Disclaimer: The fellas ain't mine, darn it. Just borrowed 'em for a while. Not worth suin' me for a beat-up pick-up truck an' a couple of useless dogs.
Delancey Cowper Morgan and Miss Rosie Sanchez are my own creations, but I'd like to thank Mog for the wonderful ATF AU, giving all of us M7 fans a chance to see the boys in a different light. (It's kinda fun to play around with, too .)
Thank you to Maureen Lougren AKA Mel, for creating Jesse and Little Jesse in her wonderful story is called These Precious Things.Without that story, I wouldn't have had the nerve to write & post 2AM.
By the way, this is Josiah rambling to himself, and if it's a little confusin' it's not my fault, it's Josiah's - he made me write it that way. I put it down to the medication . Also A twiglet is a teeny tiny cheese snack. It's a nickname in our family for little persons.
Feedback welcome, but no burners please - I'm sensitive.
"Del, she's makin' a noise ."
"I think she's hungry ."
" 'm asleep .."
"I'll go get her then ."
Delancey Cowper Morgan Sanchez opened a bleary eye and looked at the luminous dial on the bedside alarm. She sighed.
"It's two in the mornin', Josiah, an' I fed her twenty minutes ago. She ain't hungry."
"Probably needs a diaper change. I'll just go get her ."
Del muttered something unmentionable and turned over in the big bed to look at her husband. She could see clearly by the summer moonlight streaming in through the window, and, sure enough, he was lying propped up with pillows, wide awake, watching her expectantly.
She cocked an enquiring eyebrow at the big man.
"Are you goin' to bust somethin' vital trying to do somethin' you ain't fit to do? Cuz if you are, I'm gonna whomp you somethin' fierce." The Missouri accent was thick with sleep.
"Lord, no, girl. I'll be careful."
Del scowled. She saw the flash of a big grin, and her eyes travelled down to her husband's bare chest. Or what bare chest she could see under the bandages. She shivered despite herself. This was his first night home from hospital after the shooting that almost cost him his life, the shooting that had almost deprived their daughter of a father before she was even born. Taking a deep breath, she shook off the feeling and nodded at Josiah.
"Okay, big guy. Just you take care now, an' if you need help just yell. Oh, an' whatever you do, don't wake those two fool men on the porch, y'hear?"
"I hear you. Get some sleep now, you need it."
Del turned back on her side, listening to the big man slowly and painfully lever himself out of bed and struggle into a large shirt that hung almost to the bottom edge of his old army shorts. She smiled to herself.
Stubborn ol' cuss .
Josiah padded through to the small living room of the tiny ranch house, and lifted his daughter's carry bag of Things that Babies Need. He eased himself down into a chair, turned on the lamp beside him and tried, one-handed, to undo the zip.
"Need a hand there, pard?"
Buck Wilmington leaned in the doorway to the porch, all rumpled tee shirt and boxers, hair bent with sleep.
Buck grinned. He wandered over and sat down on the soft chair opposite his friend and opened the bag. Both of them peered inside, Buck tugging his moustache thoughtfully.
"Josiah, how can somethin' so small need so much stuff?"
Between them they sorted out the necessaries, then Josiah set himself to getting out of the chair. The pain almost knocked him breathless, and Buck's cobalt eyes narrowed with concern.
"Want me to fetch Del?"
"N . no, Buck. I'm fine, honest."
"So stay put. I'll go get the twiglet."
"Don't wake Del. She's all in, takin' care of me an' the baby." Josiah winced as his wounds twinged in protest, then grinned his thanks to the tall man.
He watched Buck creep softly into the bedroom. Amazin' how such a big man can be so quiet . there was a muffled thump.
"Aww ..shit ."
"I'd appreciate it, Buck Wilmington, if you didn't kick the furniture around. An' don't swear in front of the baby." Josiah smiled at the amusement in his wife's laconic voice.
"Sorry Del ."
