A/N: So I like vampires, and I like Westerns, and I figured what the hell, why not combine the two? This actually is relevant to Jasper's interests, in that this really happened in his past. The world of my characters is... rather different from the one we know. Whee, alternate histories. (I've never had the chance or opportunity to really expand on their world, so if you have any questions, put 'em to me either in a review or to my Formspring, I shall endeavour answer them.) The title comes from a song by Teruyuki Takahashi, and was used in the... sixth, I think, Hellsing OVA. I looooooove me some Hellsing.

-Akuma Stocking-

The vampire wandered into town just after nightfall with no more than the clothes on his back, the black Stetson on his head, the Peacemaker at his waist, the knife in his boot, and the army-issue satchel over his shoulder. He was covered in dust, and obviously exhausted, but he held his head high, his lone hazel eye glaring at everyone who dared to make eye contact. His boots were badly worn, the toes scuffed from deep black to pale gray, though his clothes were intact and surprisingly without holes. He was short, just over five feet, and carried himself like a man of seven. His goatee showed signs of once being neatly trimmed, amongst the stubble on his cheeks and upper lip.

The townsfolk stared openly at him, though they looked away the instant his eye roved towards them. Even the local toughs backed down. He stalked like a wolf into the saloon and dropped into a chair in the corner, with his back to the wall. The satchel thunked to the table a moment later. From the heavy sound it made, it was full of books. He looked over at the bartender, who was obviously staring at the short, thick scar crossing his missing right eye.

"Lost my eyepatch some hundred miles back," the vampire said. His voice was rough, though obviously not normally so; there was an underlying smoothness that bespoke some form of vocal training, and a certain cultured diction that seemed to tell of a decent education. A slight Irish burr lurked about his vowels. "My apologies if it bothers anyone." He removed the Stetson; his shaggy, shoulder-length hair was black as the hat, but for a white streak in the front.

"C...can I help you?" the bartender asked hesitantly.

"Water'd be nice," the vampire remarked. "And if you'd kindly direct me towards a room in town, I'd be grateful." He caught the suspicious looks of the other patrons and sighed. "I'm not looking for a fight, lads. I've just spent I don't know how long walking here from Indiana, and all I'd like right now is a chance to rest my feet before they become one with my boots. By the way, my name's... Spencer. Spencer Nightengale."

And that was that. The vampire was directed to a boarding house on the edges of town, not out of rudeness, but because it was the only one. The following evening he was back in the saloon, sitting in the corner with a deck of cards and playing solitaire. He found a barber open just late enough and had him cut his hair respectably short, and shaved away not only the stubble but the goatee as well. The end result was that he looked more effete than before, but his dangerous aura, which threatened immediate retribution if he was harassed, was undiminished. His stoicism was obviously a mere facade, hiding a tumultuous personality and quick temper. He ordered a glass eye from Indianapolis and received it after a couple of weeks. After that the eyepatch disappeared, though he never covered the scar. At some point the white streak disappeared as well, apparently having been dyed black like the rest of his hair.

The townsfolk still didn't know he was a vampire; no one had dropped dead of blood loss yet. The vampire knew this, and fully intended to keep it that way. He gradually became something of a fixture, sitting in the corner playing solitaire. Eventually people began challenging him to poker, and he proved to be just on the innocent side of skilled. His winnings did not markedly increase when he dealt, and in truth his hands, as befitting his size, were small enough that any attempt to palm cards would have instantly been noticed. If he was cheating, no one knew how. He never went out of his way to cause trouble, frequently helping anyone that asked, no matter how menial the task, though he looked over his shoulder frequently. He seemed to almost be waiting for something, though no one quite knew what.

-x-

Messrs Twigg and Post of the Pinkerton Agency came into town not long after the vampire. The two men had long been partners, and were boyhood friends. They were the best the agency had to offer, and could catch any outlaw or solve any crime that came their way. They never socialized with anyone else, either out of shyness or habit or something else entirely. This of course did not make them friends among the incompetents of the agency, and the running joke about them came to be that Twigg had a Post up his ass.

