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.
Follows the events of Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered.
Isabel scratched Chaucer's nose, smiling when the horse pushed his head into her chest. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a lump of sugar. She rubbed behind the horse's ears while he ate the sugar, laughing when he nosed at her pockets for more.
"I'm sorry, Chaucer, but that is all that I have." She burrowed further into her thick coat when a blast of icy air blew through the livery. She hadn't been feeling well for the past few days, and decided not to stay with the chestnut horse as long as she usually did. "I shall try to bring you more tomorrow." She gave the horse one final pat and left the warmth of the livery, shivering when she stepped out onto the boardwalk. She ducked her head and shoved her hands into the opposite sleeves as she made her way towards the saloon.
"Hey, Is. Anything happen on patrol?"
The gambler jumped, spinning around to face a grinning Vin. She quickly slid her derringer back into its rigging as she glared at the unrepentant tracker. "How many times have I requested that you cease from doing that, Vin?"
He shrugged. "Don't know. I lost count a long time ago, Is. So, anything happen on patrol?"
She snorted, trying to slide further into her coat. "No, nothing happened at all. Everyone with even a hint of sanity is safely ensconced indoors, where it is warm." She shivered, the freezing wind cutting through the wool of her coat. "Which is where we should be, Vin."
Vin leaned forward and pushed Isabel's hat back, frowning when he saw how flushed her face was. "You feelin' okay, Is?"
Isabel nodded, then shook her head as the movement made it spin sickeningly. "Actually, now that you mention it, I do not feel quite well." She groaned as pain lanced through her head and her eyes rolled up.
Vin simply stared for a moment as Isabel collapsed limply into his arms, but quickly shook off his shock. He scooped her up and headed straight for the clinic, calling for Nathan as he ran. The healer threw open the clinic door just as Vin reached the stairs, his dark eyes widening when he saw the unconscious Isabel in the tracker's arms. He backed up, waiting until after Vin had gently placed Isabel on the bed to speak.
"What happened?" He didn't wait for the answer, sliding the gambler out of her coat and vest.
Vin shrugged, shucking out of his coat and hat and tossing them in a corner. "Don't know, Nate. She looked like she had a fever, and just passed out in my arms."
Nathan laid the backs of his fingers against her forehead, frowning when he felt the heat emanating. "Yep, she's got a fever all right, and it's pretty high." He glanced over at Vin. "Get her boots off and try to make her comfortable. We've gotta get her temperature back down without letting it get too low."
The two men worked through the night and well into the next day, the door of the clinic firmly closed to keep the other peacekeepers out. While Nathan wasn't sure if what Isabel had was contagious, he didn't want to take any chances. They tried to ignore the sound of Chris's spurs chinging on the balcony as he paced, but after nearly two hours of the noise Nathan poked his head out long enough to tell the gunslinger to either sit down or go pace somewhere else. If the situation had been less serious, the healer would have laughed as the blond immediately dropped into a chair and began lightly drumming his fingers on the railing.
About midnight that night Isabel's fever spiked and she began restlessly moving on the bed. Her head tossed on the pillow and she began calling out for someone. Her voice was so weak that even when he strained to hear, Vin couldn't make out the words. He just kept wiping down her face and periodically trying to get her to drink a little water.
After about an hour Isabel's movements suddenly stopped. Vin hoarsely called for Nathan who had been napping in the back. The healer rushed over to the bed, sighing in relief when he saw the the Southerner was still breathing. One hand went to her forehead and he smiled.
"The fever's broken. She should be okay now."
Vin grinned as he slumped back in his chair. "Looks like the cowboy's Christmas present came a week early, Nate. Ya think he's still up?"
The healer shook his head. "I sent him off to bed hours ago. You can tell him when he shows up in the morning."
"Will do, Nate. Now, why don't ya get on back ta bed now? I'll just stay here and watch Is for ya."
Nathan smiled. "Thanks, Vin. But call me if she wakes up."
Vin nodded, leaning back and crossing his booted ankles. Christmas had just got a whole lot merrier.
