Not mine, never will be
Universe: OW, ATF and ATF future
Warnings: Lots and lots of smarm as is due this time of year.
Notes: This started off as a M7M challenge a couple of years ago. It kinda got out of hand and I promised myself I'd expand and try to turn this into a 'real' story. Well, at least a pwp. I suppose it's choppy by design as each of the seven has a part in the first two parts and the last part is all blended together.
I'd like to think Helen Chavez for allowing me to use Del (Delancy Cowper Morgan Sanchez) and Rosie Sanchez, Josiah's daughter, in this.
Also a big thanks to Marnie for the quick beta job, she is wonderful and puts up with me. Thanks Marnie.
The stars shone. Throughout man's history the stars have given light in otherwise unrelenting dark, and man has looked to them for guidance and inspiration.
One Star shines its special light and men of all ages seek it. Each hoping that the promise it stands for will shine in their personal darkness. To give them hope, comfort, and joy that life and love goes on. The Star shown down over seven people, watching as life molded them into the legend they would become.
Martha Tanner sighed and tied another brightly colored rag to the tiny tree she'd brought into her cabin. She and her four-year-old son had searched the homestead for any brightly colored object to decorate the bare walls. She'd hung her extra quilts on the walls. Not only for warmth but to hide the drab mud walls. They'd gathered bright, dried berries and flower plums that hadn't blown away and Vin had brought in a small bucket of colored rocks from the creek bed to use to hold the tree upright. It wasn't really a tree, more like a bush, but Vin had declared it the most beautiful tree in the world.
The mother had butchered the old hen that had quit laying and had tucked the chicken in the dutch oven surrounded by carrots and potatoes from the garden. She'd buried to iron pot under the coals and ash and she had fresh bread dough rising. Tiny hand-made gifts were hidden around the cabin waiting to be brought out after her son was in bed.
It was almost time for bed and the nightly ritual of rocking on the porch and watching the stars come out was being observed. The small boy sat cuddled under the quilt on his mother's lap. They rocked in the old rocker watching as the stars twinkled into brightness in the cold winter air. The young woman leaned down until her eyes were on the same level as the boy's. Pointing she whispered softly, "See, baby. That really bright one? That's just like the star in the story about the baby Jesus. The one that guided the wise men."
"Will it guide Pa home?" the small boy asked.
"I hope so, baby." She tightened her grip on her son kissing the top of his head. "I sure hope so." She smothered the cough that never seemed to go away. "Remember your Pa promised to be here for your birthday, next summer."
"I 'member. He said he'd bring me something from Austin. A city toy."
"Yes, he did. Go to sleep now Vin, it's getting late and we have a big day tomorrow."
"I know," yawned the child. "It's Jesus' birthday an' we're making a birthday cake."
"Yes it is and we are." Martha started humming and smiled as the tiny body relaxed in her arms. She leaned down and kissed the light colored curls so much like the boy's father. "Hurry home, love, I miss you so," she whispered to the Star.
"See, Hannah, that bright Star? That's the one that guided the Wise Men," Josiah said trying to distract his little sister from the angry noises that came from downstairs. They sat cuddled on the roof landing outside the bedroom window. It was warm in India and there were many small fires that lit up the night.
The little girl looked up at her older brother with wide eyed wonder. "Really, Josiah?"
Teen-aged Josiah smiled down at his little sister. "Sure, Hannah, it could be the same one."
The girl looked around fearfully. "Papa won't be mad will he? Us being out here at night?"
"No, Papa's busy so he'll never know we are here."
Hannah snuggled closer. "I like being here with you, Josiah. I feel so safe."
"I'll always take care of you, Hannah, you're my baby sister."
"Tell me a story Jo. Tell me a story about the star."
Nine-year-old Ezra P. Standish sat on the balcony on Christmas Eve, alone. At least it was New Orleans and warm and there were no new fathers or old uncles here. Maude had disappeared three days ago promising to be home by Christmas.
Ezra heard his stomach rumble and tried not to think about how hungry he was. He'd spent all the money Maude had left. But even as careful as he'd been it hadn't been enough. He hadn't eaten since yesterday, except for some old bread he had left over. Not nearly enough for a growing boy.
He heard the bells ringing for the midnight Mass. Ezra considered going to the church yard. There would be venders outside the Church. Creole women would be selling all kinds of wonderful things to eat for the hungry church goers. Maybe, just maybe he could scrounge up a few coins from the cushions of the sofa or under the chairs and bed or from pockets of clothes hanging in the closet.
