It was nearly ten hours later when Vin showed signs of coming around. Nathan, after getting some sleep when Buck started bullying him, looked up, glancing over at Buck who was sitting with JD. He put the book down and moved to Vin's side. "Vin? Vin can you hear me?"
"Nathan?" Vin croaked. "Where?...How?.. ah hell, m' head hurts."
"Not surprising," Nathan replied, checking the other man's pulse and pleased to find it had settled and was now strong and steady. "You're at the clinic. Do you remember what happened?"
"C..Calhoun." Vin swallowed as memories started to flash into his mind. "They took me to meet Calhoun. JD...not JD."
"What do you mean?" Nathan asked as he gently raised Vin up and helped him take some water. He lowered him back down and waited for the reply.
"JD was someone different, not himself," Vin tried to explain. "He did most of the beatin' on me. He only cared about Calhoun, didn't even care about Ezra or Josiah much. He's real taken in, Nathan, don't know if we can help 'im."
Nathan glanced over at JD. "Tell me everything you know, Vin. Josiah said something about blood when he was talking in his sleep. But he doesn't remember anything."
"Yeah, he was drinking blood 'stead o' water. He drank a lot." Vin closed his eyes and squeezed them tight. "Tryin' t' remember more, it's fuzzy."
Nathan straightened. "Was it human or animal blood?" he asked.
"Human," Vin answered. "Oh God, Nate, yeah...it was human blood."
Nathan chewed his lip anxiously, glancing over at JD and Buck. Finally, he said, "Calhoun's dead, Vin. JD collapsed as soon as we killed him and has been unconscious ever since. It's been almost four days now. I think he's in all out shock due to being under so deep and pulled out so abruptly. I'm not sure how human blood is going to come into play here but...well, we... we may not find out."
Vin slowly pushed himself up onto his elbows. "What d'ya mean by that?" he asked, glancing over at JD. "He's not gonna die is he?"
Aware that Buck was watching him intently, Nathan avoided looking at either of them as he said quietly, "I don't see how his body can take much more of this. The book says that people taken out of the control of these demons go through a little shock. Josiah did." He glanced over at the still preacher. "Was a little delayed, but it happened. He came out of it about an hour ago. But JD...he was under so deep. I...I just don't know."
"We'll bring him back Nathan. No way we're lettin' go ...no way," Vin said adamantly. "B'sides, I wanna give him a hard time 'bout beatin' on me out there," he added with a small smile.
Nathan squeezed Vin's arm, then asked, "You hungry at all?"
Vin nodded "Yeah, a mite. Don't want any o' that raw stuff you've been feedin' Larabee though. Jest plain ol' food's what I like."
Nathan chuckled. "I'll see what I can do," he replied as he stood and moved to the door. "Nathan?" Vin called after the healer. "How's Chris? Where is he?"
Nathan glanced at Buck then replied, "Jail."
"Ya didn't let him out?" Vin sat up and slowly swung his legs around and put his feet on the floor, wincing in pain. "Ya can't leave 'im in there.... I'm gonna go get 'im."
"Stay down, Vin," Nathan replied, moving back and putting a hand on Vin's shoulder. "You're not ready to be wandering around just yet."
Vin glared at the healer. "I'm not stayin' here, knowin' yer keepin' Chris in jail."
As his muddled mind digested his last statement, he realized he didn't ask why Chris was still behind bars. "Nate?" he asked softly, the glare disappearing from his face to be replaced by a look of worry. "Why didn't ya let him out? He still sick like JD?"
Nathan sighed, running a hand through his hair. "Vin...Chris didn't return to normal. In fact, he's...he's gotten worse."
"What?" Vin tried to sit up again, fighting against Nathan's hands. "Let me go Nate....I wanna see him...hell, I wanna help."
"Vin calm down! I'll make you a deal, all right? You stay and rest while I get you something to eat. After you've eaten, if you still want to see Chris and if you can make it to your feet, then I'll help you down to him. Okay?"
Vin studied Nathan's face, gauging whether he was sincere. Deciding he was, he nodded and rested his head back. "Deal," he said finally. "Who's watchin' 'im by the way?"
"Ezra. He wasn't nearly as bad off as the rest of you. I'll be right back." He nodded to Buck, then disappeared outside.
Buck looked at Vin. "Good to see you awake, pard," he said, speaking for the first time. "Had us pretty worried."
Vin smiled weakly, fatigue suddenly gripping him. "Should know by now ya don't need t' worry none over me Bucklin." He winked at the big man. "Jest wish we didn't have t' worry on JD an' Chris."
"Tell me about it," Buck replied, looking down at JD. "Kid scares more years off me than a gunfight."
"Know what ya mean pard," Vin answered sighing. "Want this all over know, Bucklin...I'm gettin' too old fer all this worryin' and fightin'."
"Amen Brother," Buck replied, turning his gaze back to JD. Several minutes later, Nathan returned with a plate of food.
"Eat what ya can," he instructed after helping Vin sit up. "When you're finished, we'll see about getting you down to see Chris."
Vin nodded, without taking his eyes from the food. He put a hand to his stomach when it growled and realized he was even hungrier than he had thought. He picked up his fork and began eating slowly.
"Heck, a pigeon could eat more'n you do Vin," Buck commented with a smile.
"Ain't even started yet Bucklin," Vin replied. "You jest watch JD, I'll watch out fer m'self," he added with a wink.
When Vin finished, Nathan set the plate aside, then waited for Vin to complete the rest of the deal. It took a few minutes, but he finally managed to get to his feet and so Nathan set about with his part of the deal. He helped Vin downstairs and over to the jail.
