M7FFA Entry

 

The Eternal


by Alanna


PART 1



"I hate the desert. Tell me again why we're in this wasteland and not in Paris or something? There's a much better selection there."

The speaker's companion looked over and smiled.

"Because something is drawing me here. I haven't felt this strong a pull in centuries." A hand went up and removed a hat, releasing long, pitch black hair. "You're right though. The desert is the last place I want to be right now."

Pain suddenly crossed delicate features and a soft moan escaped blood red lips.

"Katanya? You all right?" The first speaker quickly reached over and put a hand on the woman's arm.

Katanya nodded. "Aye Sierra, I'm fine. It's just been so long since I've needed a feeding, I've forgotten the pain that accompanies it."

The other woman nodded and gestured ahead. "Our destination grows close. We'll be there shortly and you can relieve your hunger." She looked down at the horse she was riding. "Okay, next question. Why are we taking the long way? Teleporting would have been much faster."

Katanya smiled and replied, "Because teleporting is getting so old. I wanted to try something different." She looked at the town in the distance and then grinned at her friend. "Bet I can beat you." She spurred her horse and took off.

"Hey!" Sierra exclaimed. Then, laughing, she spurred her own horse and hurried after her friend.




Half an hour later, the women had stabled their horses and had picked a spot where they could watch the town without being easily observed themselves.

"Ugh," Sierra said in disgust as she watched the town's people move about on their business. "Could you have picked a worse spot? These souls wouldn't last more than a hundred, two hundred years."

Katanya froze, then said softly, "Don't be so certain sister. Look."

Sierra looked in the direction Katanya had indicated and her gaze landed on a tall man dressed in black from head to toe. She drew in a breath.

"Oh my," she whispered. "He'll be easy and challenging to acquire at the same time. I've never seen anything like it."

"A soul such as his is very rare," Katanya replied softly, her gaze never leaving the black clad man, "I haven't seen one like him in over a thousand years. He'll bring me seven, maybe eight more centuries."

Sierra's eyes widened. "I didn't think it was possible for a single soul to bring that much time!"

"It is. But as I said, it's very rare."

Sierra watched the man for a moment longer, then looked at Katanya and said, "Well then, you'd best get started. I'll go secure us rooms."

Katanya looked at her friend and smiled. "Thank you sister."

The pair embraced quickly, then went their separate ways. Katanya watched her prey move down the street and quickly ran through ways of intercepting him. In the end, she opted for the easier, traditional way. She turned her gaze to an alley ahead of him, closed her eyes and vanished, reappearing at her chosen destination. She checked herself over, then stepped out onto the bored walk and put on a preoccupied expression.

"Oh!" she exclaimed a moment later when they collided.

Strong hands gripped her arms and helped her regain her balance. She waited a few seconds, then tipped her head up and met a pair of beautiful green eyes. When she was certain they were connected, she released the little bit of power she had summoned and smiled to herself when she saw a red light flash through his eyes.

"I'm so sorry," she gushed, "I wasn't watching where I was going!"

The man simply nodded. "Ma'am," he said, then moved on.

Katanya stood and watched him for a long moment, knowing it wouldn't be long before their paths crossed again. She winced at a small stab of pain and quickly soothed it.

'I hope you aren't going to be as hard as the last one like you,' she thought, 'As much as I enjoy a challenge, my time is too short.'

Turning, she continued on down the boardwalk, this time headed for the hotel where she knew Sierra had gone.




Chris Larabee sat in the saloon, staring at the untouched glass of whiskey in front of him. His mind wasn't on the harsh drink however. His mind was on the woman who had bumped into him earlier. For some reason, he couldn't stop thinking of her. He couldn't get her crystal blue eyes out of his mind's eye or soft accent he had heard when she had apologized for running into him. She definitely wasn't from the area and he wondered where she had come from.

He shook himself suddenly. Why was he wondering this? It wasn't like he was going to pursue her, so why wonder? He growled suddenly as the images persisted and he grabbed the glass and downed the liquid in one gulp.

"Damn it!" he muttered, refilling his glass and downing that shot too.

"Something wrong pard?"

He looked up as Buck Wilmington suddenly appeared and sat down across from him. He looked back down and muttered, "Nothing I can't handle."

Buck shrugged and grabbed the bottle. He filled the glass he had brought with him, took a sip, then grinned.

"Got two new ladies in town. I tell ya Chris, I have never in my life seen two finer looking females."

A small smile crossed Chris' lips. "That's what you always say."

Buck shook his head. "This time is different Chris. I ain't never seen women like this before. I met the first one looking for the hotel. Name was Sierra. You ever hear a sweeter name? This little filly had the most gorgeous strawberry hair I'd ever seen. Soon as she got herself a room, she introduced me to her friend."

He grinned. "Lord all mighty Chris, you should have seen her. Pitch black hair, crystal blue eyes and lips a shade of red I didn't think was possible! And guess what her name was? Katanya!"

Chris looked up sharply at Buck's description of the second woman. It was the same one he had encountered earlier.

'Katanya. So that's her name. Suits her. Beautiful name for a beautiful woman....'

He shook himself again and stood up. "Tell me the rest later Buck," he said, "I gotta take a walk."

He nodded to his friend, then hurried for the door, bumping into Vin Tanner as the tracker was coming in.

"Whoa there cowboy, what's the rush?" Vin asked with a small smile.

"Need to clear my head," Chris replied, then continued outside.

Vin watched him disappear up the street, then went over and sat down across from Buck.

"What was that about?"

Buck shrugged. "I don't know." Another grin lit up his face as he turned his full attention on Vin and said, "Met the new ladies in town yet?"




Katanya watched as the man in black exited the saloon and walked briskly down the street. She could see her magic hard at work around him and knew it was time for another encounter.

"How are you going to arrange this one?" Sierra asked as she appeared next to Katanya.

Katanya smiled mischievously. "I think I'll try something...dramatic."

She looked over and spotted a rough, ugly looking man wandering in their direction and her eyes glowed red for a few seconds. She winked at Sierra, then moved into the man's path.

"Oh, excuse me," she murmured as they brushed one anther.

"Hey what's the hurry darlin'?" the man sneered, grabbing her and pulling her back to him. "You're a pretty one. Why don't you and I go for a little ride?"

"Thank you, but I'll pass," Katanya said, squirming in his grasp.

He tightened his grip and said, "Aw come darlin'. It'll be fun."

"I said no! Now let me go!" Katanya struggled then, lashed out and kicked the man in the shin. He grunted, then an angry expression crossed his ugly features.

"You little bitch!" he snarled.

Katanya was well prepared for the sharp blow the man dealt her and so the pain, as well as falling to the ground, didn't surprise her. She wasn't, however, prepared for the blow to the ribs and she cried out at the stinging pain. She looked up, allowing fear to enter her eyes as the man moved in for yet another blow. It never came. The man in black had seen her distress and had come to the rescue.

He landed a sharp blow to the man's face, knocking him to the ground. He then picked the man up and slammed him into the wall.

"That's no way to treat a lady Mister," he growled.

He moved him back, then slammed him up again, causing the man to cry out in pain.

"Chris!"

She looked up as a black man, accompanied by one of the biggest men she had ever seen, hurried up. She looked back up at the man in black.

'Chris,' she thought, 'So that's his name.'

Chris jerked the man away from the wall and pushed him into the big man.

"Lock this slime up," he ordered.

The black man knelt down next to her and gently examined her face. "You all right ma'am?"

"Ye...yes," she replied in a shaky voice.

"Katanya!" Sierra cried, choosing that moment to rush over and kneel next to her friend.

"I'm all right," Katanya reassured her.

Sierra and the black man helped her to stand and she let her legs buckle.

"Whoa there ma'am," the black man said, "I think we'd better get you back to the clinic so I can make sure you're all right."

"Are you a doctor?" Sierra asked.

"I'm the closest thing around here. Name's Nathan Jackson."

Sierra smiled. "I'm Sierra Jones and this is Katanya Romavna."

Nathan nodded. "Pleasure to meet you. Come on, my room is this way."

As Katanya was helped away from the scene, her gaze met Chris' and once again, his eyes flashed red as she sent more of her power out.




Forty minutes later found her laying in one of the beds in Nathan's room while the healer carefully wrapped her bruised ribs.

"You're lucky ma'am," Nathan was saying, "Another blow like that and he might have broken those ribs."

"I'm just grateful you're friend was there to help me," Katanya replied.

As if on cue, there was a knock on the door and Chris entered. Nathan went over and the pair exchanged quiet words, then Chris slowly approached.

"Ma'am," he greeted, "How are you feeling?"

"Better. I want to thank you for helping me mister..."

"Larabee. Chris Larabee."

She smiled. "I'm Katanya Romavna. This is Sierra Jones."

Sierra nodded. "Mister Larabee."

Chris nodded to her, but his eyes were glued to Katanya's. Sierra hid her smile as she watched her friend work her magic. Finally, Chris shook his head, as if to clear it and said, "I'm glad you're all right. Be careful in the future. This town ain't no place for women like you."

He tipped his hat, then turned and left. Katanya watched him leave, then looked at Sierra and smiled.




PART 2



Melinda White sat bolt upright in bed, a frightened gasp escaping her lips. She looked around her dark room and realized it was just a dream. That realization, however, did nothing to calm her pounding heart. She tired to calm down and remember the events of the dream, but the images were quickly fading. All that she was left with was a sense of dread for someone she knew. Chris Larabee.

'I gotta find him. Make sure he's all right,' she thought, quickly climbing out of bed and dressing.

She hurried outside and down the dark, nearly deserted street. She didn't see the lone man until she had run into him.

"Sorry!" she gasped, quickly regaining her balance and starting to move on.

"Melinda?"

She turned back and found herself staring up into the handsome face of Vin Tanner.

"Vin!" she exclaimed. "Thank goodness! Do you know where Chris is?"

Vin gave her a puzzled look. "Well, it's late. He's either in the saloon or in his room sleeping. Why?"

"I have a terrible feeling he's in grave danger. I have to make sure he's all right."

She turned to head for the saloon, but was stopped as Vin gripped her arm.

"Melinda, what do you mean Chris is in danger? How do you know?"

"I don't. I...I had a dream. I can't remember anything about it, but it just gave me strong feeling that Chris is in danger. Please Vin, I have to see if he's all right."

Vin nodded. "All right. Just calm down and we'll go check on him."

She flashed him a quick smile, then they turned and started for the saloon. Vin shook his head and hurried to keep up with the girl, wondering what kind of dream could have spooked her this much. Chris wasn't in the saloon, so the pair went over to the room he rented and Vin knocked softly on the door.

"He's probably asleep," he said softly when there was no answer.

Melinda looked at him pleadingly.

"Please Vin. Just check."

Vin looked at her for a long moment, then finally sighed and carefully opened the door. He took a few steps inside, and froze when he felt cold metal press into the side of his forehead, followed by the sound of a hammer being drawn back.

"It's me pard," he said softly.

"Vin?"

"Yeah."

The barrel was taken away and the hammer put back in place.

"You trying to get yourself killed, Tanner?" Chris growled as he stepped into the light the hallway was letting in.

"Sorry Chris. Melinda here insisted on making sure you were all right."

"All right?" Chris turned his hard gaze on Melinda.

"I had a dream Chris. I can't remember the details, but It gave me a horrible feeling that you were in danger."

"As you can see, I'm fine. So why don't you two get out of here and let me sleep?"

Melinda was about to say more but Vin, seeing Chris' dark mood, quickly grabbed her arm and pulled her from the room.

"Come on Melinda he's fine. Let's get you back to your own room."

Before she could protest, they were out in the hallway, and Chris' door was closed.

"Something isn't right Vin," she said softly as she stared at the closed door. "I've got such a bad feeling."

"Melinda, you saw him. He's fine. That dream has got you spooked. Why don't you go back to your place and go back to sleep? You'll feel better in the morning."

She hesitated, then nodded. Maybe she really was just spooked. Maybe this feeling of dread would be gone in the morning. She hoped so, but deep down, she knew it probably wouldn't. She sighed softly, then turned away and allowed Vin to lead her out.




Chris sat outside the saloon, quietly sipping his morning coffee and watching early risers move about on their business.

"Hey Chris!"

Chris looked up and spotted J.D. Dunne hurrying down the boardwalk toward him, a piece of telegraph paper clutched in his hand.

"We might have trouble coming," the boy said when he reached Chris. He handed over the telegram and added, "Bank a few towns over was hit yesterday. Last anyone saw, the guys who did it were headed in this direction. Although there is the chance that they changed directions and won't come through here at all."

Chris nodded. "Get the others anyway. I don't want to be caught off guard if they do show up."

J.D. nodded and took off to find the others. Chris returned his gaze to the street, silently cursing the interruption of the peaceful streak they were on.

He was interrupted by a soft voice. "Good morning Mr. Larabee."

His heart jumped, then started hammering when he looked up and saw Katanya Romavna.

When he finally managed to find his voice, he said, "Morning Miss Romavna. How are your ribs?"

She smiled and he felt his heart jump again.

"Much better, thank you and please, call me Katanya."

Chris nodded. "All right. But if I'm calling you by your given name, then you should call me Chris."

She smiled again and Chris found he couldn't tear his eyes from hers. It was almost as though she had cast a spell over him. He didn't understand why he felt so drawn to this woman. The only other woman who had ever affected him like this had been Sarah...

"Well now, this beautiful morning is nothing in comparison to the beauty I see before me!"

Chris blinked and looked away, his gaze falling on Buck as his oldest friend walked up, a big grin on his face as he looked at Katanya.

"Miss Katanya," he said, taking her hand and kissing it, "I do believe an angel is missing from heaven."

"Good morning Buck," Katanya replied with a laugh. "You're just as charming as you were yesterday."

Buck's expression grew serious. "Speaking of yesterday, I heard about your encounter. Are you all right?"

She nodded. "Yes, I'm fine. Chris stepped in before he could do any serious damage."

She looked back at Chris and smiled, their gazes locking once again. Buck looked at the pair, a small smile crossing his lips. His attention was diverted a moment later when Ezra Standish appeared, not looking at all pleased to be up and about.

"I sincerely hope there is a good reason for having the boy bring me out of the restful slumber I was so very much enjoying."

Chris managed to turn his gaze to Ezra and nodded curtly. But before he could say anything, Ezra noticed Katanya and lost all interest in the reason he had been woken so early.

"Well now, I don't believe I've had the pleasure of meeting what I can only describe as the most beautiful woman I've ever laid eyes upon."

He stepped forward, took her hand in his and kissed it as Buck had. "Ezra Standish Ma'am."

Katanya let another smile pass her lips. "Katanya Romavna."

Over the next several minutes, the remaining members of the group arrived. Chris watched as Katanya made the acquaintance of those she hadn't yet and chatted with those she had.

Finally, when everyone had arrived, Chris stood and said, "Everyone into the saloon. Got something we need to discuss."

The men did as they were told. Chris looked at Katanya and almost lost himself in her eyes again. He shook himself and said, "Ma'am...uh, Katanya."

He tipped his hat, then turned and went into the saloon. Buck immediately shot him a grin, which Chris returned coldly before getting down to business. He relayed the message J.D. had given him and then outlined what he wanted done. He had a hard time focusing, however, for Katanya kept making an appearance in his mind's eye. He managed to get through the meeting though and when he was finished, made straight for the bar and a bottle of whiskey.

"You all right, Chris?" Vin asked quietly as he took a seat across from Chris.

Chris nodded shortly. "Yeah, I'm fine."

"He's just having a little trouble getting that little goddess out of his mind," Buck said as he joined them, his whole manner teasing.

Chris shot him an icy glare while Vin raised an eyebrow. Apparently, he had missed something and from the look on Buck's face, it had been very interesting. He looked back at Chris and decided it would be better if he didn't ask. Instead, he took a quick pull of the whiskey, nodded to the two men, then got up and left to begin his patrol.




PART 3



Two days passed, during which time Katanya watched as Chris moved closer and closer to insanity. She made sure he couldn't get her image out of his mind and fixed it so she was always close by, making his desire for her grow. At the moment, she and Sierra were watching the man as he made his way down the street toward the jailhouse. Well, Sierra was watching. Katanya was working hard to calm a surge of pain.

Sierra looked at her as she finally got it under control and said, "You're going to have to move quickly Kat. The pain is going to get worse if you don't at least get into his mind."

"Believe me sister, that is a fact that I am well aware of."

"So what do you plan to do?"

Katanya's eyes never left Chris as he came out of the jailhouse and she simply replied, "Go for a ride."

Without waiting for Sierra to respond, she walked out from where they had been watching and moved toward Chris.

"Chris!" she called, getting his attention.

He tipped his hat to her when she caught up with him and she flashed him a heart melting smile.

"Afternoon Katanya. Something I can do for you?"

"Actually yes. I wanted to go for a ride, see some of the area, but Sierra isn't feeling well and can't come with me. So, I was wondering if you'd be able to escort me?"

She smiled to herself at the emotions rushing through his eyes.

"Maybe you should ask Vin or Buck or one of the others. I really should stick around town."

"Oh come on Chris. Please? You look like you could use a few hours out in the middle of nowhere." She put her hand on his arm, enjoying the reaction she got, and added, "After all, you saved my life and I'd feel much safer if it were you with me."

She held his eyes when they connected, drawing him in a little more.

"Please?" she asked softly.

After a moment, he nodded and said, "All right. Just let me tell one of my men where I'm going, then saddle my horse."

She nodded, a smile crossing her lips. "I'll meet you at the livery."

He nodded and continued in the direction he was going. She watched him for a moment, then looked over at Sierra, nodded and headed for the livery.




They had been out for a couple of hours and had talked little, much to Katanya's irritation.

'How can I get close to him when I can't get him to open up?' she wondered silently.

"It's getting late," Chris said, looking up at the sun, "We should be getting back."

Katanya looked up at the slowly setting sun and an idea came to her.

"Chris, where I come from, you don't get to see the sunset the way God intended. Do you think...do you think we could watch this one?"