* * *
Isabel slowly opened her eyes, frowning when she saw a clear blue sky instead of the clinic ceiling that she was expecting. She sat up, her green eyes taking in a landscape that looked much more like April than December. She scrambled up to her knees when she heard voices behind her, but nothing happened when she tried to engage her derringer rigging. A quick glance showed that she had no guns at all.
"Calm down, Isabel. We're just here to talk to you."
When Isabel looked back up, two women were standing in front of her. The younger woman had wavy auburn hair and clear green eyes. The older woman was blonde, with pale green eyes that looked eerily familiar. "Who are you, and where am I?"
The blonde woman smiled. "You've been ill, child. In fact you still are, which is why Sarah and I decided that now would be a good time to talk to you."
The gambler froze, taking a closer look at the younger of the two women. "Sarah?" Her tone of voice made it obvious exactly what answer she expected.
"Yes, I was Chris's Sarah." She smiled, dropping gracefully to her knees next to Isabel. "Chris is why Rachel and I wanted to talk to you."
Isabel glanced at the older woman, finally realizing why she looked familiar. "You are his mother, are you not?" When the blonde nodded Isabel sat back in the grass, trying to relax. "You said that you wanted to speak to me?"
Sarah chuckled at the tension in the gambler's voice. "We actually wanted to thank you, Isabel." Her laughter intensified at the astounded expression on Isabel's face. "You've given Chris back a purpose in life, a reason to smile again." She grew more serious and leaned closer. "Little by little, he was dying inside. When he met you and the others is when he decided to start living again."
The Southerner's green eyes were wide and slowly filling with tears. She hadn't thought of her relationship with the gunslinger like that before. In fact, she hadn't really known why Chris would want her at all. She had just known that for some reason, he did. She looked back at Sarah and Rachel Larabee, blinking back her tears.
"You really wanted to thank me?"
This time it was Rachel who answered. "Yes, child, we really did. You are making my son happy, and that is all that a mother could ever ask for."
Isabel impulsively threw her arms around the two women, her tears finally sliding down her cheeks. "Thank you, both of you. You simply cannot understand how much this means to me, that you approve of me."
Sarah smiled. "Of course we approve of you. You love Chris, don't you?"
"More than anything, and more than I ever thought I could love anyone."
Sarah released her and slowly rose to her feet. "It's not me that you should be telling, Isabel. You need to wake up now, and tell Chris."
Isabel nodded, and the landscape started to fade. But before it disappeared into the white mist, she could hear Sarah's voice once more. "Make him happy, Isabel. Love him."
* * *
The next time Isabel opened her eyes, she smiled when she glanced up and saw the ceiling of the clinic. Her smile softened when she noticed Chris slumped in the chair next to the bed. He had scooted it as close as he could and one hand was resting on the mattress beside her. She gently slid her hand over his and his breathing deepened.
She jerked her head around when she heard the clinic door open, one finger of her free hand going to her lips in a command for the entering healer to be quiet. Nathan grinned when he saw that she was awake, and his grin widened when he noticed the sleeping gunslinger. He slowly walked over to the other side of the bed, placing a hand on Isabel's forehead to check for any hint of the fever.
She didn't bother trying to swat his hand away, her attention focused on the man sleeping beside the bed. She suddenly smiled, flashing the gold tooth as an idea hit her. She reached up and tugged on Nathan's sleeve, pulling his attention away from his examination of her. Her voice was only a low whisper so that she wouldn't wake Chris. After a moment the healer left, his brow furrowed in puzzlement as he thought about Isabel's request.
Chris jerked awake just as the clinic door snicked shut, his eyes automatically going to the bed. They lit up when he realized that the gambler was awake and he leaned over to press a kiss to her forehead. "You had me worried, Is. How are you feeling?"
"I'm fine, Chris." She chuckled as the blond glared at her. "Well, perhaps not quite fine, but I have certainly felt worse." She suddenly yawned, fussing only half-heartedly when he pulled the blankets back up to her chin. "You should also rest, Chris, before you exhaust yourself. Nathan will be most unhappy if he should be forced to care for you as well."
The healer chose that moment to enter the clinic, a note pad under his arm and a grin on his face. "She's right, Chris. Get outa here and get something to eat before you wind up in the next bed. She's gonna be fine." He turned to Isabel. "As long as she stays in bed for the next few days. Don't want you having a relapse, Is."