Post was a tall, broad, older man with a craggy face and a perpetual scowl. A heavy handlebar mustache shadowed his upper lip, hanging low enough that it tended to flutter slightly when he spoke, much to the amusement of his nieces, nephews, and Twigg. His grey gimlet eyes were quick, rarely focusing on any one thing for longer than a few seconds. He looked painfully respectable, in his dark waistcoats, black overcoats, and black bowler derby. He stepped heavily and commanded the attention of a room as soon as he entered, his heels hitting the ground with footsteps as loud as gunfire.

Twigg lived up to his name; he was a short, thin man, with a pointed, ferret-like face and long, nervous hands. He kept a coin in the pocket of his waistcoat, and he had an annoying habit of pulling it out and walking it across his fingers while he was talking to someone. It took a rare soul (like Post) to ignore the flashing metal as it flipped back and forth in a shining blur. He seemed somehow seedier, less reputable than Post; his suits were never quite as well-kept, and his beady eyes just seemed suspicious.

They announced their presence obviously and loudly when they arrived in town. They headed into the saloon around midday, Twigg fired his Walker, and Post boomed out, "Anyone here know a man called Jasper Reinhardt?"

The saloon-goers, silenced immediately by the gunshot, exchanged glances. Post waited a beat or two.

"If anyone here's hidin' him, they will bring the full force of the United States government down on their heads," he said. "He is a wanted criminal. Anyone who gives him up will be rewarded."

"What's he done?" asked a ranch hand in the corner, looking up from his poker game.

"Reinhardt has been charged with bein' a public nuisance, robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, first-degree murder, second degree-murder, armed robbery, bein' disorderly in public, and tryin' to incite a riot," Twigg replied, ticking each charge off on his fingers. "He's short, with dark hair and one eye."

"Sounds an awful lot like that young Nightengale fella," murmured an old man to his friend before ejecting a stream of tobacco juice at the spittoon. "But he'd never do any of that. Why, jes' last week he helped my wife plow the fields, when I threw out my back."

"Nossir, young Nightengale's a good boy, through and through," the friend agreed, nodding his head so vigorously his jowls shook. "Helped me dig holes for some fence posts yest'day. He'd never so much as hurt a fly. I do wonder, though, how he got that scar 'crost his eye."

"I don't. What happens in a man's past is his bizniss, and I ain't gonna stick my nose in it," the first said, shaking his head.

Twigg missed this exchange, his hearing having been damaged in the war by cannonades, but Post heard it all. He glanced at the two men and stomped over to their table.

"Who's this Nightengale?" he asked, dropping into the chair across from them.

The men looked as though they wished they'd never spoken, and stared at the table. Post put two dollars on the table and pushed them towards the pair.

"Mister, we ain't gonna snitch on a friend," the first said vehemently.

Post shrugged and looked at the second. "Two for you, then."

The second man looked tortured for a moment and glanced at his friend.

"I'm sorry, but I need the money," he said, miserably taking the two dollars. "His full name's Spencer Nightengale. He's jes' like your friend said, short with dark hair and one eye. He's stayin' down at Mrs Patrick's place, down th' end of town. He don't wake up 'til nightfall; says he has a condition that won't let him out in th' sunlight."

Post stood and tipped his hat to the old man. "Thank you kindly, sir. If your information should lead to Reinhardt's arrest, you will be rewarded."

The old man stared down at the dollar bills in his hand and didn't reply. Post nodded to Twigg, and the pair left the saloon.

-

"I'm sorry, gentlemen, but I don't know who this Reinhardt character is."

Spencer stood with his weight on his left leg with his arms crossed over his chest. There was a distinctly catlike look in his eyes, a slight, smug grin that Post was certain meant Spencer was Jasper. The temperature had cooled dramatically, and the night breeze chilled Post and Twigg, despite their heavy coats. Spencer seemed unbothered.

"Mr... Nightengale," Twigg said, pulling out his coin. He began walking the coin over his fingers. "We have it on good authority that you look like our man Reinhardt. Now you gotta admit, there ain't too many folks wanderin' around with dark hair, one eye, and only five feet to their names."

