The Best Christmas Gift

by Phyllis

Alternate Universe The Brothers Larabee

Disclaimers: The following is a work of fan fiction. The characters of Magnificent 7 are owned by and copyrighted to CBS, MGM, The Trilogy Entertainment, every one in the western world but me. Taking them out to play and promise to return them, no matter how much I want to keep them.

The Chevy Blazer pulled into the parking lot and cruised around looking for an open slot. Finally locating one, JD pulled in and parked. Both front doors were opened and the two young men got out. Coming around the back of the vehicle, the dark haired youth asked, "Vin? You got any idea what to get?"

A shake of his head was his only response as they approached the doors. The slender man stepped back to hold the door open for a woman carrying several packages while escorting three kids at the same time. She smiled, telling him thanks as they moved out into the cool Nevada morning.

JD nodded as the family moved past. He entered the door Vin was holding open and Tanner followed him in. They soon found themselves surrounded by throngs of people.

They moved to a quieter area and stood, glancing up and down the colorful hallway. JD noticed the wary look his half-brother had taken on and looked to distract him.

"Vin, what about clothes? We could get clothes for 'em."

Vin glanced up and down the shorter man as JD scanned him. They looked into each other's eyes and laughed.

"Heck, JD. Ezra has suits that cost more than my entire wardrobe."

"Yeah. And what would we get Chris? A black shirt? Pants?"

Vin nodded as he added, "We could get him something to lighten 'im up. You know something in a dark blue, maybe."

JD laughed. The older sibling did tend to wear a lot of dark clothes. "About the only thing light about him is his hair. Oh, and his eyes." JD smiled as he said the words.

Chris Larabee had been a hard man to get to know, but after a year together, the man was warming up to the others. He was no longer the fierce man that never smiled and growled at the others. He was still fierce, but as an older brother, now.

Vin agreed, his head nodding. "True. He tried to tell me once that he wears black because he looks good in it."

The two men stepped into the stream of traffic and moved along with the flow as they discussed what to get their five older brothers. Without a set plan, they found themselves standing in the middle of the mall, where all the corridors joined together.

The entire mall was gaily decorated with bells and holly, angels and trees, and the red and green colors were everywhere. There was Christmas music playing on the PA system and the sound of a children's choir could be heard reverberating from one of the hallways. The center of the mall boasted a waterfall and garden area surrounded by benches and chairs for shoppers to relax in. During Christmas, a giant tree made of poinsettias was constructed next to the waterfall.

JD and Vin stood gazing at the thirty foot structure. Next to the grandiose structure, stood a much smaller and less striking tree. It wasn't decorated with seasonal flowers in pots wrapped in green tinsel and big red bows. This was a simple fir tree that stood dwarfed at eight feet and gracing its deep green branches were small pieces of plain white paper cut into the shape of angels, little boys and little girls with tiny child-like wings. An older woman with stark-white hair sat alone at a table positioned next to the tree base, a forlorn look on her face as she surveyed the harried shoppers passing by in pursuit of their last minute gifts.

"What's with the little tree?" Vin asked.

JD stared at the tree with all the small angels still hanging from its limbs. "It's an Angel Tree," he finally replied.

Tanner turned slightly to look at his brother, a frown marring the handsome face. "What's an 'Angel Tree'?"

JD turned, perplexed by the question. Seeing the puzzled expression, it dawned on the youth that, as worldly as Vin was, he hadn't had much of an upbringing in all the foster homes and shelters that his youth had been spent in. It made Dunne even more aware of the love and gentleness with which his mother had raised him with.

"It's a tree with the names of children whose families can't afford to get them anything for Christmas." JD turned and pointed at the simple tree as he explained. "Each angel cutout represents a child." He turned back to study Vin's reaction. He was not surprised to see the muscle flexing on the side of the man's face.

"I remember Mama and I used to take one Angel every year. We never had much, but she always said that 'Christmas is about giving. And giving when you don't have much yourself is the best kind of giving'."

As the younger man watched, the lean face took on a forlorn and wistful look, more than likely remembering the little that he had as a boy. It had been revealed at Christmas the previous year as the brothers, still new to each other, had talked about Christmases as children. JD ached for the man. He reached out a hand and rested it lightly on the taller man's arm as it hung loosely at his side.

