Josiah bashed the hammer hard on the floor he was supposed to be repairing. His stomach was churning as he went over the conversation he had just had with Vin. The tracker's soulful blue eyes kept sneaking their way into his head and it was driving him crazy with remorse and even a little guilt. He brought the hammer down hard again.
"Shit!" he exclaimed, shaking his hand in the air to relieve the throbbing in his thumb that the hammer had just hit. "Damn and shit to the day I ever met up with you sonsobitches! Nothin' but trouble, sorrow and heartache...." he was too busy cursing loudly to hear the church door creak open and see the outline appear in the doorway.
"Josiah? Are you all right?" John asked softly as he moved down the aisle toward the big man, the missing JD right on his heels.
Josiah was startled by the voice. He hadn't heard anyone come in and, seeing as he had only spoken to Calhoun a short while ago, he was surprised that he was back so soon. He nodded his head and winked as he got slowly to his feet, grasping his thumb tightly. "Yeah, just had a disagreement with my work tool," he answered, grimacing.
He caught sight of JD over Calhoun's shoulder. "JD! Good to see you son. ....what are you all fired up about?" he asked as he noted the almost excited look on the young sheriff's face.
"You'll find out," JD replied mysteriously, then quickly sat down as John shot him a strange look.
John looked back at Josiah and smiled, catching the older man's eyes with his own. "So what did Mr. Tanner have to say?"
Josiah thought before he spoke. He didn't agree with Vin, that was true, but he didn't want to betray his confidence. "It was just about the case..." he grinned "He doesn't like you much ya know."
John laughed. "There are a few of those around. But I don't let it bother me." He glanced around, noting the sun filtering in through the window. "JD, would you kindly block the light please?"
JD nodded and jumped up to comply.
Josiah frowned as he watched JD. "Have ya got a headache John? 'cause if ya have, Nathan can probably help you out there."
"No, no headache. Just don't want the light right now." He caught Josiah's eyes again, his gaze intense and slowly approached, stopping just a couple of feet away. "Are you sure there's nothing you want to tell me? Sometimes, an outsider's opinion helps."
Josiah blinked heavily, a little unnerved by John's close proximity.
"Uh, I'm sure. I'm fine John...thanks." He wanted to turn away as a shiver of fear ran through his body.
John slowly licked his lips as he stared into Josiah's eyes. He felt the fear running through the other man's body. Could practically taste it. He licked his lips again. Yes, it was time.
He smiled, keeping it warm and friendly. "It's time," he stated. "You are ready. Just like JD here." He looked at the boy. "JD, would you care to hold Josiah for a moment please?"
Josiah's eyes grew wide. He wanted to flee but his legs were un-cooperative. JD approached, a strange, chilling grin on his lips and he put out an arm to stop him, knowing he could easily overpower the boy. He was not ready for the strength JD used on him as he was propelled against the wall hard, knocking the air out of him. He was too stunned to pray as he watched Calhoun descend on him.
As JD held Josiah steady, Calhoun began speaking, his voice as calm and as friendly as ever. "Normally this happens at night, but it seems you are ready now and when one is ready now, well...you must obey."
He stopped and his form began to shimmer and warp. JD's grip tightened painfully on Josiah as Calhoun's friendly, handsome features melted away, replaced by a being with chalk white skin and blood red eyes. Fangs slipped down and his hair grew the length of his back and turned black as coal.
The thing grinned evilly as it looked at Josiah. "Such fear," it hissed, its face inches from Josiah's. "Smells so good."
As two fangs pricked the skin on Josiah's neck, the preacher sucked in his breath. The sensations that started to envelope his body made him finally relax and he enjoyed a strange sense of peace as he submitted to the being's will gladly.
When it was finished, it was Calhoun who pulled away and looked up at Josiah. He nodded to JD, who released the older man and moved to lean against the wall.
"What are you priorities, Josiah?" John asked. It was always different with his victims. Some needed to be told and led, such as JD. Others knew straight away what their duties were.
Josiah didn't hesitate. "To serve you and do your will. To protect you and forsake all others."
The preacher's voice was edged with a certainty, there was no doubt in his mind....his master was before him and no one else mattered.
John nodded. "Excellent. There is one more of you that I want. Standish. Once I have him in my service, I will inform the three of you as to my true business here since I will require your help." He looked at JD. "Has anyone seen my mark? Have you kept it well hidden?"
"Yeah, I promise! I haven't jeopardized you, I swear!" JD answered vehemently. "So when are you going to see Ezra? Can we help?"
John smiled fondly. "All in good time, lad. Ezra will probably take another couple of days. I still sense resistance in him that needs to be broken through. What I need you two to do is keep Tanner and company off my back. They're becoming quite the nuisance."
"Don't worry, John. We can handle them," Josiah assured Calhoun. "They might be hard headed, but we can keep 'em off track between us."
"Good. I'll leave you to your work now. I believe I will track Standish down and have a talk with him."
He patted Josiah's arm, then turned and headed out, JD right behind him.
+ + + + + + +
Chris watched from across the street as JD and Calhoun left the church. He felt like a spy, but he had to know what was going with those two. There was no way he could believe Vin and Nathan's theory about the vampires, but was convinced that Calhoun was up to no good and probably linked to the two murders. He watched as the two men walked off in separate directions and pushed himself away from the pillar he had been leaning against and walked towards JD.
"JD!" he called when he was close enough. "Been looking for you. Want to talk about what happened last night."
JD sighed heavily and turned to face the man in black "Nothing happened last
night. Everything's fine. I'm fine. Can I go now?"
He knew he shouldn't have acted so off but was finding it hard not to lose his patience.
Chris raised a brow. "Tossing Buck across the room was nothing?" Moving fast, he grabbed JD by the arm and shoved him in through the door of the jail.
