Early the next morning, Chris woke with a soft moan. Fuzzy images swam through his mind. Images that didn't make a lick of sense. He tried to raise his hand to his head, but found he was tied down.
"What the hell...?" he muttered, glancing down at the ropes. Nathan voice sounded near his right ear. "Easy Chris. We had a slight problem last night, had to do it...sorry."
Chris blinked up at Nathan in confusion.
"Am I all right to untie now?" he asked, his voice raspy.
Nathan cast his eyes over Chris. "Think so, just gotta tell ya something first. You may have to change yer eating habits for a while."
Nathan cast his eyes over Chris. "Think so, just gotta tell ya something first. You may have to change yer eating habits for a while."
"Eating habits?" Chris repeated. "What are you talking about?"
Nathan sat on the edge of Chris's cot and took a deep breath. "Chris, you attacked Vin last night."
"I...I what?" Chris replied in disbelief.
Nathan held up his hand. "Calm down, he's okay. We figured you didn't know you were doing it. We fed you some raw meat and it seems to have worked...that's what I meant about changing your diet...for our sakes as well as yours."
"Raw mea...what the hell are you talking about and dammit untie me!" Chris was getting angry and he strained against the ropes.
"Alright Chris just calm down." Nathan turned serious eyes on the seven's leader. "Just to let ya know though, if you start actin' funny i'm gonna hit you over the head with something."
Chris stopped struggling and frowned as images once again tried to make themselves known. He closed his eyes, trying to bring them into focus, but to his frustration, they retreated, leaving him more confused. He opened his eyes and looked at Nathan.
"What's going on?"
"You're changing Chris, and we gotta find out how to find the demon and kill him before it's too late."
"Yer growing fangs Larabee," came a Texan voice from the other side of the room.
"I'm growing...all right, that's it. Untie me. I'm getting the hell out of this Looney bin!" Chris growled and struggled again to free himself.
"Let 'im go Nate. He seems fine," Vin told the healer, rising from the bed and coming to stand beside him. "Besides, I hate it when his face goes all red like that when he's angry, looks like he's gonna explode or somethin.'"
Chris glared darkly as Nathan untied him, carefully sitting up when he was loose and rubbing his wrists. For a couple of tense seconds, it looked like he might launch an attack, but it passed as he slowly attempted to gain his feet. "Goddamn crazy sonsofbitches," he was muttering the whole time.
"Ya know Chris, it should be me who's cursin' under m' breath. It was you who attacked me, remember?" Vin grimaced. "Oh yeah, that's right, ya don't." He looked seriously at his friend. "Honest Chris, what we're tellin' ya is the truth...look here's the evidence." Vin held up his bandaged hand and turned his head to indicate the dressing on his neck.
Chris stared at him, fuzzy images once again crawling through his mind.
Nathan stepped up to him, a small mirror in hand. "Check your teeth," he said quietly, handing Chris the mirror.
Chris looked from one to the other, then slowly held up the mirror and looked at his mouth. He paled a bit when he saw the two teeth that had grown more pointed and sharper and looked up at Vin, eyes filled with horror and fear.
"It's okay Chris," Vin said quietly, seeing the look. "We got yer back, Nathan's got it figured out...ain't that right Nathan?"
"I'm getting there," Nathan replied. "I think we can control the change with a steady supply of rare meat. But we need to find this thing and fast. I don't know how long the meat will hold you."
Chris had gone sheet white. He looked overwhelmed as he ran a shaky hand through his hair, mouth opening and closing as he attempted to speak. Finally, he managed, "I gotta get out of here." He hurried to the door, opened it and froze as the sun poured in. He took a step forward, then back in as though the light were a physical danger.
"Chris? The light botherin' ya?" Vin asked going up behind the gunslinger. He placed a hand on Chris's back and felt the tension through the fabric of his clothes. "Wanna step back inside 'til we figure this one out?"
Chris didn't reply. A low growl escaped his lips, his fists clenched and then he was outside, stalking down the stairs and into the street, heading for the livery.
"Hell Nate, he's ridin' out o' here...i'm goin' with 'im." Vin didn't wait for Nathan's response. he quickly followed Chris and entered the livery close behind him.
