Disclaimers: Not mine never were. I don't care anymore, someone's got to claim them.
This is my take 10 years down the line. I wanted a happier one than the ones I'd read so here goes. Some of the OC's are mine from other stories, Found and Huntin'. Del and Rosie belong to Helen Chavez. I tried to contact her but she never answered. I heard she's been ill. My excuse in using them is 1. She let me before in a Christmas story, and 2. I can't see Josiah with anyone else. I just hope I can do them justice in their brief appearance.
Much thanks to Chris and to Kathy M for their much needed help betaing.
Nettie Wells sat and rocked gently on her new extended front porch. She sipped the tea Casey had brought her and squinted looking down the road for the visitors that were coming today. She still saw quite well up close although things were fuzzy far away. But the fact that she could see as good as she did at her age made her thankful to the Good Lord for His blessings.
Hearing a soft whimper she looked down and with her toe rocked the wooden cradle, easily sending the baby back to sleep. Glancing once again down the road she sighed. Shaking her head she realized she was being impatient, it was still too early for anyone to be here yet, but she couldn't help it. Her 'boys' were coming today. At least she thought of them as her boys now. It'd been ten years since Vin Tanner had worked his way into her heart and then slowly and just as surely the others had worked their magic, even the fancy man.
Vin. From the first day he'd come to her rescue she'd loved him and worried about him, never letting on she knew about the bounty until he told her. She worried about him much as a mother would, or an old biddy. Worried about him being too thin, getting hurt so often, and the constant possibility of a bounty hunter showing up and taking him.
That was what happened too. A bounty hunter had showed up late one night in the saloon. Only Vin and Ezra were there. The bounty hunter had dismissed Ezra and that was his mistake. Ezra's mistake had been not knowing the man had a partner. Before Vin could draw on the partner, he'd shot Ezra while Ezra had shot the first hunter.
Nathan had done everything he could but he was no surgeon. Ezra lived, but he never rode again, and even with the cane he walked with a pronounced limp. Vin had stayed long enough to make sure Ezra would live and then he rode away late at night. He didn't want any goodbyes and he didn't want the others to try to stop him. He'd stopped briefly to say goodbye to Nettie and then rode away not seeing the old woman's tears.
He'd ended up at Kojay's village. The People had welcomed him, especially his adopted family. The boys, Wind and Rides Alone were thrilled to have their adopted uncle with them again and in the way of boys hoped he'd stay a long time.
When five of the six had ridden into the village, Vin had asked Grandfather not to tell them he was there. So for months no one knew where Vin Tanner was. In hopes of throwing off any other bounty hunters the others, for the sake of their friend, spread the word that Vin was dead, killed in the mountains trying to get away. Only those closest to them knew the truth, or at least hoped they did.
It had been a hard winter not knowing where Vin was or if he was all right. Then one spring morning two years later two Indians had ridden up to Nettie's cabin. The old woman had stepped out onto the porch with her Spencer in her hand. Things had been peaceful for a long time, but old habits died hard.
The man was wearing a large brimmed hat and he looked up from under it. "Don't ya know me Nettie?"
It was Vin, his hair in braids, wearing reservation clothes. But it didn't matter, he could have been stark naked she'd been so happy to see him. "Vin?"
"Yes ma'am, it's me. Can we get down, or are ya gonna shoot us?"
For the first time Nettie really looked at Vin's companion. It was a young Indian girl no more than sixteen. "Course you can get down. Come in an' I'll make some tea."
Vin carefully helped the girl off her horse and Nettie hid her shock, the girl was in a family way. Once inside Vin took off the hat. "Nettie, I'd like you to meet my wife, Dove. She don't speak English too good but she understands pretty good."
Nettie smiled as she hugged the girl. "I'm right pleased to meet ya Dove. Have a seat."
The girl had been very shy at first but it was easy to see she loved Vin with her whole heart. After a short visit Vin had stood, "We got to go Nettie, I...I know it was foolishness but I wanted you to know I'm happy an' safe. If you could tell the rest... only tell them not to come 'less they got business with the tribe. I don't want to bring attention to us or them. I found m' place and I'm happy, tell 'm that. One of the reasons I'm telling y' all this now is the army is gonna start taking names, making everyone take a white name. So's there's gonna be a bunch of Tanners on that list."
