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.
Ezra Standish glanced quickly up and down the boardwalk before he stepped out of the saloon and made his way toward the livery. He had almost reached safety when he heard a feminine voice behind him calling his name. He sighed, then turned around to face the inevitable.
"Senor Ezra, I have been looking all over for you." Maria Santos smiled up at him longingly. "You haven't been hiding from me, have you?"
Ezra groaned almost inaudibly. Why couldn't the young lady understand that he wasn't interested in her? He had been polite for weeks, but he was quickly running out of nice words.
"Senorita, while I am flattered by your attention, I simply do not think of you in that manner. I am certain that there are many other men in this fine township that would appreciate you far better than I."
Ezra tried to smile at Maria, but her dark eyes were flashing with rage. "So, you do not care for me. You have been deceiving me with your soft words and kind smiles." Her voice had risen until she was nearly screaming, and she didn't notice Chris and Vin walking towards her from the saloon.
She stepped closer to Ezra and her voice dropped to a low hiss. "I curse you, Ezra Standish, to live the rest of your life as I have lived mine." With those words, Maria spit in his face and walked away.
Ezra stared after her as he reached for a handkerchief and wiped the spit off his cheek. He sensed Chris and Vin standing behind him and turned to face them. "Afternoon, gentlemen. What brings you out here in this heat?"
Chris glanced toward the alley where Maria had disappeared, then back to Ezra. "We heard the lady yelling and figured we ought to check it out. You okay, Ez?"
Ezra smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes. "I am fine, Mr. Larabee. The lady simply wanted something from me that I was unwilling to give."
He started to turn away when he was suddenly hit with a blinding wave of pain. He groaned and wrapped his arms around his stomach as he fell to his knees. He was only vaguely aware of Chris's hands on his shoulders and Vin's voice yelling for Nathan. He felt his body begin to shift and mercifully lost consciousness.
Chris caught Ezra as he fell limply into his arms. He glanced down at Ezra's face and his eyes widened in shock. As he watched, the lines of Ezra's face softened until Chris was staring into the face of a woman. A quick glance at the body in his arms confirmed that it wasn't just Ezra's face that had changed.
Chris was still staring at the changed Ezra when Vin and Nathan ran up to him. Both men froze when they saw Ezra's altered features. While Nathan shook off his shock to check Ezra, Vin knelt next to Chris. "What happened, Cowboy?"
Chris just shook his head. "I have no idea, Vin."
Nathan looked up from where he had been examining the now female Ezra. "Other than the obvious, I don't see anything wrong with him, or her, or whatever. We'd still better get Ez up to the clinic, though."
Chris gently scooped Ezra into his arms and rose to his feet. As he followed Nathan and Vin to the clinic, he continued to stare at Ezra. Her lips were fuller, her face softer, and red hair now hung down to the shoulders of the green jacket she wore.
By the time they made it to the clinic, Buck had joined them and was also staring at Ezra as Chris placed her on the bed. "Pard, what on earth did I miss?"
When Chris didn't answer, Vin told him about Ezra's argument with Maria. "That's the only thing I can think of. Nothin' else weird has gone on lately."
Ezra suddenly moaned, and the others winced as they heard the now soprano voice. She blinked, then opened brilliant green eyes. She frowned as she noticed that everyone was staring at her.
"What happened?" As soon as she spoke, her eyes widened and the blood drained from her face. She licked her lips and whispered one word. "Mirror."
Vin walked over to the dresser and picked up a shaving mirror. He moved over to the bed and held it up so Ezra could see her reflection.
She simply stared at it for a moment before tears welled up in the green eyes. Her lower lip began to tremble no matter how hard she tried to stop it. As the first tears spilled over her cheeks, Chris pulled her into his arms and tucked her head under his chin. When she felt his arms around her, she began sobbing uncontrollably.
Buck and Nathan quietly left the room, leaving Chris and Vin to try and comfort Ezra. While Chris simply held her, Vin sat on the other side of the bed and began rubbing her back. Her tears finally slowed and she pulled away from Chris but not far enough to lose contact. She wiped her eyes and flashed the two men a slight smile.
"Thank you, gentlemen. I sincerely wish that I could tell you that emotional outbursts like that won't happen again, but I fear that won't be the case." She pulled her legs up and wrapped her arms around her knees. "I had no idea that Senorita Santos could do anything like this."
Vin frowned. "How'd you know she did this, Ezra?"
Ezra sighed. "The last thing she said to me was 'I curse you, Ezra Standish, to live the rest of your life as I have lived mine.' I can only assume that this is the curse."
"You really think this is permanent, Ezra?"
She smiled, but it didn't quite reach her eyes. "Chris, I think it's permanent enough that you won't be able to call me Ezra anymore."
Chris and Vin looked at each other, then back at Ezra. "So, what do we call you?"
She dropped her chin onto her knees.
"Call me Isabel."
Chris smiled as Vin put his arm around Isabel's shoulders and she leaned into him. "All right, Isabel. How do you wanna handle this?"
"Perhaps you should go and retrieve the others. I would much rather only deal with this once."