"I do admit that," Spencer agreed, nodding. Post observed that he paid no mind to Twigg's flipping coin. "But I'm not five feet, I'm five-three, and yes, I am very proud of those extra three inches. And I have seen the wanted posters for Reinhardt, and I have to say, he's more manly-looking than I. He also has a white bit in his hair, from what I hear. Why, I don't even own any of his weapons. What does he have again?"

"A Kentucky rifle, a Walker, and a Peacemaker," Post answered.

"I've only got a Peacemaker, and who doesn't have one of those?" Spencer shrugged. "I'm afraid I can't help you lads. I'm but a traveler, heading to California to seek my fortune. Or to just go to California, whichever comes first. And if you really want to find someone, change your description, it's too vague. Aside from the one eye thing, that could describe a lot of people."

"How come you only come out at night?" Post asked.

"I have a skin condition that keeps me from going out in the sunlight. So I sleep the day away, unless it's cloudy."

Post and Twigg, who'd irritably dropped his coin back in his pocket, eyed him for a moment longer, trying to intimidate him. Spencer looked back at them placidly, eyes half-lidded and one eyebrow cocked. Finally, the lawmen gave up and turned about, leaving him in the door of the boarding house. Spencer watched them go, eyes narrowed and the grin gone entirely from his face, replaced with a look of pure rage.

"Post and Twigg, huh?" he murmured to himself. "I'll remember your faces, boyos."

-x-

Post and Twigg did not leave right away; they were certain that Reinhardt was hiding in the town, and were determined to find him and bring him to justice. They came to frequent the saloon, though they sat in the opposite corner from Spencer. Ostensibly they were looking for the bandit, hoping he would show in the saloon if only to ask for directions, and this was true. But so too were they there to keep an eye on Spencer; they were not willing to give up on him entirely.

But if Spencer really was Reinhardt, then he was a master of disguise and acting, for he never once slipped, never did anything that would give him away as Reinhardt. He seemed to hold no knowledge of Reinhardt's crimes but for what the newspapers had reported, and only carried the Peacemaker. The lawmen searched his rooms, with his consent, and found no other weapons, or anything that should have belonged only to Jasper Reinhardt.

And so Post and Twigg became fixtures just as Spencer had. They did not believe that Reinhardt had left town, though it did occur to them. The other saloon goers wished fervently that they would leave, and the atmosphere in the building grew tense almost as soon as the lawmen stepped through the door.

It was to this atmosphere that the priest arrived, just after sunset.

He did not conform to anyone's idea of a priest. Rather than a doddering old man, he was young and tall and thin, albino, with thick white hair that passed his shoulders, rabbit-like red eyes, and a heavy valise that no one was willing to look too closely at. The prayer beads around his neck were dark black obsidian, barely visible against his cassock, the crucifix itself made of pewter. There was something about him that kept people at arm's length; it might perhaps have been the same aura that Spencer possessed, that which promised retaliation to harassment. He came into the saloon, instantly sensing the tension and every eye turning to him, and headed to the bar.

"Sir, is there someplace in town where I can stay for a few days?" His voice was a surprising bass; he looked as though he didn't have enough lung capacity to support such a voice. His accent was thick and Italian.

The bartender blinked, obviously confused. "Why don't you just stay at the church, Father?" he asked, setting aside his rag and glass. "There's plenty of room there. Father Mullahan wouldn't mind."

The priest shook his head. "No, no, I'm not here on church business. I'm actually looking for someone, a man called Jasper Reinhardt."

Post and Twigg exchanged looks. "Father, c'mere for a moment," Twigg called. The priest looked over at him and headed over to their table.

"Can I help you gentlemen?" he asked.

"You're lookin' for Reinhardt?" Post said. At the priest's nod, he continued, "We're with Pinkerton's. Reinhardt's wanted for a number of crimes against the country. What the hell does the church want with a bandit, pardon my language?"

"He's committed crimes against God," the priest said. "Should you find him, please turn him over to me. My name is Crescenzo, Father Andante Crescenzo. I am a vampire hunter."

Post's eyebrows rose. "A vampire hunter? Reinhardt's a vampire?" he repeated.

Andante nodded. "He is not part of any coven, and therefore obeys none of their laws. When a vampire refuses to do so, the church... intervenes."

"Interferes, you mean!"

