Dark Times
Broken Friendships

by Jackie and Lanna

John stiffened as he once again felt something tug at the link between him and JD. He had felt it earlier; had known the young man had passed out but was unable to locate his position to go and retrieve him. And now, he felt forces attempting to take the boy from him.

He growled, catching Josiah's attention as they were both in the church and felt the shimmer of fear wash through the older man.

"Get Standish!" he snapped. "I no longer have time to wait for him. They are trying to take the boy from me and I will not let it happen! I will need Standish's energy to help me in my task."

His eyes flashed with rage. They would not take the boy!

Josiah responded by darting out of the door to fetch Ezra. He entered the saloon and saw the gambler sitting alone at a table shuffling his cards. "Mr. Sanchez," he said with a smile. "I was beginning to think that I had been forsaken by my associates." He saw the look on Josiah's face. "Is there a problem?" His heart skipped a beat. "Our fearless leader's conditioned has not worsened has it?"

"No, no," Josiah replied, struggling to get a grip on himself. "I wondered if you would join me at the church, however. Small prayer ceremony."

Ezra stood immediately. "Of Course, Josiah," he said. "Lead the way."

Josiah quickly led the way back to the church, locking the door behind them when the had gone inside. John had darkened the room, allowing no light to enter save for the candles.

"Ezra," he greeted with a tight smile. "Glad you could join us."

Ezra took a further faltering step forward. "It is a trifle dark in here John....and the others will think the place is empty." He looked around him, squinting to see. "Where are the others by the way?"

"There are no others. Just the three of us," John replied. "And the dark is necessary. I'm afraid I don't have time to make you feel more at ease, Ezra. Josiah, hold him."

Josiah moved with lightening speed and shoved Ezra hard against the wall, pinning him there with his body weight. Ezra's eyes widened and he could not speak as he saw Calhoun begin to transform in front of him.

"They will not take the boy," 'Calhoun' hissed. He struck fast, fangs sinking into Ezra's neck almost viciously. He took more than he did from Josiah, needing the energy to fight the infidels. When he was finished, he stepped back and returned to normal form, eyes glowing softly. Ignoring Ezra and Josiah for the moment, he sat in a pew, closed his eyes and began his fight.

Ezra looked dazed and blinked two or three times to get his eyes in focus. Josiah's smiling face gradually formed in front of him and he smiled retentively back. "Mr. Sanchez? What just happened there?"

Josiah chuckled. "The best thing that is gonna happen to you ever, Brother," the preacher answered him, releasing him finally and stepping back. "We have a new mission now...to serve John."

+ + + + + + +

Ko-Je and Chanu both jerked as they felt a force rise up to fight them. However, they didn't break contact or pause in their chanting. The room seemed to get hot and tense as the ceremony continued and the fought against the evil striking at them.

Finally, after an hour, the chanting stopped and they opened their eyes.

"It is done," Ko-Je murmured. "The evil within him is weakened. Now, you must finish it by killing the blood demon who bit him."

+ + + + + + +

John opened his eyes, a low growl like a cougar escaping his lips.

Ezra and Josiah looked at each other and then walked over to Calhoun.

"John?" Josiah asked quietly. "What's wrong...and what can we do to help?"

"Find out who the hell is in this town trying to take my boy from me!" John snarled back.

+ + + + + + +

Ko-Je and Chanu moved over to Chris and began talking rapidly in their own language as they looked at him. The mood in the clinic was tense as Buck, Vin and Nathan watched in silence...each of them holding their breaths in case the noise would break the concentration of the two men bending over Chris.

Shortly, the two men began another ceremony that lasted for some time. A soft knock on the door cause a fall in the two men's voices, but they rose again in seconds as concentration returned full force.

Vin moved to the door, not taking his eyes from Chanu and Ko-Je. he opened it slowly and held a finger to his lips as he motioned the newcomer inside.

