Disclaimer: I don't own any of the Mag 7 boys, although I'd sure have some fun if'n I did. I'm just borrowing them for a while, and I'll bring them back in basically the same condition in which I found them. I'm also not making any money off of this, even if that would be pretty cool.
In the weeks since Isabel's sudden appearance, life had slowly returned to what passed for normal in Four Corners. Her new openness still caught people by surprise, but they were quickly getting used to it. The only person who seemed unable to deal with Isabel was Chris Larabee.
It was this that sent Isabel to the rooftops at night, which is where Vin found her. He sat down next to her and she leaned into him when he slid an arm around her narrow shoulders. "Why ya hidin' up here, Is? The boys are all down in the saloon playin' poker."
Isabel smiled sadly. "That is precisely why I am up here. Since Chris can no longer tolerate my company, I have chosen to remove myself from his presence."
Vin stared at her for a moment, then smiled in satisfaction. "You got feelings for him, don't ya?"
She chuckled dryly. "Am I that transparent, Vin? It is no wonder that Chris shuns me. He must have been most irritated to discover that an untrustworthy, formerly male, gambler had feelings for him."
Vin just shook his head. "That ain't it, Is. Chris has been avoidin' ya cause he's got feelings for you too." Then he blushed. "And I think he thinks we're interested in each other."
Isabel burst into peals of laughter. "I am sorry, Vin, but being with you would be like being with my brother." She sighed. "Is that really the only problem that Chris has with me?"
Vin was silent for a moment, trying to find the right words. "Even after all this, he still thinks of you as Ezra. And that's sort of scarin' him. He doesn't really see you as a woman."
"I can certainly see how that might cause a problem." She frowned, biting her lower lip. Then her eyes lit up and her lips rose in a sly smile. "If that is the problem, then I must simply prove to Chris that I am Isabel and that Isabel is all woman." She turned to Vin. "May I count on your support?"
Vin matched her smile. "Course you can, Is. What are brothers for? Besides, it sounds like fun. But, what are ya gonna do?"
Isabel wrapped her arms around her knees and continued to bite her lower lip. "I'm not entirely sure, Vin. I haven't really been thinking of myself as a woman, either. Do you think that Buck would be willing to help me?"
He grinned. "You know ol' Bucklin would do anything you asked him to. You got him wrapped around your little finger, Is." He glanced down to the boardwalk when he heard Chris leaving the saloon. "What do you say we go on down there and ask him? Maybe the others'd have some good ideas, too."
She nodded. "I think I am going to need all the help I can get. Mr. Larabee had better watch out."
The next morning found three of the seven peacekeepers barricaded in Isabel's room. She was wearing a dark green dress and Buck was attempting to pin her hair up. Isabel glanced at him in the mirror and sighed. She pulled away and reached up, running her hands through her tangled hair.
"Buck, perhaps you should get a woman to do this. I believe that your talents lie in another area."
Vin nodded in agreement. "She's got a point, Bucklin. Men weren't meant to mess with a woman's hair."
Buck stepped back and looked at Isabel, then nodded in defeat. "Looks like you're right, Is." He suddenly grinned. "How about I go get Inez to take care of this little problem?"
"That might be a good idea, Buck." Vin smirked. "You keep it up, and poor Is will wind up with no hair left. Wouldn't that be a shame?"
Buck was already half way out the door when he turned back to Vin. "You keep talkin' like that, pard, and I just might get ahold of your hair next." With a laugh, he ducked out the door right before the book Vin threw hit the wall where his head had been.
It was only a few minutes before Buck returned with Inez. She smiled at Isabel as she stood behind her chair and began to brush her hair. "Do not worry, senorita. Senor Larabee will come to his senses. And if he does not, then he does not deserve you."
Isabel smiled at Inez in the mirror. "Thank you, Inez. I do hope that you are correct. I would truly hate to go through all of this for nothing. I simply do not see how women manage to do this to themselves every day." She tugged on her dress, trying to pull it into a more comfortable position.
Inez just smiled as she finished with Isabel's hair. "You will get used to it, senorita." She put the final pin in Isabel's hair and stepped back. "You look beautiful, senorita. Senor Larabee will not know what hit him."
Isabel smiled as the others nodded in agreement. She stood, smoothed her skirt, and squared her shoulders. "Well then, gentlemen, let us go and find Chris. He is still in the jail with JD, is he not?"
Buck nodded. "Yeah, but I don't know if they're both still in one piece. Chris was a mite twitchy this morning."
