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 Bewitched and Bothered
A week had passed since Isabel and Vin had left Four Corners. They had quickly settled into a routine once they reached another town. Isabel spent the days with Vin and the nights were reserved for winning at the poker tables. That night, Isabel and Vin had retired from the game early, having decided to return to Four Corners in the morning. They were on their way back to their room in the hotel when they were surrounded by six armed men.
"Drop your guns, cowboy, or your lady friend will be meeting her maker."
Vin glanced over at Isabel, his apology written clearly in his eyes as he slowly dropped his gunbelt and mare's-leg. Once he was disarmed, he was roughly pushed against the wall of the hotel and his arms securely tied behind his back. When he turned back around, he saw Isabel's fingers flexing as she anticipated releasing her derringer. Two of the men turned their guns to cover her as the leader held out his hand, palm up.
"Give me the derringer, and anything else you have hidden away." When Isabel didn't move, he aimed his gun at Vin and fired, missing the tracker's head by scant inches. Isabel's green eyes were impossibly wide as she tore off her coat and removed the derringer rig, dropping it on the ground along with her gunbelt.
The leader held out the green coat to Isabel, who took it nervously. "Put that back on for now. As soon as we get the two of you to the mission, we will find some women's clothes for you to wear." He looked at her pants and boots with disgust. "A woman should not wear men's clothes. Soon you will understand."
Isabel glanced at Vin as her hands were also tied behind her back. There was real fear in his eyes as they were lead to the livery and their horses saddled. While Vin was pushed roughly onto Peso, the men were very gentle with Isabel, making sure that she was comfortable before they mounted up and led their horses out of town.
Vin and Isabel were allowed to ride next to each other, but both remained silent for most of the ride. It was only when they came within sight of a old mission that Isabel spoke. "What do you think these ruffians want with us, Vin?"
Vin managed an awkward shrug. "Don't have a clue, Is. One thing's for sure, though. Whoever these guys are, they're not quite all here. All I know is we gotta get outa here, and soon."
Isabel nodded. "If they are unwise enough to leave us to our own devices, we shall be able to make short work of these ropes. I still have a small knife hidden in my boot."
Vin nodded but didn't speak as their captors dismounted in the stable. He was pulled from his saddle and tossed carelessly to the ground, landing painfully on his bound wrists. He watched in amazement as the six men carefully eased Isabel out of her saddle and placing her firmly on her feet. She knelt next to Vin, urging him to sit up so she could see his wrists.
"Nothing looks broken, but you should be careful just in case. I would hate to have to explain to Nathan how you managed to break both wrists." Isabel smiled, trying to lessen Vin's worry.
He smiled back, but the smile quickly faded as their captors finished with the horses and turned back to them. "What are you all plannin' to do with us?"
The leader smiled at them, sending chills down the peacekeepers' backs. "The two of you have been corrupted, through no fault of your own. You are not married, yet the two of you travel together with no chaperone." He pointed to Isabel. "And no respectable lady would wear a man's clothes. But do not worry. We will bring the two of you back so that you may once again enter society, free from this unholy influence."
Vin and Isabel just looked at each other, the fear evident in their eyes. They were in big trouble, and the others had no way of knowing.
The next morning Chris was pacing in front of the saloon, a coffee cup in one hand. He nodded absently in greeting as Buck walked up to him, but continued his pacing. He only stopped when Buck stepped out in front of him and grabbed his shoulders.
"You still worried about Vin and Is, pard? They're fine, and probably out havin' a great time."
Chris shook off Buck's hands and leaned against the post. "I just got a bad feeling, Buck. Something's wrong, I can feel it." He pushed his hat back and ran his hands through his hair. "I can't just wait around here. I gotta go find them and make sure they're okay."
Buck looked into his friend's worried green eyes and sighed in defeat. "Okay, pard. Where are we headed to?"
Chris shook his head. "This is something I have to do, Buck. You don't have to come, too."
Buck just frowned. "Pard, if you think they're in trouble then you'll need help." He suddenly grinned. "Besides, if you go alone, who's going to keep you out of trouble?"
Chris grinned back, then turned toward the livery as his frown reasserted itself. "You tell the others we're leavin', I'll get the horses ready. I don't think we've got much time."
That night, they were riding into Dry River, scanning the town for any sign of either Vin or Isabel. After seeing to their horses, the two men headed straight for the saloon and walked up to the bar. The bartender looked up when they approached and his eyes widened when he saw Chris. Before the two men could speak, he held a finger to his lips and beckoned them to the far side of the room, away from the other patrons.
"You're here looking for the lady gambler and her friend, aren't you? She talked about a guy in black, and I assume that was you."
Buck and Chris glanced at each other and nodded. "Where are they?"
The bartender glanced nervously around the saloon and lowered his voice even further. "Those crazy priests took 'em to the old mission. They didn't like the fact that the lady was runnin' around in men's clothes with some fella that wasn't her kin." He sighed and looked quickly up into Chris's angry eyes. "I liked 'em, they were always nice and polite. If you're gonna save 'em, you better hurry. Nobody comes back from that mission the same person that they were."