"Yeah, let's see if I 'member, Sally, Martha, that's Dove here and Sally is her ma. Max and Sam, that's Dove's little brothers an' me, Vin, formerly Cricket."
Nettie cocked her head, "So you found a way to be free and keep your name."
It had been a hard year on everybody. Each of the remaining six mourned the missing Tanner, especially Chris. Although he never reacted the way most thought he would, it was if he somehow knew that Tanner was fine even though they had no proof. Gradually word came to them that Vin was well and safe, and Chris would be caught smiling a small secret smile. The all too brief messages came in various ways, sometimes through Nathan who traveled to the far reaches of the county, or by Josiah who taught school on the Reservation and traveled a lot. Where or how the messages were delivered was never revealed.
Then slowly as the town folk seemed to forget about Vin Tanner each of the men would have a sudden meeting with Vin, like a ghost he'd be there then gone. Each would share with the others what had been said. Every time Ezra would insist that they tell Vin that he held no animosity toward Vin because of his wound.
When Nettie brought news of Dove and the baby it was as if they were all released to go on with their lives as well. Only afterward did they feel they'd been holding their breaths waiting for...they weren't sure what, but with the news that Vin had moved on they could too.
Dove had had a little boy that Fall and then a couple of months ago she'd had a girl. Now Vin and the teenaged brothers of Dove caught wild horses, green broke them and delivered them to Chris and Buck. The two friends finished breaking them and sold the horses, sharing the profits secretly with Vin and his family.
Vin Tanner sat cross-legged watching his wife wrap their infant and strap her onto the cradleboard, his two-year-old son sat beside him playing. Their lodge was warm and the boy was naked. Vin smiled and spoke in the language of the People, "Ho Squirrel, are you not going to see Aunt Nettie with us?" He held up the small leggings and shirt.
The small dark eyed boy looked up from the wooden blocks his Uncle Josiah had given him. "Aunt Nettie? See Rosie?" He asked between chattered words no one understood.
"Yes, the whole family will be there." Vin glanced over at his young wife.
Dove had been twelve when she and her brothers had found him and saved his life. He'd stayed close to the family afterward and when he'd left Four Corners not knowing what to do or where to go the family had welcomed him.
The whole tribe, had with Kojay's urging, and Chanu's friendship, had shown that this white man was different. It was the next spring that he noticed that Dove was no longer a child but a maiden, a young woman that he found very attractive, and although it took several months for him to act on that realization, he knew that she was for him.
Tanner smiled down at his infant daughter. While Squirrel had dark eyes and hair like his mother, Skye had kept the blue eyes and lighter hair of her father. "Are you ready, little one, to meet your other family?" The baby cooed at her father in answer and Vin's smile grew, he'd never been happier.
Nettie shook her head at the thought of Chris Larabee. The man in black they'd called him, the bad element. Gunslinger. Killer. Someone to be feared, to be avoided. Sure he was.
No one was more surprised than Chris Larabee when the red haired freckled faced widow with four children under six rolled into town driving a broken down wagon pulled by two ancient mules. Jamielynn McEwee had lost her husband after spending the last three years working their way across the country. He'd drowned in a river going too fast and too deep with an unexpected flash flood. After burying him she'd hitched up the mules and continued on. She and Larabee were like oil and water together, but there was that special fire in their eyes. To everybody's surprise, within the month they married and moved out onto Chris' land. They'd built a 'proper' house for the growing Larabee family and Buck had moved into the cabin he and Chris had been working on.
Word was they fought all the time, but there must have been some fierce making up because Jamielynn didn't seem to miss more than a year between babies. Now there were two new Larabees and Nettie knew another was on the way. Jamielynn loved babies and felt the more, the merrier.
Chris Larabee leaned against the wagon he'd hitched the horses to. He looked down at the eleven-year-old. "Sean, you and Duncan go see if your Ma's ready. Tell her that the wagon is ready."
