Dark Times
Broken Friendships

by Jackie and Lanna

The next morning, JD made his way quickly through town toward the church, where he knew John was. He was out and about despite Nathan's urgings to stay in bed. He had to see John. He entered the Church and, seeing the interior had been darkened, immediately turned and locked the door. When he turned back, Josiah was in front of him, looking imposing.

"JD," John greeted, his voice low and slightly dangerous.

JD smiled nervously. "Hey John, hey Josiah....Ezra here too?"

He frowned at Josiah. "What's wrong with ya? I'm still one of you ya know...." he smiled, pleased with himself. "I even attacked Vin yesterday."

John growled low in his throat as he pressed JD up against the wall. He leaned in close and seemed to be sniffing him. "You've been tainted JD," he growled. "Those damned Indians. This is unacceptable." He smiled coldly. "Going to have to fix that. You are mine."

JD gulped and stared wide eyed back at Calhoun. "I am yours John...I swear....I wanted to come to you sooner but they wouldn't let me. Please, you have to believe me."

John smiled. "Shhh. I believe you JD," he murmured as his features melted away and his other form took his place. He gripped JD's shoulder to hold him still, leaned in and sank his fangs into JD's neck, creating a new mark.

An animalistic growl escaped his lips as he encountered...something and he gripped JD harder as he attacked that which was trying to take the boy from him.

JD's mouth opened in a scream, but no sound came out. His head pounded against his scull and his emotions changed from second to second. First he was a willing recipient of Calhoun's fangs then he felt something deep inside and fought against the demon that was trying to possess him. He felt as thought he was being held by both arms, one force pulling him one way and another pulling him in the opposite direction. His eyes were wide and wildly darted from side to side.....all he wanted was for one side to win, to end his ordeal...and at the moment he didn't care which it was.

The fight continued for several moments before, with a cry of triumph, the fangs left JD's neck and the strong grip holding him came away, leaving him with no support and allowing him to sink bonelessly to the ground.

"Mine!" Calhoun's other form snarled. "They cannot win!"

Fear caught his attention and he turned to look at Josiah, who was sitting in a pew, shaking as he watched. He smiled, slowly returning to normal.

Josiah sat straight up, making his back ache with the tension. He knew that they had to make sure JD was still with them but what he had just seen happen before him was unnerving to say the least. He swallowed hard as he watched Calhoun turn back to his normal self....and could not help also being relieved.

John gazed down at JD breathing heavily on the floor, then looked back at Josiah. "Leave us," he ordered as he took out a handkerchief.

Josiah moved immediately, leaving the pair alone. John knelt and helped JD to his feet, leading him to a pew and sitting him down. He sat next to him and gently cleaned the new wound. "We need to talk JD," he murmured softly. "I have a suspicion about you and I need to confirm it."

He paused, then asked, "Have you been...able to hear heartbeats or sense them? To be more blunt, have you been craving blood?"

JD nodded his head vigorously. "Yeah...yeah I have!" He answered, his eyes wide with excitement rather than fear now. "Just yesterday, when I had the run in with Vin I was drawn to his neck...saw a vein there and...." his voice trailed off as the now familiar feeling started to invade him just by thinking of it.

"Easy JD," John murmured. "I hadn't expected this. You're changing. I have had servants before and they have always remained as they were when I first met them. But you..." He smiled. "Perhaps that is why I think of you as a son. And speaking of which, that is why you passed out yesterday. Did you, by chance, have a rather large appetite when you woke up?"

JD felt pride well up inside of him at Calhoun's words. His son. "Yeah, I thought I'd never stop eating!" he answered with a chuckle. "Nathan fetched me a plate full of food...enough for all of us....and I ate it all!"

He looked excitedly at the older man. "Is that a good thing? Am I gonna be like you?"

"You will be similar to me, yes. You are becoming a subspecies of my species. I can walk in daylight with no trouble so long as my other side remains where it needs to be. You, however, are going to have trouble with the sun. You must eat a healthy amount before spending more than a few minutes in the sun. And you will find that you must eat several times a day. For now, just regular food but in a few days, you will start to need blood."

JD's heart clenched partly with fear and partly excitement. The thought of needing to drink blood in some ways repulsed him, but he remembered how he felt when he had seen the vein in Vin's neck pulsing and that gave him some comfort. Not being able to walk around in the sun for long periods was a sobering thought...he loved the outdoors. But the thought of becoming the same or similar to his master easily over rode that.

"Will you help me?" JD asked quietly. "They're gonna try and take me back again....I know they will." He smiled almost evilly. "...and can I have Vin's blood? I'd take great pleasure in killin' him."

John smiled and put a hand on JD's arm, squeezing gently. "No one is going to take you from me, JD. I assure you on that. From this point on, you are my son. As for Tanner's blood...well, I suppose the time has come to reveal why I am here. But we will wait for Josiah and Ezra. I have summoned them. They are on their way."

JD nodded his head, comforted by Calhoun's words. The two men waited in companionable silence until finally, the doors opened and Josiah and Ezra entered. "John...JD," Ezra greeted the two, nodding his head at each of them in turn. He sat in a pew and looked expectantly at Calhoun. "I am happy we are about to be briefed on your true purpose here, John. I must confess I have been perplexed and a little impatient." He grinned and rubbed his hands together in anticipation.

