Something Unexpected
(Old West)

by Angelina

Once Upon a Lifetime by Alabama

Once upon a lifetime
I looked in someone's eyes
And felt the fire burning in my heart
For the very first time
She was scared and young
And had never tasted love
So I took her by the hand
And a boy became a man
Once upon a lifetime

Once upon a lifetime
You hold the Queen of Hearts
But if you gamble on a diamond
When the dealing start
You stand to lose it all
As the cards begin to fall
And the lesson learned is hard
You're only dealt the Queen of Hearts
Once upon a lifetime

So if you're taking chances
Know the chance you take
A broken heart's a high price to pay
Foolish ways will make fools of the wise
And best things seldom come along twice

Once upon a lifetime
You know that you've been blessed
When you hold your firstborn
Tenderly against your chest
And through the innocence you'll see
There you are, the family
And you feel a special bond that only comes along
Once upon a lifetime

So if your taking chances
Know the chance you take
A broken heart's a high price to pay
Foolish ways will make fools of the wise
And the best things seldom come along twice

And people only find
Love like yours and mine
Once upon a lifetime


"Ezra, where are you going?," inquired Angelina, worriedly. Victoria was close on her heels as Angelina followed Ezra throughout the house, as he began packing as if he was going on a long journey. For a split second, Maude's words about Ezra's wondering nature came back to haunt her. But she pushed those thoughts out of her head and was determined to pursue her husband relentlessly about his mission. Ezra just stalked around, tight-lipped while attempting to make sure he wasn't forgetting anything. Angelina gestured for Victoria to stay downstairs, as she almost tripped going upstairs after Ezra. Victoria's stricken look about broke Angelina's heart, but she would just have to apologize later.

Ezra was in their bedroom, going through the wardrobe and putting some of the articles of clothing in his saddlebags, which were resting on the bed. Angelina shut the door behind her and stood there with her arms crossed defensively across her chest. "Ezra Standish, tell me what's going on right now," she demanded furiously. How dare he treat her like that. He had promised her he would always tell her the truth, and here he was totally disregarding her feelings. Ezra looked up with a slightly irritated expression on his face, annoyance brimming over in his emerald green eyes. Angelina softened slightly as he turned to face her. Those eyes could manipulate her into agreeing to do just about anything. She blushed perceptibly at the thought that his strikingly green eyes had talked her, without any words, into a lot of things in their bedroom the last few months. She had almost regretted the coming of spring, because the dreariness of winter had found them together a great many days and nights, 'entertaining' themselves against the doldrums. But then spring had come, and with its advent, Victoria took up residence with them. Angelina was just starting to think that he was getting accustomed to the idea of having a family around him. But apparently she had been mistaken.

"Listen, it's a long story that I don't have time to go into right now. I've got to go with the guys on an assignment from Judge Travis and I should be back in about a week. Now, please stop badgering me. We're pulling out in a hour," Ezra explained, rushed to complete his preparations for his coming trip. He knew that if he told Angelina what they were supposed to be doing and the danger implicit, it would end up worrying both her and Victoria. He had not anticipated the possessive, almost angry way she was taking his silence. Ezra knew that Angelina cared for him, but he honestly hadn't thought that she would become this upset. He really didn't know how to deal with emotional women.

"Why can't they do it? It's not like you owe anything else to Judge Travis. You've got a family here and a job. Am I going to have to take care of the saloon and hotel while you run off gallivanting across the countryside?," she snapped back. She had no earthly idea why she was so put out with him over this. It was so totally unlike her.

"Angelina, Jim Thomson's taking care of the saloon along with Hank's help. You know they can run it without me quite well." Ezra squinted at her through narrowed eyes and responded coldly, "but if you are implying that I take my obligations around here lightly, then you are sorely mistaken, Mrs. Standish. I resent the fact that you are attempting to tell me what I may or may not do. I will come and go as I please, and I don't expect to be interrogated every time I decide to interact with my compatriots."

"Oh, get off the dictionary, Ezra. I resent the fact that you don't trust me enough to tell me what's going on!"

