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Mon, May. 26th, 2008, 02:11 pm
Masquerade

Title: Masquerade

Author: Kitipurr

Pairing/Characters: Ezra/Vin

Warnings: None, really

Summary: A costume party and the seven. Seriously, did you think it would go smoothly?

Notes: Written for Cowboy Dreams Hawthorne Challenge 03: The "silk, satin & leather" challenge. Satin, Silk and Leather challenge - if you could use all three materials in your story.



--------


“Can’t believe I let ya talk me inta this,” Vin grumbled, adjusting his… what the hell was it called again?

“Stop that,” Ezra said, smacking Vin’s hand away as he walked past toweling his hair. “You’ll spoil the shape of it and then we’ll have to start all over. And you were the one who said you wanted to go as something classic. What’s more classic than Count Dracula?”

“I guess,” Vin sighed. “And just when do you intend ta get dressed anyway?” He waved at Ezra’s bronze-colored chenille robe. “Or is that your costume and you’re going as Hugh Hefner?”

“Hardly,” Ezra pursed his lips sourly at the suggestion. “Don’t worry, I’ll be dressed in plenty of time. But you, my dear man, require extra work. We still have the teeth and makeup…”

“Makeup?!”

“Certainly you’ll never convince anyone you’re the Prince of Darkness if you’re still showing off your golden tan.”

“Aw, hell no!” Vin reached up for his collar again and again his hand was batted away as Ezra took the towel back to the bathroom.

“Stop that.”

“Damn thing feels like a choke collar.”

“Just how would you know that, Mr. Tanner?” Ezra purred, causing Vin to blush thoroughly. Ezra laughed. “Oh come now, it’s not that tight.”

“No makeup. Hey, the guy was from Transylvania, right? That’s near Hungary, ain’t it? They’re a darker-skinned people.”

Ezra stuck his head out the bathroom door in surprised delight. “Well argued, Mister Tanner. I will concede your point; no makeup.” Vin grinned as he absently reached for his collar but was stopped short by a finger pointing decisively at his billowing neckwear. “Stop!”

“Stupid… what the hell is it again? ‘Cuz I know there’s gonna be a quiz at some point on all this stuff.”

“Would I do that?” A blue-eyed glare was the only answer. “No quiz, promise. Scout’s honor.”

“You ain’t never been a boy scout. Swindled ‘em outta their merit badges, more like.”

“Mister Tanner, I am deeply hurt.” Ezra’s twinkling eyes. “And it’s a King Charles the Second cravat.”

“Ain’t no man alive should wear this much lace,” Vin muttered, waving a hand at the artistically molded neckpiece. “Shirt’s bad enough – damn thing’s nearly see-through.”

“It’s not that bad. It gives just a hint as to what’s underneath.”

“Ain’t nothin’ underneath. That’s my point. Should at least put on an undershirt or somethin’.”

“Nonsense. It would spoil the lines.”

“You’n’yer lines, Standish. That why I get barely more’n a bikini under ma drawers?”

Ezra winked wickedly. “Just think how the women will flock to you. Every girl at the dance will want to be bit by you.”

The Texan sighed as he watched Ezra disappear into the bathroom, then turned to consider himself carefully in the mirror. When Chris had dropped the bombshell that Team Seven would be required to put in an appearance at the Colorado governor’s annual May Day benefit costume ball, he’d begun planning his excuses. When Chris had pointedly looked at his second-in-command as he’d explained that anyone NOT in attendance had better have a doctor’s note explaining his emergency surgery in detail, Tanner had panicked.

The last time Vin had attended a costume party – when he was sixteen – he’d spent the entire night fielding insults on how uncreative he was with his cowboy costume. Initially he’d thought to go to JD for help – after all, the youngest member of the team was nothing if not creative. However, when JD had announced that he himself was going as Jar Jar Binks, Vin quickly changed his mind out of fear over ending up dressed as some other equally-loathsome pop-culture reference. Asking Buck would only get him dressed as a male stripper; and he knew Nathan would be turning to Rain for help, Josiah would probably go as some religious icon (as always), and Chris would be getting his costume assistance from Mary.