Ezra looked up when they entered and smiled. "Mr. Tanner! I'm very glad to see you up and walking." He nodded toward the cells. "Mr. Larabee emerged about twenty minutes ago but has done little more than sit n the corner."
In the cell, Chris' outline could be made out through the shadows. He was hunched down in a corner, stalk still. The only thing anyone could really see of him were the red eyes that penetrated the gloom. Vin walked slowly up to the bars. "Chris," he said in a whisper. "I know yer in there, you gotta fight....don't let this beat ya. Just keep fightin' 'til we can figure out this mess an' help ya."
It was Chris' voice but he hadn't spoken out loud. His voice echoed through Vin's mind.
Vin jerked his head a little, he was startled, not prepared for the familiar voice in his head. He pulled himself together quickly and concentrated. 'Yeah, I'm here pard,' he thought, conveying the message, he hoped, to Chris. 'You okay in there?'
'Get rid of those two. We'll talk,' came the reply.
Vin bit his bottom lip as he thought on what Chris just asked him to do. Did he trust him not to try anything? After all, he was sitting there with red eyes, and snarling.
'Not sure that's a good idea, Chris. You're not yerself right now an' I reckon my energy is too low t' fend ya off if ya take it into yer head to attack me.'
Nathan walked up behind Vin, curious to see what was going on between the two men. After Vin's first words there had been only silence, yet the healer sensed something was going on between the two. The way Vin was staring through the bars, his face changing expression told him that.
'Just want to talk,' came the soft, silky reply. 'Maybe...show you something.'
"Vin?" Nathan asked carefully. "You okay?"
Vin hesitated for a moment before he turned toward Nathan, he didn't want to break the connection between him and Chris. "Yeah Nate, I'm fine. Reckon you could leave me an' Chris alone for a minute or two?"
Nathan frowned. "What's going on, Vin?" he asked, glancing into the cell as Chris hissed softly.
"I need t' talk to Chris alone, Nathan. I'm hopin' I can break through an' mebbe get 'im t' fight what's got 'im inside," Vin tried to explain. He realized that being alone with Chris was probably not a good idea, but he only had to yell if he needed help, so he was willing to risk it.
"Y'all can wait outside, I'll holler if I need ya," he added quickly, when he saw the expression on Nathan's face.
Nathan hesitated, glanced over at Ezra, then nodded. "All right. We'll be right outside." He patted Vin's shoulder, glanced at Chris, then he and Ezra went outside.
A low chuckle came from the cell. "Thought they'd never leave," Chris said, still not moving from his spot in the corner.
Vin studied the man in the cell. The body was Chris's but he wondered how much of the mind was. "Okay, we're alone now. You gonna talk to me?" he asked.
"Need your help Vin," Chris replied softly, slowly standing and taking a step forward.
"I know ya do Chris," Vin answered with a sigh. "We're workin' on it, you n' JD'll soon be back to yer ol' selves again, I promise. You jest gotta keep fightin' against whatever it is that gets a hold on ya."
Chris laughed softly, taking another step forward. "That's not what I mean. I need your help in a
different way. And as for JD, you can't help him. He served my kindred well, but he won't survive this. I can sense him right now. But if, on the very remote chance he does survive, he won't be the JD you all knew. He'll never be that JD again."
Vin took a step backwards, not happy with Chris's words. "An' how did you come t' be such an expert huh?" he asked warily. "I reckon yer kindred is history, seein' as he's dead." Vin realized now he had been kidding himself. The only way they would ever get Chris back was to find the answer in Nathan's book.
Chris came out of the shadows and stood before the bars, gazing at Vin. "We're all connected, that's how I know. But we're not talking about them. I need your help Vin. The merge is nearly complete. We are almost one. But he's dying. You don't want your brother to die, do you?"
Vin frowned. "What the hell'r ya talkin' about Larabee? The merge? My brother?" The tracker took an unconscious step towards the bars whole time still trying to fathom what Chris was talking about. "You'd better explain all that pard, 'cause I ain't got a clue what yer talkin' about."
Chris smiled. "Maybe this will help." As Vin watched, Chris' face seemed to change. It went from demonic to a mixture of confusion, exhaustion and fear. The redness in his eyes dimmed some, allowing some of his natural color to emerge.
"V...Vin," he whispered, his voice tinged with pain. "H...Help m..me. K...kill me. P...please."
Vin's heart leapt and then began hammering in his chest. He could hardly breathe after seeing the pain in Chris's distorted features. "Chris," he said finally. "I am gonna help ya...but there's no way I'm killin' ya. Yer'll be fine...you just gotta hang on 'til we figure this whole thing out."
Abruptly, Chris' face returned to the way it was a moment ago. He grinned. "You want to help us, Vin?" he purred. "Want to end our pain? Then let me have your blood. I'll make you like us and then you and your brother can be together again."
"You can go t' hell, whatever you are," Vin said, screwing up his face in disgust. "The only time I give my blood is for a friend in trouble....an' the way I see it...this time it won't help."
"That's where you're wrong. He needs blood if he's going to survive. Especially after the merge is
complete. Are you prepared to kill your brother?" He grinned. "You already stated you aren't. Better make up your mind."
Vin's eyes narrowed and he stepped up to the bars, anger in his stance. "Ya know what? I'm sick of you an' yer threats. Chris might need blood right now, but he sure as hell don't need blood in that way. I saw what happened to JD and there's no way in hell I'm gonna let that happen to 'my brother'. So get the hell away from him, and fight like the demon ya say y'are! I'm ready for
ya anytime, so what d'ya say huh?"
Chris' grin widened and, faster than Vin could see, his hand shot through the bars and grabbed Vin by the collar, pulling him forward and slamming him into the bars.