Ezra looked up at the stars again before he went inside. "Happy Birthday, Baby Jesus," he said as the bells continued to ring.
JD waited looking out the frosted window. It had been snowing all afternoon. He'd slept some waiting for his mom to get home. The owners were having another fancy party. He spotted movement and heard the crunch of her boots as she walked through the snow. Then he could hear her stamp off the snow as she climbed the stairs.
"JD? Lad? I got us all kinds of goodies for our Christmas feast."
Molly came into the small room she shared with her tiny son. Sitting down on the edge of the bed she untied the bundle. "See, boyo, there's all kinds of goodies the rich people left."
JD reached out taking a small soft roll. Chewing he asked, "Tell me the story, Ma, Please?"
Molly leaned back and taking her son in her arms began. "Well now, long ago and far far away a bright star shown...."
Chris lay very still his hand resting gently on the soft mound of Sarah's growing belly. Her face was bathed in star light and he thought again how beautiful she was and how blessed he was. Now there was a baby coming.
"Lord, what did I do to deserve such happiness? A baby. Sarah says it's a boy. A son...My son.. Oh, Sarah, you are my life."
Brown eyes blinked awake and Sarah smiled up at her husband, "What?"
Chris shook his head. "Nothing, I just love you so much."
Sarah reached up and encircled her beautiful husband with her arms and smiling, she said, "I love you too Chris Larabee and don't you ever forget it."
"Never, you'll always to be there to remind me." The blond leaned down and tenderly kissed his wife.
Buck waited until the front doors were locked and the light on the porch was blown out. That meant the work time was over and that they could have their own party. Madam had called it an early night, it being Christmas Eve. Besides there weren't many patrons coming anyway, they were all home with their families.
Buck fingered the home-made wrappings he'd wrapped his gifts in. He made sure he had some little something for each of the girls. They were all so nice to him and he'd worked hard doing odd jobs around town to earn the money for his gifts. He smiled to himself, he liked being nice to the ladies and they all seemed to like being nice to him.
"Madam says you can come into the parlor now. We can have our Christmas now."
"Yes, Ma." Buck stood up in the dark and by star light walked into the well lit parlor to join his mother and the other working girls.
"I'm free, I'm finally free," young Nathan said to himself over and over as he walked down the snow covered lane. He was cold, hungry, and had no money, no friends, but he was North and he was free.
He spotted an older man behind a store wrestling with a large barrel. Hoping for good luck he walked over. "Do you need some help, Sir?"
The man looked up at the shivering boy. "Thank ye, lad. Could you help me get this inside? It's a mite heavy for me."
"Yes, Sir." Nathan dragged the barrel inside.
The store owner had watched the whole time. "Are you hungry, boy?" he asked the teen.
"Yes, sir, I am a bit."
"Come along then, the Misses will fix you a plate. I can't pay for your help but I can feed you."
While Nathan enjoyed a large bowl of hot stew the couple watched. The woman left and then came back. "Joe, look, Mr. Clearly dropped a letter off." She patted and rubbed the crumpled envelope. "I'll find Martha later, she can read it to us. It's from Jason."
Nathan sat up straighter and cleared his throat. "I could read it for you if you'd like."
The man looked at the teen startled. "You can read?"
"Yes, sir, and do figures, too."
"Boy, how'd you like a job? Don't pay much, but you get a place to stay and meals."
Nathan looked at the couple and noticed the starlight shining in through the window. "Thank you, Mama." Aloud he said, "Yes sir, I'd like that."
The stars never change and they shown over countless years reminding all who looked of the special night they had shown their brightest on. Now in the modern world there are still men who battle evil for the weak and helpless. Men who come together and would over the years form an eclectic family. But on this starry night the men went their own way.
Nathan and Rain:
The table was set to perfection, champagne chilled, candles lit and dinner for two waiting. Nathan led the blindfolded Rain to the table. As he took the blindfold off he whispered, "Merry Christmas, beautiful Rain."
Rain's eyes swept the room and she turned and threw her arms around Nathan saying. "You're quite a Santa. When? How?"
Nathan hugged back. "Well, you have to work tomorrow and I'm going out to Chris'. Sooooo I just thought we'd have Christmas tonight just the two of us. I got off early so I could set this up. We need a special night together. After we eat I thought we could sit in front of the big window and watch the stars."
"I do love you, Nathan."
Hugging even tighter, "I love you, too."
Josiah walked down the hospital hall and went in the door the nun was holding open for him. "Thank you, Sister."