So that left Ezra.

And now he found himself standing in front of a mirror having to admit - at least to himself - that he looked damn good even if he felt extremely uncomfortable. His legs were sheathed in clinging black silk trousers that sank low on his hips, and his torso was draped in a flowing white shirt of filmy soft lace with excessively ruffled cuffs to match the obnoxiously piled cravat, bound at the waist by a three-inch-wide red silk sash.

As he stood considering his appearance, Ezra materialized and with deft fingers fixed an enormous ruby cameo into the lace collar, pinning it in place. “Perfect,” Ezra nodded, stepping back to admire his handiwork. “Now while I go dress, put your shoes on… don’t give me that face, they’ll give you an extra couple of inches and are perfectly in style with your outfit. Then brush out your hair and spritz it with the gel spray I gave you. Just before we leave, I’ll help you get into your suit coat and cape – you might as well wait or you’ll get too warm.”

“You’re lovin’ this WAY too much,” Vin chuckled. “Never thought I’d be makin’ this much fuss over a simple costume.”

“My dear man, what do I do for a living?” Ezra asked, sticking his head out of the bathroom door with one eyebrow arched. The auburn curls ducked back into the bathroom, but the soft melodious drawl wafted out in merry chatter. “I play dress up, I recreate myself into a new character, I put on costumes and play ‘let’s pretend.’ Lord knows I of all people am going to ‘fuss’ over a costume, even if it is just for a charitable event.” The head poked out again with a brilliant smile. “What do I always tell you about preparing for an undercover assignment?”

“It’s all in the details,” Vin recited diligently. His teacher nodded approval, then vanished again. “I suppose I should have known.”

“Are you putting your shoes on?”

Vin sighed and turned to the pair of high-heeled colonial-style boots which sat in their box on the bed, briefly wondering where one even got such shoes. He had to admit they looked real nice, all polished to a fine sheen with a round silver buckle on the front of each. And it would be kind of fun being a little taller – not that he was exactly short at one inch shy of six feet, but it would be interesting to be an inch taller than Chris for a night. He wondered what the blond would say about that.

Shoes on, he moved to the dressing mirror in the corner, picking up Ezra’s soft-bristled brush and the aforementioned spritz on the way. He spent a long few moments following his previously given instructions of brushing through, then spritzing the bristles and brushing through again, then finally spraying his hair once over for the final application. He studied himself in the mirror, noting the way the gel gave his hair an almost polished look. It felt nice and ridiculous at the same time, for a man who usually spent all of five seconds combing through his locks before tucking them into a leather tie.

“You look smashing, my friend,” Ezra said from behind him. Vin turned to respond…

. . .

“Vin?”

. . .

“Vin?” Ezra frowned at his friend’s blank expression. The man glanced down at his outfit, his face saying he was suddenly wondering if it was a bad choice. “Vin? What, it doesn’t work?”

“Huh?” Vin asked. He absently ran a hand under his lip in an attempt to control any possible drool.

Ezra stood before him in the form of a god. His sturdy frame was encased from the waist down in black leather pants so tight Vin was sure they’d been painted right on to his body… and there was no question whether the man was wearing underwear or not since there certainly wasn’t any room for it. The legs were tucked neatly into the tops of knee-high leather boots that were polished to a fine gloss, each boot decorated with small gold rivets along the outer seam.

A black leather sword belt slung low around his hips, the gold hilt of the Spanish style foil gleaming from its scabbard. He wore a black satin poet’s shirt with the collar open to nearly his navel, the loose arms captured in constricting bands on his biceps. His cuffs disappeared into black leather gloves which reached his elbows, and he wore a black leather ‘bandito’ mask, his emerald eyes glittering through the eyeholes. His hair was hidden under an appropriately Spanish-styled round black hat.

“Zorro,” Vin whispered in awe.

“Indeed,” Ezra nodded, still unsure how to read his friend’s reaction. “Do I look…”

“Perfect,” Vin interrupted. “Damn, Ez, ya look… shit, glad there ain’t no costume contest. Nobody’d stand a chance next to ya.” Vin grinned as he noticed a slight flush creeping into his friend’s cheeks. “Guess I ain’t gonna have ta worry about beatin’ off them ladies. I’ll jist stand near you and they’ll all detour right on around me.”

