DISCLAIMER: The following story is a work of fan fiction. It is not intended to infringe on the copyrights held by John Watson, Trilogy Entertainment, MGM, or any other powers that be. The characters, concept, and setting are not the property of the various authors involved in this story, but the authors do retain any rights to the story itself. Please don't reproduce in any way or sue without permission from the authors.
 
 

Vendetta: The Blood of the Lamb


by the Inkslingers

Buck Wilmington sighed into the morning sun and stretched his long limbs out onto the boardwalk. It was a beautiful morning, the gunslinger decided, just perfect for hanging around in front of the saloon and doing nothing. Buck felt like doing nothing, and did it quite well, so resigned himself to the lazy day, folded his hands and squinted into the golden street.

"Hey there, Buck," he heard, and turning his head Buck saw his old friend, Chris Larabee, walking up the boardwalk to meet him. Despite the promising warmness of the day, Chris was dressed in black from head to foot; his eyes were sad despite the warm smile he had for his friend as he took a seat at his side.

"Morniní, Chris." Buck answered, smiling genially. He noticed some crumpled papers in the other manís hand and asked, "More telegrams?"

"Yep." Chris muttered, glancing at the wrinkled yellow slips as if they smelled bad, "Seems as soon as we let Travis know we got our hands on the Nichols boys, weíre heariní from every town between here and Kansas City."

Buck hissed and shook his head.

Chris picked through the telegrams and read them. "Prescott, armed robbery. Wichita, murder. Springerville, assault and arson."

"They were a bad lot, all right." Buck said softly, his eyes dark. "Good thing we packed Ďem off to Yuma, else I couldnít sleep at night."

Chris nodded, pursing his lips against the nightmare images that still haunted him, even though he knew that they were now safe. An armored carriage, seven large, black-clad young men, wearing hat with long ebony streamers on them; and a woman, stern and sorrowful, urging them to avenge the death of her first-born with the blood of Chrisí father-in-law, Hank Connelly, her sonís killer. And, ultimately, the blood of the seven themselves.

They could have succeeded, Chris thought, and shivered even though it was a warm day. The Nichols boys were sly and practiced; one of them, Peter, was even sweet on the young Casey Wells, and might have had a chance with her if he had not shown his true colors by leading a cowardly attack on the youngest of their group, JD Dunne. Chris winced when he remembered JD staggering into the saloon, bloodied and weak, announcing that he had a message from the Nichols before collapsing onto the barroom floor. It was a shock, seeing JDís fair face blotched and dark with bruises; but it had been his words, slurred and mumbled from between swollen lips, that had frozen Chris Larabeeís heart, and froze it still:

"Theyíre gonna kill us all for helping Hank."

And they almost did. JD was badly beaten, Josiah was shot, and in the end they did kill Hank Connelly, ignoring Chrisí plea to let him stand trial. Chris sighed; if he had stood trial, they would have seen that the death of his daughter - Chrisí wife Sarah - had driven him mad with grief, and maybe the old man would have gone to a home, or at least a comfortable prison.

Instead, a dusty, violent death on a nameless street. All for vengeance.

But the Nichols had paid too. Three of the widowís sons were dead, killed in the shootout. Peter was wounded, and later they were all sent to Yuma to begin what Chris hoped would be a long prison sentence. After their reign of terror, they deserved it.

Even the widow...but she was not sent to Yuma, did not join her sons on their final journey from freedom. After the shootout she seemed dazed, stunned, almost incoherent; and the judge who presided over the hearing decided she was unfit to be charged with anything, and besides, there was no evidence that she had, in fact, done anything wrong. That she goaded her children into waging a war of terrorism and butchery was overlooked; and she had left on a stage back to Kansas City, the same day her sons left for Yuma, the youngest one almost crying for his ma. It was almost bizarre.

Soft footsteps sounded up the boardwalk, and Chris looked up to see Vin Tanner ambling toward them. He blinked and shook his head; the Nichols were two weeks in the past. Enough of that.

"Morniní, boys." Vin said softly, his blue eyes almost hidden beneath the wide brim of his hat.

"Howdy, Vin." Buck enthused, "See anything interestiní on your patrol?"

