We Were Brothers All

by Helen Chavez

Disclaimer: The fellas are not mine, I’m afraid – they’re just borrowed for a short while from folks who don’t care about ‘em like we do, dammit!

I’d like to thank Mog for her wonderful ATF AU, but Del Morgan and Miss Rosie Sanchez are, however, my own creations, for what it’s worth, although if anyone wants to use ‘em they’re more’n welcome – just ask!

This is young Rosie’s second Christmas, she’s about eighteen months old, and the story is set about six months after Windows of the Soul.

A twiglet is an itty-bitty stick-type snack, and has always been a nickname for small persons in our family. For some reason, it just sounded right coming from Buck …

Finally, I’d like to thank Jeanne for demanding – in the nicest possible way – a Christmas ‘Rosie Moment’. This one’s for you, gal …

Feedback welcome, but please be kind, my friends – I cry easy …

"Dammit, JD! You got a tapeworm or somethin’ boy?"

"Aw, Del - "

"Don’t you ‘Aw Del’ me!"

"But Del - "

Delancey Cowper Morgan Sanchez snaffled the bowl of Natchos out of the young man’s eager fingers and replaced them firmly on the table in her tiny kitchen. JD grinned and snuck a couple out of the bowl before Del slapped his fingers hard, making the young man yelp over-dramatically.

Rosamund Delancey Sanchez sat flat on her butt on the kitchen floor, watching her Momma tear a strip off a completely unrepentant JD Dunne for eating her out of house and home, using words that Rosie honestly didn’t quite understand. But Rosie was pretty sure they were words of love and affection, despite the spark of frustration in her Momma’s eyes, because JD had that silly look on his face that made him appear as sweet as a hound dog pup after it had puked its feed all over her Momma’s boots.

Yup, her Momma wasn’t gonna get too antsy with JD, she knew, because tonight was Christmas Eve, whatever that meant, and folks weren’t supposed to get antsy at Christmas. At least that was what her Daddy told her, and Josiah Sanchez was not the kind of Daddy who would tell his Rosie Girl lies, even little white ones.

"You ain’t gonna win this one, kid – hell, you should know by now never to argue with a woman, ‘specially in her own kitchen …"

Rosie suddenly discovered a pair of booted feet beside her and looked up, following the denim-clad legs and shirt, until she saw cobalt eyes twinkle in amusement as they turned downwards to peruse her.

"Hey twiglet! How’s my girl?" Buck Wilmington studied Rosie closely. Dammit, the child was growing taller by the minute. Azure eyes the colour of her Daddy’s gazed back, the knowledge of the certainty of Buck’s love shining in their depths.

Buck leaned down, Rosie positive that her Bucklin was taller than any tree in the snow-covered mountain vastness that surrounded her home.

*Are we gonna dance now, Buck? My Daddy says you love Christmas, and Christmas looks to me as though it was made for dancin’ …*

The strains of Jimmy Buffett singing ‘Slow Boat to China’ came from the tiny living room next door, and Buck proffered big hands to the child. Rosie clambered to her feet, and raising her arms, demanded to be lifted high into the giant’s grasp.

Buck duly obliged, and Rosie was swept into the air to be held tightly against a chest almost as broad as her Daddy’s. Buck carried the child through into the living room, into a world of warmth and mellow light and shadowed beauty. The glitter and gleam of tinsel reflecting from the log fire lit a world of joy in Buck’s face, the tall man holding the child like the jewel in the crown of his existence.

He hummed to the music, Rosie revelling in the rumble in his chest as they sauntered and swirled around the room, careful not to crash into the furniture or the two pairs of stretched-out legs belonging to other members of the Seven.

But Rosie was confused.

This was the first Christmas she could remember, ‘cause her Daddy had told her she was nothin’ but a wriggly pink baby for her very first Christmas. But what exactly Christmas was for, she couldn’t figure out.

*Maybe this is what Christmas is – dancin’ with Buck. But I’m always dancin’ with Buck. But this time it’s different, I can tell. Buck’s all kinda quiet an’ peaceful, just like he just ate a big apple pie all to himself and knows he ain’t gonna get a stomach ache … *

Rosie laughed out loud at the thought, and Buck held her closer, feeling the warmth and heart of her as she slipped arms around his neck and gave him a revoltingly slurpy kiss on the cheek. His arms tightened for long seconds as he bathed in the sheer pleasure of being alive.

There was a grunt of pain, as Buck banged into an elegantly trousered pair of legs extending from the only deeply-upholstered chair in the room.