Vin's head swam from the impact but an inner voice told him this was no time to let his guard down. He stared defiantly back at Chris. "Ya think that's tough huh?" He had to fight to get the words out, his collar was being held so tight it was reducing his air supply. "Chris Larabee's got more toughness in his little finger."
'Chris' hissed, his other hand snaking out to grab Vin's arm and pull it through. "I don't need to take blood from your neck," he growled as he exposed skin. He slammed Vin into the bars again to daze him, then raised the arm to bite.
Vin opened his mouth twice, trying to yell out to the men he knew were waiting outside, but hardly any sound came out. He grabbed wildly with his other hand, trying to get a hold of 'Chris' but was having little luck. His eyes widened as he saw the beast open its mouth and bare its fangs.
Outside, Nathan was growing impatient. "He's been in there too long, it's too quiet," he said, pacing back and forth. "If that thing decided to attack Vin won't be able to fend 'im off. He's weak and injured."
"I beg to differ Mr Jackson, but that isn't exactly a 'thing'," Ezra cut in pointing towards the jail door. "That is Chris Larabee."
"Not right now it's not," Nathan replied seriously, staring hard into Ezra's eyes. He looked at the closed jail door and made a decision. "Right, time's up....I'm goin' in there....now!" The healer walked to the door and pushed it open, with the Ezra following behind him.
'Chris' heard the door open and knew he had to act fast. With a growl, he yanked Vin against he bars again and sank his fangs into his victim's arm.
Vin's cry of pain was stifled because of the tightening clothes around his neck. He struggled weakly against the attack but the little strength he possessed was no match for the super human power being used by the creature occupying Chris's body. His head began to pound more than ever and he felt his knees growing weak. He prepared himself for the fact that he was going to
die. He wasn't afraid to die, never had been, he just always assumed it would be from a bullet, not a demonic creature sucking his life blood from his body.
It took two seconds for Nathan and Ezra to realize what was happening. "Shit!" Nathan exclaimed, running forward, Ezra right on his heels. Before either of them could do anything, however, 'Chris' let out a terrible shriek and dropped Vin, staggering back and clutching his head. "Tainted!" he screamed. "You're tainted you sonofabitch!"
"Yer the one...who...invited yerself t'...dinner," Vin stammered from his position on the floor. "Mebbe yer'll listen next....time," he added as he tried to stem the flow of blood from his arm and clear his thumping head at the same time.
'Chris' let out another scream of rage, dropping to his knees. "You won't be tainted forever," he finally hissed. "I will have your blood!"
"No one's havin' anyone's blood. Tainted or not," Nathan informed 'Chris' as he knelt beside Vin and grabbed his injured arm. "What the hell's been goin' on here Vin? Why didn't ya call for help?"
"Too busy bein' smashed inta the bars," Vin replied.
Nathan frowned as he checked the gash on Vin's forehead, followed by the bite mark. "Ezra, keep an eye on him and for God's sake don't get close," he said as he guided Vin out the door.
"Stupid thing to do, Vin," he muttered as they made their way down the street. "What the hell possessed you to get close enough to let him grab you? You know he's dangerous."
"Guess I got caught up in the conversation. Hoped I could get Chris t' fight it," Vin tried to explain. "Nate, he did get through once, asked me t' kill 'im."
"What?" Nathan asked, giving him a shocked look. They entered the clinic and before Vin could reply, Buck asked, "What happened?"
"He got too close and Chris bit him," Nathan replied, then added at Buck's alarmed exclamation, "Don't worry. Judging by how pissed off Chris was, I don't think any harm is going to come of this." He made Vin sit down, then started tending the wounds. "Tell me what he said to you, Vin," he instructed as he did so.
Vin sighed before he began. " First off I tried t' get him t' fight the demon. Reckon he was too fer a while...I saw Chris...I mean, the real Chris when I looked in his face. He asked me t' kill 'im. I said I couldn't do that. Then he lost the fight an' that thing took over." Vin flinched and
glared at Nathan, letting him know he didn't like the discomfort the healer's tending was inflicting on him. "He said I could be reunited with m' brother...." he continued. "Said, if I gave him m' blood we would become one or somethin'...can't remember exactly, was havin' the life squeezed
from me at the time."
Nathan and Buck looked at each other and grinned at the Texan's words. "Go on," Nathan urged.
"Well, then he decided t' stop askin' my permission, an' started suckin' on m' arm. He couldn't have been too keen though, 'cause after a few seconds, he dropped me. Said I was tainted or somethin'," Vin ended on a shrug.
Nathan was silent for a long time, working it out in his mind. "Reckon whatever Calhoun did to you kinda screwed you up for others," he finally murmured. He sat back, finished with this work and frowned, staring into space.
"Care to share those thoughts of yours?" Buck's voice came from the corner of the room.
Vin nodded. "Yeah, reckon I could use more n' them words Nate. You jest said I was screwed up."
Nathan shook his head. "Not in a bad way," he murmured as he stood up, that far away look still in his eyes. "And it's probably just temporary," he added as he moved to his desk, retrieved his book and began flipping through the pages, obviously looking for something.
Vin stood and walked over to peer over Nathan's shoulder, and before long Buck joined them.
"What you lookin' for Nathan? D'ya reckon you've figured this whole thing out?" the tracker asked, unable to stand the suspense any longer.
"I don't believe it!" Nathan suddenly exclaimed, startling both Vin and Buck. "How could I have missed this?"
Buck rolled his eyes impatiently. "Well, if ya tell us what information you missed, maybe we can tell ya how you missed it!"
