M7FFA Entry


Out of the Darkness

by Alanna

Author's Notes: anyway, this is the sequel to Deadlier of the Species and also has quite a bit to do with my last one, The Eternal. it would be a good idea to read both of them before this one or you might not know what's going on. this takes place nearly 2 years after Deadlier and about 4 months after the events in Eternal. Little warning, i am trying a different approach with this one, so excuse any awkwardness(sp?). i think that's all i have to say. let me know what you think. lanna :)


It's been three days since we rescued Chris from that god awful place. Three days since I got any real sleep. Chris hasn't shown any signs of life except for shallow breathing since we got out of that place. Dammit. He had just started to really recover from that Eternal incident. Then they had to come along and pull him back in. What is it that attracts evil to you, Chris? Why can't the bastard just leave you alone? I swear, if you die, I'll go find Ally and join up with her. I'll hunt down and kill every last person who has anything to do with those people. I don't care if its a man, or a woman. They'll pay and pay dearly.

My gaze moves to the other side of Chris, where Buck sits, captured by one of the same dozes that keeps me going. I'm willing to bet if Chris dies, he'll go with me. In fact, there's no doubt about it. He was there, along with J.D. and Josiah. They all saw first hand what was done to Chris. How his mind was warped as it had been with Katanya. Yeah, I have no doubt Buck would go with me and perhaps even further. My thoughts drift to J.D. Wonder how the kid's holding up. After all, he went through a lot too, being the first one that Chris 'recruited.' Kid's probably scarred for life after what he's seen. Especially after nearly having his heart carved out of him, and by his hero no less. I hope Josiah is doing him some good.

The door opens and Buck is instantly awake, his hand on his gun, ready to draw. It's only Nathan and he relaxes. Nathan sets the tray of food he is carrying down and I get out of my chair to make room for him. He feels Chris' head and vital signs and does some other things, then looks at us and asks, "Any change at all while I was gone?" as he has done for the past two days whenever he leaves for a bit.

I shake my head and Buck asks, "Any luck finding Melinda?"

Nathan nods. "Yeah, finally tracked her down in Frisco. She's on her way." He looks back at Chris, and adds, "I just hope he holds out long enough for her to get here and that she can do something for him." I am silent for a moment, then ask quietly, "Any sign of..." but I trail off, unable to go on.

Nathan shakes his head, his eyes sad and I know what he's gonna say before he even opens his mouth to say it. I save him the trouble. "She ain't dead, Nathan."

Nathan is silent for a moment, then puts his hand on my shoulder. "I don't want to believe she's dead either, Vin. But you have to accept the fact that she just might be. It's been three days. If she were alive, surely she would have turned up by now."

I don't respond and I don't miss the worried looks Buck and Nathan exchange. I ignore them.

After a moment of silence, Nathan says, "I brought you two some food. Would do you good if you ate, especially since you aren't getting much sleep."

Neither of us respond and both of us notice Nathan doesn't press us. Instead, he says, "I'm gonna go look in on J.D., then I'll be back." He turns to go, and pauses at the door, looking back. "Please, try to eat something," he says, then is gone.

I look at the food, but don't make a move toward it. I'm not hungry right now. Perhaps later. I re-take my chair and stare at Chris unseeingly. My thoughts are on her. The one who I never expected would awaken in me the love I never thought I'd know again, especially after the start we had. I smile as her image floats around in my mind. My thoughts go back to the night before hell on earth took on a whole new meaning. The night we made love under a sunset so...spectacular that I felt sure then, as I still do now, that is was God's way of showing us his love and approval. That's why I don't believe she's dead. God wouldn't show us his approval and then take rip us apart. He's not that cruel. Is he? I'll have to ask Josiah. If anyone would know, he would.

I'm shaken from my thoughts as Buck suddenly cries out and angrily smashes his fist into the wall.

"Damn her!" he growls. "I swear I'm gonna hunt her down and kill her if it's the last think I do!"

I say nothing, but wholeheartedly agree with him. Once again, one harmless looking girl had managed to turn everything around her upside down and caused serious damage. It had been nearly two years since we had seen her. I didn't expect to ever see her again after the last time. But, then again, there have been plenty of people in my life that I had never expected to see again, only to have pop up at the most unexpected time in the most unexpected place. Again, my thoughts go to J.D. Seeing her again and having her rip us up again must have been one of the most hardest things for that boy. After all, he's in love with her. Maybe God is that cruel. Or maybe he's trying to tell one of them something. Again, I'll have to ask Josiah.

Buck has calmed down somewhat and is now picking at some of the food Nathan left for us. I still don't feel I can eat, so I turn my gaze back to Chris, silently praying for Melinda to have a speedy journey, silently hoping that she can help him, as she did with those Eternals. As I do, my mind travels back to the day I last saw Chris, slowly returning to his old self, with more life in him than he has now. He was getting ready to head over to the next town on some sort of business, refusing any company.....

Part 1

"Chris, would you please reconsider?" Nathan said as he watched Chris mount his black horse. "You're still recovering. I really don't think it's a good idea to be going off alone right now."

Chris looked down at Nathan from his horse and replied, "I can take care of myself, Nathan. I'm not some kid who needs a babysitter."

"I know that," Nathan replied, "It's just that you're not fully recovered and anything can happen."

"Nathan's right."

Vin, J.D. and Ezra stood on the boardwalk, watching Chris prepare for his trip and listening to the argument. It had been Nathan's last words that prompted Vin to speak up.

"You know we've had reports of a couple gangs wandering around the area. You have to admit, Chris, you ain't in top form right now. You run into one of them gangs...well, it'd be best to have at least one of us along."