She knew she had taken him by surprise from his sudden change in posture and put on a innocent facade.

"I...I don't know," he replied. "We're pretty far out. If we stayed to watch the sunset, we wouldn't get back to town till after dark."

"Doesn't bother me."

"My men are expecting us back before sunset," he argued.

She smiled to herself and said softly, "Please Chris?"

There was a moment of silence, and the Chris sighed. "All right. Come on, I know a spot not far from town."

He spurred his horse and hurried off, Katanya following with a triumphant gleam in her eyes.




The spot he had picked really was very nice, Katanya had to admit. They were on a high outcropping of rocks overlooking the desert. Four Corners could be seen in the distance, shadows in the fading light of the sun. The sun. Katanya wasn't sure of the last time she had seen such a magnificent sunset. Deep reds mixed with oranges and pinks and created patterns among the clouds that were scattered about. She sighed and stepped closer to Chris.

"It's so beautiful Chris," she said softly. "I had no idea a sunset could be so stunning."

Chris didn't reply and she could tell he was fighting with himself. His emotion were running wild and she knew she had to make her move before he got a hold of himself.

"I...I'm really glad that I met you," she said in the same soft voice.

She turned and looked up at him as she added, "I've never met anyone like you before."

He turned and looked at her and she released her power when their eyes met.

"I've...never met anyone like you either," he replied.

Red light flashed through his eyes as they stared at one another. His hand came up and gently touched her cheek. They slowly moved closer, Katanya closing her eyes only when she was certain he wasn't going to shake her control off. Their lips met and Katanya's power surged into him and drew out the strength she desperately needed to keep the hunger pains at bay. The kiss deepened and she began moving into his mind, searching his past for things she could use to gain possession of his soul.

Images of a woman and a little boy entered her mind's eye, drawing her curiosity. She pursued those memories and quickly discovered who they were.

'A wife and child,' she thought, 'Hmm, so much pain. What happened to them?'

She pushed further and was surprised when she hit a barrier.

'Clever. Not many humans can do this. Well, shouldn't take much to bypass it.'

She was about to use more power when Chris began to break the kiss.

'No!' she thought, but the connection had been broken and she had no choice but to return to her own mind and regain her composure.

Her eyes slowly opened and she smiled up at him. "That was nice," she whispered.

They stared at one another for a long time before Chris finally said softly, "We'd better get back."

She nodded and followed him back down the path they had taken, satisfied that she had gotten a large amount of power into him which, by morning, would give her a strong influence over him. All she had to do now was learn the one thing about his past she could use to gain complete control of him.

'Once I learn that, my dear Chris, your soul is as good as mine.'




Chris awoke the next morning feeling strangely different. It was almost as if a large portion of the darkness that had taken up residence inside him had packed up and moved on and something else had taken it's place. Perhaps it was Katanya. The kiss they had shared the previous night had occupied half of his dreams. Her face had occupied the other half. He wasn't quite sure what was happening. The feelings she stirred up in him frightened and intrigued him at the same time.

He looked up at a quick knock on the door.

"Who is it?" he asked, grabbing his gun from the night stand and preparing for trouble.

"J.D." came the muffled response.

Chris un-cocked the gun, crossed the room and opened the door. J.D. looked up at him, worry and excitement in his eyes.

"Vin said to come get ya," he said, "Nine men just came into town that he's sure are going to be trouble."

Chris nodded. "I'll be down in a minute."

J.D. nodded and hurried away while Chris finished dressing and then headed down himself. He found Vin and Nathan gathered in the saloon, their attention clearly focused on a table of five men.

"The other four disappeared a while ago. Buck, Josiah and Ezra are keeping an eye on 'em," Vin said as Chris joined them.

"They give any indication they're here to cause trouble?"

"Not really. But I can feel in my gut that something ain't right."

Chris studied Vin for a moment, then nodded. "Your gut is usually right, but there's not a whole lot we can do at the moment except keep a close eye on them."

J.D. entered the saloon then, several papers in his hand. He glanced quickly at the five men, then moved over to his friends.

"Chris," he said quietly, "remember that gang we were warned about the other day?"

Chris nodded and J.D. continued. "Well, I just got their descriptions."

He handed the papers to Chris, who discovered they were wanted posters. Five of them matched the five at the table and Vin confirmed the other four.

"Looks like we just got ourselves a excuse," Nathan said softly.

Chris nodded his agreement and the four stood. Before any of them had taken more than a step, however, the five men jumped up, and all hell broke loose.

Chris threw himself behind the bar and drew his gun. He waited a second, then jumped up and fired, ducked down and then jumped up and fired again. He cried out as white hot pain exploded in his right shoulder and hit the floor, clutching the wound.

"Let's get out of here!" he heard someone shout and peeked around the corner to see the four of the five rushing out. He scrambled to his feet and ran out after them, quickly seeking cover when he reached the outside. He spotted the four already on horseback, running full speed down the street, joined by two more further down.

"Get after 'em!" he shouted as Ezra, Buck and Josiah ran up.

"Chris, you're hurt!" Nathan exclaimed, seeing the blood on Chris' hand and what he could on the black material of Chris' duster.

Chris shook his head. "No time! Get after 'em now!"

They others nodded and all went for their horses.




They had pursued the six men as a whole until their foes had split up. The men quickly divided into groups. Chris, Vin, Josiah and Ezra going after one while Buck, J.D. and Nathan went after the other. Chris was working hard to push the pain in his shoulder out of his mind by thinking about what he would do once he caught the bastard who shot him.

It wasn't long before they caught up to the men and another gunfight ensued. Chris had taken cover behind a large cluster of rocks, angrily returning fire. He scanned the area, trying to pinpoint where their foes were. He had found two of them and was looking for the third when a slight noise behind him drew his attention. Knowing it wasn't one of his friends behind him, he spun around and fired at the same time the enemy fired. His shoulder throbbed in protest as he watched the man fall dead at his feet. Chris stared down at him, trying to catch his breath. It was then that he noticed another part of his body was emitting waves of pain and looked down. He pressed his hand to a spot just under his ribs and hissed. He drew it away and cursed at the blood that covered it.

'Damn, I could use a drink,' he thought.

He took a step away from the rock he was leaning on, and then darkness claimed him.




"Hold your fire! We give up, we give up!"

Vin exchanged glances with Josiah, then shouted, "Throw down your guns and come out with your hands where we can see 'em!"

There was a moment of silence, and then two the men appeared, their hands behind their heads.

"Where's your friend?" Vin called.

One of the men shrugged. "Beats us. Probably turned tail and ran!"

Vin glanced at Josiah again, then the two carefully came out, their guns trained on the two men. Ezra appeared a few feet away, rope in his hand. Josiah helped the gambler tie the men up while Vin covered them. The big man looked up when he was finished and asked, "Where's Chris?"

Vin glanced around, startled. "I don't know. Chris! Chris, where are you?"

Vin left the other two and headed for the rocks he was sure he had seen Chris go to for cover. The first thing he found was the body of the third man. His heart jumped to his throat when his gaze moved past the man and landed on Chris' unmoving form.

"Chris!" he exclaimed, hurrying over to his friend.

He sighed in relief when he found a pulse, then cursed when he saw the wounds.

"Vin!"

He looked up as Josiah joined him.

"He's in a bad way Josiah. We gotta get him to Nathan fast."

Josiah nodded, then hurried off to prepare transportation for their injured leader.




PART 4



An hour passed. Josiah and Ezra worked to build a Travois with what few resources they had while Vin worked to stop the furious bleeding from Chris' wounds. When he had finished wrapping the wounds the best he could, he stood so he could see over the rocks and called, "How's it coming?"

"Another few minutes," came Josiah's reply.

Vin nodded and looked back at Chris to find the older man looking up at him with confused, pain filled eyes. "Hey," Vin said, kneeling back down next to him, "Welcome back Pard."

"What... happened? Where am I?"

He moved to sit up, but Vin quickly reached out and held him down firmly.

"Easy Chris. You've been shot. Now's not a good time to be up and about. Josiah and Ezra area working on a Travois so we can get you out of here."

"The men?"

"One's dead, the other two gave up. They're tied up by the horses."

Chris gritted his teeth as a wave of pain crashed through him.

He rode it out, then whispered hoarsely, ""Bring 'em over here...so I can shoot them too."

Vin smiled and looked up as Josiah joined them.

"Glad to see you awake, brother," the big man said, then looked at Vin. "We're ready."

Vin nodded and looked back at Chris. "Josiah's gonna have to carry you over to the Travois, okay?"

Chris gave a slight nod, but Vin could tell he hadn't really heard him. He moved away so Josiah could pick the other man up and take him to where Ezra waited for them.

"Chris?" Vin said quietly when they had secured him to the transportation unit, "Chris, can you hear me?"

Chris' eyes fluttered open and he looked at Vin for a few seconds before he began to drift away again.

"Chris," Vin shook him gently, "Chris, you gotta try not to fall asleep now, okay?"

"Tired," came the drowsy reply.

"I know pard, but you're in a bad way right now. You fall asleep, you might not wake up. Now, I can't speak for the others, but I know that would upset me something awful. Probably piss Buck off pretty bad too."

Chris muttered something in reply and then remained still. Vin looked at Josiah and Ezra with intense worry.

"We'd better get him back to town fast."




Buck sent another worried look down the street, hoping that this time, he would see Chris, Vin, Josiah and Ezra returning. Nothing. Damn, where the hell were they?

He looked behind him as Nathan emerged from the jail and joined him on the porch.

The healer put a hand on Buck's shoulder and said reassuringly, "Don't worry, I'm sure they're all right."

Buck, however, heard the worried note in his friend's voice. Chris had been wounded, and Nathan was worried about blood loss and how Chris was holding up.

"Buck?"

Buck turned around and couldn't help but smile at the pretty young blonde standing behind him.

"Afternoon Melinda. What can I do for you?"

Melinda wore a slightly worried expression as she asked, "Is Chris around?"

Buck shook his head, then told her what had happened.

"Was...was he all right?" she asked hesitantly.

Buck and Nathan exchanged glances, then Buck replied, "Well, he'd been shot in the arm, but we're not sure if he's all right since Nathan never got a chance to get him out."

Melinda bit her lower lip as Nathan asked, "Are you all right?"

She looked at him and nodded. "Yeah. I've just been a little uneasy these past few days. I keep getting this terrible feeling that Chris is in danger. I've been having dreams too, but I can never remember what they're about."

Nathan gave her a strange look, but she adverted her gaze from his. Before anyone could say anything else, a sugary voice said, "Well now. Afternoon Nathan, Buck."

The two men looked up as Sierra joined them, a sultry smile aimed in Buck's direction.

"Afternoon Sierra," Buck replied, "How are you this fine day?"

"Wonderful. This weather is simply perfect."

Her gaze traveled to Melinda and she smiled in a friendly manner. "Well hello. I don't believe we've met."

"Sierra, this is Melinda White," Buck said, "Melinda, this is Sierra Jones."

Melinda smiled and offered her hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you."

"You as well," Sierra replied, taking the hand the other woman offered.

The two men didn't miss the strange looks that passed over the women's faces. They stared at one another for a moment, then Melinda smiled and released Sierra's hand. She looked at Buck and said, "When Chris gets back, let me know would you? Just so I know he's all right?"

Buck nodded and Melinda nodded goodbye.

"Afternoon gentlemen," a new voice said, breaking the silence.

Sierra and Katanya nodded to each other and the two men greeted her warmly. She talked with them for a few minutes then turned her attention to Sierra.

"You ready?"

She nodded and the pair excused themselves. Buck watched them leave, then turned his attention back to lookout.




"What's wrong?" Katanya asked as she and Sierra walked down the boardwalk.

Sierra glanced at her. "I just met a woman by the name of Melinda White. When we shook hands, I felt a strange energy within her. I'm not certain, but there is a possibility that she is a direct descendant of Bonnie White."

Katanya was silent for a moment, then said, "If that's true, then we'd better keep a close eye on her. I'm making very good progress and don't wish it to be ruined."

Sierra nodded, and the two continued on in silence.




Another hour had passed and Buck was just about to get his horse and go hunting for his friends when he spotted riders coming into town. His first clue that it was who he had been waiting for was Ezra's unmistakable red jacket. Ezra's horse was pulling something behind it. He then spotted Vin, who had two men walking behind his horse with Josiah behind them. Chris' horse came into view and his heart jumped to his throat. There was a body to tied to it.

'No,' he thought, 'It can't be.'

"Nathan!" he shouted and started running.

Josiah pulled away from the group and hurried over, dismounted and intercepted Buck.

"It's not him," he said calmly.

"Then where is he?"

Josiah nodded to the thing Ezra's horse had been pulling and discovered what it was. He hurried over and took in Chris' deathly pale face. He turned frightened eyes on Vin as the other man joined him.

"He was shot again," the ex-bounty hunter said quietly.

"Aw hell!" Nathan exclaimed, having heard Vin's words as he joined them.

He quickly felt for Chris' pulse, relief flashing through his dark eyes when he found one.

"Josiah, help me get him upstairs would ya?"

As the two men carefully moved Chris from the street and towards Nathan's room, Buck turned an angry glare on the two gang members. He grabbed one and roughly dragged him toward the jailhouse while Ezra followed with the other.

J.D. had one of the cells ready and waiting when they got there and Buck threw his man in, then grabbed Ezra's man and threw him in too. He then turned and stalked out, quickly making his way toward Nathan's. He found Vin standing outside the door, his blue eyes filled with worry.

"Anything?" Buck asked.

Vin shook his head. "Not yet."

The two fell into tense silence as they waited for news of Chris. A short time later, Ezra joined them, an odd look in his eyes.

"Gentlemen, it seems Mr. Larabee's unfortunate incident was, shall we say, not spontaneous?"

"What do you mean Ezra?" Buck asked, a note of impatience in his voice.

"After you left, the two miscreants we had brought back alive had a rather interesting conversation with their comrades that they were kind enough to share with Mr. Dunne and myself. Seems these boys were not the gang we were supposed to be looking out for. Those wanted posters our young friend received were part of a setup if you will."

"Setup?" Vin asked.

Ezra nodded. "Yes. It seems Mr. Larabee has yet another mystery person upset with him. Our friends in there were on a suicide mission. You could say the man who injured Mr. Larabee succeeded in the suicide part."

"And he may succeed in the other part too," Vin muttered, a dark note in his voice.

The men turned around quickly as the door opened and Nathan stepped out a look on his face that caused all three men's stomachs to turn.

"Nathan?" Buck asked hesitantly, fear in his eyes.

"He's alive," Nathan said quietly, "But not by much. That second bullet did a lot of damage and he lost a lot of blood. He..." Nathan stopped and looked at the tiro hesitantly before going on. "He's got an intense fever and ain't responding to anything."

Nathan looked away, drawing a deep breath and letting it out slowly. When he looked back at them, his eyes were filled with a deep sadness and grief.

"Guys he...I don't think he's gonna make it."

The three men stared at the healer in shock.

"Are...are you quite certain Mr. Jackson?" Ezra finally managed to say.

Nathan nodded silently.

"How long's he got?" Buck asked hoarsely.

"I wouldn't give him more than two days, tops."

Buck squeezed his eyes shut then asked in the same hoarse voice, "Can we see him?"

Nathan nodded. "Yeah, for a few minutes."

The men entered the room and Buck hurried over to Chris. Ezra stood just behind the other man while Vin hung back, leaning on the wall by the door. Josiah was on Chris' other side, softly murmuring prayers.

Buck stared down numbly at his oldest friend, shocked. He hadn't quite believed Nathan's words outside but now....

He reached down and put his hand to Chris' forehead, jerking back quickly at the stunning heat he found there. Damn...

Without a word he turned and stalked to the door. His fist connected angrily with the wall, then he opened the door and left.

Josiah, having finished his prayers, stood and said quietly, "I'll make sure he doesn't do anything rash."

Ezra gave Nathan a troubled look, then turned and followed Josiah out. Vin slowly approached Chris, stopping about half way and looking at Nathan.

"Could I have a moment Nathan?" he asked quietly.

Nathan nodded. "Yeah. I'm...I'm gonna go get something to drink."

He cast another glance at Chris, then left the room. Vin finished his approach and sat down in the chair next to the bed.

He stared at Chris for a long moment before saying quietly, "Hey cowboy. I know you're in there somewhere and I'm pretty sure you can hear me. What are you doing? You're not supposed to be dyin'. You're supposed to live and help me clear up that mess in Tuscosa remember? You gave your word and you ain't getting out of it that easily."

He paused for a moment, then continued. "I ain't the only one who needs ya Chris. Buck and the others, they all need ya."

He shook his head and chuckled softly. "Hell, I don't know when it happened, but somewhere along the line, the seven of us, we became a family. I...I haven't had a real family since my ma died. Reckon I like it, even if some of them boys can be a little strange at times."

He smiled. "But hey, you gotta love em huh?"

He was silent for a moment, staring at Chris, struggling to keep his emotions from running rampant.

Finally, he whispered, "I'm scared Chris. I'm scared about what's gonna happen if you die. You brought us togther and, even though it ain't been easy, you've kept us together. If you die, there'll be nothing holding us together anymore. Buck will probably head state side and J.D. will probably go with him. Ezra will probably move on, find some place to start his saloon. Nathan and Josiah will most likely stay though. And me...hell, I don't know what I'd do."

He closed his eyes for a moment, and when he opened them, they shone with unshed tears.

"Fight it Chris. Don't let him take you. I don't want to loose what we've got. I don't want to loose you, my friend....my brother. Please, fight him and come back. We need you Chris. I need you."

Vin stared at the man he though of as his brother for a long moment, then closed his eyes and began praying to any higher power who was listening to help Chris in his fight and to bring him back.




PART 5



Katanya transformed her hurried, angry steps into worried ones for sake of appearance as she and Sierra headed for Nathan's. Word of what had happened to Chris had reached them and she was struggling not to lose it right then and there and fry a few people. That man had better live....