Nathan moved away from them, pacing as he read. "According to this, when a Lamia tries to merge with an unwilling host, it results in a more traditional Vampire. Sunlight hurts them, as do Holy things and they're a lot more animalistic." He glanced up at them. "This is describes Chris
exactly! He's got two identities in his body. Himself and the demon. The demon is trying to merge but Chris isn't willing. It's gonna happen anyway, however, unless we stop it." Before either of them could say anything, Nathan continued. "In order to kill it, we need the blood of a holy man and the blood of one closer than a brother." He looked up. "That would be Josiah and you, Vin."
Vin grimaced. "I'll give it gladly Nate." he started. "But d'ya reckon I got enough left inside o' me after Chris an' Calhoun took half of it?"
"We're going to have to wait a few days for Josiah to get up and around. You should be okay by then," Nathan replied.
"Just how does this work, Nate?" Buck asked. "Isn't the whole idea not to give Chris human blood?" Nathan looked down at the book. "It's something like a blood brothers ceremony," he replied. "We need to get Chris in the sun and then Josiah and Vin, who will need to be blessed, will each cut one of their hands followed by Chris' hands. Mixing their pure blood with his tainted should be enough to kill the demon or at least drive it back to where it came from."
Vin nodded. "Well, if that's what it takes t' have Chris back, then I'm ready when you are Nate."
Buck smiled and patted Vin on the shoulder, and then the smile fell
from his lips. "What about JD Nate? Can we do the same for him?"
Nathan shook his head, looking over at JD. "I don't know, Buck. I can't tell for certain if he's like
Chris or not. Won't know till he wakes up."
A soft moan fill the room the second the words were out of Nathan's mouth. Nathan glanced around. "What that JD or Josiah?" he asked, uncertain.
"Josiah I think," Buck answered, seeing the preacher moving a little under his covers.
"Yeah, I reckon he heard you were gonna take some of his blood from 'im,"SIZE'2> Vin added, with a wry smile.
"The only thing anyone is...taking from me...is my head," Josiah murmured as a hand snaked out and pressed against a thick skull. "I'm getting real tired of waking up like this," he added, a sulky note in his voice.
"Well, you should pay more attention to the company you keep," Buck said with a grin. "Next time a friend of yours tries to take a bite out of ya, shoot 'em first."
Josiah frowned, looking at Buck like he was crazy.
"Don't worry about it, Josiah," Nathan replied. "We need you to get well so we can help Chris. The Vampire got him."
Josiah, remembering that particular problem, closed his eyes and groaned. "I'll do everything I can to get well and help," he finally said, then looked across the room as another moan sounded.
"JD," Vin murmured, his attention drawn to JD's bed.
Buck moved like lightening to JD's side, almost knocking Vin off of his feet in his haste. If it hadn't been for the fact that Nathan was right behind the tracker and steadied him, he would have fallen onto the floor. "Easy Buck," the healer cautioned, "Don't startle him, we don't know what his reactions are gonna be."
JD's eyes slowly opened and he blinked up at Buck, his entire face full of confusion and pain. "F...Father," he whispered, his voice hoarse. "W...Where's F...Fa..Father?"
"Father?" Nathan frowned. "What's he talking about?"
"I figure he's talkin' about Calhoun. He's obsessed with him, reckon that's what he calls 'im," Vin guessed.
"Jesus," Nathan murmured as he moved up next to Buck. "JD," he spoke gently.
JD's eyes moved to Nathan. "M...Master," he whispered brokenly. "W...Where's m...m...master?"
"JD do you know who I am?" Nathan asked gently.
JD looked up at Nathan for a moment, fear chasing around in his eyes. "Y...you hu...hur...Try to...take me...away...Father," JD replied, his sentences confused and scattered.
"No JD. You tried to take Vin away...your Father tried to hurt Vin," Buck told the confused younger man. A hand on his shoulder made him turn and face Nathan who shook his head to halt anything further the ladies man may have said.
"JD, you just rest now. We can talk about this later," the healer soothed.
"N...No," JD shook his head and tried to rise. "Ne...need to see...see the Master. B...be angry tha...that I'm not...not with hi...him. Don...don't want to...go through...p..p..purification again. Hu...hurts. Scares m...me."
"Purification?" Buck whispered to Nathan. What the hell is that?"
"Reckon Calhoun didn 't like it that Chanu and Ko-Je interfered," Nathan answered. "He must've bitten him again."
A groan escaped Josiah as he pushed himself up and gained his feet. He staggered over and lowered himself to the edge of the bed. "JD," he spoke softly, getting JD's attention. "M...Master," JD whispered, reaching out to Josiah. "Father."
Josiah glanced up at Nathan, then took JD's hand. "You need to rest, JD," he murmured. "Rest for me, okay?"
He took the glass of water Nathan handed him and helped JD take some sips, then lowered him back down and repeated, "Rest."
JD sighed, eyes closing and his body went still.
"So, anyone wanna figure that out?" Buck asked, running a hand through his hair. "Sounds to me like JD's lost to us for good."
"He's lost, but not like that," Josiah murmured, gazing down at JD. He had no idea what had been happening, but knew Calhoun had been deeply involved. "He's lost. Confused. We need to help him find the right path again."
"Assuming he lives," Nathan murmured from where he was on JD's other side, examining the kid. Buck glared up at him. What the hell does that mean? Course he's gonna live, I won't let 'im die...I won't."
"S'okay Buck...there's no way he's gonna die. I promised m'self I wasn't gonna let Calhoun win, an' if JD dies, he kinda does. So don't worry...I won't let 'im die."
Nathan Buck and Josiah all looked at the determination on Vin's face as he spoke the words and all smiled and nodded in agreement.
"Well, then we've got nothing to worry about," Buck said, slapping the tracker on the back. The room was filled with a tense silence. Saying and hearing the words was one thing, making them come true was another.
