A Year to be Thankful For

by Robijean

Thank you MOG for creating this AU.

Summary: As Christmas arrives, Team Seven reflect on what the year has meant to them.

Disclaimer: The Magnificent Seven and its characters are the property of MGM, Trilogy Entertainment, and the Mirisch Corporation.

I want to thank Sue M. for all the assistance and good advice she provided me in writing this story.

Christmas this year was going to be very different for the members of Denver's crack ATF Team Seven. Last year the five members went their separate ways for the holidays. This year, the five original and two newer members were going to celebrate the holiday together at Chris Larabee's ranch. After unexpectedly spending Thanksgiving Day at the hospital, Chris invited the team to spend Christmas Day and the remainder of the weekend at his place. They all were thankful to still be seven in number and quickly agreed.

As each member of the team prepared for their various Christmas Eve activities, they have a moment of serious reflection. Thoughts they are each compelled to share with someone important in their lives. Thoughts about what this past year has meant to them.

Sitting on his bed, half-dressed surrounded by the presents he'd just finished wrapping, JD picked up the bedside photo of his mother and began to speak very softly as he held it close to his heart.

"This is my first Christmas without you Mam. I thought I would be spending it alone, feeling sorry for myself, and most of all, missing you. I never imagined that I could have anything to be thankful for this Christmas, but tonight I am going to Christmas Eve Mass to give thanks.

You might wonder just why I'm so thankful this Christmas. I'm thankful for the new job I took a chance on even though I had my doubts. I remembered what you always said, "you won't achieve anything unless you take the chance". I'm thankful for the leader who was able to look past my youth, see my talents, and take a gamble on me. There's also my new best friend who has welcomed me into his heart, his home, and his life.

Five short months have brought so many changes into my life that I am thankful for, the six teammates who treat me as their equal even though it will be a long time before I am. And then there's the camaraderie we all share off the job as well as on.

Taking care of you was almost my whole life for the past two years, I am thankful I still know how to have fun. Buck and Vin have shown me that. I still miss you terribly but my friends all help me through the difficult times.

And somehow, the six of them, each in their own way bring you back to me. When I question or suffer a loss of faith in life or myself, I go to Josiah and like you he helps me find the answer or my faith. Ezra carries on about my clothes and coordinating them just like when you would remind me not to wear the torn jeans or to match my colors better. Nathan is always prompting me to eat better or take better care of myself. I've started calling him my own personal mother hen.

When I wanted to seriously discuss things, you were always the one I would tell my troubles to, now it's Vin. He always listens patiently and then we'll talk about things for hours if necessary. Buck gave up his privacy and home for me. I guess he knew even before I did that it wouldn't be a good idea for me to live alone just yet. I missed you so much when I was on my own. Living with Buck, I seldom have time to get too depressed about you being gone.

Then there is Chris, not really the maternal type, but he cares about all of us and he is as protective as a she-wolf with her cubs. You were like that. You'd take on the world for me and often did. Chris and Buck together are as formidable a duo as you would ever want to meet. I'm real thankful that they and the others stand with me in our fight against the bad guys.

So, I guess when anyone asks me what I am giving thanks for this Christmas, I will say for my new family, the six best friends a man could have and for the Mother who guided me to them. Thanks Mam…for everything."

JD wiped his eyes as he gently returned the photo to its special place next to his bed. He intended to get up and continue dressing. He didn't want to keep Vin waiting and he was due any minute to pick him up. They were going to Christmas Eve Mass and then heading out to the ranch for the holiday weekend. He could hardly wait. But he couldn't seem to make himself move as he continued to sit there staring at his mother's photo.

After an afternoon of preparations, Chris was finally done and strolled out onto the veranda. After seating himself in Sarah's old wooden rocker, he looked out over his property. Eventually his gaze drifted to the stars and he began to speak in a strong, clear voice.

"Sarah girl, you know I never thought I would be celebrating Christmas at the ranch again. Never thought I would ever again have anything worth celebrating or to be thankful for. This year has proven me wrong. Last year at this time I was just beginning to form a new ATF team; we had just acquired our fifth member, Ezra Standish.