"G'night, Del. Sorry."
A few moments later Josiah watched Buck return through the darkened doorway with a squirming bundle clasped to his chest, almost hidden in the big hands.
"She don't need changin', Josiah. She's just needin' her Daddy."
Josiah took a deep breath. Well, this is it. This is where I'm gonna get found out.
Buck bent down and gently laid the bundle in the crook of Josiah's good left arm.
Father and daughter studied one another solemnly.
Rosamund Delancey Sanchez, all five days, four hours and twenty-three minutes' worth of her, knew she had a mission in life. That mission was to completely and utterly enthrall the seven men - including her father - who would be involved in her future, so that they would unhesitatingly do whatever she so desired at the drop of a hat.
Within moments, she knew she had succeeded with the first of those targets.
Josiah was enraptured.
Of course, he had met his daughter before, at the hospital when she was born. In fact he had helped deliver her, and was the first person to hold her. But this was the first time they had been alone together, and it was the moment he had been dreading.
But the fear vanished in a second.
"Hey, Rosie girl. I'm your Daddy .."
Rosie Sanchez turned towards the sound of the soft, rumbling baritone. She could make out - just - a pair of impossibly blue eyes, and a wonderous wide grin of delight. She hiccuped.
Buck smiled to himself from the doorway.
"I'll be on the porch if you need me, Josiah. J.D.'s snorin' like a mule with the croup, so I won't be asleep. Just holler ."
Josiah looked up, eyes wide with wonder, and nodded his thanks before being drawn back to his daughter's small face. He settled back in the soft armchair and made himself comfortable, stretching out long legs and easing the hurt in his bandaged chest.
Josiah suddenly discovered he wanted to talk, talk about everything.
Well, now, where to start?
Then he knew the answer. The velvet baritone was soft, gentle, full of love.
"That was Buck, Rosie. He's gonna be one of your godfathers come your christenin', along with the others. Well, I suppose I'd better tell you somethin' about 'em before you commit yourself, because - I'll warn you now - they're kinda, well - different.
"Ol' Buck may seem big and noisy, but I tell you girl, he's the best there is. One minute he's pullin' your ass outta the fire an' the next minute he's crushin' you to death with one of those bear hugs of his. Mind you, he does have the instincts of a tom cat when it comes to women, but - what the hell, it doesn't matter any. But he's fearsome loyal, Rosie, Chris'll vouch for that, an' he looks after that boy like a lion protectin' its cub. An' he'll do the same for you."
Rosie absorbed the information and stored it away for further reference. She burped, gently.
"Who's the boy?" Josiah pondered his daughter's query. "Oh, that's J.D. That's him out on the porch with Buck, snorin' loud enough to bring down the rafters. Now he's somethin' real special. He's all grit and soft places, Rosie, an' he can't stop jigglin' for a second. Lord, that boy can fidget." Josiah smiled sadly. "Just wish he didn't want to grow up so fast. Now that's where you come in, baby girl, 'cause maybe if you're around he might take time out to be just a kid instead of puttin' himself in front of things that could hurt him."
The little girl lifted a tiny fist and wrapped it around her father's index finger. Josiah took the hint.
"You'll meet Nathan in the mornin', 'cause he's comin' out to check on you an' me both. Now there's a man to look up to. If it wasn't for Nate I'd have bled out on that warehouse floor in less than a minute. How he stopped the bleedin' I don't know an' I'm too scared to ask, but whatever he did . " Josiah swallowed, his voice catching with emotion. "Anyway, he kept me from fallin' apart long enough to get me to the hospital an' - well, I guess your Momma told you the rest.
"Don't worry if he seems to spend most of his time frettin' about things, that's normal for Nathan. Hell, it's not as though he hasn't a lot to fret about. One or the other of us always gettin' hurt, an' Nate's always there puttin' the pieces back together."
Father and daughter sat quiet for a moment, pondering the mysteries of life.
