Magnificent Seven Old West
Ezra's Wife

by Kay

Prologue - 5 years previously

Agatha could feel the horse under her dance skittishly as Briarville's sheriff roughly jerked the noose over her head. The rope scraped the delicate skin of her neck as he tightened it. The sheriff turned to the crowd after making sure her hands were securely tied behind her back.

"Agatha Lea, you have been convicted of robbery and murder and sentenced to hang. Got any last words?"

"I didn't do it! If you would just find the gambler man, he'd tell you I was with him when it happened!"

"Now, don't start that business again! We couldn't find him and if he existed, he'd a come forward during the trial." The crowd was starting to shift around impatiently, upset at the delay of their entertainment.

"You didn't even try to find him! And that sham trial was over so quick he wouldn't have had a chance to help me!"

"It was over so quick 'cause you're guilty as sin, girl! Now, enough of this! Let's get on with it." He raised his hand to hit the horse she was sitting on and send her to meet her maker. His hand never connected with the horse. Instead, he screamed in pain as a bullet passed through it. The crowd parted like the Red Sea to reveal the man who'd just shot the sheriff. Before them stood a fancy dressed, green-eyed man holding a tiny gun.

"Now, if I understand the situation correctly, you are about to hang this young woman for murder. I can tell you with absolute certainty that this girl was with me when the bank robbery took place."

The crowd backed away further as the gambler man approached the sheriff.

"Sir, I suggest you let her down."

"Can't." The sheriff gasped out, more interested in his injury than what the man had to say.

"Excuse me?"

"Can't let her go. She's been fairly convicted by a jury in a trial."

"Fairly? You made absolutely no attempt to ascertain the whereabouts of a witness who could clear her name and you say she was fairly convicted?"

"Ain't nothing I can do about it. She's gotta hang."

"You can't hang me! I didn't do it, he just said so!"

"Well, I'm right sorry about it, girl, but the law's the law." The sheriff stared uncomfortably at the ground for a moment then jerked his head up, "Wait! Hey, where's Virgil?"

"And why, pray tell, do we need Virgil?"

"Virgil's the town clerk. He keeps the town records and such." Virgil was produced and brought to the sheriff. "Virgil, is that marryin' clause still on the books?"

"Yep. Never been used, but it's there."

"Marrying clause?"

"Well, in cases where women were being hanged, the town fathers felt bad about it. Didn't seem right, hanging a woman, so they put this law down that if somebody'd marry her, well then, she didn't have to hang."

"Where's the preacher? We'll hitch these two and that'll be that!"

"Wait a moment, sir! You want me to enter into matrimony with this woman?"

"Well, none of them are going to do it." he motioned to the crowd.

They were angrily talking amongst themselves. "They don't care whether she did it or not. They want to someone to blame and punish for killin' four of their kinfolks and she's as good as anybody."

"Why can't you marry her?"

"Already got me a wife. She'd kill me if'n I brought home another one."

The gambler walked over to Agatha, laying his hand on her leg. He looked up into her pleading, bottomless, brown eyes and sighed in resignation, "Do you want to go through with this?"


JD watched the stage roll in from his seat on the porch of the jail. The stage driver jumped down and opened the door. He helped a young woman out. She was just about the prettiest thing JD had ever seen. She wore a light blue dress with matching hat. Her long dark brown hair was held back in a braid. Two big, brown eyes took up much of her delicate face. She looked fragile and breakable to JD, she was too thin and too pale.

He scrambled out of his chair and hurried over to see if he could be of some help, "Excuse me, ma'am. I'm Sheriff Dunne." He thrust out his hand.

She accepted it and shook his hand, "I'm Agatha."

"Can I help you with your luggage? Take it to the hotel or wherever you're stayin'?"

"No, thank you. Actually, I'm looking for my husband. Is there someplace it can be put until I find him?"

"I'll put your luggage in the jail. Nobody'll bother it there. Do you know where your husband is?"

"I can imagine."

JD directed the stage driver to carry the luggage to the jail. When he turned back to Agatha, she was already walking away. Toward the saloon.

"Miss Agatha, wait!" She paused at the swinging doors. He caught up with her and put himself between her and the entrance, "You can't go in there! It's not a fit place for a lady."