Then two months later, a scrawny Texan bounty hunter crossed our paths on an assignment. It took me about five weeks but I convinced my superiors and him that he should become part of ATF Team 7. My team had started to really come together. You can't imagine two people less alike than Ezra and Vin, but it took Vin to bring Ezra completely into the team. Until Vin came along, Ezra was here, yet not here, standing off to the side, not really a part of the team. Vin worked his magic and we were six strong and the others felt complete, but I still felt something wasn't quite right.

I had no way of knowing that a mere four months after Vin joined I'd discovered what we needed. I'd say it was a mascot, but JD is more than that, he is an equal member of this team. We each needed him to bring us the rest of the way into the family we have become.

Buck and I have had our good and bad times through the years, but I always knew no matter what we were there for each other. There aren't a lot of men I can say that about, but I serve with six of them. We are brothers, working together to try and bring a little justice into the world. It took JD and his innocence to remind us of what we once were, what we now are, and what we could become. The whole we have become is so much greater than the parts we were.

This year we are having a family Christmas at the ranch, the first Christmas I've celebrated since losing you and Adam. It still hurts, knowing you're both gone, but my new family needs this. I don't think Vin has known many Christmas celebrations and surprisingly I have my doubts about how many happy holiday celebrations Ezra has known. This is JD's first Christmas without his mom and he will need his new family at his side.

Buck needs this just as much as I do. He's spent the last few Christmases dragging me away from the bottle and out of the bars where I would go to forget. Now he has a whole new family to share the holidays with and he made sure I knew what was expected of me. Not that he needed to force me to have them over for Christmas. We almost lost Vin three months back, and JD just five weeks ago, so this Christmas is a celebration of life. Christmas is for family and this family is going to celebrate the fact we are all safe, healthy, and together. I know you understand, that I haven't forgotten you Sarah girl, but I have moved on with my life. I will always love you and Adam, I just now have a new family to also protect and love."

After speaking, Chris leaned back in Sarah's rocker and waited for Buck to arrive. Buck would be first to arrive as always. This place was as much Buck's as it was his, always had been, and always would be.

Wrapped in a towel, hair still wet from the shower, Buck picked up his memento box as he did every Christmas Eve. Looking through the box, he found the Christmas card he made his Mom in first grade. She always set it out every Christmas Eve, said it was special, and it was. It had a picture of him and his Mom in it. So this Christmas as every Christmas Eve he performed the same little ritual. He pulled the card from his box, set it up under the sprig of mistletoe hanging by his bed, and proceeded to tell her everything that had happened in the last year and all about his holiday plans.

"Last year Christmas Eve didn't go quite like I told you it would. I said I'd get Chris to have a quiet dinner with me, spend the night at my place, and we'd have Christmas Dinner together. Instead I spent Christmas Eve in a bar trying to stop my best friend from brawling his way out of his pain. I thought Chris was coming back to the world when he asked me to join the new ATF team he was forming, and during work and when we were on a case he was almost the old Chris -- the Chris before Sarah and Adam died. But when we weren't working and especially on special occasions or holidays he was still looking for whiskey and a fight to dim the pain and fill the emptiness inside.

So last year after dragging him home and putting him to bed I did what I know you would have wanted -- I went to the nearest Christmas church service and prayed for a miracle. And as the year moved on, I saw my prayer being answered not once but twice. God does indeed work in mysterious ways, Mom, just like you always said. Vin Tanner and JD Dunne are proof of that. These two brought Chris all the way back. This Christmas Eve will find me attending evening services and giving thanks for a life restored.

This Christmas I have so much more than Chris and the fact that he suggested we all come to the ranch to celebrate Christmas together to be thankful for. Imagine that, Larabee celebrating Christmas again -- at the ranch and not some bar. And why? -- Because of Vin and JD. Vin probably never had many Christmas celebrations he can look back on and this is JD's first without his mom. Chris wants to make the day special for them and by doing that he has made the day special for all of us.

We have become a family thanks to our two youngest. First Vin joined the team and reached a part of Chris that he thought he had safely built walls to protect -- Vin knocked those walls down -- not by fighting Chris but by letting Chris see that he had similar walls that needed breaching. The two became brothers and the rest of us joined the family they created. Ezra tried to resist but Vin soon brought him around and we became so much more than the most successful ATF team in history. You would think that things couldn't get better than this.