"Sit!" he barked. "We are going to talk about this. I want to know what the hell is going on with you and I want to know now" He turned and locked the door. "If I have to toss you in a cell I will."
JD stared defiantly back at the angry man. He knew he could throw him across the room without even breaking a sweat, but held back....remembering the promise he had made to John. The room almost sparked with hostile electricity as the two men glared at each other....and then JD frowned as he saw Chris's eyes move to his neck and saw the look on the gunslinger's face.
Chris' eyes narrowed as he stared at a spot on JD's neck. What the hell is that? he wondered and closed the short distance, grabbing JD's chin and forcing his head to the side, pulling down the material that had been mostly covering the mark. 'What the hell...' he thought, his mind flashing back to the marks on the two bodies. "JD," he said out loud, "What's this?"
JD grabbed Chris's hand and pushed it away from him. "Huh? What d'you mean? It's my jacket." Inside, the young man was panicking, he knew Chris had seen the marks on his neck. he looked nervously towards the locked door of the jailhouse.
Chris pulled him toward the mirror and pulled the jacket down again, forcing JD to see the marks on his neck. "That," he hissed as he examined them more closely. "They look like the marks that McDonald and Lizzy had when we found them."
JD's mind was racing...what did he say? What could he do? "Er....no they're just marks....it just looks the same, I caught myself with the buckle of my gun belt yesterday." The young man's heart was hammering in his chest. If he couldn't think of a way out of this one, he might have to use his strength after all.
Chris studied him for a long time before releasing him, seeming to accept the explanation. For the time being. "All right. Now about what happened with Buck? He's going to be all right if you're interested." He glared at the Kid. "But I'd sure love to know how you managed to toss him across the room like he didn't weight no more than a book."
JD licked his lips nervously. He had got out of one predicament. Could he get out of another? "I reckon that's what it just looked like." He chuckled.
"There's no way I coulda done that, you must've been watching from a weird angle."
"Wrong answer, Kid," Chris replied, his voice low. "You forget Vin and Nathan were there too? Not to mention Buck? Try again."
"Don't bully me Chris! I don't have to take this from you!" JD shouted. "I don't know what really happened yesterday, it just did! You were there, so you know as much as me. Now let me go! You've got no right to treat me this way!"
Chris regarded JD silently for a long moment. "All right, go," he finally said quietly. "But JD, if warn you...anything like last night happens again and not only will I lock you up, but I'll send for Judge Travis."
"Yeah, yeah, whatever." JD threw over his shoulder as he moved to the door and turned the key.
Chris restrained himself from grabbing the kid and erasing the attitude. He had something else to think about now. He didn't believe for a second that the marks were caused by JD's gun belt. But he also didn't believe they were from a vampire. He shook his head, feeling a slight case of dizziness come on that cleared up after a few seconds. He sighed, feeling suddenly bone tired and in need of some more sleep. He thought about it for a moment, then decided to have a nap and afterwards, discuss the encounter with Vin. Shaking away more dizziness, he left the jail and headed to his room.
+ + + + + + +
JD half walked and half ran across the street. He knew he had to find John and let him know that Chris had seen his neck. He just hoped that he wouldn't be too angry with him. He had been kidding himself, thinking that none of the others would spot the marks. They spent so much time together it was going to be only a matter of time....and now he was in deep trouble.
John was in the saloon, having a drink with Ezra. The look he gave JD clearly stated he knew something was wrong, just not what. Yet.
JD cleared his throat as he tentatively walked towards John and Ezra's table.
"Hey!" he said with a small smile. "Erm, John? I think there's something you need to know."
John nodded. "Excuse me a moment, Ezra," he said, standing and leading JD out of hearing distance. "I could feel something was happening," he murmured, "But I am too weak at the moment to speak in your mind and find out what was happening. What happened?"
JD looked at Calhoun with wide eyes. "Chris saw the marks on my neck. I tried real hard but he spotted them. I told him I caught my neck with the buckle of my gun belt but I don't think he believed me." The sheriff swallowed hard. "And he was asking me about yesterday. When I threw Buck."
John's eyes narrowed. "When you what?" he hissed, then glanced around. "My room, now," he ordered then went back to Ezra to excuse himself.
"Is everything all right?" the southerner asked.
John smiled. "Yes, yes everything's fine. JD just has a problem he needs to discuss. A card game later tonight, perhaps?"
Ezra grinned. "I shall certainly be here."
John nodded, turned and head for his room. The door slammed loudly behind him making JD jump. The Kid spun around and looked into the seething face of Calhoun.
"I...I'm sorry, John. I was just so angry, I couldn't stop myself. I forgot about the strength I had....I only wanted to push him but I was angry and I..." he dropped his head as he finally gave up on his explanation.
"A very foolish thing to do, JD," John spoke sternly. "I expect far better from my number one servant."
He turned away, studying his reflection in the mirror. "I'm going to have kill Larabee I think. A pleasure I'm sure. Should be easy. He's already effected by me anyway." He looked back at JD. "Fix this problem you have created with Wilmington, JD. I'm not ready to leave yet so you must keep things going well between you and the others until I am ready."
JD heaved a sigh of relief. He knew he had gotten off lightly, and knew he wouldn't fare so well if it happened again. He was still worried though.
"How am I gonna square things away with Buck? We're hardly talking to each other. If he asks how I did it...what do if say?"
"That it was anger that caused your strength. You looked it up and there have been cases where people have displayed great strength when very angry or frightened. He doesn't strike me as that particularly bright. He should buy it."
JD grinned triumphantly and nodded his head. "Okay, thanks John.....and I'm sorry," he said as he opened the door. "I'll go and straighten it out right now."
John nodded. "You do that. I'll deal with Larabee tonight."