Chris shot Vin a cold glare that he returned calmly. Chris Larabee was a man who was very good at intimidating people, but in the short time the two had known each other, Vin had never fallen into that trap. Vin was sure it pissed Chris off something fierce, but he also thought it was why the two of them were so close.

They stared at each other for a moment, and then Chris said, "I'm going. *Alone.* I'll be back in five days."

He shot them all a hard glare, then spurred his horse and took off down the street.

"Still wouldn't accept company huh?" Buck asked as he and Josiah joined the group.

Vin shook his head in response as J.D. asked, "Should one of us follow him anyway?"

"Probably," Vin replied, "But he'll most likely shoot us if we do."

J.D. was silent for a moment, then said, "I'll wire the Sheriff over there and have him let us know when Chris gets there."

"Now that's a right good idea Kid," Buck said, smiling at the boy. Vin hid a smile of his own as the kid grinned and hurried off to do his task. Then, with one last look in the direction Chris had gone, Vin turned and followed Buck and Ezra toward the saloon.

The cowboys watched with suspicion as the lone rider slowly approached them. The rider wore black from head to toe and the face was hidden in the deep shadow of the hat, so the cowboys had no way of identifying the rider as friend or foe without talking to him.

When the rider was close enough, one of them stood, holding his rifle casually and said, "Hold up cowboy. Identify yourself."

The rider reined in and sat, staring down at the men silently. "What are you, deaf cowboy? I said identify yourself!" the man growled, cocking his rifle.

The stranger held up a gloved hand, then slowly slid off the horse. Faster than any of the others could follow, the stranger grabbed the cowboy's rifle, pulling it and him forward. A knee came up and connected with his stomach, sending him to his knees, gasping for breath. His head was jerked back and a blade was pressed to his throat. Stunning green eyes peered out of the shadows of the hat, piercing the man's friends, who stood with dumbfounded expressions. As one began to go for his gun, the stranger spoke.

"Unless you want to see what vocal cords look like, I suggest you remain as you are!"

The men looked at each other in surprise at the voice, but the stranger ignore them and said to his prisoner, "The next time you call me cowboy, or any name related to the male species, I'll see to it that you lose your membership. Do you understand me?"

"Y...yes ma'am," the cowboy stuttered.

The woman smiled. "Good boy. Now, I want to see Kate and Jason. Take me to them."

She released him and he scrambled to his feet. She re-mounted her horse and followed the man past the rocky cannon and into a beautiful valley. Several moments went by and then a large house came into view.

The cowboy urged his horse into a trot, met up with another cowboy and exchanged words. The other man nodded and hurried back toward the house. When the pair arrived at the yard, a woman in her early twenties was standing on the porch, watching curiously. She was dressed casually in a red dress and her long brown hair was done up in braids and hung over her shoulders.

"I'm Kate Roberts," she called as she stepped off the porch and approached the little fence, "What can I do for you?"

"Well, a nice steak would be a good start," the black clad woman replied.

Kate's eyes narrowed. "You're voice sounds familiar. Do I know you?"

"I don't see how you could possibly forget me."

The woman reached up and removed her hat. Long, fire red hair cascade down her back and around her shoulders and her green eyes sparkled in the sunlight.

Kate's eyes widened. "My God. Tessa?"

"In the flesh," Tessa Williams replied, flashing a dazzling smile.

Kate laughed, opened the gate and embraced her old friend.

"It's so good to see you, Tess," she said, "We'd heard what happened. Where have you been hiding?"

"Mexico. The Hollands got me up there and hooked me up with some friends of theirs who hid me."

"What on Earth are you doing back here?" Kate asked as she led Tessa inside the huge house, "You should have stayed where you were safe instead of risking travel."

"Well, during my time in hiding, I thought a lot about those men who....took me down."

"The Larabee gang?"

Tessa nodded, her eyes growing dark. "Yeah, the Larabee gang. The bastards who killed three of my girls and turned the fourth into a traitor. Two months ago, I decided it was time to avenge them and started thinking of ways to go at it. I've spent last month over in Purgatory and it was then that I thought of you two and you're little club."

Kate raised a brow. "You mean...?"

Tessa nodded. "I can't think of a better way. According to my sources, Chris Larabee went over to Stone Canyon a few days ago and is now heading back."

Kate thought for a moment, then smiled. "Well then, if we're going to recruit him, we'd best intercept him before he gets back home." "Intercept who?" a new voice asked.

The women turned and found a handsome man in his early thirties standing in the doorway behind them. He started when he saw Tessa.

"Tessa Williams? Is that you darling?"

Tessa smiled. "Yes Jason, it's me."

She rose and allowed him to take her in a hug. "Damn, girl! It's good to see ya again!" he exclaimed.

"Tessa was just telling me she's back to avenge her girls, Jase," Kate said, "And her revenge plan involves us and our...club."

Jason looked at his sister in surprise. Then a smile crossed his lips. "Well hell, we're always on the lookout for new members. In fact, we haven't had a good initiation party in quite a while."

Tessa smiled, then said, "What would I ever do without friends like you?"

Chris felt more relaxed than he had in months. The trip to Stone Canyon had been uneventful and a little fun. Four Corners had been starting to suffocate him. Or maybe it was his six companions. Either way, it had been good to get away, even if it was only for a few days. He closed his eyes as a cool breeze caressed his face, enjoying the softness of it.

