Dark Times
Broken Friendships

by Jackie and Lanna

It was one in the morning. Chris paced his room restlessly, wide awake. Course, he had slept most of the day, so it would stand to reason that he would be awake now. He understood the wakefulness, but not the restlessness. Finally, he decided to get some air. He knew Vin was more than likely close by and would help if anything happened. Choice made, Chris left his room and went outside.

He prowled the streets, uncertain of the feeling stirring in his gut, only able to pinpoint that he loved the darkness.

Turning onto another street, he stopped when he saw a woman walking quickly, a cowboy following very closely behind. It was obvious she did not want to be around him and that he had other plans. Moving quickly into an alley, Chris waited and, sure enough, the cowboy made his move. He grabbed the woman, wrapping a hand around her mouth and began dragging her toward the alley Chris was in. When they were within striking distance, Chris made his own move. He darted out, struck the cowboy and grabbed him when he dropped the woman in surprise. Growling, Chris pulled him into the alley, heedless of the woman's shrieks and slammed the cowboy up against the wall.

"The lady don't want you," he snarled and the cowboy's eyes widened in fear. Fear. Chris could smell it. Taste it and then he knew why he was restless. All the steaks he'd had that day had only pushed his hunger back to a more tolerable level. Animal blood just wasn't cutting it. He needed something better. And this cowboy was just the one to supply him with it.

He grinned, the fear pouring off the man in waves further enticing him.

Vin had seen Chris leave his room and had followed him at a safe distance. He didn't want the gunslinger to feel like he was a prisoner and so he held back a little. He watched as Chris darted into an alley, and wondered if he had been spotted and Chris was trying to lose him, but then he saw one of the cowboys that had arrived in town that day grab a woman and drag her into the alley. "Ah hell, this ain't good," he muttered as he broke into a run.

"Wha...what the hell are..are you?" the cowboy finally managed to cry out.

Chris grinned again. "Your worst nightmare," he purred and licked his lips as he prepared to suck the life from the other man.

Vin ran into the alley and took in the scene. The woman was sitting on the floor sobbing and Chris had the cowboy pinned up against the wall. Vin approached cautiously, hearing the strange sounds coming from his friend. "Heck what do I think I can do?" he asked himself as he saw Chris raise his head up and lower it over the cowboy's neck.

"Mr. Tanner!" the woman cried out when she spotted him. "Do something!"

Chris paused as the woman's words entered his mind. Great, Vin was here. He turned his head to look at his friend and a smile played across his lips. He turned back to his prey, jerked him close and pressed his teeth into the neck, not hard enough to break skin but clearly about to.

"Chris no!" Vin cried out as he ran towards the two men. "Don't do it pard, c'mon. Let me help ya." Vin's heart was beating fast, and he remembered Nathan's words about Chris being able to feel heartbeats. He tried to steady his breathing and waited for Chris to respond to his words.

"Walk away, Vin," Chris replied softly. "I need this. It's starting to hurt. I need this."

"If ya do it, there's no goin' back Chris," Vin said softly. He walked until he was only a few short feet away. "But, whatever ya decide, I'm not walkin' away. I'll shoot ya if I have to."

That got Chris' attention. He hit the cowboy, dropping the unconscious man to the ground, then slowly turned to face Vin, a small smile playing across his lips. "A threat Vin? Awfully bold coming from a man's who's heart is racing like a train."

"Don't matter whether my heart's racin' or not," Vin replied, glad that Chris had released the cowboy...for now. "Point is, it ain't gonna stop me shootin' ya if I have to." He brought the point home by placing his hand over his holster.

Chris laughed softly, enjoying the show. "Why don't we test that little theory, hm?" he said as he began closing the distance between them, grinning chillingly.

Vin's heart sank. Chris was calling his bluff. He grabbed his gun, cocked it, and held it with both hands, ready to fire. "Don't make me do it Chris. You know I don't want to," he said, his eyes looking at Chris pleadingly.

Chris only laughed again and continued his advance. Abruptly, he stopped, a puzzled look entering his eyes. With a growl, he spun around, only to be thrown to the ground where he remained, unmoving. A block of wood lay next to him. JD stepped from the shadows, holding a second block of wood, a tiny smile playing across his lips.