Ezra made a slight clucking noise with his tongue. “Well, I’d wager there will be a few who will happily ignore that detour. But I’m afraid we haven’t time to lay the odds properly right now. Let’s get your teeth in, shall we?”

Vin grinned. *Yeah, teeth…*

***

There was no question that Vin and Ezra’s costumes were a hit. Everyone marveled at how natural Vin’s fangs appeared, and he found himself repeating the story of how Ezra had purchased special incisor caps which were held in place with a little dental cement – which the man had assured Vin would come off easily with the appropriate solvent. Ezra, for his part, was routinely complimented on his costume, though Vin noted in a quiet aside to Chris how it seemed only the women who were commenting.

“Jealous?” Chris had asked, his lips turned in amusement.

“Just seems maybe they could leave’im alone for five seconds, ya know?” Vin groused sourly. “Do they gotta eye’im like he’s the main course?”

Chris raised a sandy brow as he studied his friend. Vin was as wound up as Larabee could ever recall seeing him; his arms were folded tightly over his muscular chest, hands stuffed defiantly into his arm pits. Two blue eyes gazed darkly at their coworker and his collection of mostly-scantily-clad admirers on the other side of the dance floor… particularly the way soft feminine hands seems to ‘accidentally’ find their ways along a leather-clad thigh every so often…

“I was asking if you were jealous of Ez getting all the girls, cowboy,” Chris murmured softly. “Not of all the girls getting Ez.”

It took a second for Vin to catch up with his friend’s words, and then he turned a startled and slightly flushed face toward his boss. Chris grinned wickedly.

“A little taken with him, aren’cha?” the blond chuckled. “Think I haven’t noticed you keeping an eye on him before now? I’m your best friend, I know you. I know what that look means.” Chris nodded toward the green-eyed southern-bred gentlemen being ringed by females with a knowing gaze. “And gotta admit: if I leaned that way, tonight I’d practically be drooling over that low-cut neck showing off his nicely built chest, and them tight pants showing every curve of his ass…”

“Geez, Larabee!” Vin had to turn away from the view as Chris’ description set his mind racing. “You could be a little kinder. Ain’t like he’s playing the same team, ya know?”

“You know this for a fact?” Chris asked, turning to follow his friend toward the refreshment table.

Vin shrugged. “You ever get any indication?”

Chris thought for a moment. “No, can’t say as I have, but that doesn’t mean anything. Man’s better at hiding stuff than Mary’s damn cat. Did I tell you I had to get another beeper? Stupid fur ball hid another one.”

“How many is that now?” Vin asked, grinning. Mary’s precious Muffikins was the bane of Chris’ love life with the fair newspaper reporter. If both Mary and Billy didn’t absolutely adore the fifteen-pound pile of long grey fur and would be devastated at his demise, Vin was sure his boss would have cheerfully applied his Navy SEAL techniques to the little bastard ages ago.

“Six,” Chris sighed. “Six in less than two years. Don’t know why I’m still dumb enough to take it off anyplace within reach of those grubbin’ little paws.”

“Got me. Why don’t ya just leave it clipped to yer belt?”

“Done that. Fucker just pulled it off to play with it. Broke the clip, too.”

“Thought you lost it.”

“The clip was the only part we found.”

“Good thing Travis knows Muffin or you’d have a hell of a time explaining your expense report ever’time you gotta replace it.”

“You got that right.” Chris chewed thoughtfully on a cracker as he glanced back over his shoulder. “Have you at least asked? Ezra, I mean.” Vin gave him a look that clearly read ‘Are you out of your mind?’ to which the blond shrugged lightly. “Seems you should at least find out for sure one way or another.”

“So what, I’m jist gonna walk up to’im and say, ‘Hey Ez, how ‘bout you’n’me doing the nasty later on?’ Do I call you before or after he slugs me inta traction?”

“Well, I was thinking something a little more subtle than that,” Chris grinned, grabbing a beer.

“In case ya ain’t noticed in the last four years, I’m kinda the straight forward kinda guy.”

