May I Have This Dance?

Standard fanfic disclaimer that wouldn't last ten seconds in a court of law: these aren't my characters. I'm just borrowing them for, um, typing practice. Yeah, that's it, typing practice. Originally published in the fanzine Let's Ride #9, from Neon RainBow Press. Warning: This is Chapter 5 of the Mrs. Standish AU. It's AU, it's Mary Sue, and it's part of a continuing series. If any of those things bother you, I shall not be insulted if you chose a different story to read.

May I Have This Dance?

by Susan M. M.

Magnificent Seven

Chapter 5 of the Mrs. Standish AU

Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?

Would you be my partner every night?

When we're together, it feels so right.

Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?

– Wayland Holyfield & Bob House

Late May to early June, 1878

Marina Standish set a plate of omelettes on the table before her husband. "Would you think it terribly extravagant of me to purchase a new dress for the dance, Mr. Standish?"

She sat down across the table from him, but did not eat. She'd had her breakfast two hours ago, before milking the cow, feeding the livestock, and gathering the eggs.

"Totally unnecessary, Mrs. Standish. Since we are not going to the dance, the need does not arise." Ezra Standish sipped his coffee appreciatively. Marina, for all her faults, did brew an excellent cup of coffee. "The point is therefore moot."

The redhead tried to keep the disappointment she felt from showing on her face. "Why not?"

"I do not choose to attend. That is sufficient reason. And my wife does not attend social functions at which I am not present, other than quilting bees and feminine gatherings of that nature." The gambler drained his cup and held it out to his wife. "May I trouble you for more coffee, Mrs. Standish?"

"Of course, sir." She got up to fetch the coffeepot. As she poured, she tried to think of a way to change his mind that he wouldn't recognize as manipulation.

oOo

"Inez, you sure do look purty this morning," Buck told her.

"You are only saying that because I am feeding you," the Mexican woman retorted. She set a plate of flapjacks on the table in front of him.

"No, ma'am," he denied. "You're like the first star, glistening in the sky in the evening, or a wildflower, growing in the woods."

"If you want more pancakes, try paying for them," Inez Rocillos suggested tartly. "Vin, you have everything you need?"

The bounty hunter finished chewing. "Yes,ma'am."

"Inez, there's a dance comin' up soon," Buck mentioned, trying to gain the woman's attention once more.

"I know."

"I'd be the luckiest man in town if you permitted me to escort you."

"Maybe Ezra, he doesn't give me that night off?" she countered.

"I'll make sure he does," Buck promised.

"Oh? What will you do, lose to him at cards again?" She stood there mockingly, her hands on her hips, her dark eyes flashing, her eyebrows raised.

Vin chuckled.

"I'll talk to Miz Standish," Buck said, ignoring his friend's laughter. "I know she's plannin' to go. I saw her starin' at a pretty dresses in the window of Mrs. Reid's shop."

JD walked into the saloon. He waved at Inez and smiled when she looked at him. "Buenos días, Inez," he said, mispronouncing the words. "Got any flapjacks left?"

"." She smiled at his attempt to speak Spanish. "I will go get them."

Larabee and most of his peacekeepers bought half their meals in the Queen of Diamonds. Not so much because they wanted to subsidize Ezra, as the fact that few of them could cook without giving themselves food poisoning. The food was better in the restaurant, but more expensive there. And while the Lazy Hawk Saloon also had food, its menu was limited to sandwiches and chili, neither of high quality.

"Bet you he's too chicken to ask Casey to the dance," Buck whispered.

Vin's pale blue eyes twinkled mischievously. "How much?"

"A dollar."

"Deal," agreed the long-haired bounty hunter.

Ezra strode into the Queen of Diamonds, greeting everyone politely.

"You're up early, Ez. Ain't noon yet," Buck joked.

Ezra merely forced a smile, not considering the jest worthy of a reply.

"Need to talk to you a minute, Ezra." Buck walked over to the gambler. "I asked Inez to the dance, but she wasn't sure she could get the night off. You ain't planning to make her work that night, are you?"

"Business will likely be slow that night. I suppose I could handle things by myself that evening. Unless, of course, the lovely señorita merely wants a polite excuse to turn you down and would prefer I kept her on duty."

"You ain't going to the dance?"

"I have no intention of attending, no."

"Why not?" The dark-haired cowboy knew Ezra enjoyed dancing, and was good at it. And he knew Marina Standish wanted to go.

"Look what happened the last time I attended such a gathering."

The last time Ezra had attended a dance, back in March, he had helped up a young lady who had stumbled. Her cousins, misinterpreting his assistance, decided that he was trifling with the girl, and had forced him into holy wedlock, three guns trained on him until the pastor reached "You may kiss the bride." Judge Travis had refused to annul the marriage, or grant a divorce, much to Ezra's dismay and Marina's delight.

"Hell, ain't likely to happen again – can't happen – you're already married." Buck was amused at Ezra's reaction.

"Nonetheless, I see no reason to take unnecessary chances."

oOo

"What do you think you're doing?" Nathan Jackson demanded.

Startled, the dark-haired gambler glanced up to see the healer standing over him. For once, the innocent look in his green eyes was genuine. "Playing solitaire."

"With my father," Nathan specified.

"I'm not playing cards with Obadiah," Ezra said.