"Going a little loco ain't he?" he remarked as he knelt down and felt Chris' pulse.

Vin eyed the younger man warily. "Reckon so," he said as he put his gun away distractedly.

He knelt at the other side of Chris and then looked up at JD. "Where'd you spring from all of a sudden?" he asked, putting a protective hand on Larabee's shoulder.

"Was out walking, heard all the noise and came down the other end of the alley," JD replied.

Vin nodded and then turned his attention to Chris. "Can ya help me get 'im back to his room, JD?" he asked. "Thank you Mr. Tanner," came a quiet female voice behind him. He turned and smiled at the grateful face of the woman who had been attacked. "Was nothin' ma'am," he answered. "Reckon it was Chris who really saved ya."

"What about that cowhand?" JD asked, nodding toward the man as the woman hurried away.

"We can come back fer him, he ain't goin' nowhere fer a while," Vin replied. "If we see one o' the others, mebbe they can lock him up in the jailhouse."

JD nodded, then helped Vin get Chris back up to his room. "He ain't doing so good is he," he commented as he gazed down at the gunslinger.

"No he's not, JD," Vin said quietly. He didn't tell the younger man about Chris' other problems, he still didn't trust him, and was sure as hell not gonna play into Calhoun's hands. "JD? Can ya go an' fetch Nathan? Reckon he should take a look at the bump on Chris's head."

JD nodded and left. Several moments later, Nathan hurried in. "JD told me what happened. You okay?" he demanded.

Vin frowned. "Why wouldn't I be?" He nodded towards the bed without waiting for an answer. "It's Chris who's not. He had another spell. Attacked a cowhand, but I managed to stop 'im before he could do anythin'. He turned on me and then JD showed up and hit 'im over the head."

"Wonder what JD was doing out at this time of night," Nathan murmured as he checked Chris over.

"Wondered that m'self Nate." Vin watched the healer as he worked. "He okay?"

"Yeah he should be. Just a good bump on the head." Nathan sat back and frowned, going into deep thought. "Wanna share yer thoughts Nathan?" Vin asked. "'cause right now, mine are all jumbled."

"It's just...strange that JD happened to show up. Even stranger that he helped. It's been pretty obvious he ain't so fond of you and I've seen plenty of looks that indicate he'd love to see you six feet under. So why did he help?"

Vin sighed and sat on the corner of the bed. "Ya got me there Nathan. I was surprised to see 'im help too. Reckon he would've been more likely t' watch Chris kill me."

Nathan gave Vin a deeply serious look. "I think you'd better watch your back, Vin. I'm getting a real bad feeling, here."

Vin felt the hairs on the back of his neck bristle. "Hell Nate, I'm jumpy enough as it is. No need t' make me feel worse."

"Sorry. Just be careful, all right?"

"Sure Nathan," Vin answered with a nod of his head. "How long d'ya reckon before Chris wakes up?" he asked, changing the subject.

"Don't know. Could be a few minutes, could be a few hours." He looked at Chris as the other man stirred. "Or it could be now. Chris? Chris can you hear me?"

"I'm gonna kill the sonofabitch who hit me," Chris muttered as a hand moved to his head. Vin chuckled. "Well I'm safe then. He didn't give me the chance t' shoot ya!"

"Shoot me? What the hell...aw hell. I hurt anyone?"

"No permanent damage Chris. 'n no one who didn't deserve it. I'll tell ya about it when ya feelin' better." Vin stood up and started pacing around the room. "I'm getting a mite bored with waitin' fer all this t' come to an end, how 'bout you two?"

"You working out a plan, Vin?" Nathan asked, exchanging a glance with Chris. Vin looked at the two men and slowly nodded his head. "Yeah, and I know where t' start. I'm goin' t' see Calhoun."

Chris and Nathan both blinked. "Calhoun?" Nathan exclaimed. "What for?"

"Cos that's when all this mess started, an' I'm willin' t' bet he's knee deep in it. Jest gotta figure out how." Vin's voice grew deflated as he ended. How could he go up to Calhoun and start spouting off if he didn't have a clue were to start? he sighed and looked up at his two friends. "Guess i can't go see him can I?"