"Yes, Pa" the two boys replied as they ran to the house.
Larabee smiled - "Pa". It felt so good to be called that again. Jamielynn's four had started calling him that the night Kevin had been born. He sighed as he heard a perturbed voice coming from the house.
"Well, I'd be moving some faster if the man of the house were moving babies to the wagon and laying them down instead of standing out there givin' orders."
"I'm coming, Jamielynn. I was just laying the blankets over the hay for the little ones to sit on."
"Be hurrying up then. I don't want to be the last one there to hold that new baby."
"You got half a dozen of your own to hold Love..."
"Aye, but it's always a blessing to hold a new one."
It took more time than the impatient ex-gunslinger liked to load the baskets of food and supplies, and six excited kids into the wagon and head out.
Buck and Chris went into partnership buying land and raising and selling horses. After they found out where Vin was, they proposed a deal with him and started buying the land between the Reservation and Nettie's. The plan was to have private 'safe' land between Vin and Nettie's making movement off the Reservation easier. Vin and the boys caught the horses, delivered them to Chris and Buck who could sell them without the army or the Bureau of Indian Affairs giving them any grief.
Buck finally persuaded Inez to finally marry him and he fixed up the cabin so they'd be near Chris and Jamielynn. As different as Chris and Buck were, so were Jamielynn and Inez. But they got along as neighbors and because their men were close friends. If Jamielynn wasn't delivering a new baby Inez was, and the LW Ranch was overrun with love and children. Any given day a body could hear babies being scolded or called in Gaelic or Spanish or English.
"See Buck, we are not late. There come Chris and Jamie." Inez poked her tall husband in the ribs.
"I see that, darlin'. I just wanted to be waiting for them so there was no rush. We'll just let them catch up and then you and Jamie can ride in one wagon and talk and Chris and I can ride in the other."
"Aunt Nettie, you doing okay there?"
Nettie looked back over her shoulder. "I'm fine, Casey. The sun feels good after such a cold winter. You doing all right? You really shouldn't be up and doing so soon after the baby."
Casey laughed, "I'm fine, that's an ol' wives tale anyway. JD is helping move things and lifting. He's such a worry wart."
"Good husbands usually are, honey."
JD was a good husband too. Even though he insisted staying on as the sheriff of Four Corners, he was doing very little peacekeeping anymore. He left most of it up to his deputies now that he had all the babies and Nettie's ranch to take care of. Casey was happier with him ranching even though a man could die just as quick from a horse or a steer as an outlaw's bullet. He turned out to be very good at keeping figures and kept the books for not only their place but the LW Ranch as well, so in the end four of the seven remained partners.
Now Josiah was a real surprise. He'd been teaching school on the Reservation, after all he'd helped build it, when one afternoon this woman showed up with a pack of hounds led by a big ol' one eyed plot hound and had asked Josiah for directions. Even though her business was done she kept showing up. Every one in the country side cheered when the lonely preacher man suddenly married Del. Then less than a year later Rosie had made her appearance.
Rosie Sanchez sat quietly on the porch with her big hound Beau, or maybe Beau was sitting on the porch with his pup Rosie, it was hard to tell which. Rosie watched as her mama packed bundles on the mule and made sure the riding horses were ready to go.
Del's long-legged stride managed to cross the porch in two steps and she leaned into the house. "Josiah Sanchez, are we going today or what?"
From his study Josiah called back. "I'm coming, Del. I'm just finishing some paperwork."
"Well, sun's coming up and it'll take three hours to get to Nettie's..."
Josiah came out and wrapped his arms around his wife, "I'm ready. Rosie's ready, Beau's even ready. We're just waiting on you."
"Hell, Preacher Man, let's go then. I got everything ready, including a skirt for the ceremony."
Josiah leaned down and kissed his wife, "That's my girl." Then he turned and lifted his daughter up, "Who you gonna ride with girl? Me or your mama?"
Rosie hugged her dad, "You, Papa. I'll ride with you."
Josiah grinned and Del shook her head as she mounted up.