"What's happening?" Ezra whispered very softly as he took in the scene before him. His eyes darted to JD and then to Chris and the two Indians. "Chanu and Ko-Je are helpin' 'em," Buck informed him in a whisper. "They've done what they can for JD now, just gotta see what they can do for Chris."

Ezra nodded understanding and silently watched until it looked like the ritual was ending. He then silently slipped out to report to John.

Ko-Je and Chanu stopped their chanting and spoke to each other again. They then looked at the others and Ko-Je said, "We have done what we can."

Vin nodded silently and walked to Chris's bedside. he sat heavily in a chair and looked up to see Buck hovering over JD. "We gotta find out who's doing this....an' I got a fair idea where to start." he said. Chris moaned softly and Vin put a h and on his shoulder. "Hold on Chris...won't be long now."

"Where'd Ezra go?" Nathan asked, not having seen the con man slip out.

Vin shrugged. "Dunno, he's slithery right now ain't he?" A thought crossed his mind. "Hey, ya don't think he's turnin' like Josiah and JD do ya?"

Nathan closed his eyes and ran a hand over his head. "That's just what we need," he muttered.

"Where is this man you were speaking of?" Ko-Je asked Vin.

"Well, he was here just a minute ago. But he's gone again. Why? Ya wanna see him?" Vin felt dread fill him. 'Please not another one' he thought silently

"The gambler is the one you suspect is involved?" Chanu asked, unsure whether or not to be surprised.

Vin took his hat off and ran a hand through his hair. "Sorry, no Chanu. M' mind's workin' overtime I reckon. The guys name is John Calhoun...he's around town somewhere."

Ko-Je looked at his son. "Go with Vin. See if you can get a look at this man."

Chanu nodded and waited for Vin to lead the way out.

Vin stopped abruptly at the foot of the stairs. Not sure where she gonna be...." his voice trailed off as he saw Calhoun walking down the church steps with Josiah and Ezra on either side of him.

Chanu followed Vin's gaze and frowned. "Be wary of those three," he murmured to Vin.

"Those three?" Vin questioned. "The guy in the middle is the one I was tellin' ya about...reckon he's bad. What's wrong with Josiah and Ezra?"

"All three have strong presences of evil about them. The one in the middle especially. I cannot tell what he is though. He cannot be a blood demon as they do not walk in daylight. This one...confuses me."

Vin frowned. "I knew it! Now he's got Ezra too....what can we do Chanu? Please tell me you know what t' do."

Chanu shook his head. "I am sorry my friend. I am unsure of this man. Perhaps Father will know more."

Vin sighed, feeling defeated, and sat on the bottom of the clinic steps. "Ah hell, Chanu....what're we gonna do? M' best friend is lyin' up there and I can't do anythin' t' help 'im."

"Don't despair my friend," Chanu replied, sitting next to Vin and squeezing his shoulder. "I believe the saying is, it is always darkest before the dawn."

Vin sighed. "Well, I hope the dawn is real close...'cause I reckon it's dark enough." He looked at Chanu and after a few moments both men's faces broke into smiles and they both laughed softly.

"As your friend Josiah would say...'Amen to that brother'," Chanu chuckled.

His face sobered as his eyes rested on the man being flanked by Josiah and Ezra. "He is the one we must focus on my friend....he is the key to the dawn."

That he is," Ko-Je spoke from behind, having very quietly come out of the clinic. The old man gazed at the three men his son and friend were looking at and narrowed his eyes. "He has a...deep connection to the blood demon," he murmured. "You must find and kill the demon. Only then will they all be free."

"So, you reckon we should stick close to Calhoun? Or do we have to confront 'im?" Vin asked. "...and how long have we got before it's too late to help Chris and JD?"

"Do not confront him until you know what he is," Ko-Je cautioned. "He is a very dangerous man, especially while the blood demon lives." He paused. "As for how long you have, I do not know for the spirits are confused on that. They only say you must find the demon swiftly."

"Vin nodded. "Thanks. I 'preciate what yer doin' t' help. I'll let the others know and maybe we can finish this off once and fer all..."

