Dark Times
Broken Friendships

by Jackie and Lanna

JD awoke some time later and found himself alone except for Nathan, who was asleep at his desk. Moving as quietly as he could, JD got up, got his balance and then, still trying to be as quiet as he could, moved for the door. He froze when Nathan began to move and did not move a muscle as he watched the healer shift around in his seat and then settle and become still once more. Breathing a sigh of relief he opened the door as quietly as he could.

A breeze wafted in as JD took a slight step back, the brightness surprising him. He waited for the surprise to pass before moving to go outside. Stepping onto the veranda he turned to pull the door closed.

"Where d'ya think you're headed?" JD's heart sank as Nathan's voice came from inside the clinic. "Just need some air Nathan. There's no reason I need t' be here anymore...honest, I'm fine," JD answered as the healer appeared at the door.

"You've been through the wringer, JD," Nathan replied. "There's no way you're leaving here until I'm satisfied that you're okay." He paused. "If you really need some fresh air, you can sit out here for a while, but don't go downstairs. Clear?"

JD sighed. "Clear," he said softly sitting heavily into a chair.

Nathan left the doorway, going back inside. He came back out a moment later with a blanket. "Don't catch a chill," he said, gently placing the blanket over the younger man. "You hungry?"

JD thought for a moment, and as a plot started to form in his mind he stifled a smile. "Yeah, I guess I am....a little bit," he answered the healer. This would be his chance to get away from the clinic. Once he was out of Nathan's clutches he figured they couldn't force him to go back to the clinic again.

Nathan studied JD a moment, then nodded. He turned and looked down at the street. Spotting someone, he whistled and waved. He turned back to JD and smiled as, a moment later, Buck appeared. "I'm gonna go get him something to eat," Nathan said, patting Buck's shoulder as he went by.

Buck leaned against the railing and smiled at JD. "How ya feeling, Kid?"

"I'm fine an' I don't need no babysitter," JD sulked. "Why can't you all just let me be....I don't need you all fussin' I just need some time to myself to get over Father's death."

"JD..." Buck took his hat off and ran a hand through his hair. "JD...you do know he wasn't your real father...don't you?"

JD rolled his eyes. "D'ya think I'm crazy Buck? Of course I know. But....he was like my father...I cared about him, he cared about me...he guided me and gave me more than anyone else ever could." JD dipped his head. "You'll never understand, none of ya," he said sadly.

Buck knelt in front of JD and placed a gentle hand on his arm. "You're right. We won't ever understand. Not that anyway," he said softly. "But the one thing I do understand...that all of us understand, is what you mean to us, Kid. I was scared to death that I was gonna lose you and I don't ever want to feel that way again. I want to feel that special happiness of having you around and that special joy of someday attending your wedding and seeing your children born and standing right there by your side, watching them grow up. Cause that's what family does. That's what brothers do."

JD could feel tears pricking his eyes. He kept his head bent and blinked again and again to try and rid his eyes of the moisture. He cared about Buck and the others, he knew that...but a part of him...a big part, wanted his father back. Finally he raised his still moist eyes to meet Buck's intense gaze. "I...I know Buck...an' I want ya to be there for all of that, really I do. All of you are like my family...guess I just needed a reminder."

"Don't ever forget it," Nathan said from where he stood at the top of the stairs, holding a tray of food. Buck cleared his throat and stood, nodding to Nathan to nodded back, a small smile touching his lips.

"I won't," JD said in a small voice and smiled at his two friends. "Is that my food Nathan? Only, I feel more hungry than I thought," he added, eyeing the tray Nathan still held in his hands.

Nathan smiled wider and set the tray in JD's lap. "Eat up."

"Thanks." JD said as he picked up a knife and fork and began to eat. Buck looked over the younger mans head and winked at the healer, with a broad grin on his face, confident that JD was almost back with them again.

In the saloon, Chris paused in the middle of his dinner, staring into space. Something was in the air. What, he didn't know and that pissed him off.

"Wanna tell me what's makin' ya look like yer eatin' beaver meat, 'stead of juicy steak?" Vin asked after seeing the look on Chris's face.

Chris shook himself, looked at Vin, then muttered, "Nothing. I'm fine," as he went back to eating.

"Yer forgettin' this is me yer talkin' to Chris," Vin persisted. "This thing with JD gettin' to ya? Can ya feel anythin'?"

"Not now, Vin, all right?" Chris replied, cutting into the steak savagely. "The only thing I'm feeling right now is hunger."