+ + + + + + +
Chris struggled back up from sleep and frowned as he discovered he had slept right through until nightfall.
'Must have been really tired,' he thought as he stumbled out of bed and headed for the door, intending on going to the saloon.
He opened the door and gave a shout of surprise as something barreled into him, knocking him back and to the floor. Whatever it was that had crashed into him was on top of him and Chris looked up to see what it was. His eyes widened when he saw the...thing on top of him but before he could do anything, it was moving as fast as lightning. A blow to his head further stunned him and then pain flared up in his neck. He realized it was trying to rip his throat out, or so he thought, and started to struggle, but it was too strong. Or he was too weak. Another flash of pain and then all went black.
+ + + + + + +
Vin quietly climbed the stairs leading to Chris' room. He hadn't seen his friend since that morning and was a little concerned. Not having found Chris anywhere else in town, he decided to check the man's room. As he reached the top of the stairs, he paused as strange noises reach his ears.
He cocked his head to try and figure out where the noises were coming from and his eyes grew wide when he realized they were coming from Chris's room. He broke into a run and did not wait for an invitation to enter. He tried the handle but the door was locked.......turning sideways, he stepped away from the door and then pushed all his weight forward, breaking the door open and crashing into the room. Chris was laying motionless on the floor, white as the whitest sheets, blood running quickly down his neck. At the window was...it. Blood dripped from its fangs, running down its chin as it looked at Vin with chilling red eyes. It hissed and then it was gone.
Vin nearly gagged where he stood riveted to the spot. His heart pounded in his chest as he stared at the empty space where the thing had been. He turned his head, his eyes resting on the still, pale form of his friend.
"Chris!" he cried and moved to the stricken man's side. "Dear God, No," Vin whispered. "Please, not Chris."
He voice was hoarse and was close to cracking as he tentatively reached out his finger to Chris's neck, hoping against hope that he would find a pulse. The pulse was there, however faint. Chris didn't show any signs of coming around and had yet to even move.
"Hey! What's all the yelling about?" One of the boarding house's other roomers had emerged from his room to investigate the noise.
Vin turned his head and spoke urgently. "Go get Nathan Jackson...now!" He held up a hand as the irate man went to enter the room. "Don't come in here, just go get Nathan.....now!"
The man backed off and Vin heard his footsteps scurrying down the hallway. Turning back to Chris, he sighed. "Hold on pard. Yer gonna be fine. Yer too ornery to let some Goddamn Vampire finish ya off."
It was several minutes later before Nathan came rushing into the room. "Oh Good Lord!" he exclaimed, kneeling down on Chris' other side. He didn't need to be told what had happened; it was pretty clear. "How long's he been like this?" he asked, wondering why his friend wasn't dead.
"Not sure...five ten minutes maybe," Vin answered, his face furrowed in worry. "Nate? I saw it....the thing that did this."
Nathan froze for a moment. "You mean you interrupted it?"
Vin gave the healer a questioning look. "Yeah...why? Thought that was good.....I stopped the thing from murderin' Chris."
"Was just wondering how he was still alive," Nathan replied, turning his attention back to Chris. "Hopefully, you interrupted early enough that he'll survive this." He didn't sound too hopeful as he said the words, however.
Vin swallowed hard. He was worried about Chris. His pallor was almost gray and he had not stirred since he had burst into the room. "Nate? Shouldn't we get 'im to the clinic?" he asked, fear evident in his voice.
Nathan nodded, visibly shaken. "Yeah. Grab his legs, I'll get this side."
Together, the pair lifted Chris and carried him as fast as they could to the clinic. Once he was settled in bed, Nathan continued trying to do what he could. "Best get the others," he told Vin.
Vin wavered for a moment, not wanting to leave Chris but knowing he had to.
"Alrighty, I'll be right back." he hurried from the room, leaving Nathan tending Chris. The worry showed on Nathan's face. He didn't know what to do...it wasn't every day he had to tend a vampire bite. He didn't know the first thing about how to heal Chris...he could heal the wound but how did he get him to wake up? His heart dropped at the thought of the others firing questions at him....because he had no answers to them.
+ + + + + + +
Vin burst into the saloon, finding the others there, actually sitting at the same table. He didn't have time to think about that as he ran up to them.
"Clinic!" he gasped, "Hurry! It's Chris!"
The noise of four chairs scraping back and one falling to the floor drew the attention of the other occupants of the saloon, who watched the men run through the batwing doors.
The five men running through town and up the clinic steps would be the topic of much speculation later the next day.
Buck was first to reach the clinic door and burst through it, closely followed by the others.
Nathan glanced up. "Well," he said quietly, "Any doubts any of you had should be erased now." He moved a bit to let them see Chris.
Buck and Ezra walked slowly forward, their faces grim. JD and Josiah held back glancing at each other quickly. Things were moving really fast now, and they knew the reason for Calhoun being there would soon be revealed to them.
Vin caught the look but did not comment, he was too worried about Chris right now...but he would confront them later.
Ezra's voice broke the silence. "Mr. Jackson, do I surmise by the marks on Mr. Larabee's neck that he had the misfortune of being in contact with the creature you and Mr. Tanner warned us about?" He felt for the cross hidden under his shirt, to ensure that it was still there.
Nathan nodded. "Yeah," he replied quietly.
"He gonna be all right?" Buck asked and Nathan turned his gaze back to Chris. "Honestly, I don't know. It got a lot of his blood. All we can really do is wait."
"An' while we wait, we go can go an' hunt down that.....thing....and wipe 'im off the face o' the earth," Vin growled. He looked around at the rest of the men. "Now, yer either with me or yer not. Now's the time t' decide who's side yer on, 'cause I'm sick o' the fightin' atween us. I'm goin' after whatever it was that done this t' Chris...an' if I have t' do it alone, then so be it."