"You know what, Vin?" The older man tore his eyes off the tree and turned to his brother, his eyebrows raised in question. "I forgot about the tradition last year, what with all the excitement at the ranch. How 'bout we pick out an Angel? Maybe, in shopping for them, we can come up with an idea for the guys." JD looked encouragingly at the taller man.

Vin glanced over his shoulder at the tree and, then back to JD, a smile pulling at his mouth. "Sounds good, kid. Let's do it."

Clapping the dark haired youth on the back, Vin led the way toward the table and the woman.

Teresa Walker sat quietly at the table where she had watched the families and couples and teenagers, people of all ages and sizes, noisily pass her all day. She had worked the Angel Tree for ten years and had never seen it so bleak. There were as many shoppers as in years past, but they carried less packages. The economy and the threat of terrorist attacks had each been factors in people tightening their belts and spending far less than years past. She sighed softly. She understood so very well. Her own family had cut costs in many areas. The year had brought trouble in the form of illness and job layoffs. Her small home bulged to capacity with the addition of her youngest daughter's family of five. Teresa had lived through hard times before and knew that her family would get by, but it still saddened her that the children were the ones that suffered and it tore at her heart. So, when she saw the two young men approach, she smiled in relief.

"Morning, ma'am," the dark haired boy said. The second man gave her a tentative nod.

"Welcome, boys. I was beginning to think no one would stop today. Can I assist you with a choice?" Her hand waved toward the tree as she asked.

"Yes, ma'am. We'd like to help. Can we get a name? One for each of us, please."

Teresa's eyes shone as she stood and approached the tree. "Would you boys prefer a boy or a girl?"

Each young man looked at the other and then, turning back, shrugged. "Don't think it really matters, ma'am."

"Here you go. Two wonderful little boys." She handed over the cutouts and the two men examined them. "All the information you will need is on the card. Just bring your purchases back here and I'll take care of it for you. And, please, call me Teresa."

"Yes, ma'am, Teresa." Vin spoke softly as he turned the card over in his hand.

JD smiled and grabbed Tanner's arm. "Come on, Vin. Let's go."

Vin tipped his head to the woman as he clapped JD on the back, shoving him forward.

They moved through the mall, reading the cards as they went.

"I have a six-year-old. It tells what he wants and what size he wears. What about yours?"

Vin hesitated as he read the card again. "He's four."

"Cool. What do you want to get? Toys or clothes? They probably want toys, but I'm sure that they need the clothes."

Vin studied the card for a moment and then, he looked at JD with a solemn face. "Both."

"Yeah," JD's eyes shone with enthusiasm. "Let's go."

They took off down the hallway. An hour later, they were headed back. Teresa smiled as they placed their packages on the table.

"Boys, you only had to buy one thing for each child."

"Yes, ma'am, but we couldn't decide. We knew the kids would want the toys, but need the clothes, so we got both."

Teresa smiled and thanked them for their generosity. The two men turned to walk away, but the tall one stopped and turned back.

"What happens to the ones not picked?"

"Oh. Well, we have a fund that we use to purchase extra for the little Angels left over."

Vin looked over at JD, who grinned and nodded.


Teresa cocked her head, frowning at him.

"Teresa." Vin corrected himself. "We'll take two more, please."

JD nodded in agreement. The woman placed down two more 'Angels' and held them out.

Taking them, JD beamed and said, "We'll be back in a little bit."

And off they went.

Another hour passed and once again they returned with packages. Vin glanced at his watch as Teresa talked with the younger man, handing him two more Angels. Shaking the woman's hand, JD walked over to where Vin was standing.

"JD, there are too many left."

JD's face dropped as he turned to see the tree with so many children not yet taken. His eyes misted at the thought of the disappointed faces on Christmas morning.

"Boys?" Teresa had come up to them, overhearing the statement. "You have been most generous. You can't help them all. We all do what we can to help, but there are limits. Please don't feel bad. The children will be taken care of."

Vin cocked his head to one side and smiled. "Yes, ma'am. But you see, we haven't reached our limit just yet." Vin dipped his head to the woman as he said, "Ma'am. Come on, JD."

With a quizzical look, the youngest Larabee brother followed his older sibling.