Vin nodded and settled back in his seat, respecting the fact that Chris needed space. That didn't mean he wasn't going to watch him like a hawk though. It worried him that Chris sensed something of what JD was feeling, he knew it was a good thing in a way, because they may be able to break through JD's defenses and help him quicker. But it didn't stop him from wondering what these new senses meant for Chris.

"Boys," Josiah greeted as he appeared at the table and sat down. He looked at what Chris was eating. "Mmm, looks good." He signaled to Inez, ordered what Chris was having, then looked from one to the other. He could feel a slight rise of tension in the air that left him curious. "What's new boys?"

"Ezra got a new jacket from his Ma. Arrived from Boston today," Vin answered. "It's kinda green with a touch o' blue."

Josiah chuckled. "Why that boy dresses like a giant bulls-eye in his profession is beyond me. I'm amazed he hasn't gotten himself killed ten times over yet."

Chris snorted, a slight smile crossing his lips at the comment.

Vin chuckled, "Reckon yer right Josiah," he said, happy that Chris was smiling at least. It had been a long time since he had seen a genuine smile pass his best friends lips.

"How you feeling, Chris?" Josiah finally asked. "Just saw Nathan headed back upstairs with food for JD. Told me the boy had been trying to sneak out."

"Know how he feels," Vin responded. He didn't want Chris to get all uptight again, being asked a load of questions. "Reckon that clinic is better 'n a jail, once yer in there, it's damn hard t' leave...Nathan's a good jailer."

"I'm fine, Josiah," Chris said as he cut into a potato. "As for JD, if he's trying to escape the clinic, then that means he's on the mend."

"Well, look at this, the seven are almost one again," Ezra commented as he entered the saloon and approached the table and sat down. "I hear JD is feeling better too, that is good news."

Josiah nodded, a smirk playing on his lips. "Aren't you going to show off your new jacket, Ezra?" he asked, one finger making circles in a small pool of liquid on the table that was quickly forming into a bulls-eye.

Ezra eyed the big man warily. "Why? Do you have some fiendish plan to spoil it? I know my apparel is often the focus of all of your mirth, but I cannot abide shoddy clothes."

Vin snorted, both at Josiah's bulls-eye and Ezra comments.

"Nope," Josiah replied with a smile. "Just heard this one is real pretty."

Chris shook his head, finished what was left on his plate and stood, putting his hat on his head.

"Goin' somewhere Chris?" Vin asked, stopping himself from rising to leave with him.

"I can't say I blame him, you two are merciless teasers and I have just arrived but am already tired of your childish behavior."

"Need some cheroots," Chris replied as he moved away from the table and toward the door.

Josiah looked at Vin. "How's he really feeling, brother?"

Vin sighed. "I'm not rightly sure Josiah. Reckon he's still tryin' t' right himself. The Chris we all know is almost there, but there's a small part o' him that's still lost. Reckon he'll be alright once JD's back on his feet."

"Hope so, brother," Josiah replied as he watched the doors swinging. "Hope so."

+ + + + + + +

A few days passed. Nathan, finally satisfied that JD was all right, finally let him out of the clinic. The kid promptly disappeared on his horse and was gone for several days before eventually drifting back into town with the explanation that he need some time alone.

"I'm fine, Buck, really," he said as he brushed his horse down and tried to pacify Buck.

"Yeah I know kid, ya look good," Buck started. "It just woulda kept us from worryin' if you'd let us know you were gonna be a few days. You know how we get when Vin pulls a stunt like that, so don't go sayin' I'm treatin' ya like a kid. We just watch each others backs, and if we don't know where yer back is we can't do that."

JD nodded. "I know. I won't do it again. Promise."

Buck slapped the younger man on the back. "Alright then. You wanna head to the saloon, I'll buy you a beer to celebrate you bein' home."

"Sounds good," JD replied as he finished caring for his horse and stepped out of the stall. The pair headed for the saloon and found all the others there already. Instantly, when JD laid eyes on Chris, he lowered his gaze, a very soft, barely noticeable trembles rushing through his body.

"JD, good to see ya son." Josiah greeted the younger man, pulling out a chair for him. "We were worried for ya, gone all them days."

"Yeah, I...I'm sorry. Just had to clear my...my head," JD replied quietly, not sitting down. He looked quickly at Chris, lowering his gaze after it was clear his next statement was directed at his leader. "I... I won't...do it again. Promise."

Chris sighed impatiently. "Ferget it kid, just sit down an' have a drink." Chris didn't like the way JD acted around him, like the kid was his servant or keeper. He could still sense something in the younger man but wasn't sure what it was.