Nathan followed but didn't enter the livery, staying close by in case he was needed instead. Chris was quickly saddling his horse, which was giving nervous snorts, as were the other horses in the stable.
Vin walked into the stall where his horse was snorting nervously. "Easy boy," he whispered. "Reckon we're goin' fer a ride." He looked up and saw Chris saddling his horse. "Where we headed pard?" he asked.
"We aren't headed anywhere," Chris replied, his voice hard. "I'm going for a ride to try and clear my head." He pulled the cinch tight and pulled at the saddle to make sure it was secure. "Yer not goin' anywhere alone Chris. You can let me come along, or ya get tied down t' the bed again. Yer choice."
He leaned against the wood separating the two stalls and looked stubbornly at Chris. "Jest lookin' out fer ya like i said....now what's it gonna be Larabee?"
Chris spun around, rage burning in his eyes. "Don't you dare threaten me!" he snarled, the forming fangs making an appearance. He gripped his horses' reigns and started to lead the skittish animal past Vin.
Vin reached out and grabbed Chris pulling him sideways, almost making him lose his balance as he spun around. "I dare Larabee! I dare!" he spat back. "Don't you go threatenin' me 'cause I've had a belly full of all o' this an' the last thing I need right now is you takin' off to hell knows where with fangs growin' out o' yer mouth."
Chris yanked his arm away and gave Vin a shove that knocked him into an empty stall. "I need to be alone!" he shouted just before he mounted his horse and took off, narrowly avoiding Nathan who was hurrying to investigate.
Nathan rushed into the livery and to Vin's side. "Vin! You okay?" he asked as he helped the other man up.
"Yeah I'm fine," Vin answered, rubbing his shoulder. "Gotta get after 'im Nate, can't stop to talk."
"I'll go with you," Nathan replied, moving to his own horse.
"Goin' now Nathan. Yer'll have t' catch up!" Vin answered, swinging himself into the saddle and heading out of the livery...fast.
Nathan sighed. No time like the present to test his tracking skills.
+ + + + + + +
Chris rode his horse hard, not really caring where they were heading, letting the horse choose the path. Finally, they came to a large cluster of rocks and Chris reigned the black in, dismounted and left it free to wander as he climbed the rocks. When he reached the top, he lay down on his back, staring up at the sky and desperately trying to sort things out.
Vin saw Chris's horse chewing on grass and jumped off of his own horse when he reached it. He scanned the terrain and studied the ground, finally finding some signs that Chris had climbed some rocks. He began climbing, keeping as silent as he could.
Chris had the sense that he wasn't alone. He lifted his head, looked around, saw no one and lowered his head again, continuing to stare upwards. The sun had caused him a bit of pain when he had first gone out in it, but now it felt normal. Vin reached the end of his climb and peered over the top of the rocks. He saw Chris laying down and had second thoughts about disturbing him.
Chris knew for a fact he wasn't alone and sighed without raising his head. "Go away, Vin."
Vin sighed, he'd been sprung. no reason to hide now. "Sorry, can't do that Chris," he said pulling himself over the side of the rocks and walking towards his friend. "I wanna help, don't turn me away Chris." He sat down next to Chris and looked at him seriously.
Chris' eyes moved to Vin, his head staying perfectly still. "I want to be alone. If I have to shoot you, I will."
The words were threatening, but the tone was simply tired. "I can sit quiet like. An' if yer don't like me bein' here, then I guess you better shoot me." Vin knew he was pushing his luck to the limit, but he couldn't leave Chris out here alone....not the way things were going with him.
"Shouldn't you be keeping an eye on the kid?" Chris growled. "Seems to me like he's the one who needs attention right now."
"Buck can do that, he does anyway," Vin answered. "Thought you wanted to be alone...yer doin' more talkin' than I am..." He looked out at the view. "Sure is pretty round here." He clamped his mouth shut and turned back to his friend. "Sorry...forgot.....and don't think I'm not takin' yer need t' be alone serious, pard. I know how it feels, I jest figure right now you can't be alone, and if ya thought about it you'd agree with me." He turned away to look once more at the view. "There now, I've said m' piece...now either shoot me or shut the hell up and think. Don't mind me."