"Not unless you call jackrabbits and tumbleweeds interestiní." Vin smiled as he leaned against a nearby post. After a pause he said, "Did see JD and Casey, though."

Buck grinned expectantly.

Vin noticed this and added, "They werenít doiní nothiní, though."

Buckís smile turned to a frown and he slapped his thigh in irritation. "Now dang it, ainít that just like that boy! Here heís got a golden opportunity to get some serious sparkiní goin, and now this gorgeous morninís just going to go all to waste."

Chris and Vin exchanged looks as Chris leaned back on his chair. "Now, Buck, donít push him. Heíll know when the time is right, and Miss Wells ainít goiní nowhere. Just leave them be."

"Leave them be!" Buck sputtered, "I already done that, and look what happened. He almost had that gal taken right from under his nose by that slick-talkiní hustler Peter Nichols, now you know that ainít right. JDís got to learn how to court a girl proper, or the next time he might just lose her for good. And that would be a downright shame."

"Amaziní that people ever got hitched before Buck came along." Vin muttered to himself, and crossing his arms looked down the street as the loud rattle of bits and bridle and the thunder of wheels and hooves announced the daily arrival of the Butterfield stage.

"I hear you, brother." Buck laughed, and watched happily as the stage came in, all glittering brass and jangling song, and the men settled into the familiar sight and shared the unspoken thought: it was nice that things could be good, and had gotten back to normal.

At the same time, a couple of miles away, JD Dunne was riding along in the fantastic morning sunshine, completely miserable.

He knew he should be happy; after all, it was a nice day, he was feeling great, and best of all, Casey Wells was riding right next to him. It was just about all he wanted, was all.

But he was miserable. Miserable because he knew he should be saying all kinds of fancy things to impress her, knew he should be using all those smooth phrases Buck had been teaching for the past two weeks as they shared beers in the saloon. Yes sir, JD thought, a man is lucky to have friends who know so much about women, and are willing to give pointers to...well, to someone who isnít so...experienced. Yep. Damn fortunate.

Except that JD knew that everything Buck had taught him was absolutely wrong.

Oh, maybe not for other girls; after all, with a track record like Buckís, JD knew his friend was doing something right. But Casey wasnít like other girls, especially after that smooth-talking Peter Nichols had almost put her under his spell. Any kind of sweet-talking seemed to make her nervous, and JD picked up on that cue right away, and the whole morning had maintained that easy banter he so enjoyed having with Casey, the first real girl friend heíd ever had.

Except...

Dammit, sheís really pretty, JD fumed, looking at the way the sunlight danced in Caseyís hair and glittered in her brown eyes. And that smile - gosh, that smile, turns a man inside out. And look at the way sheís sitting that horse...

At that moment Caseyís stunning eyes left the golden, sunlit path theyíd been riding on and turned to JD.

He felt his insides turn to water and blurted, "Hey, Casey?"

Casey smiled, dammit. "Yes, JD?"

Well, there went the concentration. "Uh - you know, you ride pretty dang good for a girl."

Casey started a little, then laughed and sat a little straighter in the saddle. "You got me all the way out here just to tell me that?"

Now, why did she have to laugh and make his thoughts just fly away like - like a bunch of uncooperative butterflies? Casting about for something to say, JD shrugged and decided to play it cagey. Looking away more out of nervousness than anything else he said, "Not...necessarily. I mean - I mean, well, maybe, and maybe not."

Casey eyed him, and reined her horse in. "Whatís that supposed to mean?"

Aw, nuts, JD panicked, and desperately searched his mind for something witty to say. Nothing was coming, so he started talking fast, hoping that would cover him. "Well, just that - that gee, isnít it great that weíre out here, you know, in nature, and the - the sun all over your hair like...and hey, in your eyes too, and...and... " Finally JD trailed off, shrugged again, hugely, and sighed, "Oh, danged if I know. Iím sorry, Casey, Iím just lousy at this stuff."

Casey looked at him, with that lovely slow-lidded look of hers, and fiddled with her reins. She was looking at him so seriously that JD began to wonder if he had something in his teeth, and tried to think of a clever way to check and see if his fly was open.