Nathan didn't reveal what he felt about those words. He wanted to believe them as much as the others did. Desperately. But he knew... "Vin," he said, turning his gaze to the young tracker. "You've been up long enough. Get back in bed and rest. We're going to need you strong and healthy to help Chris."
For once Vin didn't argue. He just nodded and obediently laid down on his cot. "Sooner we get Chris back...happier I'll be," He said on a yawn...and within seconds he was sleeping.
Two days passed during which Josiah and Vin got stronger, but JD weaker. Trying to concentrate on one problem at a time, Nathan finally determined that it was time to help Chris. After Josiah put Vin through a blessing ceremony, the five men headed to the jail, leaving Mrs. Potter watching JD.
"Okay," Nathan said, looking around the room. "The book says it needs to be done in sunlight." He pointed to a large patch streaming in through the window. "That should do the trick." He looked into the cell. Chris was under the cot, fast asleep.
"Uh huh," Buck said nodding his head. "So, how do we get 'im out from under there and into the light without him goin' all snarly on us?" he asked the assembled men.
"Simple," Nathan replied as he grabbed the keys to the cell. "We rush him."
Vin chuckled. "Now this I'm gonna enjoy," he said, earning him a look from Buck that plainly asked if he was sane.
"Mr Tanner, I truly wonder about you sometimes," Ezra commented. "I can think of nothing more unsavory at this moment than rushing a man possessed by a blood sucking demon."
Nathan unlocked the cell and quietly opened the door. Chris didn't stir and Nathan turned to look at the others. "Gotta do it fast," he said. "Ezra, Buck and I will grab him and hold him down while you two," he nodded to Josiah and Vin, "do the ritual. Everyone understand what they're doing?" Everyone nodded solemnly, all concentrating now on the task at hand. Nathan, Buck and Ezra took a further step forward, leaving Josiah and Vin a step behind them. The atmosphere could be cut with a knife as everyone waited for Nathan to give the go ahead.
Nathan flexed his hands and when everyone was in position, called out, "Now!"
Moving swiftly, he, Ezra and Buck rushed forward and turned over the cot, quickly grabbing Chris who woke with a start and immediately began struggling and snarling.
"Get him in the light!" Nathan cried out. It was quite a job since Chris was stronger than they were, but they finally managed to maneuver him into the large patch of light. The second Chris hit it, he screamed in a mixture of pain and fear and fell to his knees, taking the three men holding him down with him. He struggled a few more seconds, then went still, eyes wide with terror, gasping for breath.
"Okay!" Nathan exclaimed, "Hurry!"
Instantly, Vin and Josiah took up their positions, each with a knife in hand. "Blood of my brother," they said in unison as they each cut into Chris' hands, "Accept our blood as yours," they continued as they cut their own hands, "and be healed," they finished as they mashed their bleeding palms to Chris.'
A terrible scream erupted from Chris and he arched up so hard Nathan feared for the other man's back. The screaming and struggles continued for a number of minutes before Chris went limp and silence descended.
All the men sat on the floor breathing heavily. Each of their faces showed the turmoil they were feeling after the experience they had just had. Chris was cradled in Nathan's arms, and without saying a word, Vin placed his bloody hand on the unconscious man's chest.
Nathan glanced up at Vin, then looked back down at Chris and carefully opened the man's mouth. A slight smile crossed his lips. "Teeth have gone down," he commented. He then pried an eyelid open to check the color of Chris' eyes. "Still some red there, but it's fading. I think it worked." There was a universal sigh of relief after Nathan stopped talking.
"So, how long before he wakes up?" Buck asked. "Should we get him to the clinic, doesn't seem right, leaving him laying here on the floor."
Nathan nodded. "Should be safe to take him to the clinic. He'll probably be out for a few days. He's been through quite a lot." He looked at Vin and Josiah. "I'll have to tend those cuts too." Between them, the men managed to get Chris safely tucked away in the clinic without drawing too much attention from the townspeople. All seven men were together again, and it seemed there was only one more to return to the fold.
As Nathan tended Josiah, Chris and Vin's cut hands, Buck sat at JD's bedside, absently pushing the young mans' hair away from his hot forehead. "Is the answer to getting JD back in that miracle book of yours too Nathan?" he asked quietly, his eyes never leaving JD's face.
Nathan glanced up, then turned his attention back to Josiah's palm, trying to hide the deep sadness in his eyes from the others. "I don't know," he replied quietly. Vin stood and walked over to where Nathan's book was resting on the table. He picked it up and leafed through the pages, looking at the jumbled words. Now, more than ever before he wished he could read. He carried the book over to where Nathan had just finished bandaging Josiah's hand and held out the book to the healer. "Please Nate, look in here n' find out," he asked, his blue eyes looking pleadingly at Nathan.
Nathan looked from the book to Vin and back again. Slowly, he reached out and took the book, but didn't open it, staring down near the floor. Ezra came to stand beside Vin, placing a hand lightly on the trackers arm in an uncharacteristic gesture. "Nathan? Is there something you aren't revealing to us, or do you just not feel up to reading right now?" he asked....almost afraid to hear the answer.
It was a long moment before Nathan replied and when he did, he didn't look at any of them and his voice was soft. "I want to believe he's going to be all right. I really do. But...but I can't ignore all the medical facts. His body can't take anymore. It's just too much."
A growl came from the corner of the room, and it seemed before any of the men had time to blink Buck had grabbed Nathan by the lapels and pinned him against the wall. With his face only inches from the healer's Buck growled through clenched teeth, "Don't you ever let me hear ya talk that way again. We're gonna get JD out of the hell he's lost in...and we're not gonna lose 'im in the process. You underestimate that boy Nathan. he's strong....real strong....and he's gonna come through this...d'ya hear me?"