Chris's lips twisted into a scowl. "What do you mean, they don't come back the same person?"
"They took a few working girls up there a year or so ago. Only one of them ever came back, and she wasn't quite right after that." He glanced at Chris and Buck, fear in his eyes. "They scared that poor girl out of her wits, between the threats and the beatings and who knows what else."
Chris's throat tightened. "When did they take our friends?"
"Sometime last night. They left the poker game early, said something about heading home in the morning. If you leave now, you can get there before nightfall." The bartender glanced once more around the saloon. "If you go west out of town and keep heading straight, you can't miss it." As Chris and Buck rose to leave, he called out to them once more. "I hope you get to them in time. Good luck." It was only after the two men had left the saloon that the bartender spoke again. "You'll need all the luck you can get."
Vin and Isabel were led into the mission and down a long flight of stone stairs. They soon reached what could only be called a dungeon. Vin was thrown through the first doorway into a small, dark cell and the door was locked behind him. Isabel was pushed through the next door, and she turned back to see the leader smile at her through the window in the door. "Come morning, everything will be made clear. Don't be afraid."
Isabel raised an eyebrow. "I think it is a little late for that, sir. My friend and I have an unfortunate tendency to fear men who kidnap and disarm us. If you truly wish for us not to be afraid, then let us go."
Vin groaned from his cell. "Is, just shut up. I really don't think they wanna hear you complainin'."
The door to Vin's cell was jerked open and the leader strode in, fury in his eyes. "You do not speak to a lady in that manner. Now, apologize."
Vin just looked at him, puzzled. "She knows I didn't mean anything by it."
The man just backhanded Vin, splitting his lip and slamming his head into the wall. Vin slid to the floor, but the man grabbed his shoulders and pushed him back against the wall. "You will apologize, or else I will go over there and do what I'm about to do to you to her instead."
Vin licked his lips and called out to Isabel. "I'm sorry, Is."
Tears welled in Isabel's green eyes when she heard the pain in Vin's voice. "You are forgiven, Vin. It's not your fault."
Vin didn't have a chance to answer her as he was shoved back against the wall again, then dropped to the floor. As soon as he hit, a booted foot connected with his unprotected ribs and he groaned as two of them cracked. The man knelt next to him and pressed a knife against Vin's throat.
"You will be nothing if not respectful, both to her and to us. Do you understand?" When Vin nodded, he took the knife and slit the ropes binding Vin's hands. "Good. Now, you will address me as Mr. Taylor and the lady by her full name. If you do not, then I shall be forced to punish her instead. Am I being perfectly clear?"
Vin nodded. "Perfectly, Mr. Taylor. Please, don't hurt Isabel."
Taylor rose from his crouch, giving Vin a pat on the head. "Do not worry, son. As long as the two of you act properly, no harm will come to either of you." He left Vin's cell, once again locking the door behind him. He then entered Isabel's cell and walked around behind her, cutting through the ropes. When he turned to face her, he reached up toward the tear tracks on her cheeks. "There is no need to cry, daughter. Everything will look better in the morning."
As soon as the door closed behind Taylor, Isabel surrendered to the sobs that she had been holding back. "I am so sorry, Vin. This is all my fault. If only we hadn't come, or I dressed the way that I ought to, none of this would be happening."
Vin moved slowly to the wall closest to Isabel. "Hush, Is. None of this is your fault. If you didn't act the way you do, none of us would recognize you. We love you the way you are."
She took a deep breath and wiped her eyes on the sleeve of her jacket. "Thank you, Vin. Now that I am more myself, perhaps I can find some way out of this dreary place so that we may return to Four Corners." She pulled the small knife out of her boot and glanced out into the hallway. "Let us begin by attempting to unlock this door."
Isabel quickly began working with the knife and within a few minutes the door to her cell was swinging open. She grinned in triumph, then moved to Vin's cell. His door soon followed and the two of them made their way silently to the stairs. As Isabel glanced up toward the exit, she began muttering soft curses.
"What's wrong, Is?" Vin was leaning against the wall, one arm wrapped protectively around his ribs.
"There are two rather large men standing at the top to the stairway, guarding the only route we have to freedom." She ran a hand through her hair and bit her lower lip. "We need something to distract these miscreants so that we can make good our escape."
Suddenly, an almost inhuman howl sounded from outside the mission. Vin and Isabel glanced at each other in shock, then back to the guards who were no longer visible. "You think that would work, Is?"
She raised an eyebrow as she quickly climbed the stairs, Vin only a few paces behind her. "I suppose that it would work well enough. It wasn't quite what I had in mind, though." They reached the top of the stairs and looked down the now empty hallway. "I suggest that we find our horses and vacate the premises immediately while keeping watch for whatever did make that unholy noise."