"Doubtful we'd find any trace of it tonight," JD spoke up, restraining himself from glancing at Josiah.
Vin glared at JD and took a step towards him. "Seems t' me you ain't too keen on lookin', kid. That kinda gets me t' wonderin'"
"Hey relax!" JD exclaimed, raising his hands and taking a step back. "I'm on your side remember? I been reading up on these things in my legends books. They all say that after a Vampire feeds, it's impossible to track for at least twenty four hours."
Vin narrowed his eyes as he thought on JD's words. "Nate? Is what he says right?" he asked the healer who was busily tending Chris.
"Sometimes," Nathan replied distractedly.
"Goddammit Nathan!" Vin exclaimed swiveling around to face the healer. "If that's the best ya can do then I'm gonna go look fer the scum that did this to Chris. I can't jest stand here n' do nothin' if there's a chance we can catch it."
The tracker's blue eyes almost flashed with anger and frustration and his chest constricted when he caught sight of Chris so still and pale on the bed. "Damn it all t' hell! I'm outta here!" He made for the door but was stopped by a strong grip on his arm.
"Now calm down, Boy," Buck spoke softly but firmly. "I wanna catch him as badly as you do, but if you go high tailing it around town, not knowin' where to look....how d' you know you won't be next? Then where will we be?"
Vin dropped his head as Buck continued, "I'd be right alongside ya right now if I knew for sure that we'd find it tonight, but I reckon JD is right...."
Vin shook off the restraining arm, angry at Bucks last words. "Well I don't!" he spat before he opened the door and slammed it loudly behind him.
"Dammit," Nathan muttered. "Josiah, you'd better go after him. Reckon you're the safest person to be around right now."
Josiah nodded and glanced at JD before heading for the door. "Remember, serve and protect," The young sheriff whispered as Josiah passed him. The preacher winked and grinned a wicked grin before leaving the clinic in search of Vin.
Vin hadn't gotten far. He had only made it to street level and was stalking toward the boarding house, deciding to start his search from there.
Vin felt a chill go up his spine and brought his head up sharply, sensing that someone was following him. He slowed his pace, but did not turn around...his senses were alert and he tensed up, readying himself for if he were to be attacked.
"Vin!" Josiah called, "Wait up, brother." Josiah appeared seconds later, closing the distance quickly. "Don't you think you should be with Chris right now?"
"Nothin' I can do fer 'im Josiah, " Vin said softly. "That's why I figured on findin' what did that to 'im and killin' the sonofabitch!"
He clenched his fists tightly in anger and then recalled the look that had passed between JD and Josiah in the clinic. "Was wonderin' Josiah......you've been right pally with JD, is there somethin' you ain't tellin us? Cos I'm gettin' the impression you two know more than yer lettin' on"
Josiah shrugged. "JD's going through some hard times. We all are. We've been talking, that's all."
Vin cocked his head to one side. "Sure yer tellin' me everythin' Josiah? Sorry t' sound unbelievein' but I sure as hell got a good reason right now.....reckon we're fallin' away from each other...and right now that ain't good."
Josiah took a step closer, a slight smile playing across his lips. "What are you tryin' to say, Vin?" he asked softly.
"I'm not tryin' t' say anythin'," Vin replied. "I'm sayin' it. I reckon we're bein' split in two. I'm not sayin' no names, but someone is usin' us fer a reason....an' I reckon you an' JD are in the middle of it....whether ya realize it or not."
Josiah chuckled, an edge of coldness creeping in. "While I agree that someone is messing with us, I don't see where you're getting the idea that JD and I are involved. Why would we have a hand in bringing down this group?"
Vin sighed tiredly. "Ya know Josiah, I don't have time fer this right now....I'm gonna try n' find somethin' to get me on the track o' the thing that attacked Chris and then I'm gonna hunt it down and tear its heart out."
The tracker said the last words with gritted teeth and glared at Josiah. "It's plain yer not interested, so stop wastin' m' time.....or is that yer plan?" He narrowed his eyes and looked accusingly at the preacher.
Josiah smiled again. "Lead the way, brother. You plan on searching Chris' room first?"
Vin was a little taken aback at Josiah's reply. He regarded him questioningly and then nodded his head slowly. "Yeah, good a place as any I reckon."
Josiah put his arms around Vin's shoulders and began walking toward Chris' room. His grip was firm and his presence became a touch on the threatening side.
Vin squirmed to free himself from Josiah's grip. He felt very unnerved by the preacher's presence...and he was worried because that had been happening a lot lately. He knew with certainty that something was going on with JD and Josiah...he just couldn't put his finger on it. He wished that Josiah hadn't wanted to help him because he had the feeling that the big man was there more to hinder him than to help.
When they reached Chris' room, Josiah released Vin and leaned against a wall. "I'll stay out of your way," he said, "Let ya work." His eyes swept the room.
Vin got done on his knees at the spot where he had found Chris. Turning back to look at Josiah he gave him an impatient look.
"Well what the hell 'r ya standin' there fer? If yer not gonna help then get the hell outta here!"
Josiah raised a brow. "Testy aren't ya?"
Vin tried to ignore the remark...but in the end couldn't. He continued to look at the floor for clues but growled at Josiah while he did it.
"Reckon I'm allowed, seein' as how a friend o' mine got attacked by heck knows what
and is layin' in a bed, out cold. I'm worried Josiah...worried about Chris and about where this bastard is gonna strike next. So fergive me if I'm testy but I say again...if yer not gonna help...then get the hell out!"
Josiah silently began moving about the room, searching. At the window, he noticed a piece of cloth. Cloth he recognized as his master's. Glancing at Vin to make sure his attention was still on the floor, Josiah leaned out the window, giving the appearance of checking out the drop as he palmed the cloth and shoved it into the inside pocket of his jacket.