Josiah had moved up behind Buck and placed his hands on the man's shoulders. "Easy Brother," he soothed. "None o' this is Nathan's doin'. How about ya let him go now huh?"
Anger and frustration flashed through Nathan's eyes. "I know he's strong. That boy has come out of more life threatening injuries than I care to remember but this...dammit Buck this is something none of us understand! This is supernatural and I don't know how to help him at this stage! I don't think I can! I don't think anyone can. I'll keep reading if that makes you happy. Maybe I'll find something useful to prevent something like this from happening again."
Buck felt a little guilty as he let Nathan go. "Sorry. I'm just feelin' frustrated," he muttered before returning to JD's side. "Nathan yer scarin' me," Vin stated. "It's startin' t' sound like yer givin' up on JD." He searched the healer's face before he continued. "Mebbe I should head out t' see Chanu and Ko-Je again, figure we need t' try anythin' if it's as bad as yer makin' it sound."
"Already did," Nathan replied much to the surprise of the others. "Yesterday when I went out to clear my head. Ended up there."
Vin's heart sank. "So they couldn't help," he surmised. "Hell! There's got t' be an answer."
"Yes, but finding it is the challenge," Ezra said wryly.
Nathan sighed, running a hand through his hair. "All right, everyone out. We just went through something that will land us in an asylum if we ever talk about it. Get something to eat and get some rest. I'll...do what I can here."
"I wanna stay with Chris," Vin said stubbornly, sitting in the chair beside Chris's cot. "I cut m' hand up fer him and I want a thank you," he added with a smile, trying to relieve some of the tension in the room with a half hearted joke.
"Stay, go, whatever," Nathan replied with disinterest. "Just try to rest while you're doing it." Josiah and Ezra exchanged glances then, with promises of bringing back food, quietly left the room. Buck settled in next to JD while Vin did the same with Chris and Nathan settled down to read.
+ + + + + + +
Another two days went by. Josiah, Ezra, Buck and Vin, who had been kicked out of the clinic for an hour, were sitting in the saloon sharing quiet drinks when Nathan came in. "Josiah," he said softly, not sitting down, "I need you to come up to the clinic." He avoided looking at anyone else but Josiah as he added, "I think JD had better be given the last rites."
All four men at the table stood immediately. "No...no...it's not gonna happen," Buck uttered before he rushed from the saloon, obviously going to JD's bedside. "Lets go Nathan, don't reckon any one of us is gonna stay away now," Vin informed the healer as he moved to leave the saloon with the others close behind him.
As they entered the dimly lit clinic, they could sense and feel the impending doom. All eyes went to JD and each man's heart leapt at the sight of Buck, who had JD's hand tightly held in both of his. He was on his knees, his head bowed....whispering a prayer softly so only he could hear. "Brother, let me give him peace," Josiah said softly as he moved alongside the ladies man. Buck turned moist eyes to the preacher. "No, I'm not lettin' you do it. He'll give up and I've gotta let 'im know he has to fight. So keep your prayers and rites to yourself preacher 'cause they're not needed here."
"Buck..." Nathan moved to the man's side and put a hand on his shoulder. "You can still let him know he's gotta fight, but you need to let Josiah give him the last rites, just in case. He once told me, that if it ever looked like he wasn't going to come from something, that he needed the last rites given to him, no matter what. It's his wish, Buck. You can't deny him that."
Buck let Nathan's words sink in and then reluctantly moved away to let Josiah get close to JD. The men stood in a solemn line as they watched Josiah begin to give their young friend the Last Rites, each one of them not ready to believe that they were about to become six.
As Josiah went through the ceremony, a low moan caught Vin's attention. Looking over to Chris' bed, he saw the blonde stirring. He quietly made his way to his bedside and sitting down, gently touched Chris's shoulder. "Easy pard, yer alright now," he whispered. He studied Chris' eyes as they opened a crack. "You are alright aren't ya?"
"Vin?" Chris whispered, voice rough and thick with confusion. "Where...am I? Wha....happened?"
"Yer in the clinic...it's a long story." Vin glanced over his shoulder at the other men, and then turned back to face Chris. "Reckon yer jest in time fer a goodbye too," he said sadly, his voice catching.
Chris' confusion grew. "What?"
Vin sighed. "JD's not gonna make it...Calhoun had too strong a hold over him. We couldn't find anythin' in Nathan's book to bring him back." The words tumbled out of Vin's mouth in a painful whisper. "Josiah's givin' 'im the last rites now," he ended.
Chris stared at Vin for a moment, obviously trying to work things out in his head. Finally, he said, "Help me up and over there," even as he struggled to get up. Vin knew he should have urged Chris to lay back and rest, but something inside told him to help his friend over to JD. He caught hold of Chris under his arm and the two men moved slowly to the other side of the room where the others were congregated around JD's cot.
Clinging to Vin in his weakened state, Chris gazed down at JD. He frowned, glancing at Vin like his friend was crazy and said, "He ain't dyin'."
Vin looked at him, startled by his statement. "What d'ya mean, he ain't dyin'?" he asked as the others turned their heads to see what all the commotion was about.
Chris gave him a look that clearly asked where they had all been and why hadn't they been paying attention. He nodded to JD. "It's normal. Anyone who's been under that deep and gets pulled out always look like they're going to die. Body's way of adjusting." He rolled his eyes in a 'well duh' expression, then promptly passed out.
"Okay, get 'im back in bed," Nathan instructed, his mind rattling through what Chris just said. He watched as Buck and Ezra lifted Chris gently and settled him back on his cot and then pushed Josiah aside and sat on JD's cot tentatively feeling the young mans pulse. It was there, barely, but it was still there. "Mebbe Chris is right," he said, half to himself. "Mebbe I was lookin' too deep 'stead of seein' what was right in front o' me."