"Trust? You are certainly indicating a lack of trust in me, not accepting my rationale for leaving."

"What rationale? You haven't told me a damn thing about where you're going or what you're doing."

"I shouldn't have to. Now, drop it." Ezra turned back around, his shoulders and back tense from his irritation with his wife. Why couldn't she understand that it just wasn't in his nature to reveal everything about himself? He picked up his saddlebags and his hat, then walked to the door of their room. He stood face to face with his wife, who glared back defiantly at him. God, she was so beautiful when she does these totally irrational things. He wanted to drop everything and pull her into his arms, promising her that everything would be all right, but his pride wouldn't let him.

"I should drop you." There. It was said. No way to take it back. The hurt look in Ezra's eyes hurt her more than anything she had ever experienced.

"Well, if that's the way you really feel, then I guess I'll see you in court when we get back." Ezra, not about to let her see how much those rashly spoken words affected him, opened the door and walked down the steps. With the sound of each stride, Angelina thought she could hear the tinkling sounds as her heart broke into a million pieces. She threw herself on the bed and for the first time since her father had died five years ago, she cried herself to sleep.

Ezra caught a glimpse of Victoria seated on the sofa in the sitting room and he walked over to the door. Victoria jumped up and threw her arms around him, hugging him tightly around the waist. He stroked her cornsilk hair for a moment, then knelt down in front of her, her huge green eyes mirroring his. "Victoria, I want you to help out Angelina while I'm gone, okay? And be a good girl. I'll be back in about a week."

"Daddy?" The first time Victoria had ever referred to Ezra with that endearment.

He looked at her with a small expression of surprise on his face. "What is it?"

"I love you. Please come back."

Ezra almost cried. What he would have given to hear those words from his beautiful daughter again and again. He felt like he really did fit in with his little makeshift family. He hugged her tightly to him and replied softly into her hair, "I love you too, Victoria." The wonderful memory was bittersweet however. He had received the love of his daughter on the eve of his departure, only to lose the affection and trust he had gained from his wife. He wouldn't blame her if she left him when he returned. He reluctantly left his little girl standing there in the doorway of his house, and rode away from the first home he had ever truly known.

The next day was horrendous for Angelina. She had never spent a night apart from Ezra since they had been married and there was a hollow feeling she just couldn't shake, no matter how hard she tried. How pathetic, she thought dully, that a grown, self-sufficient women has been reduced to this. She made up her mind that she really didn't care if Ezra came back or not. Now if she could just tell it to her heart.

Victoria watched her cousin, wondering at the loss that was so apparent within the house. Why did adults have to be so stupid? Why couldn't her father and Angelina just admit that they were head over heels in love with each other? It would make everything so much easier around here. It was still hard for Victoria to think of her cousin as her step-mother, but Angelina was comfortable to keep their relationship the way it was before she and Ezra married. Victoria returned to her reading, hoping for summer to come soon and her birthday. Her daddy had promised her a horse for her eleventh birthday and she was determined to hold him to it.

Angelina, also trying to keep busy, decided to go and work with Nathan at the clinic. She still couldn't believe that the young black man was allowing her to assist him. It reminded her a lot of the days when she traveled with her father, treating the sick and wounded. One of these days she and Nathan would discover something important to the medical field, and this was as good a day as any to get to work on it. She gathered up her notebooks, specimen jars, and other minor laboratory equipment, then set of into town to join Nathan at work.

By the time she arrived, Angelina felt a little faint but chalked it up to not having any breakfast and the stressful night before. She opened the door to the clinic and poked her head inside, suddenly remembering that more than likely, Nathan had joined the other men on whatever assignment Ezra had been so secretive about. She set her things on a nearby wooden table and opened the curtains to brighten up the place and give her a better place to work.

"Surprised to see you in today, Angelina," rumbled a familiar voice behind her. She almost jumped a foot anyway, not expecting anyone to be there. Nathan put a comforting hand on her arm. "Sorry. Didn't mean to scare you like that."

"What are you doing here?," she asked when her heart finally came down out of her throat. "I thought you're supposed to be with Ezra and the rest on some type of request."