JD sat, grabbed the bear Inez had placed before him and guzzled half of it down. "Thirsty, JD?" Vin asked with a small smile on his face. "Reckon the dust of the trail can do that."

JD gave a nervous little smile. "Yeah. I'm sorry if I worried you guys. I just had to get out of here."

"We all know that feelin' JD," Vin answered. "You okay now?"

"Yeah. I'm all right." He smiled a bit. "Nice to be home again."

"I gotta go, need to patrol outside of town," Chris informed the men as he stood.

"Could ya use some company pard?" Vin asked, "Reckon I need to shake the dust of this town offa m' boots." The tracker sensed Chris' unease since JD walked in, and thought maybe he could have a talk with him if they were out of town for a while.

"Sure," Chris replied. He nodded to the others, then headed for the door. Before Vin could follow, however, JD said, "Vin? Could I talk to you a minute?" Vin's step faltered and he looked from Chris to JD. "I'll meet ya in the livery," he told Chris before he turned his attention to JD. "What's wrong kid?" he asked, unable to stop the uneasy feeling rising inside him.

JD glanced at the others, then stood and motioned Vin outside. Outside, they slowly walked toward the livery. After a few seconds, JD said, "Vin, I remember saying and doing things that I know hurt you and...I just wanna say I'm sorry."

Vin relaxed at JD's words. "Hell kid, that's alright. You weren't yerself back then. I know it wasn't really you doin' that stuff t' me so stop yer worryin'."

JD smiled, though it seemed a little haunted. He held out his hand. "Friends?"

"Never stopped bein' yer friend JD," Vin answered, taking JD's offered hand.

"Enjoy your ride," JD said when they parted. He smiled, turned and headed back into the saloon, letting Vin go into the livery.

"Kid okay?" Chris asked without looking up.

"Yeah seems t' be," Vin answered as he began readying his horse. "Jest wanted to apologize fer hurtin' me." He looked up at Chris then and tilted his head to one side. "Still feel a mite uneasy around him though, can't put m' finger on it...mebbe its jest 'cause the beatin's are still fresh in m' mind."

Chris' only reply was a nod as he finished readying his horse and led it from the stall. Vin hurried to finish and followed Chris outside. "Alrighty then, where shall we start today?" he asked, wondering at Chris' quiet mood.

"Head out south and circle around the to the north," Chris replied as he mounted. "Maybe check out some of the homesteads." Vin nodded in reply as he too mounted his horse and the two peacekeepers rode out of town.

+ + + + + + +

Chris spoke little during the ride out of town and even less once they were out in the open. His eyes scanned the terrain, watching for trouble while keeping his thoughts to himself. Vin rode beside him and once again left him to his thoughts. Silence didn't bother him, he and Chris often sat and said nothing. But this time something was a little off...but he couldn't out his finger on what it was. He couldn't stop a small sigh from leaving his lips as his thoughts started to give him a headache.

Hearing the sigh, Chris glanced at him. "Alright?" he asked quietly. Vin nodded. "Yeah, jest wish everything was normal again...got something runnin' around in the back o' m' mind..makin' me uneasy ya know?"

"Yup," Chris replied with a short nod.

"You feel it don't ya...around JD?" Vin asked Chris. "I don't feel it like you do, jest got a strong feelin' somethin's not right. Guess you don't wanna talk about it huh?" he asked, remembering Chris's reaction earlier.

Chris sighed. "I don't know what I feel. I agree that something isn't right. Don't rightly understand why JD reacts to me like he does but it's starting to get on my nerves."

"He's actin' like he's afraid of ya or somethin' Chris." Vin was glad that Chris was opening up to him a little. "Could be somethin' t' do with what happened to you two, you both got two different reactions...mebbe that's it."

"Maybe," Chris replied. He was silent a moment, then asked, "When he was talking to you...what did he look like? I mean, did he seem like JD?"

"I guess so." Vin thought for a moment. "But ya know...for a second there he looked kinda not there...no that's not it...he looked lost...like somethin' was playin' at him...hell, I can't explain it."

Chris was silent again. When he spoke, his voice was quiet. "There was a moment, when I was saddling my horse, that I felt...something. It was strong. Evil..."

Vin was startled by Chris's words. "Evil?" he asked, his head snapping around to look at his friend, riding next to him. "Ah hell, please don't tell me it ain't over yet..." a thought suddenly struck him. "You reckon it was when JD was talkin' to me? When I saw him go weird for a second?"

Chris nodded, not looking at his friend. "That was about the same time I felt it. When you two were talking and I was in the livery."