Chris cocked an eyebrow with a wicked smile teasing his lips. “Well, I always did think that, but now I gotta reconsider…”

Vin narrowed his eyes, puzzled for a moment until he reviewed what he’d just said. Then he just groaned. “Bastard.”

“Nope, that’d be Buck.”

“Asshole”

“Well, got one, but…”

“Shut UP, Larabee.”

***

“My dear Mrs. Travis, you look positively fetching this evening.”

“Thank you, Mr. Standish,” Evie smiled generously at the young man from her husband’s favored team. “And might I say you certainly make me wish I was a young single woman again.”

“I trust you’ll not let your husband hear you,” Ezra grinned impishly. “I’d hate for him to call me out. And however did you convince him to dress as Robin Hood? I’d have never believed it would be possible to talk the man into a pair of tights.”

“A wife has many ways,” Evie winked. “Besides, when he saw what I would be wearing if he agreed, it seems to settle the matter immediately.” The fifty-four-year-old woman smiled demurely as she ran a hand along the wine-colored Maid Marion bodice that sculpted her still-shapely figure. “A low-cut neckline works every time.”

“Indeed,” Ezra laughed. “Of course, somehow I think the excuse to carry such a work of art for a prop might have played a factor.”

“The longbow? Yes, it’s a family heirloom, actually. Was hand-crafted by one of my ancestors back in the middle ages. I know you’re a fan of such pieces so do make sure you catch him for a closer look. It’s solid yew on the body, with gold and steel inlays to add strength. The ends are carved oak, and the string is hand-woven hemp. That particular bow is rather short for the style, but then it was made specifically for the original owner in my family and we’ve never exactly been a tall group.”

“Just at a glance I’d say it’s a masterful piece of work. Is it still conditioned?”

“Oh, absolutely. I have it maintained every six months by a professional, and Orin oils it weekly. We have a friend who takes it to a target range for a few uses every so often; if it isn’t flexed properly from time to time, it could get brittle, you know.”

“Do you still have a set of original arrows to go with it?”

“Yes, but those are far too delicate after so long – we keep them in a glass showcase on the shelf below where we display the bow. The arrows he’s got in his quiver tonight are made in the traditional style – I think they’re willow with gray goose feathers and a simple straight pile of steel. We bought a new set of them just last year at a medieval fair in Tucson.”

“Mister Travis certainly looks like he’s enjoying the attention he’s acquired with that piece.”

“Oh, indeed. I think Orin likes talking about it more than he does our grandson!” Ezra joined Evie’s light laugh as he let his gaze sweep over the ballroom. He quickly found Chris and Vin chatting near the buffet and he took a moment to admire his handiwork on the younger man.

“I understand you helped young Mister Tanner with his costuming this evening,” the A.D.’s wife mentioned casually, noting her companion’s focus. When Ezra glanced at the woman with a hint of surprise, she smiled. “I had a lengthy discussion earlier with JD over the great suffering your team experiences ever time Orin ropes them into these types of things.”

“Yes, well, Mister Tanner positively dreads diverting from his usual jeans and t-shirts, so he turned to me for assistance in appropriating the required apparel for this fine gala.”

“And you did a fine job,” Evie approved. “He looks positively scrumptious!”

“Mrs. Travis!” Ezra laughed, blushing slightly. “Should I perhaps have a discussion with your husband about his apparent inability to keep you properly appeased? You do seem to be doing a good bit of window shopping this evening!”

“Oh, Orin’s fine enough for an old woman like me,” Evie chuckled evilly. “But even if I’m a little old to play with the latest models, there’s certainly no harm in looking them over, is there?”

“I defy anyone to suggest that you couldn’t keep even the most virile of men at your beck and call,” Ezra said, and made a grand gesture toward the dance floor. “Shall we step out, madam, and prove to one and all that you are the very belle of this ball?”

Evie Travis blushed slightly as she allowed herself to be swept into a Viennese waltz by the handsome legend of the Spanish people.

***

“Ya look ridiculous, boy.”

“Don’t blame me. Casey did it.”