At the slight tremor in her voice, Chris gently lifted her chin and waited until she met his eyes. "We will get you through this. We're not going to abandon you because of this. Okay?" He didn't move away until she nodded. "All right. I'll go get the others. By now, Buck and Nathan have probably filled them in on what's going on."
As Chris started to move toward the door, Isabel grabbed his arm. "Please don't inform anyone else about my condition, Chris. I don't think I could manage if the whole town knew about this." She gestured with her free arm over her body, then pulled at the collar of the coat that had once fit quite snuggly but now almost swallowed her.
Vin pulled her back against his chest and wrapped both arms around her in a show of support. "Don't worry about it. We'll think of something." He pressed a kiss to her hair, then nodded to Chris as the gunslinger left the room.
"I don't know if I can do this, Vin." She rose from the bed, taking the mirror with her and propping it up on the dresser. She pulled off the green jacket and quickly tightened the belt of her now very loose pants. "Look at me, Vin. I wasn't all that effective as a lawman before, but what hope do I have now?"
Vin walked up behind her, easily looking over her head to see her reflection in the mirror. "You may be smaller, and you may be a woman, but I'll bet that Isabel can out-talk and out-con even better than Ezra could."
He was rewarded with a genuine smile lighting up Isabel's eyes. "So, how much would you be willing to wager on my skills, Vin?"
A slow grin appeared on Vin's face. "Everything I got, Is. You're my friend and that's all that matters."
Isabel rolled her eyes and turned around to face Vin. "Haven't I told you, Mr. Tanner, how much I dislike diminuatives? Isn't it bad enough that you felt compelled to shorten Ezra to Ez without doing likewise to my new name?" When Vin's smile faltered, she lowered her eyes. "I'm sorry, Vin. I really didn't mean to snap at you."
"Don't worry about it, Isabel. I know it'll take time to get used to this. I won't call you Is if you don't want me to."
Isabel looked down for a moment, then met Vin's eyes. "As long as you refrain from mentioning it to our compatriots, you may continue to call me Is." She smiled. "In fact, Vin, I actually rather like it." Her smile widened. "However, if you tell anyone this, I will deny every word."
Vin rested one hand on her shoulder. "I wouldn't expect anything less, Is."
Both turned away from the mirror as the door opened to admit the other lawmen. Chris and Nathan bracketed the door as Josiah entered. He took one look at the feminine gambler and pulled her into a rough embrace.
The move caught Isabel off guard, but she soon relaxed into Josiah's arms. It was her need for air that made her push him back. When she saw the tears welling in the preacher's eyes, she smiled. "Don't think of this as losing a son, Josiah. Think of it as gaining a daughter."
She was unprepared to be pulled into another hug. "You always did know the right thing to say, Isabel. Thank you."
As Isabel was released, she noticed JD and Buck standing in the doorway, both of them just staring at her. She glanced down at herself, then back up with a very familiar smirk and a deck of cards in her hand. "I don't suppose I could interest any of you gentlemen in a game of chance?"
The utter normality of that statement released the tension in the room, but only for a moment. Chris stepped forward and sat on the foot of the bed, facing Isabel. "We have a slight problem, Isabel." He hesitated, then continued speaking. "Maude's in town, and she's looking for you."
Isabel paled, but never took her eyes from Chris's face. "My mother is here, right now?" When Chris nodded, she buried her face in her hands. "Can this day possibly get any worse?"
The words had only just left her mouth when the clinic door opened once more to reveal a very upset Maude. "Where are you ruffians hiding my poor son? I demand to speak with him immediately."
Josiah gently pushed a shocked Isabel behind him and turned toward Maude. "I'm afraid that seeing Ezra is easier said than done right now, Maude."
Her expression darkened and she pulled herself up to her full height. "Ezra is my son, and I need to see him. There is a wonderful opportunity available to him, and the only thing holding him back is the six of you so-called lawmen. You've ruined him."
Isabel pushed past Josiah to face Maude, rage shining in her green eyes. "I will not have you speak to my friends like that, Mother. The only one who has ruined me is you." When she saw the surprise on Maude's normally impassive face, she smiled. "Yes, Mother, I'm Ezra, or at least I was until this morning."
Maude reached out for Isabel, who pulled back. "Darling, what have they done to you? I told you that living out here wouldn't be good for you and look at what's happened."
Isabel stalked toward Maude until she was pressed back against the wall. "Mother, the only thing that these six men have done is accept me for who I am, which is more than you've ever done. I've actually found people who want me around, instead of all the relatives you dumped me with who wouldn't have cared if I'd starved to death." She turned to look at the men who were spread around the room, smiling at her in silent support. "I don't need you anymore, Maude. I have a real family now."
Maude's expression hardened. "I did the best I could with you, Ezra. Whatever may have happened, including this whatever it is, was your own fault. You've always been an ungrateful whelp." A cold smile twisted her lips. "Besides, you do realize why your 'friends' will keep you around, don't you?"