She glanced at Sierra, then knocked softly on Nathan's door. It was opened by a very somber looking Vin.

"Vin," Katanya said softly, "We just heard what happened. Could we see him?"

Vin regarded them for a moment, then nodded and stepped aside.

Katanya went over to Chris' bedside and stared down at him for a long moment. She then looked at Sierra, who nodded slightly and went over to where Vin was sitting in another chair, watching them quietly. She smiled at him and put her hand on his cheek. Almost immediately, his eyes closed and he slipped into a deep sleep. She then joined Katanya on the other side of Chris, and reached over to grasp Katanya's hands. They closed their eyes and began to softly chant in unison. A few moments later, a light began to form around their hands, quickly engulfing them. Slowly, the women moved their clasped, glowing hands down until they were touching the spot over Chris' heart. The light grew brighter and they began chanting quicker until the words were just a blur and the light stunningly intense. Suddenly, the light burst and the women's heads both flew back, gasping for air. Finally, the light died down and both slumped to the floor, struggling to catch their breaths.

"Wow," Sierra finally said, "What a....a rush."

Katanya climbed unsteadily to her feet and put her hand over Chris' heart. She closed her eyes and her hand glowed softly.

"So what's the verdict?" Sierra asked as she got to her feet and Katanya's eyes opened.

Katanya smiled. "He'll live. He was awfully close to the river but we managed to bring him back before he got too far." Her eyes grew dark as she added, "Someone is going to pay dearly for this."

She crossed over to where Vin still slept in the chair and whispered in a voice that echoed softly around the room, "Who did this?"

"Gang," Vin murmured back, "The one who shot him the second time is dead."

"And the first one?"

"In the jail with the others who survived."

She nodded. "Sleep for a while. You look awful."

She gestured at Sierra and the two women quietly left. They made their way over to the jail house, glad that J.D. had stepped out for a moment and there was no one on guard.

"Hello boys," Katanya said with a sweet smile.

The men all stood and grinned at the same time.

"Well now, what do we have here?" one said, a leering smile on is face.

"You sir," Katanya replied, "Have a very upset woman on your hands. Tell me, which one of you was one of the two who shot Chris Larabee?"

The first one smiled again. "That would be me. Why you wanna know sweet lips? You looking to give me a little reward?"

Katanya smiled coldly. "Oh, I'm looking to give you something all right. Just not quite what you'd expect."

The man's smile vanished as her eyes began glowing.

"What the hell....?"

He was interrupted as Katanya pointed at him and a beam of light shot from her finger and slammed into him. The other men watched in shock as bright light engulfed him, and he simply vanished.

Katanya looked at the other men, her smile even colder than before.

"Now, as for the rest of you..." She trailed off as Sierra joined her and both of them repeated in unison what Katanya had just done.

Sierra looked at the empty cells then smiled. "The limbo guardians should have some fun until we have need of them."

Katanya chuckled. "Come on. Let's get out of here before someone shows up."




Nathan quietly entered his room and looked at Vin, seated in his usual place next to Chris, sleeping restlessly. The past day and a half had been hard on all of them, especially after discovering the gang had disappeared without a trace. Vin was almost always with Chris, and if he wasn't, Buck, who kept disappearing for hours on end, was.

Nathan moved quietly, not wanting to disturbed Vin from getting what little rest he was and looked at Chris. The healer's eyes narrowed as he suddenly noticed several changes in his friend's condition. Chris' breathing, which had been harsh and labored, was now easy and regular, while his deathly pale skin now had a little bit of color in it. He reached down and placed his hand on Chris' forehead and his eyes widened. The skin was cool to the touch and Nathan released the breath he hadn't even realized he had been holding. A huge smile crossed his lips and he hurried over to Vin.

"Vin! Vin, wake up!"

Vin awoke with a startled expression.

"Nathan! What's wrong?" he asked fearfully, gripping his friend's arm tightly.

Nathan grasped Vin's hand, his smile widening as he said, "Nothing's wrong. Everything's fine Vin."

He looked at Chris, then back at Vin, causing the other man's eyes to narrow and to see for himself what had Nathan so excited. His eyes widened when he saw the improvement in Chris' condition and he looked up at Nathan with a silent question in his eyes. Nathan nodded.

"He's gonna be all right. I don't how, but he's gonna live."

Vin stared at Nathan in shock, then a smile as big as Nathan's crossed his lips. He let out a joyful whoop and embraced Nathan, then hurried from the room.

He found the others in the saloon, staring at their drinks with gut wrenching expressions. Vin sauntered up to the bar, got a shot of whiskey, then turned and looked at the men with a small grin.

"You boys look like the end of the world's coming."

"Death will do that to you," Josiah replied, his watchful gaze never leaving Buck.

"Really? Who's dyin'?" Vin asked, taking a sip of his shot.

J.D. looked up at him, confusion in his brown eyes. "Vin, you know as well as we do that Chris..." He trailed off, unable to finish.

Vin raised his brows. "Chris is what?"

J.D.'s confusion grew at Vin's words. He glanced at Buck then said, "That....Chris is dying."

Vin finished the shot and got another. "Really? Wasn't aware of that."

By now, the men were all looking at him in confusion. Buck looked like he wasn't sure if he should kill Vin or have him committed. Ezra was the only one who didn't seem confused. He wore a more curious expression as he carefully studied Vin.

Finally, he said, "Mr. Tanner, is there something you would like to share with us?"

Vin couldn't keep his grin from growing. "Only the fact we got that miracle we've been prayin' for."

The confused looks slowly melted to uncertain shock. Buck stood and approached Vin. He put his hand on the other man's arm and said quietly, "What are you saying Vin?"

Vin put his hand on Buck's shoulder and replied, "I'm saying he's gonna live. His breathing is normal, his skin has some color back, his fever is pretty much gone...he's gonna live."

Buck stared at Vin for a long moment. "He's gonna live?" he finally whispered, afraid that he had heard wrong.

A smile spread across his lips at the look in Vin's eyes. "He's gonna live!" he shouted, pulling Vin into a hug and laughing.

The other men let out cheers, raising their glasses and downing their shots in celebration.

"I see you've told em the good news," Nathan said as he entered the dim room.

"After playing with us for a while, yes he did," Ezra said, rasing his glass to Nathan then downing the drink. "And how is Mr. Larabee faring?" he added.

Nathan shook his head as he poured himself a drink. "It's the damndest thing. He seems to be improving by the second. He ain't conscious yet, but I'm willing to bet it won't be long before he is. Miss Katanya is up with him now. She was mighty glad to see he was doing okay."

Buck grinned. "Here's hoping he wakes up to see her above him. There's a mighty strong attraction there that I sure wouldn't mind seeing grow into something."

'Maybe it will,' Vin thought, remembering the scene he had witnessed the night before all hell had broken loose.

He had been sitting in the shadows outside the saloon and had watched as Chris and Katanya had finally come back from their afternoon ride. He could tell right away, just from the look on Chris' face and his posture as he escorted Katanya to the hotel, that something had happened. His suspicions were confirmed a short time later when he had joined Chris for a drink. There was a strange look on Chris' face that told the ex bounty hunter that Chris was falling for the beautiful, mysterious woman, and falling fast. Vin just hoped that the fall wouldn't prove to be dangerous. He wasn't sure why, but something in his gut told him there was more to Katanya Romavna that met the eye.




PART 6



When Nathan returned to his room, he found that Katanya was gone and Melinda was in her place. The attractive young blonde looked up at Nathan, a troubled look in her eyes.

"I knew he wouldn't die," she said softly, "That's why I didn't come earlier. I knew that the source behind what's putting him in danger wouldn't let him."

Nathan nodded. "You still think he's got trouble coming?"

"Yes. Big, serious trouble."

"How do you know this?"

She hesitated before replying, "I--don't know how I know. I just do."

"I think you know how you know."

She looked at him in confusion. "What do you mean?"

Nathan looked at her for a long moment, studding her and thinking about his next words. Finally, he said, "Melinda, I know who you are. I know *what* you are."

Melinda gave him a startled look. She quickly averted her eyes as she replied, "I--I don't know what you mean."

Nathan put his hand gently on her arm. "It's all right Melinda. I ain't gonna tell nobody. In fact, you being what you are could be a great help. We'll probably need you if Chris is in a much danger as you think."

She slowly looked back at him and studied him for a long moment. "How--how did you know?" she finally asked.

Nathan smiled gently. "My grandmother was one. I know the signs and everything. You're just like she was and if you say Chris is in hot water, then I believe you."

She smiled. "Thanks."

She looked back at Chris, studying him thoughtfully.

"I can't explain why," she said softly, "But something tells me to be wary of those two women, Katanya and Sierra. There's something not quite right about them. You remember when I met Sierra?"

Nathan nodded. "Yeah, I've been wanting to ask you about that."

"When we shook hands, I got the strangest feeling within me. It was like...like a lukewarm, almost cold...vibration running through my entire body. It was so eerie. I didn't shake hands with Katanya when I met her. I was sort of afraid of getting the same feeling, but I didn't have to shake hands with her. I just looked at her and I felt...afraid and cold. I've never experience these types of feelings so strongly before. When I was a child, I could feel when someone had harmful intention and stuff like that, but I never felt anything this extreme."

She looked up at Nathan, her eyes a mixture of emotions.

"I remember my mother telling me, when I was a girl, about certain feelings and what they meant. What I remember her describing was almost exactly what I felt toward those two women."

She paused and Nathan asked softly, "What do they mean?"

She looked at Chris for a long moment before looking back at Nathan and replying, "Danger and evil. I don't know who those two are or what they're doing here, but I don't think Chris should be alone with them. Especially Katanya."

They looked up at a soft knock on the door and watched as Vin came in.

He looked at the pair, then asked, "Why do you two look so serious?" A tense look entered his eyes. "Something wrong with Chris?"

"No, Chris is fine. Right now anyway," Nathan replied.

Vin's eyes narrowed. "What do you mean 'right now?' What's going on?"

"Melinda here still thinks Chris is in danger, and I for one believe her."

Vin looked at Melinda. This again. "All right. What do you think he's in danger from?"

"Not what," Melinda replied quietly, "Who."

At Vin's questioning look, Nathan said, "She thinks Katanya and Sierra might be the cause of the danger surrounding him."

At this, Vin's raised his brows. "Why do you think that?"

"Call it woman's intuition," Melinda replied quickly.

Vin was silent for a long moment. Finally he said, "I don't know about being the type of danger to Chris you're suggesting, but I do think there's something mighty strange about Miss Katanya. Miss Sierra too."

"Then maybe it would be a good idea to keep an eye on them, as well as Chris," Nathan said.

"I know that would make me feel better," Melinda agreed.

They looked at Vin, who watched Chris sleep for a long moment before nodding. "All right. Until we know more about them, we'll keep an eye on them. Chris too."

He turned to leave as he added, "I'll let the others know and come back in a while."

After he had gone, Melinda turned to Nathan and said, "I'd better go too. I've got some errands I need to look after. But I'll be back later as well."

Nathan nodded and she moved toward the door. She put her hand on the knob, then turned back and said, "Nathan? Thank you."

"What for?"

"For believing me and...keeping my secret."

Nathan smiled and she returned it with one of her own, then turned and left.




Chris floated lazily in the sea of blackness he was starting to get used to. He liked it there. No one bothered him with stupid little things, shot at him or tried to hurt him. It was peaceful and free of pain of all types. Which is why he fought when the light appeared and he was pulled toward it.

He stopped his struggles for a moment when a familiar voice called his name. He listened for a moment and when his name was called again, he recognized it as Nathan's voice.

'Leave me alone,' he thought and began to fight against the pull of the light.

"Chris?" came another voice. "Chris, open your eyes pard."

Buck. Chris realized he must have said his thought out loud.

"Go away Buck," he mumbled. "I want to stay here."

He forced himself to stop his move toward the light, where he could feel pain threatening to ram into him and began to sink back into the sweet oblivion he'd enjoyed for who knew how long.

"Chris," Nathan said, "You gotta wake up so we can make sure you're all right."

Chris ignored him, sinking further and further back into peace when a light shaking broke his control and sent him swiftly into the light. His eyes opened and then squeezed shut again as a wave of pain hit him. He felt a prick in his arm and a few moments later, the pain subsided.

"Chris?"

He forced his eyes open and Buck and Nathan both swam into view above him.

He looked at them for a moment, then asked, "What the hell happened?" surprised by how hoarse his voice sounded.

"You were shot Chris, remember?" Nathan replied, putting a cool hand to Chris' forehead.

Chris thought back and a few memories revealed themselves.

"How long?"

"Almost two days now."

"Damn, Chris! You sure gave us one hell of a scare!" Buck exclaimed, smiling down at his friend.

Chris frowned, then asked, "What happened to the gang?"

Buck and Nathan exchanged a glance, then Buck replied, "Well, the ones who survived were at the Jail but now...."

He trailed off with a shrug.

"What do you mean? Did they escape?"

"We don't know," Nathan replied. "They just disappeared a couple days ago. We haven't been able to find a trace of 'em."

Chris let his breath out and closed his eyes. Almost instantly, sleep rushed in to carry him off and this time, Nathan and Buck didn't try to keep him from the peaceful darkness.




Katanya knocked softly on Nathan's door. She had felt him regain consciousness a few hours before, but wanted to wait for a better time to take her next step. She smiled as Nathan opened and the door, letting traces of worry creep in.

"How is he?" she asked.

Nathan smiled. "He's doing better."

"Is he awake?"

"No, he's been sleeping pretty good for the last few hours."

Katanya let a flash of disappointment cross her eyes. "Do you think I could see him for just a moment then?"

Nathan hesitated and Katanya suddenly felt he was warry of her. She wondered why for a brief moment, then decided to investigate later and smiled sweetly.

"All right, but just for a moment," he finally consented and stepped aside to let her enter.

She approached the bed and stood above him, watching him sleep. She smiled softly when she suddenly felt him waking and turned away to approach Nathan. She put her hand on his cheek and he slowly sank back into the chair behind him, fast asleep.

She returned to Chris, sat in the chair next to the bed and watched as sleep slowly released him from it's power.

"Welcome back," she said softly when he opened his eyes.

He looked at her, surprise flashing through his mind. "Katanya. What are you doing here?"

She smiled. "Visiting you of course. You gave everyone quite a scare, myself included."

"So I heard."

He looked around her and saw Nathan sleeping in the chair. "How long has he been asleep?"

Katanya glanced behind her, then replied, "Not long. Before dear is nearly exhausted. He needs the rest."

She watched him for a moment and kept her smile to herself.

'His condition is week enough that I should be able to get past that little barrier of his.'

She waited until he stopped looking at Nathan and looked back at her. She held eye contact with him and was just about to release her power when the contact was interrupted by a wave of pain. She reached out for him, letting concern enter her eyes.

"Chris? Are you all right?"

He nodded and relaxed a moment later saying hoarsely, "I'm all right."

"Here, let me make you more comfortable." She leaned down to adjust her pillow, avoiding eye contact until she was done and starting to sit back. Their eyes met again and instead of moving back to the chair, she sat on the edge of the bed, watching the flashes of red rush through his eyes until they stopped flashing and just glowed. His hand came up and lightly touched her cheek and she slowly leaned forward until their lips were just inches apart. Their eyes closed as one and their lips met.

Her power shot out of her and rushed into him, hungrily taking what she needed as she traveled his mind. She slowed down when she reached the memories of the wife and child and approached the barrier carefully. It was still strong, but not nearly as strong as before and it wasn't long before she broke through and terrible images, as well as happy ones, assaulted her.

Sara and Adam. Oh my, what a horrible way to die.'

As she watched the images, she was filled with sympathy, but didn't waste time feeling sorry for the loss of young lives. Her own life was at stake right now and she needed to take the next step. She quickly absorbed everything she could about his wife and son, then called upon more power to begin her transformation.

A soft light grew and enveloped them as their kiss deepened and grew more passionate. It was over in seconds and as the kiss ended, Katanya worked quickly to adjust to the information rushed within her.

Chris' eyes opened and widened as he looked at her. His mouth opened and closed, sound unable to escape.

Katanya smiled. "Hello Chris," she whispered, her new voice carrying with it a soft, Irish accent which she found she liked.

"S....Sarah?"




PART 7



Katanya smiled. In the same, lightly accented voice she whispered, "Yes Chris, it's me."

Chris looked at her with pain filled, confused eyes.

"But...but how?"

She lowered her gaze, allowing a pained expression to cross her features. She glanced back at Nathan, then said, "I can't tell you. Not now, not here anyway. Can you meet me tomorrow morning at the place where...where we watched the sunset the other day?"

Chris stared at her for a long moment. This had to be a dream. A hallucination caused by his injuries or something. He wanted the image of his wife to go away. To stop torturing him and so he nodded.

"Good. Be sure to come alone. Make certain you are not followed or seen leaving. I have much to tell and show you."

She placed her hand over his eyes and whispered, "Sleep now. You will need your strength tomorrow."

She watched him sleep for a moment, then got up and moved over to Nathan. She leaned down and breathed "Awaken," then quickly left the room. Seconds after the door closed, Nathan's eyes opened and he looked around blearily.

Outside, Katanya made her way down the street toward the hotel. Sierra joined her in the journey and Katanya said, without looking at her friend, "He's mine now. My hunger will be satisfied very soon."




Chris slowed his horse from the all out run to a light trot as Coyote Ridge finally came into view. He had awakened that morning with the memories of the previous night's dream and had been deeply troubled. Finally, he couldn't resist the temptation of riding out to the Ridge just to prove to himself that last night wasn't real.

On one had been in the room with him so it was easy to sneak out once he was finally able to stand and keep his balance. Getting to the livery and out of town unnoticed was the real problem. Cold, threatening stares directed to the townsfolk was enough to keep them going on their own business, but he found himself ducking into alleys all the way to the livery to avoid the detection of his friends. He'd finally made it to the livery unseen though, saddled his horse and made it out of town unchallenged. Once he reached the outskirts, he had spurred his horse and hadn't slowed down once until now.