"Hope comes in all forms, Brother," Josiah replied, gazing down at JD.
"What I wanna know is how the hell Chris knew all that," Vin remarked from where he sat next to Chris.
"Probably left over knowledge from when that thing was in possession of him," Nathan replied absently.
"Hope that's all that's left over from that creature," Vin said wryly. "Don't think I wanna be bit by Larabee again."
Buck grinned but the smile soon fell from his lips as he looked down at JD. "So Nathan. What do we do now? Do we just have to sit and watch and wait....to see whether he lives or dies?"
"That's all we can do," Nathan replied. "Chris looked pretty certain he was going to be okay so...." he trailed off, shaking his head.
"That's good enough fer me," Vin decided, looking down at his friend. "As far as I'm concerned we just gotta wait fer JD t' wake up," he added firmly.
+ + + + + + +
It was four days later. Chris was up and around with no memory of his words about JD the first time he had woken up and very little memory of his possession by a demon. Two days earlier, JD's condition had turned around, just as Chris said, and he slowly started coming back.
Buck was the only one in the clinic. Nathan was outside on the landing, sipping coffee and talking quietly with Josiah. A soft moan filled the room. Buck jumped up from his seat and leaned over to JD on the cot. "Kid? can ya hear me? can you open your eyes?" He turned his head and yelled for Nathan before returning his attention to JD.
JD's eyes slowly opened and he blinked up at Buck, Nathan and Josiah, his muddled mind clearly trying to work out who the three men staring down at him were. "JD? Do you know where you are?" Nathan asked gently.
JD's eyes flickered around the room and he nodded slowly, licking his lips in a nervous gesture. "It's okay, we're not gonna hurt ya," Nathan said quietly. "Do ya need some water?"
JD nodded and let the healer feed him some water. He lay back down on the pillows with a small sigh. "H...how long I been here?" he whispered.
"Several days," Nathan replied. "Gave us a real good scare."
JD swallowed, gaze moving around the room again. "Wh...where's John?" he asked hesitantly.
"He's gone JD." Nathan informed his patient. "Now, how about we get you well and out o' my clinic, huh?" he added, trying to change the subject.
"Gone?" JD asked, not understanding. "Gone where?" Had something bad happened to John? Was JD in trouble? What the hell was going on?
Buck tapped Nathan on the shoulder and signaled for him to move away from JD. Nathan pulled back and met Buck behind Josiah. "Nate, how much can we tell 'im? We don't know if he's out of it yet do we?"
Nathan shook his head. "I don't know, Buck. We may have to ease into it. Ask him questions to see where he is."
"Buck?" JD questioned, his voice sounding like a frightened little boy. "Where's John? Please, what's going on?"
Buck looked helplessly at Nathan and then picked up JD's hand and held it tightly. "He's not here right now JD," he began. "But we are, and we're gonna help you to get back on your feet."
"Why won't you tell me anything?" JD asked, his voice taking on the tone of panic. He started trying to sit up, breath coming quickly. "What happened to him? Where is he?"
"Son, calm down," Josiah tried to soothe. "Everything's going to be all right."
"D'ya reckon you could eat somethin' JD?" Nathan asked, trying to change the subject again. "You haven't eaten for days...you must be hungry"
"Yeah...no...I...I don't know." Fear was back in JD's eyes as he looked at them, knowing they were keeping something from him and knowing it had to do with John. Was he a prisoner? Nathan turned to Buck and spoke quietly. "I'm going to go get him some food. Stay here and watch him...if you have to tell him anything, do it slowly okay?"
Buck nodded and exchanged a look with Josiah as Nathan left.
JD watched them, fighting strange emotions. He was extremely confused. Most of him worried for John's safety while a little part of him was relieved the other man was not here, giving that tiny part a feeling of being safe.
Josiah watched JD's face and saw the different expressions in his eyes. He could see that the younger man was in turmoil. "Brother," he said, sitting on the corner of the cot. "You're safe here, there's nothing to fear from us. We're you're friends and we'll ride this storm together."
JD looked up at Josiah, studying him. Finally, he whispered, "You don't remember anything. Do you?"
Josiah thought carefully before answering. "No...do you?" he asked finally, bracing himself for JD's response.
JD looked away. Finally, he said quietly, "He's dead. Isn't he." It wasn't a question.
Buck and Josiah looked at each other, wondering what to do. Finally, Josiah decided to take the bull by the horns. "Yeah JD, he is," he said, softly placing his hand on JD's arm. "I'm sorry."
"And you don't remember him. Was it you who killed him?" JD replied, shaking Josiah's hand off. "Did you betray him or was it Ezra?"
Tears of grief were starting to slip down JD's cheeks. Josiah looked helplessly at Buck, not knowing what to say to console the younger man. "Neither of us killed him JD...and no-one was betrayed," Buck said diplomatically. "Don't you remember what happened out there?" he asked carefully. If JD could still remember the events surrounding Calhoun, then why couldn't he remember his last few hours?
"I...I remember you and Nathan showing up with the Indians...Nathan..." he trailed off, a sob escaping his lips. "Nathan killed him. Why?" He looked up at the men, eyes heartbreaking in their grief. "Why did he kill him? He was...was my father. Why?" JD started crying in earnest now. Most of it was grief, a tiny bit of it was intense relief at finally being freed. If only that tiny part could communicate that.
Buck's heart clenched as he listened to JD's sobs. He reached over and stroked the young man's hair. "Kid, you know why we had to do it...deep down you know," he said, hoping against hope that their words would somehow get through to their friend.