Sanchez pulled the door closed and setting Rosie in the saddle he climbed up behind her. As the horses started Rosie leaned over looking back, "Come on, Beau, we're going to Aunt Nettie's. Come on, Beau."
Nettie shook her head, that baby girl was something else. She was wise beyond her years and had not only her daddy but also the rest of the Seven wrapped around her little finger. It was a good thing her mother had a level head. Nathan had saved Del's and Rosie's lives when he delivered her. They'd almost died and Nettie was sure that if that had happened they would have lost the preacher man too, not that he was preaching much anymore. He taught school, and as the Indian Agent he kept the government at bay so that Kojay's people could continue to live as freely as possible.
It was Josiah's idea to have Vin help the tribe pick 'white names' for the agency records. In one day there were dozens of Bacas, Armijos, Smiths, and Tanners living on the Reservation. It'd been Vin that explained to the tribe that these names had no power over them, but was a way to make the white government think they had won and the tribe was becoming more 'white'. Vin could safely become Vin Tanner once again with his son Chris and his daughter Sarah, but at home they were still called by their real names.
Thinking of Rosie's hard birth brought Nettie's thoughts to Nathan, and of course Rain. For it was impossible to think of one without the other, they were that close. To this day despite the doctor that had set out his shingle she still preferred Nathan's healing hands.
When the new 'real' doctor had arrived it didn't take long before all the so called respectable white folks were going to him. Nathan's practice was reduced to, as Ezra put it, 'people of color'. Nathan packed up and went to the Seminole village. He traveled around a lot, tending to Kojay's people, the Seminole, the Mexicans, the coloreds, and the Seven and their families who weren't willing to trust the new doctor. Nettie figured Nathan, Rain and the two boys had left yesterday, since they were the furthest away.
Nathan sat in bewilderment watching his normally sane and sensible wife stack bundles higher and higher in the middle of the room. His five-year-old son leaned against his leg watching too.
Obadiah looked from his mother to his father and said, "Papa? What's Mama doing?"
Nathan put a hand on his small son's back. "I don't quite know son. Rain darlin' what are you doing?"
Mrs. Jackson stopped and blew a stray curl out of her face. She placed one hand against the small of her back and the other on the small mound of her belly. "I'm trying to get ready to go. You are not helping."
"Rain, honey, we're only goin' for a few days not forever."
"Nathan Jackson I am not packing anything but what we absolutely need."
Nathan smiled, "Then I reckon I'd better go borrow another pack horse. We need to leave some time today if we're going to get there on time tomorrow."
"We will Nathan. I would not miss this baby's blessing for anything."
Nathan stood and hugged his wife, "Me either, honey."
Once mounted, the family headed out of the Seminole village. Obadiah rode in front of Nathan while three-year-old Mariah rode with Rain. Each led a heavily packed horse; Rain was satisfied that they had everything they needed for the four-day trip.
Seeing dust rising down the road, Nettie squinted to make out who was coming. "Land sakes child. It looks like the fancy man is the first one for once." she said softly to the baby at her feet.
Ezra Standish, the most prosperous of their group, owned the general store, the hotel, at least two of the saloons in town, and partnered with Tiny in the expanded livery and for the last three years mayor. He'd become one of the richest men in the territory and yet Nettie secretly worried about him. For all his wealth he'd never married. She'd looked for him to follow the others but there just never seemed to be anyone that interested him for long.
Ezra pulled his buggy up to the house. It was a far cry from the two-room cabin he'd first seen. JD, with Josiah's help had built onto the cabin, making room for the ever-expanding Dunne clan. He carefully lowered himself to the ground, leaning just briefly against the wheel until the stabbing pain in his hip and leg eased. Grabbing his cane he limped around the buggy and smiled up at the old woman. "Why Miz Nettie, you are as pretty as a picture this fine spring morning."
Nettie smiled, pretending, as did they all that she hadn't seen Ezra's pain. "You save that silver tongue for the young ladies, Mr. Standish. I'm too old for your flattery."
"Now, madam, a lady is never too old to be told she looks pretty." Ezra slowly climbed the steps.
The old woman nodded toward a second wooden rocker. "Join me if you will. Casey! Bring Ezra a cup of tea please."