Little did we know that God hadn't finished working his miracles -- that he was going to bring JD Dunne into our lives. JD is young, but not as young as he looks. I was sure surprised when Chris hired him on -- but Chris got real cryptic on me and said JD was what the team was missing. I didn't know then that our little family could grow any closer but JD accomplished that in just a few weeks. All of us saw something in him that we had lost -- maybe the innocent way he looked at the world. And he gave us faith, trust and belief in this family we had become. Between Vin and JD they gave our new family life -- they are our heart and soul. Chris and me, we are two of the luckiest men in the world -- we both have been given brothers of the heart -- Chris has Vin and I have JD.

Neither of us could have ever imagined one short year would provide -- brothers, a family, and the love and security that comes with it. Of course, Chris being Chris he worries about us all -- especially the two youngest -- trouble magnets both of them. Hell three months ago we had Vin in the hospital -- it wasn't that serious -- he's a strong man -- but Chris was convinced we were going to lose him. Luckily he listened to me when I told him no Texan would take to being mollycoddled after he recovered. Then just five weeks ago it was JD's turn -- a little more serious -- both me and Chris having a real hard time -- trying to take all the blame on ourselves -- took the others to convince us that there was nothing we could have done -- actually them and JD waking up and giving us what for from his hospital bed.

Anyway like I said I'm going to Church tonight Mom to say a prayer of thanksgiving for my new family and for its continued safety. You would really like them -- especially the two youngest -- and they would really like you too. They both miss their Moms very much. Well I've got to get ready and go to Church and then out to Chris' ranch -- thanks for listening -- I miss and love you so much."

Buck picked up the card, kissed the picture of his mom after nodding at the mistletoe overhead, and then replaced it. As he finished dressing Buck gathered up his festive-wrapped boxes, and joyously sang the traditional Christmas Carols his Mom and he had sung every Christmas Eve.

After preparing his Christmas talk to the homeless shelter, Josiah headed into his living room to wait until it was time for him to leave and pick up his younger team member for the services. Sitting on the comfortable old chair next to the window, he picked up his family bible. Stroking the cover he decided to have a private chat with God prior to the informal service he would be leading later that evening.

"Well, Lord, I wanted to give my thanks to you for answering my prayers throughout this last year. First, thanks for keeping Ezra with us until Vin came along and brought him into the fold. Ezra wasn't so sure he wanted to be a part of anything, he was raised a real loner. He had been let down by so many people throughout his life, trust didn't come easily to him. I tried, Buck and Chris tried but it took Vin, a loner himself, to reach that part of Ezra, his belief in his fellow man, that was buried so deep. Ezra is an undercover agent and you would have thought trust was second nature to him, every time he goes under he trusts the rest of us to get him out safely. And Ezra could do that, but he couldn't trust us with his feelings, he couldn't show his feelings, he wasn't really connected before Vin. So thanks Lord for bringing Ezra into our family of brothers.

Next I would like to thank you for helping brother Nathan. Nathan is a good man but when Ezra joined us, well Nathan didn't have the kindest thoughts about our new teammate. But you heard my prayer and Nathan took the time to look again and although they will never be completely on the same page, they would each defend the other to the death. Also I want to thank you for bringing the beautiful Raine into Nathan's life. He, more than the rest of us, needs a life outside our family. I think trying to keep us all in one piece is a mighty trial for our healer. He needs some uncomplicated time with someone he can love wholeheartedly and he has that in Raine. And best of all she understands our family of brothers and doesn't begrudge Nathan the time he spends with us. So Nathan will be with us tomorrow at our Christmas celebration after celebrating with his lady tonight.

And I should thank you for Buck, that man doesn't easily give up but I saw his faith in restoring Chris begin to crack last Christmas. He told me he prayed for help and you know I joined him in praying for Chris to come back completely. Buck had persevered to no avail for so long. Then in March our newest and last team member, Vin Tanner, came on board to help him in his endeavor. Vin was the last team member because when we brought young JD on board we were more than a team we were family. And Vin was the reason we became family, oh not just him alone, he brought Chris back, he managed to reach Ezra when the rest of us had just about given up on him ever being a full member of the team, but Buck he did everything he could to build on the wonders Vin was working. Buck wasn't about to let things slide and he strengthened the family with his efforts and love. When JD arrived, he was brought into a family not onto a team. Buck welcomed them both with all his usual gusto and enthusiasm, even when Vin was able to succeed at what Buck had been attempting for so long. Lord he was so thankful to have Chris coming back, not at all jealous that it was because of someone else. Buck is someone special and I am thankful to call him brother.