"Get some sleep, Vin," Nathan suggested. "You're near exhaustion. Something has to break soon."

"Yeah, I just wish it was Calhoun's neck," Vin answered with feeling. He yawned and looked guiltily at Nathan. "Okay, okay. I'll get some sleep. Want me t' stay here? Otherwise I'll head for m' wagon."

"Go on, I'll be all right," Chris said and Nathan nodded, waving a hand. "I'll stick around a while."

Vin nodded and left the clinic, feeling relieved that he didn't have to watch Chris for a while, and then feeling guilty for being selfish. He shook his head hard, to banish any thoughts from his mind...he was too tired to think right now. He walked slowly to his wagon and crawled inside. Laying on his back, one hand on his gun, he fell asleep almost immediately.

+ + + + + + +

It had been night for an hour the next day when a solemn Buck entered the saloon. He moved to the table shared by Chris, Vin and Nathan. Chris and Vin were having quiet drinks while Nathan was deeply involved in the book. He looked up, however, when Buck sat down and said, "That cowboy you fellas locked up last night is dead."

"How?" Nathan asked quickly.

"Same as the others."

Vin cast his eyes over to Nathan and raised his eyebrows before turning back to Buck. "Where'd they fin 'im?" he asked before turning his eyes towards Chris, to gauge his reaction to the news.

"They didn't find him, I found him," Buck replied. "Still in the jail. Was going to let him out and there he was, dead. Just like the others."

"Don't look at me," Chris said, "I didn't do it."

"Never said ya did, Pard," Vin answered him. Not that Chris would have known if he had done it. "Can't believe it happened practically under our noses." He frowned. "Don't ya reckon it's weird that the creature or whatever darn name ya wanna call it, attacked the same cowhand that Chris attacked earlier?" he asked.

"Whatcha thinking, Vin?" Buck asked. "All I'm thinkin' is that, if Chris didn't do it, then maybe JD could shed some light on who did. After all, he was in the alley, he saw the cowhand and knew where he was." Vin still wasn't convinced that Chris hadn't done it, judging by his previous behavior, but it was also a possibility that JD could have had something to do with it, after all he had been bitten by the vampire.

"Hell," Chris muttered as he picked up his whiskey glass and watched the liquid swirl, "It was probably Calhoun. Has to keep his little pet or whatever it is fed, after all."

"Who's com'n with me t' have a word with Calhoun then?" Vin asked.

Chris tossed his drink back and stood, zeroing in on where Calhoun sat with JD and Josiah. The two men walked over to the table. "Calhoun, we need t' talk," Vin said, leaving no room for argument.

Calhoun gave a friendly smile and nodded to the empty chairs. "By all means, gentlemen. Please, have a seat."

Chris and Vin looked at each other and nodded, both taking a seat. "Gonna come straight t' the point," Vin said, glancing at Josiah and JD in turn. "Where were ya last night? who were ya with and did ya go anywhere near the jail?"

Surprise flashed through all sets of eyes. "Well," Calhoun replied slowly, "I was with Josiah in the church. We were having a heavy philosophical discussion that lasted until dawn." He smiled. "Been a long time since I've had one of those."

Josiah nodded agreement. "Refreshing."

"Only time I was near the jail was to put the prisoner in," JD added. "Why? What happened?"

"He's dead," Chris replied, staring straight at Calhoun, who stared back unwaveringly. Vin smiled wryly. "You got an awful innocent look on yer face there Calhoun, but it don't quite wash with me, I reckon yer mixed up in this up to yer eyes an' I'm not gonna lay up 'til i prove it."

"Back off, Vin," Josiah warned softly. "John was with me all night. And unless you plan on calling me a liar and arresting the both of us, I suggest you two go back to your drinks."

"Well ya know Josiah, I'm not sure we do believe ya," Chris started. Vin felt relief flood through him, he'd felt alone, even with Chris at his side, thinking that the blond would not back him up.

"Ya see," Vin continued. "He's got a hold on ya Josiah, reckon you would lie fer him. Now, we gonna talk here or someplace else?"

"Nothing to talk about," JD growled. "You two don't have any proof about any of this!"