Vin sighed again. "Hell Larabee, when's life gonna give us a break huh?"

"When we're dead," Chris replied.

Vin chuckled. "Reckon I agree with ya there pard." The two lapsed into silence again, both of their thoughts on their conversation.

After a while, Chris said, "Ever think about moving on? Just get the hell out of that crazy town and never look back?"

"I've thought about that a lot lately," Vin agreed. "Jest can't seem to get m'self t' leave the place. It's got a hold on me an' it ain't lettin' go."

Chris nodded. "Pisses ya off, don't it?" he said with a small smile.

"Hell yeah!" Vin answered with a grin. "Darn dust o' the place has got under m' skin..an' I can't wash it off." The smile fell from his lips. "Can't say I've had much fun last couple o' weeks though....reckon you haven't either."

Chris shook his head. "Nope. Don't know if I should be glad that I can't remember most of it or not."

"Believe me Chris, yer better off not knowin'," Vin told his friend. "But I reckon, lookin' at things from your side, I wouldn't much like a hole in m' memory, however bad the memories might be."

Chris nodded and fell silent. The pair checked on several homesteads, taking note of complaints to deal with later, then headed home. As they were heading for the livery, Nathan ran up to them.

"Chris, Vin, I'm glad you're back. Come up to the clinic when you've done with your horses. We need to talk." He then hurried off, leaving Chris and Vin frowning.

"I hate it when he does that," Chris muttered.

"Yeah, me too." Vin grimaced. "If he's got that darn book of his open on his lap when we get there d'ya wanna turn 'n run?"

Chris smiled slightly. "Reckon Canada would be a good place to stop." The pair set about caring for their horses in silence. When they were done, they made their way to Nathan's, entering with a short knock. Sure enough, Nathan was seated at his desk, the book open in front of him. Chris looked at Vin. "Race ya?"

Vin snorted. "I'm younger 'n you...I'll win fer sure," he said with a glint in his eye. Turning to Nathan the smile left his face. "Alright Nate, we're here...what does the book say this time?"

"A lot of interesting things," Nathan replied. "First off, I think JD was becoming a, Meja. (From the Estonian word Vereimeja) a subspecies of Calhoun's. I don't think he actually became full blooded though since he dropped once Calhoun was killed. To be full blooded, one has to kill and drink the blood of a human victim. But because he dropped, I'm guessing Calhoun got him the blood he was drinking. But it was close. I'm thinking the reason he's acting so strangely is because traces of the demon are still inside him. According to the book, that's a common occurrence and it usually fixes itself in a few weeks depending on how much is left."

"That's a relief Nate," Vin told the healer. "He's been a mite strange t' be around...but now we know why."

"Wait, it gets better," Nathan replied, turning his attention to Chris. "Chris...you are a Lowca (polish word for Hunter). It translates into simply 'hunter.' It's something certain people are born with that allows them to sense anything that isn't fully human. Some are born with the abilities already active and some, like you, are born with them dormant and it takes something to trigger them. I'm guess that when Calhoun was trying to mess with you, he triggered some of the senses which was why you were drawn to him in those staring contests. The abilities were trying to come out, but you just didn't understand them."

Nathan paused. "Those abilities are now in full bloom because of that whole demon possession thing. That's why you've been feeling like you have around JD. And that's why JD has been reacting like he has around you. Only I think JD is mixed up with what he feels. He thinks you're closer to what Calhoun was than what you actually are. According to the book, Hunters have a demonic essence about them that is used to throw their prey off, giving them the edge. That's why JD seems to think you're the king or something."

"I don't think I like this Nathan. How long d'ya reckon this thing will last with JD?...and don't say a few weeks, I think I'd have killed him by then." Chris slumped heavily into the nearest chair and looked at Nathan almost pleadingly.

"I honestly can't tell you any more than the book has said," Nathan replied sympathetically. "I'm sorry. I know it's hard, but ya gotta hang in there. For JD's sake if nothing else."

"Yeah I know Nate. It's just hard to handle that's all," Chris replied tiredly.

Nathan got up and squeezed Chris' shoulder. "Why don't you go get some rest? You look terrible."

"Really nice of you t' say that Nathan," Chris answered glaring at Vin in answer to the tracker's snort of mirth.

Nathan grinned. "Go on. Git before I decide to keep ya here."

Chris rose swiftly from his chair and was at the door in an instant. "Reckon you said the magic words Nate," Vin said with a smile as he followed Chris through the door.


Later on that evening, JD sat at a table alone in the saloon, carefully penning a letter.