When I prayed for Chris to be returned to us, I in no way expected the man we got. I had only known a hard man that was rumored to have been a loving family man before tragedy struck. I had heard tales of a wild tumultuous youth from Buck who had lived it with him. Buck talked about what a caring man Chris could be but I thought it was as a husband and father. I didn't know that our leader had a deep, caring, protective nature, that he would take us all under his wing, that one of us getting hurt could mean so much to him. It's not just Buck, his oldest friend, or the two youngest, it's all of us, even me, old Josiah. It's strange that a man 10 years younger feels so responsible for my wellbeing, but then I guess if he didn't he wouldn't be Chris Larabee. This must be why he excelled as a Seal team leader and now stands out as the leader of this mismatched ATF team. If Chris had resisted, we wouldn't be a family today. But it was like he was waiting for Vin to come along and give him the excuse he needed to re-join the human race. And nothing anyone can tell me will make me believe he wasn't waiting and looking for JD when he came along. Chris seemed to know we needed something more, someone like a young man named JD Dunne.

Lord, now we come to the first of our two miracle workers, Vin Tanner. Vin, he has an old soul, you can see it in his eyes, but in your wisdom you brought him to Chris Larabee a kindred spirit. Chris has encouraged Vin to be young again, to enjoy life the way he should. They are brothers of the soul, but even more they have become brothers of the heart, of life itself. Vin worked his miracle with Chris and Ezra and formed our family and Chris worked his miracle on Vin, and by doing so let Vin complete the family he created. Love is sure a powerful tool in your hands, Lord. The brotherly love these two men share grew and spread to the rest of us.

Finally, I want to thank you for JD Dunne and the miracles he brought with him. Chris knew and the rest of us finally realized we weren't complete when you sent this young man into our midst. JD brought light and innocence back into our dark world. He reminded us why we were fighting. When I see JD and Vin together, they both had difficult lives but it never destroyed their inner spirits. They are both strong in so many ways but they both desperately needed family, and we answered that need and in answering received so much more in return.

This year our family is celebrating Christmas together wrapped in the security our love has provided and for that I am truly thankful, Lord. Please keep us in your thoughts as I pray for our continued health and happiness."

Putting his bible down, he turned off the light and headed for the door. He was due to pick up Ezra, then after the services at the homeless shelter, the two of them were joining the rest of their family at Chris' ranch to give thanks for their coming together this blessed year.

Ezra sat in front of his computer trying to decide how or if he should communicate with his mother about his absence in Atlanta. He knew he should call, but that would likely result in an argument and he felt too good to be arguing tonight. He had been thinking about the events of the past year and what a difference they had made in his life. He finally decided to email her about his decision to spend the holidays with his fellow team members, his new family.

Dear Mother,

Just wanted to let you know that I will not be spending this Christmas holiday with you in Atlanta. I would send my regrets to Uncle Ethan but I do not truly regret my decision. As I told you when we were together last year for the holidays, I had just joined a most unusual ATF team. It has only grown more unusual, in the best possible way, throughout the past year.

I find myself strangely thankful for these men and the place they occupy in my life. In March of this past year, a scruffy young man joined our team, a bounty hunter no less. I did not foresee just what an impact his arrival on the team would have on both our esteemed leader and me.

Mr. Larabee, our team leader, was a hard man who had a great tragedy in his past. However, he was still an excellent leader although I had heard that his behavior when off-duty could at times be quite reprehensible. His second-in-command, Mr. Wilmington, was a man who seemed to devote his life to only two things, women and redeeming Mr. Larabee. Then there was the team medic, Mr. Jackson, who was much too judgmental for my taste and finally, our profiler, Mr. Sanchez, who believed I needed a father figure and he was the one to act as such. We were an odd team but reasonably efficient with one of the best success rates in the agency. I would like to think that my contributions as an outstanding undercover specialist helped.