Screaming reached his ears and his eyes flew open. He drew his gun and reined his horse in, looking around and listening carefully. His gaze was drawn to a hill on his left and he urged the horse in the direction. When he reached the top, he saw a lone woman struggling with two men. Chris spurred his horse and ran down the hill. The men saw him and began to draw their weapons, but Chris shot his own, the first bullet spraying up the sand at their feet and the second nicking one of the men in the leg.

He cried out, then shouted to his friend, limped over to his horse, mounted and took off. His friend threw the woman to the ground, jumped on his horse and took off as well. Chris reined in and watched them for a moment, then holstered his gun and dismounted.

"You all right, Miss?" he asked, offering her his hand and helping her up.

She nodded. "Yes. Thank you so much Mr...."

"Larabee. Chris Larabee."

She smiled shakily. "Kate Roberts."

"You hurt anywhere, Miss Roberts?"

"No, just shaken I think," she replied, looking herself over.

"Where do you live?"

"About an hour that way," she said, pointing south.

Chris looked in the direction, then looked around the area. "Think I'd better escort you. Wouldn't want anybody else gettin' any ideas."

"Oh, you don't have to do that," Kate protested.

Chris shook his head. "You're right. But it wouldn't be right to just leave you here."

Kate studied Chris for a moment, then smiled and nodded. "All right. That would be very kind of you."

Chris helped her mount her horse, then mounted his own and followed her.

They arrived at an impressive spread an hour later. Several cowboys stopped their work to stare suspiciously at Chris as the pair road by, but a look from Kate quickly diverted their attention. As they entered the yard of a large house, a man of about thirty approached them, a curious expression on his face.

"Welcome back, Kate. Who's your friend?" he asked, helping her down.

"This is Chris Larabee. I ran into some...trouble during my ride and he helped me."

"What sort of trouble?"

"A couple of cowboys decided I would be good sport."

"Good lord! Are you all right?"

"Yes, Jason, I'm fine. Thanks to Mr. Larabee here."

"Chris," Chris replied as the man looked up at him.

"Well Chris, I must say I owe you one. I'm Jason, Kate's brother," he said, stepping forward and offering his hand.

"Was my pleasure," Chris replied, grasping the other man's hand. He glanced up at the sky, then said, "I'd be best be going now. Just wanted to be sure your sister got home all right."

"Oh, Chris," Kate spoke up, "Please, won't you stay for dinner?"

Chris shook his head. "Thanks, but I really should be getting on home."

"Please," she insisted, "It's the least we could do in return for your help."

Chris hesitated and a pleading, irresistible looked entered her brown eyes. 'Aw hell,' he thought, 'It's just dinner. So I'll be a few hours later than expected. Big deal.'

He nodded. "All right."

She broke into a huge smile as Jason called one of the cowboys wandering around over.

"Take the horses to the barn," he said, then turned and followed Kate and Chris to the house.

"Chris Larabee," Jason said with a thoughtful look later that evening as the trio sat eating supper. "You wouldn't happen to be the Chris Larabee who leads the protectors of that town called Four Corners would you?"

Chris nodded, a little uncomfortable at the recognition.

"Well I'll be Kate!" he exclaimed, "You brought home a man who's fixing to go into legend!"

"Jason," Kate gently admonished with a smile, "Don't embarrass the man now. He's our guest."

Jason grinned, then said, "So tell me, Chris, what's it like protecting a town from desperadoes and all that?"

"Like war. Boring until something actually happens."

Jason laughed, then asked, "What are the men you work with like?"

"They're a good bunch. Rough around the edges, but then who isn't?"

"Amen, brother. Would you like some wine?"

"Take whiskey if you got it."

Jason nodded and motioned for one of the servants. The man disappeared, reappearing a moment later with a large bottle and filling Chris' glass. An hour and a half later, Chris stood outside with the Roberts, waiting for his horse to be brought.

"It was a pleasure meeting you, Chris," Jason said, again offering his hand.

Chris took it and they shook firmly. "Pleasure meeting you as well," he replied.

He blinked and his vision blurred, then cleared.

He looked at Kate as she said, "Thank you again for your assistance, Chris. I hope you come back to visit sometime."

Chris nodded. "Maybe I will," he replied. His vision blurred again and he shook his head.

"Chris? Are you all right?" she asked, concern in her voice.

"Yeah, I'm fine." He tipped his hat to her, nodded to Jason, then turned and moved toward his horse. He hadn't gone more than two steps when a surge of dizziness overtook him and he fell to his knees. His stomach lurched and pain filled his head, and then all went dark.

Part 2

The five days Chris had said he'd be gone for turned into six. And then seven. By the time nine rolled around, J.D. contacted the sheriff in Stone Canyon, who told him Chris had left days ago, as he had intended, and should have been back right on time. As soon as the other men heard this, Buck, J.D., Ezra and Vin saddled up to go out hunting. Figuring Stone Canyon would be the best place to start, they headed there. When they got there, J.D. and Buck went to talk to the sheriff, while Ezra and Vin headed for the saloon. True to form, the first thing Ezra did was get himself involved in a poker game. Vin let him be, knowing his talent for getting information was nearly as good as his talent for conning people.

While Ezra played, Vin went to the bar, got a bottle of whiskey and sat a table in the corner to wait.

Twenty minutes later, J.D. and Buck came in and joined him.

"Nothing!" J.D. exclaimed as he sat down, frustration in his voice.

"Chris left days ago, just like he told us in his wire," Buck added.

"You sure we can trust him?" Vin asked, "Could end up being like that sheriff who put Chris in that prison."

"No, I've dealt with him before," J.D. said, "He's a good, honest man."