They made their way to the dark stables and without lighting a lantern, began looking for their horses. Just as Isabel located Chaucer, she was grabbed from behind and forced to the ground, a large weight pressing down on her back. She growled and twisted her hips, throwing her attacker off. She kicked out with a booted foot and connected with the man's ribs. However, she soon found herself flat on her back with her attacker straddling her hips and pinning her hands above her head. She blinked when the lantern suddenly flared to life and nearly screamed when she realized that she was nose to nose with Chris Larabee.
"What are you doing here, Chris?"
Chris just grinned when he realized that Isabel and Vin were safe. "We were coming to rescue you two."
Isabel frowned. "I don't suppose that howling was you, was it?"
His smile widened. "Yep, that was us." When he heard snickering behind him, Chris looked down and saw that he was still on top of Isabel. He blushed and hurriedly stood, causing Isabel to grin. He offered her his hand and pulled her to her feet. "Let's get out of here while the gettin's good."
Isabel glared at him and crossed her arms. "We are not leaving here until I have retrieved my weapons and repaid these people, especially Mr. Taylor, for the utter hell that they have put both myself and Vin through. Now, you can come with me or else give me a gun and get out of my way. The choice is yours, Chris."
Chris sighed and reached behind him for one of Buck's guns. When he saw the grin on Buck's face, he glowered at him. "Not one word, Bucklin. Not one single word." He handed Isabel the gun and stalked out of the stable behind her, muttering curses under his breath.
When they reached the door of the mission, they heard the men yelling about the escape. "Well, it appears that they have noticed mine and Vin's absence. Shall we?" She waved one hand grandly toward the door, smiling as Chris scowled at her.
Chris stalked through the open doors with his black duster swirling around his legs, looking for all the world like an avenging angel. The men all stopped and stared at him. "Which one of you cowards is Taylor?"
The men glanced at each other and Taylor stepped forward with a smile. "Is there something I can do for you, Mr.."
Taylor visibly flinched as he heard the name. "Mr. Larabee. To what do I owe this honor?"
Chris smiled, and Taylor began inching backwards. "You kidnapped my friend and the woman I love. That was a very bad idea, cause now I'm gonna have to kill you." Before anyone could blink, Chris had aimed and fired his pistol, striking Taylor in the shoulder. "Sorry, I missed. I've been riding for days looking for them, so I'm kinda tired. It might take me a few tries to actually kill you."
When the other men began to try to surround Chris, Isabel stepped through the door with her pistol raised. "I would advise against that, gentlemen. You have not endeared yourselves to me, and unlike Chris, I will not apologize for missing. Only I will aim for something you would miss a little more."
The men dropped their weapons just as Buck and Vin came into sight. "Cowboy, what the hell'd you do to 'em?"
Chris looked up at Vin from where he had begun securing the men. "I didn't. Is threatened to shoot 'em where they'd really miss it."
Isabel just smiled at the shocked looks on their faces. "Gentlemen, I just do what works. And that works." She turned toward the bound Taylor. "Now, where is my derringer rig?"
He inclined his head toward a desk by the wall. "It's in the top drawer." While Isabel retrieved it and began sliding the rig back on, Taylor continued to speak. "We could have saved you."
"I am perfectly happy with the life that I have." She glanced at Chris. "Well, almost perfectly." She walked up to him and gently kissed him. "There, now I am perfectly happy. We can leave now."
When Isabel tried to move away from Chris, he wrapped his arms around her waist. "Are you sure we can go now, Is? I'd hate to be halfway home and have you realize that you forgot something."
She smiled impishly and reached up to kiss him again. "I am quite certain, Chris. Let's go home."
A few days later, the four peacekeepers rode back into Four Corners. While Buck took Vin to the clinic to make sure that his ribs were healing properly, Chris and Isabel took care of the horses. They were almost finished when Chris finally spoke.
"Did you manage to figure anything out while you were gone, Is?"
She froze, her hand still on Chaucer's neck. "Yes, Chris. I discovered a great deal during my venture. However, it wasn't quite what I had expected to find."
Chris took a deep breath, trying to calm his nerves. "And what did you figure out?"
"I discovered that I am quite happy with the life I have now. Even if I had the opportunity, I do not believe that I would return to being Ezra." She turned to face Chris, a peaceful smile on her face. "I can think of only one thing that would make my life complete."
"What's that, Is?"
"Knowing that you will always be in it." She held up one hand as Chris began to speak. "I realize that neither of us is ready for anything permanent yet. However, we cannot go back to the way things were, either. I, for one, do not want to."
Chris smiled as he drew Isabel into his arms. "I don't want to, either. So what do you say we just do what feels right and take it from there?"
Isabel smiled and tilted her face up for a kiss. "I think that sounds simply wonderful, Chris. And whatever happens, I do love you."
"That's good, since I love you, too." Chris finally answered her silent request and lowered his head for a kiss.