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Arthur Galloway saw their chance and nodded to JD Dunne. The young man reacted instinctively and dropped the backpack to the ground. He pulled out several items and was not surprised when his five friends joined him.
"How do we kill them?" Wilmington spat."
"Fire....we burn their bodies..."
"No, JD, I was wrong. We need to cut their hearts from their bodies and destroy it!" Galloway told him.
"How do you know?" Dunne asked, hoping the creatures would not lose interest in the body they continued to devour.
"Shareena killed him by tearing his heart out. I can take care of several of them, but you and your friends will have to take care of the others!" Galloway ordered.
"JD, don't trust him!" Tanner said.
"We have to, Vin, he's the one who got me in here..."
"He didn't do you any favors, Kid," Sanchez warned and accepted a razor sharp knife from the youngest member of the team.
"JD and I will take care of Shareena," Galloway told them and turned to face the creature that was moving toward Chris Larabee.
+ + + + + + +
Shareena felt the victory in the cold heart she held to her mouth. It stopped beating and no more fluid left the organ as she turned to her changeling. Ignoring the frenzied feeding of her fellow shape-shifters she stepped up to Chris Larabee and placed the heart in front of his mouth.
"It is time, Love, time for you and I to lead the clan for the next 100 years," Shareena told him and smiled, showing her blood stained fangs.
Chris stared at the object placed before his mouth. He could smell the stench of decay, but it did not sicken him as it once would have. Instead he opened his mouth, giving in to the inevitable and tasting the rancid organ with his tongue even as Shareena pressed her mouth against his throat and sank her fangs into his veins. He felt the blood leaving his body, screamed with the pain it caused and was sent flying through the air to land in a heap near the doorway.
Shareena snarled and turned to face the strange vampire who'd dared pull her away from her feeding. She hissed and advanced on him, and suddenly remembered hearing stories about this creature before Shableek's death. Shableek had indeed changed him, but Galloway had never given in to the blood lust that should have been unbearable.
"I will kill you!" Shareena warned and turned to see a young man advancing on Edward. There was something about the dark haired youth that sent fear into her heart. Whoever he was, he could very well be the cause of the clan's demise.
"Not this time, Shareena...this time it is your kind who will die..."
"You are one of us!" the shape-shifter spat.
"No, I am only partially of your kind...Shableek made me a vampire, but I have chosen not to feed from another human."
"Until him?" Shareena said of the younger male.
"Then you have already started to change him and he will be one of us," Shareena said, smiling as blood dripped down her chin. She screamed as something sharp was driven into her body and tried to fight, but whoever was holding her from behind was stronger than she thought possible. She turned, looking over her shoulder, gasping when she saw the blond. The sea green eyes were blood red and she knew he was closer to becoming the changeling than being human and she tried to speak to that part of him as she shifted her body and became Sarah...his Sarah.
"No..." Larabee whispered, blinking his eyes and trying to keep her out of his head.
"Please, Love, don't let him do this," Shareena whispered and tried to reach for him, but Galloway was having nothing to do with that. He simply used the knife Dunne had given him and drove it into the shape-shifter's chest. As she screamed, brackish liquid covered his hand, yet he cut upward until he knew he was close to her heart. Reaching into her body, Galloway felt the heart beating and cut through the muscle and sinew and veins until he was able to pull the still beating organ from her body.
"Die...and take the rest of these bastards with you!" Galloway snarled as the light began to ebb from her eyes. He saw Chris Larabee standing behind her and knew he was damn close to becoming the changeling, maybe too damn close. He turned to see JD and knew the young man was having problems with Edward who seemed to realize Shareena was dead.
Dunne had moved to help Galloway, but had been intercepted by a big vampire who towered over him. JD held little hope of defeating the bastard, but he had to give Galloway a chance to take care of the she-bitch. He held a knife in front of him and moved to his right when Edward reached for him. The sharp nails raked across his shoulder and JD felt blood soaking through his jacket, but he couldn't let it stop him. He'd seen Shareena throw Chris Larabee off when Galloway attacked her, and briefly wondered how many bones were broken when he impacted with the steps. JD knew the others were in a fight to the death and prayed they would come out on top. He heard Shareena scream and took advantage of the distraction when Edward turned to see what was happening. JD drove the knife deep into the big man's chest and quickly cut into the heart. His stomach churned as he caught the rancid scent of death and decay and wasn't sure he had the strength to finish it. The decision was taken from him as Galloway quickly cut the heart from the vampire's body and destroyed it.
"JD, go keep Chris away from the others!"
"If they get to him they could complete the ritual...if Chris becomes a changeling then he will be virtually unstoppable and will need to be destroyed!" Galloway said.
Dunne didn't need to hear anything else and ran to his mentor. "Chris...Chris it's me!"
"J...JD...you...you've been...oh, God, not you too," Larabee whispered, fighting the urge to sink his newly forming fangs into Dunne's exposed throat.
"No, Chris, I'm not a vampire and neither are you..."
"No...she never finished it," Dunne assured him.
"She didn't, but I will," Tareena snarled, shoving Dunne aside and reaching for the blond. "Shareena had good taste and when your friends are dealt with I will make sure you do as she wished and you will feed off your friends!"
"No," Larabee shook his head in denial, but he barely had the strength to stand on his own two legs. Shareena had fed on him twice without giving anything back and he'd barely been able to help defeat her, what could he do against this shape-shifter. He stared into the dark eyes and found himself losing what little will he had left.
"Get away from him you bitch!"
'Buck...help me...' Larabee thought and felt another touch against his mind.
'He can't help you, Chris...no one can!' Tareena whispered along the thread she'd used to capture this man's mind.
'Wanna bet, Bitch!' Tanner snarled inside his skull.
Chris could feel the others nearby and fought with everything he had left. He had no idea how many of his team was still alive, but he vowed the creatures would die before they could attack anyone else. He struggled against the intimate touch against his mind and fought to keep her from going as deep as Shareena had.
'Fight her, Chris...'
'I'm trying, Vin,' Larabee sent and prayed the others were still fighting. This shape-shifter was strong, but this time he had the others fighting alongside him and he drew on their presence. Slowly, but surely he could feel the invisible fingers withdrawing from his skull.
Josiah and Nathan battled side by side, but they knew there was still a fight for Chris Larabee's human body...mind and soul. JD, Vin, Ezra, and Buck were fighting to free the blond from a hideous shape-shifter. Praying the others were strong enough to hold the creature off, Josiah and Nathan continued the battle against the large shape-shifter before them. They'd managed to get a rope around him before he could open his gossamer wings and escape, but it was hard to keep the thing on the ground.
Arthur Galloway looked around the clearing and realized most of the shape-shifters and the vampires were dead, their hearts cut from their bodies. He knew they would have to burn the bodies and everything else in order to be sure they could no longer feast upon the human population. It also meant that one of the humans here would have to kill him or JD Dunne could very well become his first victim.
Galloway could see Sanchez and Jackson were having trouble with the creature they were trying to control and quickly moved to help them. He moved in front of the shape-shifter and quickly drove the knife forward eliciting a high pitched scream from its throat. Before the thing could react he pulled out the heart and destroyed it before the two men released it and watched it fall to the ground.
The trio rushed forward to help the others with the last shape-shifter. The men had nearly defeated it, but it was apparent that it was costing Chris Larabee more than he could afford. Blood oozed from several small wounds, but if Galloway was correct in what Shareena was doing to Larabee then he could ill afford the loss.
"JD, get Chris away from her!" Galloway shouted and positioned himself to act as soon as the others were clear. He could only watch as the five men latched on to some part of their friend and began pulling him away. As soon as there was enough space between Larabee and Tareena, Galloway moved in and stood before the largest shape-shifter he'd ever seen. He knew this one recently fed, and fed often and the strength of her kills raced through her veins.
"You will die today, Arthur Galloway, and I will be the one to tear the heart from your chest!"
"You may try, Tareena, but you will find that I do not give up easily and my age has nothing to do with my strength!" Galloway smiled and moved to the right when she reached for him. She was strong, smart, and fast, but so was he and years of craving revenge was giving him the added strength he needed.
"Your son screamed when I drained him and begged me to take you instead!" Tareena cooed softly and saw the hatred flare in his hooded eyes. Anger caused mistakes and that's exactly what she wanted from him.