"Find anything?" Vin asked the preacher, coming up behind him. "Cos I sure as hell didn't."
He turned around and let his eyes wander around the room. They rested on the ever present faded picture on the table. Walking slowly over, he picked it up and looked at it sadly. It was a picture of Sarah and Adam...he had seen it a hundred times before, but knowing Chris was fighting for his life in the clinic made Vin's heart clench. He swallowed hard and put the picture back where he had found it. A determination filled his
"Josiah... I'm not gonna give up. Y'all can do as ya please. Wait fer tomorrow night or find dark places if that's what you've got a mind to....but I'm not gonna wait fer that monster t' show 'is face...I'm gonna drag him out and kill the bastard....and then I'm gonna rip 'is heart out and feed it t' the buzzards."
His voice was raised in anger and anxiety over his friend. When he finished the room was filled with a deafening silence....
"Easy Brother," Josiah murmured. "We'll find it." He put a hand on Vin's shoulder and squeezed gently. "And we'll do it together."
A charge of electricity ran through Vin's body...and he spun around involuntarily. He was sure now...Josiah was involved. He felt it when the big man touched him. He closed his eyes for second to gather his thoughts....how were they going to survive all of this? Josiah and probably JD were caught up in the net and he was running out of ideas.
"Sure we will," he managed finally, trying to keep the tremor out of his voice. "Lets try somewhere else, we're gettin' nowhere here."
Josiah regarded Vin for a moment, then nodded. "Lead the way."
Vin was afraid, Josiah could feel it. And it wasn't for Chris. That was a different fear from the one he could feel right now. Vin knew or at the very least strongly suspected Josiah was not a friend. And he was trying to hide the fact that he knew. Josiah smiled inwardly at that. He should kill the younger man now. Protect the master. As he looked at Vin, waiting for the other man to turn, the thought that the master hadn't simply killed Vin when he had burst into the room, but had fled, entered the older man's mind. Perhaps the master wanted Vin alive. For the time being anyway.
'Hm,' Josiah thought. 'Better let him live for tonight. Inform John as soon as I can get away.'
Vin sighed inwardly. He wanted to shake off the older man but Josiah seemed to be sticking to him like glue. His body was so tense he felt that something was about to snap. "Alright then," he rasped. "Lets go and check on Chris and then we can decide where to head next."
They made for the door and Vin silently hoped that he could get rid of Josiah soon....because he was getting an itchy trigger finger and didn't want to have to shoot
him....cos right now Josiah was more foe than friend.
The first words out of JD's mouth when they came back was, "He woke up," followed by, "Did you find anything?"
Vin ignored the second question and rushed over to Chris's bedside, nearly knocking Nathan off of his feet. Sitting on the bed he looked down at the pale face on the pillow, and flinched at the blood stained bandage around his friends neck. "He alright Nathan?" he asked.
"Well," Nathan replied slowly, "Like JD said, he woke up for a minute. Didn't say nothing though. Strange thing is, soon as he went back to sleep, his pulse got a little stronger and his color improved a little. I think he'll be all right, but we'd best keep a real good watch on him."
"We searched Chris' room, but didn't find anything useful," Josiah spoke, answering JD's second question.
Vin looked up. "Hell, we didn't find anything," he said. "I was thinkin' I might take a ride and circle the town, see if I can find anythin' out there."
"Don't go alone," Nathan said quickly. "Take Josiah. Man's a walking holy weapon."
Josiah chuckled, unable to stop himself.
"No!" Vin said, a little too quickly. He cleared his throat and spoke more softly. "I'm better on my own...." he looked at Nathan's face and knew he wasn't gonna win this fight. "Okay," he said holding up a hand. He looked at Buck. "Ya wanna come Bucklin?"
Buck had silently been watching Vin and Josiah ever since they had come back. Carefully studying Vin now, he easily picked up on his friend's unease and wondered if Josiah had anything to do with that. Seeing a look in Vin's eyes as he asked Buck if he would like to come, Buck nodded. "Sure. Could use some air."
Vin smiled in relief...he knew he could count on Buck. He got up from sitting
on the bed but quickly sat down again when he heard Chris groan. "Pard? You gonna wake up? I need t' know yer okay....hell we all need t' know."
"Yes Mr. Larabee," Ezra added, silently relieved. "I for one would like reassurance that we have not seen the last of your infamous glare."
Chris' eyes fluttered open and he looked up at the men, gaze thick with confusion. "...am I?" he whispered.
Vin smiled down at his friend, the relief clearly showing on his face. "Yer in the clinic Chris." He chuckled. "Ya know, yer getting t' be a real pain in the neck."
JD snorted and Chris' gaze moved to the boy, who was standing next to Josiah. His gaze widened a bit as he looked at them, then his body tensed and he cried out in pain.
Nathan rushed forward and pushed Vin out of the way.
"Nathan, what's wrong? Why did he do that?" Vin asked, his voice full of worry. His head shot around and he glared at Josiah and JD. "You two! Its you! Get out....now!" He pointed to the door and took a step forward.
"What did we do?" JD protested.
Buck stepped up to Vin and put a hand on his shoulder. "Vin? What's going on?"
Vin's eyes were wide as he looked from Buck to the two men standing looking innocent. "Those two...they're in this up to their eyes an' I'm gonna prove it."
He gulped and looked back at Nathan. "He alright Nate? I need to know how 'e is 'fore I head out."
Before Nathan could reply, Chris cried out again and his body arched. He convulsed a couple of times before going completely limp. Nathan quickly felt for a pulse.