Ko-Je motioned for Chanu that it was time to leave. Chanu clasped forearms with Vin, said goodbye in his language, then moved down to where the horses waited.

Ko-Je looked at Vin, clasped his arm, then leaned in and said, "Be careful my friend. The spirits say you are in more danger than anyone."

Vin looked deep into Ko-Je's honest eyes, shocked by his last words.

"I'll be careful....." his eyes twinkled as he made light of the remark...Aaren't I always?"

Ko-Je smiled slightly. "Be more careful than usual," he returned, then moved down the stairs to join his son.

After watching his two friends disappear from view, Vin turned and ran up the stairs to Nathan's. He walked briskly to the door and shoved it open, squinting his eyes until they adjusted to the dim light inside.

He moved to Chris' beside, taking up residence in the chair to quietly wait for his friend to wake up.

Three hours later, Chris moaned softly and his eyes fluttered open. They were clearer than last time he had awakened but still full of confusion.

Vin sat forward and placed a hand on his friends arm. "Hey pard," he whispered, noting the green eyes that darted from side to side. "You gave us a few gray hairs. How ya feelin'?"

"Tired," Chris whispered back. "Body feels...like lead..."

"D'ya remember what happened, Chris?" Vin asked. "Did ya see who attacked ya?"

"A..attacked..." Chris murmured. "Fast. Throat."

Vin closed his eyes to get a hold on his frustration. he wasn't going to get much out of Chris at the moment that was for sure. "It's okay pard, take it easy," he soothed when he noted that Chris was beginning to show signs of distress. "It's okay now...d'ya want some water?"

Chris swallowed and nodded, eyes darting to the door as it opened and Nathan entered.

The black man smiled when he saw Chris was awake. "Welcome back, Chris," he murmured as he moved to the bed and gently felt Chris' forehead. "How long has he been awake?" he asked Vin.

"Throat," Chris whispered, hand moving up to touch the bandage covering the bite mark.

"Not long, Nate," Vin answered the healer before turning his attention back to Chris. He gently lifted his head and put a cup to his lips, letting the blond sip at the cool liquid. Pulling the cup away he chuckled. "Reckon ya should be careful there pard, the water might come out o' the holes in yer neck."

"Holes..." Chris began pulling at the bandage, trying to expose the wounds.

"Easy Chris," Nathan murmured, catching the man's hand and forcing it away. "Leave it alone. Wounds need to heal."

Chris frowned. "It burns," he replied, his voice a little stronger now as his hand once more made its way to the bandage.

"Leave it be Chris...or I'll tie yer hands down," Vin scolded. "You gotta rest now and get strong...we're gonna take care o' this...you just rest easy."

Chris forced himself to do as Vin said, his eyes once again moving about the room. They stopped on JD and he frowned. "What happened...to JD?"

Nathan and Vin looked at each other. "He fell off his horse, Chris," Vin informed him. "Reckon he's not feelin' himself right now."

"He all right?" Chris asked, his frown deepening.

Nathan nodded. "Yeah, he's fine. Don't worry Chris, just get some rest all right?"

Chris stared at JD for a long moment, strange looks chasing through his eyes before they finally closed and sleep took over.

Nathan felt Chris' forehead again, then his pulse. "Whatever Ko-Je and Chanu did, looks like it worked," he murmured as he moved over to check on JD.

JD reacted instantly to the touch, moaning softly and struggling to wake up.

Vin walked over to stand next to Nathan. "He gonna wake up Nate? 'cause I'm not sure what he's gonna do when he does."

Vin walked over to stand next to Nathan. "He gonna wake up Nate? 'cause I'm not sure what he's gonna do when he does."

Nathan nodded as he watched JD climb back to consciousness. "Just stand by," he murmured.

JD moaned again, then slowly opened his eyes. He blinked up at them, then closed his eyes for a few seconds, before opening them again and struggling to sit up. "Where am I?" he mumbled.

"Easy JD, yer in the clinic," Vin answered him. "You fell offa yer horse, d'ya remember that JD?"