Chris growled softly, closed his eyes, then opened them again and stood, pacing restlessly.
Vin followed him with his eyes but stayed where he was. "Somethin' ya wanna talk about, pard?" he asked.
Chris shook his head even as he spoke. "I don't understand what the hell is happening! I feel...different. I can feel something different inside me and I..." he trailed off, growling softly. "Well, I can't deny that pard." Vin answered. "But ya know me and Nate won't let this go right? We're workin' on it, and we'll figure it out. I swear that to ya Chris.....I swear it."
Chris stopped and looked at him, then nodded, turned and sat down, legs dangling over the edge of the small cliff they were on. He looked out over the horizon, staring mostly into space.
Vin stood and walked over, matching Chris' position beside him. "Reckon you'll have to stay away from saloon girls for a while pard. Them fangs yer sportin' might get in the way."
"You really are looking to get your head knocked off ain't ya?" Chris muttered back. "Goddamn smartass."
Vin chuckled and winced when it made his neck sting. "Well, ya know me Larabee, I like t' live dangerously."
"Hello? Vin? Chris?" Nathan's voice floated up to them from the other side. Chris sighed. "You bring half the town with ya?"
"Ah hell, I forgot about Nathan," Vin answered. "Wanna ignore 'im an' hope he goes away?"
"You know damn well the horses are down there and he won't stop till he finds one of us at least."
"'N I reckon you want it t' be me he finds. Well I got news fer you Larabee. If I go down there to 'im he ain't gonna believe me when i tell 'im yer not here, so what d'ya suggest now?" Vin answered. He could understand Chris wanting to be on his own, it was just that, right at that moment it wasn't a good idea.
"Just tell him to go home. We'll be along soon," Chris replied with a sigh.
Vin nodded and walked to where he had climbed up the rocks. He got down on his knees and peered over the side, only to be met by Nathan staring back at him. "Nathan, go back t' town. I'm dealin' with this," the tracker hissed. "Reckon one more of us up here's gonna push 'im too far. We'll be along soon."
"He all right?" Nathan called back, looking reluctant to leave.
"Yeah, he's jest havin' trouble handlin' what's happening right now. He'll be fine as soon as we sort all this out. Reckon he's tryin' t' come t' terms with the changes he's goin through," Vin answered, as quietly as the distance between them would allow. He knew it would annoy Chris to hear them talking about him.
Nathan bit his lip, then nodded. "All right. Just don't take all day. No telling what's going to happen once it gets dark and he's going to need to eat soon."
"Not plannin' on takin' all day Nate! We'll be back in town real soon. Don't worry." With a parting grin, Vin raised himself to his feet and walked back to where Chris was still sitting exactly as Vin had left him. "He's goin' back, Chris. It's jest you an' me pard."
"Which I'm assuming is the best i'm going to get right now," Chris replied in a slightly dark voice. His hands, which were resting beside him, had started flexing and he never took his eyes from the horizon.
"Yer full of nice things t' say Larabee. That's what I like about you," Vin answered, trying to keep things light. He watched Chris' movements closely and knew Chris was feeling uneasy. "You ready t' go back t' town yet? Gotta eat that raw meat I know yer lookin' forward to."
Chris closed his eyes tightly, taking deep breaths and finally nodded.
The ride back to town had been mostly silent, but Vin was just relieved that Chris has relented so easily and returned with him. As they entered it was not hard to realize that the town had received visitors while they had been away. A few cowhands were milling around, and some of them were being none too quiet. "This looks like it's gonna be fun," said Vin wryly as they neared the livery. "Reckon the jails gonna be mighty full by sundown."
"Wonderful," Chris muttered, eyeing all the new people and swallowing hard. A hunger was coming over him. One that was familiar yet unfamiliar and all these people seemed to be making it worse.
"You hungry?" Vin asked as he climbed down from his saddle and began leading his horse to a stall.
Chris nodded shortly, hating himself for what he knew he was hungry for. He dismounted and led his horse into its stall, hoping to squash the feelings or something as he cared for the animal. The horse gave a nervous wicker and stomped a hoof.