"Nate's the bravest man I know, Rosie. Did your Momma tell you about him an' Chris at the hospital? No? Well, seems Chris was ready to beat Ezra to blue blazes 'cause he thought I took that bullet for him, seein' as Ezra doesn't like wearin' a vest. So what does Nathan do? He just grabs Chris around the collar an' drags him off Ezra, then slams him as hard as hell against the wall. Chris was so took back he just sat down an' shut up." Josiah grinned at the thought of it. "But has Nathan finished? Oh no. He hauls off at Chris as he's sittin' there, Josiah'd no more think about whether Ez's wearin' a vest or not than fly to the moon on a fiddle! he's yellin', standin' in the corridor, Josiah would've done the same for any of us!
"Now Brother Nathan's tellin' a damn lie here, 'cause I knew full well Ezra didn't have his vest on, an' me bein' me, I thought God would help out an' those bullets would just impact on my vest - all I'd have to show for it'd be a couple of bruises. How was I to know one of 'em would miss the vest, hit me and bounce around my insides for a while?"
Rosie twitched gently in her father's arms, then blew a thoughtful bubble.
Josiah frowned, his blue eyes solemn for a moment.
"Ah, so you want to know about Chris. Well, my girl, I don't rightly know how to describe Mr Larabee. I suppose he's what we anthropologist-come-profilers would label 'deep', but really he's just one mean sonofabitch. Now don't get me wrong, Rosie, I mean that in the best possible way, but Lord, he's a hard man to handle sometimes. He spends most of his time wound up tighter 'n a watch, tryin' to do the best job he can with some of the awkwardest sonsabitches you ever did meet - 'specially Ezra. I swear Ez is late every damn day just to see that vein throb on Chris' forehead.
"See, girl, that's why I can't help you out with Chris. You're gonna have to tackle him on your lonesome, 'cause Chris has his demons. When he lost Adam an' Sarah - you know about them, remember, we told you all about it before you were born - it hurt a piece of Chris that'll never heal. He spends every wakin' moment bleedin' an' hurtin' inside, an' its only the job that keeps him goin'. But somewhere inside there's a big, big heart, all mush an' softness. I have faith in you Rosie, I know you'll find it."
Rosie was looking a little uncomfortable, so Josiah shifted her slightly, and a tiny foot pushed insistently against the ball of his thumb. He reverently stroked the miniscule toes, hidden in the depths of her baby suit. More comfortable now, she resumed the interrogation of her father, as she avidly listened to the beat of his big heart.
"Of course, darlin', Chris has Vin and Buck worryin' about him, although wise ol' Bucklin has taken a back seat these days, as he's the kid to worry for, too. J.D. sure can take up a lot of worryin' time . "
Rosie made a soft smacking sound with rosebud lips.
"Vin? Oh, sweetheart, you'll like Vin. He's not much older than J.D., but God, he's seen some things, that boy. How can I describe Vin . hell, he's all wilderness and silent places, Rosie. Can't stand enclosed spaces - fights 'em like a wolf in a cage. Vin has a soul deeper than a mountain pool an' a heart that just don't give in, no matter what trouble he gets into. An' between you an' me, he's the best shot I ever saw - he can shoot the balls off a flea blindfold at two hundred yards. Damnation, he's good. But he does have one helluva sense of humour, girl. Downright weird, sometimes. Did I ever tell you about the time . nah, I'll leave that one 'till your old enough. Eighteen or nineteen, maybe.
"But you're gonna have to go easy on Vin, Rosie. Go easy on both him and Jesse. You see, they lost their little girl awhile back. Stillborn. Now I'm not goin' to hide the fact from you, 'cause death is just a part of life. But, damn, that child was wanted. The Lord an' me fell out over that one, big time. Bless him, Chris had them put little Jesse beside his Adam, so she wouldn't be lonely.