"But that's where my husband will be."

"Why don't you wait out here and I'll go in and get him."

"Because you don't know who my husband is." With that she stepped around him and entered the dimly lit saloon, JD right behind her. Even before her eyes had adjusted to the dark she knew everyone who had seen her enter the room was staring. She allowed her eyes to drift over the occupants of the room. They settled on the one man who looked out of place. He was wrapped up in a poker game and his back was turned, but she knew it was him. The elegant, maculate clothing and the way he carried himself gave him away. She made her way toward him, ignoring the gawking men as she stepped around them. She stopped behind him and laid her hand on his shoulder.


He slowly laid his cards down and swiveled around to look at her.

"Agatha?" he whispered. She smiled uncertainly, "Aggy!" he let out an amazed laugh, jumped up, grabbed her, and spun her around in a hug.

Six men looked at the couple and each other in complete bewilderment. Then JD burst out, "That's your husband?!"

Ezra had ignored the questioning looks and hurried Agatha out of the saloon. He had her luggage collected and taken to the hotel where he got her a room. He left six very curious men behind.

"Ezra's married?" Buck finally choked out.

"Did he mention being married to any of you?"

"Why'd he keep it a secret?" JD asked.

All eyes came to rest on their leader. He sighed, downed the rest of his drink, and stood, "Reckon we oughta go find out before y'all explode from curiosity."

Ezra led Agatha up to her room. "I'm sorry it's not more hospitable, but it is the best our small hamlet has to offer."

"It's fine. I've stayed in far worse."

There was a long awkward pause. Finally, Ezra looked at Agatha with wide, vulnerable eyes, "Aggy, why...." A knock interrupted. Ezra grinned, "That would be my esteemed colleagues. They held out longer that I expected." He opened the door, "Is there something I can do for you, gentlemen?"

"Ezra. Mrs. Standish," Buck tipped his hat at Agatha. "Sorry to interrupt, ma'am, but....well, we never knew Ezra was married."

Agatha smiled, "I'm not surprised. We married under less than ideal circumstances." She looked at each one of them, taking their measures, "Gentlemen, I have spent all day in a stuffy, dusty stage. If we can sit outside, I'll gladly tell you all about it."

Ezra came to stand behind her and laid his hand on her shoulder, "Aggy, please don't feel obligated to tell them anything you don't want to."

She reached up and patted his hand, "Really, it's all right. They're your friends and I want to."

Fifteen minutes later, Agatha was comfortably installed on the porch of the jail with seven handsome men sitting around her. Casey Wells and Mary Travis also joined the group.

"It happened five years ago, in Briarville, Tennessee. I'd been on my own for years and had survived by picking pockets. And I must say, Ezra has very attractive pockets. But even my nimble fingers couldn't get past him. He caught me, but instead of turning me over to the sheriff, he took me back to his room and fed me. At the same time this was going on, the Briarville bank was being robbed and four citizens murdered and I as the first stranger they came across and fitting the description of the woman in the group was accused of the crime. So, poor Ezra ended up having to marry a half-starved, fifteen year old who still had a noose around her neck." She finished with a laugh.

"Well see, Ezra, I always knew you were a good guy," Buck grinned at him.

"Really, Mr. Wilmington, it had absolutely nothing to do with being a 'good guy'."

"Uh huh. Sure." Soon everyone but Vin was good naturedly harassing Ezra. Vin was quietly watching Agatha who had begun to cough. She tried to hid it, but he caught a glimpse of her handkerchief before she managed to get it out of sight. It was speckled with blood.

Ezra noticed her coughing, "Are you all right, Aggy?"

"I'm getting over a cold is all. I'll be fine."

"Are you sure? Mr. Jackson could take a look..."

"No." she interrupted sharply. "Really, Ezra, I'm fine. I am a little tired, though. It's been a long day."

"Of course, how remise of me. Gentlemen, if you'll excuse us."

Ezra and Agatha were followed by a chorus of 'goodnights' as they made their way to the hotel. Late that night, Ezra sat reclining in a dark corner of the saloon, absentmindedly shuffling a deck of cards. Vin could tell his mind was miles and years away. He grabbed the chair across from Ezra, turned it around, and sat down. He wasn't sure if Ezra had even noticed him.

