A twiglet is an itty bitty crunchy snack, and it's a nickname for small children in my family. For some reason, it just sounded right comin' from Buck.
This story follows on from 2am. It's nearly twelve months later, Rosie Sanchez is just coming up a year old, and mighty precocious with it - if the guys had their way she'd have a University degree by the time she's three.
"Del?" Josiah's baritone voice impinged on her consciousness.
"M - mm "
"Take Rosie for a minute, will ya? Got burgers to turn here - "
"Okay, big guy - "
A solid weight landed in her lap.
Delancey Cowper Morgan Sanchez stretched out in the recliner and peered from beneath the brim of her 'Broncos' baseball cap. She studied her daughter, now sitting placidly on her mother's ribs, azure eyes gazing delightedly about her. Del reached out and gently clasped chubby legs, legs already showing the promise of length and height.
Rosamund Delancey Sanchez was indeed a happy bunny. The clouds of the past two weeks had parted, and the sun was shining - and she wasn't talkin' about the weather. She had wondered about the cuts and bruises on her Daddy's face, and she had been terribly worried because she hadn't seen hide nor hair of her other menfolk.
So here she was, on a sunny summer's day, out on her new deck with her Momma and her menfolk, listening to the rill of the water flowing in the nearby river. The smell of cooking permeated the air, and the sound of her menfolk's voices washed over her like a comforter.
Rosie turned once more to her mother, her azure gaze losing itself in the fathomless grey of her Momma's eyes. Eyes the colour of a stormy sea, eyes that echoed the morning mists of the Missouri hills of her birth. Her Momma's wildness came from her eyes, Rosie knew. She tilted her head slightly to one side, and Del laughed out loud at the familiar gesture.
"Lord, you're getting' too much like that big fool of a man you got for a Daddy "
Rosie giggled. Her Momma hadn't laughed much lately, and the release of tension had brought the warmth and humour back into the angular face.
A pair of strong hands lifted the little girl from her mother's lap and swung her high into the clear summer air.
"Hey, half-pint! What's so funny?"
Through her giggles, Rosie looked down at the youngest of her menfolk as he held her tight, and she marvelled at the sun glinting off the dark, dark hair.
The azure gaze met warm hazel.
She thought she saw green and gold deep in the warm depths, and knew them for the shades of a New England Fall day. Indian summer gazed back at her, framed by dark lashes, endless pools of shadow and light.
J.D. smiled, the light softening the hollows of his eyes, smoothing the worry from his youthful face.
"Good girl. Drives the sonsabitches crazy, 'specially Buck .." The words were whispered conspiratorially.
He lifted her higher and swirled her through the air until she was almost hysterical with laughter, her small body limp with giggling.
"Godalmighty, boy, you carry on doin' that an' she's gonna puke all over you." The deep voice was still raspy with pain.
"No she ain't, Buck, 'cause I'm gonna give her to you." J.D. dropped Rosie down and held her close. The hazel eyes shone with pleasure.
"Go easy on him, Rosie - he's still hurtin'. Silly fool put himself in the way of a bullet meant for me - " J.D.'s whisper caught in his throat at the memory.
Rosie's eyes widened. She turned and looked at Buck draped over one of their new recliners, long body stretched out, easing his wounded chest. J.D. lowered her gently onto Buck's lap, and she sat securely as the big man propped her with a powerful hand.
"Watcha doin' there, twiglet?"
The azure gaze met cobalt blue.
The warmth of crystal-cut sapphires winked back at the child, the deep blue of a great mountain lake. It was a blue to bask in, a blue of such intensity it made her heart leap like a deer. Buck's own big heart was writ large in those eyes, all of his sorrows, pleasures and deep, deep pain showed unfettered in their depths.
Rosie leaned forward and tweaked the dark line of his moustache, smiling at the soft tickle. Buck grinned.
"Don't you worry none, little lady - you an' me'll be dancin' the night away, just as soon as I heal up."
Rosie returned the grin. She so loved to dance with Buck, his big, loose-limbed body whirling her around the cramped living-room of the tiny one-bedroomed ranch house she called home, his booming laughter and large hands wrapping her in a world of pleasure.
Rosie burped. Buck's eyes narrowed suspiciously.
"You ain't gonna puke all over me, now, are you, twiglet?"