“On the bright side, Buck, Brother Dunne isn’t a floppy-eared digital space duck of considerable annoyance.”

“For the last time, Josiah, he’s not a duck.”

“Looks like one. Kinda sounds like Daffy, too, doesn’t he?

“I’ll give ya that one, Josiah. And you still looks ridiculous, JD.”

“It matches Casey, okay?”

“Since when does Little Bo Peep hang out with The Cat in the Hat?” Buck grinned as he tapped the nearly two-foot-tall hat with his finger. “Nice hat, though, gotta say.”

“Stop that,” JD grumbled. “It hurts when you do that, Buck. Damn thing’s held on with four leather straps. And do you have any idea how heavy this thing is? It’s gotta be a couple’a pounds of steel wires to hold it up stiff. And we match because we’re both from children’s books.”

“Ya could’a come as her sheep or somethin’.”

“No thanks. At least The Cat is cool.”

“And ridiculous.”

“Bite me, Buck.”

“Nah, Casey’d get mad. Damn, she is cute in that little outfit, ain’t she?”

“Hey. Eyes off my girl, Wilmington.”

Josiah chuckled as he watched the roommates in their usual squabbling. He glanced over to where his own date was chatting with the very pink and frilly Miss Wells and found himself wondering what it was that made men allow their significant others to dress them up in ways they would never likely dress themselves… his own costume being a prime example. But damn if Linda didn’t look absolutely beautiful...

The big man sighed and surveyed the room. Still no Nathan; he’d called saying that Rain had been paged to the hospital for a consultation and they’d be late. Josiah was intensely curious as to the medic’s costume, as the man would just grin devilishly every time anyone had asked him what it would be. In the meantime he’d spotted Chris with Vin over by the food – where else would Vin be? – while the two of them watched as Ezra whirled their superior’s lovely wife about the dance floor, his cape swirling in counterpoint to her abundance of skirts.

Watched the pair with a rather intense amount of interest.

Josiah sighed. Vin seemed particularly focused on the waltzing pair, and exquisite as Mrs. Travis was this evening the big man doubted she was the reason for the sniper’s attention. Chris’ amused glances at the man only confirmed what Josiah had suspected for a while now: Vin had it bad for their main undercover operative. Josiah considered his drink for a moment, wondering if he should step in and try to help. He wasn’t entirely sure that Ezra was open to such a romantic entanglement, though he knew the green-eyed man considered Vin one of his closest friends. Of course, even after three years on the team, Ezra was still very much an enigma; sometimes it felt like the more you learned about him, the less you knew him. Perhaps if the subject was simply brought up casually…?

He’d have to think on it.

“Whoa, check it out!”

Josiah turned at JD’s exclamation and broke into a wide grin. Nathan and Rain had arrived.

“Rain, ya look positively stunning,” Buck was cooing as he kissed her hand, his eyes raking over her Indian warrior costume. “I may just have to steal you away from your husband and keep you all to myself tonight.”

“Then sir, I shall have to challenge you to a duel,” Nathan declared, allowing his normally slight southern accent to flourish into a full drawl in the style of his costume. Wearing a wide flat-rimmed riverboat hat, carefully pleated black trousers, a bronze-colored brocade dress vest over an ivory fawn drop shirt and a handsome ruby red cutaway frock coat, Nathan was the perfect picture of a late 19th-century New Orleans gentleman. Adding to his stylish appearance was a discretely positioned light-russet brown gun belt with a revolver in the holster. As the man opened his jacket to show off his costume, Josiah caught a flash of the concealed shoulder holster with another gun secured.

“Whoo-ee, you’re just armed to the teeth, ain’cha boy?” Buck grinned. “Wouldn’t think a riverboat gambler would need quite so much weaponry.”

“Doc Holiday was reputed to have carried as many as six guns on him at a time,” Nathan replied with a wide smile. “I figured if I was gonna do this, I’d do it right down to my shoes.” He yanked up a pant leg to let the men see the black cowboy boot with a small Colt tucked neatly in to it, and another gun strapped on just below his knee.

“Damn, those things look vintage,” Buck said, admiring the artillery on display.