Everyone turned to the door and saw Spencer standing there, glaring with abject hatred at Andante.

"What goes on in the vampire world should be none of your business," Spencer snarled, striding into the saloon. "The covens have never called in the church, never. Particularly not the Catholics. You are humans, and yet you think you have the right to persecute and execute members of an entirely different species?" Andante rose, opening his mouth to protest, but Spencer stormed up to him and prodded his chest. "You damned Christians think you own this world. Well, lemme let you in on something, you don't!" His Irish accent thickened noticeably, until the other saloon goers could barely understand him. "You don't own all the Irish, you don't own the Middle East, and you have no power over the vampires! You're a bunch of murdering, thieving, grubbing bullies in silk and linen! This fuckin' atheist paddy won't have it! If I ever meet Reinhardt, I'll tell him you're here, and when he goes berserk on you, I'll stand by and watch and laugh!"

He spat at Andante's feet and spun around. He stalked out and vanished into the gathering night.

Shaken, Andante looked down at Twigg and Post. "Who in the world was that?"

"Spencer Nightengale. We think he's actually Reinhardt," Twigg said. "We knew he had a short temper, but we didn't know it was that bad. Our apologies, Father."

Post stared at the door for a moment and then rose abruptly. "I'm going after him," he said. All eyes on him, he walked to the doors and headed out. Twigg and Andante looked at each other for a moment, and then quickly rose to follow him.

The bartender picked up his rag and a glass and began cleaning. "I'll be glad when they leave," he grumbled. The others silently agreed.

-x-

"Spencer Nightengale!"

Spencer spun, a thunderous glare on his face. "What?! What the hell do you want, Post?" he snarled.

"You are Reinhardt, aren't you?" Post said, crossing his arms over his chest. This put his guns in their shoulder holsters within easy reach. Post was one of the best quick draws in the agency.

Spencer stared at him for a moment and then began to laugh. It was a deeply unsettling laugh, suggesting that his grip on sanity was tenuous indeed. Post noticed that his canines, the teeth to either side of them, and the teeth below them were pointed. In fact, the teeth just below his canines were forked, as if the canines fit into them when his mouth was closed. Post's eyes widened. He'd forgotten that Jasper was a berserker.

Spencer's mad laughter died down to a few giggles and snickers. "Heehee, yes, Post, I am Jasper Reinhardt!" he said, a grin splitting his cheek and showing off those fangs. "Yes, yes, yes! And you've been a thorn in my side since you damn well arrived! I haven't even been able to hunt properly because of you! I've been hunting antelope in the hills!"

"Jasper Reinhardt, I am arresting you in the name of the United States of America," Post said, hands going to his guns. "I suggest you come quietly."

" 'Come quietly?' " Jasper repeated. "You're going to arrest me, and you think I'll come quietly? You're mad!" His left eye began lightening, turning a shade of yellow akin to sulfur, and his pupil shrank noticeably. "And so am I!"

He rushed forward. Post, the quickest draw in the Pinkerton Agency, drew his guns. But Jasper was faster, and had his teeth buried in his neck before he could even lift them. Post was a large man, over six feet tall and heavy, but Jasper, only five-three and less than one hundred-fifty pounds, bore him to the ground. Post's eyes widened in terror, and he clutched at the back of Jasper's jacket, trying to throw him off.

But a berserker is not so easily dissuaded from a meal. Jasper held fast, and Post's struggles began to weaken, until they ceased entirely. The lawman's arms flopped weakly to the ground. Jasper tore himself away, ripping Post's throat out in the process. He spat it to the side. Panting slightly, he looked down at the body for a moment before tearing off a piece of the other man's jacket to wipe his mouth. He tossed the bloody cloth down to Post's body and rose.

A gunshot sounded, and a bullet whisked by his arm. He turned to see Twigg standing there, his gun held in his hand and smoking.

"Jasper Reinhardt, I am arresting you!" he snarled through gritted teeth.

"Oh, really?" Jasper replied, grinning and showing his bloodstained fangs. His eye was still sulfur-yellow. His voice had taken on peculiar double tones, sounding as if it were bass and soprano at the same time. He was deep into a berserk fit.