"You're in love with her."

That got his attention. His chair crashed forward and his cards scattered all over the table.


Vin just shrugged, "I watched you watching her. It was obvious."

"Do the others...Did Agatha...Was it obvious to everyone?"

"Maybe Chris. None of the others, though."

Ezra sat back in his chair. Both men were quiet for several long minutes. Then, to Vin's surprise, Ezra began to talk. "She was just a child. I couldn't tell her." He looked at Vin with a sad smile on his face, "I kept her with me for a year, you know. She traveled with me everywhere. When I realized that....I had those kind of feelings for her, I knew she couldn't remain with me any longer. I didn't reveal my feelings to her because she was too young to deal with it. So, I obtained a small residence for her in a little town." He smiled again, this time not quiet so sad, "She was so excited to have a real home of her own. She'd never had one, not even when her parents were still among the living. I've sent her money during the last four years and she writes me letters, but I've never gone to see her. I couldn't. I had to let her grow up and make her own choices."

Vin found Agatha in the livery, coughing. He had gone to her hotel room, but it had been empty. It hadn't taken long to find her. The coughing was a give away.

"It's consumption, isn't it?"

She spun around, startled. She looked ready to deny it, but then nodded her head defeatedly. "Tuberculosis, yes." She paused to wipe some blood off her lips. "The doctors said to go someplace warm and dry, so here I am."

"Ezra know?"

"No. I ....I couldn't tell him."

"He loves you."

"I know. I've known for a long time." She noticed his startled glance and smiled, "He told you about buying me a house and why?" Vin nodded. "I was young, not stupid or blind. He was going to make me stay there even if I told him I loved him, so I decided to make it easy for him and pretended to be thrilled. Even though my heart was breaking."

"You have to tell him. That you're dyin'."

"I can't. Oh, Vin, it'll be so hard for him."

"He has to know before he falls for you all over again." He turned away and started out of the stable. Before he was gone he turned and quietly said, "If you don't tell him, I will."

In the morning, Agatha got dressed while mentally preparing herself to talk to Ezra. She just didn't know how to tell him. He was going to be upset no matter what, but if he did still love her, he'd be crushed. Maybe it had been a bad idea to come here. But when she'd found out she was sick all she could think of was seeing Ezra again. She'd never loved anybody else. She needed to tell him that, like she'd wanted to all those years ago. She finished buttoning her dress. It was too big. She had been losing weight for a couple of months now. The doctor had said it was to be expected. She was also either hectically flushed from fever or very pale. This morning it was pale so she dusted her cheeks lightly with rouge, hoping to hide it.

Once her hair was braided, she went in search of breakfast. Outside she ran into Mary Travis who invited Agatha to join her and Billy for breakfast. She agreed, knowing it was far to early for Ezra to be awake.

By one o'clock, Agatha was tired of waiting. She headed to Ezra's room. She knocked but got no answer. Knowing she'd lose her nerve to tell him if she didn't do it soon, she pushed open the door and walked in. It looked like a tornado had gone through it. Two small tables had been knocked over, scattering their contents all over the floor. His clothes made a trail from the door to his bed. She stooped to pick them up as she went. First his red coat, then his hat, then his shirt, and finally his boots and socks. His guns were laying in an untidy pile half under the bed. Ezra himself lay diagonally across the bed, feet dangling over the edge. He was wearing only his pants, laying on his stomach, snoring lightly. He reeked of alcohol.

Agatha knew how hard it was to wake him when he was hungover, so she didn't even try to do it nicely. She picked up a pitcher, full of cold water, from the night stand that hadn't gotten knocked over. She turned it upside down over his head. He sat straight up, coughing and sputtering. Then he grabbed his head and flopped back down with a drawn out groan.

"Ezra, get up."

"Agatha, must you shout? The pain in my head is excruciating."

"I'm not shouting." She replaced the now empty pitcher and stood over him with her hands on her hips. "And besides, you deserve that headache after getting drunk on my first night here. I don't feel sorry for you, you know what happens when you drink too much."

"Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time," he muttered as he grabbed his down pillow and pulled it over his head. Agatha snatched it and flung it across the room.