Vin peered over the from the next stall and smiled. "He pickin' up on yer mood Larabee? mebbe he thinks he's yer next meal." The tracker knew he was pushing his luck with the jokes, but he at least had to try to relieve some of the tension he could feel coming from his friend.
"Maybe I should finish what I started with you!" Chris snarled, whirling around to face Vin, that horrible, hungry look racing through his eyes. He closed his eyes quickly, gritting his teeth and holding tightly to the top of the stall wall. Now, all of the horses in the livery were making nervous sounds and stomping hooves warningly.
Vin took a step backwards, startled by Chris' words. He looked around at the horses and decided it would be best to get the two of them away from the livery before they were both trampled. "Lets go get you somethin' to eat, pard...reckon i don't like the idea of bein' yer next meal," he finally managed, waiting for Chris to raise his head and look at him.
Chris nodded, swallowing hard several times before leaving the stall and heading outside. He groaned softly as the sun hit him and almost turned back to the darkness of the livery. The hunger was growing by the second, assaulting him and nearly overwhelming him. A cowhand walked by him and Chris, his attention caught, turned to follow, drawn by the scent of the only thing that could stop how he was currently feeling.
Vin grabbed him at the shoulder to stop him. "Easy pard, reckon his blood won't be good enough for ya. Too thin." He couldn't help the relief running through him when, out of the corner of his eye, he saw Nathan and Buck walking towards them.
Chris was trembling by the time the pair reached them and Nathan only had to glance at him to know he was in a craving.
"How long?" he asked Vin before looking back at Chris and frowning. Something wasn't right here. Not that this situation was right, but....
"Just got this bad. Before it was just kinda under the surface. Almost turned on me again in the livery. Reckon he needs some..." Vin hesitated. .....blood?"
Nathan nodded, still watching Chris carefully. "Buck, would you get a steak from Inez and meet us at the clinic? No reason to make this a public event."
Buck nodded and hurried off.
Chris was attempting to follow yet another cowhand and Nathan added his grip to the gunslinger's arm. "Come on, Chris. let's get you looked after," he said as he and Vin started guiding Chris toward the clinic.
Chris went without complaint, now eyeing Nathan's neck as he breathed heavily. Vin watched his friend carefully, knowing what was on his mind. He said nothing as they headed into the clinic. It was cool and dark inside and felt secure. They could contain Chris better here. Vin sat on the edge of the bed where Chris was now resting. He was willing Buck to hurry with the meat, wanting to have Chris back to normal for a while. He wondered where JD, Ezra and Josiah were...he figured they were wherever Calhoun was lurking. Feelings of frustration started to form in his stomach, he was tired of all of this, it was wearing him down...and for one brief moment wished he could just go get his horse and disappear from Four Corners for good.
"Run," Chris whispered, eyes locked on Vin. He chuckled and it was full of coldness and a hint of evil. "It'll make things more fun if you run." He was bearing his teeth, showing his fangs, which had become more pronounced in the face of hunger.
Vin looked at Chris, startled to think that he could read his mind. He searched his friend's face and only saw that he thought right. Chris really was reading his mind. "Ya know Chris, I really don't like you as a Vampire, reckon yer evil enough as yer normal self." The half joking response was to settle his own nerves as well as to maybe unsettle Chris a little.
Chris started laughing in a way that caused Nathan to immediately grip something to knock Chris out with just in case. Chris' eyes snapped to Nathan and he grinned. "I'm ready for you this time, healer," he growled. "You won't catch me like that again." He moved up along the bed, grinning and looking for all the world like he was enjoying himself. Playing with his prey.
"Chris.." Vin began, but his words were cut off when the door was thrown open and Buck walked in carrying a plate of raw meat. "What's goin' on here?" he asked, stopping short as he felt the tension in the room.
Chris straightened, eyes zeroing in on the meat. He hissed, licking his lips as he slipped gracefully from the bed, moving slowly toward Buck like he was stalking prey.
Buck held the plate at arms length, suddenly afraid of his oldest friend. "Here Chris, help yourself. It looks real good don't it?" he said softly.