"Maybe not, but I'm wonderin' what would happen if we locked y'all up in the jail. Reckon there'd be no more killin' then?" Vin raised an eyebrow as he asked the question. He knew he'd probably gone too far, but he was weary and just wanted the whole thing over.

John's hand snapped out and grabbed JD just as the boy was about to shoot out of his chair. Before he could say anything, Ezra was there. "Gentlemen, is there a problem?"

"None that I'm sure Calhoun here couldn't help out with," Chris answered, narrowing his eyes at the gambler. "I'm beginning to think that one or two of you could probably shed some light too. So I think maybe we should all head to the jail and figure this whole thing out."

"No reason we can't stay right here and 'figure this all out,'" Josiah replied, taking a sip of his drink.

"Gentlemen," John spoke up calmly, "If I can produce another witness as to my whereabouts last night, would that satisfy you?"

Vin and Chris looked at each other and nodded. "Sure, Calhoun. Just as long as they're reliable," Chris told him.

John nodded toward another table. "That young lady on the right was with us all night." He smiled fondly. "Turns out she has quite the mind for philosophical debates."

Josiah grinned despite his anger. "Can talk a man under the table all right."

"So all of ya were here? JD and Ezra too?" Vin asked, receiving a nod from each man in turn. He turned two desperate eyes to Chris. 'Now what?' he asked silently as Chris looked back at him.

Chris silently stood and moved over to the table Calhoun had pointed out. He talked with the woman in question for a few moments, tipped his hat and returned to the table, but didn't sit down.

"Let's go," he murmured to Vin, eyes moving to Calhoun and locking. "Where to?" Vin asked, standing as he spoke. "You got a lead? Or did she just let these guys off the hook?"

Chris didn't reply. His eyes were glued to Calhoun's.

JD, Josiah and Ezra glanced at each other. Vin looked from Calhoun to Chris and back again. He wasn't sure what was happening but he didn't like it. He clamped a hand hard on Chris' arm. "C'mon then Chris, I'm waitin' on ya."

Chris blinked and looked at Vin, glanced back at Calhoun, then let Vin lead him away, back to their own table.

"Well?" Buck demanded.

"Nothin' doin'," Vin answered, sitting down with a deep sigh. "So unless anyone else's got any ideas, we're right back where we started." A look of mischief suddenly came across his face, making Buck wonder for the thousandth time since he'd known Vin, how he could turn something bad humorous. He nearly choked on his beer when Vin spoke next. "Unless you don't have an alibi, Larabee."

Chris didn't reply. He didn't even seem to have heard Vin. He was staring at his drink with a vacant look on his face, which had become a little pale.

"Chris? You need to lie down?" Nathan asked concerned. Vin glanced over at the gunslinger and then at Nathan. "Calhoun kinda got his attention over there," he said softly. "Reckon he got to 'im again?"

Abruptly, Chris grabbed his drink and downed the liquid in one shot. He glanced around. "Is it hot in here?" he asked of no one in particular.

"Nope," Buck answered, noticing the sweat on Chris's face. "You havin' a relapse ol' friend?"

Nathan put down his glass and looked at Chris. "Think it's time for more meat, Chris," he said.

"No I'm fine," Chris murmured softly. "Just need another drink." He stood and made his way to the bar, a little unsteady. Inez refilled his glass, then quickly moved away, but Chris stayed where he was, hunched over so that no one could see his face. The three men saw a look they didn't like in Inez's eyes and rose in unison, walking over to Chris. Buck placed a tentative hand on his shoulder.

"Chris, I think you need to lie down," he said softly, while Nathan and Vin looked on warily.

"Leave me alone, Buck," Chris replied, his voice little more than a low, warning growl. Vin leaned over the bar to get a better look at Chris' face, and the first thing he noticed was how much his fried was sweating. "You gettin' them urges you like a mite too much pard?" he asked quietly. "'cause if y'are, we need to get you out o' here and find you some meat."

"Leave me alone," Chris repeated, his voice now low and breathy, almost silky. He gripped the glass and took a sip, still not allowing anyone to see his face.

Nathan took matters into his own hands, and before Chris knew what was happening he grabbed his arm and spun him around to face him. "Don't hide from us Chris!" he snapped, before looking at him.