"Well," Vin said, "Guess the only thing we can do is wait and see if Ezra comes up with something."

Buck and J.D. nodded and we fell into silence.

Finally, about an hour later, Ezra's game broke up and he joined us. "Anything?" Buck asked.

"A few of them saw Mr. Larabee leave on the day in question, but that's about it," Ezra replied.

"Damn!" Buck muttered. He sighed. "Now what?"

The three of them looked at Vin, who just shook his head and said, "Wish I knew."

Chris struggled to get the breath that had caught in his throat. He gasped harshly and then fought the pain that was attacking him.

"Easy Chris," a female voice reached him, "It's all right, just take it easy."

He opened his eyes, suddenly aware of the intense heat around him. For a moment, he figured he had died and gone to hell, until his eyes focused on the woman above him.

"Kate?" he asked hoarsely.

"Shhh," she replied with a nod. "Just lay still and keep quiet. You're very sick Chris."

Sick? When had that happened? The last thing he remembered was getting ready to leave, then pain, then darkness.

"How long?"

"You've been delirious with fever for four days now. This is the first time you've really woken up."

Four days!

"Aw hell!" he started to sit up, but Kate quickly restrained him, an easy task in his weakened state.

"Chris! Lay still!" she exclaimed.

"I gotta get back," he insisted, but stopped his struggles as the pain returned, "They'll be looking for me."

"We've already contacted your friends, Chris," Kate reassured him.

"They were here for two days, but then got called away on an emergency or something. We expect them back any day now."

The door to the room opened and a young, pretty Mexican girl entered, carrying a tray of bottles and other things.

"Chris, this is Rosa. She's been helping to look after you. She's very skilled in medicines and stuff."

Rosa nodded to Chris with a small smile, then handed Kate a glass of something.

"Here, drink this," she said, helping him to sit up a bit.

The liquid tasted awful and burned as it went down his throat. He coughed as he lay back down, the heat seeming to flare and get hotter. He tried to voice his distress, but the thick darkness had moved in and claimed him again.

Kate smiled as she watched Chris lose consciousness again.

"You really need to have your friend there show me how to make that stuff."

She looked to the doorway and found Tessa standing there, smiling.

"How's he doing?" she asked in a disinterested tone as she came into the room.

"Few more days and he'll be ready for the next stage," Kate replied, looking back at Chris. "We just got to make sure his friends don't stumble on any information that'll lead them here."

"How long will it be before he can start brining in the others?"

"This is a long process, Tess. We're looking at a month at the very least, three months at the most before he'll be ready to send out."

Tessa stared at Chris for a long moment. "Finally, she said, "I waited two years for vengeance. I guess a little longer won't matter." She looked back at Kate. "Think I'll go for a ride before supper."

Kate nodded. "All right."

She watched Tessa leave, then turned back to find Rosa on the other side of Chris, her hand on his chest, frowning slightly.

"Rosa?" she asked.

Rosa looked up and said softly, "Miss Kate, do you realize who you have here?"

Kate looked at her quizzically.

"I was not certain before, but I am now."

Kate sighed. "Well come on, Rosa, out with it."

Rosa looked from Kate to Chris and back again, then began speaking in rapid fire Spanish. Kate's eyes widened as she listened and, when Rosa finished, raced from the room to find Jason.

Jason looked up as Tessa entered the barn, and smiled.

"Hey there, darling," he greeted, "Going for a ride?"

Tessa nodded as she went over and patted her horse's neck. "Yeah. It's time to give my baby girl here a good run."

"Mind if I tag along?"

Tessa regarded him for a moment, then nodded. "Sure. Guess we could use the company."

Jason smiled and grabbed a saddle for his horse. Before he could get much further than putting it on the horse's back, Kate ran into the barn.

"Jason!" she exclaimed, "You're not going to believe what Rosa just told me!"

"She seeing good things or bad things this time?" Jason asked, continuing to saddle his horse.

"Jason, Chris Larabee is the one."

"The one what?"

Kate moved and spun him around so that he was looking her in they eyes.

"Jason, he's the one," she repeated, stressing the words.

Jason stared at her for a moment, then his eyes narrowed. "You don't mean...?"

Kate nodded. "Yes! The one the Order has been waiting for since the beginning! Larabee is it!"

"Is she sure?" he asked, his expression bewildered.

"She's never been wrong before. You know that as well as I do. You wanna hear something interesting? Seems Larabee had a run in with an Eternal recently and actually beat her! Turns out, though, that whoever the Eternal was, she left a little something hibernating deep down inside of him. Ironically, that little something is exactly what the Order needs and, therefore, makes him the chosen one." She smiled widely as she finished. "Isn't that positively delicious?"

"I'll be damned," Jason finally said when the information had sunk in.

"You two wanna clue me in on this little pow wow here?" Tessa spoke up.

Kate turned to her friend, the big smile getting bigger.

"The Order has a prophecy," she began, "It's been around since the beginning. It states, and I quote, that 'a chosen child of Darkness will one day appear. It is not known what form the child will arrive in or even if he will be on the side of darkness. Should he arrive on the side of good, it is up to the members who find him to take the appropriate steps to prepare him for his destiny. The chosen child of dark will slay the chosen child of light, and the blood that flows will release a force so powerful, it will make all children of darkness unstoppable.'"

Tessa raised her brows, then smiled. "Well now, that does sound appealing. Now, you wanna tell me what on Earth an 'Eternal' is?"

"Well, basically, Eternals are human like beings who survive by consuming human souls. Each soul buys them up to four hundred years of life. Pretty sweet huh? A few Eternals have been known to circulate around the groups over in Europe. In return for a few...good souls, they hand over some useful information."