“Remington 1875 Army revolver, .44 caliber,” Nathan nodded as he indicated his belt holster. Gesturing to his shoulder holster he said, “Richards conversion, 1874. 1877 Colt's .38 caliber "Lightning" in the boot and its twin from the set in the leg strap. Oh, and check this out.” Extending his right arm suddenly, the men were surprised when Nathan suddenly had a small pistol in his hand. “Derringer in spring-loaded sleeve rig. Great, isn’t it?”

“People actually wore those?”

“My friend Leanne is a history buff,” Rain smiled. “She designed Nathan’s entire outfit. Her dad owns a gun collection that would make you guys drool – all of these pieces are borrowed from him. They’re all authentic, and in perfect working condition.”

“Can I see the Colts?” JD asked. Nathan grinned as he handed one to the eager young man. “Totally awesome!” JD waved the gun as though to aim, but Nathan and Buck quickly intervened, Nate taking the gun back.

“Careful, JD,” Nathan grinned, replacing the piece in this boot. “It’s loaded.”

“Oh, sorry,” JD winced. “I didn’t think you’d bring a loaded gun to something like this.”

“Actually, I probably wouldn’t have normally, but Leanne’s dad’s been sick so he didn’t have time to empty all of ‘em. And then I thought, hey, I’m a fed, I’ve got the badge and license to carry, why not? Besides, the safety’s on all of ‘em.”

“So why the big deal…”

“Never fan your gun, boy,” Buck said simply. “Spoils your aim. And you shouldn’t practice bad habits.”

“Besides,” Josiah said, trying to appear serious. “There’s something terribly frightening about The Cat with a gun. You could accidentally shoot Horton.”

***

“Orin, darling!” Evie gasped as Ezra helped her into a chair by the far wall. The Assistant Director of the Denver ATF division had finally pulled himself away from making small talk with the governor and his numerous officials and had settled at the table with a beer and a plate of finger sandwiches. “For our next anniversary I want you to take dance lessons from Ezra so we can show off at the Club. The man is absolutely marvelous.”

Orin Travis glanced at his employee with a small frown. “Standish, you making steps with my wife?”

Ezra grinned as he perched for a moment on the chair across from the older man. “I dare say, sir, that someone must keep you on your toes,” he said impishly. “I feel compelled to provide you with enough competition that you will never shirk from catering to this lovely lady’s every whim.”

Orin gave the younger man a mock glare and shook his finger towards him. “I’m watching you, boy. One wrong move and they’ll never find the body.”

“I’ll consider myself warned, sir,” Ezra nodded, tipping his hat with a pretense of self-chastisement. “My dear lady, allow me to fetch you a refreshment. After dancing me to exhaustion, you must at least be a bit parched, and I myself am famished.”

“Champagne, please,” Evie smiled. “And perhaps a few crackers.”

“You can bring me another beer,” Orin added around a mouthful of roast beef. “After an hour and a half with that windbag the people of this state elected again, I feel a distinct need to tie one on.”

“Perhaps something stronger?” Ezra asked, but was immediately refused by Orin’s heavy sigh and the look of reproach that crossed his wife’s features.

“Not until after his next check-up,” Evie declared. Orin glared at her, this time the expression most definitely real, but shook his head anyway.

“Indeed,” Ezra nodded. “I shall be back in a moment. I leave you to your husband’s fine care.” He dropped a kiss on Evie’s hand and trotted off to the buffet.

“That boy is a breath of fresh air,” Evie sighed, watching him go. “Dances like a dream, and so charming…”

“Boy’ll be the death of me yet,” Orin mumbled, knowing his wife would ignore him. “Whole damn team’s out to give me a coronary. Did you see that outfit Wilmington has on? Positively indecent.”

“I think it’s inventive.”

“It’s so tight you can practically see his scars.”

“Oh, it’s not so bad,” Evie grinned. “You just can’t appreciate it, Orin. Trust me, if you were a woman…”

“Evelyn, sweetheart,” the A.D. interrupted his wife, holding up a decisive hand. “What’s that phrase Billy’s always using? Too much information. Waaay too much.”