"Yes, Aunt Nettie."
By the time Ezra was settled in the chair, Betsy Dunne was carefully bringing the cup and saucer trying not to spill any. "Here you go, Uncle Ezra."
"Thank you, darling. You look especially lovely today."
The six-year-old grinned and tossed a long dark braid over her shoulder. "Mama says we have to dress up in our 'goin' to Church' clothes today 'cause Uncle Josiah's gonna bless the baby. Don't know why we gotta dress up. When all my cousins get here we'll be runnin' and playin' an' getting' all dirty anyways. I can't wait 'til they get here. I got somethin' to..."
"That's enough, child. Go on back and help your ma."
Standish pulled his imported silver flask out and sweetened his tea. "Thank you, dear lady. That child takes after her father in the talking department."
"Yes she does. And when are you going to add some Standish's to our family?"
Ezra sighed, "As I've told you over and over, I have yet to meet the lady that would put up with my numerous eccentricities. Besides, Mother even in her advanced years swears she's too young too be a grandmother."
"So you say fancy man." Nettie let it drop, knowing the real reason Ezra didn't want to marry. She'd helped Nathan nurse Ezra when he'd been shot. She'd seen without his awareness the size of the wound and knew the extent of the damage. Ezra was vain about his appearance and the idea of exposing himself to a bride would seem the hardest thing for him to do. Someday, he would meet someone and nothing like that would matter. "How is your Mother?"
"She's very happy living the life of a grand southern lady. As long as I keep paying the bills, she'll be taken care of in the manner she feels she deserves. Speaking of Mother, I received a letter today from her, and I took the liberty of bringing your letter to you."
Standish reached into his coat pocket. "It appears to be from Mary Travis." He handed the letter to the old woman.
Nettie squinted holding the letter close, then out at arm's length as she tried to read the letter and then waved it at Ezra. "Here, make yourself useful and read this to me. Mary's hand is so small I have trouble seeing it nowadays."
Ezra took the letter and clearing his throat began reading.
My dearest Nettie,
I hope this letter finds you well and every one else also. I wanted to write and tell you the news. Billy has decided to read law with one of his grandfather's friends. I'd hoped as I've told you that he'd choose his father's profession, but alas I'm to be disappointed in that respect.
You know Billy worshiped his grandfather and when he was struck ill all these years ago my son was devastated. We moved to Denver to help Evie take care of Orrin after his stroke, and we stayed on even after he died. I'm sure that was the best choice looking back and don't regret the decision at all.
"I've very much enjoyed your letters. I got three at once when the snowmelt began and was delighted to hear that Casey is again expecting. Please let me know about the new baby when you can.
Forgive me for such a short letter this time but I'm expected to help at the opening of the new library and I wanted to write before the post left.
Your friend always,
Nettie smiled, somehow she'd always know that Billy would follow his grandfather rather than his father. Too bad that the judge had been stricken while trying to clear Vin, but that was hers and Mary's little secret. Vin carried enough guilt as it was.
Ezra broke her train of thought. "I do believe here come the Larabee's and the Willmington's."
Nettie squinted hard and sure enough two wagons were coming down the road. "Casey! Jamielynn and Inez are coming. Now you'll have all the help you need."
Casey came out and looked. "Don't know how much help Jamielynn will be. She's due soon and Inez still has little Josiah on her breast."
"Take the help when you can, girl. Besides, those two would surprise you what they can do with a baby around." Nettie snapped.
"I'm sorry, Aunt Nettie. I'm just tired. I want everything to be just perfect. This is the first time we've all been together in such a long time."
"I know, girl, you go on now and the others will join you soon."
The afternoon sun shone down on the clearing where the picnic was in full progress. There were tables set up under the trees loaded with food, and quilts spread out for each family to sit and eat and visit. Toddlers went from quilt to quilt trying new foods and playing until they went to their mothers to be cuddled and drifted to sleep. The older children were playing, with dire warnings not to get wet at the stream as if they saw each other every day. The wives worked hard to make Dove feel welcome, and one of them, and they encouraged her to talk, patiently listening to her hesitant English that was straight from Texas. She sounded more like Vin than Vin did anymore.