"Chris asked me and Josiah to stay here to watch the town. He asked Ezra to stay instead of Josiah, but Ezra volunteered to go with them," Nathan explained as he began to clean up around the clinic. It wasn't a busy time for them, so during the lulls he tried to do some standard maintenance there or he would help out Josiah down at the church, which was coming along quite nicely. He thought Angelina would be staying at home with Victoria while Ezra was gone. Nathan noticed the white pallor to Angelina's normally dusky skin and frowned. "Are you feeling, okay?"

"Just a little tired, Nathan. I'll be fine."

"You didn't have to come in. We're not busy and it's most likely going to stay that way for a couple of days. Go home and get some rest. Spend some time with Victoria."

"Victoria's at a friend's house for the day. I really don't feel like spending the day alone in that house." The stricken expression on her face tipped Nathan off that something really was wrong. He took her by the hand and guided her over to a couple of chairs, where he motioned for her to sit down, then he joined her.

"What's wrong, honey?" With anyone else, Nathan would have never risked an endearment like that, but he had grown close to his friend's wife and knew that she would understand that it was intended totally in friendship. He held her hand as she stared blankly at the floor.

"I don't know. Ezra and I had a fight last night about him leaving and there were some harsh words spoken. If it wasn't for Victoria, I doubt he would even come back. It was a stupid fight really, and I overreacted and..," she drifted off as she covered her face in her hands. After a moment, her damp eyes met Nathan's sympathetic gaze. "I don't know what I would do without him, Nathan. I don't understand why I'm reacting like this. I'm just so tired all the time. And then Victoria came to live with us. I love her but I don't know how to be a good mother to her. Everything seems so overwhelming." At this, she broke down and began crying. Nathan tentatively placed a strong arm around her shoulder and attempted to soothe her.

Ezra stared at the flames of the campfire, lost in thought and wishing he was at home with his beautiful wife. How could he have done that to her? He really could be a bastard at times. Never would he have wanted his wife to cry like she did that night. The only reason he volunteered for the assignment was that he was going to Eagle Bend anyway to pick up something for Angelina he had ordered from back east. When Chris said he need a couple people to help him transport some prisoners back to Four Corners for trial, Ezra said he'd go along. He really owed Chris a lot for the past year. Chris had turned out to be a good friend to him, not to mention a good customer at the saloon.

Chris looked over at the younger man, who appeared as if he had lost everything he loved in the world. He knew that Ezra had been on edge since leaving Four Corners the night before, but no one had enough nerve to take the silent man on when he was in such a surly state. Chris had to make an overture so he walked over to where Ezra was seated on the ground, and sat down next to him. "Ezra, what's bothering you?"

"Mr. Larabee, I hope you don't take offense and maybe you'll understand what I'm about to say, but I really do not feel the inclination to discuss my private musings with you."

"You need to talk to somebody about it. You're pricklier than a wounded porcupine," commented Chris. "Ezra, I mean it. Did something happen between you and Angelina?"

Ezra winced as if that sore spot was actually a physical one. "I didn't tell her what I doing or where I was going, and she got mad. I know she had every right to be. I guess I've been so used to not answering to anyone, not trusting anyone, that maybe this time I pushed it a little too far."

"That happens sometimes," replied Chris sagely, as he reminisced back to a happier time in his life, when he and Sarah would argue and make up. "But, Ezra, remember, the making up's the best part. No one said marriage was easy. You'll have these spats but most of the time they don't mean shit in the end. The bottom line is don't ever have too much pride that you throw away a great thing on something petty."

"I guess you're right," Ezra acceded, "Chris, I don't know what I'd do without her. I think that is what scares me the most, that I could never go back to the life I had before."

"Why would you want to go back to looking over your shoulder to see if a lawman or a vindictive loser is tailing you? Why would you ever want a life without a family or a steady income? Angelina should add to your life, not become it. Ezra, I'm going to ask you a very personal question and you can tell me to go to hell if you want: Have you ever told her that you love her?"

"Is it that apparent?"