JD nodded, choking out, "Bu..ck..." as he sat up and clutched Buck's arm until the older man sat down and held JD in his arms as the younger man cried his heart out.
Josiah turned his back to give JD the privacy he needed to grieve, and to hide the moistness in his eyes. The door opened and Nathan came back carrying a small plate of food. The healer looked from the Josiah, to the two men on the cot and back again. "What happened?" he mouthed to the preacher...hoping it wasn't something irreparable.
Josiah motioned Nathan outside, allowing for better privacy. "He's in mourning," the big man said softly. "Poor kid has had his head and heart turned inside out. I think he honestly believes Calhoun was his father." He gazed down at the street, shaking his head. "We may have a job getting JD's mental health back, Nate."
Nathan drooped his head. "I was afraid of that," he said. "I just hope he still feels the same way about all of us as he did before this all happened....that way we can give him the support he needs t' get through."
Josiah turned and squeezed Nathan's shoulder. "I'll be at the church," he murmured, moving to the stairs. He paused, then looked back. "Do Chris, Vin and Ezra know he's awake?"
"No, I didn't see 'em when I went for food," Nathan answered the preacher. "Reckon you could find 'em for me and let 'em know?"
Josiah nodded and headed downstairs. He went straight for the saloon, figuring he'd find the men there. He could use a drink anyway. Pushing through the batwing doors, it didn't take long to find the men he was seeking. They were all sharing a table in the back, playing a game of cards. He went to the bar, got a beer, then dropped into an empty chair at the table. "JD's awake," he said before taking a long drink.
Chris's eyes moved from his card hand to Josiah's face. "He okay? Does he remember anythin'?" he asked.
Josiah sighed, closed his eyes and nodded.
"That's a strange turn of events I have to say," Ezra stated with a frown.
"Yeah, seein' as how none o' you remember anythin'...but I guess JD was different. He was under Calhoun's spell good, I got a sore body t' prove it," Vin added throwing down his cards. "I fold," he sighed.
"Boy is extremely distressed," Josiah said quietly. "He knows Calhoun is dead and is mourning his loss."
"Aw hell. D'ya reckon we should go see 'im?" Vin asked. He turned to Chris. "What d'ya think pard? You seem t' know what's goin on.... more'n the rest of us."
Chris shrugged. "I don't know. I...can sort of feel him and...well, I suppose we should drop in. Let him know we're here for him."
"Well alrighty then," Vin answered, getting to his feet. "Mebbe if you can feel 'im kinda....well, mebbe you can get through t' him."
Chris and Ezra stood to leave with Vin, Chris looking back down at Josiah. "Coming back?"
The preacher shook his head. "Going to spend some time in the church," he replied. Chris nodded, squeezed the bigger man's shoulder, then followed Vin and Ezra outside, flinching a bit at the light. When they got upstairs, they found JD, face tear stained, eating the little bit of food Nathan had brought. He looked up at their entrance, then quickly down again, trembling a little. Chris walked towards JD while Ezra and Vin held back, hoping that Chris could put him more at ease. They could see the younger man was unsure of them, and didn't want to upset him more than he already was. They stood by the door and watched as Chris sat slowly on the corner of JD's cot and look at him kindly.
JD kept his head turned slightly, eyes down, refusing to look up at Chris.
Chris reached out and cupped JD's chin with his hand, gently turning his head to face him. "JD, it's Chris. I know you know me," Chris said softly. "I know this is hard for you kid, but it's gonna be okay...I promise."
"I...I know you," JD confirmed softly. "You're my better now, I...I can feel it. Have to show the proper respect."
Warning bells began tinkling in Vin's head at JD's words and an uneasiness settled inside him. But he said nothing, silently watching.
"JD, I'm Chris Larabee...you're friend. I'm not better than you, maybe just older an' a little bit wiser, that's all," Chris reasoned.
JD shook his head. "No. No, it's there. Not very strong, but it's there. Can't you feel it?" His eyes darted to Vin, Ezra and Nathan then back to Chris.
"JD I...." Chris faltered, not sure what to say, he could feel something....but he wasn't sure what. "I can only guess you mean that we were both taken over by that demon. I think i feel something of what you're feeling...but I'm well now, I'm myself again."
JD shook his head and lowered his gaze again, choosing not to argue. His eyes darted again to the three men by the door. "May I go outside?" he asked quietly.
Chris looked to Nathan for the answer to JD's question and the healer moved forward to the cot. "Not sure you're up to going out and about yet JD," he said
JD bit his lip and nodded. He looked at Chris. "Is it all right if I sleep for a while now?"
"Sure kid," Chris answered nodding his head. "You get all the sleep you need."
JD lay back down and closed his eyes. He was asleep in seconds, his body slowly relaxing, his face becoming a picture of innocence.
"Jesus," Buck whispered, running a hand through his hair and looking a little shaken at what had just taken place.
"Chris? D'ya really know what he's talkin' about?" Nathan asked, a little worried that if Chris did it could mean he wasn't completely cured.
Chris didn't answer right away, thinking it over carefully. Finally, he said, "I do feel something a little different inside but...well, I don't understand exactly what it is."
"So you kinda feel something of how JD feels?" Buck asked. "I'm sorry we're askin' ya questions Chris, I reckon we just wanna know he's okay, and right now you're about the only hope we got of understandin' him."
"I don't even understand so I don't know how much help I'm gonna be helping you understand," Chris replied, then frowned. "Goddamn, I need a drink," he muttered as he stood.
"That's about the best idea you had all day Larabee," Vin agreed. He could see that the situation was wearing Chris down and sensed that the blond needed to get away from the clinic...and JD for a while.
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