JD collapsed back down at just a slight push from Nathan and laid there a moment, thinking things out. His eyes then grew wide and he shot upright, trying to get out of the bed. "I gotta go!" he exclaimed, his voice almost frantic.

"Easy JD, you're not goin' anywhere," Nathan told his patient as he and Vin pushed him firmly back onto the pillow.

"What'r you in so much of a hurry fer, kid?" Vin asked, watching JD's face closely.

"I'm hungry!" JD exclaimed, his voice and face desperate.

"Hungry fer what is the question," Vin whispered to Nathan. The two men continued to hold JD down on the bed as he struggled against them.

"I can go get you some food, but I want you stayin' here for a while," Nathan told the boy. "Now quit squirmin'."

JD stopped struggling and looked up at Nathan wide eyed. "Steak!" he gasped. "And eggs. And...and Chicken!"

"Boy, that's some appetite ya got there kid," Vin said with a grin. He turned to Chris to ask if he wanted anything, but the blond was deeply asleep. "You go Nathan, reckon you could use some air...I'll watch 'em."

Nathan nodded and left the room, a little bewildered at the huge request.

JD settled down some, but his eyes were wary and darted around the room as if he expected something or someone to jump out and attack him. After a moment, he rose up again and squished himself into the corner where the cot met the wall, looking a little more at ease with his back apparently protected.

Vin moved slowly, so as not to startle his clearly unnerved friend, and perched himself on the edge of the cot. "JD," he said gently. "Yer safe here. It's alright, we're here and we're gonna make sure nothin' else happens to ya."

He searched the younger man's face, looking for signs that he was coming back to them. He realized that he was still linked to Calhoun, but hoped that the hold that the loathsome man had on him had diminished enough for Vin to be able to get through to him.

JD's eyes darted to Vin, full of suspicion. He stared at the other man's neck, wondering at the vein that stood out. He shook his head, imagining that he could hear Vin's heart pumping and licked his lips. Damn was he hungry!

"Get away from me," he finally growled softly, warning clear in his voice, like an animal warning a potential aggressor away.

Vin could feel the tension and distrust emanating from JD and decided to back off a little. "Alright, JD. I'm gonna be right over here, sittin' with Chris...just holler if ya need anythin'."

He rose slowly and walked over to the chair next to the bed where Chris was sleeping peacefully.

JD watched Vin suspiciously, jumping when the door opened and Nathan finally returned with everything JD had requested. The second JD saw the food, he moved, faster than either of them had ever seen him move. He grabbed the tray and hurried to a corner where he immediately began eating as though his life depended on it, keeping a watchful eye on Vin and Nathan the whole time.

Nathan watched for a moment, stunned, then said, "JD slow down, you're going to choke!"

JD ignored him and continued to wolf down the food like there was no tomorrow. Nathan looked at Vin, stunned.

The tracker shrugged, and, like Nathan, watched JD shovel food into his mouth and swallow it down. "Hell kid, you learned t' store ya food like a hamster or somethin'?" Vin jokingly asked him.

A weak laugh from the other occupied bed made Vin and Nathan turn their attention away from JD.

"Don't think I've...ever seen...anyone eat so fast," Chris murmured as he watched. "He okay?"

"I'm fine," JD mumbled. He had finished everything already and was now eyeing the door, calculating his chances for escape. He had to see John.

The look was not lost on Nathan, but he misinterpreted the reason. "JD, you should rest...don't want you gallivanting' around town...not 'til you're properly cured."

"I'm fine!" JD insisted, but moved to the bed nevertheless. He was a little tired. And John wasn't going anywhere....

Chris watched as JD slipped into sleep, then turned his eyes on Nathan and Vin. "He okay?" he asked, his voice stronger and his color much better now. His eyes were much more alert now too.

"He will be Chris." Nathan answered.

"Yeah, as soon as we track down whatever did that to 'im and send the sonofabitch t' hell." Vin said, his voice angry.