"To everyone but you, and apparently her. You might be a good con man but even you, with your talent, couldn't hide this from anyone that knows you."

"What should I do?"

"Tell her." Chris patted his friend on the shoulder and returned to his pallet, laying down by the warmth of the campfire and fell asleep.

Victoria came running into the clinic the next morning, frantically searching for Nathan. Nathan saw the panicked expression on the little girl's face and halted her before him. "Whoa, honey. What's the matter?"

"Nathan, you need to come quick. Angelina..." she broke off hysterically.

"Hold on just a second. Let me get my bag and we'll go." Nathan grabbed his gear and headed out the door, running. Victoria was straining to keep up with the long strides of the black man. Ezra would kill him for sure if something ever happened to his wife, Nathan thought ruefully. As they arrived at the house, Victoria led the healer around to the back yard, where he could see Angelina's inert form lying face up on the hard ground. "Victoria, what happened to your cousin?"

"I...I...I don't know," she blubbered. "I was standing at the back door while Angelina was hanging the laundry. Then all of a sudden she just collapsed and I couldn't get her up and I didn't know what to do, Nathan. Is she going to die?"

'No, you did just fine, honey. She's going to be all right," he hoped fervently. She had a strong heartbeat and her breathing was even. That had to be a good sign. He gently picked her limp body and carried her into the house, up the stairs to her bedroom. He set her down lightly on the bed and checked her pulse again. Then he pulled a small vial out of his bag and uncorked it, waving it in front of her nose. About thirty seconds later, she began to come around blearily.

"Wha...What happened?," Angelina inquired in a hoarse whisper.

"I was kinda hopin' you could tell me," replied Nathan. "Victoria said you passed out cold."

"I don't know really. The last thing I recall is feeling a little lightheaded and then everything went black."

"Have you been eatin' right? Gettin' enough sleep at night?"

"I guess I have been a little tired lately. I just haven't been as hungry as usual, but it's been so hot recently."

"I'm going to take a little blood test to see if there's any kind of infection present." He took a small amount of blood from her arm and drained it in a bottle filled with a clear liquid, used to keep the blood from coagulating. Nathan only wished he had better equipment and reagents to work with. "Victoria, why don't you stay here with your cousin and I'll be back to check on y'all in a little while, okay? Angelina, don't get out of bed for anything. If you need something, send Victoria for it."

Nathan left, as Angelina feel into a deep sleep. He went back to his clinic to try and determine as diagnostically as he could with the dearth of equipment in the small town what was wrong with his friend's wife. After a few long hours pouring over slides and biochemical analysis, he thought he had the answer, but he wondered how Angelina would take it. He almost thought to wait until Ezra got home so that Nathan could tell them together, but he didn't feel he could wait that long. Anyway there was a certain aspect to doctor-patient confidentiality that he shouldn't breach, even if her husband was one of his closest friends.

Ezra, Chris, Vin, Buck, and JD rode into Eagle Bend about the same time Nathan was reaching his medical conclusions. They stopped off to let the sheriff know that they had arrived and would be heading out that afternoon. Ezra headed off to the train station in search of his package, while the other four men made their way to the saloon for some hot food and cool beer.

Ezra picked up the package and placed it into his saddlebag, then joined his compatriots in the bar. After a decent meal and a relaxing drink, the men gathered their horses and retrieved the prisoners from the local jail. One of the men, a convicted murderer, was being transported to Four Corners so the army could pick him up and take him to Fort Yuma. He stared out maliciously at the four lawmen as he rode next to JD's horse, hands tied in front.

As the men drew near to the outskirts of Four Corners, the murder tried to make a break for it. He struck JD with a glancing uppercut with his tied hands, then held him down long enough to take a couple of shots before Chris and Vin put four rounds through him, killing him instantly. One shot went wide, but the other embedded itself deeply into the muscle of Ezra's chest, knocking him clean off Chaucer into the hard packed dust of the road. By the time Chris arrived at Ezra's prone form, deep red blood had soaked through the clean white linen shirt. "Oh, shit, Ezra. Don't move. Are you okay?"