"If he did he will be glad to know I am putting a stop to your butchery!" Galloway knew she was goading him and had long ago dealt with the anger over his son's death. Whether she was the one who had drained him of his life did not matter, because once she died this race would die with her. If he was correct then once his life ended the simple vampires the creatures created would also cease to be. As she reached for him a second time he twisted around behind her and sliced at the black gossamer wings and heard her screeching ululations as she struggled to pull away.
"I will kill you!"
"I'm sure you will try," Galloway said with a grin and ducked away from her talons.
JD knew he had to help Galloway and turned to the others. "Keep Chris safe!"
"JD! NO!" Wilmington shouted, torn between stopping the younger man and holding on to Chris Larabee. The blond was struggling to stay on his feet and there was no doubt in his mind that Tareena was still influencing him. He'd seen the wounds on Larabee's neck and had also seen what could only be described as fangs in Larabee's mouth.
"Chris, help me!" the creature said and shifted into the form she'd found in his mind.
Larabee's struggles intensified as Tareena went down under Galloway and Dunne's combined assault. "Let me go to her!"
"That ain't her, Cowboy," Tanner tried.
"Chris, you know it's not Sarah...Sarah's gone...she's gone, Ol' Son, but you're not and I don't aim on losing you to some blood sucking bitch!" Wilmington vowed and held tight to Larabee's right arm.
Dunne prayed the others were keeping Chris safely away from the shape-shifter. Galloway was winning, but the female was far from out. She twisted in his grasp and snarled as bloodied spittle escaped her tightly clenched teeth. JD held tight to the knife he'd used several times on this unholy night and shoved it deep inside her chest. He heard the sickening sound of the blade scraping against bone and twisted upward.
"CHRIS!" Tareena screamed and turned to see Larabee fighting the arms that held him. She knew if she could get to him she could take what she needed, but the young male was not easing up on his attack. She felt him cutting deep inside and was suddenly screaming as Galloway renewed his attack and drove the second blade into her back. Brittle bones shattered beneath the onslaught and she felt the life leaving her body as Galloway cut her heart from her body and pulled it out through the back.
Chris screamed and fought to escape the people holding him as Sarah screamed and dropped to her knees. Blood and saliva slid down her chin as her mouth moved, but only the gargling sound of someone drowning escaped her throat. Her eyes dimmed, the red glow quickly leaving it as she died while Galloway held her heart high above his head.
"Arthur, what do we do now?" Dunne asked, ignoring the others as he moved closer to the writer.
"This is where you have to be strong, Kid," Galloway turned to the younger man and saw fear in the eyes. "I can't fight the bloodlust much longer, JD, so I need you to finish this...finish this for my son...for me..."
"Finish it...how?" the Bostonian asked, dreading the answer he knew would be forthcoming.
"You have to burn the bodies and whatever is left of their hearts. It's the only way to be sure they will not come back."
"What about you?"
"You have to kill me, JD...now, before it's too late. Use the knife and bury it in my chest and cut out my heart before...before..."
"Can't you go back to getting blood from the hospitals or killing animals?" Dunne asked hopefully, his fingers straying toward the wounds on his neck.
"No, JD, not if you want to go back to who you were. I don't want to do this..."
"I don't know if I can, Arthur," Dunne said and was suddenly on the ground with the man's mouth against his ear.
"Then I'll let your friends finish this part of it!" Galloway whispered before lifting his head and snarling at the two men who reacted instinctively.
Ezra grabbed the older man while Josiah reached for the knife and plunged it into Galloway's chest. Blood sprayed over the three men as Sanchez completed the maneuver and cut the still beating heart from the man's body.
"Thank you," Galloway whispered as the life flowed from his body.
"God, Arthur, there should have been another way," Dunne said and pulled the man's body into his arms. He whispered a soft prayer against Galloway's forehead and lifted his tear stained face just in time to see Larabee collapse between Wilmington and Tanner.
"Nathan!" Wilmington called, but realized Jackson was already examining Larabee.
"Josiah, we have to burn it...burn it all...the house...the bodies...the hearts. There has to be nothing left or they could come back," Dunne explained.
"We'll see it gets done, Son...you did well," Sanchez praised of the younger man's actions over the last week. "Ezra, how would you feel about helping me get these creatures inside the house?"
"Although I abhor menial labor I take offense at creatures such as these intruding on..."
"Ez, just say yes, Josiah," Sanchez stated with a toothy grin.
"Yes, Josiah, it would be my pleasure to divest the world of these hideous creatures," Standish said, but turned to look at their fallen leader. Larabee had suddenly gone very still while Buck held him against his chest and Vin placed his hand on the blond's shoulder. Nathan seemed to be checking for signs of life and for a brief moment, Ezra thought he saw Jackson's shoulders slump in defeat.
"Nathan?' Wilmington repeated.
"He's alive, Buck, but his heart's straining to pump blood that isn't even there. He needs a transfusion as fast as we can get it into him," Jackson warned.
"I still have my cell phone," Dunne offered and finally released his hold on the dead man. He knew Arthur Galloway was no longer in his body, and promised that he would find out where his son was buried and make sure a part of Galloway was buried there. He reached into his jacket pocket, pulled out the phone, and handed it to Sanchez before moving to help Standish with the first grotesque body.
Josiah flipped open the phone, but found there was no signal. Cursing softly he placed it back in his pocket and moved to Nathan and the others. "There's no signal...we're going to need to drive out of here and hopefully pick up a signal closer to home.
"Been thinkin' 'bout that, J'siah."
"About what, Vin?"
"Maybe we're better off takin' Chris somewhere else."
"Chris needs medical attention....fast!" Jackson grumbled.
"Are you thinking about Kojay, Vin?" Sanchez asked.
"Reckon I was. Seems ta me he's the best bet right now or do you boys figure anyone else'd listen ta what we got ta say?"
"Vin, Chris needs a blood transfusion....Lord knows he needs more than one pint to bring up his blood pressure," Jackson stated.
"I know and what better place than at Kojay's clinic. Rain helps out there and Kojay has his own place over the clinic. I know he'd do anything for Chris and he won't ask any questions about what we saw. He'll treat Chris and the rest of us and jest maybe he'll listen ta anythin' we want ta say," Tanner explained and looked down at the man Wilmington held. "God help me but he needs help, but he also needs privacy."
"Vin's right," Dunne told them, shivering as he helped Standish shift another body onto a blanket and carry it into the house.
"All right, let's say we do it your way, Vin...I want everyone's word that they'll listen to whatever Kojay says. I don't want to fight with you to stay down if that's what Kojay says," Jackson warned.
"You got it. Buck, keep him with us," Tanner ordered and moved to help the others with the bodies.
"Buck, how are your shoulders?" Jackson asked of the dried blood he'd noticed on the man's ruined shirt.
"Hurts like a bitch, Nathan, but it's not so bad knowing they're dead and there won't be any more hunts," Wilmington vowed and felt Larabee tremble. "Nathan, see if there's anything to cover him with."
"I'll check in the house," Jackson said.
Buck cradled the unconscious blond to his chest and knew Larabee was in bad shape, physically as well as mentally. The she-bitch had used Larabee's dead wife to reel him in and keep him from fighting as he normally would have. Buck had seen the evidence of fangs in Larabee's mouth and prayed they would go away with time.
"I'm not letting you go, Pard, not when it'd mean that she-bitch took Sarah's shape and features from your mind. I know you probably can't hear me right now, but in case even a tiny piece of you does hear me then I figure it's worth saying. Sarah would have kicked that shape-shifting bats ass to hell and back if she was here...JD took her place though and he helped take her and the rest of the nest out. You should have seen him, Pard, you would have been proud of him," Wilmington said and watched the youngest member of the team closely. There was something about the way he held himself that spoke of pain and Buck wondered what Dunne was hiding.
"I found this," Jackson said and covered Larabee with a blanket before realizing they were all freezing. He knew they should get Larabee to Kojay's as quickly as possible, but somehow it felt imperative that they deal with the creature's remains before leaving.
"They're all inside," Standish said and handed JD several pieces of newspaper. "We found some kerosene in the kitchen and several lamps were full of oil. It should burn pretty quickly, but if you'd rather not be the one to start it..."