"I had to be certain the man I am looking for truly is here," John replied. "It was only yesterday that I learned that without a doubt, the man I want is here. You see, three, almost four years ago, my dear sister's son, my only nephew, fell in with the wrong people. As a result, he did some less than honorable things. Long story short, he came to his senses and was coming home to us when he encountered a bounty hunter. The hunter took him in and less than a month later, my nephew was hanged. I have been searching for that hunter ever since, finally learning he was here. Yesterday, I confirmed without a doubt that that hunter is Vin Tanner."

The three peacekeepers sat in stunned silence for what seemed endless moments. Each looked from one to the other. They all knew Vin had been a bounty hunter, but to hear the other side of a story...the pain of a family who had been ripped apart by Vin's actions showed them the opposite side of the coin. Their loyalty was to Calhoun and all three men felt only anger towards Vin. The look of anguish and pain on their master's face as he recounted the story affirmed their beliefs that now they were on the right side...and they had been kidding themselves before Calhoun had come along and rescued them.

"So, you came for Vin," Josiah finally broke the silence.

"Tell us how you wish us to help you, John. We shall do as you say," Ezra added.

JD sat with a sneer on his face. "Yeah....you want Vin to suffer? It'll be my pleasure to help ya."

John smiled fondly at JD. "Oh he will suffer. I'll put him through hell before I let him die. And I'll let you do the honors my boy."

"Forgive me for this question, John," Ezra said, "But what about the others? They aren't likely to just let us leave with Tanner. Larabee especially."

John laughed softly. "Larabee won't be a problem. At least, not for us. Tanner thinks he saved his life when he burst in on us. What he really did was open a door and let one of my kindred through. Larabee is going to be a very big help."

"How so?" Ezra asked with a confused look. He held up a hand. "Maybe it would be better if you told us your plan...then we may better understand each person's role in it."

"Yeah, I can't wait to hear how Chris is gonna be a help rather than a hindrance," Josiah added with a toothy grin.

"Well, Tanner interrupted at a very critical time. Instead of killing Larabee like I had planned, the interruption allowed another of my kind to gain access to him. Larabee has been sick because his body was being altered...prepared. He is going to become a vampire. This will help us because he will be a rather savage one. He'll keep the others distracted while we leave with Tanner. By the time they realize Tanner is missing, we'll be long gone. We'll have to time this carefully. Meaning it will be several more days before we can make our move, so be careful. Be patient."

"What about what Chanu and Ko-Je did?" Josiah asked. "Didn't they help Chris back along the healing path?"

JD joined in. "Yeah, you had to claim me back...is it different with Chris because he's got something inside of him?"

"The fools don't know what they're dealing with. All they did was wake Larabee up sooner rather than later. Which means my kindred isn't going to be too happy and will be a lot more hungrier." John grinned. "They did something different with you which was why I had to reclaim you."

"So what do we do now, John?" Ezra asked. Reaching into his pocket and retrieving a deck of cards, he started shuffling them idly. "It's going to be hard mixing with people I have nothing in common with anymore. How long must we stay here, and what do we do to occupy our time?" He stopped shuffling in mid action and grimaced. "Lord, I'm beginning to sound like JD. Heaven help me."

John gave Ezra a hard look, growling softly. "Since you are unaware of my decision regarding JD, I will let that go. JD is my son now. You will treat him as such, understood? As for the first question, carry on as normally as possible until I decide it is time to act."

Ezra and Josiah both raised their eyebrows at Johns revelation concerning JD but said nothing on the subject. Ezra rose slowly and stretched, putting the pack of cards back into his pocket. "Well then, I think I shall go and have something to eat, I find myself needing sustenance."

Josiah nodded in agreement. "Reckon I could use some food too, Brother," he said, moving up beside the gambler. "Anyone else?" he asked, looking from JD to Calhoun.

"We'll be along shortly," John replied and, when the pair had left, looked at JD. "When this is over, we'll be returning to Boston. You'll get along with my sister and Niece famously," he said with a smile. He glanced at the door Josiah and Ezra had just left through, then added, "But we have plenty of servants already. So we have two choices here. We can either take Sanchez and Standish with us, adding them to the collection and possibly my sister and niece's play things...or you can kill them. Your choice."

JD cocked his head to one side in thought, his eyes twinkling, and a feeling of pride welling in him at the trust John was placing in him. Finally, he answered. "Right now, it would be good to take them along with us...I still kinda like 'em. But can I change my mind if I want to?"

John chuckled. "Of course. Anytime you want to so long as they're no longer of use. As far as I can tell, they aren't going to become like you or me, so they are really no better than the common dog." He grinned and squeezed JD's shoulder as he stood. "Come, let's get breakfast. Need to keep your energy up."

+ + + + + + +

Chris did not want to open his eyes. The pounding in his head felt like a herd of wild buffalo were trampling over him. Taking courage in hand he peeled one eyelid open and looked around the room, keeping the other tightly shut. He decided the throbbing was not getting any worse and so opened the other eye and pulled himself slowly onto his elbows. "'Bout time you woke up...thought you'd taken to yer bed for good."