Chris worked himself into a sitting position, the fact he was in Nathan's room finally hitting him. "What am I doing here?" he asked. "What happened?""You were attacked by the thing that's been terrorizing town," Vin explained."Guess you don't remember...was hopin' you could tell us a bit about what it looked like....or who it was."Chris frowned, struggling to remember, then shook his head. "It's all a blank."

There was a soft knock on the door and Josiah entered. "Nate, got a family passing through downstairs needs a doctor. Since you got a full house here, told 'em I'd send ya down to them. Just across the street. Can't miss 'em."

Nathan nodded and grabbed his bag. He glanced at Vin and Chris, then quickly left the room. Josiah shut the door behind him, turned and smiled.

"Brother Chris, good to see you awake and looking so much better."

Vin chuckled. "Depends what yer comparin' 'im to Josiah," he answered. The smile fell from his lips as he remembered Chanu and Ko-Je's warnings about the preacher. He caught Chris's eye and knew his friend was wondering why his mood had changed so suddenly.

Josiah smiled again, sensing Vin's unease and moved over to sit in the chair next to JD. He reached out and lightly brushed the kid's bangs away.

"How's he doing?" he asked. "Heard he fell of his horse."

Vin bristled as he watched Josiah touching JD. He would have liked to go over and haul the big man away but knew he had to play it cool if they were going to beat the demon. "Yeah, he took a tumble, but Nathan says he's gonna be fine." He tried to keep the edge out of his voice, but feeling as tense as he did he found it hard.

Chris studied Vin carefully for a moment, eyes flicking to Josiah as he tried to figure out where the tension in Vin was coming from. But a wave of sleepiness overtook him and he closed his eyes, deciding to ask later as he slipped back into sleep.

Josiah looked over, eyes raking over Chris before moving to Vin. "Ezra said Ko-Je and Chanu were here."

"Yeah they were." Vin tried to sound casual. "They helped me bring back JD....I asked 'em t' take a look at Chris...see if they could help any." He watched Josiah's face carefully, looking for any signs that his words had worried the ex-preacher.

Josiah was well aware of the unease and tension radiating from Vin. It entertained him to no end and he was about to attempt to further unnerve the tracker when JD groaned and opened his eyes.

Josiah smiled down at him. "Hey there."

"Hey," JD murmured back, completely at ease with Josiah's presence.

Vin made the pretence of pouring some water into a cup, ready for when Chris wanted a drink, but his full attention was on the two men at the other end of the room. After all of the hard work that had been put into getting JD on the road back to normal, he wasn't going to let Josiah come along and ruin it all if he could help it.

"Still think you can fly huh?" Josiah said with a smile and JD laughed softly. He perked up, looking toward the door just seconds before there came a soft knock. Smiling, Josiah moved to answer it and John stepped into the room. JD came to full alertness, extremely happy to see the other man.

"JD," John greeted softly, glancing over at the sleeping Chris as he moved to JD's bedside. "Heard you took a tumble. Glad to see you're all right." He reached out and put a hand on JD's shoulder.

The whole of Vin's body tensed and he had to hold himself in check. The moment Calhoun had touched JD the tracker's first instinct had been to rush him and put his hands around his neck, squeezing the life slowly out of him. But that was not going to flush out the demon, and to Cure Chris and JD that's what they had to do. Instead, he sent a lethal glare into Calhoun's back, one Chris Larabee would be proud of.

The pair talked softly for a few minutes and then John squeezed JD's shoulder again and stood up. "I'll let you rest. I'll talk to you again when the good doctor decides you can leave."

He smiled, then turned to the door, stopping and looking over at the sleeping Chris, studying him for a few seconds before looking at Vin. "I am sincerely glad to see Mr. Larabee looking well after his attack. I hope he'll be all right."

"Yeah, he's fine," Vin replied with a warning in his voice. His eyes dared Calhoun to come near Chris and his hand rested protectively on his friend's arm.

A smile touched Calhoun's lips and with a nod to JD and a tip of his hat to Vin, he quietly slipped out of the room, Josiah following.