***

Vin watched as Ezra made his way across the room, somehow managing to avoid being waylaid by the two million or so women who popped into his path as he moved along. Women who seemed to deem it absolutely necessary to *touch* the man as he gracefully side-stepped their attempts to waylay him. Vin felt his mood growing more sour as the moments passed.

“Geez, Tanner, you give anymore of those women the evil eye and we’re gonna have to get a priest in here to exorcise the place. Either you gotta talk to Ez about this, or I’m takin’ you to one of Buck’s special places and getting you laid. At this rate, you’re gonna implode by sunrise.”

“Mind yer own business, Larabee.”

“Alright, but when your stuck on desk duty because of the ulcer, don’t come cryin’ to me.”

Vin glared at his friend, but any retort was killed by the arrival of the conversation topic.

“Bonsoir, gentlemen! And how are we this evening?” Ezra gestured to the bartender and requested his drinks, then smiled at his friends as he picked up two plates. “So far the night has gone well, don’t you think?”

“Not bad,” Chris grinned. “Haven’t shot anybody yet, figure you’re about the same. Makes for a good night for us.”

“And the food is actually edible this year,” Vin said wanly. Ezra graced Tanner with a bright smile.

“Considering your discerning palate, I will consider that a definite recommendation.” One green-eye winked and the plates were piled with vegetable and cracker snacks. “Mister Tanner, might I impose upon you to assist me with the delivery of these fine delicacies to Mrs. Travis, and this beer for our illustrious superior? I regret I have but two hands to balance refreshments for my tablemates.”

“Sure, Ez,” Vin nodded, taking the plate and beer from Ezra and heading across the room to the Travises. Ezra then collected the two glasses of champagne in one hand and the second plate in his other. Turning to go, he paused when he thought he heard Chris say,

“He’s got the hots for you, you know.”

Ezra froze, trying to determine if his hearing had just short-circuited.

“I… beg your pardon?”

Chris raised his eyes to meet those of his friend, his gaze even and serious. “Vin. He’s got it bad for ya.”

Ezra frowned and cocked his head. “Are you… did you…”

He tried to recall the last time his vocabulary had failed him.

“Just thought you should know, Ez,” Chris said simply. “Don’t think you’re the type to make a big deal out of it if ya aren’t interested, and you know he’s not gonna say two words about it unless he thinks you’re interested…”

“And… what do you think?” Ezra said carefully, studying his boss’s face.

Chris shrugged. “I think if you happen to lean that way, then Vin Tanner’s about as good-looking as they come and he’s got one of the best hearts I’ve ever known.” Larabee’s eyes darkened just a little bit. “Which means if you aren’t interested, you better let him off the hook easy. You get me, Standish?”

“Indeed,” Standish nodded, swallowing hard. He was keenly aware that this was the same tone used by military generals when they interrogated their only daughter’s first date on his intentions. “And… if perchance I… happen to be interested?”

Chris studied Ezra’s face carefully for a moment, then cracked a small wry grin.

“Then you just make sure you treat him right, Ez.” The smile widened as hazel eyes twinkled at emerald ones. “You’d be good for him.”

Ezra smiled warmly at the compliment. “Mister Larabee, I do thank you for this… enlightening conversation. If you’ll excuse me now, I do need to deliver this champagne to Mrs. Travis.”

Chris nodded and watched as Zorro walked away. He hadn’t been one hundred percent sure telling Ezra had been the right thing to do, but judging from the slight added bounce to the retreating man’s step there was at least one person slightly happier at the moment.

Chris shook his head, feeling pleased and suddenly needing to take Mary for a whirl on the dance floor.

***

Ezra arrived at the table to see that Evie had coerced Vin into assisting her with the mountainous selection with which her plate had been covered. Placing his burdens on the tablecloth he settled in next to his teammate, he edged his chair just slightly closer than he might have otherwise – before his ‘enlightenment’, that is.

Vin glance at him, one eyebrow raised as he felt his friend’s knee brush lightly against his own. Ezra simply smiled in response and pushed the second plate toward the longhaired man, snagging a carrot stick in the process and toying with it rather… suggestively. Vin opened his mouth to say something…

And that was when the gunfire erupted.


Continue to Part Two