He walked slowly toward the crouched figure in the corner of the room. "Hannah? I brought you something. It's a Christmas present."
The small woman looked up and spying the rag doll grabbed it and started rocking and humming. Josiah chatted for a time hoping his sister would answer but she seemed oblivious to him.
"I have to go now, Hannah. I love you."
Hannah looked up. "Did the Star come out tonight, Jo?"
Josiah's heart jumped. "Yeah, it did, all bright shiny."
"Tell me the story. The story about the star."
Sighing Josiah again told the story of the Christmas star as he had all the years he'd taken care of his sister when they were growing up.
Hannah smiled at him, "Thanks, Jo," and then she was gone.
Josiah laid a hand on her head and sighed. Then he left, alone.
Buck straightened his padded belly and his long white beard and walked out into the community room. All the kids were waiting. No one visited the Children's Home on Christmas Eve. People were too busy with their own families to be bothered by the city's cast-off children. He swung the heavy sack onto his back.
"Ho! Ho! Ho! Here I am. Hello, Darlin'" Buck smiled down at the small girl.
"Hi," she answered shyly.
"Come over here and tell ol' Santa all about your self"......
Later Buck was talking to JD as he drove home. The boy was such a worry wart and he was setting off for his big date with Casey. "Yeah, kid. I had me a hot date with a heartbreaker... No you don't know her. Well, she's a little old for you.. .. Her name's ummmm, Katy or Kerry or maybe both. Ol' Buck has so many you know."
JD and Casey with Miss Nettie:
JD stood outside on the porch stamping his feet. He waited for Casey to answer the door bell.
"Hello Miss Nettie."
JD ducked past the older lady looking around.
"She's still getting ready." Nettie smiled trying to keep her stern demeanor. "You be careful now and have my Casey home at a decent hour. I know the Christmas Ball lasts very late but you be careful."
JD started to answer when his mouth dropped open. "Casey..." he squeaked. Before him stood the most beautiful girl/woman he'd ever seen.
"Shut your mouth boy!" Nettie laughed.
Chris and Vin:
It was late and the moon had set. The only light outside was the bright stars lighting the sky like a million Christmas lights. Chris sat on his porch smoking, drink in hand. He didn't even feel the cold. He'd sipped the drink slowly all night forbidding himself to give into the depression that threatened to overwhelm him.
He'd promised himself that this year would be different, that he'd make it through the holidays without the awful sadness taking over his actions. But then he'd felt it coming as he drove home. Everyone had plans for the night. He understood that and they were all coming out tomorrow. All he had to do was get through the night.
Taking another sip his thoughts drifted back again to the beautiful woman and little boy he'd lost and he ached.
He heard the jeep and stood by the steps watching Vin walk toward him.
"What are you doing here?"
With a cocky grin looking up at him Vin said, "Thought I'd come out and keep you company."
"Thought you had something to do?"
"Did. And it's done."
Vin walked up the steps and past his friend. He laid a hand on Chris' shoulder. "Got any more of that? I'm 'bout froze."
Chris turned and led the way inside. "Sure, help yourself."
Vin poured a shot and sat down in the chair closest to the fire. He sighed after the first sip.
"Got anything to eat?"
Chris laughed, really laughed. "Yeah, but it's all for tomorrow."
"There's sandwich fixings you can use, and Vin, thanks."
"No problem, Cowboy."
Ezra sighed as he turned off the phone, shut down his cell and turned on the stereo. He placed the CD of Hendel's Messiah in the changer and dimmed the lights. He had already changed clothes and kicked off his shoes. The agent poured a glass of wine and dimmed the lights.
Sighing, he sat in his favorite chair and watched the fire. Luckily a light breeze was blowing so there were not restrictions on having a real fire. As he sipped he let the tension of the week's work drift away as he enjoyed the music. Tonight's peace would dissipate tomorrow with phone calls from Maude and then he was to meet the others at the ranch. He was looking forward to that, there was always the feeling of family when they got together like that. It somehow made up for the lonely Christmases that had filled his life. He idly wondered what the future would bring. Would they still have this close family feeling he'd come to treasure?
Josiah looked around the large kitchen table. They'd made it, by some miracle they'd all survived. Here they all sat some 40 plus years after Team Seven was founded and their last member had retired last month. JD had even cheated some by staying on as teaching staff for 5 years past retirement. It had turned from professional friendship into family by choice, and then, family by blood, as children and grandchildren mixed and blended until they were one big family.
He looked at the six other men. True they were older, hair was thinner, and it ran from white to silver to salt and pepper, and they were slower especially in the mornings but they were still here.