A wave of shock hit all three men. Chris' eyes had a reddish glow to them and he was baring his teeth, fangs protruding proudly. A low growl, sounding far to much like a mountain cat, escaped his lips and it looked like he was preparing to spring.

"Ah hell!" Vin cursed. "What do we do now?"

Nathan's eyes were wide and he half shrugged as Chris growled again, just before Inez let out an ear piercing scream.

The scream set Chris off and with a loud roar, he jumped up on the bar, crouching down and snarling, reddish eyes scanning for easy prey. The room erupted in shouts of terror and panic, men and women racing around, trying to get out.

"Stage four!" Nathan shouted as he was knocked to the side. "He's gone into stage four!"

"And what does that mean?" Ezra asked as he, JD and Josiah joined him. Calhoun was nowhere to be seen.

"It means the force inside him has gotten control! I doubt Chris can even hear us now!" Nathan cried back.

"We gotta do somethin'. How do we stop 'im?" Vin cried, grimacing at Chris's next growl. "I don't wanna shoot him Nate. Don't say that's the only way."

Nathan shook his head. "We gotta get him some place that can hold him. Like the jail!"

"Well then we'd better do it fast!" JD said, nodding toward Chris who had his sights set on a nearby girl. As they watched, Chris pounced, but a fast thinking cowboy grabbed the girl and ran, causing Chris to crash into a support post, cracking it. The six peacekeepers launched themselves as one while Chris was down. Each grabbed him so they had a secure hold, and prepared to get him to the jail.

Chris roared and thrashed about so hard that Buck and Nathan lost their grips, giving Chris the edge he needed. He lashed out, nails raking someone and a boot connecting with someone else. He was free in seconds.

Josiah cursed, holding his now bleeding arm. Who knew Chris' nails were so sharp? Chris froze, sniffing the air. He turned quickly, eyes zeroing in on Josiah and the blood oozing from his arm. Josiah took a couple of steps back and Chris slowly followed.

Vin lay stunned on the floor, holding his side where Chris's boot had connected with him. He saw Chris advance towards Josiah and noticed the preacher's bloody arm. Issuing a growl of his own he jumped up and, together with Nathan, JD and Buck, ran at Chris and hurled him to the ground.

"Wait!" Josiah called. "Let him come after me!" He was now by the door, watching carefully. Four heads snapped up and looked quizzically at Josiah. They saw the look in the preacher's eyes and that was enough for them to stand and let Chris go.

"What an interesting turn of events," Ezra muttered softly.

Chris' eyes had never left Josiah and the second he was free, he launched himself after the other man.

Josiah turned and ran, glancing back to make sure Chris was still with him and led the possessed man straight to the jail. He ran into a cell, turned and waited. Now came the tricky part.

Chris blocked the doorway, growling softly. Josiah swallowed and waited, watching for just the right moment. When Chris sprung, Josiah moved swiftly to one side and while Chris was getting his feet back under him, the big man ran out of the cell, slamming and locking the door behind him. He moved into the outer office and sagged against the wall, watching a very enraged Chris trying to get out.

The other six men ran into the jail and stopped abruptly at the sight of Chris snarling and trying to get out of the cell. Buck walked over to Josiah and gave him a hard pat on the back. "Well done pard. You sure knew how to handle that." Turning to Nathan he asked, "So, what happens now that he's in stage four or whatever the hell ya said it was. Will he calm down? Does he need raw meat? What?"

Nathan closed his eyes, sighing deeply. "He ain't gonna calm down or go back to reasonably normal." He opened his eyes and looked at Chris. "The only way we'll ever seen anything resembling Chris again is if he gets human blood or we kill the vampire that bit him."

He looked at Josiah, then moved over the other man. "Let me look at that arm, Josiah."

"Then we have t' kill the vampire, it's the only way," Vin said. "Just not sure how we're gonna do it. There's no clues to who they are." He took off his hat and ran his fingers through his long hair. "The only suspect we had has got an alibi for last night. I've just plum run out of ideas."

"Well there's a shock," JD muttered. "The great Vin Tanner doesn't know what to do? Think I'll go have it announced in the paper." He turned, heading for the door.