"Oh, Lord save us from those misguided gyrations Mr Wilmington pathetically describes as dancing’!"

Buck and Rosie took not a blind bit of notice of the indignant southerner tucked cosily in Rosie’s Momma’s best chair.

"Aw hell, Ez, if’n you’d get up off that pampered butt of your’n an’ give us a hand, then you wouldn’t be gettin’ kicked, now would ya?" The Texas drawl was muffled due to its owner being hidden behind a Christmas tree that was at least three times larger than was appropriate for the cramped room. "Not that a good kick in the ass wouldn’t hurt ya now an’ again …"

Ezra snorted.

"Flinging tasteless baubles at what appears to be the saddest excuse for a Christmas tree I have ever seen, my friend, is not exactly my idea of fun …"

There was a *tsk* of irritation from behind the maligned conifer.

"Shit, Ez – it’s Christmas. Get into the spirit, will ya?"

Ezra P. Standish smiled like a benign tiger and brushed an imaginary stain from the front of his immaculate shirt.

The music ended, and Buck stood for a moment, savouring the atmosphere of his favourite time of the year. Sighing happily, he put Rosie back on the floor, and she toddled straight for the chair and the spare-framed figure ensconced within.

Now Miss Rosie Sanchez was tall and sturdily-built for her age, and using all of the skill and adeptness built up over her eighteen months of existence in this world, began clambering onto Ezra’s lap.

"Lord Almighty, Miz Rosie, you are *the* most ungainly –*OWWW!!* "

Ezra hurriedly lifted the toddler onto his lap as her sharp elbow caused havoc with his groin, making him fleetingly wonder if his capability of fathering offspring would now be severely hampered.

Rosie and Ezra studied each other intently, Ezra wincing slightly as his abused nether region objected to the solid weight of his god-daughter. Then he extended an elegant finger and gently prodded the toddler’s rounded stomach, the result of an ingestion of a bowl of Fruit Loops, courtesy of young Mr Dunne.

"You, young lady, have the grace and presence of a three-legged elephant."

Rosie giggled, delighted with the compliment. Her Daddy had shown her pictures of elephants and she thought them most beautiful, three-legged or not. Azure eyes widened. Perhaps that was what Ezra had bought her for Christmas, as her Daddy – who knew absolutely everything in the whole world – had told her that Christmas was a time for giving.

She furtively checked out the Christmas tree, listening to the occasional mutter of concentration from Vin Tanner, his slim form almost hidden as he draped more tinsel on pine-scented branches. Nope. Not an elephant-shaped present in sight. But maybe it was too big to get into the house, and Ezra had secreted it in the barn. The whole business would bear a thorough investigation come morning, when she opened her presents, she decided.

But then she saw the look on her Ezra’s face, and in that moment of absolute clarity she knew she had received a present beyond price. Ezra’s lean visage glowed with an inner beauty as he perused the child, emerald eyes reflecting the jewelled glint of firelight, and Rosie placed tiny long-fingered hands on his cheeks.

*Maybe that’s what Christmas is all about – makin’ Ezra look as though as though his insides are all warm an’ not hurtin’ any more. Lord, he can complain worse’n my Momma when she finds my Daddy’s got himself into a fight an’ all bust up an’ she has to go bail him out of the hospital. But Ez ain’t got that look on his face that he gets when he reckons nobody cares about him. Now that’s just plain silly, cuz he should know we all love him to bits … *

For long moments Ezra and Rosie gazed at one another, caught in the moment, the magic of this Christmas night warming the undercover agent’s weary heart more than any expensive gift.

"Hey, Pumpkin, you wanna come help put some decorations on this tree?"

Nathan smiled the broadest, happiest smile Rosie had ever seen – apart from her Daddy’s - and lifted the child from Ezra’s knee, grunting with effort as he hoisted her onto his shoulders. He handed the child a scarlet star dusted with silver and angled his head to watch her fumble-fingered attempts to hang it on the tree. Chuckling with amusement, he held the star for her in one big hand as Rosie finally managed to attach it to an already bauble-laden branch.

Rosie crowed with delight at her achievement and hugged the top of Nathan’s head, the big agent echoing her laughter with another honey-soft chuckle. Rosie listened to the pure joy in her Nathan’s voice and rejoiced.