"You should show him more respect you know," JD muttered sleepily, watching Vin darkly as he settled back down.

"I show respect t' people that deserve it, JD," Vin answered with a hint of anger. "'n Calhoun sure as hell ain't one of 'em."

His blue eyes almost flashed their contempt and Vin lent back heavily in his chair in frustration. When was all of this gonna end? He was getting tired of the whole thing and also frustrated with JD for being so loyal to Calhoun. He knew the kid couldn't help it right then, but it still gnawed away at Vin.

"Didn't yer mamma teach you to respect yer elders before she died?" JD asked as his eyes drifted closed. "Or did time run out before she could?"

A hot rage consumed Vin's body as he leapt out of his seat and ran at JD. Before the younger man could react Vin had grabbed his clothes and lifted him off of the cot, pinning him against the wall. Their faces were only inches apart as Vin spoke through clenched teeth. "Ya've gone too far this time JD. I don't have t' take that from ya. You got no right sayin' what ya jest did. My Ma taught me more in the five years she was with me than that bastard Calhoun could teach in two lifetimes.....so don't ever...ever.....talk about my Ma that way again." Vin's blue eyes bore into JD's even after he had finished speaking....and he made no move to release JD.

JD smirked. "Touchy, touchy." One hand gripped Vin's arm and he squeezed hard, using his strength. He pushed Vin back off him, forced him to turn around and forced him down to a knee. He held one of Vin's arms in a grip that would easily break the arm if either of them moved the right or wrong way. JD leaned in so his mouth was right next to Vin's ear.

"Respect will take you a long way," he breathed. His eyes traveled down Vin's neck, taking in the vein that had popped up and his heart beat a little faster as something stirred deep within. He licked his lips and nuzzled the area before adding, his voice still very soft, "Disrespect leads to the grave."

Vin could feel the sweat the sliding down his face as he tried to free himself from JD's grip. His whole body tensed as he felt the kids breath on his neck. "Get yer filthy hands offa me," he growled trying hard to break free but getting nowhere. "Touch...his neck....and...die."

Both men were startled by the weak voice coming from the other side of the room and Vin almost laughed at the absurdity of Chris's remark. He was as weak as a new born baby....no way could Chris follow through with his threat. Right now he was at JD's mercy, and there was nothing he or Chris could do about it.

JD laughed quietly. "Gonna make me old man? Someone needs to teach buffalo man some respect. And maybe..." A wave of dizziness and a little pain suddenly swept through him, causing him to groan softly and unconsciously tighten his grip on Vin's arm.

Vin could not hold back a cry of pain as JD's fingers dug painfully into his arm. "Yer gonna pay fer them words JD," he managed to growl out.

He was wearing himself out with struggling could get free and the pain in his arm was reaching crisis point. All of a sudden a force hit both men heavily from behind, both so caught up in their argument they had almost forgotten Chris who had hurled himself at JD in one swift movement. All three men landed heavily on the floor, but still JD did not loosen his grip on Vin.

JD's head struck the floor, adding to the pain flaring up through the pit of his stomach. With a soft cry, he finally released Vin's arm and curled into a ball, eyes squeezed shut as he attempted to fight off whatever was happening to him.

Chris raised up, glanced at JD, then looked at Vin. "You okay?" he asked, a little breathless.

"Yeah, I'm fine," Vin answered with a nod. He looked at JD warily, and then realized the younger man really was in pain. Still on his knees, Vin leaned over the curled up figure. "You okay? Need help ont' the bed?"

He still felt anger at JD's words to him earlier, but he pushed it to the back of his mind for now. After all, JD was a friend...or used to be anyway.

JD snarled in reply and when his eyes opened, both men were shocked at the level of intense hatred residing there. His eyes snapped to the door as it opened and Nathan came back in.

"What the hell!" the big man exclaimed and rushed forward, stopping when JD suddenly leapt up and lashed out, then dropped to the floor and remained unmoving.

"What the hell is going on?" Nathan exclaimed as he cautiously knelt at JD's side and felt the boy's pulse.