Dear Mrs. Black,

You don't know me. My name is JD Dunne. I am writing to you because it is with my deepest regrets that I inform you of your brother, John Calhoun's death. His death grieves me deeply as I was very close to him despite only knowing him a short time. I promise you this, Mrs. Black that his death will not go un-avenged. I promise you that I will not stop until his death is paid for and the mission he died trying to fulfill is completed.

Yours respectfully,
JD Dunne
Four Corners Arizona

"Hey JD. What you writing about?" Buck asked as he sat down at JD's table.

JD jumped, quickly and clumsily folding the letter. "N..nothing!" he exclaimed, then, a little more calmly, "Just...a letter to my ma. Makes me feel better writing to her...pretending she's alive and well back in Boston."

Buck said nothing but reached out a hand and placed it on JD's shoulder, squeezing gently.

JD looked at him, wide eyed and tense. He folded the letter some more, wanting to get it out of sight. "It's okay JD, relax. I don't wanna read it...that's private and I'd never hurt you like that." Buck said, squeezing JD's shoulder again. "You want a refill?" he asked seeing the empty glass in front of JD.

"Y..Yeah. Sure," JD replied, fighting the guilty feelings washing over him. He just out and out lied to Buck. Should he tell the truth? Show him the letter? This wasn't right, what he was doing...

Buck came back to the table and placed a beer in front of JD. He could feel the tension in the younger man and longed for the time when they could sit and laugh and joke together about Casey or one of Buck's conquests. He saw a guilty look pass over JD's face but put it down to the fact that his friend felt the same as he did.

JD took a couple sips of his drink, then glanced at Buck. "Buck?" he said quietly, "Am I gonna be all right?"

Buck's heart plummeted into his boots and bounced back into his chest. "Sure you are JD," he managed without choking on the lump in his throat. "It might take a few days, but you're gonna be you're old self before you know it!"

JD bit his lip, then blurted out, "I went back to Fox Canyon! That's where I was all those days. I don't know why I went back I just felt I had to!"

Buck looked at JD like a father would to a troubled son. "JD, if you felt you had to go back, then you did the right thing by going back. Stop being so hard on yourself."

"I've been lying Buck!" JD revealed in anguish. "I told Nathan I camped out just a couple hours from here! And I..." he trailed off, stopping himself from revealing the true contents of the letter and took a long drink.

"And you what JD?" Buck asked gently. he could see how hard it was for JD to open up...the kid seemed to fighting an inner turmoil and Buck was hell bent on helping him win.

"Nothing," JD whispered. He finished his drink and stood. "I gotta go."

"Want some company, or need some space?" Buck asked

"Space. I'll...I'll see ya later, kay?" JD replied before hurriedly heading outside, nearly colliding with Josiah on his way in. Josiah watched the kid rush off, then joined Buck at the table. "What was that about?"

Buck rubbed his finger round the top of his glass. "He's just having trouble working through stuff Josiah. Gone off on his own for a while."

Josiah studied Buck a moment. "You all right, Brother? You look disturbed."

"Yeah I'm okay," Buck said on a sigh. "Just wish I could help the kid more. He's goin' through hell and I know there's stuff he's not tellin' me...it's hard that's all."

"Price of being a parent. Or an older brother. Did he tell you anything at all?"

"Not much. Just said he went back to Fox Canyon, that's where he was those days he was out of town. Said he'd been lyin'. He's all mixed up Josiah...I don't understand half of what he's tryin' to tell me."

"Just needs time, I suppose," Josiah replied. "In the meantime, wouldn't hurt to keep a close eye on him."

"Heck, you don't need to tell me that twice Josiah," Buck answered. "Well, I think I'm gonna go find me some comfort," he added, standing and winking at the preacher. "See you around Josiah."

Josiah chuckled. "Later."

+ + + + + + +

A week passed and JD was hardly seen. He spent most of his time in his room, wanting to be left alone. When he finally did emerge, it was Vin who was the first to see him, when he was out on patrol. JD waved and walked his horse over to where Vin was. "Afternoon, Vin," JD greeted.

Vin felt the familiar uneasiness when he was around JD rising in him again as the young man approached him. "Hey JD, haven't seen y'fer a while. How ya doin'?"

"Feeling a lot better," JD replied with a smile that didn't reach his eyes.

"You headin' back t' town?" Vin asked in an effort to make conversation. It used to be so easy to talk to the kid, but not anymore...and the prickle that was running up and down the tracker's spine did nothing to calm his nerves.

"In a while. Thought I'd head over to Nettie's and see Casey. Maybe do some chores."