The temperature in the room dropped as Isabel stared at Maude, her poker face firmly in place. After a moment of silence, Isabel finally smiled at Maude. "I am grateful that I had you because you drove me here. And here is where I belong." Her smile widened as she looked at the lawmen standing behind her. "I know exactly why they keep me around. For some reason, they seem to like me in whatever form I come in. I just wish that you could accept that."
She suddenly swayed, and only Buck's quick reflexes kept her from falling to the floor. The six lawmen glared at Maude as Buck and Nathan placed the unconscious Isabel on the bed. "She's just exhausted. This whole thing has taken a lot out of her."
Chris and Vin both turned on the conwoman. "I hope you're happy now. It isn't enough that she has to go through something this traumatic. Then you have to come in and shatter what little control she has left. And if that wasn't enough, you go and blame the whole thing on her."
Maude turned away from Chris, hoping to find some compassion from Vin. She froze when she saw the ice in his normally warm blue eyes. "Ma'am, I reckon you'd better leave before we stop being polite for Isabel's sake and just run you outa town."
Maude finally realized that she had no chance of winning and left, slamming the door closed behind her. The others waited until they were certain that she wasn't coming back to turn to Nathan.
"She ought to be fine. We just need to let her sleep, and then be supportive when she wakes up. I think she's still trying to hide the worst of it from us."
Chris smiled. "Did we really expect anything else?" He glanced at Vin, who nodded at his unspoken question. "Vin and I'll stay here with her until she wakes up. The rest of you, go see if you can find Maria Santos. Maybe she can undo what she did."
One week later, the seven were still searching for the elusive Maria Santos. Isabel had finally relented, and the remainder of the town was told about her changed condition. Since some of the strangness had worn off, life was starting to get back to the way it had been in Four Corners.
Isabel and Vin were sitting in the saloon, playing poker when four very drunk cowboys lurched in and headed straight for Isabel's table. All four had their guns drawn and they surrounded the table, two of the cowboys aiming at Vin and two at Isabel.
"Well, well, what have we here? Why is such a pretty little thing hiding in here playing cards with the tracker when you could be with us instead?" The cowboy reached out with his free hand to touch Isabel's cheek.
She flinched away, then turned to look at Vin. He nodded once, then tipped his chair back, hitting the man behind him and knocking him to the floor. He quickly pulled up his mare's-leg, aiming it at the two cowboys farthest from Isabel. The cowboy that had been reaching for Isabel suddenly found himself face down on the poker table, a derringer resting against the back of his neck.
Isabel leaned down close to his ear. "I would reccommend that you vacate these premises immediately, or else our sheriff will be forced to house you in the jail." She let him look up enough to see JD and Buck in the saloon doorway, smiling and waving at her and Vin. "Now, you loathsome curmudgeon, are you and your friends going to leave in peace, or must we drag you in pieces to the jail?"
The cowboy nodded frantically, and when Isabel let him up, he and his three friends ran out of the saloon past the laughing Buck and JD. Isabel brought two fingers up to the brim of her hat in a salute as the two laughing lawmen joined her and Vin at the poker table.
Buck gave Isabel a quick kiss on the cheek and only laughed harder when she glared at him. "Is, that was something else. It's even funnier cause none of those big guys was expecting a lick of trouble from a little thing like you."
"Thank you so much, Bucklin, for reminding me of my diminuative stature. I do so appreciate it." She began shuffling the cards violently, staring at them without really seeing them. Just as suddenly as she had begun, she stopped and layed the cards on the table. She felt Vin's comforting hand on her back as she looked up at Buck.
"I am sorry, Buck." She flashed him a small smile. "As much as I try to forget what has happened and be Ezra again, I find that I can't and that is very frustrating to me. I don't like it when things are taken out of my control, and I have been taking that out on the rest of you. I do apologize."
Buck just grinned good-naturedly at her. "Don't worry about it, Is. We know it's been hard for you. You just need to learn to laugh about it a little."
Isabel's smile widened, flashing the gold tooth. "Perhaps you are right, Buck. If I cannot find humor in my present situation, I fear I will be unable to find humor in anything again. And with the company I keep, that would be a disaster."
They were still laughing when a somber Chris walked into the saloon. The mirth in the room suddenly fled as the four turned to look at their leader. "Is, I've got some bad news." He paused, unwilling to take the last bit of hope away from the feminine gambler.
She squared her shoulders, and felt Vin's hand return to its previous spot on her back. "Whatever it is, just tell me, Chris. I can't stand this waiting anymore."
Chris took a deep breath and finally looked Isabel in the eye. "Maria Santos' body was found in Purgatorio this morning. She apparently killed herself." He knelt next to Isabel's chair and put a hand on her knee. "I'm sorry."
Her breath hitched once and a single tear slid down her cheek. Buck and JD both moved closer, trying to give her what comfort they could. After a moment, she looked at the four men surrounding her and smiled.
"I will survive this, Chris, with the help of my friends." She rose to her feet and gave each surprised man a kiss on the cheek. Then with a familiar smirk and two-fingered salute, she left the table and climbed the stairs to her room
Continues in Bothered