"Ezra, be in the livery in half an hour." She turned and walked out, slamming the door behind her with a small smile on her face.

When Ezra arrived at the livery, Agatha already had Chaucer saddled for him. She was waiting for him, astride her mount. He did a double take at the horse.

"That's Peso."

"I know."

"Vin permitted you to borrow his horse?"

She shrugged, "I told him it was important."

Ezra looked at her, amazed. Vin was very attached to that horse and rarely let others ride him. It must definitely be important. "Well, Mrs. Standish, where are we of to this fine afternoon?"

"You decide."

Ezra hadn't spent much time exploring the area. That kind of occupation interested Vin and Chris. Ezra couldn't really have cared less about the local terra firma. His interests lay in other areas. But, he did know of a spot Agatha would like. He had stumble upon it by accident and hadn't given it a second thought until now. He headed them toward it.

Agatha dismounted and turned to drink in the beauty of the land. Surrounded by trees with a small creek flowing through it, the area was flat with green, green grass. The sky was clear and made the water sparkle. Blue wild flowers grew in clumps near the water.

"Oh, Ezra," she breathed, "it's beautiful."

Ezra grinned, elated that he had brought her pleasure. As he had gotten drunk last night, he had tried to think of ways to get her to stay with him. Maybe now was the time to ask.

"Agatha...there's something I need to...want to say..."

She stepped close to him and laid her finger across his lips, "Ezra, shh...I brought you here so I could talk. Now, get the blanket I brought and spread it out. Then sit with me."

Ezra smiled and playfully saluted, "Yes, ma'am." He did as she instructed and then settled down beside her. "Agatha...."

She quickly put her hand over his mouth. "No, Ezra. I have to go first." She started to go on but was overtaken by a coughing jag. She quickly covered her mouth with her handkerchief. Ezra looked on, concerned. He rubbed her back until she was finished.

"Agatha, are you okay? Maybe we should return to town."

"No. It's all right. That's actually what I wanted to talk to you about." She took both of his hands in hers and looked into his eyes, "Ezra, I love you. I have for a long time. No, let me finish. There's something else you need to know. I'm sick, Ezra. The doctors say I have consumption." Her eyes filled with tears and her voice cracked, "I'm dying."

He seemed to age ten years right there in front of her. He got very pale and his eyes fell on the blood speckled handkerchief she held in her lap. He shook his head desperately, "No..."

And then he was gone. So fast she couldn't stop him. He jumped up and ran to his horse. He mounted and took off at break-neck speed.

"Ezra!" Agatha shouted after him. She stood there and watched his rapidly departing figure. She whispered, "Ezra" and let the tears fall.

By nine o'clock that evening, Ezra still had not returned to town. Agatha had come back soon after he had left her. The other six were all curious as to why she had come back alone but the sad, haunted look in her eyes kept them from asking. Agatha spent the day in her hotel room working herself up into a frenzy of worry. What if he didn't come back? What if he got hurt riding so fast? What if he was laying out there dead or dying somewhere and she didn't know it? She knew he needed time to think, but he had been gone for almost eight hours. Finally, she just couldn't stand it anymore and went to find someone to go after him.

She pushed open the swinging doors and made her way to the table where Chris, Vin, Josiah, and Nathan sat.

"He back yet?" Vin asked as she approached.

"No." She turned her pleading, red-rimmed eyes on him, "Please, you've got to go find him."

Chris broke in, "Might help if we knew why he didn't come back."

Vin looked at Agatha, "You want to tell it or should I?"

"I'll do it. But get Buck and JD, so I only have to do this once."

Chris motioned to Buck and JD, who were at the bar, to join them. Once everyone was situated, Agatha told them what she had had to tell Ezra.

"About six months ago a doctor diagnosed me with consumption. He said I'd live longer in a warm, dry climate. So I came here. To Ezra, because I love him."

"He in love with you?" Chris asked.

"Yes, I....I think so. I told him about the consumption today. He just rode off." She looked at each of them, her eyes filled with tears, "You have to go find him. I don't know where he'll go or what he'll do. Somebody has to go get him. Please."