Leaving his horse down below, he carefully climbed the Ridge to the top, only to fall in an exhausted heap once he made it. He lay on his back, trying to catch his breath and stared up at the bright blue sky.

He laid there for several moments, riding out occasional waves of pain as he waited. Waited for what? Something asked. Waited for a ghost to appear. A figment of his tortured mind.

"What the hell," Chris finally growled to himself. "What am I doing here?"

He had no business being way out here, especially in his condition. What he really needed was a good strong drink and then bed.

He sat up slowly and then pulled himself to his feet, taking a moment to get his balance before he moved to find the way down. He spun around at a soft noise behind him, his hand on his gun, and froze.

There she was, looking every bit as gorgeous as the day he first met her. She wore the same dress she had last night and her hair was down, framing her soft face perfectly.

"Sarah," he whispered.

She was in his arms before he even realized she had moved, holding him tightly. He wrapped his arms around her and memories of what it had been like to hold her rushed into him.

"Sarah."

"Oh Chris! I've missed you so much. You have no idea how long and how hard I fought to find a way back to you."

She pulled back and kissed him long and tenderly.

When the kiss ended, Chris looked at her and asked hoarsely, "How?"

"The details don't matter Chris. What matters is that I was given the chance to come back to you in another form. It was the love I found in you that allowed my true form to be revealed."

Young laughter reached their ears and she glanced behind her. She stepped back and smiled.

"There's someone else here who's been anxious to see you."

She looked behind her and Chris followed her gaze. His heart nearly stopped at the site he saw. Sierra came out of a concealed place, holding the hand of a young boy.

A huge smile crossed the boy's face when he saw Chris and he shouted "Pa!" as he was released from Sierra's grasp and ran for him.

Chris sank to his knees in shock as the boy rush into his arms.

"Adam," he choked out as he gripped the boy tightly and closed his eyes against the tears that had filled them.

"I missed you pa," Adam said, causing Chris to hug him even more tightly.

"I missed you too son," he whispered.

"Adam," 'Sarah' said gently, "Go play with Auntie Sierra for a bit okay? I need to talk to your father."

Chris reluctantly released Adam as the boy moved to follow his mother's instructions. He watched his son run over to Sierra and the pair began playing some kind of game.

"Chris."

He looked up and found 'Sarah' kneeling before him, a serious look in her beautiful eyes.

"We must talk. I have something very disturbing to tell you. Something that is going to hurt you very much, but that you must know."

He nodded and she took his hands, squeezing them gently.

"I've been watching you, Chris. I know you discovered the identity of the man who took Adam and me from you and what happened to him. You know that he was hired to come after you, but not who hired him."

Chris nodded. "I...I never found that out."

"And you never will."

Chris gave her a startled look. "What do you mean?"

"You will never find him, Chris, because you are surrounded by people who will see to it you never find him. You are surrounded by his men, Chris."

"His...his men? What are you talking about? Who are his men?"

'Sarah' lowered her gaze for a moment, then met his eyes again. "The men you call friends are his men."

Chris stared at her in shock. When he finally found his voice, he said, "But that's...that's impossible. I'd never met any of them before the Seminole Village, except for Buck."

"But you would have. It was in the process of being set up. The attempted hanging was a set up meant for you to meet Nathan Jackson and Vin Tanner. Later on, the others would someone how be introduced to you and together, the six of them would work their way into your trust and friendship. The Seminole Village was a lucky coincidence. It changed their plans and made them better. They wouldn't have to work so hard to gain your trust and friendship. And it was even better when Judge Travis offered that job of protecting the town."

Chris shook his head. "This isn't possible. There's no way they could be working for my enemy. J.D., that kid isn't even from around here."

"Yes he is Chris. He was born and raised in the west. That innocence he carries with him is an act. He's a very good actor. In reality, he's a cold blooded killer. All of them are. That bounty on Vin Tanner's head is legitimate. He did kill that man knowing who he was and wasn't. It was his boss that helped him escape. Nathan Jackson....he's killed more men then he's healed. Most of them just for sport. Josiah Sanchez has pretty much told you most of what he's done. Ezra Standish has a very bloody past as well."

"What about Buck?" Chris asked quietly.

Pain flashed through her eyes. "He's with them as well. That night you and he went down to Mexico, he was under orders to keep you there. His boss knew what Fowler would do and..." she trailed off and closed her eyes.

There was a moment of silence and then Chris shook his head. "No. No, I can't believe that Sarah."

"You must Chris. I know it hurts and I can't tell you how sorry I am, but it's true. Have you ever noticed that they seem to watch you? How they always seem to be nearby and...Please Chris, just be careful. I'm frightened for you. I want to be together again."

"We are together Sarah. I could leave and the three of us could go and make a new life. Just get away from everyone."

'Sarah' shook her head. "It's not that easy Chris. I wish it were. I wish desperately that it was, but it isn't."

"What do you mean?"

'Sarah''s eyes took on a tortured look. "I can't tell you right now. I have to go right now, but I promise, you'll know everything in time. Just watch those men carefully Chris. And tell no one about me. You are the only one who sees me as I truly am. Everyone else sees me as Katanya. Promise me you'll do as I ask, Chris. Please."

Chris' mind was reeling, but he nodded. "All right. I'll...I'll keep an eye on them."

She smiled. "Thank you Chris." She stood. "I'll come find you later. Go back to town and get some rest."

He watched as she moved over to Sierra and Adam, exchanged a few words with Sierra, then took Adam's hand.

"Bye pa!" Adam called, waving. "See you later!"

Chris raised a hand and watched as the trio disappeared back the way they had come. He sat there for a long time, thinking about what Sarah had told him and growing more and more confused. Finally, he got to his feet and went to find the way back to his horse.




PART 8



"Looks like he's headed for Coyote Ridge," Vin said, standing up from the tracks he had been looking at and re-mounting his horse.

"What the hell is he going way out there for?" Buck asked, urging his horse into a slow trot alongside Vin's.

"Don't know," Vin replied, "But something must have convinced him to."

"Would love to see what the hell's going through that man's mind," Buck muttered, "Damn fool otta know better than to go wandering around the desert when he's barely even started to recover. If I didn't know any better, I'd swear he was taking lessons from J.D."

Vin didn't respond. For some reason, his thoughts traveled to Katanya and a coldness pierced his heart.




Chris blinked and looked around in confusion, unsure of when he'd fallen asleep and even less sure of how he'd come to be out in the middle of the desert, his horse walking lazily in what he assumed was the direction of Four Corners. He put his hand on his side, felt a wetness, and looked to discover he had ripped his stitches open and his wound was bleeding slowly but freely.

He wondered when that had happened, then remembered going to Coyote Ridge. It must have happened when he was climbing up around the rocks. Memories of meeting Sarah and Adam up on the Ridge suddenly assaulted him and for a moment, grief filled him. He then remembered what she had told him and confusion warred with the grief.

His vision blurred suddenly and when it cleared, he looked at the blood on his hand and realized that if he had been bleeding since reaching the top of the Ridge, then Sarah and Adam had most likely been torturous illusions. He looked at the blood on his hand and laughed suddenly.

He turned his gaze to the sky and asked, "You trying to tell me something Sarah?"

His vision blurred again and he groaned softly, then urged the horse into a slow trot, trusting it to get them home.




Vin stopped his horse as he spotted something in the distance and squinted for a moment before pulling out his eye piece.

"Whatcha see?" Buck asked anxiously.

Vin put the eye piece down, his eyes still trained on the distance. "Chris."

He spurred his horse into a gallop and Buck quicky followed. Chris' horse was moving at a slow trot with Chris hunched over in the saddle. Vin reined in and grabbed the reins, stopping the animal. Buck reined in on the other side and called, "Chris!"

Chris jerked and sat up, looking blearily at the two men.

"What are you two doing here?" he asked, his words slightly slurred as soon as he realized who they were.

"Looking for you," Vin replied.

"What the hell are you doing out here Chris?" Buck asked, a hint of anger in his voice, "You of all people otta know you ain't in any condition to be roaming around the middle of the desert!"

Chris just looked at Buck as though it was the stupidest question he'd ever asked. Vin glanced down and suddenly noticed the strange wetness seeping through the black cloth Chris wore.

He reached over and touched it, then looked at his hand and said, "How long you been bleeding Chris?"

Chris glanced down at his bloody side and chuckled. "Few hours now." He grinned sickly. "I'm surprised I ain't dead yet."

Buck exchanged a worried glance with Vin, then quickly reached out and steadied his friend as he swayed.

"We best get you back home Pard. Make sure that don't happen," Vin said as he, too, reached out to steady Chris. He smiled slightly as he added, "Nathan was about ready to have kittens when he found you gone. He'll be real glad to see you after he's through with his fit."

The look Chris gave him sent chills down Vin's spine. For a moment, the Chris Vin knew was gone. The leader, the good friend, the brother, they were all gone, replaced by a distrustful, hate filled stranger. Then it was gone and Chris' horse was moving. Vin took a deep breath, then urged his horse into a matched pace with Chris.




Vin's nervousness was in full swing when they got back to town. A strange light had entered Chris' eyes and Vin knew there was going to be trouble. They reined in at the Sheriff's office and dismounted, Vin hiding his surprise that Chris stayed on his feet.

"There you are!" Nathan exclaimed as he hurried over to the trio. He glared at Chris. "What the hell--" he trailed off as Chris looked at him and held up a hand.

"Wait," he said and then started walking.

Nathan looked at Vin and Buck, then the trio followed him. Chris went straight to the saloon, got a bottle of whiskey and a glass, then went and sat down at a table in the back corner. He poured a drink, emptied it, poured another then said with a small smirk, "All right. Go ahead."

Nathan stared at him in stunned surprise. He looked at Buck, who looked back at him worriedly, then looked at Vin. Vin gestured for the black healer to join him and walked away a few feet. Vin quickly told him how Chris had been acting when they found him and then about the re-opened wound. Nathan cursed when he heard about that one.

"It's a wonder he ain't dead yet," he muttered in amazement. He went back to the table and said, "Chris, you'd better come back up to my place so I can re-stitch ya."

Chris didn't move from his spot and from the way he was staring absently at the glass in front of him, Nathan assumed he hadn't heard him.

"Chris--"

"I heard Nathan. Leave me be."

"But Chris--"

"Nathan," Vin said, putting a hand on his arm and pulling him aside again. "Something ain't right in his head right now. I don't know what happened out there, but if we're not careful, he could go loco on us pretty bad. I think you should wait till he passes out before fixing him up. I know it ain't the safest thing for him, but it's probably the safest thing for the rest of us."

He glanced back at Chris, then added, "It probably won't be long anyway. How much longer could he possibly last now that he's drinking?"

Nathan hesitated for a long moment, then nodded. "All right. But if it ain't soon, we're gonna have to knock him out ourselves."

Vin nodded and the pair went back to the table and sat down while Buck brought over three more glasses.




Half an hour passed and still Chris remained conscious. J.D. and Ezra had come in earlier and were at another table, watching the events and waiting for something to happen. When Josiah entered, Nathan got up and went to confer with him, leaving Buck and Vin alone with Chris.

After a moment, Buck said, "Chris, maybe it's time you let Nathan stitch you back up."

Chris' gaze flickered to Buck, the fevered light still going strong. He stared at his friend a moment, then said, "You know what happened on the Ridge, Buck?"

Buck shook his head. "No, I don't."

Chris smiled slightly. "Sarah and Adam paid me a visit." He chuckled. "Told me some pretty wild things."

Buck exchanged glances with Vin, then asked, "What'd she tell you?"

Chris cast him a suspicious look, then replied, "That you all were working for the man who took them from me."

A shocked expression took hold of Buck at Chris' words.

"You don't believe that, do you Pard?" Vin asked quietly.

Chris turned his gaze to the tracker, his fevered eyes tinged with suspicion again. "Don't know. Should I?"

Chris' gaze wandered away from Vin and settled on J.D., who squirmed uncomfortably under it. He stared at the kid for a moment, then burst out laughing, causing Buck and Vin to jump, startled.

Still laughing, Chris said, "You know what else she told me Buck?" He leaned forward and lowered his voice. "She told me she came back in another form so that we could have a chance to be together again. Guess who's form she came back in?" When Buck didn't answer, Chris whispered, "Katanya's."

Nathan, who had come back to the table, caught Chris' last statement and exchanged a startled look with Vin.

"Chris," Nathan said, getting the other man's attention. "This can't go on Chris. I gotta re-close that wound now."

Chris shook his head. "Just let it be, Nathan," he said softly.

Nathan shook his head. "Damn it Chris, I can't do that! If I let it be any longer, you're gonna die!"

Chris suddenly threw the bottle across the room where it hit the wall and shattered into a thousand little pieces.

"I said let me be, Goddamn it!" he shouted, standing and drawing his gun.

The other men all stood as well, hands on their own guns, startled by the sudden outburst.

"So what if I die?" Chris continued, his voice still an angry shout. "So what? That's my goddamn right ain't it?"

"Yes Chris," Josiah said calmly, slowly approaching the irrate gunslinger, "it is your right. But not while you're in the state of mind you're in now."

"What are you going to do about it preacher?" Chris snarled as Josiah stopped directly in front of him, the barrel of the gun pressed lightly into the ex-preacher's chest.

"See that you get the help that you need," Josiah replied quietly.

He put his hand on part of Chris' neck and squeezed. Chris' eyes widened slightly, then closed as his body went limp and sagged forward. Josiah caught him and lifted the smaller man over his shoulder and moved to leave the saloon. Nathan let his breath out, then followed the big man, leaving the others behind, shaken and worried.




It was a few days later when Chris awoke again. He opened his eyes and found himself staring up into the soft, kind face of the woman he loved more than anything. The woman who had been taken from him three years ago.

He stared into her eyes for a moment, then asked softly, "Why are you doing this Sarah?"

"Doing what?" she whispered back.

"Haunting me. Why are you haunting like this? What do you want me to do?"

She put her hand on his cheek and whispered, "I'm not haunting you Chris. I'm really here. We have a chance to be together again. You must believe that my love."

"I...I want to Sarah. I desperately want to but...."

"I know. Because of your condition, it's very difficult to believe this is happening. But I'm going to change that Chris. I'm going to prove that this is real."

She leaned down and their lips met in a kiss that slowly grew in passion. When it ended, Chris looked into her eyes and was unsurprised to see the soft glow there. He was too drawn to it to find it strange and the longer he stared into her eyes, the more convinced he became that she was, in fact, real.

"I must go, but I'll be back later," she finally whispered.

She stood and Chris quickly reached out and grabbed her arm, panic flashing through his eyes. She smiled. "Don't worry, I'll be back. You just concentrate on getting better. I'll bring Adam when I come back, but you have to promise you'll get better, okay?"

Chris nodded and released her arm. She kissed his lips softly, then turned and left.




"Stupid damn fool," Katanya muttered as she entered her room and closed the door.

"Is he all right?"

Katanya looked at Sierra and nodded. "Yeah. The only thing that actually saved him was the power I had left running around in him. I just hope no one starts getting nosey." She paused, then smiled. "At least one of the most important parts of my plan is working."

"Which is?"

Katanya's smile grew. "He's losing his mind. That makes it easier for me to control him."

She laughed. "Oh how I love his kind. I just wish I had more time to play with him."

"Kat, are you sure you'll be able to get his soul? From what I've seen, he's got a big time death wish."

"Don't worry sister, death is going to get no where near him until I get what I want. After that, I'll introduce them personally."




PART 9



A week passed. Confined to bed, Chris recovered quickly from his ordeal and fell deeper under Katanya's control. Katanya was aware of Nathan and Vin's suspicions towards her and used that to her advantage. Once Chris was allowed out of bed, they spent a lot of time together and she had no trouble pointing out how watchful the two men were being, twisting the actual reason and warping his mind even further. She watched with glee as with the closing of each day, he became just a little more convinced that her words were true and a little more angrier. She had no problems keeping him and his anger under control, forcing him to let it build higher and higher so that when she released him, the saying that all hell breaking loose would take on a whole new meaning.

Her only big concern was Melinda White. The young woman was just as watchful as the men and Katanya was growing more and more certain, as each day passed, that she was a direct descendent of Bonnie White.

"If that little witch is a descendent, she could ruin everything!" she fumed as she paced about her room.

"Don't worry sister," Sierra said calmly, "I'll take care of her. And if her little boyfriends get too close, I'll take care of them as well."

Katanya stopped pacing and smiled at her friend.

"You are too good to me sister. What would I ever do without you?"

Sierra smiled. "Probably wear holes in floors."

Katanya chuckled and Sierra stood and said, "I believe I'll go watch our little witch. I noticed her earlier and she looked rather--restless. Never know what she might do with all that pent up energy."

Katanya nodded and when Sierra had left, began planning her next move.




Melinda had finally had enough. She was sick of the cold, dangerous feelings she was experiencing from Katanya and Sierra and was going to find out who they were once and for all with the most effective method she knew.

She finished lighting the candles, then sat down in the middle of the circle she had created with them. She closed her eyes and relaxed herself, breathing deeply for a moment, and then began to chant softly. After several minutes, she opened her eyes and still chanting, picked up the bowl of liquid in front of her, raised it in the air, then stopped chanting and drank from it.

"Spirit world, I call to you," she said softly, yet firmly. "Listen and heed my request. I search for those who have gone on before me who are blood of my blood. Do you hear me?"

She waited, and a few minutes later a soft, scented breeze caressed her face. She smiled, then picked up a knife that lay in front of her.

"Blood of my blood," she said, pricking her finger, "I call on thee. Hear me and come."

She held her cut finger over one of the candles and watched as the blood dripped down and hit the flame. Almost instantly, the soft breeze turned fierce, and she had to struggle to keep from being knocked over. It last several seconds and then stopped. Melinda was flooded with a nearly overwhelming sense of another presence that quickly turned into several.

"Ancestors," she whispered, "I need your help. There are two women by the names of Katanya and Sierra who give me feelings of great danger and evil. I do not understand why this is as I do not know who they are. Please, tell me who they are so that I might know what I am up against and prepare myself accordingly."

