle Bend. That's where he met Calhoun. Kid was fine when he left and you saw what he was like when he got back. Calhoun has him wrapped around his finger and now he's got you. Ezra is half way there so I reckon he'll be next and God knows what's going one with Chris."

He paused and gave Josiah an almost pleading look. "Josiah, you've always trusted my instincts. They've never been wrong have they? I knew Chanu was innocent just like I knew you were innocent. I get a real bad feeling about Calhoun. Every time he comes near I get cold. JD is starting to have the same effect and it's scaring me. Please, Josiah. I'm asking you to trust me. Help me save what the seven of us have."

Josiah stood thoughtfully, his eyes scanning Vin's sincere and pleading face. He liked Vin, he really did....and it was hard for him to go against the young tracker. His insides were screaming at him to trust Vin and his instincts, but his head was telling him to be wary. He was in a turmoil, his thoughts twisting first one way then the other. He sighed and rubbed a big hand down his face.

"Vin, I'm sorry if I'm being hard here. I've always trusted your instincts in the past. You got a gift of knowing things, son, one I wish I had....but I can't help how I'm feeling right now. I think Calhoun is okay and its just a coincidence that he arrived now, when we're dealing with this terrible thing. But Vin, I think you need to readjust your thinking this time. You believed in me and I'm trying so hard to believe in you boy, but it's not working....I'm sorry."

Vin closed his eyes again, feeling his stomach drop. "All right," he finally murmured. "Just...be careful all right? I get the feeling something big is gonna happen soon. Something that's gonna either destroy us or unite us as a stronger force."

Josiah placed a hand on Vin's shoulder. "Brother, I'm always careful," he said with a big toothy grin. He looked around the small church. "Now I gotta get back to my repairs."

He turned away and then turned his head back to look over his shoulder at Vin. "As for the rest, I hope things end with us still united, son. But right now, the prospect don't look good." He held Vin's gaze for a couple of seconds and then turned and walked to the front of the church.

Vin sighed, then quietly left the building. Outside, he gazed around the street, eyes coming to rest on Calhoun sitting outside the saloon. He narrowed his eyes at the friendly nod he got, certain there was a smug, knowing look on the man's face. Wishing he could just shoot the bastard and be done with it, Vin turned and went to continue his search for JD.


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