Tessa thought about this, then nodded. "All right. So, if Larabee is your chosen....child of darkness, then who's the child of light?"

"We're still searching for that one," Jason replied. "Could be anywhere."

"I'll go to the nearest telegraph office in the morning and put out the word. Should get the other groups searching harder if the knowledge that the chosen one has finally turned up," Kate said.

Jason nodded in agreement. "It'll also give those who can time to get here and those who can't a chance to set up the right ceremonies."

Tessa looked from one to the other, a small smile making its way across her lips. "You two sure know how to make vengeance different."

Six weeks passed with not one clue as to Chris' whereabouts. We notified the law in several towns, asking to keep an eye out for him and, as a result, had a few scares. On a number of occasions, we were notified to come and identify a body matching Chris' description. Thankfully, each one turned out to be a false alarm, which meant there was still a chance Chris was alive.

By the third false alarm, Buck looked ready to have a breakdown. Hell, so was I, the relief was so intense.

By the time two months passed, the others had pretty much given up hope of ever finding him. I think they believed Chris had chosen to disappear without a trace, and that we would only see him again when and if he wanted them to. But I didn't believe it, and neither did Buck. We both knew something was wrong and the feeling of helplessness was killing us both.

Josiah always told us that God works in mysterious ways. That there's a reason for everything he does. Well, I'll be damned if I can figure out the reason behind what happened next. By this time, it had been about two and a half months since Chris disappeared, and another of us was about to follow him. Literally....

J.D. walked slowly down the dark, deserted street, breathing in the scented night air. It was well past three in the morning, but he could hear activity still coming from the saloon on the next street over. He stopped, listening to the sounds float through the air, then decided to stop in. Maybe a drink or two would help kill his insomnia.

He turned to cut through an alley, but stopped when the sound of a slowly trotting horse reached his ears. He turned back and peered into the darkness, trying to identify the lone rider out at such a ungodly hour. As the figure came closer, J.D. was able to pick out familiar features and his heart started racing.

"My God. Chris?" he called, rushing forward to meet the rider. "Chris is that you?"

He grabbed the bridal of the horse as it stopped, next to the Sheriff's office and looked up at it's rider.

"Hello J.D."

"My God, Chris!" J.D. exclaimed, "Where on Earth have you been? Everyone's been going nuts looking for you!"

"I've been to an amazing place, J.D. filled with amazing people," Chris replied as he dismounted. "I'm here to get some things, then I'm going back."

J.D. gaped at him.

"What do you mean? Aren't you gonna let the others know you're all right? Say goodbye even?"

"Not right now. Later. I need to get back right away." There was a pause, then he added, "You're welcome to come with me J.D. You'd really like this place. Got some really pretty girls you'd enjoy meeting. How 'bout it?"

J.D. looked up at him just as the light from the street fires illuminated his face and held back a gasp. There was something extremely different, almost frightening in Chris' eyes and it made J.D. nervous. But his fear of Chris disappearing again and not coming back quickly overrode his nervousness and he nodded.

"Ya okay. Just let me get some stuff from the office, and then get my horse okay?"

Chris nodded. "Make it fast. I'll meet you back here."

J.D. nodded and hurried into the office. He quickly sought out paper and a pencil and scribbled out a note. He then grabbed a few things he kept there, then ran to the livery and got his horse. Chris was waiting for him when he got back and with a short nod, they trotted out of Four Corners.

Part 4

J.D. struggled all through dinner to keep his attention off Tessa without success. As he had two years earlier, he felt drawn to her. And that scared him. Thanks to Chris' behavior, he didn't believe for a second that Tessa was there to reform, though he wished with all his heart it was true. He couldn't afford to fall under her spell again, for to do so would almost certainly mean death.

He wondered why the others had shown up yet. Vin should have been able to track them without even trying. His mind flashed to the man who had taken off without his horse and then shown up a short time later and his suspicions soared.

'Maybe he sabotaged the trail,' he thought. 'That would certainly help explain why the others haven't shown up yet. I've gotta get out of here and get back to them.'

He suppressed a yawn and realized it had been a while since he last slept. 'Better put off leaving till tomorrow night and get some sleep. Give me a chance to gather more information too.'


He looked up to see Kate watching him.

"I'm sorry, what?"

"You look exhausted, darling. You should go get some sleep."

J.D. smiled. "That's just what I was thinking," he replied.

"Well, before you do," Kate said making a gesture to a servant who disappeared from the room and reappeared seconds later with a pitcher, "You must join us for a quick, goodnight drink."

J.D. glanced at Chris, who nodded slightly. He looked at Kate and smiled. "Sure, I'd be happy to."

The servant filled his glass as another filled the others. Kate raised her glass and, as the others followed suite, said, "May we all live long and joyous lives."

Everyone murmured their consent and downed their drinks. J.D. looked at the glass with a puzzled expression.

"What was that?"

"Homemade wine," Kate replied. "It's an old family recipe. Do you like it?"

J.D. nodded. "Yeah, it's delicious."

Kate smiled gently. "Would you like some more?"

J.D. was about to accept but for some reason, something inside screamed at him not to. Holding in his puzzled feelings, he shook his head and said, "No thanks. I think I'll be getting to bed now."

"All right. Sweet dreams and we'll see you in the morning."

J.D. stood and immediately faltered. He gripped the back of the chair as his vision blurred and dizziness assaulted him.

"J.D.?" Kate asked, standing, "Are you all right?"