"What made it harder was your Momma an' me found out you were on the way a few weeks later. It truly was the best and worst day of my life, I can tell you. It was one of the hardest things I ever had to do, sit down an' tell Vin that I was goin' to be a Daddy. Me. At my age. An' do you know what he did, Rosie? He smiled. The biggest, silliest smile I ever saw, an' his eyes lit up like firecrackers. It near broke my heart."
Josiah gazed down at his daughter. The ache in his heart for Vin was almost more than he could bear.
Rosie, not really understanding but sensing his pain, snuggled deeper into the broad, comforting chest. Josiah, careful of his shattered ribs, leaned down and kissed the downy hair on her head. Rosie sneezed.
Josiah grinned at her impatience.
"Ezra." The big man sighed in frustration. "Ezra drives me to distraction, Rosie. Hell, he drives all of us to distraction, 'specially Chris. But you already know that. He's the most infuriatin', arrogant, lazy, pretentious, manipulative .big-hearted sonofabitch I've ever known. Goes his own way, doesn't need anyone an' God help you if get in his way. Ez can cut you down with a single word, make you feel an inch high. He can cut right to the bone too, usin' those fifty dollar words of his, and he'll do it an' not look back.
"I always thought I was the one who had penance to pay, but Lord, Rosie, Ezra takes the biscuit. There's somethin' eatin' away at him like one of your Momma's hound-dogs worryin' a bone, an' none of us can figure it out. He hides it all behind fancy clothes and that damn car of his - a Jaguar, for God's sake. All leather seats an' fancy do-dads. Most of the time he won't even let us sit in it. Mind you, the way Vin dresses, I'm not surprised ."
Rosie sniffed, trying to get her father back to the point of the story. Josiah obliged graciously.
"Did you know you were nearly born in that car, darlin'? Ez was bringin' your Momma into the hospital every day to see me while I was hurt, probably 'cause he was feelin' guilty. See what I mean about penance? Anyway, they're drivin' along an' your Momma suddenly lets out a yell loud enough to wake the dead - Ez damn near crashes the car. My waters've broke!!! she hollers, an' the next thing she knows is Ezra's jammed on the brakes. Your Momma looks at him an' Ezra looks back, an' she just knows he's throwin' a blue fit inside about his leather upholstery. If you think I'm getting' out of this damn car just so's you can clean up the mess, Ezra P. Standish, you'd better hold on to your horses 'cause I'm gonna have your hide for a duster! Poor Ez doesn't know what to say - which is somethin' in itself. So, he just puts the pedal to the metal an' gets your Momma to the hospital - in record time, I might add. You were born not long after, an' your Momma puts it down to laughin' so hard at the look on Ezra's face."
Josiah chuckled, the deep rumble in his chest making his daughter blink in surprise.
"No, Rosie girl, you won't have any problem with Ezra. For all of his pain-in-the-ass attitude he's a sucker for kids, even though sometimes he acts like a greedy sonofabitch. I mean, he went round after you were born and collected twenty dollars off each one of us. Sweepstake on your birth-weight, which he just so happened to win. Found out he'd bribed the nurse doing the scans to give him a good weight to aim for. We were all ready to take him apart at the seams, when we found out he'd put the money in a bank account for you. College fund, he said. Made it look as though he did it to wangle out of havin' his head nailed to a door - mostly by Chris. But, I don't know, he don't want to be seen doin' somethin' just out of the goodness of his heart. Makes him feel kinda vulnerable, I guess. But that's Ezra, an' you'll have to take him just the way he is."
Josiah sighed, suddenly very weary. Rosie yawned.
"Well, baby girl, that's them. All six of 'em. You'll probably grow up kinda weird, but what the hell - at least you'll be interesting. Havin' an ol' preacher man as your Daddy and a wild hound-dog woman for a Momma is goin' to make life pretty strange too."
He winced, the pain in his chest beginning to take hold.