Chris turned his head sharply to the direction of the Texas drawl and winced as a pain sliced into his skull.

"Damn," he groaned, pressing one hand to his head. "How drunk did you get me?"

Vin chuckled and helped Chris to drink some water. "Sorry pard, nothin' as exciting as that got you in this condition." The smile fell from his lips. "The thing attacked ya. Nearly killed ya too." He smiled again. "Guess its true what they say about ya.....yer invincible pard."

"Aw hell. Thought I was dreaming that shit," Chris muttered, grimacing. He waved a hand at the window. "Pull the curtains would ya? Too bright in here."

Vin eyed Chris warily. "Yer not goin' all vampire on me are ya Larabee?" he asked as he stood and walked to the window. He looked out on the scene below and frowned as he watched Calhoun walk along with an arm slung over JD's shoulder. 'Can't be worryin' about that now' he thought as he pulled the curtains closed and turned back to Chris.

"Vampire? No such thing. Just too damn bright is all." He looked to the other bed as he began to remember things from the previous day and asked, "Nate let JD out?"

"Yeah he was doin' okay so Nate let him go," Vin told him as he walked back to the bed and sat down, ignoring Chris's comment about vampires. A troubled look settled on the trackers face as he thought about the scene he had just witnessed on the street below. Chanu and Ko-Je said they had set the wheels in motion and all they had to do was defeat the demon. But JD and Calhoun had looked mighty friendly and Vin was getting an awful uneasy feeling.

Chris eyed Vin as he began to adjust to being awake again. "What's wrong?"

Vin's troubled eyes looked over at Chris. "Ah nothin' jest worryin' over nothin' is all," he answered.

Chris regarded him for a moment, then pushed the covers back and slowly sat up. "Worry about helping me to the restaurant then," he said. "I'm hungry."

"D'ya reckon you should be gettin' up out o' there Chris?" Vin asked, holding onto the other mans elbow. "Don't need you fallin' on yer face if yer not ready t' be up."

"I'll be all right," Chris replied as he carefully grabbed a fresh shirt that had been brought for him and put it on. "Just need something to eat."

Vin waited until Chris was ready and then held the door open for the blond. "You gonna eat a pile o' food like JD did yesterday?" he asked with a smile. "'cause yer gonna have t' change yer pants if ya do, those tight ones sure ain't gonna fit ya no more if you got an appetite like his."

Chris chuckled, then hissed as he stepped out into the light. He quickly put his hat on to shade his sensitive eyes, standing still for a moment to adjust.

Vin raised an eyebrow but put Chris's reaction to the light down to a headache. "We might meet up with JD and Calhoun...you okay with that?" he asked.

"Why?" Chris asked as he moved carefully to the stairs and started down. "Calhoun causing trouble?"

"Not sure," Vin answered as they began walking. "Something is definitely goin' on with him. JD's practically in his pocket....and I'm worried that Chanu and Ko-Je's work has been wasted on 'im." He looked over at his friend and smiled wryly. "D'ya reckon I worry too much?"

"Probably not," Chris replied as they came upon the saloon. "Probably don't worry near enough."

They went into the saloon, Chris almost sighing in relief at the darker interior. JD, Calhoun and Josiah sat at a corner table, while Ezra sat at his normal one, shuffling cards. "Mr. Larabee," he spoke with a smile as Chris and Vin approached. "It is good to see you up and around. Is Mr. Jackson aware of your travels?"

"Breath a word and I'll make sure you end up there with me," Chris threatened as he sat down.

Ezra chuckled. "He won't hear a word from me."

"Steak Inez," Chris called. "Medium rare."

Vin gave him a startled look. "You sure ya got that right? Ya usually like it medium t' well done." He sat down and pushed some cards that Ezra had dealt in front of him impatiently back towards the gambler. "Not now Ezra....I'm hungry. Ya really need t' find another way t' pass yer time."

Chris gave him an inquisitive look. "So I want something different. Don't need your permission do I?" he added, with a light glare.

Ezra smiled as he re-gathered his cards. "Mr. Tanner, there is no other way to pass one's time in this lovely backwater that doesn't result in getting shot at. Really, you should know this by now."

Vin sighed. He was too tired to be bothered. "Eat what ya like," he mumbled to Chris. "Was just sayin'....no need t' jump down m' throat."

After ordering his food he sat back in his chair and stretched out his legs in front of him, watching JD, Josiah and Calhoun as casually as he could without letting it seem obvious he was in fact studying them.

"There you are!" Jackson exclaimed just seconds after Chris and Vin's food had arrived. "What the hell are you doing down here? You should be resting!"

Chris sighed. "I'm fine, Nate. Hungry even. Why don't you join us and eat the hen that's taken you over?"

Nathan raised a brow and looked at Vin, then sighed and sat down. "You be careful, ya hear? No drinking for at least another day, you got it?"

"Yeah, yeah," Chris mumbled as he took a bite of his steak. He closed his eyes, savoring the taste.

"I must say it is a pleasure to see someone savoring their meal around here for a change," Ezra observed. "Usually I am surrounded by six men who shovel a heap of food into their mouths, chew and swallow before they have had the opportunity to take in the flavor."

Vin snorted and took a long draw of his beer. "Reckon it's 'cause we need t' get out o' the stuffiness an' into some air," he drawled.