"He's alive," he reassured. "But he's getting a hell of a fever." He stood up and hurried around the room, gathering supplies to make some medicine. He'd deal with Vin's accusations later.
JD took an angry step forward to address Vin's statement. "Now wait just a damned minute! The only thing I'm involved in up to my eyes is this scary shit!" He gestured to Chris. "I ain't involved in no conspiracy or whatever it is you're accusing us of!"
He paused, then added, "How do we know you're not the one who's causing this huh? You're the one who just 'found' Chris!"
Vin growled from deep in his throat and started to move towards JD. He was restrained by Buck, who held him firmly by the arms. "Yer the one who's got yerself mixed up with that lowlife Calhoun, so don't go sayin' I got anythin' t' do with this. You are up to yer eyes in this JD and I intend t' figure out how!" He shrugged off Buck's arms and dismissed JD by turning his back on him and walking back to the bed. "Nathan. You gotta keep 'im alive. I'll figure this out and find out how t' help 'im...or die tryin'."
Josiah gripped JD hard as the younger man's eyes flashed dangerously and his hand disappeared into the pocket Josiah knew the boy kept his knife.
"Let's get some air. Cool down," he murmured, eyes intense.
JD looked up at him, then at the others and nodded, not hiding his anger. He shook off Josiah's hand and stalked out of the room, slamming the door behind him.
Josiah looked at the others, putting sadness in his eyes. "We're divided," he murmured. "And we need to figure out how to unite again. Before one or more of us get killed."
He turned and left the room more quietly than JD did.
Once he was gone, Buck looked at Vin. "What the hell was that all about?" he exclaimed.
"That's all about what's goin' on around here, Buck," Vin began.
Sitting heavily in a chair next to the bed Chris occupied he continued. "I can feel it Buck. JD and Josiah are under some kinda spell or something. I know it sounds crazy."
He took his hat off and ran a shaking hand through his hair. "Hell, it sounds crazy to me....but they know what's goin' on Bucklin....they know."
There was a catch in his voice and he felt suddenly drained of energy. He watched as Nathan tried to settle Chris. ".....an' we gotta find out....'cause I reckon we're Chris's only hope."
A few hours later, Ezra left the clinic and headed for his room for some much needed sleep. The events of the night had left him deeply disturbed. JD and Josiah couldn't possibly be involved in this! No way! It just didn't make sense. But then, a lot didn't make sense lately.
He stopped suddenly, feeling that he wasn't alone in the seemingly deserted street. He listened for a couple of seconds, knew that there was someone behind him and spun around, swiftly drawing his gun. He let out the breath he had been holding. No one was there.
'Getting paranoid Ezra,' he thought as he holstered the gun. He scanned the area one more time, then turned to continue on his way, letting out a startled yelp when he found JD directly in front of him.
"Dammit JD!" he exclaimed, "Are you trying to give me a heart attack!?"
JD smile and Ezra shivered. Whether it was from the chilly night air or JD, however, the gambler wasn't certain.
"Sorry," JD said.
Ezra eyed the younger man warily. "Is there anything I can do for you?" he asked as JD appeared in no hurry to move aside. "Because if you are just playing a childish game and trying to frighten people out of their wits, then I am too tired to play."
"How's Chris doing?" JD replied, moving to lean against a post.
"Mr. Larabee is resting comfortably. Now if you'll excuse me, I need my sleep." Ezra moved to pass by JD and a shiver went up his spine. "Is it cold all of a sudden or is it just me?" He wondered half to himself.
JD's hand shot out and gripped Ezra's arm, stopping the other man from leaving. "Despite what Vin thinks, Chris is still my friend and I'm worried about him."
He paused. "You don't believe all that stuff Vin said, do you?"
Ezra sighed. "Mr. Dunne, right now I'm not sure what to believe. My head is spinning with all that has happened here of late....I would be inclined to agree with him about finding this creature soon though....as to the rest...I'll sleep on it."
He pulled his arm free of JD's grasp and regarded him thoughtfully. "You seem a little disturbed JD, maybe you could use some sleep too."
"I ain't disturbed!" JD snapped, eyes flashing and for a moment, something else seemed to be there. Something dangerous and fearful.
Ezra attempted to disguise his shock and discomfort at JD's outburst.
"Well I am JD," he answered as he backed away from the angry young man a little.
"Our illustrious leader is laying hurt and delirious in the clinic...Vin is making all sorts of outlandish accusations...and everyone seems to be fighting one another. Now, I don't know what your solution to all of that is, but mine is to go to my room and sleep. Goodnight." He tipped his hat, turned, and headed for the boarding house.
JD licked his lips, his heart beating strangely and he began following Ezra, though at a slower pace.
Ezra stepped into the boarding house and stopped a little way inside. The hairs were standing up on the back of his neck and a shiver was running up and down his spine. He was afraid to turn around...afraid of what may be lurking somewhere behind him. he shivered involuntarily and quickened his pace. Running up the stairs, he quickly opened the door to his room and slammed it behind him.
"Ezra, what has gotten into you?" he asked himself as he stood with his back against the door. Closing his eyes he rested his head back and tried to control his quick breathing. 'How the hell am I going to sleep tonight?' he thought as a vision of JD snarling at him came into his mind.
Down below, JD heard Ezra's door slam and shivered as he felt the tendrils of fear float down to him, sending a thrill up his spine. He licked his lips again, wondering at the feelings coursing through him and decided to ask John about it when he saw him next.
Turning, he headed back down the street. The saloon was still open and he felt the need for a drink.
+ + + + + + +
JD stood in his horse's stall in the livery, smiling as he fed the animal an apple and gently stroked his muzzle. Hearing someone approach, he quickly left the stall and climbed limberly up into the hayloft so he could see who it was. He smiled slightly. Strength wasn't the only thing his master had given him. His hearing had improved greatly as had his climbing skills.