"What's he doin', workin' at your house? He's an old man, and he's sick," Nathan reminded him. "What's the matter, your house doesn't feel like a home unless you've got a darky working there?"

Ezra's nostrils flared. "I resent your insinuation, Mr. Jackson. I didn't hire him, and I did not authorize Mrs. Standish to engage any domestic servants. Perhaps I should have a word with her."

"Maybe we both should." Nathan stepped back, making room for Ezra to get up.

Sighing, Ezra complied. "Inez, keep an eye on things. I'll be back presently."

She nodded and continued wiping down the bar.

oOo

A few minutes' walk brought them to Ezra's house. Obadiah Jackson was on his knees, working in the garden.

"Morning, suh. Hey there, son," the ex-slave greeted them both. "You be careful of your fine clothes, suh, just finished manuring the mint."

Ezra wrinkled his nose, smelling the truth of what Obadiah said. "Is my wife inside?"

"Yes, suh."

Ezra and Nathan went in. They found Marina sweeping the parlor.

"Surprised you don't have Daddy doing that, too," Nathan muttered.

"Mrs. Standish, why is Obadiah in our front yard?" Ezra demanded.

"He's helping me with the garden," Marina said matter-of-factly.

Nathan stepped forward. "Miz Standish, my daddy's a sick man. He shouldn't be working."

"I know, but you try telling him that." The redhead leaned the broom against the wall. Nathan just looked at her, so she continued. "He's too proud to accept charity, so I've been trading him chores for home-cooked meals and a little pocket money … when I can get him to accept the money."

"How much money?" Ezra inquired.

"It came from my butter-and-egg money, so you don't worry about it." By tradition, the money that came from selling excess milk, butter, and eggs were the wife's funds to do with as she pleased. "Don't fret, Mr. Jackson. I try to keep him from doing too much."

"What sort of chores?" Nathan asked her suspiciously.

"Gardening, mostly. Sometimes he helps me carry the laundry out to the line, or mucks out Daisy's stall."

"You mustn't let him work too hard, Miz Standish. He ain't got much strength. He … he's dyin'."

The woman nodded and smiled, looking up at him sympathetically, her hazel eyes a little bright. "I know. I figure the least I can do is let him die with dignity. If his pride won't let him take charity, then I'll let him earn what I would've given him anyway. 'The laborer is worthy of his hire,'"she quoted. She turned to her husband. "I can't see that it's any different from the deal I made with Mr. Tanner, trading home cooked meals for fresh game."

"I owe you an apology, Ezra. You and Miz Standish both," Nathan admitted.

"It's not the first time," Ezra said, remembering Li Pong.

"What Mr. Standish means is that it's fine. Think nothing of it," Marina corrected her husband gently.

"I didn't say that," Ezra retorted. "And you might have mentioned to me that you were employing Obadiah."

"I didn't think you were interested in domestic details, sir. Besides, it's not as if I need my butter-and-egg money for a new dress," she complained, "since we're not going to the dance."

Nathan decided he didn't want to get caught in the middle of a marital spat. "Sorry, Ezra. 'Scuse me, Miz Standish." He made a quick retreat, wondering as he left when Ezra and Marina were going to make it to a first-name basis. They had been married two months now.

oOo

"Hello, Mr. Larabee."

"Hello, Billy," the gunslinger greeted Mary Travis' son. He was fond of the boy, and having saved his life twice, he felt responsible for the lad.

"My mama's going to that dance that's coming up," Billy announced.

"I'm not surprised. Your mama's a pretty lady. I'll bet half the men in town would like to dance with her," Chris said, giving the boy a half-smile.

"If Mama goes by herself, she's gonna talk girl-stuff with the other ladies between dances. That's gonna be boring. But if you asked her to the dance, we could talk man-stuff between the dances," Billy hinted, he fixing the gunfighter with a pleading stare.

"Quilting bees and clothes and such-like?" Larabee asked in amusement.

Billy nodded his blond head.

"Sounds like you need rescuing. Maybe I should ask her if she'd come with me… just to save you from quilting bees and clothes," Larabee agreed.

"Thanks, Chris. I sure do 'preciate it."

oOo

Vin took a deep breath and stepped into the office of the Clarion. He picked up a newspaper and slowly read the headlines. "Pres-ee-dent Hayes gives speech on ed-yuc-at-ee-on." He looked up, puzzlement at the strange word showing in his pale blue eyes.

"Education," Mary Travis, the pretty blonde editor, corrected.

He continued to sound out the next line. "Where knowledge spreads, wealth spreads, and t' diffuse knowledge in the world is t' diffuse wealth in the world."**

Mary smiled at him. "Very good, Vin."

"I cain't say thank y' enough, Mary. Y' took me from not knowin' A from B t' readin' almost anythin' I want to. Even writin' down m' own poems," he said shyly, fidgeting slightly.

"It was my pleasure, Vin."

"I was wonderin' if I could escort y' t' the dance, maybe buy y' a fancy dinner at the restaurant b'forehand," he asked nervously.

"Oh, Vin, that's so sweet of you, but I already agreed to let Chris escort me," she said.

"Oh."

"I'll be happy to save you a dance, though."

"That'd be right kind of y', Mary." He managed to keep his tone level, but his pale blue eyes betrayed his disappointment.

oOo

** From a speech by Rutherford B. Hayes, given May 15, 1878.