Vin smiled. "We'd better go rescue JD then. You ready, Is?"
"I am as ready as I will ever be, Vin. Let us go find Chris before I loose my nerve."
The three peacekeepers made their way to the jail, refusing to stop and allow the townspeople to gawk at the sight of Isabel in a dress. As they reached the jail, Vin and Buck stepped in front of Isabel, hiding her from the occupants of the jail. JD and Chris both looked up as they entered, JD with a relieved smile and Chris with a dark frown.
"I know something's up and someone had better tell me what it is before I lose my temper." The gunslinger's voice was soft, but his eyes were flashing.
Vin and Buck just grinned, then stepped to the side of the doorway, bracketing Isabel. Their grins widened as Chris's jaw dropped. Isabel just smiled sweetly and clasped her hands behind her back.
"Chris, are you all right? You look a little flushed." Her voice was light and teasing and her green eyes were sparkling.
Chris snapped his mouth shut and glared daggers at Vin and Buck. Both men tipped their hats to him and strode out of the jail with JD close on their heels. When Chris turned back to Isabel, his eyes softened and his lips almost involuntarily twitched up into a smile. "I didn't think you had it in you, Is."
She moved forward until she was only about a foot from Chris. She reached out and ran her fingers along the edge of his black duster, then smiled up at him. "I know you didn't. To be perfectly honest, I wasn't certain that I did, either. However, the more I thought about it, the more certain I became that it was worth the risk."
Chris gently cupped her cheek, smiling when she turned her face into his hand. "Are you really sure about this?"
Isabel pressed her hand against his, holding it to her cheek. "Yes, Chris. This is what I want. When I first met you as Ezra, I respected you. All evidence to the contrary, I quickly grew to like you." She smiled. "Isabel has loved you almost from the moment she appeared. It has just taken me this long to realize it."
Chris chuckled. "The respect took a little longer for me, but I've liked Ezra for a long time now. And I've loved Isabel for as long as I've known her. It sounds like we make quite a pair." He gently pulled her closer, then bent his head for their first kiss.
Chris had just lowered his head toward Isabel's lips when they heard gunshots outside the jail. He shoved Isabel protectively behind him as four men burst through the the doors, each of them holding a smoking pistol.
The biggest one leered as he caught a glimpse of Isabel's skirt and aimed his gun straight at Chris's forehead. "Move away from the woman or I put a hole in your head."
Chris's eyes narrowed into an icy glare and he started to move forward. He stopped when he felt Isabel's hand on his arm, holding him back. He turned his head to glance back at her and his glare hardened when he saw the slight smile on her lips. The hand that wasn't on his arm was reaching toward her raised ankle where Chris caught a glimpse of the small derringer. He shook his head, but Isabel just pushed past him, her green eyes wide and her lower lip trembling.
"Please, don't hurt him." Isabel's right hand was hidden behind her back, clutching the derringer. Three of the men fanned out around the jail while the leader stalked closer to Isabel. He grabbed her left arm and pulled her against his chest. He holstered his gun and reached up to caress her cheek.
The instant his gun was lowered, Isabel reacted. She pulled away from him as she struck him across the head with the butt of the derringer. When he dropped to the floor, Isabel fired at the man standing behind him. Before the other two could react, Chris has his pistol out and aimed at them. Buck and JD rushed into the jail, coming to a sudden stop when they found themselves facing the business end of Isabel's derringer.
"Easy, Is, it's just us." Buck waited until Isabel had lowered the gun before stepping around her and facing Chris. "What happened, pard?"
"Don't rightly know." He pointed to the two conscious men with his pistol. "You might ask them, though. I am going to have a little talk with Isabel." He shoved his gun back in the holster and grabbed Isabel's wrist, dragging her out the door and into the street. When he finally stopped, he gripped her arms and shook her. "What the hell did you think you were doing?"
Isabel was silent for a moment as she glared at Chris. "I thought that I was keeping you from getting shot. Perhaps I should have just let him kill you instead." When Chris started to speak, she shook her head. "No, you can't excuse your way out of this. I did what any of our compatriots would have done. I may be a woman, but I am still one of the seven, unless that has been taken from me as well."
Chris flinched as she pulled away from him and turned toward the saloon. "Is, that's not what I meant."
She stopped walking and turned back to him with a defeated expression on her face. "On the contrary, Mr. Larabee. That is exactly what you meant."