"I...I don't feel so good," he replied a little shakily. He shook his head as his vision blurred again and then cried out as pain wracked his mind. He didn't hear his name being called out and was dimly aware of being touched, possibly shaken before darkness sucked him into it's cold embrace.

"What's wrong with him?" Chris asked, looking over at Kate.

"Don't worry, he'll be fine. The boy was nervous and extremely suspicious. I could see it written all over him. I think he was also getting ready to take off. Well, we certainly couldn't have that, so I made a move. In a few days, he'll be good as new and more than willing to stay with us."

Chris nodded thoughtfully. "When do you want the next one brought in?"

Kate looked at Jason who said, "Tomorrow. We're gonna need a little time to get J.D. prepared."

Chris nodded. "I'm going for a ride before I turn in."

"I'll join you," Tessa spoke up with a small smile.

Chris nodded and the pair left. Kate looked down at the unconscious boy, then up at one of the hands. "Get him to the sick room and have Rosa start work on him."

As the hand left with J.D., Kate looked at Jason and said, "I really think I'm going to enjoy this. Something tells me we're headed for a grand adventure."

Jason smiled and kissed his sister's head. "If you say so. Come on, let's go catch up with Chris and Tessa. We wouldn't want something to go wrong and have them kill each other."

Kate nodded. "Yeah. Would hate to have a repeat of five years ago." She shuddered. "Even *I* can only handle so much blood and mutilation."

Buck couldn't believe it when he spotted the familiar form of his oldest friend riding toward him. He'd been out on patrol for nearly an hour now and Chris Larabee was the last thing he expected to encounter, though he had hoped his friend would turn up.

"Hello Buck," Chris greeted as he reined in.

Buck stared at him a moment, then everything he had been thinking came pouring out. "Chris! Where the hell have you been? You know how freaked out everyone's been? And where's J.D.? He okay?"

Chris nodded. "J.D.'s fine. Well, he will be in a few days. He took sick last night."

More worry mixed with the anger in Buck's eyes. "Sick? Where is he?"

"Calm down Buck and I'll explain everything."

Buck forced himself to quiet down and listened as Chris related his story. By the time the older man had finished, amazement had joined the other emotions in Buck's eyes.

"Come on," Chris said, "I'll take ya back and you can see J.D. and meet the Roberts."

Buck shook himself. "Chris! You know damn well I can't just take off! We need to go back to town and show the others you're safe and sound and tell them this. We can all go back with you."

Chris shook his head. "The spread ain't that far from here.

Buck was torn. It was quite clear Chris wasn't going to go back to town. Not now anyway. Not only that, but Buck suddenly saw that J.D.'s note had been right. Something *was* wrong here. Buck could see it in Chris' eyes. He fought back a shudder as he remembered how Chris' eyes had been when the demon Katanya had him in her power. They didn't look now as they had then, but there was definitely an eerie shine in them. That was what made Buck's decision. He just hopped he wouldn't regret it later.

"What's the problem?" Kate asked as she followed the cowboy back to the sick room.

"I don't know Miss Kate," he replied, "I don't understand Spanish and that's all she's speaking."

"Well, what happened?" Kate asked with a touch of inpatients.

The cowboy shook his head. "Don't rightly know. She was fine last night when she was tending to the boy but when she came in to tend to his fever today, she just started ranting and raving. No one can figure out what she's saying or what the problem is. All we know is that it's got something to do with the boy."

They reached the room and Kate entered only to be immediately bombarded by Spanish. She narrowed her eyes as she tired to make sense of what the Mexican girl was trying to tell her. Finally she gripped Rosa's arms and said, /Rosa! I don't understand what you're saying! Calm down./

Rosa stopped talking and took several deep breaths. Finally, when she was calm enough, she repeated what she had been saying. Kate's eyes widened and she looked back at the man who had fetched her. "Get Jason quickly!"

As the man hurried out of the room she turned back to Rosa and asked, "Are you sure?"

Rosa nodded. "Without a doubt," she replied. "The signs are all there."

Kate looked at J.D. who tossed in fevered restlessness in the bed, and her heart began beating faster.

"Kate? What's going on?"

She shook herself and looked up to find Jason had appeared. She must have been a sight for Jason immediately gripped her arm, concern all over his features. "Kate, what's wrong?"

Kate looked back at J.D. and a smile began crossing her lips. "Nothing's wrong, Jason," she whispered. "Something is very, very right."

Jason stared at her. "Well? Are you gonna tell me or not?"

Kate slowly turned and looked up at her brother. She gazed at him a moment, then related what Rosa had told her.

Jason's reaction was much like her own, but he was much quicker to recover his voice. He looked down at J.D. and said softly, "I'll be dammed. Who would have ever guessed they would turn up riding together?"

"I know. Isn't it exciting? The prophecy is playing out. The time is near."

"What's going on?"

They both turned and watched as Tessa entered the room, a curious expression on her face. Kate smiled. "Tessa, you've done it again."

"Done what?" Tessa asked cautiously.

"You've brought us exactly what we need."

"And that is?"

"The Child of Light," Jason replied, slipping and arm around his sister's shoulders.

Tessa stared at them in surprise. She glanced at J.D. and said, "You mean....?"

Kate nodded. "Yup. You're gonna be greatly rewarded for this Tess. If it hadn't been for you..." She trailed off, her smile growing wider.

It took a moment for Tessa to work through her surprise and when she finally found her voice, she said, "So, what now?"

"Well, first things first," Kate replied, "We need to get our dear Child of Light here into a more secluded place for a while. Chris will be returning with another of his friends shortly and we can't have them ruining things. We're gonna have to give him some different medication. We can't bring him to our side now cause of who he is."