Finally Josiah stood and said, "Brothers and sisters, let us get on to the business that brings us together today. Casey, if you would bring me JJ."
Casey handed the newborn to Josiah who gently took him and looked down at the newest Dunne. "JD, Chris, Buck, will you join me?" The oldest men and the youngest stood in a circle and each held a hand on the baby and the other hand on the shoulder of the man beside him to make an unbroken circle.
Josiah looked up into the sky and then down at the baby. "Heavenly Father, we gather together today to give this baby a name and a blessing, to welcome him into our large growing family." Josiah smiled down at the babe, "This child will be known as Jonathan Josiah Dunne. JJ, I bless you with health and pray that the Lord will give you a long life. I also pray that you will grow up strong and to always know who you are and where you belong, that you will grow and take the example set before you by your father and uncles. I say this in the name of thy son, Jesus Christ. Amen."
Holding up the baby high, " Family, I present to you Jonathan Josiah Dunne." Josiah smiled as the rest smiled and congratulated Casey and JD.
Amid the laughter and stories Nettie noticed Vin cock his head to one side and his eyes go vague. "Vin? What is it?"
Tanner looked at the old woman, "Rider's comin'." He said his hand going to the large knife on his belt.
Nettie stood and leaning on her cane took several steps away from the others. As three horsemen in blue uniforms came around the corner of the house she felt a line close behind her. Nettie knew without looking back there were six men and five other women standing between the riders and the sleeping children, and Vin and Dove.
Taking another step forward Nettie waited for the soldiers to stop. "Help you, Sergeant?"
Tipping his hat, "Begging your pardon Missus. We've been sent to warn all the homes, there's a rumor that several of the injuns have left the rez without authorization. Ya haven't seen any injuns have ya, Missus?"
"No, Sergeant. There is no one but family here," Nettie answered firmly.
When the sergeant seemed to hesitate, Josiah stepped forward. "Just where did these 'rumors' come from, Sergeant?"
The soldier looked to where the voice came from. "Mr. Sanchez? Well, Sir, I don't know. But the Lieutenant took it seriously enough to send out troops to warn folks."
"I see. Would that be the newly arrived Lt. Hamherst from New Hampshire?"
"Yes sir, I believe it would be."
"Then sir, ah'd suggest you con-sider the source of said rumors," Ezra said drawing out his now blurred Southern accent.
Nervous now that it seemed he'd not only interrupted a gathering with the agent in charge of the Reservation but the mayor of the nearest town. "Yes sir, Mr. Mayor. I sure will. Sorry ma'am, to have interrupted your picnic."
"That's quiet alright." Nettie answered none too friendly.
Not a man or woman moved until the three riders were out of sight.
"Well now, that'll be adding some excitement to the afternoon...." Jamielynn's brogue carried loud and clear over the others.
Vin stood and quietly signaled Dove. "I'm sorry, Nettie. We didn't mean to cause trouble. We'll be leaving now."
"Nonsense! Didn't you hear what I told that blue belly? There's no one here but family."
"No buts, you will not take those babies of yours out in the cold night air. You'll stay here as planned and leave tomorrow like everyone else." Nettie walked closer to the tracker as she talked. She reached out and gently laid her hand on his cheek. "You and Dove belong here, just like everyone else. We're family, the Wells, Dunne's, Wilmington's, Jackson's, Larabee's, Sanchez's, Standish, and the Tanner's. It don't matter where we live now, or what color we are or where we came from. We...Are... Family. Now get that through your thick Tanner skull."
Vin turned red under his deep tan and ducked his head. He didn't have to look to know the others were grinning at his 'dressing down' by the petite old lady. "Yes 'm."
All seven women smiled, sharing their unique place as partners of these very special men. And as life was prone to do the spell was broken by a baby's cry and then others joined him.
Nettie smiled, 'Yep, life changed, and went on.' She wished she could be here to watch the second generation grow and learn to live the legacy handed down from their fathers. But whether she was here or watching from above, she knew it was a strong legacy, one to span the generations.