"Buck, put the plate down and step away," Nathan said softly and Buck quickly did as he was told. Chris instantly pounced on it and began to devour it, putting on another gruesome show. Nathan quickly pulled the other two aside, talking in hushed tones. "Something's wrong. He's advancing too fast. According to the book, there are four stages. He's well into stage three when he should only be in stage two. Makes me believe even more that we aren't dealing with a regular vampire."
His eyes were full of deep fear. "I'm almost finished that book and I still haven't come across anything familiar."
"Hell Nathan," Vin exclaimed. "We gotta do somethin' soon, this is drivin' me insane."
"I wouldn't be worried about your sanity right now, Vin," Nathan replied softly, eyes moving to Chris who had blood dripping off his chin. "I'd be more worried about your life."
"You got a point," the tracker answered as he rubbed his sore hand. Vin screwed up his nose as he followed Nathan's gaze. "Reckon someone should teach Larabee some table manners," he said quietly.
"Be my guest," Buck muttered with a shiver. Chris suddenly stopped eating, eyes snapping to the trio and narrowing.
"Oh shit," Nathan whispered. "If either of you is afraid right now, then ya best get out of here. I think he's picking up on it."
"I ain't afraid o' Larabee," Vin answered. He looked at Buck. "So I figure that leaves you Bucklin."
"Believe me, I'm only too happy to get out of here," Buck replied, turning quickly to the door. "I'll be in the saloon."
The second the door shut, Chris laughed softly, eyeing the door and clearly thinking of going after his prey as he sucked blood off a finger. Vin leaned towards Nathan. "D'ya reckon he's gonna be back to hisself when he's done with the meat?" he asked the healer in a whisper. "'cause we got a big problem if he doesn't."
"Be ready for a fight just in case," Nathan whispered back as he watched Chris. Several minutes later, the meat was finished and Chris was sitting crossed legged, chin resting against his chest, not moving. Vin started to move towards him but was stopped by a hand on his arm and a shake of the head from Nathan. Vin glared at the healer and, from his safe position, called quietly to his friend. "Chris? hey pard, how ya feelin'?" Unconsciously the tracker had his fists balled at his sides ready to fend off an attack.
"Fine," Chris murmured, not raising his head and remaining completely still. Vin looked at Nathan and shrugged. "Can't stay here all day," he said to the healer and took a step towards Chris.
Chris slowly raised his head, watching Vin approach.
"I'm changing, Vin," he murmured. "God help me, I'm starting to like what I'm feeling."
"Stage three," Nathan said quietly, "Deep. Won't be long before he's in stage four."
"We're not gonna let ya fight this alone Chris. I told ya that," Vin said as he slowly took another step forward. Looking back over his shoulder he asked quietly, "Nathan, how long we got?"
Nathan shook his head. "I don't know. judging by how fast he's going through the stages, I'd say not more than two, maybe three days."
Chris laughed softly, eyes boring into Vin's. "Maybe I don't wanna fight it, Vin. I'm starting to feel real good. Maybe you should join me."
"No thanks Chris, I'll pass," Vin answered, finally standing by his friend. He heard the underlying current in Chris's voice, but did not react to it.
Chris snorted. "You're no fun," he claimed, pushing himself to his feet. "I need a drink," he muttered as he started for the door. "A big one."
"Reckon I could use one too," Vin agreed. "Comin' Nate?" Vin raised his eyebrows questioningly. He decided he was going to stick to Chris like glue. Where Larabee went, he went too.
Nathan was about to reply when Chris opened the door and hissed, taking a couple steps back to escape the sunlight. He growled low in his throat and a knowing look entered Nathan's eyes. Vin stepped back too, to avoid being trampled by Chris. "Hell Larabee," he cursed. "Careful where yer walkin'." The tracker turned back to look at Nathan, and flinched at the look on the healer's face.
"You positive you like these changes Chris?" Nathan asked and Chris shot the man a chilling look. Nathan gave Chris a dirty look in reply and nodded toward the door. "Go on. See how the sun makes you feel."
The second Chris turned his gaze back to the door, Nathan moved. He grabbed Chris and pushed him out, following with him and holding him against the railing. Chris cried out and began to struggle, trying to get out of the sun.