Chris snorted as he speared a potato and covered it in the blood that leaked from the steak.

"Mmmm," he murmured as he popped it in his mouth.

"Least ya have an appetite," Nathan said.

Vin screwed up his nose and pushed his plate away...turned off by the sight of Chris's food. he was about to pass a comment but decided against it. But couldn't help thinking that Chris was enjoying the blood a little too much. He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, feeling a headache coming on. Lord, he hoped it wouldn't be long before they could flush out the demon Chanu and Ko-Je had mentioned, 'cause he was getting bone tired.

"Vin, talk to you a second?" Nathan asked, standing.

"Yeah sure," Vin answered quickly. He stood, grateful to have an excuse to leave. He wanted to watch over Chris...but if he had sat here much longer he>was likely to lose the contents of his stomach.

Nathan led Vin outside where they could talk without the room hearing. "Just wanted to give you an update. I've come across several versions of vampire already and I'm not even halfway through the book." He ran a hand through his short hair. "I tell ya Vin, It's terrifying what's out there."

Vin looked back at Nathan intently. "You come across anything that sounds familiar Nate? Cos I'm ready t' lose it. Can't handle much more o' this."

"Not yet," Nathan replied wearily. "We just need to hang in there. Something is bound to pop soon."

"Hell, I hope so Nate." Vin cocked his head backwards, towards the door they had just gone through. "You goin' back in....cos I'm game if you are."

Nathan nodded and the pair headed back inside. Nathan stopped when he saw Chris, hand wrapped around a glass but eyes fixed on something else. Following his line of sight, Nathan suppressed a groan when he saw that Chris and Calhoun were once again involved in a staring contest. Ezra was looking from one to the other.

Vin followed Nathan's gaze and wished he hadn't. Chris seemed transfixed and Vin had to stop himself from running over and shaking his friend violently to snap himself out of it.

"Aw hell, now what," he whispered on a sigh.

At the table, Ezra finally found his tongue. "Are we witnessing the beginning of a strange new love affair?" he asked with a slight raise of an eyebrow.

Chris blinked and looked at Ezra. "What?"

Calhoun returned his attention to JD and the pair continued their quiet conversation. "Mr. Larabee, I think you ate your steak a little too rare. Your eyes have taken on a somewhat glazed look," Ezra told Chris, beginning to shuffle his cards again.

Chris looked at Ezra with a puzzled expression and then turned his attention to the two men who were still standing by the door.

"You two gonna stand there gaping and making the place look untidy or are ya gonna come and sit with us again?"

Under his breath he added, "Those two've got too many secrets lately."

Nathan glanced at Vin, then rejoined the table, studying Chris. "Ezra is right, Chris. Your eyes are a little glazed. Maybe you should go lay down."

Chris studied Nathan for a long moment before nodding. "Yeah, all right. guess I could use a nap." He rose from the table, glancing around. "Where's Buck?"

"Mr. Wilmington is on patrol," Ezra supplied.

Chris nodded, then headed for the door. He paused, wincing at the light before pushing through and heading to his room.

Vin looked at Nathan. "Well, I reckon I'm gonna get me some air, need t' feel the sun on m' face." He tapped his hat and went through the doors that were till swinging after Chris's departure.

Nathan looked at Ezra, then he too silently left to continue his reading.

+ + + + + + +

Chris didn't emerge from his room until well after dark. By that time, he was feeling far better than he had that day, especially since the light was now gone. He moved along the streets, not really going anywhere and looking more like a predator stalking prey than just a man out walking.

Vin was sitting on the roof of the mercantile and caught sight of Chris as he stalked through town. The tracker had needed to find some space away from everyone for a while and feel the wind in his hair and on his face. His peace was short lived when his eyes had rested on his friend. He knew this was not the same Chris he knew so well and shared a connection with. Oh, the body was the same...and to an extent, the person inside the body. But it wasn't Chris and he knew that Chris would be lost to him until the demon was sought out and destroyed.

He put his head into his hands and shook it slowly. Sometimes it had been easier when he had been out on his own, no ties...nobody to worry about...just him, his horse and the wise blue yonder. Lifting his head again he found the lone dark figure and continued to watch him with an unsettled look on his face.

Chris stopped as he sensed eyes on him. He slowly gazed around the street, then raised his gaze upward, searching until he landed on Vin's shadowed form. Vin quickly leaned backwards, trying to blend into the shadows...but deep down he knew Chris had seen him. Now, the question was, would the gunslinger just acknowledge him and move on...or would he want to share some time with him.

A slight smile crossed Chris' lips as he observered the tracker. Deciding to leave his friend alone, Chris tipped his hat, then turned and continued on, deciding to go to the saloon.

Ezra looked up as he entered and he lifted his glass in a hello salute. He hoped that Chris would join him, it had been quiet so far and he was itching for a game of poker.

Chris silently sat down, signaling for a glass of whiskey. "Ezra," he greeted softly. "Quiet tonight?"

Ezra rolled his eyes. "Mr Larabee..you have no idea." He put down his cards and picked up his glass slipping the whiskey inside. "How are you faring? Feeling better I hope."

"Much better," Chris replied as he sipped his own whiskey, eyes roaming

the room.