Crouching in the loft, he waited and, seconds later, Vin hurried in, heading straight for his horse. JD stayed stock still, watching, hatred filling his heart. Oh how he wanted to kill his one time friend. This man who showed so much disrespect for JD's master...
Vin grabbed his saddle and threw it over his horse's back. His mind was racing, turning over everything that had happened over the last few days.
His heart was heavy, because of Chris being sick in the clinic but also because of the rift that had appeared between the seven of them. His thoughts turned to Calhoun and he pulled the girth hard in frustration. He knew the newcomer was involved in all that was happening...he just wasn't sure how he was involved yet. The tracker was a little confused....JD had proved that Calhoun could not be the vampire when he had asked the man to hold his cross...and another thing, Calhoun was walking around in broad daylight...another sure sign that he could not be the vampire.
But, besides all of that there was no doubt in Vin's mind that Calhoun was responsible for the arguments that were becoming more frequent amongst them, and for JD and Josiah's strange behavior.
He finished saddling his horse and sighed heavily. He could not think on all of it anymore right now. He was just going round and round in circles and ending right back where he started. But he was going to nail Calhoun if it was the last thing he did.
"I know yer bad Calhoun," he said aloud. "An' as soon as I finish helpin' Chris, I'm gonna figure it all out and get rid o' ya once an' fer all."
JD shifted and stopped the low growl from escaping his throat.
Pushing all further thoughts out of his mind Vin climbed into his saddle and steered his horse out of the livery. He knew where he could get the help that Chris needed, and right at that moment that's all that mattered to him...he could worry about the rest later.
Wondering where the man was going, JD jumped down, swiftly saddled his horse and went out after Vin. He managed to follow him for a short distance, but then lost him. Frowning, he looked for Vin's horse's prints, wondering why there weren't any...
"Lookin' fer somethin'?"
JD jumped what seemed a foot into the air and his heart leapt into his throat at the sound of the voice behind him. Turning his horse around he came face to face with an angry looking Vin Tanner...who the young sheriff noted, had his hand resting on his gun.
JD recovered himself and grinned. "Just out for a ride. That's allowed ain't it?"
Vin shifted in his saddle. "Sure, kid. Jest seemed we were headin' in the same direction...kinda strange." He cocked his head. "So....where are ya headed?"
JD shrugged. "No where in particular. Just out to clear my head before I look in on Chris." He paused. "You?"
"Same thing." Vin replied with a shrug. "Needed to clear m' head and think on how I can help Chris."
The tracker's mind was ticking over fast. He knew JD had been following him and was trying to think of a way of ridding himself of him before he carried on his journey.
"How is Chris, anyway?" JD asked, putting an edge to his voice. "I ain't seen him since last night."
"Still in an' out, but Nate says he's doin' alright," Vin lied. Truth was, Chris was steadily getting worse. Vin was hoping against hope that the people he was going to see would be able to help his friend.
Vin frowned as he suddenly caught sight of something on JD's neck. "What's that mark there JD?" he asked, pointing. A feeling of dread started to fill his body....was it what he thought it was?
"What mark?" JD asked, quickly putting on a look of confusion as he silently cursed. 'Damn bandana must of slipped,' he thought, casually moving his hand to adjust it.
"Yeah that's right JD. That one right there yer tryin' so damn hard t' cover up." Vin knew he had JD in a corner...and was interested to find out what the kid would say about it. "Looks pretty much like the marks on the two dead bodies we found, don't ya reckon?"
JD licked his lips, trying not to let his nervousness show. "I caught myself with my gun belt the other day. It's just like I told Chris. It's nothing."
"What were ya doin' JD? Usin' it fer a lasso?"
Thoughts started to rush through Vin's mind. So Chris had seen JD's neck, and now he was in some kind of hellish nightmare in the clinic with holes in his neck...it was a bit too much of a coincidence for Vin. That slotted into the puzzle a bit too neatly and any doubts Vin may have had about JD being up to his neck in this were finally erased from his mind.
A strange look came into the cold eyes JD had been wearing for the last few days. It looked to be a mixture of fear and a cry for help. But it was gone seconds later. The coldness returned and JD shrugged.
"Was just a stupid accident."
Vin did not miss the look. "JD? D'ya need some help? Is there somethin' ya wanna tell me?"
JD looked at Vin like he had sprouted an extra head. Then he sneered and said, "Why would I want to tell you anything? Ain't nothing wrong unless you want me to make something up to go with the story you're so fond of."
Vin sighed. He really didn't want to get into this with JD right now...there were more important things on his mind. "Alright JD. Whatever," he answered tiredly. "I'm gonna head off now, see ya back on town." He urged his horse on and put all of his senses on alert....and hoped that JD would not try to follow him again.
JD watched him leave, a thousand different emotions washing over him. He had to get back and talk to John. Turning his horse, he kicked it into motion.
'Damn him!' he thought. 'Too damn smart for his own good! I hope John will let me kill him.' He smiled at that thought, then frowned. What were all these strange...new...feelings... With a soft moan, JD's eyes rolled into his head and blackness claimed him as he slipped from his horse.
Vin turned sharply at the faint thud that came from behind him. His eyes widened as he saw JD lying motionless on the ground. "Shit!" he cursed, at the same time as he turned his horse around and headed back to his fallen friend.
Jumping down from his saddle, he kneeled by JD's side and felt for a pulse at his neck. There was definitely one there...it was racing. Vin frowned down at the pale, sweating face of his friend. "So much fer not needin' help JD," he muttered as he attempted to lift the younger man back onto his horse.
JD moaned softly but didn't awaken. His horse whickered and danced away, then remained still and allowed JD to be put on his back. The bandana had slipped down again, revealing the mark clearly now.