"Thanks, Ezra, but I need to do this for Arthur and Chris and...and for myself," Dunne said, lighting the yellowed paper and tossing it through the open window. The flames caught immediately, igniting the tattered remnants of curtains and other debris strewn across the floor. He stood watching while the fire slowly crossed the room to the pile of twisted bodies they'd placed at the center. He could hear Josiah saying a prayer and found himself repeating the words as he watched the house steadily being destroyed by the hungry flames devouring it.
"Come on, JD, we need to get out of here," Sanchez finally said.
"No, Josiah, we have to be sure it's gone...they're gone," Dunne vowed.
"The fire will burn for hours, Son, besides we can come back after Chris has been taken care of," Sanchez offered and saw the dark head dip once before Dunne turned and walked over to where Buck still held Chris.
"How is he, Buck?"
"Alive...thanks to you." Wilmington said, sending gratitude through emotive blue eyes.
"The keys are in the sedan," Tanner told them and opened the door. It was going to be a tight squeeze for the seven men, but they were not going to leave anyone behind. He tossed the keys to Josiah and opened the back door before returning to Wilmington's side. He reached for the unconscious blond and saw the fear in Wilmington's face.
"Are you sure Kojay's what Chris needs, Vin?"
"Yes...he knows things, Buck, and he's seen things that we ain't even thought 'bout. He'll know what to do for Chris...for all of us," Tanner stated and helped Wilmington get Larabee on his feet. The carried him to the car and eased him into the back seat before climbing in on either side of him. JD climbed in beside Buck and held his breath until Nathan closed the door and got into the front seat with Ezra sandwiched between him and Josiah.
"Nathan, keep trying Kojay's place!" Tanner ordered.
"I will," Jackson said having taken the cell from Sanchez. The signal was still non-existent, but he would not give up. As Josiah drove the sedan away from the flame engulfed house he hit the phone number he knew so well. It was not until they were back on the main highway leading toward Billings that the call finally went through and Kojay answered on the first ring.
"Nathan, I've been waiting for your call..."
"How did you know I'd be....never mind," Jackson said shaking his head when the other's looked at him. "Look we need help..."
"Bring them to the clinic, but come around back to my private entrance."
"Chris is going to need a blood transfusion."
"I know...tell Buck he better have been taking care of himself."
"I will," Jackson said and realized Buck could not give blood because of the wounds in his shoulder. "Kojay..."
"It is okay, Nathan. Chanu is here and he is also Chris' blood type. I will have everything ready for your arrival...Rain is in the clinic so we will have help with the others."
"Thank God," Jackson said. "We should be there in half an hour!"
"We will be ready."
"Thanks...we owe you," Jackson said before turning off the cell and looking into the rear view mirror. The four men looked pale, but Larabee's skin had the washed out appearance of a corpse. He knew the others were as worried as he was, especially since Larabee showed no sign of coming round. JD also looked paler than the others. He'd seen the wounds on his neck, the same marks he'd seen on Chris' and that sent fear straight to his heart.
"We need a cover story," Standish told them.
"I know, but right now I can't come up with a single rational reason that Chris and JD have bite marks on their neck. Not to mention Buck's shoulders and whatever other injuries we have," Jackson answered, rubbing at his temples when the headache began to send lancing pain through his skull.
"Look, Kojay won't give a fuck 'bout explanations. Like I said he knows things and he just might be able ta give us some advice on this...'specially with what Chris went through," Tanner said tiredly.
"No point in trying to come up with a story until after we check that house tomorrow," Sanchez said and grew quiet. The remainder of the trip was made in silence, each man lost in thoughts of what they'd witnessed and whether they would ever truly believe what they saw.
+ + + + + + +``
Kojay stood on the back steps and could hear Rain Goines moving around in his upstairs apartment. He'd taken the large three bedroom flat when he was given the license to open this clinic and he'd even set up one room with a hospital style bed. On several occasions he'd cared for people who were in trouble, not with the law, but with gangs on the street. He had no enemies in the city and often gave free medical service to those who did not have insurance and could not afford the exorbitant prices of the major hospitals.
Rain also worked at the clinic, taking care of neighborhood children and also helping out with new mothers. Her natural charm eased most of the patients and even the elderly who frequented the clinic spoke to her of their troubles. He knew there were those who hid in the shadows and would only speak to him, but Rain was slowly gaining their trust and often spent long hours in the clinic on her days off at Saint Vincents.
Chanu had remained at the clinic and had volunteered to help with the injured when they arrived. Kojay loved his son, but sometimes the young man had a volatile temper that was only eased by his new wife, Claire Mosley. Although the pretty woman was welcome in his family, her father hated that she'd gone against everything he stood for and married outside her own race. The man would someday find out that race did not matter, especially when it came to children and grandchildren. Chanu and Claire were expecting their first child in a little under four months.
The sound of a car reached his ears and Kojay pulled the warm coat tight around his body as he walked off the bottom step and watched the dark sedan drive into the back parking lot. The car stopped in front of him and he hurried to the back doors as Tanner opened it and stepped outside.
"How is he?" Kojay asked.
"Still out...he's lost a lot of blood, Kojay," Tanner stated and moved aside to allow Josiah to reach into the car and pull the unconscious blond into his arms.
"Bring him upstairs and put him in the hidden room, Josiah," Kojay ordered and stared into the car. Buck and JD both seemed ready to pass out and he knew they would need help getting inside. He motioned for Vin and Ezra and pointed to the trembling dark haired Bostonian. "You two get JD out and take him up to my spare room. Nathan, you get Buck and do the same."
"Sure, Kojay," Tanner readily agreed.
Kojay turned and walked toward the door leading inside. He held it for Sanchez and was amazed at how gentle the giant was while holding his friend in his arms. He led them up the narrow stairs and into the room he'd used as a private place to care for people in trouble. These men had no idea how many times he'd been called upon to help with a government witness who needed both a place to hide out and medical attention. That also meant he had contacts that could get him the things he needed...no questions asked and he'd used some of those favors tonight and would have everything he needed within the hour.
"This way, Josiah," Rain ordered when the door to Kojay's apartment opened and Sanchez entered carrying a very pale, bloodied blond. She'd readied the bed and had the portable monitoring equipment set up around it. The first thing they needed to do was to get fluids into the man and get him out of the ruined clothing he wore. She motioned for Sanchez to place the unconscious man on the bed and waited for him to move out of her way.
"Rain, get that IV started," Kojay ordered and checked Larabee's eyes before finding the seeping puncture wounds in his neck. He looked at Sanchez, but never said a word while he attached the pulse oximeter to Larabee's finger and moved to check his blood pressure. He looked up when Nathan Jackson entered the room.
"What can I do to help?" Jackson asked.
"How's JD?" Kojay inquired.
"He's weak...think he's lost some blood too," the medic answered.
"Get an IV started on JD and Buck and I will get to them as soon as I am done here," Kojay ordered and turned to see Rain taking a blood sample from Larabee before attaching the IV line and running it wide open. "Rain, as soon as you're finished with that, take samples from JD and Buck. Make sure they're both in bed and that the others get something to eat. Tell them to order something from the all night diner down the street and charge it to my tab!"
"Yes, Kojay," Rain said and moved out of the room.
"Chanu, go down to the coffee shop and bring plenty of coffee and hot chocolate...it's going to be a long night," the elderly man said and turned back to find a pair of glassy, red-rimmed eyes staring up at him. "Chris."
"Why what, Son?"
"Why do you hurt?" Kojay asked and watched the sweat soaked blond head dip once. "You had a run in with several Halloween..."
"Sarah...no...not Sarah...shape-shifter...vampire...changeling," Larabee whispered, eyes filled with liquid fire as he stared up at the ceiling.
"You are going to be fine, Son," Kojay said and realized Sanchez was still in the room. "Josiah, help me get his clothes off."
Sanchez moved to help his friend and was shocked at how cold Larabee felt. The blond was awake, but he didn't seem to be aware of anyone or anything. Josiah looked into the sea green eyes and briefly wondered how close Larabee had been to becoming a changeling. The hint of crimson in the whites terrified him, but he prayed the blood transfusion and other medical treatment would help return Chris to the man he knew and respected.
"He needs blood, and I'm afraid Chanu is ill and cannot..."
"Where...maybe we should bring him to the hospital," Sanchez said tiredly.
"No, I don't think any of you could handle being in the hospital right now. I have called in several favors and am expecting a delivery of everything we need within the hour."