Then she said, with a simple shake of her head, four words that sent his heart straight to the moon and back.

"No youíre not, JD."

She said it in a soft voice, with a tender expression, and for a moment JD didnít believe it because almost -almost - she was looking at him the way girls looked at Buck, or Vin, or Ezra. Girls never looked at him that way, but Casey was, and JD didnít believe it.

Then he did, and it was the best feeling heíd ever had.

Say something, you idiot, he screamed as he floated somewhere above both their heads. It was half a thought, really, and JD really didnít pay much attention to it, just stared into those lovely brown eyes heíd give anything to live in for the rest of his life, and muttered, "Gosh, Casey." Then he looked down at his hands and said to them, "Gosh, thanks. I mean..."

Suddenly, and JD didnít know how it happened, Caseyís horse was right next to his, so close he looked up, startled.

Dear God! She was right in front of him, not a foot away, and he felt an overpowering, irresistable urge to kiss her. But what if he couldnít kiss! Dear God -

His hands came up, tight in his reins. "Hey! Wanna race?"

Casey blinked, then shook her head with a small smile. "Oh, JD, you -"

BANG!

The gunfire was loud, somewhere ahead. JD and Casey both jumped, and JDís Colt Lightning was in his hand at once.

"What was that?" Casey asked nervously, fishing for the old reliable pistol her Aunt Nettie insisted she keep with her.

JD scanned the dense brush ahead of them, but didnít see a thing. He shook his head. "I donít know, but I reckon we shouldnít be ridiní into it, whatever it is. Címon, letís get back to - "

He started to turn his horse, and froze.

There, standing in the path behind them, was a tall young man clad in mourning black, a man JD thought heíd never see again.

Peter Nichols.

And a pair of loaded silver guns.

Casey gasped. JD yanked his other Colt Lightning out, trained them on the - well, it had to be an apparition in his path.

The apparition smiled, and with one black-gloved hand tipped his hat toward Casey.

"Good morning, young lady." he said in smooth, languid tones.

JDís blood went up, and he cocked both Colts in Nicholsí direction. "You canít be who I think you are, but I donít mind shooting at ghosts. Get out of the road."

Peter laughed, and casually walked toward them. "Why, Iím as real as Sunday morning, son. As real as a coffin."

"JD - " Caseyís skittish voice came behind them, and the youth turned to see two horsemen coming out of the brush toward them, both dressed in black.

It canít be, he thought. It canít be.

"Now donít alarm yourself, miss," Peter drawled, still smiling in his horrible way as he came closer, "We just want to talk is all."

"Stay back." JD growled. "I already shot you once."

Peterís expression changed, just a little. One of his eyebrows went up. "Oh, thank you for reminding me."

And he raised his guns and fired.

Pain ripped through JDís shoulder as he was thrown off his horse and into the dirt path below. Oh, Jesus, he groaned inside, but Casey was gasping, not screaming she never did that, but anyway there was fear in her voice and JD decided heíd rather live with the pain than hear Casey being afraid. So he sprang to his feet and aimed his gun at Peter Nichols.

"Run for it, Casey!" He called out, and began firing. Peter grunted, and JD whirled around to see Casey barrelling past the other two Nichols brothers on her horse, and through increasingly bleary eyes he aimed at their dark-clad backs, and fired off a few more shots. Run, Casey -

Suddenly something slammed down on the top of JDís head, and he fell to the ground, overcome with dizziness. He started to rise, and was struck again, and again.

No, God damn it, his mind screamed, and he fought against the darkness that was claiming him, Casey, get out of here, the Nichols, where did they come from, I thought they were in Yuma, fight dammit, fight! He made one more attempt to struggle to his feet -

- and was plunged into swift, painful unconciousness instead.

Peter Nichols was wiping the handle of his revolver with a black-bordered handkerchief as Matthew Nichols trotted over and looked at the inert form of JD Dunne.

"He dead?" He asked laconically.

Peter shrugged. "No. Did Luke get the girl?"

Matthew glanced behind him. "He got her, just beyond the trees. Hope you know what youíre doing, Peter. Sheís fighting him like she wants to take us all apart."