"Are you looking for someone, Mr Larabee?" Ezra asked helpfully. "If it is Mr. Tanner you are seeking, I haven't seen him for a while."

"Nope. Already found vin," Chris replied as his eyes came to rest on a saloon girl.

Ezra raised his eyebrows. "You seek companionship then Mr Larabee," he asked. "She is very fine...I'm sure she can oblige you."

"Chatty tonight, aren't ya?" Chris replied without taking his eyes off the girl.

Ezra looked at Chris indignantly and resumed shuffling his cards. "I apologize for being sociable, Mr. Larabee....and promise it will not happen again."

"Just deal the cards," Chris ordered as he turned his attention to the table.

Ezra silently dealt the cards and picked up his hand, trying not to raise an eyebrow when he saw what a good hand he had dealt himself.

The pair played several games before Chris finally drifted over to the saloon girl and moved away to a dark corner. When Nathan and Buck entered the saloon a short time later, Chris could be seen with the girl in his lap, eyes closed, a smile on her lips as Chris nibbled and kissed her neck. Occasionally, the smile would vanish, replaced by a look of pain as Chris would grip her harder and bite a little rougher at her neck before

settling down and continuing his minstrations. Nathan bit his lip, looking around for Vin.

Ezra saw Nathan watching Chris. "He is certainly making up for lost time tonight, Mr. Jackson," he stated. "Was it Mr Larabee you were seeking or someone else?"

"Just looking for a drink is all," Nathan replied as he and Buck joined Ezra. He looked at Ezra, stopping himself from doing a double take when he saw a familiar, frightening mark peeking out from beneath Ezra's collar.

'Oh shit,' he thought, quickly looking away and nodding to Inez as she placed a beer in front of him and one for Buck.

He looked over at Buck, suddenly having a terrible thought. Could he be caught up in this too? He scratched along his jaw and tilted his head, trying to see Bucks neck without drawing attention to that fact. When he couldn't see any marks he wanted to whoop for joy....at least there were three of them that hadn't been bitten....that is if Vin's absence didn't mean he had fallen victim to the demon.

Vin entered the saloon just as the thought left Nathan's mind. The tracker stopped when he saw Chris, studying him for a second before moving to join the other three. "Boys," he greeted softly, nodding toward Chris. "Doing a lot better ain't he?"

"Yeah, a little too much better." Nathan replied quietly.

"Hell Nathan." Buck added heartily. "I'm proud o' him. He's gettin' himself right cosy and set up for the night.....i've taught him well." He cocked his head and winked, a huge smile plastered across his face.

"Hey!" the girl shrieked and stood as Chris quickly stood, a hand pressed to his head. "Go home," he rasped as he turned and moved quickly to the bar.

The girl watched him, hand pressed to her neck before turning and hurrying out of the saloon.

Vin and Nathan shot each other a look and then both looked disapprovingly at

Buck who was laughing heartily. "Reckon Chris was playin' a bit too rough."

he blurted through his laughter.

"Yeah, well i reckon it was a bit more than that." Vin said, so only Nathan

could hear.

"Senor Chris?" they heard Inez saying, "are you all right?"

"Fine," Chris muttered back, then caught her hand as she placed a whiskey in front of him. A startled look crossed her face and she pulled a little, but Chris didn't release her. He didn't even seem to notice her resistance as he stared at her wrist.

Vin could not sit back any longer. He sprung to his feet and moved swiftly over to where Chris continued to hold Inez tightly.

"Chris," the Texan hissed. "Let her go, can't ya see yer hurtin' her? What's wrong with you?"

He grabbed Chris's wrist and tried to prise his hand from around Inez's.

Chris blinked and let go, looking at Vin with glazed eyes. "Vin," he murmured. "What's happening to me?"

"Not rightly sure pard." Vin answered...wincing at the look of desperation

on his friends face. "But we'll figure it out...i swear we'll figure it out."

"I don't feel so good," Chris mumbled as he turned away and staggered

toward the door. Outside, he slipped down to a knee, gritting his teeth before struggling to his feet and wandering down the boardwalk, not really seeing where he was going.

Vin followed Chris through the doors and went to grab his arm when he fell but he felt his own arm grabbed. Spinning around he came face to face with Nathan. "Let go o' me Nate, he needs help. Whats gotten int' you?"

"I wanna see where he goes and what he does," Nathan replied, "We gotta follow him without him seein' us Vin...we'll learn more that way."

Chris moved carefully down the street and before long, it sounded like low growls were escaping his throat. He stopped, running an agitated hand through his hair and glancing around. Seeing the girl he had been with earlier, he watched for a couple of seconds before ducking into an alley.

Vin and Nathan both sighed, sure that Chris knew that they were following him.

"Whay d'we do now?" Vin asked quietly. "We can't...."

"Shhh," Nathan cut him off and grabbed his sleeve, dragging him into the cover of shadows. "Look." He pointed and they both watched as the saloon girl approached the alley that Chris had disappeared into.

The second the girl was in reach, Chris darted out, grabbed her and pulled her into the alley, her shriek of surprise cut off as he covered her mouth. He pressed her up against the wall and let her see who it was. "Shh," he whispered. "I'm not going to hurt you." His eyes moved to her neck and he licked his lips as his heart began beating hard and fast.