Vin bit his tongue. He didn't need any confrontations right now. He looked back at the others, and his eyes rested on Josiah's arm as Nathan tended to it. "You alright Josiah?" he asked. "He's not gonna do all this fourth stage bullshit now he's been scratched by Chris is he Nate?"

Nathan shook his head. "No, I think he'll be all right. Just make sure it don't get infected," he instructed.

Josiah nodded. "Thanks, brother."

"Okay," Vin sat heavily in a chair. "Anyone gonna come up with an idea? Reckon I'm all out."

"I gotta keep reading," Nathan mumbled, running a hand through his hair. He was beginning to look shell shocked as he glanced around the room. Josiah and Ezra didn't reply, looking at each other.

"Got somethin' you wanna share?" Buck asked the pair, having seen the look. "We'd be mighty obliged if you would, seeing' as how we're all in this together."

"Sorry brother," Josiah replied, shaking his head. "We're just as dumbfounded as the rest of you."

Vin stood up with a look of determination. "Alrighty then. Well I'm goin'. I'll walk the streets all day and all night 'til I catch 'im. See Y'all around." He glanced over at Chris who was still snarling and trying to break out of his cell before walking out of the jailhouse.

+ + + + + + +

Two days passed. In the daylight, Chris slept under the cot in the cell in an effort to hide from the sun, emerging only when night fell to eat the meat the others constantly supplied him with and then pacing the cell, growling like a caged animal and attempting to attack anything that came near.

It was the beginning of the third day when Calhoun called JD, Josiah and Ezra to him. "It is time, gentlemen. I am leaving town to attend to some last minute business. What I want you three to do is get Tanner and take him to Fox Canyon. I will meet you there tomorrow night. Understood?"

The three men couldn't help being excited. Vin had been driving them crazy with glares and questions over the last couple of days. They knew he suspected Calhoun and the sooner he was out of the way the better.

John nodded curtly to them, then turned and headed to the livery.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan's eyes were wide, his heart beating a mile a minute as he read. He was in the third to last chapter of the book and he couldn't believe it. Everything he was reading was familiar. He couldn't believe it. This was it! This was what they were facing!

Jumping up, he ran out onto the landing, eyes scanning the streets. He spotted Vin, on his way to the jail and shouted, "Vin! Vin!" even as he raced down the stairs.

Vin stopped abruptly and watched as Nathan ran towards him carrying the book that had not left his possession for the last few days. "What's the excitement all about?" the tracker asked as Nathan reached him. Realization suddenly dawned. "You figured it out Nate? You know what's happenin'?"

Nathan nodded vigorously and started pulling Vin toward the jail. "Can't explain this without Buck."

Several moments later, after having gotten Buck's attention and the three of them settled, Nathan began to explain.

"I was right, this ain't a normal Vampire we're dealing with. It's a Lamia demon! They're close relatives of Vampires. They inhabit willing human bodies in order to survive and feed on human blood just like their relatives. Because they live in human bodies, they're able to move around in the sun and crosses don't have any effect on them. Which explains why Josiah, JD and Ezra were taken!"

"So it was Calhoun all the time," Vin surmised. He slapped Nathan on the back. "Good work, pard. Now all we gotta do is figure out how t' stop 'im and get our friends back t' how they should be."

"Does it say how to do that in yer book?" Buck asked.

Nathan nodded. "Yeah. The only way to kill one of these things is to cut the heart out and burn it and the body. These things are extremely powerful when it comes to living. There are references in here to people with these things in them being shot, hanged, even burned at the steak and still surviving."

"Well, there's three of us so I reckon we can do it," Vin said confidently. "All we gotta do now is track Calhoun down and get him on his own."

"Will killing Calhoun return the others to normal?" Buck asked. "And what about Chris?"

"Well, killing Calhoun should release Josiah and Ezra. I'm not sure about Chris though. We may need to do something else for him," Nathan replied, flipping through the pages. "Hey, there's a picture here," he said off handedly, showing the drawing of a creature similar to the one Vin had seen. "That's it alright. The thing I saw in Chris's room the night he was attacked. D'ya reckon JD is hooked int' this further'n the others too Nate?"

Vin couldn't help feeling hopeful at last. There was a breakthrough and he could finally see the light looming at the end of the long dark tunnel.