He vanished and then reappeared with his hand against Twigg's forehead. Twigg's eyes widened, and then Jasper hurled him through the wall of the general store. He had a moment of sheer terror before he struck a support beam with enough force to shatter his skull.

Jasper chuckled, and then spotted Andante standing there in the middle of the street. He laughed madly again.

"It's just a jolly party, isn't it?" he shrieked. He vanished with a cloud of dust. Andante looked down and noticed he'd left tracks. He reached into his valise and withdrew a long Bowie knife, the guard and pommel engraved with a cross. He kissed the blade and murmured a prayer before following the tracks out of town and towards the plains.

-x-

Jasper dropped to his knees, coughing hard. His fingers flew to the handle of the Bowie knife in his chest, gripping weakly at the hilt. Andante had surprised him; Jasper had slowed his pace and regained control once outside the town, and had been walking towards the hills. Andante had come up behind him, called out, and thrown the knife.

Andante surveyed him grimly and murmured a prayer. "Be at peace, devil," he said, crossing himself. "Thy cursed blood will no longer poison the earth." Though he disliked killing anyone or anything, even a vampire, he was confident that God would forgive him. The vampire had had to die; they were evil, even the ones in the covens. The ones that refused to join the covens were worse, for they had no governing laws. Jasper was a mad dog that had to be put down.

Teeth bared as his fangs lengthened, Jasper tightened his grip on the knife. He gritted his teeth and pulled hard. He gasped in agony as the blade, with a nasty squelching and crunching sound, slid free of his flesh. His fangs had reached their full extent, curving from his gums like twin daggers. Andante's red eyes widened as the vampire stumbled to his feet.

"But... that's impossible!" the priest exclaimed. "I stabbed you in the heart, there's no way you should have survived! That should have killed you!"

"I'm a berserker," Jasper growled, fighting to keep himself sane. Blood trickled from the corner of his mouth, and his eye was going from hazel to sulfurous yellow. "We're damned hard to kill. It'd take more than a Bowie knife to my chest to kill me. Hurts like a motherfucker, though." And then he dropped off the cliff and vanished.

Andante quickly fell back into a defensive stance, sword and spare knife held in front of him. Jasper had gone into a berserk fit, he knew; the vampire was incapable of moving that fast when he was in a normal state. He flicked his gaze about, trying to spot him and failing. He was astounded that the vampire had gone into two berserk fits in one night; he'd never have imagined Jasper to be that strong.

Something struck him in the back, knocking the wind from him, and he fell forward, face twisting in pain. Before he hit the ground, he was smacked onto his back, where he lay gasping like a fish.

Jasper loomed over him then, looking down at him. He'd left the berserk fit remarkably quickly; his eye had regained its normal hazel colour. He sat on the priest's stomach and grabbed the front of Andante's cassock, pulling him to his face.

"You're so damned self-righteous, aren't you?" the vampire murmured. "You see everything in terms of black and white: humans good, vampires bad, and there's no middle ground. Never mind that some of the best people I've known have been vampires or crusniks. You have no idea what it's like to be one of us, to be reviled by everyone you meet, unless you're damned lucky enough to come across another." He brushed strands of white hair from Andante's face, almost as gently as a lover. "You humans are so privileged and you don't even know it."

He released the cassock, and Andante fell back to the dirt. Once more the wind was knocked out of him; he'd barely recovered it just before Jasper dropped him. He realized there was far more to Jasper than he'd thought; he'd never considered that a vampire might have more emotions than simply a desire to kill. Jasper pulled out the white part of his collar and ripped open the front of his cassock, exposing his throat and part of his chest.

The vampire idly traced a line from the priest's Adam's apple to the base of his sternum. Andante shuddered, wondering what Jasper was up to.

"You're almost as pale as one of us," Jasper remarked, considering the man trapped beneath him. "I get the feeling the only changes you experience will be within."

Andante, realizing what Jasper was about to do, started struggling wildly, thrashing about and trying to throw Jasper away. But the other was a dead weight on his torso, and no amount of flailing would free him. Jasper did not weigh as much as Andante, being a foot shorter, but he was much stronger physically, and Andante was tiring anyway. Jasper suddenly slugged him in the side of the head, and Andante went limp as stars exploded in his vision.