"Great isn't it Chris?" Nathan shouted. "Isn't it great how the most important thing outside of water hurts ya? You still like these changes? Eh?"
Vin's first instinct had been to pull Nathan away from Chris. But he held himself back. He realized that the healer knew more about what was going on with Chris than he did, so decided to step back and watch what happened.
Nathan kept his grip tight on Chris for a few more minutes before finally turning and pushing Chris hard back into the room. Chris landed roughly on the floor and lay there, curled up and gasping.
"You really fancy spending the rest of eternity in the dark Chris?" Nathan asked as he stepped back into the room. "You think Sarah and Adam would like that?"
Chris growled, eyes snapping open and he bared his teeth. "Don't you say their names!" he snarled.
"Nate, Vin said a little unsure of the way the healer was treating Chris. Every nerve and muscle was alert, but he was itching to go and help his friend from the floor.
"You know a better wake up call?" Nathan snapped. He looked at Chris who was looking up at him with conflicting emotions, then cursed and went back outside, leaving the door open.
Chris rolled himself over and pushed himself to his hands and knees, groaning softly at the after effects of the sun.
"Chris?" Vin asked, unsure of whether to approach him. he looked out at Nathan and then back at Chris, who was still on the floor. Making a decision he walked over and knelt beside the gunslinger, placing a hand on his shoulder. "Reckon you should listen to Nathan, he knows all about what's goin' on with ya."
Chris nodded, eyes squeezed shut. "He's right," he murmured tightly. "I gotta fight this. Sarah and Adam...they wouldn't want me to go down like this."
Vin stayed where he was, with his hand resting on Chris's shoulder, offering silent support while his friend got his thoughts together. It was hard to watch him struggling with his emotions and his new found instincts all at once. H sure as hell wouldn't have liked to be where Chris was right now.
Finally, Chris gained his feet and moved to the bed to lay down. "Reckon I'll rest for a bit. Too hard to be in the light right now," he murmured.
Vin nodded and watched as Chris settled and closed his eyes. H breathed a huge sigh of relief. It was over...for now.
A short while after Chris dropped off to sleep, Nathan came back in, looking a little calmer. "Sorry," he whispered, aware Chris was asleep. "I just had to...I don't know, shock him or something. Try and get through to him."
"Looks like it worked," Vin answered him as he sat heavily in a chair. "I'm jest wonderin' how long we've got 'til we can't bring him back any more."
Nathan didn't reply as he gently checked Chris' pulse, followed by his mouth. Noticing how the fangs had gone back to being just slightly pointy, he shook his head and sighed. They were already fully formed, popping out when needed.
"Keep an eye on his teeth if you can," he murmured quietly to Vin. "It's a good warning sign. They start to lengthen, means trouble."
"Great, now I get t' look in Chris's mouth all day," Vin replied smiling. "Reckon there's nothin' I'd rather be doin'." He frowned as a thought struck him. "What happens if we can't stop him one time, and he kills someone? D'ya figure there's no turning back then?" Another thought struck him, and he leaned forward in his chair, eyeing Chris' sleeping form. "And d'ya reckon he can be charged with murder?"
Nathan actually laughed, though there was no humor in it. "He manages to get human blood and he's done for. Right now, he only has a few of the powers Vampires have. He's stronger, but as strong as a full out vampire is and he can definitely smell or feel fear. I reckon he can hear heartbeats too." He paused, shaking his head. "No. If he gets human blood and becomes a full vampire, human laws such as murder ain't gonna mean spit." Vin nodded slowly, mulling over Nathan's words. The thought of Chris as a vampire seemed ridiculous to him, but, there it was right in front of him. Chris was turning into something, and it was seeming to Vin that it was going to be nigh on impossible stopping it from happening. He looked at the healer and sighed. "Well, at least he ain't gonna hang then."
Nathan snorted, then moved over to the corner, sat down and began to continue reading.
Vin sat silently, watching over Chris. He wondered how much more they were all going to have to endure before the demon was found and destroyed and things could return to normal. He smiled a small smile. Heck, was anything ever normal in Four Corners?
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