Buck had to chuckle at the sudden look of lofty disdain on the child's face.
"Landsakes, Buck, give her to me. Bit of puke never hurt a body, an' I don't know what you're moanin' about - you've spewed your guts up all over the rest of us more'n once - " The exasperation was rife in Nathan's voice.
J.D. lifted Rosie and handed her to Nathan, not wanting the big agent to hurt himself trying to shift the sturdy child. She snuggled into the crook of Nathan's good left arm, perusing the sling holding the injured right limb with a practised eye.
She looked up and caught his eye.
The azure gaze met velvet, liquid brown.
Pools of sweet coolness, yet riven with a passion and fire she could only guess at. Rosie was swallowed by the glow of compassion in the fiery depths. Oftentimes she saw powerful struggles far within, knowing he fought desperately with the realities of this world, knowing - far too frequently - that he was helpless against its more sinister manifestations.
Josiah looked over furtively from the barbecue pit, watching his daughter curl herself up next to his oldest friend.
Nathan was lost in memories, visions of noise and confusion, pain and death. Two dead FBI agents and four other members of his team - his family - hurt, and he could do nothing. All because he hadn't watched what he'd been doing and taken a hit. Damn!!!
He felt a feathery pressure at his side, and he smiled, pleasure suddenly blooming unbidden in his heart.
"Now, pumpkin, are you ticklin' me??"
Rosie chortled, mischief crinkling her round face. Nathan leaned over her and kissed the soft, russet brown curls that were so like her mother's, only a couple of shades lighter. He felt bubbling laughter in his throat, and then it washed out of him like a flood, throwing his head back in a rumbling roar that made Rosie blink.
"Hey, small fry - can I get me some of that ticklin'?"
Rosie turned at the soft voice, and she stretched out arms, waiting to be lifted. Chris reached out awkwardly from his chair and caught the little girl around the waist, lifting her from Nathan's grasp and draping her over his chest. His broken leg was still painin' him, and Rosie was a more than welcome distraction.
The azure gaze met green-gold.
The deep jade of a tangled forest became layers of a hard and hurtful life that shaded Chris' soul. But the gold flickered through like sunlight in the canopy, changing and shifting the shadows that burdened the man's heart. He smiled through the weariness, but Rosie knew he was angry fit to bust.
Chris' gut roiled.
His gaze was drawn back to Rosie's little face.
"What the hell - ?"
Rosie was glaring. She was giving Chris a fair facsimile of the Larabee Glare. Touched and oddly amused, Chris pulled his own face deeper into a scowl, and Rosie mimicked him. He stuck out his tongue. So did Rosie. He crossed his eyes. Rosie's face contorted with effort.
"Gotcha, you little rat - "
"You callin' my girl a rat, Brother Larabee ?" Josiah's voice rumbled with pseudo-menace.
"Damnation, Josiah - she's just too smart for her own good."
"You got it, cowboy." Chris heard the easy smile in Vin's voice. "You needin' this?" Vin held up an unbent wire coathanger. "Cuz if'n ya are, I'll take the pup."
Chris looked back at Rosie Sanchez, now all sweetness and light.
"Swap." Chris handed over the little girl and eagerly grasped the long piece of wire, which he then proceeded to stuff down the cast on his leg. A look of sheer bliss loosened his features as he scratched mightily.
"Whaddya think, pup? Chris looks just like an ol' bull buffalo at the spring moult, only he's more 'ornery."
The azure gaze met sky blue.
Eyes as wild and fresh as a windswept Texas sky turned to the far mountains, the yearning in his heart almost too great to bear. Something disturbed Del's hounds in their runs behind the house, and the eerie bell-like music of their voices set something shifting in Vin's chest. Beau, Del's big one-eyed Plott hound lay nearby, his ears pricking at the sound, then he raised his head to watch the sharpshooter.
Vin's weary heart soared.
Del claimed that although her buckskin gelding shared the same name as the redoubtable Mr Wilmington, her Buck hoss had 'way more sense.
He felt small fingers rifling through his shirt pockets, and he sighed.
"Hold your horses there, pup, I'll get it for ya." He reached deep in his breast pocket and hauled out his harmonica. There was a collective groan.
"Oh joy - I take it you'll be unleashin' that unholy cacophony you call music on our already severely battered little band, Mr Tanner?" The southern tone was unadulterated treacle.