"We're also gonna have to alert the others of what's happened," Jason added.

Kate nodded in agreement. "I'll have someone get on that. Right now we'd best get him moved. Chris will be back soon." She thought for a moment, then added, "Let's not tell Chris of this little development. I think it would be better to wait till further into his treatment so he doesn't fight it off or anything."

Jason nodded. "Good idea. You go do what you need to and I'll get the kid moved." He looked at Tessa and added, "You better make yourself scarce too. I bet whoever Larabee brings back is gonna kick up more fuss than the kid did."

Tessa nodded. "I'll just hang around wherever you stick J.D."

Jason nodded, and everyone set to work.

Part 5

"I don't like this," Vin said as he scanned the streets. "Buck should have been back hours ago."

"Think he ran into trouble?" Josiah asked.

Vin shook his head as he took the reins of his horse and mounted. "I don't know. But I aim to find out."

Josiah nodded as he, too mounted. The pair looked down at Ezra and Nathan, who watched them from the porch of the Sheriff's office.

"What do you want us to do should our resident ladies man returns?" Ezra asked.

"Stay put. I kinda doubt he'll show up though. I smell a rat." With that said, Vin spurred his horse and he and Josiah took off out of town.

Ezra and Nathan watched them disappear, then turned and went about their business.

Vin and Josiah picked up Buck's trail quickly and followed it, taking note of when he met up with a second rider. Vin looked in the direction the tracks went together, then up at Josiah.

"Looks like they're headed in the same direction J.D. went with Chris."

"You think the second rider was Chris?" Josiah asked.

"Only one way to find out," Vin replied, standing and remounting his horse. "Lets see how far we get this time."

They set off at a light trot, following the tracks. But, as with J.D., the tracks soon vanished.

"Same as last time," Vin said, his voice laced with frustration. "Someone covered the tracks." He stood and glared at the ground. "What the hell is going on around here? If it was Chris that Buck met up with, then why the hell didn't they come home? Why does it look like Chris is taking us out one by one?"

Josiah shook his head. "Perhaps we're dealing with another powerful force of evil."

"Would only figure," Vin replied bitterly. "Why the hell do they always go after Chris?"

"Because of who Chris is and what he's gone through, it makes him an easy target," Josiah replied.

Vin shook his head. "Come on, let's get back to town."

He remounted his horse and the two men hurried back the way they had come.

"Any luck?" Nathan asked as he and Ezra approached their two comrades.

Vin shook his head and related what they had found. When he finished, he looked at the others silently for a long moment then said, "Until we figure out what's going on here, we stick together. Nobody leaves town or goes very far without at least another of us. Understand?"

The others nodded and Vin glanced around. "I don't know about the rest of you, but I need a drink."

He turned and headed for the saloon, the others following. After they had been seated a few moments, Vin said, "Oh, and one more thing. If Chris shows up again, *don't* go with him. In fact, make sure he stays here. I don't care if you have to hit him over the head and hog tie him, just make sure he don't leave."

Again the others nodded and a silence that lasted for a long time descended.

"Buck, calm down. If they say it's not a good idea to see the kid, then it's not a good idea to see him," Chris said, putting a calming hand on Buck's arm.

"I thought you said he was gonna be all right?" Buck replied, agitated.

Chris shrugged. "How was I to know he'd picked something else up too? Quit worrying. Kate and Jason have one of the best care takers around."

"I can't help but worry, Chris. And it's not just J.D. I'm worried about. You've been acting really strange lately what with disappearing on us, then showing up and taking off again with J.D. What the hell is going on? I mean *really* going on?"

"Nothing's going on Buck. I told you what happened. Take a look around. Can you blame me for wanting to stay here?"

Buck shook his head. "Under the right circumstances, no, but this is different Chris. There's something going on here. I can feel it and I can see it just by looking at you."

Chris chuckled. "This thing with J.D. has you paranoid, Buck. Now come on. Let's go get some supper and then we'll head back." He paused, then added, "With J.D. if it makes you feel any better."

Buck nodded. "Yeah it would. Nathan can care for him just as well as anybody."

Chris smiled slightly. "Let's go then."

After dinner, Buck was left to talk with Kate Roberts and a couple of the cowboys while Chris went to look into a few things. He kept his discomfort hidden, though it was a struggle. Kate Roberts was a very charming young woman and it was all Buck could do not to fall under her spell.

Finally, Chris came back and Buck stood. "Was nice meeting you Miss Kate," he said with a smile, "But it looks like Chris and I will be taking J.D. and heading home now."

"We aren't heading back," Chris said.

Buck shot Chris a sharp look. "Why's that?" he asked.

"Bad storm headed this way. Wouldn't be a good idea to take J.D. out in it."

'Dammit,' Buck thought. Figures the weather would be against him.

"Oh dear," Kate said, "I'd better get out there and help prepare for the storm."

"We'll help out," Chris said and Kate smiled.

"Thank you. Come on, let's go see what needs doing."

Several hours later, Buck lay in bed, staring at the ceiling and listening to the storm rage outside. He and Chris had worked hard to help prepare for the storm, which hit full force just as they were finishing. Everyone had gathered inside the main house and sat around, talking. Finally, Chris led Buck outside and to the guest house, which Buck had to admit was impressive.

He and Chris had talked for a while and then retired to their rooms. Buck wished he had been able to see J.D. He was extremely worried and was quite certain there was more going on than he was being told. He decided he was leaving in the morning with or without Chris and J.D. He would ride back to town and get the others. Figuring that was the wisest course of action, he closed his eyes and began to drift off.