"He was mouthin' off Nate. Kinda lost it and went fer 'im. Then he got the better of me and Chris joined in and then you came in," Vin explained.

It sounded almost funny the way he said it...but none of them were smiling. Vin heard a groan and turned to see Chris struggling to his feet. He leapt up and grasped his friend tightly by the arms, helping him to his cot where the gunslinger sat heavily and put his head in his hands.

"Must be reacting to what Ko-Je and Chanu did," Nathan muttered as he carefully gathered JD up and put him back in the bed. He turned his attention back to Chris and Vin. "He say or do anything?"

"Had a fixation on Vin's neck," Chris mumbled back. The older man looked up at Vin. "How's your arm?"

"Arm?" Nathan asked, eyes zeroing in on Vin's arms. Vin glared back at Chris before turning to the healer. "Arms fine Nate, s'nothin'....JD just grabbed me that's all."

Chris managed a snort before settling back on the pillows.

"Let me have a look," Nathan said, crossing over and making Vin remove his jacket to expose his arm. Nathan's eyes widened when he got a look at the dark, ugly bruise forming on part of Vin's arm. "You call this nothing?"

He turned away and began preparing a mixture of something. As he did, he asked, "And what was that about your neck?"

Vin swallowed hard. He'd rather not remember the feeling of JD's face against his neck. "Reckon JD kinda liked m' neck Nate." He looked up into two puzzled brown eyes and couldn't stop a small smile. "Mebbe I was next on the demons list o' victims."

Nathan looked away and finished his mixture in silence. When he was done, he came back over and gently applied the lotion to Vin's arm. "Should help," he murmured. "I'll give you more to put on when it starts hurting." There was a troubled look in his eyes as he turned away to clean up.

Vin frowned at Nathan's back and then stood and walked over to him. "What ya thinkin' Nate? Ya know what's goin' on? 'cause I sure as hell need tellin'." He studied Nathan's face as the healer continued to store things away.

Nathan was silent for a few more seconds, then turned and looked at Vin. "That family I was seein' to...they're on their way to Ridge City to set up shop. Said they had no money for my services and when I told them it was all right, they insisted I take something from their stock."

He moved over to his bag and reached inside. "I was gonna refuse again when I saw this." He pulled out a very large, thick book and handed it to Vin. The title was written in gold lettering and said, "Vampires and creatures like them."

Vin looked down at the mixture of letters and then handed it back to Nathan with a frustrated shake of his head. "Can't read Nate," he said quietly. "Yer'll havta tell me what's makin' ya so jittery....I figure it's somethin' ya saw in the book."

"Vampires and Creatures like them," Nathan read quietly. "It's the creatures like them part that I don't like. We may not be dealing with a regular Vampire."

"Ah hell!" Vin took his hat from his head and threw it on the bottom of Chris's cot. "Reckon Chanu and Ko-Je hinted at that....does it say how we find these things and how t' get rid of 'em Nate?" He tilted his head to get a better look at Nathan's face. "'N why are you so worried about JD takin' an interest in m' neck? Ya think he's one o' these creatures now too?"

"I haven't read past the title yet, but I sure intend to. The answers we need have got to be in here."

He didn't answer Vin's second question as he put the book in a safe spot and moved to check on Chris. Vin followed him and watched the healer as he worked. "Let me know when you've done with ya readin' alright?" He helped pull the blanked up around Chris and turned to Nathan again with a worried look. "Ya don't think Chris is gonna start gettin' like JD do ya?" he asked as a fear suddenly clutched at him. What if they couldn't help their friends anymore than they already had? What then?

"I honestly don't know, Vin," Nathan replied quietly. "I wish I did. I really do."

Vin lowered his head and blew out a breath. "Alrighty Nate. I reckon I need some air. " He picked up his hat and, after glancing at Chris who was sleeping quietly he walked to the door. "Gonna take a walk through town, holler if ya need me." He opened the door and closed it quietly behind him.


Comments to: Lilandriss@yahoo.com