"Stop it," the vampire ordered. "I'm not particularly happy about this, and I'll be damned if I'll let you make it difficult." And he bent to Andante's neck and sank all twelve of his fangs in.

Andante screamed; all he'd heard about vampires having painkillers in their saliva seemed to be false, for he could feel every sharp point in his neck, from the viciously long upper canines to the double ones on Jasper's lower jaw that the uppers fit into. But then Jasper began to drain him, and he forgot the pain.

His eyes rolled back into his head as his mouth fell open, stretched in a silent cry of pain or pleasure, he couldn't tell which. He tried, feebly, to push Jasper away, knotting his hands in the vampire's torn shirt and waistcoat, but the vampire didn't seem to even notice him. Jasper's hand, cold at first but rapidly warming, was pressed to his chest, keeping him firmly in place. A wave of dizziness swept through him and his vision tunneled. His heart juddered painfully in his chest.

Jasper withdrew then, leaning back and looking down at Andante. The priest was barely conscious, eyes fluttering open and then closed and then open again. He was dying. Jasper's bloodstained lips twitched, as if in disgust, and he pulled back his sleeve. He bit open his wrist and gripped Andante's jaw with his free hand. He forced the priest's mouth open and pressed his wrist to his mouth.

"Drink," he growled, baritone voice full of malice. Andante didn't react until the first few drops hit his tongue and slid down his throat, and then his lips curled weakly around the wound in Jasper's wrist. After a few moments, he lifted first one hand and held Jasper's wrist, and then the other. A berserker's blood is easily twice as potent as any ordinary vampire's, even an ancient's, and Jasper was one of the strongest berserkers on earth. Andante's eyes flew open and he began drinking in earnest, little moans escaping past Jasper's wrist.

Jasper gritted his teeth; he'd never turned anyone before and he had not known how badly it hurt. He could smell that Andante was aroused, but he ignored it.

"Andante, release me," he snarled, fangs bared. Andante barely heard him. With a growl, Jasper tore his wrist away and stood.

Andante lay gasping for a moment before convulsing and curling into a ball. He cried out in pain, fists curled at his bare chest and fingers scratching slightly. He gasped as his body suddenly reversed direction, spine arching inhumanly far. Jasper watched the priest's transformation with a detached fascination. He did not remember his own, although he suspected being turned by an ordinary vampire was nothing like being turned by a berserker, and he'd never even heard of a berserker turning a human. It was possible that his blood would be too strong, and would simply overwhelm Andante's system.

Andante convulsed several more times, each time crying out. His fingers hooked into claws, he abruptly stilled, chest heaving and twitching sporadically. His eyes slid closed.

Jasper frowned down at him, feeling disgusted with himself. Making a fledgling was hardly something done out of spite. Ordinarily, a vampire turned a human in an attempt to find a companion to live out the centuries with. Jasper had never seen the point of this, given his dislike of intimacy; he didn't see how he could stay with someone that had seen so much of him, knew so much of what he laboured to keep hidden from the world. He didn't like sexual partners for the same reason. There were, in fact, laws against turning someone as a punishment or against their will. The covens did not enforce their laws on loners like Jasper, but he'd best avoid them for a while. They could still make life hell for them if what he'd done got out.

He couldn't keep Andante with him. As much as he hated to abandon him after forcing him to turn, he could no more stay with him than he could gouge out his remaining eye. He turned on his heel and limped back towards town, intending to pick up his satchel and leave quietly. Clearly it was time to move on. Time, perhaps, to head to Sacramento, where Jonathan waited.

Some time later, Andante's eyes fluttered open. There was an aching, clawing hunger in his stomach, and a burning in his eyes. He was facing the horizon, where the sun was just beginning to rise. He stared at it, marveling at all the colours he'd never seen in it before. All around him, he was noticing details he'd never realized were there; the veins on the blades of grass, the intricate lines in the scales of a passing lizard, each myriad grain of sand below his cheek.

All at once, when the sun had risen nearly to full daylight, he felt a searing, burning pain in his eyes. He yelped, shielding his eyes. The burning spread to all exposed skin, and he screeched and curled into a ball, presenting the sun with his still-clothed back. He cursed Jasper, cursed vampires, and cursed everything.