"We gotta do somethin' Nate. He's likely bitin' her or somethin'. I hate t' say it but I don't trust him." Vin's rambles were met by shakes of Nathan's head. The healer winced at the desperate tones, but knew they had to wait a few more seconds.

"Vin, we gotta know for sure...we can't go and interrupt yet."

"But, what if we wait too long?" Vin asked. "Are you willin' to take responsibility for that?"

Chris closed his eyes, struggling to breathe as the girl stared at him wide eyed, waiting to see what he would do. He opened his eyes, leaned in and gently kissed her neck before stepped back and saying heavily, "Go."

The girl wasted no time in rushing from the alley and Chris turned and sunk down to the ground, head coming to rest on his knees and he struggled for control.

Vin broke free from Nathan's grip when he saw the girl run from the alley.

"That's it Nate, I ain't waitin' any more." He broke into a run and skidded to a halt when he entered the alley. His eyes fell on the slumped form of Chris Larabee and with a curse he hurried to his side, Nathan close on his heels.

Chris heard Vin and someone else's arrival, but didn't look up. He stayed where he was, breathing deeply. A low growl did escape his lips however, when the pair got close.

"Vin, easy. He could be dangerous," Nathan whispered uncertainly as he heard

the growl.

"Hell Nate," Vin said angrily over his shoulder. "Chris is my friend...yours too. Whatever's wrong with him, I'm not gonna turn m' back on him at the first sign of trouble. Whether it's dangerous or not."

He turned his attention to his friend then and tentatively placed a hand on Chris' shoulder. "You alright pard? You hurt yerself?"

Chris' reply was another low growl as he tensed at the touch. After a few seconds, his muffled voice said, "Get away from me, Vin. I... don't wanna hurt you."

Vin shook his head. "No can do Chris. I ain't no fair weather friend. If yer in trouble, then so am I." He grabbed Chris by the arm. "Let me help y'up. Nathan's here too. He can take a look at ya if yer need 'im."

Chris allowed Vin to pull him to his feet, swaying slightly. Then, moving fast, Chris grabbed Vin and slammed him into the wall. He turned a bit to kick Nathan back before turning his attention back to Vin. His eyes had a wild look as he pressed Vin into the wall, breathing hard again. "What's...happening to... me?"

Vin's heart pounded from the initial shock of Chris' attack but he collected himself and concentrated on the situation. "Yer just mixed up from the attack Chris. Chanu and Ko-Je helped you out some but until we find the demon yer gonna feel a mite strange."

Vin looked over at Nathan, needing reassurance that he was not alone. "It's gonna be okay Chris. Ya just have to trust us. Yer gonna be okay, i swear."

He winced at the strong grip that Chris had on him. The gunslinger seemed to have abnormal strength and the pressure of being held hard against the wall was taking its toll on the tracker.

Chris closed his eyes and sagged against Vin. "I...feel so st...strange. Hungry but...i don't understand for what." His mouth was next to Vin's neck and he drew in a sharp breath as he opened his eyes and saw the pulse beating there. He moved closer, drawn to it.

Nathan's eyes widened as he saw what he thought was about to happen. Stepping forward quickly he reached for Chris's arm, easing him away from Vin. "Easy," he said soothingly, giving nothing of his fears away. "I gotcha Chris......ya need t' lie down. Clinic or your room...your choice, but the only two you get."

"You're afraid," Chris whispered as he looked at Nathan. "Why can I feel that?" He swayed again, his vision going in and out of focus.

Nathan took a firm hold on Chris's arm to steady him. "Not afraid of ya Chris. Afraid for ya. Though i was a bit worried about what you were doin' to Vin." He looked closely at the black clad man. "Alright my choice now, clinic."

Chris resisted only a moment before surrendering and letting Vin and Nathan take him to the clinic, where he fell onto the cot and slipped into sleep immeadiately. Nathan carefully opened Chris' mouth and peered inside.

Vin moved up alongside him and tried to see inside too. "Don't tell me yer lookin' fer fangs," he said jokingly.

"That's exactly what I'm looking for," Nathan replied, letting Chris' mouth close and then stepping back. "Nothing yet. Don't know if that's a good sign or a bad one."

Vin sat heavily on the bed and sighed in frustration. "Nate, you gotta finish readin' that book o' yers. The sooner we figure this whole thing out the better." He looked down at his sleeping friend. "Don't think he can take much more. An' i sure as hell ain't about t' give up m' friends without a fight."

"It's a thick book, Vin," Nathan replied with a sigh. "Lot of information."

He looked at Vin carefully, then nodded to the other cot. "Why don't you get some sleep? I'll watch after Chris."

"You look like you need sleep more'n i do doc," Vin answered, but could not stifle a yawn. He looked at Nathan guiltily. "Okay, okay. I'll lay down fer a while then I'll take over so's you can get some rest."

+ + + + + + +

Chris woke a couple hours later, feeling even more hungrier than he had. Looking over, he found Vin in the next cot, fast asleep and his hunger increased. Slowly, he sat up, never taking his eyes from Vin and his movements became predatory as he prepared to descend on his victim. He didn't notice Nathan in the corner, who had been reading and had looked up when Chris had started moving.