Everyone was silent for a moment, each lost in there own thoughts. Vin spoke up, "I'll go. It was my idea that Agatha tell him." He started to stand up.

Chris stopped him, "No. I'll go. He tossed back the remainder of his drink, then rose and left.

Picking up Ezra's trail wasn't hard. Chris began at the spot that Agatha had described as where she and Ezra had talked. When Ezra had taken off, hiding his tracks had been the furthest thing from his mind, so his path was clearly visible. He followed and found Ezra about an hour away at a hard ride. Chaucer was tethered to a tree, happily munching grass. Ezra sat several feet away, leaning against a tree in a pool of moonlight. Chris wasn't sure if Ezra even noticed his presence. He just continued to sit there, resting his arms on his up-drawn knees.

"You got Agatha mighty worried about you."

"I am sorry if I have caused her distress," Ezra replied without looking up. "I thought a more solitary environment would assist in my contemplation of Agatha's announcement."

Chris lowered himself to sit on the ground nearby. Both men were quiet for long minutes, wrapped up in their own thoughts. It was Chris who finally broke the silence, "You know, I can't remember if I told Sarah that I loved her the last time I saw her." Ezra looked up and their eyes locked. "I'd give just about anything to go back and make sure I told her that I loved her."

"Mr. Larabee..."

"No, Ezra, you listen here. You got a chance at something I'd give my right arm to go back and experience again. I don't want to sit around and watch you waste it." His eyes got a far away look, like he was someplace else, "There are lots of things I can't remember about Sarah and our last day. What dress she was wearing. What we had for dinner. Her face is getting blurred and sometimes I can't remember quiet watch she looked like. I wonder if I made her as happy as I could have," he paused and looked straight at Ezra again, "Yes, Agatha is dying. But you got the chance to cherish whatever time she's got left 'cause you know it ain't long. You can make sure you'll remember her dress and what she fixed ya for supper. You can make sure she's happy and that you tell her you love her everyday. Because you'll know just how precious the time you have with her is. From where I sit, you're a lucky man, Ezra."

"I...I can't. I'm just not strong enough to go through losing her all over again. It almost killed me the first time. But I survived because there was always hope we could be together. This time, I won't have that."

"It'll be hard. It'll be the hardest thing you've ever had to do." Chris sighed and looked uncomfortable, "I may not like you all that much as a person, Ezra, but I do believe you're on your way to being a good person. That takes a lot of strength. Mending you ways isn't easy, but you're doing it. I think you're stronger than you give yourself credit for."

With that, he got up, mounted his horse and rode off. Ezra remained only a minute longer. He slowly stood and walked over to his horse. He mounted up and headed for town.

After Chris left, the remaining of the seven convinced Agatha to go to bed. She wanted to refuse but Nathan warned her that worrying and lack of sleep was bad for her health and rest was the best thing for her. He promised to bring her some herb tea in the morning that would help alleviate her cough. So, she did as they suggested and retired to her bed but sleep eluded her. Her thoughts kept turning to Ezra. Where was he? Was he okay? When he came back would it be to tell her to leave? It took a long time before she finally fell into an uneasy, restless sleep.

Ezra slipped into her room a little while later. He lowered himself into a chair next to her bed. He watched the gentle rise and fall of her breasts as she breathed. He just sat there for hours, until dawn, watching her sleep. Agatha awoke just as the sun began to rise. She sat up and looked out the window. It took her a moment to notice the man sitting in the shadows beside her bed.

"Ezra? Oh, Ezra!" She jerked the covers off and jumped out of bed. She flung herself into his arms. He pulled her into his lap, wrapped his arms around her, and buried his face in the curve of her neck.

"Aggy." He hugged her tighter, "I'm sorry. It was unforgivable of me to alarm you the way I did."

"No. Don't be sorry. You needed time to think."

He shifted her so she was curled up on his lap with her head resting on his shoulder. "I would most likely still be out there if it were not for Mr. Larabee. He brought me to the realization that I desire to be with you for as long as time permits." His hand tenderly cupped her face and looked into her chocolate eyes, "I want you to spend whatever time you have remaining with me."

"Are you sure? Ezra, I don't want to hurt you." A tear trickled down her cheek, "And dying will hurt you."