+ + + + + + +

Forty-five minutes later, Teresa glanced up and froze. A group of five men were headed straight toward her and a more varied group would have been hard to find. Three of the men were tall. One man wore a mustache over a smiling mouth, a smile that extended up his face to his eyes, Those eyes were framed by deep lines that told of long days in the sun and a lot of laughter. The man to his left had a long face and a heavy brow that overshadowed small, deep-set eyes, giving the viewer the impression of a predator's face, but the eyes were what held your attention and drew you in. Blue and penetrating, they spoke of wisdom and courage, inner strength of spirit and great conflict and pain, the kind of eyes Teresa's mother called 'old eyes', the kind that seen much in their lifetime.

The tallest man of the group was a black man with big, warm eyes and a long face. He walked with a long stride, confident of his place in the world. His lips were curled into an easy smile as he conversed with the man next to him. That man was the shortest of the group and the most smartly dressed of them all. His suit was cut to accentuate his narrow waist. The breadth of his shoulders hinted at a strong chest. He was laughing at something the man that stood a head taller than him had said and his cheeks dimpled as his mouth opened. That was a sparkle in his eye that was visible even from a distance.

The last man strode purposely forward, a man with a destination in mind. He was dressed in black, head to toe. His eyes were indiscernible in color, maybe blue, maybe green. One thing was for certain; he was not a man that smiled easily. Though young by Teresa's measurement of age, he had the look of a man who had seen tragedy and survived, but barely. As protection, he closed himself off to all but a few, probably the few that now followed in his wake.

The five of them approached and stopped in front of the table. Mustering up her courage, she looked up and smiled. They were intimidating in stature as they towered over her.

"Gentlemen, may I be of assistance?"

"Teresa?" the man in black queried.

She blinked several times as she tried to think if she had met the man before. She didn't have to think hard. None of them would be easy to forget. Before she could reply, the dark-haired young man appeared, a grin on his face.

"Hey, guys, you made it."

JD, as she had come to find out, was the dark-haired youth and the other sweet young man was Vin, brothers, JD had told her. She watched the young man as he placed more packages on the table in front of her.

Vin materialized beside her and added his own packages to the pile. The stealthy young man moved around the table, rubbing his hands together as he eyed the group in front of the table. "You boys ready to go to work?"

"Well, heck, Vin, why do you think we drove all the way in from the ranch?" the man with the mustache asked.

JD spun around to face the woman. "Teresa, my brothers and I will be needing seven more Angels, please."

She dutifully retrieved the cutouts and handed them all to JD. He sifted through them and began to hand them out.

"Buck?" the mustache twitched as the man smiled. "You get a girl. She's ten. Let's see how that 'animal magnetism' works for ya."

The man took the paper and, after quickly scanning it, smiled. "See you boys in a few." And he was gone.

'Josiah, fourteen-year-old twin boys." The blue eyes all but disappeared as the man grinned, white teeth flashing in the artificial lighting.

"Nathan? Five-year-old boy."

"Thanks, JD." The man took his Angel and headed off into the masses.

"Ezra, you have a preference?" the young man asked.

"I believe that I am more than competent to ascertain the appropriate gift for either sex. Which do you prefer to shop for, JD?"

"Oh, I already got two boys and a girl. Here, you take the boy and I'll shop for the little girl."

JD handed the slip of paper to Ezra and then turned to Vin, handing him the last two Angels. "Here, Vin. There's one for each of you."

Ezra and JD walked off together, leaving Vin and Chris standing before the table. Tanner looked down at the cutouts - two boys, each of them seven years of age. Vin hesitated, knowing that Christmas was a hard time for Chris because of the loss of his wife and son, his seven-year-old son. Vin looked up at the man.

"Ah, Chris, you don't have to do this."

"Vin, I want to. It'll be fine." That said, he gently pulled one of the Angels from Vin's grasp. He looked at the information and took a deep breath. But the sorrow he was expecting did not come. Instead, he found himself thinking about what Adam had asked for that last Christmas, the excitement in his eyes as he opened his gifts. He realized that he truly did want to help. Smiling, he glanced at the apprehensive Texan. "Come on, Cowboy, we've got a lot of shopping to do."