Chris frowned at the formal title that he hadn't heard from Isabel in weeks. "Please, Is, let me explain."
She shook her head. "Your actions spoke remarkably eloquently for you, Chris. If you do not think that I am able to continue my duties here, then perhaps I should just make myself useful elsewhere."
Chris closed the distance between them. He tried to caress Isabel's cheek, but she pulled away. "Please give me a chance, Is. It's been a long time since I've cared for anyone this much and I'm not used to it anymore. Just give me some time, please."
Isabel sighed, but nodded. "All right, Chris. And I do realize that this is difficult for you, but it is not easy for me, either. There will always be bits of the old Ezra coming to the surface and you, and the others, will simply have to accept that." She finally looked up into his eyes. "However, if you try to protect me again, I will be forced to show you just how little protection I need."
While Chris stood there silent, Isabel stretched up and pressed a kiss to Chris's lips. Then she smiled and strode purposefully toward the saloon, leaving a startled Chris standing in the middle of the street.
That night, Isabel was back on the roof of the saloon. She was once again dressed in pants with her emerald jacket and had her arms wrapped around her knees. She had been sitting there for nearly an hour when she heard someone climbing up behind her. Her lips tilted up in a small smile as Vin sat next to her.
"Vin, what brings you up here at this time of night?"
He squeezed her shoulder. "I was worried about ya, Is. I heard what happened with you and Chris, and thought you could use a friendly ear."
Isabel sighed and leaned against Vin. "Everything is happening so fast. I just don't know what to do. Unfortunately, neither does Chris."
Vin tightened his arm around her and tilted her head to lean on his shoulder. "Maybe you need to get out of town for a while. It might give ya a chance to clear your head."
Isabel broke into a smile and turned to kiss a surprised Vin on the cheek. "That sounds perfect. A couple of weeks away from Four Corners, just being myself, sounds heavenly. Would you care to accompany me, since it would be most inappropriate for a single woman to be traveling around by herself."
He grinned. "I was actually just thinkin' that I was feelin' a little cooped up here. Besides, somebody's gotta go and keep an eye on you for Chris."
She crossed her arms and glared at Vin, although there was no real heat in her eyes. "Did Chris put you up to this?"
Vin chuckled. "You think ol' Chris would actually ask me to do this? We'll be lucky if we can talk him into it."
Isabel suddenly sprang to her feet, pulling Vin up with her. "Well then, let's not waste anymore time. I believe that he is still on watch at the jail. Perhaps we can catch him in an accommodating mood."
Vin laughed as they climbed down from the roof and headed for the jail. "Chris has never been in an 'accommodating' mood in his life, Is. Why should he start now?"
Isabel just smiled serenely. "Don't worry, Vin. Leave Chris to me."
Vin shook his head in defeat as they neared the jail. "Sorry, Is, but that don't make me feel much better."
When they reached the door, Isabel placed a hand on Vin's chest, stopping him from opening the door. "Vin, please allow me to deal with this on my own. If I need your assistance, I will call for you." She smiled smugly. "If this goes the way that I believe it will, you will not want to be there."
Vin blushed, quickly realizing what she meant. "Sound like a good idea to me. Good luck, Is."
"Thank you, Vin. Hopefully, I will not need it." Isabel took a deep breath, then slowly pushed open the door to the jail. Chris was sitting back in the chair with his booted feet propped up on the desk. He looked up and smiled when he saw Isabel.
"What can I do for you, Is?"
She walked over to the desk, pushed Chris's feet off and sat on the corner. "I need to leave Four Corners for a couple of weeks. So much has happened, and I really need to go and clear my head." She placed a finger against his lips as he started to protest. "I need to do this, Chris. I can't do anything until I get it all straightened out in my head."
Chris sighed, then pulled Isabel off of the desk and onto his lap. She immediately snuggled into his arms, sliding her head under his chin. "You've got this whole thing planned out, don't you? Right down to this." When he felt her nod, he smiled. "All right, I understand. Just take someone with you, please. For my peace of mind if nothing else."
Isabel burrowed more firmly into Chris's embrace. "I had already planned on having Vin accompany me, and he has already agreed. Everything has been taken care of."
Chris tightened his arms and kissed her hair. "Just be careful. And try not to get into too much trouble."
She smiled innocently up at him. "Why, Chris, when have you ever known me to get into trouble?" When he frowned at her, Isabel reached up and kissed him gently on the lips. "Everything will be fine, Chris. Trust me."
Continues in Bewildered