"Oh, I know what Iím doing." Peter murmured as he tucked the handkerchief away. "I am doing what we are all doing. Avenging our brothersí deaths. Aiding in the righteous cause of our sainted mother. And - " He paused to give JD a large kick, "Getting some mighty satisfying revenge. Do you have the rope?"

"Huh? Oh, yeah..." Luke twisted in the saddle to get it. "But you know you canít kill him. Ma said so."

"What ma said," Peter purred as he took the rope from his brotherís hands and looked at his brother in a studious, analytical way, "Is that we had to be sure that we delivered a message that could not be ignored. And this time, I donít think she cares if we kill the messenger."

And he looked down at JD and smiled.

Chris straightened up and watched as the maroon stagecoach screeched to a stop just a short way down the street. The driver, an older man they only knew as Pete, spat some tobacco juice over the side of the coach and noticing the three men gathered on the porch yelled out, "Hey!"

Buck tilted his head in a pleasantly civil way. "Yeah?"

"You-all the fellers that know the preacher, right?"

Vin pulled himself away from the post and nodded. "His supply of nails finally come?"

"Reckon so." The old man reached back and pulled a loudly rattling, box from the pile of trunks and suitcases on the top of the coach. "Here, had it right on top."

"Iíll take it over," Buck volunteered, standing up and stretching his long legs, "Been meaniní to take a walk over there anyway."

The stagecoach driver grinned and handed Buck the package. Backing toward the church with it, Buck heard the rattle inside and grinned at his friends. "Ainít no excuse for that lazy man now. Heís gonna hafta get busy on that place."

Chris and Vin watched Buck go with mirrored smiles, and sat companionably in the morning air, watching the stagecoach and saying nothing.

It was a short walk across the dirt road to the small, whitewashed church that was Josiah Sanchezí pride and joy. Buck admired, as he always did, the way the place had been fixed up since Josiahís coming. Boards had been taken down, sashes repainted; even broken windows had been replaced. Yes sir, Buck thought as he loped up the front steps, the church had everything now to get itself goiní. Maybe a weddiní or two, what do you think. Be right nice, huh. Just not me....

It took Buckís eyes a moment to adjust to the dimmer light inside, but as soon as he entered the open doorway he saw Josiah and Nathan Jackson, the former slave and healer of their group, busily sanding down one of the pews while Ezra Standish lounged nearby, examining a well-worn stack of hymnals. It was a relaxed setting, and a relaxed group; Buck almost hated to walk in, and disturb the scene.

But...

"Morniní, guys." He said in his usual, expansive manner as he swung through the doorway and into the church.

The others looked up and smiled.

"Morniní, Buck," Josiah rumbled in his friendly baritone. "Come over to help us with the pews?"

"Well, maybe later, Josiah," Buck grinned, tossing the package onto the pew next to his friend, "After I had my breakfast."

"Hm." Josiah paused in his sanding, and leaned backward toward the brown parcel. "Whatís that?"

Buck shrugged as he wandered over to see what Ezra was doing. "Your nails, I sípose. Came off the stagecoach just now."

"Oh." Josiah leaned forward again and back into his work.

There was a soft Ďthwapí at Buckís side as Ezra closed another of the dusty hymnals and put it in a large stack. The gunslinger frowned at his gambling friend and asked, "Checkiní for bookworms, Ezra?"

"Hardly," Ezra drawled in his refined Southern accent as he picked up another book, "These volumes have been languishing in Mr. Sanchezís possession for six months now, I figured the time was ripe for someone to examine them for usability, falling pages, that sort of thing."

"Not to mention the stray ten dollar bill that might be hidiní in one of Ďem." Nathan said with a smile as he continued to sand the pew.

Buck smiled; Ezra grimaced. "I heard that."

"So, Josiah," Buck said lightly as the big man paused in his labors and sat back, wiping his large face with a clean cloth, "I hear you been helpiní JD out with the courtiní. Think youíll be seeiní him and Casey in here anytime soon?"

Josiah glanced at Buck as he mopped his face. "Not unless that boy does something rash; then Iíll either be marryiní Ďem or presiding over his funeral. Probably the latter, if Nettie still has her Spenser Carbine."