He knew what the burning pain was, what the hunger was, and why he'd felt it. He was well and truly damned now, and no amount of prayer would save his soul; God was forever lost to him. It seemed that forever was to be a very short time indeed; the sun was rising, and there was no shelter to be found. There were no piles of rocks within easy reach, no caves, not even a tree. Better to die here, he thought resignedly and disconsolately, before I've killed anyone, than later, after I've taken God only knows how many lives.

"Hey! You crazy-ass sonofabitch! The hell you doin'? It's nearly day!"

Andante, in his agony, barely heard the newcomer, and hardly felt the thick wool blanket that was thrown over his exposed skin as large, strong hands gathered him up and lifted him from the dirt. He was dimly aware of a hard chest against his cheek, and a deep, Southern voice murmuring comforting things to him. The voice registered only as a low vibration in that chest before Andante lost consciousness.

When he finally awoke, it was to damp, cool darkness. He nearly moaned in relief, content to simply lie there with what felt like a cool cloth over his still-smarting eyes. He sighed softly, and slowly sat up, pulling the cloth from his eyes.

He winced at the dim glow of a lantern hanging from the top of the covered wagon he found himself in. The interior was fairly dim despite the small flame, for both openings were covered by heavy black curtains. His torn cassock was gone, replaced by a soft shirt and trousers that did not irritate his burned skin.

The front curtain shifted and was pulled aside as his rescuer stepped in. Andante squinted against the evening light allowed in and looked at the newcomer. He was tall and broad, with an open, friendly face and loosely tied back brown hair. He realized Andante was awake and stepped over to him, dropping down to his level.

"Hey, there, welcome back," he said softly. "Lemme see your eyes." Andante held still while the other man gently turned his face, examining the burned skin around his eyes. "Well, you'll keep 'em. Your eyes'll be pretty sensitive for a while, though, so be careful. What the hell were you doin' out there right before sun, anyway? You weren't tryin' t' do yourself in, were you? B'cause I gotta say, there're easier and less painful ways." His accent was pure Cajun.

Andante tried to speak, but only managed a rough noise. The other man held up a finger and went to a box full of ice. He lifted out a canteen and handed it to Andante.

"'S pig's blood," he said. "It ain't real good, but hey, better than nothing, right?"

Andante stared in disgust at the canteen. He held it out and croaked, "I didn't want this."

"Oh," the other said in tones of comprehension. "You're newer than I thought, then. Someone force you to turn?" Andante nodded, hanging his head so his hair fell over his face. The man sighed and went to him, pulling him close. "Don't you worry, it'll be okay, please don't cry."

Andante started to protest, then realized he was crying. Blood-tinged tears were streaking down his face, leaving pink trails on his burnt skin. With that realization came a wave of despair, and he gave in. Great, racking sobs shook his frame, and he clung like a child to this rescuing stranger. He wept for his lost humanity, for his lost faith, and for no reason other than he felt he needed to. The stranger hugged him tight, stroking his back and white hair, whispering calming things in that Cajun accent.

After what felt like hours Andante's sobs diminished to sniffles, and he relaxed against the stranger. He felt weak, drained, and his stomach ached.

"You should drink," the other man said. Andante looked up at him in horror. "Yes, don't give me that look. Refusing to drink won't kill you, you know. We don't starve to death like humans. Yes, I'm a vampire, too. My name's Firn Deveau. Yours?"

"Fath... Andante Crescenzo," Andante managed. "The defrocked Andante Crescenzo."

"Okay, Andante, you gotta drink. Have you ever before?"

Andante shook his head. "I was... turned... just before you found me."

"Oh... merde. Okay, here's what we do. You're not a crusnik, are you?"

Andante blinked. "A what?"

"A crusnik. You didn't kill your maker, did you? Drain his or her blood?"

"No."

"Good." And without further ado, Firn lifted his wrist to his mouth and bit it open. Andante realized his fangs were similar to Jasper's, but smaller, without the forked teeth on the lower jaw. Apparently knowing Andante would refuse, Firn pressed his wrist to Andante's lips without warning.