"I feel like I've been run over by a stagecoach," Ezra joked weakly as pain marred his beautiful green eyes. "Did you catch him?" Vin and Buck knelt down beside him.

"Buddy, we got 'em. Don't you worry," reassured Buck nervously. He couldn't tell how badly Ezra had been shot, but the copious amounts of blood couldn't be good.

Chris briefly examined Ezra for any other injuries and once he was satisfied that there was only the chest wound to deal with, he turned his attention back to Ezra's face. "Ezra, we're going to have to get you back to Four Corners. We're not too far from town. Do you think you ride back there?"

"I presume I don't have much of a choice in the matter." Ezra grunted, then moaned as excruciating pain lanced through his body, when his friends helped him to his feet and over to Chaucer. As he slowly mounted the horse, he glimpsed the corpse of the man who had attempted to kill him. Inexplicably he seethed with anger towards this man, an anger that he had never felt towards anyone in his entire life. He had the strongest desire to curl up right there and die, the pain was so bad.

"Ezra!" Chris's sharp voice snapped him out of his reverie. "Hang in there. Don't you give up on us. Who would take care of Angelina and Victoria otherwise?" The mention of his beautiful wife and daughter brought him renewed strength to struggle on towards home, where someone, his family, was waiting for him.

"Nathan, what is it?" Angelina's warm brown eyes became more concerned as she took in Nathan's neutral expression. She had seen that expression many times with other patients, the kind of look that in its attempt to not be alarming, can be the most worrisome. The young black man entered her bedroom, where moments before Angelina and Victoria had been playing cards. Angelina had noticed that Ezra had been teaching his daughter more card tricks, as Victoria had been successful at every game they had played so far. Angelina had beaten Ezra a couple of times in the past, but she had a feeling that Victoria had already surpassed her father's card playing ability. Ezra would not be thrilled when he found that out.

"Victoria, can I talk to your cousin for a minute?" Victoria, although visibly curious, left the room without argument. Nathan joined Angelina as he sat on the edge of the bed and took her wrist gently in his large hand, ostensibly to take her pulse. "How have you been feeling today?"

"Fine. I hate being cooped up here." She studied his face for a moment. "Now, what did you find out from the tests? Nathan, you can tell me. I promise I won't get too upset."

"You have to promise me you'll tell Ezra about it."

"Nathan, I don't want to worry him with anything. I certainly don't want him staying around here being miserable all the time."

"You have to promise. Or else I'll tell him first."

"All right, I will." Nathan's dubious expression caused her to reiterate her response. "Really, I promise to tell him, now what is it?"

"I'm pretty sure your fainting spells and dizziness are caused by iron-deficient anemia, so you are going to have find some way to get more iron in your diet. Anemia can be brought on by several different things: infection, bone problems, liver problems, various cancers...."

"Yeah, so what's your point?"

"I wasn't finished....pregnancy."

"What..." She took one look at the expression on his face, which confirmed her worst fears. This was why he had made her promise to tell Ezra. Now they were tied together inexorably for the rest of their lives. In the few discussions about their life together, Ezra had always played down the notion of wanting another child. Victoria was enough for him. What would he do when he found out? Would he think that she had tried to trap him into staying in the marriage? Angelina was torn; she wanted a child, especially one with him, but at the same time, she didn't know how she could handle being a mother when the father of her child didn't love her.

"Angelina, I going to have to ask you to take it easy for the next couple of weeks until the spells go away. Then you should be able to resume your old lifestyle, with some limitations, of course. I explain to Ezra that he's going to need to help you out even more around her for the next few months." Nathan's doctor's detachment melted as he concentrated on her stricken expression. "Honey, I know things have been kinda rough the last few weeks, but I think, no, I know Ezra will come around. He loves children. You and him are just going to have to sit down and talk it out. I don't know of two better parents for a child to have." He held her delicate hand in his and sat quietly.

A few minutes the sound of riders approached their end of the street. Victoria was yelling for Nathan to come downstairs, that the guys were home. Angelina got up and followed Nathan down the stairs, just in time to meet the men coming in the front door, Buck and Chris with Ezra's unconscious body in their arms. Straining under the gambler's weight, the two men climbed the stairs, closely followed by Nathan and Angelina.