Whispers and images flooded her mind. She closed her eyes and concentrated on what was being said and shown to her.

"My God," she whispered, "No. Please no, anything but them."

'You are a White, Melinda,' a voice whispered clearly, 'You knew that one day you would have to face one. All members of the White Family do. It is our curse and our duty to fight them.'

"But I'm not ready."

'You are. The power to fight them is inside you. You just need to find it. Once you do, you have a chance of defeating them.'

Melinda nodded and bowed her head. "I will not fail you my ancestors....my mother."

The breezy whispers filled her mind again, and then she was alone. She looked up at a knock on her door and quickly blew out the candles. "Come in!" she called, hurriedly collecting them.

"Vin!" she exclaimed as the tracker entered the room and closed the door.

She quickly dumped the candles in a drawer then hurried over to him. "We have a serious problem. Chris is in deeper trouble than I originally thought."

"How so?"

"Well, put it this way. He'd have a much better chance surviving the most deadliest disease you could think of than he would this."

Vin looked at her incredulously.

"Come on," she said, grabbing his hand, "I'll explain everything once we get the others together."

She pulled him to the door, flung it open, and took a quick step back with a sharp gasp. Sierra smiled as she entered the room, closing the door behind her.

"I'm sorry, were you going somewhere? I was really looking forward to a little chat."

Vin looked from one woman to the other, then said quietly, "What's going on?"

Sierra smiled seductively at him.

"I'm planning a little party and thought I'd invite the two of you."

"Not interested Sierra," Melinda replied a cold voice that trembled slightly.

"Normally, I'd be hurt at such a rejection," Sierra replied with a sneer, "But you two really have no choice."

They watched as she raised a suddenly glowing hand and then all went black.




"Something on your mind, brother?" Josiah asked, sitting down at the table Buck occupied

Buck looked up at his friend and gestured slightly to another table further back. Josiah looked and found Chris, staring absently at a full glass of whiskey, a strange, half smile on his lips.

"Something seriously wrong with him Josiah," Buck said quietly, "I think he's losing it and I think that Katanya girl has something to do with it."

Josiah nodded. "I'm beginning to agree with Vin and Nathan too. Something very odd about that woman. Sierra too."

Buck shook his head. "Damn it. Unstable women are the last thing we need right now. I really don't want to see a repeat of that Tessa Williams incident."

"Amen to that brother." Josiah raised his drink in acknowledgment, then quickly downed it.

They looked up as Nathan entered, spotted them and headed over.

"Any of you two seen Vin?" he asked, sitting down.

"Not since this morning," Buck replied and Josiah shook his head in the negative.

Nathan frowned. "He was supposed to meet me over an hour ago and never showed. I haven't been able to find him anywhere."

"Maybe Chris has seen him," Buck suggested.

Nathan looked over at the black clad man and sighed. He looked at his friends, then stood and went over to Chris' table.

"Chris?"

Chris looked up at him, his eyes hidden under the rim of his hat.

"Have you seen Vin, Chris? He was supposed to meet me over an hour ago and never showed."

"Nope," Chris replied, then returned to staring at his still untouched drink.

Nathan sat down and watched him for a long moment before finally asking quietly, "Chris, are you all right?"

"I'm fine. Why?"

"Well, you've been acting awfully strange this past week. Me and the others--we're a little worried."

Chris chuckled. "Worried? What for?"

"Well, you ain't acting like yourself."

"And that worries you?"

"Well yeah. Usually, when people don't act like themselves, something's wrong. What happened Chris?"

Chris was silent for a moment, then said quietly, "Tell me Nathan, are you worried that I found something out that I shouldn't have found out?"

"What? Chris, you're not making any sense here."

Chris finally looked up at him and Nathan was startled when he saw his eyes. There were so many emotions showing themselves, fighting with one another for dominance, but the one that stood out the most was distrust. And it confused Nathan to no end.

"What do you think happened, Nathan?" The question was quiet and held an almost mocking note to it.

Nathan stared at him for several moments before replying, "I don't know. But I'm believing more and more every day that Miss Katanya has something to do with it. In fact, I'm starting to think she has everything to do with it. Ever since she showed up, things have been strange. But ever since you two started getting closer, things have become completely bizarre. You especially." He hesitated, then added, "Chris, are you sure that woman is--well, safe?"

"Safe?" Chris snorted. "Course she's safe."

"But are you sure? Remember Tessa Williams? We all thought she was safe and look what happened."

Chris moved as fast as lightning. In one fluid motion, he had gotten out of his chair, grabbed Nathan out of his seat, turned him around and slammed him into the wall.

"Now you listen closely Healer," he growled, putting a mocking emphasis on healer, "You leave her out of this. Sar--Katanya is an amazing woman. One that I care for deeply. You stay away from her." He looked behind him at the other men who had stood up at Chris' move and shouted,

"You hear? You stay away from her! All of you!"

He released Nathan and moved for the door, but Buck quickly blocked his path.

"Chris," he began, but Chris grabbed a fistful of his shirt, yanked him close and growled softly, "I know Buck. I know everything. I didn't believe it, but I do now. You and the rest of the rats had better watch your backs, cause we're gonna finish this real soon. And I promise you, whoever is left alive at the end of it is gonna suffer long, and hard."

He released Buck, pushed him out of the way and stalked out of the saloon, past an astonished J.D. and a surprised Ezra.

"What on Earth was that all about?" J.D. asked, turning his gaze from the back of the angry gunman to the rest of his friends.

Buck turned a shaken expression on his friends.

"I'm not sure. But I heard what he said to Nathan, when he was talking about Katanya."

He looked at Nathan with deeply troubled eyes. "That slip he made. He nearly called her Sarah. I don't know what's going on, but we'd better find Vin. I think we're headed for one hell of storm."




PART 10



"Vin. Vin can you hear me?"

Vin's eyes slowly flickered open and Melinda swam into view above him.

He blinked her into focus, then put a hand over his eyes and said, "Oh God, I hate waking up like this. What the hell happened?"

He took his hand away and looked around. "Where are we?"

"Well, we're in some kind of cave, I know that. I think Sierra hit us with an energy blast."

"A what?"

"Energy blast. It's a power her kind possess."

"Power? Her kind? Melinda, what are you talking about? What's going on?"

"You mean you don't want to keep the mystery? Where's the fun in that?"

Melinda spun around and Vin quickly but carefully got to his feet. Sierra smiled as she stepped out of the shadows, her gaze on Melinda.

"I see was correct," she said, "You are a direct descendant of Bonnie White. Believe me when I say that taking your soul is going to be the biggest pleasure I've ever had."

"Actually, it's the demons that'll get that pleasure, but I'm sure you'll enjoy watching," Melinda replied sarcastically.

Sierra laughed. "I see you were told what would happen when one of us finally got our hands on you. A pity really. I was so looking forward to seeing the surprise on your face. Now I guess I'll just have to settle for the agony."

"That's if you get your hands on me Sierra."

"Would someone please tell me what the hell is going on?" Vin interrupted, his hand hovering near his gun.

Sierra turned her gaze to him and smiled seductively. "Vin Tanner. I've had my eye on you and have been looking forward to...acquiring you."

Melinda quickly stepped in front of him. "Back off, Sierra. You aren't taking him."

Sierra's hand flew up and an invisible force slammed into them. Somehow, they were separated, and each found themselves against separate walls of the cave, stunned and unable to move.

"Actually, I think I will," Sierra said casually. She moved over to Melinda and took the other woman's chin in her hand. "And there's nothing you can do to stop me."

"I'll fight you," Melinda whispered, "Both of you."

"Will you now?" Sierra replied just as softly. "And how do you plan to do that? The power you have now is barely enough to hurt us let alone defeat us. Oh I know you have the right power. You all do. But I can tell, just by looking at you, that you have no idea where it is or how to use it. Do you?"

Melinda remained silent and Sierra chuckled. "I didn't think so. You're still just a child. You're not ready to go up against one of us." She smiled. "Too bad I don't care."

She glanced back at Vin, then said, "Here's a little taste of what's to come for you later, before we give you to the demons."

She raised her other hand, which had started glowing, and placed it on Melinda's forehead. Melinda squirmed, her breathing quickly becoming harsh and ragged before screams erupted from her throat. Sierra kept it up for a few moments, the removed her hand and whispered, "You're death will be long and painful, I promise you that."

She stepped back and Melinda dropped away from the wall and to the ground, where she lay still. Sierra ignored her and turned her attention to Vin, who was watching with wide, disbelieving eyes.

"What the hell are you?" he whispered.

"Why Vin, I'm a woman, nothing else," she replied, stopping before him and looking him over.

"That ain't what I just saw," Vin replied, attempting unsuccessfully to move.

Sierra laughed softly and ran her finger down his cheek.

"You're afraid, aren't you?" she whispered, moving closer.

"No," Vin replied, trying to jerk his head away.

She nuzzled his neck, then titled her head up and breathed in his ear, "You are. I can feel it...smell it....taste it. But you have nothing to fear. I don't want to hurt you. I want to make you feel good. I want to help you...give you back things you lost."

She pressed her lips to his and Vin felt a strange energy flow through him. His head tingled and his mind reeled. She deepened the kiss and he quickly forgot who she was and the situation he was in. When the kiss ended, his eyes remained closed as shivers ran throughout his entire body.

"Vin," a voice whispered. "Vin."

Vin's eyes opened and he stared down at the girl before him for a long moment, before anything registered.

"Carrie?" he finally whispered.

She smiled. "Yes, it's me."

He was suddenly freed from the wall and she leapt into his arms, embracing him tightly.

"Oh Vin!" she exclaimed. "It's so good to see you again! How I've missed being in your arms and," she pulled back and kissed him, "feeling your lips on mine."

He stared at her, confusion flooding his senses. "But how?" he whispered. "You're..." Pain flashed through his eyes, "dead."

She stepped back and pouted. "Well, if you're gonna let a little thing like that come between us, then maybe I should just leave."

"No, wait!" Vin quickly exclaimed as she turned to leave.

She turned back, smiling. Vin closed the distance between them and gently touched her cheek, his eyes full of a child like wonder as he looked at her.

She put her hand over his and asked, "Did you miss me?"

Vin nodded. "Not a day goes by that I don't think of you. But please, tell me....how is this possible?"

"Doesn't matter. What does is that we have a chance to be together again. Do you want that?"

Images of Kayla flashed through is mind, but were quickly shoved out by something and he forgot her. He looked at Carrie and nodded. "How?"

"No Vin," Melinda said weekly as she sat up, pain etched on her face, "Don't listen to her. Whatever she's telling you is a lie. Whoever you're seeing...she's dead Vin. Accept that and let her go."

Carrie spun around and Melinda cried out in pain. Vin's fog filled mind registered the scream and he became alarmed.

"Melinda!"

'Carrie' quickly turned back and put a hand on his cheek. "Hush love, it's all right. Look at me."

Vin turned his gaze back to her and was drawn into her eyes.

"Do you want to be together again?" she repeated in a whisper.

At Vin's nod, she continued, "Then all you have to do, is give your soul to me and we'll be together for all eternity. Will you give me your soul Vin?"

Vin nodded again as Melinda's cries managed to penetrate the edge of his mind, but not enough to bring him out of Sierra's control.

'Carrie' smiled and whispered, "You have to say it, Vin. Promise me you'll give me your soul."

"I..." Vin began but a high pitched scream followed by a flash of light interrupted him and a force crashed into them, knocking them both to the ground.

Vin shook his head and looked up, his eyes widening as 'Carrie' shimmered and Sierra took her place. Sierra turned a deadly look on Melinda.

"You'll pay for that, witch," she growled.

She stood and started making her way over but fell to her knees with a cry of pain when Melinda leveled an intense, fear filled look at her. Sierra let out an inhuman growl, then shimmered and vanished.

Melinda struggled to her feet and stumbled over to where Vin was staring wide eyed at the spot Sierra had just vacated.

"Vin? Vin!"

He turned his foggy gaze toward her and whispered, "What the hell just happened? What's going on?"

She grabbed his arm and began helping him to his feet. "I'll explain when we get the others together. Right now, we have to get out of here."

Vin took a few steps, then fell to his knees, gasping in pain. His eyes widened at something only he could see and he tried to scramble away.

"Vin, no! Wait!" Melinda said, quickly grabbing him. "It's a piece of darkness she left in you trying to keep you under her control. You have to reject it."

Vin didn't appear to hear her. He continued to stare wildly, pain mixed in with the expression and Melinda finally had to slap him sharply to get his attention.

"Vin! Listen to me! You have to reject it! Please Vin! Close your eyes and reject it!"

Vin stared at her for so long, she was afraid she hadn't reached him. She was about to try again when his eyes closed and he started shaking violently. Melinda tried to help him through it and several moments later, the trembling stopped and the pain subsided.

"Come on," she said softly, helping him up and trying to support him, "Let's get out of here while we still can."

It took them nearly half an hour to find their way out and when they did, two horses were waiting for them. Melinda was surprised to see them, not having expected her call to have actually worked.

'Bet I'm not half as surprised as their owners,' she thought with a wry smile.

She helped a disoriented Vin into the saddle of one of the animals, mounted the other and, keeping a close eye on Vin, started off in the direction she hoped was Four Corners.




"Now what on Earth possessed you to do that?" Katanya exclaimed in a chiding tone. "They're going to be on their guard now. They may even take unwanted action!"

Chris sighed. "Because I can't take this any more." He stood and took her in his arms. "Sarah," he whispered through her hair, "Let's just get out of here. Take Adam and disappear, start a new life."

"No," Katanya replied. She took a step back and placed both her hands on Chris' face. "I'm sorry my love, but we can't do that. As long as those men live, your enemy...our enemy, can still get to you. If we are to be together again, their deaths are one of two things that must happen."

"What's the second thing?"

Katanya smiled and kissed him softly. "Promise me your soul," she whispered. "Promise that it will be mine for eternity."

Chris stared at her in surprise. Finally, he said, "My God, Sarah. If that's all you need..."

He was interrupted by a sharp knock on the door. It opened and Sierra entered.

"Sorry to interrupt, but I must speak with you...Sarah."

Katanya nodded and looked over to where 'Adam' was playing in a corner. "Adam honey, come keep daddy company while I talk with aunt Sierra."

The little boy jumped to his feet and ran over to Chris while Katanya retreated to another corner to talk to Sierra. Sierra quickly told her friend the events that had occurred in the cave.

"The witch's power is closer to the surface than we thought. She still doesn't know how to use it or access it though. The only way she managed to access it in the cave was because she was terrified. It was a total accident."

Katanya glanced at Chris, then said, "I'd best get him prepared. We're gonna have to move quickly." She grinned and added, "We should also contact the limbo guardians and tell them were gonna have need of their new playmates."

Sierra nodded. "I'll take care of that. I'll meet up with you in an hour."

She turned and left and Katanya turned her attention to Chris and 'Adam.' A slow smile crossed her lips as she watched them play.

"It's gonna be a hot time in the old town tonight."




PART 11



Vin lay across one of the church pews, holding a cold, wet cloth across his eyes and forehead. The others sat or wandered about nervously as they waited for Melinda to return. Twenty minutes earlier, Buck, Nathan and J.D. had been getting ready to search for Vin when the pair entered the town at a slow trot, Vin slouched over and Melinda ready to steady him should he start to slip off. The trio, along with Ezra and Josiah, had hurried over and helped a semi-conscious Vin from his horse, throwing questions at Melinda as they did so.

She had told them he would be all right and to take him to the church and to wait for her, with the promise that she would explain everything when she joined them. They hadn't been able to get anything out of Vin except for mumbled nonsense and so had let him rest, keeping a close eye on him. Finally, the church door opened and Melinda entered, carrying a glass of blueish liquid.

She headed straight for Vin and, placing a hand on his shoulder, softly asked, "Vin? How are you feeling?"

He mumbled something the others didn't understand, but apparently she had and replied, "Drink this. It'll make you feel better."

She helped him sit up and he took a few sips, then lay back down again. She made sure he was all right, then turned her troubled gaze on the rest of the men.

"You gonna tell us what's going on now?" Buck asked. "What on Earth happened to Vin?"

"Sierra happened," Melinda replied distractedly. "She nearly got Vin the same way Katanya now has Chris."

"What?"

"Melinda, why don't you start at the beginning," Nathan said gently.

She blinked, then nodded. She took a breath, then said, "Sierra and Katanya, aren't human."

She held up a hand at the men's surprised looks and continued. "They belong to a race known as Eternals. They survive by acquiring or consuming human souls, which gives them up to four hundred years of life, even more in very rare cases."

She paused, then continued. "What they do is pick a victim whose soul suites their need. It all depends on how deep their hunger is. Once the victim is chosen, they arrange a meeting. During the first meeting, the Eternal releases a small amount of power that will cause their prey to be haunted by him or her.

The Eternal will, during the next few encounters, continue to release power until the victim is ready for what is called mind exploration. This is usually done with a kiss since it's the easiest way to gain control and access of the human mind. What happens next is a search of the person's past for things that could be used to gain further control. They usually look for tragedies such as a loved one's death."

J.D. took this moment to interrupt. "Wait a second," he said, "I don't understand. If these...Eternals live on human souls, then why don't they just take them? Why go through all this mind stuff?"

She smiled. "That's the catch. An Eternal can't just take a human soul. The human has to willingly give it to them, which is why they go through all the trouble of gaining control and influence over their victim. Their favorite method to use in achieving this is taking the form of a deceased loved one. This allows them to mess with the victim's mind and throw them off. Usually, the victim is so overcome to see the loved one that they fall right into the trap and readily give up their soul."

She paused and a sadness entered her eyes. "There are two types of Eternals. Type one fall under the compassionate category. Once they have the victim fully in their control, they won't waste any time in asking for and acquiring the soul. This is because, quite often, the victim falls prey to madness. This is what the other type love. The other type are pure evil without one hint of compassion. These are usually the older ones. No matter how much time they have left, they have to draw the event out....cause as much death and destruction as possible. This is because they've been alive so long....consumed so many souls that have had a strong darkness in them. Katanya and Sierra both fall under this category. Katanya has a deep control over Chris right now and I'm very frightened about what she has planned."