"Does Chris have an hour?"
"Chris is stronger than any of you realize, but it is going to take more than just physical healing to bring him back. He has been through something no human should ever see or have to deal with," Kojay talked as he set up a second IV and then moved to clean the puncture wounds to Larabee's neck.
"Kojay, do you know what made those?" Sanchez asked and heard the soft inhalation that signaled the man did indeed know more than he was saying.
"My grandfather spoke of a legend, but it has been many moons since I heard the tale. I won't go into details right now, but grandfather told of a clan of shape-shifting vampires who drained their victims of blood while they dismembered the bodies. There was also mention of one or more of these creatures choosing a mate who was slowly drained of blood and forced to feed off the host's body, while not being turned into a vampire. On a certain night the creature drained her chosen mate and then made him feed off a victim, often a close friend or family member."
"That's what I figured," Sanchez said and placed a hand on Larabee's forehead when the younger man began to moan softly. "Easy, Son, you're safe now..."
"God...hurts...it hurts...burns," Larabee muttered, unable to keep the pain from showing any longer.
"Where does it hurt, Chris?" Kojay asked, frowning when he saw how tense the blond was as his back arched and he grabbed at his abdomen.
"Stomach hurts...burning," Larabee ground out.
"Chris, did you drink anything...anything from her?" Kojay asked.
"N...no choice...hunt...hunt Buck...wh...where's Buck?"
"Buck and the others are fine, Chris. Rain and Nathan are looking after them," the elderly man explained.
"Kojay, what's wrong?" Sanchez asked worriedly.
"If she forced him to drink from her veins then there's no time to lose. There is a poison in his stomach and it's going to eat away at him from the inside. It can only be neutralized by an enzyme she would have secreted once he became her changeling.'
"How do you know all that?"
"I have no time to explain, Josiah. Go tell Rain and Nathan I need them in here now!" Kojay knew he would have to explain to the others how he knew he was right, but he hoped they trusted him enough to act now and get answers later.
"What's wrong, Kojay?" Jackson asked upon entering the room.
"We need to set up for a gastric lavage?"
"Now...why?" the medic asked, but went to the cabinet the elderly man motioned toward.
"Trust me, Nathan and I'll explain later," Kojay said and was glad to see Rain enter. "Rain, I'm going to need your help."
"What do you need," Goines asked.
"Help me with the restraints," Kojay ordered and saw several members of Larabee's friends in the doorway. "I do not have time for explanations right now."
Jackson placed several sterilized containers on the table next to Larabee's bed and moved to the door. "Get them in the other room and stay with Buck and JD, Josiah. Kojay doesn't need the distraction right now!"
Sanchez nodded and turned to find Standish and Tanner had followed him. "Boys, let's go sit with..."
"Josiah, I need..."
"Vin, you trust Kojay don't you?"
"Course I do..."
"Good, then let him do what he has to and we can help by keeping Buck and JD in bed," Sanchez ordered and walked toward the room down the hallway. He knew whatever was wrong Kojay, Nathan, and Rain could handle it, but was Chris strong enough to keep fighting.
"Josiah, what's going on?" Wilmington asked, wincing as he managed to sit on the edge of the bed.
"I'm not clear on everything, Buck, so why don't we wait until Kojay can come tell us?" Sanchez asked.
"What's wrong with Chris?" the ladies' man asked and glanced toward the other bed where JD was trying to sit up, but seemed as weak as a new born calf.
"JD, stay put...there's nothing we can do right now, and you falling on your face is not going to help anything," Sanchez warned and turned to see Chanu standing in the doorway.
"I brought coffee," Chanu told them and handed each man a cup.
"Thanks, Chanu, how's Claire?" Tanner asked, hoping to keep everyone's mind off Larabee and the fight to save his life.
"She is heavy with child, but as beautiful as a dawn's sunset," Chanu answered.
"Spoken like a man who's found the rare gift of true love," Sanchez said.
"Is her father still being a jerk?" Wilmington asked.
"Jerk is too good a word...more like a miserable bastard," Chanu spat. "The man has disowned Claire and she is hurting, but I keep telling her it is not her fault that the man is too pigheaded to see what he is missing. This will be his first grandchild and yet, he is willing to toss it aside like yesterday's news."
"Sometimes people don't know what they have until it bites them on the..."
"Ass," Tanner interrupted Standish's speech.
"Yes, well, I would not have put it so eloquently," the gambler said with a slight smile. The men grew quiet then, hoping and praying for some good news after everything they'd been through.
+ + + + + + +``
Kojay removed the tubing and looked at the pale face of his patient. Larabee had remained conscious through the procedure and was now turned slightly on his side, and trying to get his emotions under control. The sound of the doorbell had him hurrying from the room and he was pleased to find the supplies he'd ordered set outside his door. He'd warned his contacts that he didn't want to have to explain to the others how he'd got everything he needed, not when secrets were too important to his own reputation.
"Chanu, help me get these upstairs," Kojay ordered when the younger man appeared at the top of the stairs.
Chanu hurried down and picked up three of the four boxes and followed his father up the stairs. He set them outside the room where Chris Larabee was being cared for and moved out of the way when Jackson hurried to help get the newly acquired supplies inside.
Kojay closed the door once more and motioned for Jackson to open the box marked fragile and knew the man was fighting the urge to ask questions. The box contained everything they needed for blood transfusions including several pints of Larabee's blood type.
"Rain, start the blood and monitor his pressure closely," Kojay ordered and looked into Larabee's eyes. "Chris, I know you're uncomfortable right now, but we're doing everything we can to help you..."
"Don't want...want to be her changeling...don't want to kill...blood..."
"I know you don't and you won't, Son. I know you feel weak and sick, but the blood should help and Nathan told me the creatures are all dead so that should end their line."
"Won't become...become her changeling?" Larabee asked hopefully.
"No...you won't. She didn't get to complete the ceremony, Chris. Everyone's safe and..."
"JD? Is he....was he..." Larabee frowned, trying hard to remember what he'd seen in the clearing. He remembered hearing Dunne and another man join them, and knew there was something he should tell the others.
"JD is going to be fine, Chris," Jackson explained. "Galloway took some of his blood, but just enough to make sure the other shape-shifters and vampires could not detect the difference."
"Not a dream?"
"I'm afraid not, but just maybe we can all forget what happened and move on..."
"Try," Larabee said and closed his eyes. He didn't sleep, not right away as visions of Sarah filled his mind. Only this wasn't his Sarah, the one he loved more than life itself, this was a creature with red eyes, sharp talons, and fangs protruding from her gums. She called to him and he tried to fight her, but the pain slammed through his skull and his body arched upward on the bed.
Kojay and Nathan reacted instinctively to keep Larabee from coming off the bed as he strained against the restraints. His body bucked against the straps holding him down until Kojay reached for a syringe and loaded it with valium before inserting it into an IV juncture. It didn't take long for the sedative to take affect and Larabee relaxed back on the bed, and a sigh of relief escaped from the three people still present. Kojay and Nathan lifted the side rails and checked the restraints before Kojay asked Rain to stay with Larabee while he and Nathan went to speak to the others.
Nathan was the first to enter the room and found the others waiting anxiously for word on Chris Larabee. He moved to sit beside Dunne and let Kojay answer the questions that came rapid fire.
"How's Chris?" Tanner asked.
"Is he going to be okay?" Dunne snapped tiredly.
"What are you doing about his blood loss?" Wilmington inquired.
"Gentlemen, give Kojay a chance to answer one question at a time before bombarding him with inquiries," Standish said and turned to the elderly man.
"Thank you, Ezra," Kojay said and was glad when Sanchez pushed a chair close to him and he sat down. "Well, I suppose you all have some idea of what happened and what those creatures were..."
"Yes to the first question...no to the second," Wilmington answered as Jackson fiddled with his IV.
"Josiah, as I said earlier my grandfather spoke of the legend behind these creatures, but what I didn't tell you was of my own experiences with them. They appeared around 200 years ago and are probably what modern day vampires are based on, although I doubt there are any like Angel or Spike..."
"Galloway was," Dunne offered, looking at the floor as he spoke. "He was a vampire...but he didn't feed off humans. He got blood from hospitals or animals, but he never killed a human...never took blood form one until...until..."
"Until you," Kojay said simply.