Vin's blue eyes smiled at Rosie, and she smiled back, waiting. The sharpshooter began drawing long, easy breaths through the tarnished instrument, tuneless and soft. Rosie was mesmerised.
The sighing notes eased the worried soul of Vin Tanner, took away the pain and anguish of waiting for his family to heal. His eyes closed.
Rosie turned towards the snort that issued from the soft upholstered chair beside Vin. Ezra could barely be seen beneath the blanket and multitude of pillows supporting his spare frame.
"Miz Rosie, I thought I taught you to have at least a modicum of taste."
She shuffled around and waited for her assistant to move her over to Ezra. J.D. duly obliged and tucked her beside the southerner, perching her neatly between chair and perforated torso. Eyebrows arched at the girl as the undercover agent studied his protégé.
The azure gaze met emerald green.
Warm as a breeze whispering over sultry Georgia cotton fields, dancing full of light like the sun on a still pool, those eyes still carried a wariness, a hidden pain. Rosie's Momma had said once, that Ezra sometimes had the look of a blue-tick hound that'd had the tar whupped out of it once too often. That look haunted those green depths now.
She looked at the bowl of fruit sitting untouched on the table beside him.
She knew when Ezra was hurt or sick, he just pushed his food around the plate. She reached out with her left hand and lifted a grape. She shoved it at Ezra and waited. And waited.
Ezra was not impressed, and went for a low blow.
"Considerin' your advanced years, Miz Rosie, isn't it about time you were walkin' by now?"
Del came roaring to the rescue. Her laconic voice crept out from beneath the baseball cap.
"If you fellas didn't spend all your time playin' Pass The Baby, she'd be well on her way by now. Hell, if you don't stop carryin' her around like a piece of meat she ain't never gonna learn to walk."
Round One to the ladies.
Rosie sat patiently, ignoring the venom dripping from the barbed southern gaze.
Ezra studied the tiny face with renewed wonder. Then he ate the grape. Then another. And another. For ten minutes, Rosie gently fed him grapes, watching the pain-lined face slowly relax and slide into peaceful acceptance of his fate.
J.D. came to stand beside Josiah, watching as young Rosie Sanchez handled the touchy southerner like a trouper.
"Damn, Josiah - she's good."
"She's her Daddy's girl, J.D. Can't help but say she had a good teacher."
"Is that the sin of Pride I see peekin' out there, Josiah?" J.D. grinned. He reached out and took the spatula from Josiah's hand. "Go spend some time with your girl. I'll take care of this for a while."
Josiah looked at the young man, seeing a wisdom 'way beyond the boy's years. Shaking his head, he wandered over and lifted his daughter.
"Goin' down to the river for a walk. Won't be long."
He ambled down to the bank, Rosie sitting comfortably in the crook of his arm, then he settled himself on a huge flat rock that lay lapped by cool water. Lifting his cut and bruised face to the sun, he closed his eyes, drinking in the warmth. He felt a small hand stroke the tag of beard under his lip, and heard a soft laugh. Opening his eyes he looked at his daughter.
Azure met azure.
And there was all the warmth and soul she knew so well, the deep, endless blue of southern oceans and far-off lands. This was the blue of knowledge, of total love, of boundless heart.
"You did just fine, Rosie girl, just fine. I couldn't do it 'cause I was hurtin' too. But I'm okay now."
"I know you can, darlin', I seen you. You just like bein' lugged around like a spare part. Chris is right - you're nothin' but a rat - "
Rosie's intended huff dwindled to nothing as ribald laughter erupted from the deck.
Cow jokes. Goddamn cow jokes. Josiah snorted.
A multitude of indignant voices drifted in the summer breeze.
"Don't you start makin' me laugh, kid. You make me bust these stitches an' I'll let Del whomp you - "
"Awww, Buck, don't be such a wuz. You are so full of crap "
"Mr Wilmington does have a point - those jokes are not merely bad, they're downright desperate - "
A harmonica wheezed like a broken-winded mule.
"Jeez, Vin, that thing needs puttin' out of its misery - " Nathan's voice was pained.
"Chris, stop feedin' my damn dog crackers - they make him stink worse'n a polecat. You do that an' you're takin' him home with you tonight - "
well. Back to normal - whatever the hell 'normal' means
Feedback welcome at MASKS2003@hotmail.com