*Maybe that’s what Christmas is about – makin’ Nathan laugh like he doesn’t have a care in the world. My Daddy says Nate worries too much, cuz whatever it is my menfolk do at their office sometimes makes ‘em real hurt and sore. Why, Ezra got all hurt that time and my Daddy told me they were worried he was gonna die, but he didn’t. And that’s because my Nathan wouldn’t let Ezra die – no siree! But it’s real nice seein’ him without that look in his eyes. The one that he gets when he worries about ‘em doin’ their job … *

"While you’re up there, pup, how ‘bout puttin’ the angel on the top, huh?"

Vin emerged carefully from behind the tree, sky-blue eyes wide and luminous with pleasure as he perused the cramped room decorated with winter foliage, the glint of gold and red tinsel setting the blue depths of his gaze afire like the mysterious depths of the most precious opal.

Rosie blinked as she studied the garishly-dressed doll, a gift from Buck and JD on the occasion of Rosie’s very first Christmas a year ago.

*But Vin – are you sure she ain’t gonna mind the top of a tree stuck up her butt? *

Tanner’s angular face ducked as he tried to hide the wicked grin spread across his features. Rosie watched her Vin as she saw his slight frame shake with amusement, delighted to see him so relaxed.

*Now maybe that’s what Christmas is about – seein’ Vin so happy that he don’t look as though he’s worried about a monster leapin’ out of the shadows and hurtin’ my menfolk. Seems he spends a whole lot of time watchin’ their backs, makin’ sure nothin’ can touch ‘em – ‘specially Chris. *

She gently took the angel from Vin’s grasp and managed – after a little struggling – to secure the doll somewhat precariously to the top of the tree. She clapped her hands with pleasure, and leaned down to Vin, the Texan catching her in a well-practised manoeuvre as he then lowered her to the floor.

She turned around and steadied herself by catching hold of Vin’s pants leg, and she gazed with wonder at her Christmas tree, the one her Daddy had chosen from all the Christmas trees in Colorado especially for his Rosie.

He sure knew how to pick ‘em, she reckoned.

It was wonderfully lop-sided, the high mountain winds making one side of the tree almost bare while the other had twice the number of branches it was decently entitled to. There was an intriguing kink in the top, making the angel now precariously attached to it appear almost lascivious as she sprawled enticingly at a ten-degree tilt to starboard.

Vin and Nathan’s decorating skills were magnificent, she decided. The tinsel had been flung on the branches with stylish abandon, the carefully-hung decorations adding to the tree’s drunken appearance. Rosie thought the tree definitely had style.

It was, quite frankly, the most beautiful Christmas tree she had ever seen.

She figured her Daddy had done the right thing when he brought the tree home, as it had been the last one in the shop. It had looked lonely, he said, and he thought even the ugliest, most ungainly-looking pine tree in the world had a right to be beautiful for once in its life, and then and there had brought it home to become the Sanchez and Team Seven Official Christmas Tree.

"You got an interesting tree there, small fry …"

Rosie turned at the soft voice, almost unbalancing herself and ending up on the rug in a heap. She looked at Chris Larabee, his whipcord frame sprawled in a chair, eyes perusing the child now trying to regain her balance and totter towards him. He had to smile at the look of effort on her face, and Rosie caught the amusement in his voice.

She scowled. She had come late to this ‘walking’ business, and hadn’t taken her first steps in public until well after her first birthday, although her Daddy had caught her trundling about happily in the privacy of her room. He had kept it quiet, though – he knew full well that Rosie didn’t see the point in walking *anywhere* if she could get carried, and she had six doting Godfathers and a besotted Daddy to carry her wherever she so desired.

Rosie tootled over to Chris, reaching out to be lifted – as was her due – and Larabee hoisted the sturdy toddler into the air, holding her over his head and looking at the child’s face as it turned from a scowl to a winsome smile.

Rosie watched her Chris’ face, seeing the gaunt face break into a grin – but then her heart broke as she saw the pain deep, deep in his soul behind the smile.

*Oh, Lord, I do so hope that ain’t what Christmas is about – makin’ my Chris all sad and hurtin’. I know he lost his Sarah and his Adam, and I know it must hurt to see other folks havin’ a good time. Why, I know I would die if I didn’t have my Momma or my menfolk or my Daddy at Christmas, or any other time for that matter. *

But then Chris dropped her down onto his knee and began to jiggle her up and down until she started to hiccup with laughter, her throaty giggles easing the knife-sharp ache in his heart.

He sighed.