"He didn't want to, but he said it was the only way we could get into their nest undetected," the Bostonian answered.
"He probably saved your life, Son," Kojay assured him. "These creatures feast on our blood, but they also crave the fear we go through when confronted with the 'monsters'. That's why they tend to dismember their victims while feeding unless they decide to make the victim a vampire or a..."
"Changeling," Tanner whispered.
"Yes, I believe that is the name they are given. If she had succeeded Chris would have become her mate and would have been forced to hunt those closest to him in order to prove his loyalty," Kojay explained.
"You mentioned you had experience with shape-shifters," Sanchez said.
"Yes, but again it was not direct. A member of our tribe came to me with news that his brother was acting strange. The elders asked me to check on his health and I sought him out, but I did not find him. What I did find was his wife and eldest son...they had been drained of blood and dismembered much like the victims you were investigating. We did not find him until several weeks later when his body was found burned beyond recognition..."
"How did you know it was him?" Tanner asked.
"There were some distinguishing marks...such as a deformity to his left leg...the family agreed to an autopsy and it was determined that he had been dead for three weeks or more. The problem was he had been seen by several members of the tribe after he had supposedly died. There are just too many similarities between his death and these creatures to dismiss it," Kojay finished.
"So Chris is going to be all right?"
"I am pretty certain he will make a full recovery, but it will take time. JD and Buck have also been wounded by these creatures and will need antibiotics to keep those wounds from becoming infected. JD might need a transfusion...we'll know more when the test results are back. Buck, I will want to take a look at the wounds on you shoulders. Nathan, would you ask Rain to bring me two syringes of morphine..."
"Doesn't matter what you don't or what you're not," Kojay interrupted the two reluctant patients. "I want you both lying down and resting. As a matter of fact you could all use some rest. Chris is going to be sleeping most of the day...maybe even longer and that gives you all plenty of opportunity to rest. Now I know there is no point in telling you to go home, but there are some empty beds in the clinic that you can take advantage of for now."
"I'll see that they do, Kojay," Jackson vowed, having returned with the syringes he helped Kojay administer the medication to his patients.
"Nathan, that goes double for you," the elderly man warned and heard soft chuckling from the others as Jackson turned his own version of the Larabee glare at the others. "You have not only been through what they have, but you have also been helping me treat them and that's taxing on the sanest man..."
"Tell me about it," Jackson said.
"Since sleeping arrangements have been settled I might as well take a look at you two," Kojay told them and moved to check on the quiet young man who could not meet his eyes even after the others finally left. "JD, you did a brave thing by letting Galloway mark you."
"Just doing what I had to do," Dunne said.
"It was still brave..."
"Or foolhardy," Wilmington said and stared at the youngest member of Larabee's team. "You took a chance letting him bite you like that...what if he'd decided he couldn't fight it any more?"
"It was a chance I had to take," Dunne told him and let his eyes close. He could feel Kojay cleaning the puncture wounds and finally relaxed as the medication, combined with the events of the last 48 hours caught up to him and he slipped into an exhausted sleep.
"Kojay, is he going to be all right?" Wilmington asked, worried about how quiet and withdrawn Dunne had become.
"In time...yes, I am sure he will." Kojay placed a bandage over the site of the wounds and then moved to check on Wilmington. He peeled back the gauze strips and winced sympathetically before reaching for a clean basin of water. "I am sorry, Buck, but there is some infection in these and I'll need to drain them."
"Figured as much," Wilmington said. He'd been in pain since they'd escaped the horror at the old house, but had refused to acknowledge it until after he knew Larabee and Dunne were taken care of. His thoughts went back over what he'd witnessed since being kidnapped and hunted by a vile creature that did not belong in this world. 'This world,' he thought and shifted when Kojay touched a particularly sore spot. Again he let himself relax and his mind wandered over how much the world had suddenly changed and yet there was no way he would talk to anyone about it except the six men who'd share his experience and Kojay. The world was not ready for the reality that sometimes legends really did walk the earth and not all of them were heroes.
"You rest now, Son, I'll check in on you throughout the day," Kojay assured him and left the room.
Buck lay still, listening to JD's soft breathing across the room and sighed tiredly. So much had happened in the last few days, most of it changing the way he viewed the 'monsters' he'd thought were imaginary. He knew he wasn't going to sleep until he saw for himself that Chris was okay. He stood up and looked at the IV attached to a pole hanging from the wall and wondered how he was going to manage to carry it. He reached up; wincing at the tug on the shoulder wounds, and took the IV bag down. Holding it above his shoulder Buck walked toward the room where his long time friend slept.
Buck wasn't expecting Chris to be in good shape, but he wasn't ready for the corpse like form that lay huddled under sheets that weren't as white as he was. He walked slowly to the bed and could feel Rain watching him, but he only had eyes for the blond. He reached out and touched Larabee's bare shoulder, shocked at how clammy his skin felt; unaware that Rain had taken the bag of fluids from his hand and hung it above the bed. He sat down, felt his own energy level drop and finally turned to Rain.
"How is he?"
"His blood pressure has picked up a little since he's been receiving the blood transfusion," the pretty woman explained.
"Kojay must have more contacts than Bausch and Laum," Wilmington whispered.
"He helps a lot of people, Buck, and some of them are looking for medical care outside normal channels. He's been involved with the Witness Protection Program for years..."
"I remember him telling us that after the O'Malley case ended and the family disappeared," the rogue told her. "Sometimes I wish we could just disappear and forget about all this shit for a while."
Rain heard the pain in the man's words and came around to stand in front of him. She bent down and looked into the sorrowful blue eyes and knew this man had been cut deeply by the events that led them here. She gently kissed his forehead and felt the slight heat of fever and silently prayed there was nothing going on they didn't know about. She pulled him close and hugged him, feeling his body tremble with what could only be suppressed sobs and knew Buck Wilmington was tired beyond belief.
"I'm sorry, Rain..."
"No need to be sorry, Buck, you've seen things over the last few days that no man is supposed to see," the pretty physician told him.
"You got that right, Rain, wish I could just forget what I saw....make Chris forget how she used Sarah's image to get to him," Wilmington whispered.
"Chris knows...he knows what she was and he knows Sarah would never hurt anyone, especially not the people she loved and cared about. I'm not saying he won't need help because he will...you all will. Kojay and I have spoken about what happened to all of you and it's something that most people would call the stuff that urban legends are made of, but unfortunately most urban legends have some basis in fact."
"Think I heard that a time or two," the rogue said, sighing tiredly.
"Buck, you're tired and you're hurt...why don't we get you back to your bed. I promise everything will look better after you've had a chance to rest," Rain explained.
"I..." Wilmington tried to protest, but he found it hard to concentrate as Rain helped him to his feet. He swayed, and grabbed at the rail in order to get his balance and smiled sheepishly at the physician. "Sorry, Rain, guess I'm more tired than I thought."
"Who wouldn't be," Goines said and took the IV bag. She held it up and walked beside the rogue, relieved when they reached the bedroom without mishap. She watched him lie back and then eased the blankets up over him before kissing his forehead.
"Folks'll talk if you keep doing that," Wilmington lightly teased and closed his eyes knowing Larabee was in good hands.
Rain moved to check on the youngest member of Larabee's team and was not surprised to see his eyes open and staring at the gentle rogue. She checked the IV flow and knew the blood tests results should be back shortly and they'd know whether there was anything they should be treating. Although JD's blood pressure had been a little low it had improved with the infusion of fluids.
"Rain, is he okay?"
"I believe so, JD, but like you he needs to be resting."
"I'm trying to...hard...keep thinking maybe this was all a dream...a nightmare and I can't wake up."
"It was a nightmare, JD, but unlike most nightmares this one was very real. You...all of you are going to have to realize you can either keep on living it and letting it run your life, or you can put the nightmare aside and go back to your normal lives."
"I'm not so sure there's such a thing as a normal life anymore," Dunne told her.
"There is, JD, and I'm sure when Casey comes home she'll help you deal with this. So will the others, but right now I want you to try and rest, okay?"
"Okay...I'll try," the younger man said and closed his eyes. He heard her move around before finally leaving the room. Dunne opened his eyes and stared at the window. The blinds were closed, but he could tell the sun was shining and for a second shied away from the thought of sunshine. He silently cursed himself for his weakness and knew Galloway had not changed him, yet there seemed to be an urge to stay in the darkness.