Nathan looked uneasy. "I think JD may be harder to bring out of this than Josiah and Ezra. He's probably been under Calhoun's control since he met him in Eagle Bend. It's been what...Almost a month now?" He paused. "Won't really know until we get Calhoun. Let's split up and look for him. Once we know where he is, we can come up with a plan to get him."

The three men headed out of the jail and went in three directions. All three of their hearts were racing in anticipation. But at the back of their minds, there was the thought that one of them could be Calhoun's next victim, and that was the last thing they needed.

As Vin came out of a store, JD and Josiah appeared, leading three horses. "Hey Vin," JD greeted with a smile. "Josiah, Ezra and I are going for a ride. Was hoping you'd come with us. Maybe do some hunting."

Vin shook his head. "Sorry, doin' some huntin' of m' own. Mebbe another time."

"Aw that's a shame," JD replied smoothly. "Saddled your horse and everything. See?" he pointed to Vin's animal. "This is really going to disappoint Ezra," he continued. "He was really looking forward to spending time with ya."

He nodded down the street to where Ezra stood. "I think it's going to disappoint him so much, he just might shoot someone." He paused. "Uh oh, look who he's got in his sights right now." Standing across the street from Ezra, talking to some other women, were Nettie and Casey Wells. "Looks like they'll be the ones to get it once I signal to Ezra that you're not coming," JD finished with a little grin.

Vin's heart thumped against his chest, his mind trying to figure out if he would be quick enough to save Nettie and Casey if he made a move. He decided it wasn't worth it. "Alright, you win," he said quietly walking towards his horse. "If you hurt one hair on their heads I swear I'll kill y'all."

"They won't get hurt long as you do as you're told. Try anything though and it'll only take one shot to alert Ezra," JD warned as he watched Vin mount. He and Josiah then mounted as well. JD nodded to Ezra, then turned and led the other two down the street.

Vin turned to Josiah, who had a satisfied look on his face. "Mind if I ask where we're goin; an' why?" he asked the preacher.

"You'll find out soon enough," Josiah replied. "Just shut up and ride."

JD led the pair ten minutes out of town, then called a halt to wait for Ezra. Drawing his gun, he nodded to Josiah, who dismounted and began removing all of Vin's weapons.

"So I'm figurin' this is all Calhoun's dirty work yer doin'," Vin surmised. "Well, make the most of it, 'cause I'm gonna tear 'is heart out real soon," he added, through gritted teeth.

"You won't be touching him so long as I'm still breathing," JD growled back as Josiah tied Vin's hands tightly to the saddle.

JD blinked and groaned softly all of a sudden. "You all right, JD?" Josiah asked.

JD nodded. "Yeah, just need something to eat," he replied, putting his gun away and taking out a flask.

He took a long swallow from the contents, some of it leaking out and trailing down his chin, revealing it to be a red substance and definitely not water.

Vin screwed up his nose in disgust. "Can't ya see what he's turned y'into? Yer drinkin' blood fer heavens sake. What will it take t' get through to ya?"

He hated the fact that he was tied to the saddle and hoped that Nathan or Buck had seen him riding out of town and thought it strange. Because he was beginning to wonder whether he could get out of this alone.

JD grinned. "Yeah, I'm drinking blood. Not animal blood either. From a cowboy ya'll haven't found yet. John got him for me. You see, I'm becoming something far better than what I was and what you are. I'm stronger, my senses are sharper. It's amazing and wonderful."

"Yeah I'm real jealous," Vin said in disgust. He looked up as he heard a horse approach...it was Ezra.

"Well, I must confess, I found that stimulating," the gambler said as he reached them. "The power...the power."

"Yeah, that was fun wasn't it?" JD replied, moving his horse up next to Vin's. He struck fast and hard, striking Vin in the jaw hard enough to snap the other man's head around. "So was that." He grinned. "Might have some fun when we stop tonight." He reined his horse around. "Let's ride!" he shouted and kicked the horse into motion. Josiah grabbed Vin's reigns and the group thundered off.

Vin's head was whirling from the blow JD had inflicted on him. the power behind it had almost knocked him out cold. he focused on keeping his wits about him, because he knew he'd need his wits about him. Killing Calhoun was the only escape for any of them, and it looked as though it was down to him to do it.


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