The former priest was horrified and kept his mouth shut. "Andante, if you don't drink willingly I will tie you down and force it down your throat. Now drink, before that cut closes." Andante knew the other was speaking the truth and opened his mouth.

He inhaled sharply as Firn's blood hit his tongue. The difference between the Cajun's blood and Jasper's was like the difference between scotch and wine; Jasper's blood had been harsh and strong, likely because of his nature as a berserker. Firn's blood, however, was smooth, almost comforting, and did not burn on the way down as Jasper's had. His eyes slid closed and he wondered, idly, what drinking the blood of another vampire before a human would do to his biology. He knew vampires passed traits through their blood; for example, it was possible his fangs would have the same structure as Jasper's, given that Jasper had turned him. He wouldn't be a berserker, since Jasper wasn't old enough. But what would Firn's blood do, if anything? There was age there, Andante knew it.

All too soon, it seemed, Firn pulled his wrist away. He did so gently, however, rather than tearing it away as Jasper had. Andante sagged against him immediately, feeling simultaneously sated and disgusted with himself.

"That should do until I can take you hunting properly," Firn said, reaching for the canteen of pig's blood. He drained it before continuing. "Your maker abandoned you, yes?" At Andante's nod, Firn said, "Then I'll teach you everything he would if he hadn't. He shouldn't have left you. Was he a loner?"

"Wh... what?" Andante turned his sleepy gaze to Firn.

"He wasn't with a coven, was he?" Andante shook his head. "Lucky for him, then; he'd have been put to death for what he did to you. Isn't no better than rape, turnin' someone as didn't want to be turned." Firn looked down and noticed Andante had fallen asleep. He smiled slightly. "Hell with talk, then. Sleep well, cher." He rested his head atop Andante's and closed his eyes.

-x-

The compartment door slid open, revealing a little girl in a blue dress. She looked up at her mother. "Mummy, what about this one?" she asked in an upper-class British accent.

The girl's mother looked in at the young man asleep in the corner, a black bowler derby pulled low over his eyes. He sat pressed into the corner, with his arms over his chest and his legs stretched before him and crossed at the ankles. His immaculate suit was dark charcoal gray, his waistcoat deep red. His boots, though, were worn and battered; he was obviously no stranger to the trail, despite his fine clothes.

"Oh, I don't know, dear, I don't want to disturb that man," the woman said. As she spoke, the young man twitched and lifted his head. He pushed his hat back, revealing a hazel left eye and an eyepatch over the right, and looked towards the pair.

"Evening, marm," he said, pulling his hat from his head and standing. He was rather short, she realized, just barely taller than she was. "If you're looking for a compartment, please feel free to share this one; I'm not waiting on anybody, and I don't take up much space. I'll probably sleep most of the way anyway; I get bored on long train rides and fall asleep easily."

"I don't want to impose..."

"Not at all, marm. Here, let me get those for you."

He stepped forward and took her bags, hoisting them easily to the luggage rack. "Where you headed?" he asked, returning to his seat.

"Sacramento," the woman said, guiding her daughter to a seat. "I'm going to meet my husband and... friend... there. We've been traveling the country together, but little Lucy here fell ill when we passed through Laramie, so we two were delayed. But we're on our way now, so all is well." She hoped he wouldn't notice her hesitation; she didn't want to explain to a complete stranger her and Rhysse's relationship.

"Mummy's friend Rhysse promised me a clockwork froggy, and he said in his wire that he finished it!" the little girl, Lucy, piped up. The young man smiled.

"Is that right?" he said. "I'm heading to Sacramento myself, to meet my friend. And this Rhysse boyo does clockwork critters? I might commission him myself, what's his full name?"

"Her name, actually, is Rhysse Tredegar," the woman said. "She dresses as a man, and Lucy still doesn't believe me when I say Rhysse really is a woman. Might I ask your name? I'm Countess Sadie Morgenstern, of Suffolk."

The young man tipped his hat again, smiling crookedly. His eyeteeth and the teeth on either side seemed unusually long and sharp, as did the corresponding teeth on his lower jaw. "Jasper Reinhardt, at your service."