Nathan's eyes widened in horror as he watched Chris slowly and silently make his way over to Vin. The healer was worried about calling out, which was what his immediate reaction was to do...in case it startled Chris too much and made matters worse. But at the same time, he couldn't just stand by and watch Vin being attacked by his best friend. His heart hammered in his chest as he slowly put down the book and prepared to intervene.

Vin sensed the shadow looming over him the moment he started to wake up. Every fibre of his being warned him of danger.

His eyes shot open wide as he felt the presence grow nearer and gasped when he saw Chris's face set in a sneer and only two feet above him. He heard a low growl, a hiss and a shout at the same time as he thrust his arm up in front of his head instinctively...to shield him from attack. That was enough to set Chris into motion.

With a savage snarl, he lept on Vin, ready to tear him apart, not recognizing his friend at all. Vin cried out in pain as Chris's teeth bit into his hand. When Chris realised he had not found his mark he released his hold and snarled. Vin, sidetracked by the painful throbbing in his hand, wasn't ready for his assailants next move. A hand clamped against the side of his head and another held him tightly at the legs.

As he felt Chris's teeth break the skin on his neck he sagged, awaiting the inevitable. He couldn't fight against the strength that pinned him down, he knew, if he survived, that he would probably have a black eye just from where Chris's hand was holding his head down. He closed his eyes and sucked in his breath...and began to pray.

"NO!!" Nathan's voice bellowed around the room, as he picked up the first object he came to and hit Chris hard over the head with it.

Chris immediately went limp, slipping a bit to the side as the hard blow knocked him out. "Vin!" Nathan shouted, pushing Chris off the tracker so he could see the other man. "Vin, can you hear me?"

Vin's head was throbbing, and he felt disorientated. Groaning he opened his eyes slowly and gradually the blur in front of him turned into Nathan. "'m fine Nate," he croaked, reaching a hand to his sore neck. Realisation suddenly dawned and his eyes flew open wide. "Chris! Where's Chris? He okay?"

"He's right next to you. Had to knock him out," Nathan replied as he moved around to look at Chris. He checked the man's pulse, then gathered him up and put him back in the other bed. He then moved to another corner of the room, searched around for a moment, then came back with a set of ropes, immeadiately beginning to tie Chris down.

Vin couldn't believe what he was seeing and raised himself slowly to a sitting position, his head spinning at the effort. "What the hell d'ya think ya doing?" he asked the healer. "Get them ropes away from him, there's no way yer gonna tie him up." He stood and immediatley fell back down on the cot. "Ah hell, where've m' legs gone?" he groaned.

Nathan glared at Vin. "You want me to leave him free to probably kill you next time? Or someone else?"

He finished tieing the ropes, then turned Chris' head gently and pried open his mouth. "Shit," he whispered when his suspicions were confirmed. Two of Chris' teeth had begun to change, becoming very slightly, but very definetely pointed. He moved away from Chris, getting some bandages and a bottle of whiskey. "Lay down," he ordered Vin, pushing the other man down so he could tend the wound.

Vin did not argue, his head was pounding and he still felt a little out of it. he turned his head to look at Chris and swallowed hard. "What d'ya find, Nate?" Vin asked quietly, fear creeping into his voice. "His teeth'r changin'.... right?"

Nathan nodded shortly and silently, keeping his attention on Vin's wound. Chris growled softly in his sleep, but gave no signs of coming around.

"Ahh!!" Vin exclaimed, jerking away from Nathans hand. "That hurts a mite. Can't ya leave m' neck, and see t' my hand instead...that hurts more." The glare on his face was short lived as he settled back again and asked "So does it say anythin' in that book 'bout whats happenin' t' Chris? He didn't know me doc, i'd swear he didn't know he was attacking me."

"Probably didn't," Nathan replied, looking up at a knock on the door. It opened and Buck came in, saying, "There's a rumor going around that Chris attacked...what the hell? What happened?"

"That damn bite is what happened," Nathan replied with a sigh as he turned his attention back to Vin. "He's changing and changing fast. Just tried to make Vin a meal."

"Aw hell," Buck muttered, running a hand through his hair as he looked from Vin to Chris and back again.

Nathan glanced over at Chris, then said, "Buck, I need you to run down to the saloon and have Inez fix up a steak. Rare."

Buck screwed up his noe. "For Chris?" he asked.

"Yeah," Nathan replied, tying off the bandage he had wrapped around Vin's hand. "I don't want a repeat performance of this." He indicated the bandage with a nod of his head. "Next time, there might not be someone around to stop him."

He gazed at Chris for a moment, then added, "So far, out of everything I've read, one thing is consistent. The moment a victim who is changing drinks human blood, it's the end. There ain't no getting them back after that. That's why the rare steak. If we gotta go out and slaughter a cow to give Chris its blood, then that's what we gotta do. Anything to keep him away from human blood." He looked at Buck. "Hurry up. Not sure when he's gonna come to but when he does, he's going to be a lot worse than he was just a few minutes ago."

Buck nodded and hurried out. A soft chuckle from Vin made Nathan look at him questioningly. "Whats so funny?"