Vin nodded, relieved. "Alrighty then, I'll see ya back in town...watch yer back kid."

"You too," JD replied, then squeezed his eyes shut as even he heard the touch of ice in his voice.

Vin didn't reply, wanting to get as far away from JD as he could. He could hear the edge to the young man's voice and wondered at it. When he was in town and talking to the others he seemed alright, but Vin had noticed that when it came to JD talking to him his voice was cold and there was a strange look in his eyes. The tracker sighed as he continued to ride towards Four Corners. He was too tired to think about it right now, he hadn't been sleeping too good and all he could think of at the moment was a cold beer in the cool saloon.

JD got a tight grip on himself, turned his horse and headed for Nettie's.

+ + + + + + +

Later that night found the young man sitting in the Church, gazing up at the large cross.

"Can I join you JD? Or do you need to be alone?" Josiah asked quietly. He'd been watching the sheriff for a while and wasn't sure whether to intrude or not. JD looked deeply troubled, so he thought he would let the young man decide. If he didn't want company then Josiah would stay away until he did.

JD jumped and looked over at Josiah, then turned his attention back to the cross. "I'm afraid, Josiah," he said quietly.

The former preached sat in the pew behind JD and leaned forward. "You've got six brothers to lean on JD, there's no need for you to be afraid."

"I...I don't want to hurt you guys. But I'm afraid I will. There's a part of me that hates you all so much. It wants to hurt you all. Maybe kill you all. It's...it's so strong Josiah. I'm afraid of it and I don't know if I can control it." He paused, then added, "I'm thinking of heading back east. I don't wanna hurt you guys."

"JD..you're still trying to find your way after what happened to you. Don't do anything hasty...and you won't hurt any of us, we'll stick together on this and soon these thoughts will fade away." Josiah paused, only half believing the things he was saying. "If ever you feel that way, come back here...sit and ponder...nothing can beat you JD, you're too strong."

Wordlessly, JD reached into his pocket and pulled out the rumpled letter he had written a week ago but had kept himself from mailing. He gazed at it, then silently offered it to Josiah to read. Josiah hesitated before he took the offered letter and straightened it out to read. "Are you sure you want me to read this son?" he asked.

JD nodded, not looking at the older man, tears beginning to slide down his cheeks. Josiah read the letter slowly and when he had finished he folded it and handed it back to JD. "Why didn't you post it?" he asked.

JD stared down at the paper, ignoring the tears rushing down his cheeks. "I came close so many times," he whispered. "Every time I went to do it, I fought with that side that wanted to and managed to walk away. But it's getting harder Josiah. I'm terrified I'm going to do something that's going to end up with one or more of you guys hurt or dead."

"We'll worry about us, Son. You worry about you. Take strength from us..we'll watch your back." Josiah sighed, his words seemed meaningless...he didn't know what to say to help JD through his turmoil. How did he know what the young man before him was feeling or the strength of the struggles he was telling him about? "You wouldn't kill one of us...you couldn't...whatever demons you're fighting, you're still, inside, you JD...nothing can change that."

JD passed the letter back. "Could you...burn this or something?"

"I'll tell you what JD," Josiah stood and put a hand on the distraught young man's shoulder. "Lets go burn it together...okay?"

JD nodded and stood to follow the older man. "We can go around to the back of the church, it's quiet there and there's no chance of anything catching fire," Josiah said as they walked down the steps.

JD was wiping away his tears, attempting to compose himself as he followed.

Josiah slowed as they reached the back of the church and put an arm around JD's shoulders. "It's going to be fine, son....and right now, you're the bravest person I know."

JD nodded, taking deep breaths and leaning into Josiah a little. "I'm gonna get Ezra for betraying us," he whispered then stopped and squeezed his eyes shut.

Josiah tensed for a split second when he heard JD's words, and then squeezed the young man's shoulder. "Come on JD, lets burn this letter....and then, if you want to talk some more we can go back inside where it's private."

JD took another deep breath and nodded. He watched Josiah start the fire in silence. "Ready JD?" Josiah asked. "Take it slow, and when the time is right put it in the fire."

JD stared down at the letter in his hands for several moments before finally putting it in the fire and watching it smolder to ashes.

Josiah watched JD as he stood staring silently into the fire. His heart ached for the younger man and he wished there was something he could do to instantly make things right for him. But he could hardly think of anything to say...not even a quote from the bible...which he could normally summon up at the drop of a hat. So he stood quietly next to JD and waited.

"Josiah?" JD finally asked quietly as he continued to stare into the fire. "Could you promise me something?"