'They're dead...all dead and Arthur wouldn't....didn't lie to me. I'm not a vampire...I'm JD Dunne and I work and I'm damn good at what I do. I'm no monster...no monster...no monster...' those thoughts raced through his mind and followed him into his dreams.
+ + + + + + +
Two days had passed since the encounter with the race of shape-shifting vampires, two days of nightmares and rethinking that the 'monsters' of this world sometimes transcended what made up nightmares. Vin sat next to Larabee's bed and winced at the pressure on his ribs. Kojay had insisted on checking him over once the others had been taken care of and x-rays revealed he'd broken a couple of them at some point during the last few days. JD and Buck were both fighting high fevers and had been receiving antibiotics and IV fluids. They were both covered with cooling blankets and hooked up to cardiac monitors. Vin stood and moved to the bed when Larabee began to moan and his head moved from side to side.
"Sarah...not my Sarah...no...no..."
"Chris, come on, Cowboy, it's time to wake up. You're safe now...we're all safe," Tanner said and touched Larabee's bare shoulder. The blond was burning up and was still restrained because Kojay was afraid he'd hurt himself during his struggles.
"No...no hunt...Buck....please...I can't...no feed...no..."
Tanner reached out and touched Larabee's forehead, wincing sympathetically as the muscles corded in the straining neck and shoulders. This was the third time in less than two hours that the blond reacted to the restraints and tried to fight his way out of them and Vin knew something had to be done.
"Damn it, Chris...stop!" the Texan cursed and dropped back on the chair as he ran his fingers through his hair. His ribs throbbed and he could see Kojay readying an injection that would be used to sedate Larabee. He knew the elderly man would rather not use anything, but the violent outbreaks were doing more damage than good.
"I don't w...want...don't want it!" Larabee screamed and continued to buck until it looked as if he was going to break either the restraints or his own bones. "Sarah...God help me...I can't.....burning...burning..."
"Chris," Tanner said and moved to the bed. "Listen to me, Cowboy, Sarah's not here..."
"Burning, Vin...so fuck...fucking hot...this hell...am I in hell?"
"No, Pard, it's not hell. You've just got a fever, but Kojay's doing everything he can to bring it down," Tanner tried to get through to his friend and watched Kojay inject the medications. "We're okay, Chris, we're all okay and so are you...or you will be as long as you fight..."
"Fight...fight monsters...vampires...feed....sick...going to b...be sick," Larabee said and was turned slightly on the side as a basin was placed before him. Again and again he wretched as thick black ooze ejected from his throat and his body trembled uncontrollably.
"Kojay?" Tanner asked worriedly.
"It's from whatever that creature had in its veins, Vin. I was expecting this and although the gastric lavage cleansed most of it from his stomach, it was still clinging to his throat and stomach lining."
"Should we be worried?"
"Always....especially since we are dealing with the unknown," Kojay said, easing Larabee back down when it seemed this new bout had ended.
"Ko...jay?" the ill man groaned and looked into the sympathetic eyes of the older man.
"How do you feel, Son?"
"Feel like hell...what hap...happened?"
"What do you remember?" the older man asked.
"Remember Sarah...but it wasn't Sarah...why the re...straints?" Larabee managed.
"You've been having some severe reactions to what happened and right now they are needed to protect you," Kojay told him and checked the monitors. Larabee's blood pressure had picked up, but his temperature remained dangerously elevated.
"Protect me from what?" the blond asked, frowning when he turned to see Tanner standing on the opposite side of the bed. "You okay?"
"I'm fine, Chris, busted a couple of ribs, but that ain't nothin' compared ta what happened ta you and the others."
"I remember Sarah...but..."
"It wasn't Sarah, Chris, not even close. She was doing somethin' ta ya ta make ya see her as Sarah..."
"Yeah," Tanner answered simply.
"Normally they don't, Cowboy, but in this case they were real. Think they're all dead now..."
"Need to know...need to find out," Larabee said with a certainty that spoke volumes to the two men standing on either side of him.
"I know we do, but there's nothin' ya can do until Kojay says yer okay," Tanner warned. He knew Josiah and Nathan had left that morning to go check on the house and would return to Kojay's clinic with the report. The police would also be called in as soon as the two men completed their own search of the area.
"Chris, I want you to rest now," Kojay ordered and watched the sea green eyes close slowly.
Vin could feel the elderly man watching him, but he wasn't in the mood to talk. He understood Kojay had seen and heard many things in his lifetime, but unless he really believed in monsters there was no way Kojay or anyone else would be able to keep a straight face.
"Vin, there are many unexplainable things in this world, and often people choose not to admit to what they've seen because they are afraid. They fear being ridiculed by others, but they are also afraid that if they speak of it then it just might become too real to deny. They hide behind their fears and hope that no one asks them about what they saw."
"I know what I saw, Kojay, jest wish I hadn't seen it," Tanner answered.
"I would say the others feel the same way, but it happened and you saw it. There is no denying it in your mind and if you try I can promise it will never go away. It will eat at you until you go crazy trying to act as if nothing happened. Admit to yourself what you saw and to your friends, but don't try to deny it," Kojay warned.
"I ain't denyin' what I saw, but I ain't gonna talk 'bout it any more'n I have ta," the Texan vowed. "Them creatures are dead and as soon as Josiah and Nate get back we're all gonna rest a lot easier."
"They may not find anything," Kojay warned.
"That's what scares me," Tanner told him.
"Vin, just remember what I said and you will all be fine," the elderly man assured him and turned back to his patient. He could tell Larabee was finally sleeping, but also understood there would be nightmares for a long time to come. He just hoped the others would be strong enough to give Larabee, Wilmington, and Dunne what they needed.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah and Nathan had been quiet during the ride to the house they had hastily driven away from after setting fire to the structure. They knew it was on an old back road that hadn't been used in years and Nathan was watching for the turn off.
Nathan's mind was also on the five men back in Billings. Vin was up and around, although the busted ribs were going to make him uncomfortable. Ezra was suffering from headaches brought on by the blow to the head he'd received. JD and Buck were both fighting high fevers and Kojay was worried about the strange enzyme that showed up in JD, Chris, and Buck's blood work.
Chris had them all worried...he was in and out of consciousness and repeatedly fighting the restraints. The wound on his neck was still showing signs of infection no matter what antibiotics and other treatments Kojay was using. Larabee was also hallucinating and seeing Sarah, but not his Sarah...he was still seeing the shape-shifting vampire they now knew as Shareena.
"It should be coming up on the left," Sanchez remarked.
"Are you sure we've come far enough north?"
"I think so...although I could be wrong..."
"No, you're not," Jackson said, pointing to the turn that would take them to the remnants of the old Victorian house. It would take at least fifteen, maybe twenty minutes to get to the house and Nathan was glad there was still plenty of daylight left. He shuddered at the thought of being on the lonely stretch of road after dark.
"Place kind of gives me the heebie-jeebies," Sanchez offered.
"I'd be surprised if you didn't feel that way," the medic said and reached for a bottle of water, silently wishing he had something a lot stronger. He knew they'd destroyed the bodies and the house, but right now he was hard pressed to believe it was over. 'It's not over until Chris, JD, and Buck are out of the woods,' he thought.
"A penny for your thoughts," the ex-preacher said when the silence deepened and Jackson seemed to be off in a world of his own.
"Sorry...was just thinking about Chris, Buck, and JD. Will they ever be the same?"
"I doubt if any of us will," Sanchez told him. "Seems to me we've all seen something we thought was straight out of the movies or an Anne Rice book, and that's not going to go away just because we would like it to," Sanchez told him.
"Makes you wonder how many urban legends are actually real," Jackson said, shivering as a chill ran down his spine. "I think the house is close."
"I know. It's almost like it senses we're coming," the older man said. He slowed the car down as the road narrowed and trees, heavy with frost hung over them. They reached the clearing and he turned off the ignition, staring at the burnt out shell of the home. Taking a deep breath he exited the car and stood next to Jackson before moving toward the destroyed structure.
"If I didn't know any better I'd swear the fire happened a long time ago," Jackson said.
"Nathan, you might be right," Sanchez agreed and moved toward the house. There wasn't much left that could be recognized as a home, in fact it looked as if the remnants had been picked through and several animals now nested within the debris. Spider webs were also evident, although they looked deserted and the leaves from the surrounding trees were already decaying in the midst of the destruction.