She looked off into space for a moment, her eyes narrowed as she added, "What I really don't understand is what they are doing here. Eternals tend to stick close to places like Paris, where the souls have a larger life span. It's extremely rare for them to be found in this part of the world."

"How do you know all this?"

Melinda blinked and again focused her gaze on J.D. Conflict entered her eyes as she struggled over wether or not to tell them. She looked at Nathan, who nodded encouragingly.

"Tell them," he said quietly, "They'll keep your secret."

She down at her hands for a long moment, then nodded. "It goes back to the time of my great-great grandmother, Bonnie White," she began softly. "When she was young, around twenty-two or three, she met a young man a few years older than she. He went by the name of Jason Grey. She took to him right away and spent a lot of time with him. They grew very close very quickly, but a romantic relationship was slow in coming. You see, she had lost her fiancé only a year before in an accident and she was still grieving. He was a kind, gentle man and understood her feelings. It was over two months before he made any sort of move on her. That was when it happened. They kissed and suddenly, there was Joseph, her late fiancé. He told her he had been given a chance to come back to her via another body. He said he hadn't expected his old form to return, but guess her love for him and his for her had done it.

He told her they could be together forever....that nothing, not even death, would be able to separate them again, if she gave him her soul. She nearly did, but something stopped her. Something managed to break through his power and control over her and stop her. To this day, no one really knows what it was, though I've often suspected it was Joseph."

She stopped speaking for a moment, appearing deep in thought. Then she said, "I should tell you right now, Eternals can die. They can't be killed like humans can be killed through disease and weapons and all that. There's only one way to kill an Eternal and that is to keep them from consuming souls. If an Eternal fails to acquire a soul before his or her time runs out, then they die."

She stopped again and shook her head. "No, that's not right. They don't...die. They get sent to purgatory. Now, their version of purgatory isn't like ours. It's not a horrible place filled with pain and suffering. It's just a place filled with nothing. They loose all their power and all they do is exist. It's not a place they want to end up in.

Now where was I? Oh, right. Something stopped her from giving up her soul. Well, whatever it was that stopped her caused her to break Jason's grip on her. Right before her eyes, Joseph's form melted away and Jason's replaced it. This surprised him, but he still tried to get her to give up her soul. She refused and something began to happen. Exactly what happened is unknown, but he ended up just...disappearing into thin air. She passed out and had a dream. Joseph was there and he told her what had happened and who Jason was. He told her to be careful because it wasn't over. Others like him would know of his defeat and would come for her."

She paused and then cursed.

"Dammit. Sierra's stunt in the cave must have effected me more than I thought. There is a way for Eternals to get out of purgatory. When an Eternal is defeated, others know instantly. Only during the time of a defeat can all Eternals communicate at once, no matter where they are. They quickly determine who was defeated and who defeated them. Then, whoever is closest to the defeater's position, goes to take the soul and free their imprisoned kin. This is the part that I hate most. If a human defeats an Eternal, then their soul is....up for grabs you could say. The human is now in constant danger. All an Eternal has to do now is capture the defeater and place them in what's called a demon gate. From there, demons who serve the defeated Eternal come and collect the soul in a very painful way and deliver it to their master. This frees the Eternal from purgatory and they are...born again. Sometimes it will be into a regular human family and sometimes it will be to an Eternal family.

Three weeks after Jason's defeat, Bonnie encountered a female family member. She was captured and placed in a demon gate where the demons began attacking her right away. Bonnie was a strong woman, however and she fought them. She was determined not to let Jason win and even went so far as to call on Joseph for help. That's when it happened. Upon calling to Joseph for help, a strange power filled her and she actually started hurting them. It was a long battle, but in the end, she won. The Eternal who had captured her had disappeared, so Bonnie went home where she was met by a strange woman. The woman didn't reveal her name, but told Bonnie that she had been given a special power that would enable her to continue the fight against Eternals. The woman told her that because she had escaped the demons, she, and all those who came after her, would continue to be hunted until the very last White fell. The power she had obtained would be passed down along the line to give her decedents a chance to fight as she had.

Bonnie moved away from her home soon after that and married a few years later. She trained her children in the use of their powers while she continued to fight Eternals that came for her. Eventually, one of them did get her, but because she was not the last of her line, Jason, and others she sent after him, were not freed. Since then, my family have fought and died, trying to send as many Eternals as we could to purgatory. My mother and brother were taken several years ago. They had both know what was going to happen ahead of time and knew I was no where near ready for my first fight and so sent me to live out here with close friends who knew what I was and who Eternals were and even helped me learn about my power."

She took a breath, then said softly, "I'm the last of my great-great grandmother's line. If I am killed by an Eternal before I continue the line, then Jason and all those who followed him, will be freed."

Stunned silence descended on the group as the men tried to take all this information in.

"So you're a...a wich?" J.D. finally asked.

"Yes, although not in the traditional sense. I can do all the things witches do, but also so much more."

She turned her gaze to Buck and looked at him for a moment.

"Buck? Are you all right?"

The tall gunslinger's face was deathly white and his eyes were full of shock and disbelief.

He swallowed and said hoarsely, "You said Eternals tend to take the form of...deceased loved ones."

She nodded and waited for him to continue.

"Earlier in the Saloon, Chris had a bit of a fit. Got worse when Katanya was mentioned. He told us to leave her alone but when he said her name, he almost called her someone else."

Melinda stiffened. "Who?"

"Sarah."

Melinda's stomach turned as she asked quietly, "His wife?"

At Buck's nod, she closed her eyes and let her breath out. "Damn. Everyone knows how crazy he gets over anything that has to do with her. If she has him as deep as I think she does, then I'm willing to bet he'll do anything she asks, including kill."

"So, how do we help him?" Vin asked, his voice a little stronger now.

She opened her eyes and looked at him. "I...I'm not entirely sure we can. Katanya is very strong and the control she has over him..."

She trailed off and shook her head. She looked at the others and hesitated a long moment before saying quietly, "The only chance we might have to save Chris...may be to kill him."




PART 12



"No way! Forget it!" Buck exclaimed angrily, "There's no way we're killing him!"

"I know it hurts, Buck," Melinda replied, "But there may be no other way."

"Then we'll find one!" Buck snapped back.

"Hey wait a sec," J.D. said, putting a calming hand on Buck's arm, "You got all these...magic powers. Can't you do something?"

"Well, I probably could," Melinda replied slowly, "If I could access the power I need that is. But, unfortunately, even if I did find the right power, I'd more than likely end up killing Chris."

At their looks of confusion, she said, "Katanya and Chris are now linked. You hurt her, you hurt him. Ultimately, only Chris can defeat Katanya. The only one I'd be able to fight would be Sierra."

"Then we need to get Chris to see through Katanya," Vin said, slowly sitting up.

"Easier said than done," Melinda replied, shaking her head. "You've seen how he's acted and that incident in the Saloon only proves he's under deep. He'll shoot you before you even open your mouth."

"We've at least gotta try," Buck said, his tone clearly stating that's what was going to happen.

Melinda looked at them all and saw the determination mirrored in each of their eyes. She studied them for a long moment, then smiled softly.

"You seven have something very special between you." She narrowed her eyes and continued to study them as she said slowly, "In fact, I've never seen a bond as strong as yours. There just might be a chance that you can reach him."

"Then what are we sitting around in here for?" Vin asked, moving to stand, "Let's get out there and find him."

He swayed and Melinda quickly reached out to steady him.

"I'm not so sure you should be up and about right now Vin," she said in a worried tone. "Sierra put you through a lot in that cave."

A shout outside stopped any response Vin was going to give. The group looked at one another, and then Josiah moved over to one of the windows.

"It's Chris," he reported, "And he don't look happy."

J.D. moved over to another window and cautiously peered out. "Hey!" he exclaimed, "There are some guys with him. They look like that gang that disappeared from the jail!"

The others joined him, taking quick, careful looks.

"I might have known," Melinda muttered when she saw them.

"What do you mean?" Nathan asked.

"Those men nearly killed Chris, right?"

Nathan nodded.

Melinda turned away, her eyes thoughtful. "Nathan? In your medical opinion, should Chris be alive right now? I mean, should he have survived that encounter with your friends out there?"

"Honestly, no he shouldn't. It was a true miracle he actually survived."

Melinda shook her head. "It was no miracle. It was Katanya. You can bet she wasn't about to let her next life extension die on her. You can also thank her for the 'disappearance' of the men responsible too."

She glanced outside again. "Poor slobs."

"Why do you say that?" J.D. asked.

"Because, unless I miss my guess, they are no longer alive and are suffering a fate worse than hell."

Six startled eyes turned their gazes on her.

"Would you care to explain that?" Ezra drawled.

"Well, judging from those little dark auras surrounding them, those boys are now demon spirit slaves. They get to spend eternity in a place worse then hell, serving Katanya, Sierra and any other Eternal who calls on them. I'm not quite sure what they're capable of, so be careful."

Chris shouted again, and this time, they all heard him clearly.

"Come out and face me you cowards!"

Vin looked at the others. "We'd better get out there before he does something crazy."

The others nodded their agreements and Vin moved over to the door.

He opened it a crack and shouted, "We're coming out! Hold your fire!"

He waited a short moment, then opened the door and the group moved into the street. Chris stood in the middle of the street, his gun holstered but, as always, ready to draw in a split second.

He glared at them coldly and growled, "It's time to end this game."

"Chris," Buck spoke up, "I don't know what she's been telling you, Pard, but it ain't true. That little demon witch is out to get you. She ain't Sarah, Chris."

"Shut up!" Chris barked, swiftly drawing his gun and aiming at Buck's head. "I trusted you Buck. I loved you like a brother....a brother!" he shouted, "And you betrayed me! You betrayed them! You claimed you loved them like they were your own, but you helped kill them!"

Vin, who had been carefully watching Chris and the gang members at the same time, tensed as they drew their own guns and slowly advanced.

He saw Chris' finger tighten on the trigger and shouted, "Scatter!" pushing Buck to one side as Chris and the gang members opened fire simultaneously.

The group quickly ran for cover, firing return shots at the gang members and avoiding Chris. Vin ended up behind some crates with Ezra. A few feet away to his right was Nathan and Josiah and to his left was Buck and J.D. It occurred to him that Melinda had disappeared, but didn't have time to dwell on the thought as he tried to avoid the bullets whizzing around him. A sharp, pain filled cry caught his attention and he looked down to find Ezra, his face contorted in pain and blood seeping through his chest.

He fired a few shots, then shouted, "Nathan!" and knelt down next to Ezra. "Ezra? Ezra can you hear me?" he called.

Ezra didn't say anything or open his eyes, but nodded in response to Vin's question. Nathan suddenly appeared on Ezra's other side and immediately set to work.

"How is he?" Buck shouted from where he and J.D. were furiously returning fire.

Nathan shook his head. "Not good. Not good at all."

"He's not hurt," Melinda said as she appeared next to Vin, standing in plain sight and presenting a perfect target.

"What the hell are you doing?" Vin exclaimed, grabbing her and yanking her down. "You trying to get yourself killed girl?"

Melinda shook her head. "They can't hurt me because I don't believe they can." She gestured to Ezra. "It's a phantom wound, he's not really hurt."

"I...think I might have....something to say about that," Ezra groaned.

Melinda shook her head. "They possess phantom powers Ezra. That means they can only hurt you...kill you, if you believe they can. Listen carefully. I need you to relax and calm your mind. You're not dying, you're perfectly healthy. In fact, there are some greenhorns in the saloon right now waiting for you to stop believing in Katanya's mind games and come clean them out."

A small smile crossed Ezra's lips as he began to relax and follow her instructions. Melinda nodded in satisfaction, then said, "I need the rest of you to do the same. Put away your guns, relax your bodies and your minds. This is a normal day and those men out there are just an amusing entertainment."

She stood and walked over to Josiah, who watched her like she was crazy. She spoke to him for a few moments, then stood, walked back to them, looked at Ezra, then continued over to Buck and J.D.

"Well would you look at that," Nathan said softly, his voice filled with awe.

Vin turned his attention to the black man and then looked down at Ezra. His eyes widened slightly as he watched the blood disappear and Ezra sit up, looking as healthy as he had been before the shooting started.

Melinda returned with Buck and J.D. in tow and smiled at Ezra as Josiah joined them as well.

"Good. Now it's time to get rid of our friends out there. This is important, so listen carefully. We are going to stand up, walk out of here and down the street. We're going to completely ignore them, okay? Not one glance or thought directed toward them. If we act like they're not there, it'll force them to return to wherever it is they stay now. Everyone clear?"

They nodded and then Buck said, "Wait a minute. Where's Chris?"

"Don't worry about Chris right now. Let's just concentrate on getting rid of this problem. Okay, now let's go."

She stood and walked out into the street. The men looked at one another, and then followed her, no one looking at or thinking about the gang. A few moments later, horrible shrieks reached their ears and they turned to find the street empty behind them.

"Why do all the weird things happen to us?" J.D. asked, his eyes scanning the street uncertainly.

"It's not over yet," Melinda said, her gaze fixed on something ahead of them. "I suggest we all head for cover right now."

Just as the words left her mouth, a shot rang out and the dirt before them splayed up. Immediately, the group all sought cover behind a wagon, this time sticking together. They watched as Chris stepped into view, his eyes filled with a frightening rage.

"Come out and let's finish this!" he shouted, shooting at their cover.

The shooting and shouting continued for several minutes before Vin, having shouted a response to something Chris said, suddenly took his gunbelt off and undid his mare's leg.

"Vin! What are you doing?" Nathan exclaimed as Vin laid his weapons on the ground.

"Well, I'm either gonna get myself killed or I'm gonna talk some sense into him. I haven't decided yet," Vin replied, adding his hunting knife to the guns on the ground.

"Vin, be careful," Melinda warned, "Katanya has control of his mind. There's no telling what he'll do."

Chris had stopped shooting, so Vin stood slowly and carefully left the wagon. Chris saw him and quickly too aim.

"Easy pard," Vin said, rasing his hands, "I'm not armed, see? I just want to talk."

"You don't have nothing to say that I want to hear," Chris snarled.

"Actually, I do," Vin replied, his gaze moving to a point just behind Chris. "It's Katanya over there who doesn't want you to hear what I have to say."

Chris glanced behind him, then said, "Sarah, get out of here. I don't want you getting hurt by them."

"Don't worry, Chris," 'Sarah' replied, "They can't harm me. Not again."

"Listen to me Chris," Vin said in the calmest voice he could muster, "She ain't Sarah. She's an evil...demon after your soul."

Chris swiftly closed the short distance between them and struck Vin with the gun.

"You would say that," he growled, "You'd say anything to save your hide."

Vin looked up at him from the ground, wiping the blood away from his mouth.

"I ain't trying to save my hide Chris," he said, getting to his feet, "I'm trying to save yours. We've been through a lot together Chris. I love you like a brother. Hell, in my mind, you are my brother. The boys back there, their your brothers too. We're a family Chris, the seven of us. We can't replace what you lost with your wife and son, and we don't want to. We wouldn't betray you, Chris. Not for anything."

Chris' eyes narrowed at Vin's words, but he said and did nothing.

"Don't listen to him, love," 'Sarah' said, "He's trying to confuse you, to take me away from you again."

"No, I'm not Chris," Vin replied, "I'm just trying to save you from something terrible." He was silent for a moment, then said, "I never had the pleasure of meeting Sarah. But from what I've heard about her, I've been able to piece together that she was a good, kind woman, chalk full of love. Now, if you really remember what she was like and honestly believe that she would want you to murder men who are your true friends....you family...your brothers...well then go head. If you feel you have to kill me, then I'm not going to stop you because, as your brother, I'm willing to do the things that brothers do for one another. I'm willing to die for you Chris."

Chris stared at Vin, the rage in his eyes slowly being replaced with uncertainty.

"My God," Melinda whispered, having seen the reaction, "He's reaching him."

Buck looked at her, then at Vin and Chris. He quickly made a decision and took off his gunbelt, laying it next to Vin's. He looked at the others, then stood and left the cover of the wagon, his hands raised and joined Vin.

"Same goes for me, Pard," he said quietly. "I've always been willing to die for you."

Chris stared silently at them as, one by one, the other men all dropped their weapons and came to stand before him, willing to give up their lives for him.

"Do it Chris." He jumped as 'Sarah's' voice whispered in his ear, not having realized she had moved up next to him, "End it so we can take the last step to being together forever."

He glanced at her, his breathing slightly irregular, then looked back at the men before him. He looked at the gun, aimed point blank at Vin's heart, then looked up and met first Buck's eyes, and then Vin's.

"Do it," 'Sarah' whispered again.

Chris blinked, then nodded, his eyes becoming expressionless. He pulled the trigger and listened to the explosion as the bullet left its chamber.




PART 13



Vin kept eye contact with Chris for a long moment before finally looking down at the gun which had moved to a point between him and Buck.

"Chris?"

'Sarah' had taken a step back and was now staring at him in surprise. "What are you doing Chris? You have them!"

Chris lowered the gun and said softly, "I'm sorry, Sarah, I can't do it. He's right, they're my family... my brothers."

"And what am I, Chris?" 'Sarah' replied harshly. "We have the chance to be together again. Are you telling me you aren't taking it? Are you saying you don't want to be with me anymore?"

Right on cue, Adam appeared, throwing himself into 'Sarah's' arms.

"Are you saying you don't want to be with your son anymore?"

Chris turned and looked at her and the boy, an intense sadness taking over his expression.

"I love you two more than anything. You still are, and always will be, my family. Please Sarah, there has to be another way."

'Sarah' shifted Adam so she was holding him in one arm, then used the other to pull him closer for a deep kiss.

Melinda moved up next to Vin and whispered, "She's running out of time fast. Thanks to your little speech, she's losing her power and control over him, but there's still a good chance she can win."