"I reckon when this is all over i got somethin' t' tease Chris about....hell, i know he likes 'is meat...but raw?" He chuckled again and then hissed in pain as Nathan applied whiskey to his neck wound.

"Doubt he'll even remember it," Nathan replied as he pressed a little rougher than needed.

Vin grabbed Nathans hand in reflex. "Ow, easy Nate." He sighed as the pressure was relieved a little bit. "Yeah, reckon yer right, he's pretty out of it. Guess he's under some kind of influence or other, 'n he'll be wonderin' what we're talkin' about when we mention what he's been doin' lately." A wicked smile broke out on his face, defying the tension he was fe eling inside. "Could still be fun, teasin' 'im. Have 'im worryin' on what he did that he doesn't remember."

Nathan gave him a disaproving look before carefully placing a bandage over the wound. He looked over at Chris, who had started growling softly again and shook his head. "Have to wonder why the others aren't like this."

Vin followed Nathan's eyes over to Chris and frowned at the soft growl he heard. "Yeah, he is actin' different. Never thought of that." For a brief moment his stomach filled with dread, wondering if Chris was beyond help. Then he remembered Chanu and Ko-Je's words and he relaxed again. "Hope the others don;t start actin' the same way, if they go around attacking people we'll have t' change the name of the town t' Two fangs."

Nathan threw Vin a dark look. "Dammit Vin now ain't the time for jokes," he muttered as he started cleaning up. "I don't know who to be more terrified for. Chris or the other three."

Vin sighed and sat up slowly, putting his feet on the ground and resting his head in his hands. He ran his fingers through his hair and then looked up at Nathan. "Mebbe we should be scared fer all or 'em Nate...and ourselves too," Vin said finally. "Now i'm gonna go get some air and leave you t' that book...the sooner it gives us some answers, the sooner we can stop bein' terrified fer everybody."

Nathan turned back to him, shaking his head. "You're not going anywhere. Not till i'm satisfied you're all right so you just lay back down and try and get some more sleep."

Vin stared hard at the healer for a few seconds and then decided he was probably right. With another sigh, he slowly nodded his head and swung himself back onto the cot. "Jest for a bit. Then i'm out o' here." He yawned and closed his eyes. "Holler if ya need help with chris."

Right on cue, the door opened and Buck came back in, carrying a plate with a bloody steak on it and grimace on his face. "How anyone can eat a rare steak is beyond me," he said, passing it to Nathan. "How ya feeling Vin?"

"'m fine Bucklin," Vin answered without opening his eyes. "Nathan's jest got it in his head 'm supposed t' be tired, so i'm humourin' him."

Nathan muttered something that sounded dirty, then froze as he turned toward Chris. Chris' eyes were open and he was staring straight at Nathan with bloodlust in his eyes. The second Nathan's eyes met his, Chris began snarling and struggling against the ropes. "What the hell...?" Buck started towards the bed. "Nathan? What's he doing? Is he alright? Shouldn't we let 'im go?"

"Stay back Buck!" Nathan warned. "Be prepared to take him down if this doesn't work," he added as he carefully approached.

"Chris!" he called sharply. When he had the other's attention, he manuevered the steak so Chris could see it. Immediately, Chris growled and started struggling again, eyes locked on the steak.

"Stop struggling!" Nathan ordered. "I'm gonna untie you so you can have this. Stop struggling!"

He positioned the plate above Chris' chest and Chris stilled, watching it. Move carefully, Nathan untied just one hand. The second it was free, Chris snatched the steak and began eating as though he were a wild animal. Buck stood by the side of the cot and watched the proceedings with his mouth wide. Eventually, he gathered himself together enough to speak.

"Now I see why he was tied now Nathan. But hey, we can't keep him tied up the whole time we're lookin' for this demon."

"I don't think we'll have to," Nathan replied, eyes locked on Chris. "Just wait a minute. Want to see something."

They watched as Chris continued devouring the steak and, as he neared finishing it, a noticeable change came over him. The wild, dangerousness was quickly disappearing and the normal Chris was returning. By the time the steak was gone, Chris was there, looking confused and exhausted.

"N...Nathan?" he murmured right before he passed out.

"What does that mean, Nathan? He's gonna be okay just because he ate some raw meat?" Buck asked. "Hell if that's the case, lets round up the others and give some to them to."

"Don't reckon it's gonna be that easy Bucklin," Vin cut in, raising himself onto his elbows.

Nathan was nodding slowly and thoughtfully. "I think for now, we'll be able to control him by giving him a steady diet of animal blood. As gruesome as that sounds, it's a hell of a lot better than having him try to rip your throat out."

"I can agree with ya there." Vin said, gently rubbing the dressing on his neck. "Don't reckon i can watch him eat that though, pretty ugly, huh Buck?"

Buck shuddered, nodding.

"All right, Buck, get out of here and let Vin rest. Chris will probably be out till morning and we'll see what happens then."

Buck nodded again, and with a wink in Vin's direction he left the clinic. Vin sighed after receiving a stern look for Nathan and laid his head once more on the pillow. There was no way he could get to sleep now, after all that Nathan had said. Just the thought of feeding Chris a pile of raw meat made his stomach roll over. 'When will it all end?' he thought just before his body and mind betrayed him and he fell into a heavy sleep.


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