Buck laughed as he picked up one of the hymnals and flipped through it carelessly. "Shoot, Josiah, you donít got to worry about that. At the rate theyíre goiní, by the time JD works up the nerve to kiss that girl heíll be too old to remember what comes next."

"Yes, well," Josiah sighed as he tucked the cloth back into his pocket, "Now that things have quieted down some and they got the time to just enjoy each otherís company, Iím sure JD and Miss Wells are gettiní along fine just the way things are."

"Sure is nice to take a breather," Nathan agreed as Josiah reached for the box of nails, "Two weeks since our last fight. Got to be some kind of record."

"A record I for one am happy to extend," Ezra commented as he watched a few pages flutter out of the book Buck was holding. "Getting shot at is not my favorite way to pass the time."

"Then youíre in the wrong club." Josiah said with a gentle smile, and began to work the brown paper around the box open.

"Oof." Ezra grunted as he leaned over to pick up the stray hymnal pages. He glanced at the collection of musical notes and letters that dotted the yellowed paper, and shook his head.

"You know," he commented over the ripping noises Josiah was making with the wrapping paper, "We really must take up a collection to get some more up-to-date books. These songs were old when I was a child."

Buck frowned as he studied the spidery letters. "What is it? Donít look like English to me."

Ezra peered close. "Latin. Itís funeral - "

"What in the world?"

Josiahís soft question made them all look at him, at the puzzled look he had on his face as he peered into the box of nails.

Buck glanced down, squinted because what he was seeing didnít look like nails, but black paper. "Whatís that? You got the wrong package?"

Josiah shook his head. "No, itís addressed to me, but...no return address, and itís full of black crepe." He fished one big hand through the box, pulled something else out, a black piece of cloth that was stiff and shiny in places.

The others gathered around, and Buck began to fight an unsettled feeling. "What the hell is that?"

"Itís a prison guardís jacket," Josiahís answered, and his frown went deeper as he unfolded the cloth. Suddenly, a host of small white objects fell out of its folds and clattered onto the floor.

"Dear Lord." Ezra breathed as he stared at the rolling objects, and all four men immediately knew what they were.

Teeth. About two dozen stained and bloody teeth.

Buckís feeling of dread grew worse. "Is this someoneís idea of a sick joke?"

"No joke." Josiah whispered, and he held up a small piece of paper and read it. And as he read it, the blood of all four men began to run ice cold.

"Behold, I will send and take all the families of the North, declares the Lord...I will utterly destroy them, and make of them a horror, and an everlasting desolation. I will take the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, and this whole land shall be a desolation and a horror."

Ezra put out one hand, slowly, and began to pull the black crepe out of the box. It was long, a strip of cloth rather than a square, and as he drew it out the gamblerís face went starkest white.

"This canít be." He whispered.

"What?" Buck asked, denying what he was thinking because that was silly, the Nichols affair was two whole weeks ago, and besides, they were all in prison. In prison...

"Thereís something else written here," Josiah said solemnly, his blue eyes troubled as he peered close. "Remember Revelations 6:1-8 and Matthew 11:10."

"Whatís that about?" Nathan asked, his face saying he didnít want to hear the answer.

"The first reference is to the horsemen." Josiah muttered, his face black as he thought, as if he was dreaming, "The four horsemen of the apocalypse."

"This is a weeper," Ezra murmured, as if Josiah hadnít said anything, and when his green eyes met Buckís they were bright with fear. "Like they wore on their hats. My God, they escaped."

A bolt of electricity ran through Buck, rooting him to the spot and then making his heart jump into his mouth as he stared at Ezra, dumbstruck. "Whatís the other numbers refer to?"

Josiah thought, then spoke, and slowly stood as he did so.

"Behold, I send my messenger before your face," he said, his worried face turning to Buck, "Who will prepare your way before you."

Buckís eyes widened in alarm and sudden dread. The messenger -

And then he ran out the open door, hollering for Chris.

Thread A: An Eye for an Eye--Part 1
Thread B: Retribution and Redemption--part 1
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