That was the team that Mr. Larabee, asked Mr. Tanner to join as our team sniper aka weapons expert. Until this point we had been improvising when one was required, by borrowing from other teams. Mr. Larabee has always insisted on the most-talented individuals for his team and none of the others ever met his exacting specifications. Mr. Tanner exceeded those specifications and was welcomed onto the team. It had always been a bit disconcerting to rely on a non-team member in situations requiring such expertise to provide adequate protection.

When Mr. Tanner joined the team things slowly began to change. Mr. Larabee, Chris, began to spend his weekends on the ranch, either riding with Vin Tanner or repairing the outbuildings and fences on his property. Then Buck Wilmington started going to the ranch again, not like before to put Chris to bed after a night of debauchery, but to help with the repairs or go riding with Vin and Chris.

The entire team was invited one weekend to a barbeque celebration, of all things. Vin came to my apartment and much to my surprise I agreed to attend and celebrate our successful conclusion to an extremely difficult assignment. Next is an invitation for a camping trip and when Vin asked I found myself without an adequate excuse to refuse.

To my surprise, I discover I enjoy these activities and being with my fellow team members. Mr. Jackson, Nathan, does not seem as judgmental as I first assumed and when Josiah, Mr. Sanchez, calls me son, I find it no longer troubles me. One evening, when Josiah declared us a band of brothers, I found myself surprisingly comforted. We work well together and enjoy our time together off-duty tremendously.

Everything appeared to be satisfactory certainly no obvious problems. However, Chris sensed that we were missing something. I was astounded to discover it to be a juvenile with a genius for computers. He joined the team and things changed even more rapidly than when Vin joined. Young JD Dunne won Chris and Buck over the first day and the rest of us soon followed. JD has a most refreshing way of looking at the world and one finds oneself emulating him. Vin and JD are unstoppable in their enthusiasm for life. A little odd, knowing how quiet Vin can be but the two are living breathing dynamos. Vin and Chris are as close as brothers and Buck and JD are the same. We are no longer seven men, but, seven brothers.

I feared this would make us weaker, each worrying about the others. However, love strengthens, not weakens and has made us even more efficient. We have had some scares with both Vin and JD being hospitalized, but I never doubted for a minute they would survive. We needed them to survive.

Josiah has asked me to accompany him to services tonight prior to traveling to the ranch for our family Christmas celebration. I accepted and am most grateful for the opportunity to give thanks to the good Lord for my new family. I will pray for you, Mother, to find the success and happiness for which you are constantly striving. I have found mine.

As always your dutiful and loving son,


After hitting send, Ezra organized his packages and waited at the window for Josiah to arrive.

Nathan pulled into a parking spot where he could see the door through which Raine would exit the hospital. Tonight they were going out for a romantic dinner and then returning to her place. Early tomorrow he was taking her to the airport to travel home and then heading out to the ranch to spend the remainder of the holidays with the rest of the guys. He couldn't help but think what a difference one year can make and was actually looking forward to Christmas and spending it with his new family. Watching the door, wishing she would appear, he addressed her.

"My darling, as I wait for you to get off duty to celebrate our first Christmas together my thoughts drift to the changes in my life this past year. Although we won't be together for the day tonight is all ours and I hope many more holidays to come. I have a special gift for you in my pocket I hope you will accept it when I present you with it at our New Year's Eve celebration. I can't think of a better way to welcome the New Year than with the promise that you will become my wife.

Tomorrow we will go our separate ways but you will remain in my thoughts as you travel to your family and I go to Chris' place to be with mine. I'm so thankful for having you and my new family in my life. Last year, Josiah invited me over for a simple Christmas Eve meal before going to evening services. Then he spent the day helping out at the homeless shelter and I spent the day remembering what Christmas was like when I was young and surrounded by family.

Now I know what it is like to have family again and next year at this time, hopefully you will also be a part of my family, a sister for all my brothers-in-spirit to love and protect. They are all anxious to welcome you. My mother always said a growing family filled with love is the strongest and she was right, so I surely hope you'll help this family continue to grow.