"I love you Agatha." He smiled sadly as he wiped her tear away,

"Yes, I'll be wounded, but it'll be worth it."

"You amaze me. Your strength. I love you, Ezra."

They sat together, curled up in the chair and watched the sun come up. Agatha fell asleep and Ezra carried her to bed where he tenderly tucked her in. He stared down at her for a moment before he took his leave. He walked through the town quickly and with purpose. He had much to accomplish in a short amount of time.

Agatha awoke hours later when she felt small drops of water splash on her face. She opened her eyes and found Ezra standing over her, water pitcher in hand. He was grinning as he allowed individual drops to fall on her.

"Feeling refreshed?"

"Yes, much. What time is it?" she asked as she struggled to sit up.

"Late afternoon."

"Oh, my, I didn't mean to sleep this long. You should have woken me sooner."

Ezra set the water pitcher down. "You needed your rest." He started across the room to the door, "Meet me downstairs in ten minutes."

Once he was gone, Agatha jumped out of bed and rushed around the room. It took her fifteen minutes to get dressed but Ezra didn't mind the wait. He was standing patiently in the hotel lobby when she finally descended the stairs. When she reached him, he offered her his arm and led her outside.

"Where are we going?"

"Patience, my dear. It's a surprise."

They continued on until they were on the outskirts of town. They stopped in front of a two-story, white house with black shutters.

"Ezra, why are we here? Is there someone here you want me to meet?"

"In a manner of speaking." He grinned, his gold tooth winking in the sunlight. He grabbed her hands, "Agatha, allow me to introduce you to your new house."

Agatha's eyes grew large as she looked back and forth between Ezra and the house. "For me?"

"For us."

"But, Ezra, your saloon....You shouldn't have done this, I would have been happy in the hotel. And you've already bought me one house. I don't want to interfere with your dream."

"You are my dream and that house was for you, this one is for us. Then smiling like a child, he pulled her toward the house, "Come and see!"

Agatha swore quietly as she burnt her fingers on the hot pan of biscuits. She quickly put them on the large kitchen table and poured cold water on the already forming blister. She tried to ignore the throbbing as she hurried to finish parations for dinner. She sliced the ham and put it, the gravy, and mashed potatoes on the table. The carrots were already on and two pies were waiting on the window sill. All that was needed was her guests.

In the six months she had lived in Four Corners, it had become a tradition for the other six peace keepers to join her and Ezra for the noon meal on Sundays. She usually had a least one of them for supper on a normal night, but this was the time when it was everyone together. Knowing they would be arriving soon, Agatha went upstairs to straighten her appearance. She sat down in front of her vanity to redo her braid. She was amazed at the changes she saw in herself. She had gained back much of the weight she had lost when she became sick and no longer looked like she was starving. She was rarely feverish and the combination of the dry climate and Nathan's herbs had all but gotten rid of her cough. Agatha knew she wasn't cured, eventually she'd get sick again, but she felt like she could go on forever.

She rushed downstairs when she heard horses and men's voices outside. Soon her kitchen would be invaded by seven very loud, dirty men. And she loved it. They were just filing in the back door when she entered the kitchen.

"JD, were you raised in a barn? Wipe your feet, you're gonna git Agatha's nice clean floor all dirty." Buck smiled charmingly at Agatha.

"Sorry, Agatha." JD apologized

"It's all right, JD. I don't mind."

Everyone quickly found their seats and dug in. Ezra sat at one end of the table and Agatha sat at the other. There was very little conversation as the men shoveled food into their mouths. They ate like they hadn't had a good meal in a week and weren't expecting another one for a week. During desert Ezra looked across the table at his wife and grinned, "Well, Mrs. Standish, shall I tell our friends our delightful news or would you prefer to?"

"What news, Agatha?" JD asked as all the men but Nathan looked curiously from Ezra to Agatha.

Agatha smiled shyly and a blush crept up her neck and cheeks, "I'm going to have a baby."

No one said a word. The congratulations they had been expecting didn't come. The men looked worried and solemn rather than happy.

"Well, gentlemen, this is not the reaction we were expecting. I gather you are not pleased for us."