Vin glanced down and tensed slightly when he saw the gun in her hand.

"What are you doing with that?" he whispered back, being careful not to catch Chris' attention.

"Like I said, there's still a good chance she could win. I can't let that happen. If he gives her his soul, I must kill him or she'll become stronger than she already is. Fighting an Eternal who has just taken a new soul is not an easy task, so I have to catch her while she is weak. Besides, killing him before she gets her hands on his soul would be merciful."

The kiss Chris and 'Sarah' were sharing had ended, so Vin refrained from responding and watched anxiously.

She looked at him for a long moment, as though watching what was going through his mind. "Aye," she finally said softly, "There is another way and I suppose we can skip to it."

"What is it?"

"Your soul, Chris. Give me your soul and we can end all this."

Chris stared at her, clearly struggling with something deep within. His gaze moved to Adam and he reached up and gently touched the boy's cheek. He closed his eyes and Melinda cocked the gun in preparation.




Chris' mind was reeling in a mixture of confusion and pain as Sarah drew him into a deep kiss. So much was happening at once, things that didn't make sense and at the same time, did. Sarah. What was Sarah doing there? Oh, right. She had come back in another form. They had been given the chance to be together again. But something wasn't right. His friends. She had claimed his friends were working for the man who had taken her and Adam from him. But that wasn't true, was it? No, they were his friends, his family.

"If you feel you have to kill me, then I'm not going to stop you because, as your brother, I'm willing to do the things that brothers do for one another. I'm willing to die for you Chris."

Vin's words echoed through his mind, giving birth to a new wave of confusion. Kill him? Right. Sarah had wanted him to kill the men she said had betrayed him. But they hadn't betrayed him, had they?

'What the hell is going on?' he thought. Kill Vin, kill Buck. Kill, kill, kill....

But he didn't want to kill. Not now. Not after realizing that they couldn't have betrayed him. They were his brothers. They would die for him, but he wouldn't let them die at his hand.

The kiss ended and he opened his eyes and stared into 'Sarah's'.

She was silent for a long moment, and then said, "Aye, there is another way, and I suppose we can skip to it."

"What is it?" he asked, his voice a little rough.

"Your soul, Chris. Give me your soul and we can end all this."

He stared at her. Something about that didn't seem quite right. The longer he stared at her and thought about it, the more wrong it became. His gaze moved to Adam and he reached up and gently touched the boy's cheek. He looked into the young eyes and found something wrong there, too. He closed his eyes and the edge of his mind registered a gun being cocked, but it didn't register far enough to cause concern.

"Chris?" 'Sarah' said softly, "Do you want to be together again?"

He nodded, but kept his eyes closed. "It's all I've ever wanted since..." his voice trailed off and he swallowed.

"Then give me your soul, Chris. We can be together if you give me your soul."

"My...soul," Chris murmured.

"Yes, my love. Your soul."

A flood of emotions hit Chris and with them, an intense realization. He opened his eyes and looked into hers again.

"No," he said quietly.

Her eyes filled with surprise at his denial. "Wha...what?" she sputtered.

"I gave my soul to Sarah the day I first met her," he said softly, his eyes filling with the memories. "She took it with her when she...she died. If you were really Sarah, you'd know that and you'd also know that I can't give you what you already own."

At his words, Adam vanished from her arms and Sarah's form vanished, replaced by a very shocked looking Katanya. She back away several feet, her face paling.

"No...no, I will have your soul," she whispered. She raised her hand and pointed at him. "You won't defeat me!" she shouted and released a beam of emerald colored energy.

Just before it reached him, Melinda, who's eyes had been closed, suddenly shouted in an unearthly voice, "Stop!"

The energy, which was about to slam into Chris, suddenly burst into bright light, as though it had hit an invisible wall. Katanya turned an enraged expression on Melinda and screamed as she moved into another attack mode. Before she could attack, however, her eyes widened and she began gasping for breath.

"No!" she exclaimed, "I won't... be defeated... this way!"

She stumbled a bit and then her face contorted in pain and she let out a blood curdling scream. Chris grabbed his head and began screaming as well. Blood trickled out his nose and from the sides of his mouth and he doubled over, howling in pain.

"Chris!" Buck exclaimed and started for his friend.

"No!" Melinda exclaimed, jumping in front of him and stopping him. "The connection is being severed. Don't go near him!"

She looked back at Chris and Katanya and cursed when she saw a soft light surrounding each of them.

She spun around and shouted, "Get down and close your eyes! Don't look up for anything!"

The men dropped to the ground and closed their eyes and Melinda followed suit. The emerald light surrounding Chris and Katanya grew intensely bright. As it did, it drew them together and a fierce wind blew up. At this point, Melinda opened her eyes to watch as the wind joined with the light, moving around them like a tornado until nothing could be seen but a colored whirlwind. The screams from within grew impossibly louder and then suddenly, all was silent.

"You can look now," Melinda said softly, her eyes never leaving the scene before her.

The others looked up and watched in shocked awe as the whirlwind slowly began to cease and finally disappeared. Katanya lay unmoving on the ground and Chris stood shakily and bloody above her, his face deathly white and his eyes full of shock.

Vin and Buck both stood and approached their friend slowly, the others following them.

"Chris?" Buck asked softly.

Chris turned his gaze on them and asked in a hoarse voice, "What... happened?"

"You've been through a bad time, pard," Vin replied. "It's over now. Let's get you to your room so you can get cleaned up and rest."

Chris' gaze moved to Katanya and he asked shakily, "What happened....to Katanya?"

"Don't worry," Melinda said reassuringly, "She's fine. She'll be up and around in no time."

She ignored the looks of surprise from the men and smiled at Chris. "You two will be able to pick up where you left off before that gang showed up."

"Gang?"

She nodded. "Yeah, you took some hard hits." She put her hand on his cheek and said, "Best to get some rest. Katanya will be all right."

He nodded and started to take a step, but immediately began sinking to the ground.

"Whoa there pard," Buck said, catching him and pulling him up. "Here, lean on me."

Nathan moved over and took the other side of Chris and he and Buck slowly started for Nathan's room.

Vin looked at Melinda and asked, "Why did you tell him that?"

"I was distracting him. If I hadn't done that, there would have been a major...problem. His mind is still pretty messed up, but he should be fine in a few days."

"Anyone know how we're gonna explain this one to the town?" J.D. asked quietly, gesturing to a few faces that were peering out around curtains.

Melinda smiled. "Don't worry, I'll take care of it."

"Oh I'm sure you will, little witch," a new voice spoke up.

The small group turned and found Sierra a few feet behind them, a cold, frightening expression on her face. They moved away as she approached and knelt next to Katanya's lifeless form. She murmured something in another language, then placed her hand over Katanya's heart. There was a soft glow and then Katanya vanished.

Sierra, still on the ground, looked up and said, "Did you really think this was over?"

She looked past Melinda to where Buck and Nathan stood with Chris, having turned at her arrival. She stared at Chris with a small smile.

Melinda moved between Sierra and Chris and said, "I won't let you do this, Sierra."

Sierra laughed as she stood. "Oh? And how do you plan to stop me? Have you found your power and learned to use it already? Is it disguised in that fear I smell all over you?" She laughed again. "Stand aside, child. I promise that after I take care of business, you and I will have some play time together."

"Buck, Nathan! Get Chris out of here!" Melinda shouted, planting her feet and crossing her arms over her chest.

"Oh please stay. I insist," Sierra said as the pair began moving again. She pointed at them and they stopped moving, exclamations of surprise leaving their lips.

Chris sagged forward and slipped to the ground when no one held him up and remained motionless.

Sierra smiled and began walking toward him, ignoring Melinda's warning to stop. Finally, just as Sierra was within three of feet of her, Melinda shouted something in a foreign tongue and swiftly pointed both hands at Sierra. The other woman cried out in surprise, stumbled back several feet, and fell to the ground. Melinda's hands shot into the air where light flashed into them. She brought them down and made a throwing motion. Sierra cried out in pain and fell back. She lay still for a moment, then slowly sat up and continued onto her feet.

"Very good," she growled. "But not good enough."

Her eyes suddenly began glowing a deep red and thunder boomed in the cloudless sky. She made a fist and crossed one arm over her chest like a salute, then quickly thrust it forward, her hand opening and light shooting out of her palm.

Melinda's own hands shot out and she bowed her head as the light slammed into them, crying out in pain as she struggled with the force of Sierra's attack. In the end, however, she lost. With a scream, her arms were thrust back and the energy plowed into her. The force of it threw her backward and she slammed into the wall of a nearby building. She sank to the ground and remained still.

Sierra laughed and continued on toward Chris.

"No!" Vin shouted as she knelt next to Chris' unmoving form. She looked up and made a simple gesture and Vin went flying.

She smiled and touched Chris the way she had Katanya, whispered some words and then both of them vanished. Buck and Nathan stumbled as they were suddenly released from the grip of whatever had held them frozen. Buck cursed colorfully and hurried over to Vin while Nathan rushed over to Melinda.

Vin seemed to be all right, just stunned and Buck helped him to his feet and supported him on one side while a shaken J.D. took the other. He looked over and saw Nathan and Josiah conversing seriously over Melinda. Josiah then scooped her up in his arms and began for Nathan's room while Nathan hurried over to Buck, J.D. and Vin.

"Vin? You all right?" he asked.

Vin could do nothing but nod and Buck asked, "How's Melinda?"

"Out cold, but I think she'll be okay." He cast a worried glance around the street, then answered the next unasked question. "She's the only one who knows what's happening. Until she wakes up, there ain't a thing we can do about Chris."

"Any idea when she'll wake up?"

Nathan shook his head. "All we can do is pray it's soon. I get the feeling Chris doesn't have a lot of time left."




PART 14



The roar of water, followed by a cold wetness, brought her back to awareness. Brown eyes slowly forced themselves open, then flew shut as they were assaulted by bright light. After a few moments, the eyes reopened, blinked a few times, and were hit with water. Melinda cried out in surprise, and quickly sat up, wiping the water away. She groaned softly as a wave of dizziness overtook her and held her head in her hands. When it had passed, she raised her head and took in her surroundings. She was kneeling in the sand of an apparently secluded beach. High, jagged cliffs surrounded her and, a little ways down, bluish water crashed against the rocks.

'Where in the world...?' she thought as she took in the beauty around her.

A soft breeze blew up and she shivered, wrapping her arms around herself in an attempt to block it out. That was when she noticed something was missing. She looked down and discovered that she was completely nude! Realization quickly mixed with the surprise as she looked around again.

"The spirit world," she said out loud. "But I can't be dead...can I?"

"No, Melinda, you aren't dead," a voice from behind said.

Melinda's head whipped around and her eyes widened.

"Mamma?" she whispered.

The woman smiled. "Yes, it's me."

Melinda quickly got to her feet and the two women embraced tightly. When Melinda pulled away, she looked down and found herself clad in a sky blue dress.

She smiled, then looked up at her Mother and said, "Mamma, if I'm not dead, then what am I doing in the Spirit world? I thought only people who's time it was were allowed to cross the river."

"Well, this isn't exactly the spirit world, darling. But that's not the point. We brought you here because Sierra's attack would have killed you. It was a one time only intervention."

"We?"

"Well, you didn't expect mamma to do all the work did ya?" a new voice said.

Melinda looked past her mother and her eyes widened.

"Tommy?"

The young man grinned. "The one and only."

"Tommy!"

She laughed and flung herself into her brother's arms. "Oh it's so good to see you again!"

Tommy laughed as well as he replied, "You too sis."

Melinda stood back and smiled up at him. Then she noticed several people standing behind him and asked, "Who are they?"

"Relatives," he replied. He pointed up and added, "So are they."

Melinda looked up and gasped. Standing on the edge of the cliffs, looking down at them, were close to a hundred people, possibly more.

"My lord," she said softly, "I had no idea our family was so large."

"I'm surprised myself," a gentle, lightly accented voice said from behind Tommy.

Tommy stood back and a woman slightly taller than Melinda stepped forward. She had white blonde hair and smokey blue eyes.

"Several of them had many children," she added.

She held out her hand. "Bonnie."

Melinda drew in her breath and her eyes widened. "You mean...?" she whispered as she took the woman's hand.

Bonnie laughed. "Yes, you're great-great grandmother. Oh my, you are a strong one aren't you?"

"What...what do you mean?"

Bonnie studied her for a long moment and then said, "As much as I'd love to, there's no time for chit chat. We have to be getting you home so you can look after that little problem."

"Problem?"

"Why, Sierra of course. Don't tell me you've forgotten her?"

"No, I haven't."

Bonnie put her arm around Melinda's shoulders and began to guide her down the beach. "Well then, let's get you home so you can do your job."

"Wait," Melinda protested, forcing them to stop.

"What's wrong?"

Melinda turned her troubled gaze to the woman and said, "I...I can't fight her."

"Don't be ridiculous. Of course you can."

"No, I can't. She's too strong."

"Good lord, child. Do you honestly believe that?"

Melinda didn't answer, her eyes focused on the sand below them.

Bonnie put a hand below Melinda's chin and gently raised her head.

"Melinda, look at me," she said.

Melinda obeyed and Bonnie stared into her eyes for a long moment.

Finally, she said, "Every White will one day meet an Eternal that is too strong for them. I did, every man and woman you see here did, and one day, you will. But the Eternal who you will meet is not Sierra. You may think her stronger than you, but that's far from true. You are the stronger one. In fact, you are the strongest descendant of mine that I have ever met outside of my own children. It's quite remarkable."

She paused, then continued. "The only thing that makes Sierra stronger than you is her experience. She's well aware of the power you hold and is using her experience to her advantage. I know what's going through your mind right now. You believe you're not ready, that you can't access your power by a simple thought. Well my dear, that's because you're not looking in the right place. The power you seek," she placed her hand over Melinda's heart, "is here. And so are we. You remember that, you hear?"

Melinda nodded and Bonnie smiled and embraced her.

"There's a good girl."

She turned and made a gesture and a white light suddenly appeared a few feet away. "There's the way home. Go do us proud."

Melinda turned and embraced her brother, who whispered words of encouragement and then embraced her mother, who also whispered loving words. She then walked toward the light, stopping just before it and turning back for one last look at her departed loved ones. She smiled, then turned and entered the light.




"She's coming around," was the next thing she heard when the light went out and sudden darkness had enveloped her. "Melinda?" the same voice asked, "Can you hear me?" A short pause and then, "Open your eyes."

Melinda struggled for a moment, and then finally forced her eyes open. She blinked a few times and then Nathan swam into view above her.

She stared up at him for a long moment, then asked in a hoarse whisper, "Where am I?"

"At my place. How do you feel?"

"Like I was in the middle of a stampede. Is everyone all right?"

"Vin's a little banged up, but he'll be fine."

She nodded and closed her eyes, taking deep breaths. Her eyes suddenly flew open and she sat up so fast, she caught Nathan off guard.

"Chris!" she exclaimed, quickly searching the room. Except for her, Nathan and Josiah, it was empty. "Where is he?"

Nathan shook his head. "We don't know. Sierra took him."

Melinda flopped back down, her hands covering her face. "Oh no," she moaned. She took them away and looked back at him. "How long have I been out."

"Nearly three hours now."

She groaned again and closed her eyes, her mind reeling. Three hours. Sierra could have taken Chris anywhere. He could already be gone....

'Stop it!' She chided herself, 'you know damn well three hours isn't enough time. It takes at least that long to open a demon gate, no matter who you are. As for where he is, think! Concentrate!'

She did her best to relax herself and then let her mind expand and flow, searching and calling. She jumped every time she made a connection, but each one turned out to be wrong. Just when she was beginning to believe Sierra had taken him too far away, she made the right connection.

"The cave!" she exclaimed, sitting up and once again startling Nathan, who had thought she had fallen back asleep.

"What?"

"The cave," she repeated, "The place Sierra took Vin and me. That's where she's holding Chris."

She climbed out of the bed, barely taking time to get her balance and hurried for the door.

"Get the others and meet me at the livery," she said, and then was gone.

Nathan and Josiah looked at each other, then moved to comply with her request.




"There it is," she announced some time later, pointing out the cave that had suddenly appeared not far ahead.

The group reined in and looked at the cave and surrounding area.

"Looks deserted," Vin reported, putting down his spy glass and glancing at the others. He looked at Melinda and asked, "Think it's safe?"

"No," Melinda replied, "But if we want Chris back, then we don't have much of a choice."

She urged her horse into a slow trot and led the rest of the way to the cave. They dismounted and the men drew their guns before following Melinda into the cave.

Vin suppressed a shudder as vague memories made their way the front of his mind, and gripped his gun tighter. They walked for about a hundred feet and then Melinda came to a sudden stop, a short gasp escaping her lips.

In the center of the cave lay Chris, unmoving, on a stone slab. The slab was surrounded by little rocks, and the whole area was glowing softly.

"Chris!" Buck exclaimed, holstering his gun and starting forward.

"No!" Melinda exclaimed, grabbing his arm and pulling him back. "Don't go near him!"

She picked up a rock and threw it at Chris. Just as it was going to pass over the circle of stones, a bright light engulfed it and it disappeared.

"An energy field," she said in response to their stunned looks. "You touch it before it's turned off and you're toast."

"How the hell do you turn it off then?" Buck asked, irritation replacing his surprise.

"By defeating it's source," a voice from the darkness said.

They looked past Chris and watched as Sierra materialized, a small smile on her lips.

"My, my, you are persistent are you? I find that quality rather annoying in humans."

She sighed. "Why don't we step outside and get your defeat over with? I'm sick of this place and want to leave."

She walked toward them and Melinda moved out of the way, signaling the others to do so as well. As she was passing Vin, she stopped and smiled.

"I haven't forgotten about you," she said softly, "Expect a little trip when this is over."

She put her hand on his cheek and he shuddered before knocking it away and shaking his head. She laughed and then moved on. Melinda glanced back at Chris, and then followed, the others going along reluctantly.