"Josiah, this looks like..."
"I know," the ex-preacher said and began searching through the area for any signs of the creatures they knew had been there. He carefully picked his way through the tattered remnants of a home that had long since gone to rot. There was no evidence that anyone had visited the area in many years, yet he knew this was the place where they'd confronted the shape-shifting vampires.
"No...there's nothing here," Sanchez answered, barely catching himself from plunging through the rotted floorboards.
"Maybe we should leave," Jackson offered, hating how his voice sounded.
"There's no point in staying here, but I'd like to look around the trees. If Buck was hunted...maybe there were others," the ex-preacher explained and moved toward the tree line near the front of the house. He could feel Jackson beside him and knew they were taking strength from one another. Neither man was afraid, but they both understood the danger that could still be lurking.
Nathan kept his eyes peeled for anything and was sickened when he spotted something hanging from a tree several feet in front of him. There was no doubt about what he was seeing and he knew this had to be treated as a crime scene. "Josiah..."
"I see it...and there's more over there," Sanchez said and made the sign of the cross on his chest. There were human remains scattered helter skelter around the trees and scrub brush. There was no blood and he knew this was probably the only evidence that would point to the creatures that had been nesting in the area.
"We need to call this in," Jackson said.
"I know, but we also need to come up with an explanation about why we came out this way," Sanchez explained.
"These people deserve a proper burial," the medic said and wondered how many victims had met their death over the years. He was saddened not only by the loss of life, but by the fact that so many people would probably never know what had happened to their friends or loved ones.
"I know...I think we need to call McNally's team," Sanchez said, turning to show Jackson what he'd found. There was no doubt who the wallet belonged to and the mystery of McNally's disappearance had been solved.
"We could let them handle this while we take care of our own," Jackson offered and wondered if that was the only reason he wanted to step back from the case.
"That might just be the best plan, Brother," Sanchez said. "If we get involved we'd have to go into how we wound up here and right now I doubt anyone would believe our story."
"That's what I was thinking," the medic told him. "I doubt if any of us will forget what we saw and what happened, but maybe we can put it behind us and deal with..."
"Ignore it you mean?" Sanchez said simply and nodded at the stricken look that came over Jackson's face.
"There's enough horror in this world without actually bringing it out in the open," Jackson said, walking slowly back toward the car.
"I'm not an advocate of keeping the public in the blind, but in this instance I have to agree with you," the ex-preacher said and climbed behind the steering wheel. They'd spent over an hour going through the rubble and the surrounding area which left both men feeling drained. He watched Jackson pick up the phone and call the number they'd used only once or twice over the years. It was a number they all knew by heart and it would set in motion a clean up that would hopefully keep the public from knowing exactly what had happened out here.
Jackson spoke to several people and was assured that there'd be a team at the site within the hour. He agreed to stay put and make sure no one else interfered with the collection of evidence and knew it was going to be a long day. He settled back to wait for the clean up crew to show up and knew Sanchez was thinking about the others as well. For now there was nothing they could do, but wait.
+ + + + + + +
He knew it could not be real, and yet he soared high over the countryside, his eyesight better than it had ever been as he sought out his prey. Wings spread wide he dipped and flew with the wind until he spotted his victim and tasted blood in his mouth. There was no fighting it any more, he needed, craved, and would do anything to stop the burning sensation in his gut and dipped lower as the man's features came clearer. He knew this man, knew his name, respected him, but he could not stop the natural order of things. Fangs and talons distended and the wind whooshed through his wings as he grabbed his victim by the shoulders and lifted him into the air. He could hear the screams and feel the trembling fear, but the feast was so close now and he lowered his head to the neck and used his chin to brush back the soft hair before sinking his teeth into the vein that promised ecstasy.
+ + + + + + +
It was dark, no light could be seen, yet there were no clouds in the sky and the streetlights should have come on hours ago. The air was frigid, the wind buffeting his body and pushing him forward. High overhead he heard the keening wail of an unknown creature and looked up, but could barely discern the darker shadow outlined against the midnight black night sky. He pulled his shirt closer around him and wondered why he hadn't put on his coat and gloves. Fear drove him to move faster, but instinct told him he could not outrun the creature that shadowed him. He felt the wind grow stronger and realized his stalker was now directly above him and he screamed as the talons dug into his shoulders and his feet left the ground. Higher and higher they climbed until sea-green eyes met hazel ones just before he felt the bite to his neck and the familiar feeling of blood leaving his body.
+ + + + + + +
"NO!" Chris Larabee's scream of pain awakened everyone within earshot, but it was Ezra Standish who reached the man first, although the scene before him sent fear racing to his heart and he fought the urge to be sick.
"JD!" Standish cried and pulled the younger man off of the restrained Larabee.
"Don't fucking touch me, Ezra!"
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" the gambler asked fearfully.
"I'm trying to wake him up!"
"What's going on?" Kojay asked upon entering the room to find Larabee trembling uncontrollably while Standish forced Dunne up against the wall.
"I found JD attacking..."
"I wasn't attacking him, Ezra, I was trying to wake him up!" Dunne snarled.
"Ezra, let him go," Wilmington said from the doorway where he stood wavering as he held tight to the IV pole.
"You didn't see what he was..."
"I didn't have to. JD woke up and told me he had to see Chris...he was dreaming and he said Chris was too and he had to wake him before it was too late," the rogue explained and was relieved when Kojay helped him to a chair. He looked at the pale blond and could see he was fighting his way out of the nightmare he'd been lost in. "Come on, Pard, it's time to shake it off and wake up."
"B...Buck?" Larabee whispered when his eyes finally focused.
"The one and only. How are you feeling?"
"Tired...is JD okay?" the blond asked.
"I'm fine, Chris," Dunne said and carefully made his way to the bed. "I heard you...I had to come help, Chris. I wasn't trying to hurt you."
"I know...nightmare...same eyes...thought it was you at first...knew it couldn't be," Larabee assured him and wished he could wipe away the pain he saw in the hazel eyes.
"I'm sorry, JD, I saw the blood..."
"Blood?" Dunne asked and looked down at his hand. There was blood, a lot of it running from the puncture wound left by the hastily extracted IV line.
"JD, I need to check..."
"I'm okay, Kojay," the Bostonian tried, but was led from the room.
"Jesus, Chris, you look like hell," Wilmington stated, with just a hint of a relieved smile.
"Have you looked in a mirror lately, Buck?" Standish asked. "Stupid question because if you had you would know you look as bad, if not worse than Chris does."
"Now you know that just ain't possible," the rogue said with a grin before growing serious once more. "Want to tell me about the dream, Chris?"
"What's to tell? A dream's a dream," Larabee told him, sighing wearily when both men stared at him. "I was walking along the back parking lot of Rimrock Mall. It was dark and for some reason there were no stars in the sky in spite of the fact there were no clouds. The wind was so strong I thought it was going to knock me off my feet. I looked up just as something dug into my shoulders and lifted me off the ground."
"Did you see what it was?" Standish asked when Larabee grew quiet.
"It was me," Dunne finished for the blond.
"Yes and no," Larabee answered. "I wish I could explain it better, but..."
"You'd have to admit that you believe in those things," Wilmington whispered.
"Yes...I don't want to, but God help me they were real," Larabee snapped.
"Yes, they were, but we took care of them, Chris," Standish assured him.
"If Arthur was right then we killed the last of their bloodline and that ends the threat," Dunne explained. "He told me what they were and said that in order to put a stop to the shape-shifters we had to destroy them with fire. We did that, Chris. We put them in the house and burned it to the ground...we can't...we won't be like them."
"JD is right, Son," Kojay interrupted as Vin, Nathan, and Josiah joined them. "The bloodline is severed or you would have already shown signs of becoming what she wanted. Your blood work is showing a marked improvement and your blood pressure is close to normal. The fever is also coming down and that goes for the three of you."
"Josiah, the house?" Wilmington asked.
"It's gone," Sanchez answered vaguely.
"What do you mean gone?" Dunne asked.
"Did the fire destroy it?" Larabee inquired.
"What about the bodies?" Standish put in.
"The house was destroyed by fire, but from what we saw it happened a long time ago," Jackson explained and moved to sit on the edge of Larabee's bed. He knew the news they were about to impart would be devastating to Larabee, Wilmington, and Dunne. "There was no sign of the bodies..."