Vin visibly relaxed and the two of them set out. Teresa Walker relaxed back into her chair. So, those are the infamous Larabee brothers she had heard of. Her next door neighbor had told her of the seven offspring from Lincoln Larabee. Teresa remembered the man, and the boy, left motherless after a car accident; and how she had wept for the child, her own children tucked safely into their beds. The woman shook her head as she chuckled softly. Wait until she told Millie that she had met the seven Larabee brothers. The woman would be green with envy, making her coloring perfect for the season.

And so, the afternoon progressed. The men came and deposited their bundles and took another Angel. It became an attraction and people began to stop and watch as the pile of gifts grew and engulfed the table. Teresa put in a call for more help. Soon, shoppers were stepping up to the table and requesting an Angel for themselves. Parents explained to their children the meaning of the tree as they took an Angel and left in search of the perfect Christmas gift for that child.

By the time the mall was ready to close down on that Christmas Eve, there were no Angels left on the tree. Teresa Walker was in tears as she hugged each one of the men, clinging a bit longer to the two youngest that had started the ball rolling. It had taken four box vans to carry away the gifts and her heart swelled with pride that good people still existed and she now knew seven of them.

After the goodbyes, the brothers piled into the various vehicles, exhausted, but elated with the day's events. Less than an hour later, they had arrived at the ranch house. The seven men walked together from the garage and entered the house on a blast of noise and cold air. Tossing off coats, gloves, scarves, and winter boots, they filed into the house. Upon their entrance, they were greeted by Nettie Wells who had a big pot of coffee ready. Helping themselves, they slowly filtered into the front room and made themselves comfortable.

The last two to enter were Vin and JD. Both men started into the room and then froze in the doorway. The other five looked up at the abrupt stop.

Buck spoke first. "What are you two doing? Get in here and sit down."

Not getting a response, he left the blazing fire he had backed up to and moved across the room. As he got closer, he saw Vin drop his head and look away. JD's eyes shimmered with unspilled tears.

"JD, what's wrong?" Buck placed a hand on the young man's shoulder. His gaze followed the boy's and he saw the fifteen-foot tree that stood in the front window. Confused, he glanced back. He squeezed the shoulder as he asked again. "What's wrong, kid?"

"We…we went to the mall," JD glanced at Vin. The young man who had never really had a good Christmas before coming to the Double L Ranch, was clenching his jaw in frustration. "Vin, I'm sorry."

"Hell, JD. It ain't your fault. I forgot, too."

The others had moved closer as they listened, concerned at the abrupt change in attitude in both younger men.

Chris was the one that asked. "What did you two forget?" His eyes moved from Vin to JD and back.

Tanner refused to look at the blonde.

Finally JD answered. "We forgot that we were at the mall to get Christmas gifts for you guys. We didn't know what to get, so we were going to stroll around and look. We saw the Angel tree and forgot about why we went there. I don't have anything to give any of you."

JD's mouth tightened in an effort to not cry. He felt Buck pull him into a hug. "We don't need gifts, kid. You two are all we need."

Each man tried to reassure the two distraught brothers that the gifts were not important. Josiah's voice was the one that finally broke through

"Vin. JD. I, for one, received the best gift ever offered today. It was bestowed upon me by two young men that I have always admired, but never more than today." He placed a hand on a shoulder of each of those two men. They looked up at him as he declared.

"The best gift is not the one that you can unwrap. The best gift is the gift of giving, giving of yourself, your money, or your time. You showed that to all of us today. You not only gave, but you inspired others to give. And we are all richer for it. I want to thank you for the best Christmas gift I have ever been honored with."

Josiah stepped back as Nathan, Ezra and Chris added their hands to the mixture. Soon, they stood in a semi-circle, facing the tree. Each man wore a smile on his face as he thought about the day, about the family that was gathered around.

JD looked around at his brothers and their home. He was proud of each of these men, proud to call them 'brother' and he knew that they all felt the same way.

Clearing his throat, their youngest asked, "That doesn't mean that Vin and I don't get to open any of those presents under the tree does it?"


"Good Lord!"


"Oww, Buck. I was just kidding. Oww, let go. BUCK!"


Comments to:

Note: I don't know how Angel Trees work. This is a work of fiction and I made to work to fit the story.