Outside, the pair stood ten feet apart, staring at each other. Sierra chuckled, then suddenly released a beam of energy that slammed into Melinda, knocking her to the ground. She rolled out of the path of a second one, jumped to her feet and released one of her own. The men watched in fascination as the pair went on like this for several minutes, each managing to hurt the other considerably.

Sierra wiped blood from her mouth as she stood after a particularly hard blow. "I have to admit, I'm impressed," she said, "You seem to have improved quite considerably."

She released another energy bolt that was too fast for Melinda to dodge and added as the other girl fell to the ground with a loud, pain filled cry, "But not good enough."

Silent sobs wracked Melinda's body as she attempted to push the pain away. She tried to get up, but fell back, her strength leaving her.

Nathan risked running into the line of fire and hurried over to her side.

"Melinda," he said softly, putting a hand on her shoulder.

She gasped and then looked up at him, her tears mixing with the blood that covered her face.

"I can't do it Nathan," she whispered brokenly, "She's too strong."

She stiffened at her own words and her eyes suddenly unfocused, as if she was looking at something Nathan couldn't see.

"Melinda?" Nathan asked uncertainly.

"Out of the way!" Sierra shouted, her hands glowing, "Or I'll destroy you as well!"

Nathan looked up at Sierra and hesitated.

"Nathan," Melinda whispered.

He looked down and started at the soft glow in her eyes. "Go."

Nathan stared at her, then nodded and quickly went back to the others. Melinda got to her feet, quickly sidestepping the energy bolt Sierra threw at her. As she had done earlier, she crossed her arms over her chest and a fierce wind blew up. She began chanting in the same tongue she had earlier and her eyes began glowing brighter. She shouted, and made a throwing gesture. Sierra was hit with a dark light and thrown back several feet.

Melinda stared at the other woman, appearing to talk to herself. Her eyes, while still glowing, looked at though she was contemplating something. Suddenly she began walking, her arms at her sides, shouting, "Spirit world, hear me! I call upon blood of my blood, both of the past and the future yet to come! Hear me, and fill me with your strength, your power and your love!"

A deep rumbling began and lightning flashed in the cloudless sky, striking the ground near her. As Sierra stood, Melinda raised her arms, the lightning entering her hands and even striking her in the back. Sierra began summoning power of her own, but before she could gather enough, Melinda cut loose the power that had filled her, striking Sierra with deadly accuracy. Sierra screamed in pain and Melinda once again shouted in the ancient tongue, still walking and releasing her power. Finally, there was a great clap of thunder and a spectacular burst of light that forced the men to duck and close their eyes. The scream became blood curdling and then all was abruptly silent. The men looked up and found Melinda on her knees, staring at the spot Sierra had occupied only seconds before.

Nathan looked at the others, then slowly approached the woman.

"Melinda?" he asked hesitantly. He put his hand on her shoulder when she did not reply and asked again, "Melinda?"

She blinked and looked up at him, a shaky smile slowly crossing her lips.

"I did it," she whispered. "I found the power and I defeated her."

Nathan smiled and gently helped her to her feet. "Does that mean that....energy field is off?"

Her smile grew. "Yes, it does. Come on."

She broke into a run and led the way back to Chris. The glowing had stopped and so she stepped over the rocks and looked him over. His face was deathly pale and he was trembling violently. Nathan cursed when he saw the blood trickling out the corners of his mouth.

"Don't worry," Melinda said, "That doesn't mean what it usually does. It's just something that happens in a demon gate."

"Is he gonna be all right?" Buck asked.

"I honestly don't know. This was a strong gate, which means strong demons. We need to get him back to town and looked after. The next few days will determine if he lives or not."




PART 15



Two days passed and Chris showed no improvement. In fact, his condition began to deteriorate only a few hours after they got back to Four Corners. Melinda had sadly admitted there was very little she could do to help him, considering the demons were a force she could not fight. She had done what she could and then retreated to her room, emerging only to preform small ceremonies on him. She had kept her word about the townspeople. Before the sun had set the next day, none of the citizens remembered a thing that they had witnessed.

It was nearing the end of the second day now and Melinda was in her room, sitting in the center of a circle of candles, about to call on the spirit world. She had been to see Chris an hour earlier and had suddenly known he would be all right. Her sudden knowledge brought with it a problem she needed to discuss with her loved ones and so she had silently left the room and had gone back to her own. She set up the candles and went through the ritual and was now ready to call on the spirit world.

"Spirit world, I call to you," she said softly, yet firmly. "Listen and heed my request. I search for those who have gone on before me who are blood of my blood. Do you hear me?"

She waited, and a few minutes later the soft, scented breeze caressed her face. She picked up the knife in front of her.

"Blood of my blood," she said, pricking her finger, "I call on thee. Hear me and come."

She held her cut finger over one of the candles and watched as the blood dripped down and hit the flame. The soft breeze turned fierce and Melinda felt the familiar presence of her ancestors.

"Ancestors. I have been told Chris will survive. Is this true?"

'Aye Melinda, it is.'

"Okay, I need to know, is there any way to keep other Eternals from going after him to free Katanya?"

'Aye, there is. And if you think back, you will find that you already know the answer.'

Melinda nodded and carefully thought back. After a moment, she gasped.

She could feel her ancestors smile as they said in one voice, 'Yes, Child, yes.'

The candles blew out and she was alone once more. She remained where she was, closing her eyes and slipping into a deep, meditative state. An hour passed before she opened her eyes and knew he was gone. She took a deep breath, then stood, grabbed a bag, and left her room, heading back to Nathan's.




Buck ran a nervous hand through his hair. Chris was literally growing worse by the minute and there was nothing any of them could do. He glanced at Vin on Chris' other side, then over at Nathan. The black man was on the other side of the room, talking in hushed tones with Josiah. Buck sighed. He expected it was only a matter of time before the big man came over to give Chris the last rites. The younger man was secretly surprised that the ex-preacher hadn't done so sooner, but didn't dwell on it.

He looked up as Vin suddenly tensed, then followed the tracker's gaze back to Chris. The black clad man's eyes were open, staring up above him.

"Chris?" Buck whispered.

Chris turned his gaze to his friend, and smiled slightly. He then looked at Vin, offering him the same smile, before his eyes closed and he became deathly still.

"Nathan!" Buck exclaimed, jumping up.

Nathan hurried over and felt Chris' neck for a pulse. His eyes briefly took on a shocked expression, then he shook his head. "He's gone," he said quietly.

Buck sank back into his seat, wearing a stunned expression as Nathan motioned for Josiah. The big man came over, laid a huge hand on Chris' head, and began softly reciting a prayer.

"There's no need for that," a voice at the door said, "At least not yet."

They all looked up to find Melinda in the doorway, Ezra and J.D. behind her, watching them all with a strange expression.

"What do you mean?" Nathan asked, being the first to find his voice.

"He's in the place that exists between this world and the next," Melinda replied, moving further into the room.

She put her hand over his now still heart and closed her eyes. "He's close to the river now, so we'll have to hurry if we want to get him back."

She opened her eyes and looked behind her. "J.D., hand me my bag now would you?"

"Melinda, what's going on?" J.D. asked as he complied. "What is this river and what are we doing?"

"Well, the River is like a border. Spirits in the world between this one and the next must cross it in order to reach eternal destination," she replied as she began taking things out of the bag and setting them on a shelf. "However, it's very dangerous. If a spirit tries to cross when their time has not yet come, then the Devil can easily take them. Apparently it's his favorite way to get spirits."

She began mixing liquids together as she continued. "Chris is in that danger right now. It's not his time and if he tries to cross that River, then he really will be lost."

She glanced over her shoulder and said, "Josiah, would you move him onto the floor please? The rest of you sit crossed legged in a circle around him."

Josiah did as asked and then the men sat in a circle around their leader. Melinda finished her task and joined the circle, a bowl of reddish brown liquid in her hands.

"We are going to go in there after him, and bring him back."

"And how are we gonna do that?" J.D. asked, eyeing the bowl of liquid, "Poison ourselves?"

Melinda smiled. "Sort of. All you need to do is clear your minds and drink. It's going to make you very drowsy and breathing is going to become difficult. Just relax, and let it take you."

She handed the bowl to Nathan, who took a sip, then passed it on. By the time it got back to Melinda, Vin, Nathan and Josiah were out, with Buck and Ezra well on their way. Her gaze went to J.D., who was clearly fighting the potion.

"J.D.," she said softly, "Don't fight it, just relax. You'll feel better that way."

J.D. mumbled a response, but did as she said and was out a moment later. When Buck and Ezra had succumbed, she drank her portion, and when the darkness came for her, allowed it to take her.




She awoke with a slight start to find herself in a rocky plain filled with a light fog. She sat up and looked around, quickly picking out the six men, all looking around in fascination.

"Welcome to the world in between," she said, standing and brushing her clothes off.

She glanced around, trying to pinpoint where they were. After a moment, she said, "Follow me," and started off at a quick pace in the direction on her right where she had spotted a forest.

They hurried along for several moments in silence and then Buck asked, "Anyone else hear water?"

The others nodded and Melinda said, "The River is just ahead." She quickened her pace until she was running, being filled with urgency at not having come across Chris yet.

She broke out of the forest and skidded to sudden halt at the body of water that was suddenly there. She looked up and instantly spotted their target.

"Chris!" she shouted.

The black clad man was not yet half way to the other side and fear stabbed at her when he kept going despite her shout.

"Chris!" Vin and Buck shouted in unison.

That caught his attention and he stopped and turned, giving them a confused, quizzical look.

"You shouldn't be here," he said in a voice just as confused.

"Where you going pard?" Buck asked, his voice shaky and his tone nervous.

Chris pointed to the shore on the other side, where a heavy fog had gathered.

"Not a good idea, pard," Vin said. "We've come to take you back."

Chris frowned. "Back?" He looked at the opposite bank, then back at them. "I can't go back. Sarah is calling me. I gotta go to her."

"Chris," Melinda said, taking her gaze off the opposite shore and focused on him, "That's not Sarah you're hearing or seeing. It's the Devil's tricks."

Chris stared back at them and for a moment, it looked like he was going to turn back. However, he glanced back at the fog and they instantly saw that he wasn't going to.

"I have to go," he said, his voice almost in a trance-like state.

"Chris! Wait!" Buck shouted, but the other man kept going.

"Now what?" Vin asked.

Melinda didn't respond. Her eyes were closed and she was whispering words the men couldn't understand or make out.

"Holy...." J.D. began, his eyes widening as he backed away.

The others looked to see what had gotten his attention and no one was as stunned as Buck by what they saw.

"My God," he whispered, "Sarah?"

The softly glowing image of the woman who had once meant so much to him as a friend, smiled at him.

"Hello Buck."

Before Buck could reply, Melinda called, "Chris! There's something you should see over here!"

Chris stopped moving again and turned back, his eyes widening in confusion when he saw Sarah on the other side of where he thought she was.

He looked from one side to the other and back. "Sarah?" he asked uncertainly.

She smiled. "Yes Chris. Come back over here. It's not safe where you are right now."

Chris again looked back in the direction he had been going and began to focus on something.

"No, Chris," Sarah said firmly, "Over here. This is where you need to go. Over there nothing but trouble."

Chris studied her for a moment, then nodded and started back for them. Buck let out a sigh of relief and the tension in Vin's body drained.

Chris' eyes didn't leave Sarah as he came ashore and went straight to her. They stood, staring at each other for a moment, before Chris finally whispered, "Is it really you?"

"Yes. This time it is."

Chris hesitantly raised his hand and touched her cheek. Then, with a soft cry, he pulled her into his arms and held her. The others turned away out of respect, though it was difficult since they were in the presence of an actual spirit.

"I miss you so much Sarah," Chris murmured through her hair.

"I miss you too, Chris. And so does Adam. But darling? Look at me."

Chris raised his head and looked at her with tear filled eyes. "You need to stop this death wish Chris. I've been watching you and it breaks my heart to see what you're doing to yourself. We'll be together again, the three of us, but we must wait for the right time. Until then, enjoy your life and what it has to offer. We'll wait for you Chris."

Chris stared into her eyes for a long moment, the tears that had gathered now running unchecked down his face. Sarah ran her fingers down his cheek. "Promise me Chris. I don't want to see you kill yourself before it's your time."

He swallowed and then nodded. "All right."

She smiled and kissed him softly. She then turned her attention to Melinda.

"Thank you for helping him. It means a lot to me."

Melinda smiled and nodded.

Sarah glanced across the River then said, "I think it's time you were all getting back. Staying here too long is dangerous."

"Before we do, Mrs. Larabee," Melinda said, "There's something you need to do."

Sarah gave her a questioning look.

"Other Eternals are going to come after Chris in order to release Katanya from purgatory. Now, when Katanya was trying to get Chris to give her his soul, he refused, saying that he had given his soul to you."

Sarah nodded in understanding, saving Melinda from having to go on. She took Chris' hand and led him a little further down the bank. The men turned away again at the deep kiss the couple engaged in, but Melinda watched with a small smile, her hands and eyes glowing. As the kiss ended, the glowing subsided and she turned away, her gaze focused on a growing light several feet away.

"Come on gentlemen," she said, starting toward it, "Time to go home."

She stopped at the entrance to the gate and stood aside, motioning for the men to enter. Buck, being the last, stopped and looked back worriedly at Chris.

"Don't be worried," Melinda reassured him, "Chris is going to be all right. Go on now."

Buck cast one last look back, his gaze lingering on Sarah, then turned and disappeared through the gate. Sarah brought an exhausted looking Chris over, whispered words of love to him, then gently urged him into the light.

Melinda turned to Sarah and smiled. "It was an honor meeting you Mrs. Larabee. Thank you for your help."

Sarah shook her head. "No, thank you for helping Chris. If anything, it was an honor to meet you."

The two women grasped hand, then Sarah slowly began to vanish. Melinda watched until the other woman was gone, then turned and entered the gate.




She awoke with a sharp gasp and sat bolt upright, breathing heavily as her breath came rushing back.

"God, I hate that part," she gasped as she moved closer to Chris and felt for his pulse. She smiled when she found it strong and steady.

"That was...incredible," J.D. managed to say as his breathing slowly returned to normal.

"I must say," Ezra spoke up, "That was an experience I won't soon forget."

"You'll have forgotten everything by morning," Melinda said as she looked up from Chris. "I'll have forgotten everything but what I need to know. It's how that place works."

"Is he all right?" Vin asked, having finally recovered his voice.

"Yes, he's going to be fine. Josiah, would you put him back on the bed, please?"

As Josiah complied, she added, "I have to warn you all, it's going to be a while before Chris fully recovers."

"How long?" Buck asked.

"Well, from what I've been told and from what I've studied, people who actually survive encounters with Eternals take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to fully recover. It depends on the severity of their encounter. There was one that occurred several years before I was born who took years to recover, but I figure it won't take Chris quite that long."

She paused and felt his forehead. "It will be a few days before he wakes up, and when he does, he probably won't remember much. He'll most likely be a bit disoriented and confused. If that's the case, tell him nothing but what he needs to know and only if he asks. We don't need to mess him up any more than he will be."

"Melinda?" J.D. asked, a thoughtful look on his young face, "When Chris' wife showed up and you were talking about preventing other Eternals from going after Chris. What did she do?"

"Well, Katanya had laid a claim on Chris' soul. However, according to Chris, the real Sarah already had a rightful claim on it. All Sarah did was establish that claim thus, I guess you could say, voiding Katanya's claim. Any Eternals who took up the connection will now have lost it and will be forced to leave him be. Katanya is now trapped in purgatory forever, or until the last of the White line is taken by an Eternal."

There was a moment of silence and then Vin asked quietly, "Is it really over then?"

Melinda breathed a heavy sigh. "God I hope so, Vin. But you never know when Eternals are involved. They can be really annoying that way."

She blinked and suppressed a yawn. Suddenly feeling exhausted. She glanced at the men and noticed fatigue showing clearly on all of them.

"It would be best if we all got some sleep now," she said. "Otherwise, there's gonna be trouble."

Josiah, J.D. and Ezra complied, too tired to argue. Nathan, Vin and Buck remained behind, Vin and Buck reluctant to leave.

"Come on you two," Melinda said, grabbing their arms and pulling them to the door with her. "Chris will be fine. In fact, if you two don't get some sleep, he'll be in better shape than you. And I mean that. Go straight to bed, not the saloon. I won't help you if you get sick and I'll make sure Nathan don't either!"

Nathan laughed as Buck replied, "All right, all right, we're going!"

He closed the door, muffling the rest of Buck's remarks. Still chuckling, he went over and made his own check on Chris, then climbed into the extra cot and fell asleep before his head hit the pillow.




EPILOGUE

True to Melinda's word, it was a few days before Chris awoke. Also true to her word, he was confused and remember only bits and pieces of the events that had occurred. Melinda had the men refrain from telling their leader anything until he was a little stronger. Which proved to take longer than expected.

A minor virus had taken up residence in his system, effecting him deeply, though thankfully not fatally. Melinda and Nathan took turns administering to him and assisting each other as they tried different things to kill the illness, finally finding something that worked.

After about a week had passed, they allowed the other men in to visit, being sure to keep the chats shorts. By the time another week had gone by, the illness had disappeared completely, and the short visits were extended to longer ones.

One evening, as Buck and Chris were sharing companionable silence over a forgotten game of cards Chris asked quietly, "Buck?"

"Yeah pard?"

"Something's been bothering me for a while and I wondered if you could help clear it up?"

"Well, I can sure try. What is it?"

"Katanya Romavna." He hesitated, then continued. "She and I had been getting...close before I took sick." He hesitated again and Buck waited patiently, pretty sure he knew where this was going.

Finally, Chris said, "She hasn't been around since I began to recover. What....what happened to her?"

Buck was silent for a long time, trying to figure out just what to tell his oldest friend. After a while, he sighed and said, "Chris, could I level with ya?"

At Chris' nod, he said, "Pard, I don't think Katanya was...well, the right woman for you...."

END





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