"It's not that we aren't pleased for you, brother, " Josiah explained. "It's just that we're worried for Agatha. Six months ago you were very, very sick," he said looking at Agatha and the others nodded their heads in agreement. "Is having a baby a good idea?"

"We talked to Nathan about a pregnancy's affect on my health-"

"Now, I ain't no doc," Nathan interrupted, "but as long as she gets lots of rest with good food and doesn't do anything stressful, I think she and the baby can come out of it okay."

"Well, in that case...Congratulations!" Buck yelled as he jumped out of his chair and slapped Ezra on the back. The others quickly surrounded Ezra and Agatha, adding their congratulations and well wishes.

Later, Agatha stood with Ezra's arm wrapped around her shoulders on the porch as they waved to the departing men. Agatha sighed and leaned against Ezra, "I'll never have to worry about you two."

"You two who?"

"You and our baby." She gestured at the departing backs of the six men, "They'll take care of you both."

"You'll take care of us, Aggy." Ezra said firmly as he pulled her around so he could look into her eyes.

"Ezra, we have to be realistic. I don't have all that long. I may not even get to see my baby. I'm just glad there will be people who care about you to look after the both of you once I'm gone." Agatha's hand slipped down to caress her slightly swollen stomach.

Ezra just stared down at her, helplessly. He was unable to deny the truth of her words. Finally her just pulled her into his arms and held on tightly.

Ezra paced nervously, stopping occasionally to listen for noises coming from upstairs. Chris Larabee and Josiah Sanchez sat at the kitchen table, watching Ezra walk back and forth across the room.

"What's taking so long? Why has it been so long."

"Ezra, having a baby can take a long time." Chris commented.

"But Agatha has been so enervated. And she was running a fever yesterday." Ezra anxiously ran his fingers through his hair, making it stand on end. He resumed pacing. He didn't know what he'd do if Agatha died. He had always known their time together would be short, but they'd only had a year. She had been looking so thin lately. Even with her huge, child-swollen belly, it was obvious she was losing weight. Her wrists and ankles had become increasingly delicate and fragile. Her cough was also returning. She wasn't bringing up blood yet, but Nathan thought it was only a matter of time.

"Please, God, don't take her." Ezra hadn't realized he'd said the words aloud until he felt Josiah's large hand on his shoulder.

"She'll make it, Ezra. She's a fighter and she wants to see her baby grow up. That's a powerful motivation to live."

Footsteps sounded on the stairs. All three men hurried to see who was coming. Nathan was walking down the steps while wiping his hands on a blood stained rag. Mary was behind him, carrying a small bundle.

"Well, Ezra, you got a baby girl."


Nathan lay his hand on Ezra's shoulder gently, "She's resting now. She's very weak. Ezra, I'm not sure..." his voice faded away.

Ezra brushed past him and took the stairs two at a time, barely glancing at his daughter as he passed. It was Chris who stepped over to Mary and held out his arms for the red-faced, squirming bundle. He took the tiny girl and settled into Agatha's rocking chair, humming to her quietly. He was forming a bond that would last as long they lived.

Ezra sat in a chair next to the bed where Agatha slept. He sat there all night, afraid to look away. If he did, she might slip away. He remembered another night he had spent in a chair next to her bed, watching her sleep. The night he had decided he wanted to be with her even though she was dying. He didn't regret that decision. Even if this was all the time they got, he was glad they'd had it.

"Ezra." The voice was so quiet he almost didn't hear it. He looked at Agatha's face and found two brown eyes staring back at him.


"The baby?" she asked.

"A girl. A beautiful baby girl. Would you like to see her?"

Agatha nodded. Ezra rose and walked to the cradle. He carefully picked up their sleeping child. He carried her over to Agatha and laid her in her mother's eager arms. Agatha cooed quietly to the baby. Ezra looked on, thinking about how right they looked together and worried that maybe his daughter would have to grow up without her mother. Agatha looked up and saw his expression.

"You can just wipe that expression off of your face, Ezra P. Standish. I'm not going to die anytime soon."

"Aggy, I believe you are stubborn enough to live forever."

They grinned at each other, then turned their attention to their daughter. They counted her fingers and toes and discussed what features came from whom. They came to the conclusion that she was perfect.