Last year I didn't know you existed and my brothers were only co-workers. Then Vin Tanner joined the team and gave Buck the greatest gift he could ask for, he gave him back Chris Larabee. Chris and Vin are both so strong but there was darkness in their spirits that only the other could drive out. And as Chris came back to the rest of us, Vin reached out to Ezra Standish. I never thought much of the man except he was talented at his job. Ezra isn't the man I thought he was, he is much more and it took Vin to show me. Josiah had told me not to judge a book by its cover and recited numerous parables but it was Vin that got Ezra to trust enough to lower his defenses and show us the real man behind the mask.

We are all better for it. Just as we are better for the arrival of JD to the team, a miniature Buck and a whirlwind at times, but also as loyal, loving and caring as the big man himself. He completed the family and as we expand we know our core is solid. If anything should happen to me I know I have six brothers who will cherish you and take care of you and any children we might have if need be. Their strength and support has made me confident enough to ask for your hand in marriage. I pray you will accept and that next year there will be even more to be thankful for.

I see you in the doorway saying your good-byes. I can wait no longer; I need to meet you, hold you in my arms and begin our evening together."

Even as he spoke Nathan was exiting his car. As soon as he reached Raine, he swept her into his arms and kissed her passionately. She laughed and took his arm as he led her back to the car to begin their special evening together.

Vin had been ready to leave for the last hour he was so excited about the holidays. It was still too early to leave to pick up JD so he decided to spend some time on the roof looking out over the city. The neighborhood looked really peaceful, the frost on the ground and in the trees sure made everything look beautiful. The Christmas decorations all over the city made the view from the roof more amazing than anything he had ever seen. After looking to the mountains outside of town to where Chris lived, he turned and looked in the direction of Texas and began speaking, his voice carried by the wind.

"Well, Ma, its Christmas again. And this year Christmas is something special. I'm celebrating it with the guys at Chris' ranch. I miss you Ma, but this year for the first time since you died I'm going to be with family for Christmas. That's what the guys are, my family. Chris is more than a friend he is my brother in all ways but blood. You'd like him and I know he'd like you. His wife, Sarah, she was a strong women like you. He loved her and his little boy Adam, something fierce and when they died it about took the heart out of him. But he had a friend, name's Buck Wilmington, and his heart beat for the both of them until Chris got better. Buck he never gave up on Chris, I'm sure glad he didn't 'cause I'd hate a world without Chris Larabee in it. I'm forever thankful to Buck for what he did, he says I'm the one that brought Chris back, maybe I did but it's only 'cause Buck never let him go in the first place. Anyhow I'm thankful that Chris came back no matter who helped him.

Now, Buck he likes the women a bit too much, but I think you'd like him anyway especially when you see him with JD. He's mother, father, brother, uncle, and friend to him. All the love Buck has in him he pours out on that boy and the overflow just spills out and engulfs us all. Buck has more love, loyalty, honor, in him than most any man. And JD he's just like Buck only a lot younger and not quite so interested in the ladies.

JD and I have a lot of fun together, when I'm with him I feel young again. Not that I'm old, just that I don't always feel so young. We do a lot of sports together although both Chris and Buck say if we don't stay injury free for a month "there will be rules made" - like they would ever enforce them. JD, he's like a kid brother, I want only the best for him and I'm so thankful to have him in my life.

Ezra now he's kind of the black sheep of the family, but that's only 'cause his mama she didn't raise him so good. He's only now learning how to believe in others but he's a good man no doubt about that. I'm thankful that Ezra didn't give up on us and decided to finally really join the team. We all kept trying and then one day he just relaxed and let us in. Even Nathan eventually came round and agreed about the kind of man Ezra is and he didn't think much of Ezra to begin with.

Nathan he does the doctoring for the team and he really cares about each and every one of us. Sometimes he cares too much but we know he's just trying his best to keep us healthy and strong. Nathan has this sweet little gal he's planning to ask to hitch up with him. She's real nice and a real beauty too. Nathan is lucky to have met up with someone like his Raine. I'm thankful she came into his life this early so they can have a long life together. I'm thankful that we have Nathan on the team, JD needed him about five weeks back, might not have made it without Nathan's doctoring until the paramedics arrived. He helped me out three months ago when I was slightly hurt, nothing serious Ma so don't you go to worrying.