This Christmas a decision had been made. Only a small one by most standards, but a decision he could not go back on. He thought of his gift to Rosie this Christmas. Sitting outside on the enclosed porch, hidden beneath coats and winter jackets, was Adam’s rocking horse. A bit chipped and battered, its mane a little tatty and the leather saddle polished with use, but much loved … and he knew the toy would be loved again, as Rosie had played many times with it out at his ranch, her gales of laughter making the spartan rooms a little easier to live in.

So now it had a new home, here in this tiny house full of warmth and heart and love, and he knew Adam would have approved.

But at that moment the door from the porch slammed open and a giant stormed into the room, all snow and winter coat and booming voice, and Rosie knew it could only be her Daddy. She screamed with delight and Chris let her down onto the floor, where she rushed as fast as her unsteady legs would go towards the light of her life.

There he was, tall as a mountain, broad as any redwood, with a smile that lit up the room and azure eyes that set her heart a-bustin’.

"Whoa there, Rosie girl! You carry on like that an’ I’ll drop these logs right on that curly mop of yours!" Josiah frantically tried to hang on to the armful of firewood as his rambunctious daughter wrapped her arms around his leg.

"Hey, half-pint – you come over here a second while you let that tired ol’ man of yours catch his breath and get rid of those logs, huh?"

Josiah glared at JD, now propped against the door-jamb, face alight with mischief.

"John Dunne, you are not gonna live to see the New Year, boy! ‘Ol’ Man’ indeed …"

Rosie was torn. Decisions were difficult at the best of times, but it was even more difficult now. Stay with her Daddy and watch him drop the logs, which would be great fun, or go to JD, a nice idea as he has a couple of stolen Natchos in his hands.

Food or entertainment.

Food won.

She was soon caught up in JD’s grasp, munching her reward happily and breathing spicy-cheesy fumes all over her Youngest. JD gave her a kiss right on the top of her head, which made her laugh crumbs all down his pullover.

*Maybe this is what Christmas is all about – me ‘n’ JD bein’ silly and makin’ everybody laugh. JD’s real good at havin’ fun, and I know it can’t be easy cuz he misses his Momma. But then, maybe he’s gone and got himself another family, now he’s got us, an’ I just know he’s got a big brother, cuz he’s got my Buck … *

She watched her Daddy carefully stack the firewood on the hearth, then straighten and turn to look at her.

Josiah Sanchez, preacher’s son, ex-soldier, ex-policeman, anthropologist, profiler, ATF agent and member of the Brotherhood of Seven, studied his daughter, the biggest and most welcome surprise of his life, and once more was shaken to his soul as he looked into his own azure eyes.

JD wandered over and lifted Rosie into her Daddy’s arms, and the toddler gave herself up completely to the strongest, most gentle man in the whole wide world. Looking up at the mustachioed face above her, she thought of all the facets of this big man who was her father – she knew how gentle those big hands could be, and also how terrible. She had seen his blue-on-blue gaze soften in grief at the loss of a friend, twinkle with mischief at JD’s antics, and blaze with an anger no Titan could resist. She had heard the mellow baritone roar with rage at injustice and laugh helplessly at one of Vin and Buck’s pranks – usually at the expense of one of the other ATF teams.

And then she knew.

*Now THAT’S what Christmas is all about! It must be! Look at ‘em all – they’ve all got that look on their faces, that look that says ‘family’. Maybe that’s what it all means – bein’ together! My Daddy looks just like the cat that ate the cream, so he does, he’s so happy. An’ my Momma knows it, an’ that’s why they’re all here. So they can be together…a family! *

She saw the happiness in their eyes, the cut and thrust of barbed comments accepted and returned with ill-concealed glee, the easy familiarity and the tenderness hidden behind the insults. And she knew in her heart of hearts that none of the Seven was whole unless the rest were there.

Josiah put his daughter back down and she found herself once more with her menfolk, listening as Ezra insulted the tree, JD’s now crumb-covered pullover and Buck’s total lack of taste in music, in that order. Josiah went into the kitchen to help Del and JD carry though the multitude of snackerels they had all helped prepare, and Nathan poured out glasses of egg-nog.

And Chris?

Well Chris sat back and absorbed the atmosphere and watched as Vin and Buck argued whether to play yet another Jimmy Buffett album or change to ‘The Little Drummer Boy’ by Johnny Mathis.

He grinned a grin that hadn’t seen the light of day since before Sarah and Adam’s passing, and closed his eyes in contentment.

And for the very first time that year the vein in his forehead didn’t throb.

It didn’t throb once.


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