Vin held tightly to JD's horses reins and climbed back onto his own horse. Glancing over at the younger man to ensure he was not about to slide off, he did a double take as he got a clearer view of the two marks on his neck.
"Sonofabitch!" he exclaimed when his suspicions were confirmed by the tell tale marks. There was no way they were caused by JD's gun belt. "Aw hell JD."
He quickly spurred his horse on, leading JD's alongside...his thoughts running over themselves. He just hoped that, where he was going would be able to give him the answers he needed to help both Chris and JD...because on his own, he didn't know where to start.
They arrived in the Indian Village a short time later. Word of their arrival spread quickly and within moments, Chanu had appeared to greet them.
"Brother!" he exclaimed when he saw JD slumped over his horse's neck. "What happened?" He looked JD over to see if the Kid was alive.
"He just up and fell off o' his horse," Vin answered, watching as Chanu continued to look at JD. "Reckon it's got somethin' to do with the reason I came out to see y'all. Strange things have been happenin' in town and I need some help Chanu."
Vin's eyes were desperate and pleading as he spoke to his Indian friend.
Chanu's eyes narrowed as he found the mark on JD's neck. His eyes flashed to Vin, then he quickly spoke to some of the braves who had come over. Two moved to take JD from the horse while a third took the reigns to both JD and Vin's horses.
"Come, my friend," Chanu said to Vin. "We must see Father."
Vin knew this was in a way, good news. The way Chanu was acting assured him that he had come to the right place. He followed behind Chanu and could hear the soft, urgent whispers of the braves as they walked behind him, carrying JD. He strained his ears to try to make out some of what they were saying, but the noise in the village stopped any chance of that. Chanu led Vin over to his fathers dwelling and both men entered and waited for JD to be placed gently in the corner of the room.
Ko-Je greeted Vin, then exchanged words with Chanu in their language. He then moved over to JD and carefully examined the wound. "It is old," he murmured with a trace of sadness in his voice.
"Is that bad?" Vin asked, afraid that he already knew the answer to that question. "Cos Chris 's got marks like that on his neck too. But He's sick...in and out of consciousness and in pain too. So, d'ya know what's goin' on?" He looked almost desperate as he looked from Chanu to Ko-Je and back again.
"Blood Demon," Ko-Je murmured. "Powerful one too."
He put his hand over JD's closed eyes. "He has a very evil spirit within him. We can do little for him at this point. We can weaken the spirit and its influence but to be rid of the spirit entirely, the blood demon who bit him must be killed." He paused, then asked, "How long since the other was bitten?"
"Not long...yesterday....and I disturbed whoever or whatever it was that attacked him. Is that good or bad?" Vin could feel his heart hammering in his chest, he didn't like the look on Chanu's face.
"We must see him," Ko-Je replied without answering Vin's question. "Here or there, but we must see him."
Vin nodded his head slowly. "What about JD? Can ya help 'im? He's actin' real weird, and I kinda get the feelin' he'd like t' kill me." His mouth turned up in a half grin, for a moment defying the seriousness of the situation.
"The young one has been exposed too long. We can only weaken the force within him until the blood demon who bit him is killed. Only then will the force within him die too."
"Do you want to bring your brother here or would it be better for us to go there?" Chanu asked. "Can he travel?"
"Not sure...don't reckon so. I'd have t' ask Nathan." Vin suddenly had a thought. "There's a guy in town that I'm thinkin' has somethin' t' do with what's goin' on. Would it be good fer you to see him too?"
"Maybe," Ko-Je replied. "Chanu, get the horses. We will go into town and do what we can for the both of them there."
Chanu nodded and hurried from the tent.
The ride back to town was done mostly in silence. The only sounds were the horses hooves on the ground and JD's groans. They entered town slowly and Vin darted his eyes from side to side looking for any sighs of Calhoun. He was eager to see how Chris was doing, but was going to let the Indians take the lead.
"Vin!" Buck, who had been on his way to the clinic, had spotted them and hurried over. "Vin, what the hell happened to JD?" he exclaimed.
"He went all weird on me when he followed me earlier, fell offa his horse and been like this since," Vin explained to a worried looking Buck. "Wanna help us get 'im to the clinic? Chanu and Ko-Je reckon they can help."
Buck nodded and moved to pull JD down from the horse. He caught site of the mark first, however and his eyes went wide. He looked at Vin sharply. "Vin! Is this..."
"Yeah Buck, it is," said Vin quietly. He motioned for the two Indians to follow him and they all mounted the stairs to Nathan's clinic. "Chris is in here," the tracker informed them over his shoulder. "It's probably the best place to do what's gotta be done."
Buck refrained from asking what the hell was going on and silently followed them into the clinic, placing JD on the extra bed.
"What happened?" Nathan asked, nodding to Ko-Je and Chanu before bending down to look JD over.
"He fell offa his horse but was actin' weird before," Vin informed him. "How's Chris?"
"Not good," Nathan replied, cursing softly as he found the marks on JD's neck. "This explains a few things," he murmured.
Ko-Je and Chanu moved about the room, quietly setting up the supplies they had brought. Ko-Je then moved to Chris' side to examine him. "This one is different," he murmured. "But I think we can help."
Vin moved over to stand by Chris's bed. "Different?" he asked. "What does that mean? Is that good or bad?" he stopped himself from asking more questions, he knew he sounded desperate but the worry was starting to wear him down. He just wanted it to be all over so that things could get back to normal.
Ko-Je help up a hand. "I am certain we can help. But we will help the young one first." He moved over to where Chanu was, each of them taking a position by JD.
"Be very quiet," Ko-Je instructed. "This is not an easy ceremony."
That said, he and Chanu placed their hands over JD's body and began chanting.
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