Josiah he's a strange one sometimes, real religious and real confusing too. You and he would've had some good talks I know. And you would have understood every word. Josiah calls us a band of brothers or a family of brothers. I don't know if it was Josiah that first deemed us family. But that's what we are Ma, a family and we're going to be together this Christmas. We spent Thanksgiving at the hospital when JD was poorly. I felt it was my fault but not one of the others blamed me, not even JD. I am just so thankful that he is still with us. I think that's why Chris decided to have us out to the ranch for Christmas.

Ma, this Christmas is going to be a real celebration with dinner, a tree, decorations and even presents. I've got something for each of the others. It wasn't easy, I never did any gift buying or making since I was little and you were alive. I hope they like what I made for them I let my heart decide. I'm right thankful for the six of them and I'm hoping my gifts will show them how much they mean to me. Family is the most important thing in the world, you taught me that. Love you Ma, wish you were here and could meet the guys. Please, help me watch over and protect them."

Looking at his watch, Vin decided he'd better leave to pick up JD. He was looking forward to his first Christmas Eve Mass, in fact, his first Christmas in a long time and his first family celebration since his mother died. Starting down the fire escape he began to whistle a Christmas song as he climbed down to his apartment to get his presents for the guys.

After gathering up his presents, Vin headed over to JD's place. Knocking on the door, Vin waited but JD didn't come. When 5 minutes had gone by, he used Buck's emergency key and let himself into the apartment. As he walked through the living room, he called JD's name. When JD didn't answer he went looking for him, finding him sitting on his bed halfdressed in T-shirt and pants amid presents and wrapping materials staring at his bedside table. There were tear tracks on his cheeks and his eyes were red from crying. "JD, come on talk to me, tell me what's wrong, did something happen to Buck?" Vin pleaded with JD to tell him what was wrong.

As if the floodgates had been opened, JD began speaking almost without pausing to breathe. "I don't know what's wrong, I was getting ready, I was so excited about going to the ranch for Christmas. I was telling my mom how wonderful the last year has been and how great all you guys are and how we've become family. Then I meant to get ready, but it was like I was frozen, I couldn't move. All I could think about is how she isn't going to be there, she's never going to be with me at Christmas again, ever." He turned sad eyes to his friend, "She's gone, Vin, she's really gone. I suddenly felt so abandoned and angry. Angry with my Mam, for dying, how could I feel like that? What kind of horrible monster am I, what kind of a son is mad at their mother for dying? I don't understand it, I don't understand me."

Tentatively Vin began to explain, "That's perfectly natural JD, I was real angry at my ma for dying like she did. I thought she could have fought harder to stay with me. It isn't logical, its just part of missing someone you love. From what Buck said, Chris was awful angry after Sarah and Adam died. Now what he doesn't say is that part of that time Chris was angry with the two of them for dying. It's just the way it is. You ask Buck if he didn't get mad at his mother when she died. You know he'll tell you the truth, or ask Josiah, he's been a counselor, he knows all about people grieving. What you felt was natural JD don't make you a bad person or a bad son."

JD stood up, crossed over to Vin, and pulled him into a loose hug. Although he felt a little awkward at first, Vin gave JD little pats on his back as he offered him the physical comfort he sensed JD needed. JD gave Vin a weak smile, then went over to the bed, picked up his shirt and finished dressing. They began to reminisce about some of the events of the last year and making plans for the coming celebration at Chris' as they gathered up the presents off the bed, went to the jeep, and drove to Christmas Eve Mass at JD's church. After the service was over, both men had made peace with the demons JD's grief had stirred up. They laughed and sang carols at the top of their voices, each one trying to outdo the other in volume the entire ride out to the ranch. Later, as they turned into the drive to the ranch, both were once again eagerly anticipating spending the holiday with their new family.


Chris had welcomed Buck almost an hour ago and as they both sat on the veranda drinking a mug of spiked eggnog they watched Vin and JD pull in and park next to the barn. Looking toward the drive they saw the lights of Josiah's suburban approaching. Buck raised his mug in Chris' direction and in his best Tiny Tim imitation said "Merry Christmas and God Bless Us Every One". Chris began to laugh causing Buck to join him, the sound of their laughter reaching both cars, bringing smiles to them all.