"What happened?," asked Nathan, as he began to professionally examine Ezra while the other men unwrapped the blankets they had enfolded him in to prevent a greater loss of body heat.

"He was shot in the chest by one of our prisoners," Chris stated matter-of-factly, the only way he would allow himself to look at the situation. Angelina sucked in a sharp breath as the bloody shirt was exposed. "He did real good until a few minutes ago when he tried to get off Chaucer, that's when he passed out." Angelina stood stock still, helpless as she watched Nathan work frantically to stem the crimson flow of blood from his chest.

Nathan looked for a moment and noticed that she was standing there, watching. "Chris, get her outta here, NOW!" Then he returned his attention to the job at hand.

Chris placed a comforting arm around her shoulders and escorted Ezra's wife from the room. Angelina slumped to the floor right outside the door of their bedroom. She didn't think she could stand the thought of losing Ezra, of spending the rest of her life and her nights in that bed alone. Chris stared at her, unable to help her. He would never wish the pain and the loss he felt with the deaths of his wife and son on anyone else, especially not this wonderful creature. Should he tell her about what Ezra had told him or should he wait and let Ezra do it himself? He knew that it was up to Ezra to declare his feeling for Angelina, but at the same time, if Ezra died without Angelina knowing how he felt about her, Chris didn't know how he'd be able to live with himself afterward.

Nathan interrupted before Chris could make any kind of decision. "He's hanging in there, but the next several hours are going to be critical. Angelina, if you want to see him and you don't stress yourself too much, you can go in. I can't promise that he'll know you're there, though.

Angelina opened the door tentatively, and crept over to the side of the bed, where her handsome husband lay. What she wouldn't give for him to open his eyes so that she could see those emerald orbs just one last time. His gorgeous face was etched with lines of pain, but he seemed to be breathing easily. She took his long dexterous fingers in her own delicate hand, and traced the webs of the fingers, that could so deftly manipulate cards by day and seduce her by night. She immediately regretted the things she had said rashly, before their angry separation. She needed that extra chance to tell him that she loved him, that she was so afraid of losing him, and about the baby, their baby. She needed him to be there to help her raise their child together. She had never felt so scared in her entire life, contemplating a future without him in it.

"Ezra, I don't know if you can hear me. I want you to come back. I'm so sorry about what I said to you before you left. I never wanted any life but the one I have here with you. I've never felt like I really belonged anywhere until now, until I met you. Don't you dare leave me," she whispered angrily. "I'm scared, Ezra. I hate that feeling. I want you back here with me and Victoria."

No movement.

"Ezra, I promised Nathan I would tell you as soon as you got back from Eagle Bend. I never imagined it would be like this, but maybe it's easier this way. I'm pregnant. When I first found out, I wasn't sure what to think. But now, I know I want your baby and I want you to be here for the baby as well. You will make a wonderful father. There are so many things that you could teach me about children. If anything, can't you just imagine the expression on your mother's face when you tell she's going to be a grandmother again. But you have to be here to do that. Ezra, as hard as it is for me to admit, I love you. I've loved you since the day you agreed to my little plan to escape my family. I just wish I had been able to tell you before...this." She lay her head down next to him on the bed and began to sob.

"I love you too, Angel." He weakly began to stroke her hair. Angelina looked up quickly to stare at those striking green eyes she never thought she gaze upon again. "I've been a craven coward the whole time I've known you, not willing to admit, even to myself what I felt for you was anything as serious as love." He gazed lovingly at her tear-stained face. "I wouldn't have put you through this for the world. I should have been here when you found out about the baby, but my pride was too big to let me see that you needed me. I know I can't make it up to you, but I promise I will try to be the best father, and husband, I can." He began drifting off again as his tired body desired rest to heal itself. "Angel, don't leave me - stay here please." His long lashed eyes fluttered shut contentedly as she squeezed his hand reassuringly.

"I'm not going anywhere."

(for now - more stories to come....)

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