The hand that covered his mouth and the blade that was pressed to his neck brought him back to alertness very quickly. He stayed very still because of the knife and looked up at his attacker. It was a man, though Buck couldn't make out any features thanks to the darkness and the fact the man's face was masked.

"Stay quiet," the man whispered, "I'm a friend."

He removed his hand and the knife and sat back on the bed. Buck quickly sat up a bit.

"Who are you?" he asked in a low voice.

The man shook his head. "Doesn't matter. Listen carefully. You're in grave danger here. You need to get that kid and get out of here...tonight. If you don't, you'll end up the way Larabee is and that kid will end up dead."

"What's wrong with Chris?" Buck asked, hoping to finally discover what was going on.

"No time to explain." The man reached into his pocket and took out a key. "Follow the path out back. It'll take you to where the kid is being held. This key will get you inside."

"How can I get him out of here when he's sick?"

"He may be sick, but he can travel. You may have to hold him in front of you. Either way, just get him out of here. One of my associates is going to be contacting you and your friends shortly. She'll be able to help him and explain what is going on."

He once again reached into his pocket and this time pulled out a vial filled with a clear liquid.

"If you get caught," he whispered, "they'll try and get you to drink something they'll claim is water or whiskey or something. Try to avoid it. There's a special little poison mixed in with it that they use to bring people under their control. Just in case you can't avoid it though, drink this. It'll fight off the poison and keep your mind your own. Make sure you drink it all."

He stood. "Wait ten minutes, then go," he said, then quickly slipped out the door.

Buck's heart pounded in his chest. He'd known something was wrong but he never expected it to be this big. He forced himself to stay calm and examined the little bottle. He considered the fact that the man wasn't a friend, but the enemy.

'Can't take the risk of ignoring him when he could be telling the truth,' he thought and quickly opened it. He drank the contents, wincing at it's bitter taste and when ten minutes had passed, quietly left the room and followed the man's instructions.

Through the pouring rain he soon spotted a small, windowless cabin. He approached it carefully and tried to listen for movement inside. Hearing nothing, he carefully put the key in and unlocked the door.

The room was dimly lit with oil lamps and sparsely furnished. In one corner was a stove and next to it a door that was closed. He didn't approach it, however, for his gaze landed on another corner of the room where two beds were, one of which was occupied.

"J.D." he whispered and quickly moved to the bed.

His friend looked horrible. He was covered in sweat and looked like death warmed over. "J.D., he whispered, shaking him to see if the boy would awaken.

When he didn't, Buck prepared to gather him up and carry him out. However, a noise behind him caught his attention and he quickly turned only to see something come rushing at his face. His vision exploded into whiteness that quickly turned to black.

"Buck. Buck, can you hear me?"

Through the fog that clouded his mind, a voice penetrated and reached him, helping to guide him out and to the land of alertness.

"Come on, darlin,' time to wake up. Open your eyes."

Buck struggled to do as the voice said and finally managed to pry his heavy eyelids open. He blinked and Kate Roberts' concerned face floated into view above him.

She looked to a point he couldn't see and said, "He's awake."

Buck blinked again and Chris appeared in his vision.

"Welcome back to the land of the living. How do you feel?"

"Like I was in the middle of a stampede," Buck groaned. "What happened?"

"Well, we were hoping you could tell us," Kate replied. "One of my hands was checking on the animals last night and came across you unconscious in the mud. It looked like you had slipped and hit your head on a rock. If he hadn't have found you when he did, then who knows what would have happened."

"What were you doing wandering around in that storm, Buck?" Chris asked.

Buck carefully sat up so that he was leaning against the bed's headboard.

"I can't remember," he said with a confused frown.

Kate exchanged a glance with Chris, then picked up a glass from the night stand.

"Here," she said, giving him the glass, "Drink this. It'll make you feel better."

Buck brought the glass to his lips and his mind's eye suddenly flashed back to the night before and the strange man. Along with that memory came the memories of finding the cabin and J.D. and of someone knocking him over the head.

"Buck?" Chris asked, "You all right?"

Buck nodded and put the glass aside. "Yeah, I'll be all right."

Kate nodded and put a hand on Chris' arm. "We'll let you get some rest then."

Buck met Chris' eyes and forced a smile. "Talk to you later, Pard."

Chris nodded and smiled back, though it didn't reach his eyes. "Later."

Buck relaxed slightly when the pair left, his gaze moving to the glass on the night stand. His thoughts went to J.D. and, on impulse, he searched his pockets. He was surprised when his hand closed around the key, wondering why it was still there. Surely he would have been searched. He shook his head. It didn't matter. What did matter was that it was still there and he still had another chance to get the kid and get out of there. First chance he got, he would try again.

Kate softly closed the door behind her and turned to Chris. "I got the feeling we've been infiltrated and whoever it is has tipped him off. The fact he was in the cabin with a key no less confirms that Unfortunately I don't have any way of finding out who the intruder is. If they're an agent from the Group, then they know how to blend in." She slammed her fist into her other hand. "Dammit! Those agents are such a pain in the ass. Thank God there's so few of them left."

"So what do you want to do?" Chris asked.

She turned her gaze back to him. "Well, thanks to our intruder, Buck probably can't be turned now. I bet he finds the key still in his pocket and when he does, I'm willing to bet he'll try to get J.D. and get out of here again."

She shook her head and sighed. "It's a pity really. We could have used him. Now, it looks like he'll be sharing J.D.'s fate." She smiled coldly. "But then again, the more the merrier."

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