"What?" Wilmington snapped, missing the look that passed between Larabee and Dunne.
"There were no bodies in the rubble, but we did find evidence of other victims besides you, Chris, and JD," Sanchez offered. "Steven McNally was one of them...we found his wallet at the scene."
"Who's out there now?" Larabee asked.
"We called McNally's people and they are going to come up with a cover story after they recover the bodies," Jackson assured him.
"Whole bodies," the blond asked.
"No...at least not the way it looked," Sanchez told him.
"Shareena liked to hunt her victims. She'd tell them they could go free if they made it to the road...made me watch with Steven and Bu...Buck. She tore Steven apart while she drained him and didn't give a damn what happened to his body. She just tossed it aside like yesterday's garbage...was going to do the same thing to Buck if I didn't let her feed from me...made me...made me...God," Larabee groaned and turned on his side as the bitter taste of bile rose in his throat. His body shook with the effort it took to rid himself of the taste of her brackish fluids, yet he knew he would never really forget.
"Easy, Son, it's over," Sanchez vowed.
"How do you know?" Dunne asked.
"JD, did you trust Arthur?" the ex-preacher asked.
"He trusted him 'nough ta let him mark him," Tanner said.
"Arthur didn't deserve what happened to him and he didn't feed off people," Dunne said.
"But did you trust him...here," Sanchez asked, touching the area of the younger man's heart as Kojay lowered Larabee back to the bed.
"Yes," the younger man answered, his voice barely above a whisper, yet filled with certainty. "He told me what to do and how to kill those bastards and marked me so we could walk into their nest without being discovered."
"JD," Larabee called the young man's name and waited for Dunne to look at him before asking. "Are they dead?"
"Yes...yes they are. I know what Josiah and Nathan saw out there, but it doesn't mean it never happened. We know there were victims and McNally's people are doing the clean up, but we're also the only ones who really know what happened. I wish we had more proof, but I also know they're dead and that the nightmares are going to fade and we just might forget what really happened," the Bostonian explained and felt a weight lift from his shoulders when Larabee simply nodded.
"I think you're right, JD. I think the creatures' bloodlines died out there and maybe we can forget...or at least file it away until..."
"Until something happens to prove otherwise," Standish finished for the blond.
"Exactly" Larabee said. "We can't live our lives afraid that there are monsters behind every door or hiding in some dark alley...at least not this kind of monster."
"You're so right, Chris," Sanchez said. "Lord knows we have enough work with the two legged monsters who prey on the innocent."
"Amen to that," Jackson said.
"All right, Gentlemen, I still have patients who need their rest. I'll give you five minutes then I want Chris sleeping...Buck and JD in their room...in their beds. No arguments!" Kojay warned and checked Larabee's monitors, pleased to see things were closer to normal parameters.
+ + + + + + +
Chris sat on the edge of the bed and looked at the untouched tray of food Kojay had brought to him. JD and Buck had already gone home, but neither man was ready to return to work. Chris sighed and closed his eyes, opening them again when the image of Shareena flashed across the closed lids. He fought to keep his breathing even and looked up as Kojay entered the room.
"You need to eat, Son," the elderly man ordered and sat on the edge of the bed.
"Kojay, every time I close my eyes I see her...see her using Sarah's image. I tried to fight her, but Sarah...God she used her...used my love for her."
"I know she did, but as long as you remember that it wasn't Sarah you'll be able to face what she did. Shareena was able to take Sarah's image from your mind, but she could not duplicate how you felt about her. That's why her ruse didn't work with you. Deep down you knew she wasn't Sarah and you were able to fight her on an inner level. Perhaps that's why you and JD were both able to get past what happened. You're strong, Chris, and I know the memories are going to continue to plague you, but at least you know they were not real. Shareena's image and actions will fade and when they do you'll be able to see what you and Sarah shared."
"I hope so, Kojay...I need Sarah's memory. Without it I feel empty inside and God help me I don't want to feel that way ever again."
"You won't, Son, as long as you hold her in your heart and mind and continue to love her as if she was still a part of your life."
"She is...she always will be," Larabee said and knew it was true. As long as he kept her memories pure then no one could take them from him. 'I love you, Sarah...'
'I love you, Chris...' The whisper soft words were like heaven to Chris and he smiled as he reached for his fork.
Kojay had seen the smile and knew Larabee had tapped into the memories that would help him get through the pain Shareena had caused him. Between that and his team of brothers, Chris Larabee would be able to live with what the shape-shifter had done and come out on top. He watched Larabee eat and finally left the room in search of his own meal.
+ + + + + + +
Chris looked at the young man seated next to him. It had been a long two weeks, but Kojay had finally released them all from his care. They'd talked through the events of the week leading up to Halloween, and were somewhat surprised to find the memories and the wounds were indeed fading. He turned to see JD watching the moon come up behind the trees and knew Dunne would never really forget what happened any more than he could. They were alone right now, but the rest of the team would be there before long and would be bringing dinner.
"Chris, do you ever wonder if...well if there's anything to the stories we're told as kids?"
"You mean stories about the boogie man and aliens and..."
"Well, yes and no. See I keep thinking about Arthur and wondering why he left his stuff to me?"
"Probably because he saw a kindred spirit," Larabee answered. Dunne had heard from Galloway's lawyer and been told that the man had made changes to his will and that since he had no surviving family he was leaving everything he owned to JD Dunne.
"He must have planned it before we went looking for he house...before he called me at the office."
"Well, JD, I know I'm glad he trusted you and vice versa because if you two hadn't shown up when you did then Buck and the others, and I would all be dead," Larabee told him. "It may not have been the smartest move...going out there alone with Galloway, but it was damn brave. I doubt there's anyone else who would willingly sacrifice himself to save others."
"I don't call it brave, Chris...I wasn't real sure about letting Arthur mark me, but he said it was the only way," Dunne said, staring out over the yard that was now bathed in moonlight. The nightmares were receding, although every now and then he was plagued with one where he flew high over the city of Billings searching for prey. It always ended with him grabbing his victim and lifting him high in the sky. He'd look into Larabee's sea green eyes just before sinking his fangs into the exposed throat.
"Are you still having nightmares?"
"Sometimes...not as bad or as often," the younger man explained.
"Yeah, but lately I'm waking up before...well you know," Dunne said. He'd already spoken with Larabee about the nightmares and realized they were sharing the same dream from different angles. They'd spoken with Kojay and Josiah and it helped them both deal with the emotional trauma they'd been through.
"I know...but it's not your fault, JD," Larabee assured him. "The nightmares will stop eventually, but until they do why don't we agree to call each other just to make sure we're okay with them?"
"Sounds good, Chris," Dunne said.
"Dinner's here!" Wilmington called as the other men joined Larabee and Dunne on the back patio. "Jesus, you two must be freezing!"
"It's not that bad, Buck," Larabee said.
"Speak for yourself, Pard...as Vin so aptly puts it the boys are shriveling up to nothing but buttons," the rogue said and patted his arms.
"Buck, I heard tell that was normal fer ya," Tanner quipped from inside the house.
"Oh that's real funny, Vin, come on you two...feedbag's on and I'm starving," Wilmington said and motioned the two men inside, stopping Larabee once Dunne stepped inside. "How is everything?"
"He's fine, Buck...we're fine," Larabee assured the ladies' man.
"Already did," the blond said and stepped into the house. The door closed and the warmth of the house blanketed him inside and out. He could hear their laughter and feel the healing nature that went with their friendship and knew they really would be all right. It might not be tomorrow, but sometime in the next few days or months or however long it took their lives would be normal and safe once more.
+ + + + + + +
The wind buffeted the slender, rotted piece of wood and a low keening wail echoed through the clearing. The branches of the trees scratched against one another while the animals who'd found shelter in the burned out remnants of the once stately manor scurried away from the figure that emerged from the ground. Wings formed, and the scorched body lifted off the ground, hovered for several minutes and stared toward the city it once lived in. The house belonged to someone else now, and he could not return there, but at least he could move on and allow the city to forget the 'monsters' the darkness harbored. With one last look toward the city, the creature turned away from the life he'd known and flew north, away from Billings, away from the young man who would never know the full truth behind the gift he'd come so close to receiving.