"Anything, JD....as long as you don't want me to do anything against the law!" Josiah joked.

The fire seemed to hold JD captive as he said, "If it looks like I'm going to kill one of you...I want you to take me down. Chris probably will anyway, but if he's not there and you are, I want you to do whatever you need to to stop me. Even if that means killing me. I can't ask Buck cause I know he won't do it. But you know all about demons. You know how they can take control and how sometimes, you can't break that control."

Josiah was shocked at what JD was asking him to do...but deep down he knew he was right. But how could he promise such a thing? How could he even contemplate killing one of his friends? He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "JD, I'll promise you that I'll watch you and keep you from doing anything to hurt anyone...but I can't promise that I'll kill you...disable you, yes...but kill you....no."

"And if I give you no other choice?" JD asked darkly.

"There's always another choice JD...but I promise you this. If I see you even rasing a finger to hurt one of the others I'll stop you any way I can....and I swear I'll do it without killing you.....I hope that's good enough a promise for you, 'cause it's as far as I can go," Josiah told him, the sincerity of his words showing in his eyes.

JD gazed up at him, then smiled a genuine smile and nodded. "Thanks Josiah."

Josiah smiled a huge toothy smile in return. "Now Brother," he said taking a deep breath. "Shall we go inside or do you want to go and see who we can find in the saloon?"

"Saloon," JD replied. "Think I need a drink."

"Was hoping you'd say that," Josiah grinned. "And seein' as how it's kind of a strange day...maybe Ezra will buy us a beer."

JD snorted. "Since when does Ezra do anything other than take our money?"

Josiah threw his head back and laughed, and boy it felt good. The two men walked side by side to the saloon passing the time with chat about mundane things, and when they reached the door they could hear Buck's loud laughter coming from inside.

"Howdy boys," Vin greeted when he saw the pair.

"Afternoon," JD replied, giving Vin a genuine, warm smile.

Vin was taken aback by the change he saw in JD. He looked at Josiah quizzically but the preacher only beamed back at him. "Pull up a chair you two...Ezra was jest tellin' us 'bout the time his Ma tried t' teach 'im how t' do a poker face."

"You mean he wasn't born with it?" JD teased as he and Josiah sat down.

Buck's loud laughter drowned out the other men's chuckles and he slapped JD hard on the back. "I'm teachin' ya well kid," he said with a wink.

"I see nothing funny in that remark," Ezra said while trying to keep his mouth from twitching. "I'm sure I must've told you on more than one occasion that I was born oozing finesse and charm...but never did I mention a poker face."

Chris gazed intently at Josiah, then silently stood and went to the bar to get some more drinks, leaving it up to Josiah to decide to follow or not.

"You were born oozing something all right," JD smirked. The sound of the men's voices faded into the background as Josiah caught Chris' look. 'Hell, don't tell me he can read my mind as well as Vin's now,' the preacher thought as he stood and followed Chris to the bar.

"How long have you been with JD today?" Chris murmured. "Were you with him for the past...thirty or forty minutes?"

Josiah was taken aback by Chris' question. "Yeah, that would be about right...how'd you know?"

"Cause I felt like a knife was twisting in my gut. Was it a loss of control?"

Josiah thought for a moment and remembered JD's comment about Ezra. "Only for a few seconds...the rest of the time he was in turmoil. It's hard to believe you can feel that Chris." Josiah shook his head in wonder.

"Yeah and it's driving me crazy. What happened?" He paused, then added, "If it's a confidence thing and nothing I need to worry about, fine. If it's something I should be aware of...."

Josiah's fight with his conscience didn't take long. He wasn't sure whether what JD had told him was in confidence or not, but he realized that someone else had to know about it...and Chris seemed the likely choice. He could feel JD and so maybe understood a little more about what the kid was going through....besides, he couldn't watch him for twenty four hours a day, he would need help. "He's still fighting the demon Chris," Josiah began quietly. "He has moments when his two sides fight with each other...and he's afraid that the bad side is gonna win eventually and he's gonna hurt one of us. He said something about getting revenge on Ezra for betraying him...but I could see he was fighting something...and the moment passed." Josiah paused to gauge Chris's reaction.

"Shit," Chris muttered. "I don't like this. This other side for him is gunning for both Vin and Ezra now." He glanced over at the table of laughing men. "As I understand it, Nate is the one who killed Calhoun so he could be a target too. Shit!"

"He's fighting it hard Chris," Josiah informed his worried friend. "He asked me to kill him if I had to, if he attacked any of us...he's scared Chris."

Chris shot Josiah a surprised look. "And what did you say to that?"