Finally, Agatha asked, "We haven't really talked about names. Do you have any suggestions?"

"Well, I have given the dilemma ample consideration and I was going to suggest Christine."

Agatha thought of the awful night when she had sent Chris Larabee to find Ezra for her. She didn't know what had passed between the two men, Ezra had never really spoken about it, but whatever Chris had said to Ezra had helped convince him to open himself up to sharing the rest of her life with her. She owed a great deal to Chris Larabee and knew it was right to name her daughter for him.

"Christine Standish. It's beautiful."

Agatha's attention returned to the baby. Ezra leaned back in his chair and basked in the vision of his little family.

She'd been gone for almost two months now. To her family and friends, it seemed more like two decades. They all felt as if there was a gaping hole in their lives. For Ezra, it was worse. He felt as if half of him had been ripped away. He'd have done anything to hold onto it. And yet, part of him was glad it was over for her. It had been so painful for her at the end and there had been so little anyone could do to ease her suffering.

No, that wasn't quite true. Christine had made her forget her pain. The little girl had turned two three mouths ago and Agatha had insisted on having a party for her. And for those few hours, she had been able to replace the physical pain with the joy of watching her daughter be happy. Well, she wasn't happy anymore. Christine didn't understand why her mother wasn't coming back. She kept asking Ezra if they could go get mama back. At night, when he tried to put her to bed, she'd lay on her bed and scream for her mother until her face turned purple. The only person who could quiet her was Chris.

Chris. Chris was the reason Ezra had made it this far. When Agatha's health had started to decline rapidly, Chris had moved in and taken over much of Christine's care. The first few days after Agatha's death when Ezra could barely function, it had been Chris who had taken care of everything. And it had been Chris who had refused to let Ezra start drinking, knowing once he started he wouldn't stop for a very long time. He kept Ezra from making the same mistakes he had. With Chris, Ezra could weep or break things. He understood the pain of losing the most important person in your life. The other members of the seven helped and gave their support, too. They all took turns watching Christine so he could have some time to go to the cemetery or go to the saloon to play cards. But Chris was the only one who could comprehend the depth of his pain.

Like Ezra leaned on Chris now, Agatha had leaned on Josiah then. There were some things she hadn't been able to talk to Ezra about. Like dying. He always changed the subject and tried to ignore it. She had found great comfort in talking to Josiah. She had never fully recovered her health after Christine's birth. She got tired and sick more easily. She didn't have much energy. She had often told Ezra she was thankful Christine was such a quiet, content baby. She wouldn't have been able to handle taking care of the baby by herself otherwise. It had been six months ago that she had begun to fade fast. Just four short months and she was gone. And through it all, she'd been more worried about Ezra than herself. She knew how badly Ezra would handle her death. He thought maybe that was why Chris still hadn't moved out. Agatha must have said something to him.

Ezra slipped into Christine's room. He did that a lot now, just to watch her sleep. He had often stayed awake long into the night to watch Agatha sleep, too. Christine looked like an angel. Her cheeks were flushed from sleep and her blond curls fanned out over the pillow. She'd kicked all of her blankets off and her little white night gown was twisted around her legs. It was easy to see her, a lamp burned lowly on her dresser. She hadn't needed that before Agatha's death. Now she wouldn't go to sleep without it. Chris said he was afraid it'd start a fire one night but he always gave in and let her have it.

"Ezra, what are you doing in here? Is something wrong?"

Ezra hadn't heard Chris enter the room from behind him. "No, nothing is amiss." He gestured toward his sleeping child, "Just reminding myself, Mr. Larabee, why it is I cannot crawl into a bottle."

"You're lucky to have something to remind you of that. I wish I had had that." Their eyes caught and held.

Ezra nodded and left, making his way back to his room. He didn't bother getting into the bed. He knew he wouldn't sleep, and if he did it'd be haunted by dreams of Agatha. Agatha. He wasn't sure he could make it through this. He'd known from the beginning that he'd have to, but he hadn't expected it would be this hard or hurt this much. Ezra changed his mind and got into bed anyway. Christine got up with the sun and he knew he should try to get some sleep so he could be there for her. She was what he had to focus on now. Maybe if he devoted all his energy into her he wouldn't go insane.

The End