"Lord, Rosie, I'm tired. It's been a long day for both of us, an' I think I'm gonna need some of those pain meds the Doc gave me. I'm gettin' too old for all this ."
"A little less of the 'old,' preacher man."
Del limped from the bedroom doorway to sit in front of her husband and daughter.
"You two figured out which of you is goin' to be in charge, yet?"
"Jury's still out on that one, girl." His blue gaze returned to his now sleepy daughter.
Del looked at his gaunt face, her heart full of joy and not a little sadness. How can such a big man look so fragile? she wondered, studying his battered frame, looking at the powerful arms cradling the tiny scrap of humanity that was his flesh and blood. She glanced toward the porch door, knowing that Buck would be wide awake, knowing he wouldn't go back to sleep while Josiah was up and about. God Almighty, Buck Wilmington, don't you ever stop worryin' an' carin'? Just how big is that heart of yours? Is it big enough for all the lives you try to protect an' hold dear? And, in her heart of hearts, she knew it was.
"Buck? Buck .can you give me a hand gettin' this man of mine back into his bed?"
"Sure, Del. Be with you in a twinklin' ."
Within moments Buck padded through on bare feet, followed by a bleary-eyed J.D.
Me an' my shadow . Del smiled inwardly.
"You all right, Josiah?" J.D. Dunne couldn't conceal the worry, concern filling hazel eyes.
"Sure, son. Just can't get outta this damn chair, is all ."
Del lifted the sleeping child out of her father's arms.
"J.D., would you mind takin' Rosie for a moment while Buck an' me get Josiah settled?"
The wide grin nearly split J.D.'s youthful face in half as he gently cradled his god-daughter-to-be.
"Hey, there, half-pint. I'm J.D. Gonna be fun havin' you around . " The young man set up a soft croon, lost in the joy of being a part of Rosie Sanchez's young life. He wasn't 'the Kid' no more .
Buck and Del eased the weary Josiah to his feet, and between them supported the big man as he slowly made his way back to bed. J.D. followed quietly, little Rosie sleeping soundly in the strong arms of her latest conquest.
Josiah was put to bed and Del gave him the medication that would ease the throbbing pain in his body, Buck hovering close by, reluctant to leave in case he was needed. Del lifted her daughter out of J.D.'s arms and put her to bed in her crib, the crib adorned with hand-carved animals courtesy of Mr. Tanner.
She looked at her sleeping daughter, then turned to watch Josiah, now beginning to doze, propped up in bed to ease the pressure on his wounded body. She smiled to herself, as she turned back to the other two members of this strange brotherhood of Seven she had inherited on her marriage.
Look at 'em - worryin' like a pair of ol' women .
"Seems like they're settled, fellas. I'll see if I can catch up on my zee's - Rosie'll be needin' a feed fairly soon. Thanks."
Buck's amiable face broke into a smile, the big man nodding acknowledgement. J.D. wandered back into the living room and Del could hear him heading for the small kitchen.
Refrigerator, she thought. Dang, that boy can eat .
"Leave some food in there for tomorrow, will ya? Nathan'll be wantin' some breakfast in the mornin'."
"Sure, Del." The words were mumbled through a mouthful of cold ham and cheese.
"Fruit Loops in the cupboard above the sink ."
She heard the cupboard door open.
"You gonna be okay, Del?" Buck's blue eyes were warm with concern.
Del Sanchez took a deep breath. She knew she would be.
"Buck?" His eyebrows lifted at the catch in her voice. But before he could answer, she reached up and took his face between her hands and gave him a soft kiss on the cheek.
"Thank you. For everything, from the three of us."
Buck grinned, somewhat self-consciously.
Lord, the fool's blushin' .
"G'night, Del ."
And with that, the Sanchez household Plus Two settled down to a peaceful and painless night.
+ + + + + + +
"Del? She's makin' a noise again ."
"Dammit, Josiah, it's four thirty in the mornin', an' she's not long fed ."
"I'll just go get her then ."
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