Josiah sighed and looked seriously at the man before him. "Told him I couldn't kill him. Said I'd stop him any way I could short of killin him." He frowned at the blond. "Why? Would you have said different?

"No. Don't suppose I would have," Chris replied. He swore softly again. "Don't suppose you could bring Calhoun back from the dead so I could kill him all over again?"

Josiah chuckled. "Stand in line friend. Stand in line."

"Anything else I should know about?"

Josiah blew out a breath. "He wrote a letter to Calhoun's family. Seems when Vin was a bounty hunter he took his nephew back to hang...but I guess Vin's already told you that. He said in the letter that he would avenge Calhoun's death and finish what Calhoun started."

"What!" Chris hissed, alarmed.

"It's alright," Josiah added quickly. "We burned it. He showed me the letter when he was telling me about his fears..and he asked me to burn it... we burned it together...he never sent it Chris."

Chris looked like he was going to fall over with relief. "I swear this is going to kill me," he muttered. "Nathan says this shouldn't last much longer, but I'll give Vin and Ezra a heads up just in case." He took a long swallow of his drink. "After this, I'm just gonna shoot any new friends JD makes. Be a hell of a lot easier on my nerves."

"Think I'll add a second bullet to yours just to make sure they're dead," Josiah said with a small laugh. "JD sure has given us an adventure this time ain't he?"

"Think anyone would ask any questions if we tie him up in cellar or something?" Chris returned with a small grin.

"JD?" Josiah grinned. "Nah I don't think so, he's always been highly strung...I reckon people'll just think he's finally lost it."

Chris chuckled, clapped Josiah on the back and headed back to the table, quietly calming JD as the boy went into his nervous eye ritual.

"D'ya get me a beer Larabee? A man could die o' thirst waitin' fer you," Vin said to the black clad man at his side. He was curious as to what Chris and Josiah had been talking about at the bar, but knew that if he needed to know Chris would tell him.

"Josiah's bringing them," Chris replied just before the older man appeared with a tray full of drinks.

"Thanks Josiah...'preciate it," Vin said grabbing a beer. The table lapsed into silence while all seven men took a long draw on their drinks.

Chatter began again and, before long, old war stories began flying around the table. "Well all in all I reckon Buck had the most near misses...he don't seem t' know when t' get his head down," Vin surmised after hearing yet another tale of Buck's war adventures.

JD choked on his drink at that comment and stared at Vin, coughing and laughing at the same time. "Yeah an' Vin can kill people with words," Nathan added as he slapped JD on the back.

After JD had calmed down and he had assured everyone he was all right, he said, "Think I'm gonna call it a night. Good night, guys."

"Night JD, an' if you have trouble sleepin' let me know, alright?" Nathan told the young man as he left the saloon.

"He looked more like his old self," Vin commented. "But seems t' me he's still not right."

Chris glanced at Josiah before saying, "I want you and Ezra to be careful around him for the next little while. Try not to be or go anywhere alone with him."

"Somethin' we should know Chris?" Vin asked after he and Ezra exchanged an alarmed look.

"JD said a few things to Josiah." Chris paused. "Just be aware."

Vin shrugged. "Alrighty then, thanks fer the heads up." He smiled into his beer as Ezra rolled his eyes. "Well I'm not sure I can take this as calmly as you Vin. Seeing as I don't usually have friends gunning for me."

"He's fighting it and fighting hard," Josiah said. "Reckon he'll beat this thing with our help."

"Well while you are helping him, I shall be watching your efforts from behind your back Josiah," Ezra said wryly. "Hell Ezra, it was me he tried t' beat to a pulp an' I'm not afeared of him," Vin added with a grin. "He's tough an' he's gonna make it."

"I seem to recall being a potential target, Vin. I could very easily see what he had in store for me when he was finished with you. He knew very well I was not truly with 'the master.'"

Vin's face turned sober at the thought. "Yeah, gotta agree there Ezra. An' y' saved me from a few more bruises out there too...I'm grateful to ya. Reckon we should stick together and watch each others back?" Vin asked with a wicked glint in his eye.

Ezra smiled. "Would be an honor, good sir."

"Just as long as you do," Nathan joined in. "I'm tired of fixin' all of you up lately."

Vin stood and stretched. "I'm goin' on patrol, see y'all later."

"Oh dear. Does this mean I have to accompany you? We were going to stick together after all," Ezra groaned.

"Quit groaning and get your damn horse," Chris said with a small smirk.

Chuckling and shaking his head Vin left the saloon with Ezra mumbling behind him.


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