There were so many kids that Josiah found it hard to keep them all straight. One trick was if they were 'his' he was just Grandpa, if they were others he was 'Grandpa Josiah.' In another twenty years it'd take a genealogist to tell who was truly blood kin to whom.
Because, after the first of the year, Christopher Bucklin Tanner was marrying Rachael Inez Standish, and on top of that, his Rosie's son was making eyes at the Larabee twins. Their father better lock the seventeen-year-olds up or Grandpa Chris just might shoot Vin Sanchez and that would be awful.
A beautiful little girl with long brown curls came running into the kitchen. "Grandpa Josiah? Grandma Del says it's time for..." she scrunched up her face in concentration, "She says, you ol' coots better get out with the rest of the family or she'll set her dogs after ya."
"Alright, sweetie, we'll be in soon."
Happy, her message delivered, she ran back to the others.
"Well, Brothers, it's time to face the throng."
"I beg your pardon, Mr. Sanchez, but my family is not a throng," Ezra harrumphed.
"Ezra, when your son married my daughter 15 years ago I think they started the throng," Vin said as he reached for another cookie.
"Now I know you aren't gonna eat that Vin Tanner." Nathan stared over the tops of his glasses.
"Ah, Nathan, it's Christmas."
"I know, and I promised Dove I'd make sure you didn't eat too many sweets."
Vin stuffed half the cookie in his mouth. " 'M a grown man an' I can eat what I want."
Chris laughed, "Sure you can, Cowboy, as long as Dove isn't around."
"Real brave ain't ya, Lar'bee? Don't see you standing up to Mary much."
Ignoring Vin, Ezra answered Josiah, "Nonsense, six children is not a throng."
Chris snorted, "Well if I had six children I'd be quiet."
"You, sir, are a fraud. Because at last count there were 38 Larabee's running around out there while there are.....ummm, 28 Standishes. Mother would be proud."
"Okay, if this is gonna be a spitting contest," Vin grumbled. "I beat both of you by three."
"Hell, Vin, Buck and Inez outdid us all. They had eleven and every one of them has 4 or 5 kids and still counting," JD grumbled.
"Shut up, JD, you and Casey were right up there with us," Buck answered.
A sixteen-year-old ran in, "Grandpa, Gram says come on you gotta read the story now so's we can eat."
"We're coming, boy, hold your horses. Vin, is Little Rose gonna make it?"
The tracker nodded his head, "We talked to her last night. She said she'd be here no matter what Redhawk said. She wants to introduce Jordan to the families. But his daddy is having second thoughts about bringing him into this crowd when he's only two weeks old."
Nathan nodded, "It's good to see that boy being cautious and taking his responsibility seriously."
"Nate that 'boy' is twenty-seven and he practically stole my baby girl from the cradle," Vin snorted.
"She's twenty-two, Vin," Chris reminded his partner.
"Yeah, Casey was only twenty three when we got married."
Vin glared around the table, "It don't matter, she's still my baby girl and did I, or did I not, name her after your daughter, Josiah?"
"That you did, Brother Vin, and my Rosie was never so proud as the day she was told about her namesake. Uh oh, I see another grandchild headed this way. We'd better go."
The seven men got up slowly and headed out to the solar tent the families set up for the big gatherings. It was the only thing that held all of them. Josiah took the chair of honor while the other's joined their wives.
"Family, once more we have been blessed to be together on this blessed day." Josiah searched the crowd until he spotted the newest member of the family. "We are so happy to say we have grown by one the last couple of weeks. Everyone make a point of saying hello sometime tonight to Little Rosie and Redhawk's brand new baby boy, Jordan Patrick Kojay Apachito. We're really happy you made it girl." Josiah smiled at the shy young woman. Then he opened the Book, his glasses were perched on his nose but he never looked down at the print. His voice just as strong and sure as it always had been. ""And it came to pass in those days....."
Josiah looked over the tops of his glasses as he recited the loved story. Little ones sat at his feet listening. Young mothers and fathers rocked babies, grandmothers and grandfathers held older toddlers. Teens and young adults leaned into each other and he could see another generation coming someday.
"We are truly blessed," each of the seven thought echoing each other.
When Josiah finished Emma Standish, retired lead soprano of the Denver Opera began to sing and was joined by the rest.
"Oh Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining...."
And the stars shone down on the gathering as they always had bathing in light the seven men and their decedents. Smiling, as only stars can, at the legacy of the Magnificent Seven.