Isabel sighed as she sank back into her pillows. "Very well, Nathan." She smiled as Chris leaned down to kiss her cheek before rising to his feet, his back popping as he stretched. As soon as he closed the door behind him, the gambler glanced back over at Nathan. "Is that my sketchbook?"
"Yeah. It was right where you said it'd be. Why'd you want it anyway, Is?"
She just smiled as she reached for the pad and slid it under the bed. "It is a surprise for Chris. And that is all that I shall tell you, Nathan." She felt the healer's hand on her forehead, checking for fever once again as she fell asleep.
* * *
Over the next few days the other peacekeepers became used to the sight of Isabel sitting in bed, bent over her sketchbook. One pencil would be moving over the page while another sat perched over one ear. Whenever they asked her what she was doing she would simply smile and tell them that it was a surprise.
It was the day before Christmas when she finally finished, smiling when she looked over the finished product. She glanced up as the clinic door opened to admit Buck. He had barely made it inside when she waved him closer to the bed.
"Something wrong, Is?"
The gambler shook her head. "No, there is nothing amiss. I merely wanted you to look at something for me."
The ladies' man gasped when Isabel held up her sketchbook and he finally saw what she had been working on. On the page was a sketching of two female angels, one brunette and the other blonde. He simply stared at the page for a moment before raising wide blue eyes to Isabel.
"How...? That's Sarah and Chris's ma. How'd you do that, Is?"
Isabel smiled. "Let us just call it a Christmas miracle, Buck." Her smile slowly faded to be replaced with a worried frown. "Do you think that Chris will...?"
Buck dropped into the chair by the bed, his eyes back on the sketch. "He'll love it, Is. Trust me; he'll love it."
"He'll love what, Bucklin?"
The ladies' man jumped when the man in question spoke from the open doorway. He ran a hand through his hair and noticed that Isabel had dropped the sketchpad face-down on the bed. "Pard, don't sneak up on a man like that. It ain't healthy, for either of us."
The blond just smirked and turned his attention to Isabel. "Nate said it was okay for you to get up now, as long as you head up to bed right after the Christmas party."
The gambler smiled as she slid out of the bed and reached for her coat. It was pulled out of her hands and she glanced up to see Chris holding it for her. She let him help her into it, then grabbed the now-closed note pad as she was escorted out of the clinic.
She burrowed further into her coat as the wind whipped past her, smiling in gratitude when she felt Chris's arm around her shoulders pulling her closer. They hurried to the saloon, greeting the other four peacekeepers as they entered. After only an hour the party was in full swing and gifts were being exchanged.
Isabel glanced over at Chris, noting that the blond was getting more tense as the night progressed. By the time that most of the presents had been opened, the gunslinger was nearly grinding his teeth despite his smile. For a moment the gambler considered not showing him the sketch, but she squared her shoulders as she heard the echo of Sarah's voice in her mind.
'Make him happy, Isabel. Love him.'
She took a deep breath and reached under her chair for the pad, holding it up to her chest. She quickly glanced over at Buck, relaxing slightly when she saw him smiling at her in encouragement. After only a moments hesitation she flipped it open and handed it to Chris. "Merry Christmas."
The gunslinger looked down at the sketchbook in his hands and his breath caught in his throat. The two angels on the page were exactly the way he remembered his wife and his mother. He ran his fingertips reverently over the image, a gentle smile curling his lips. After a moment he looked up, meeting a worried pair of green eyes. "It's beautiful, Is. How'd you do this?"
She shrugged as a faint blush stained her cheeks. "When I was sick, I had a dream and they were there. Buck confirmed that they were who I thought they were."
"Thank you, Is. And now I have something for you." He reached into the pocket of his duster that was hanging on the back of his chair and dropped to one knee in front of Isabel. He held out a ring to her, his hand shaking slightly. "Isabel Standish, will you marry me?"
There was utter silence around the table for a moment before Isabel launched herself out of her chair and into Chris's arms. She pressed a kiss to his lips and threw her arms around his neck, momentarily forgetting their audience. She finally pulled back, a supremely happy smile on her face. "Of course I will, Chris."