by Kitipurr

"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..."


"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. Ever girl at the dance will want to be bit by you."

The Texan watched Ezra disappear into the bathroom as he sighed, 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 their 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 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 two-inch-wide red silk sash.

As he stood considering his appearance, Ezra appeared 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?" 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 ta 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 second, 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. "Don't think I haven't noticed you keepin' 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 look. "And gotta admit, if I leaned that way, tonight I'd practically be drooling over that low-cut neck showin' 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 don'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 little grubbin' 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."


"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."

"Oh, 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 Orrin 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?"

"Oh 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 Orrin 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 Orrin 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, Orrin'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 bell 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."

"Orrin, 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."

Orrin 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."

Orrin 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," Orrin 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 Orrin's heavy sigh and the look of reproach that crossed his wife's features.

"Not until after his next check-up," Evie declared. Orrin 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," Orrin 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, Orrin. 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, you give anymore of those women the evil eye and we're gonna have to get a priest in here to exorcise the place," Chris said from his left. "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 be 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. "Ain'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 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 turned to collect 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, y'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 ain'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 lookin' 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 ain'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.

JD felt silly enough holding wearing the big tall striped Cat hat. Now he wore a big tall striped Cat hat and carried a six foot tall pink crook-staff with a big white bow on the top while waiting for Casey to come back out of the ladies' room. And he was pretty sure someone had snapped a picture of him doing it.

Twenty bucks said that somehow that picture got back to Buck's hands, too.

He was pondering this very thought when the sound of gunfire jolted him out of his reverie. Instincts kicking in, he took a fast step to his right and yanked on of the tall velvet decorative curtains in front of him, concealing him from the view of people in the room; he hoped no one, particularly whoever was firing that gun, had seen him do it.

Josiah pulled out Linda's chair and helped her maneuver her piles of lemon-yellow satin skirts under the table. He had to admit she looked fabulous, even if he felt a little silly in his matching outfit. Then again, they made the pair perfectly - what with her being so much smaller than he was. He had paused a moment to run a hand through her long dark caramel tresses and adjust the bow in her hair... yes, she certainly was every inch the Disney princess she was dressed as.

Grinning at her, afraid that if he paused to kiss her he'd never leave to get their food, he'd brushed down his blue velvet jacket and moved with deliberation to the buffet. As he approached, he caught a glimpse of the serious faces on both Chris and Ezra following the departure of one Vin Tanner. Ezra turned to look at Chris, some words were exchanged, and then Ezra departed in the same direction as Vin in an entirely new and distinctly happier air. Chris, for his part, suddenly smiled and headed off on his own.

Wonder what that was about, the former preacher thought. But judging from the expressions he'd seen, likely it was good for someone.

Josiah collected a large plate and began gathering various finger foods. A passing stranger made an obnoxious comment about talking clocks and singing candlesticks, and the profiler refrained from braining the man with the nearly empty silver shrimp tray on the table before him. Setting his plate down next to the bar he wandered around to the back of the currently unattended bar and helped himself to two glasses of soda.

Which he dropped at the sound of gunfire.

Buck had found himself a trio of lovely ladies dressed in vintage fifties costumes and was having a fine time. They cooed at his sideburns, giggled at his pelvic wiggle, and sighed when he sang in their ears. He'd even shown them a few tricks he'd learned to do with his microphone, which had been entertaining enough for ' Peggy Sue' to request a private performance. Of course, sadly they couldn't leave right away; Buck knew the A.D. would never forgive him for sneaking off prior to the governor's big speech about how much money had been raised, how many people were being helped, and oh look how close we are to another election year... So he'd had to regretfully decline for the present, but had been sure to get her number for the following Tuesday.

When the gunfire started he'd pushed the girls under a nearby table and hit the floor in a crouch. His hand had automatically gone for his hip gun... which he realized very quickly he didn't have.

"Remind me next time not to wear a jumpsuit," he grumbled, and began to take stock of the situation.

He searched among the hundreds of attendees until he'd spotted Vin and Ezra with the Mr. and Mrs. Travis by the emergency stairwell. His eyes found Nathan and Rain on the dj's platform, and Chris and Mary hastily ducking under a table from their original place on the dance floor.

No sign of JD or Josiah.

Buck absently pushed at his pompadour and waited to see what would happen next.

"Ladies and gentlemen, may we have your attention please."

Chris gritted his teeth as he pinpointed the speaker, a man in the typical waiter's tuxedo wearing a large Wolfman mask. And carrying a really big semi-automatic handgun. A quick check around the room had him picking out twelve other waiters-in-masks-with-guns at carefully plotted positions, mostly near building exits.

"Now that the governor has taken his customary moment away from the party, it is our pleasure to take over his hosting duties. If you all do exactly what you're told, there's no reason why anyone has to end up dead."

"What do you want?" some overfed probably-a-politician blustered. Chris sighed heavily; there always had to be one inquiring moron who wanted to know.

"Not that it's any of your business," the spokes-criminal responded, "but you're presence here tonight will help some very undeservingly incarcerated men gain their freedom. Now if everyone will just move to the nearest chair and sit down, we would greatly appreciate it. If you behave, you'll live through tonight unscathed. If you misbehave..." The man's trailed off, but allowed just enough malicious mischief into his tone to suggest he was almost hoping people wouldn't behave.

"Chris, do something!" Mary hissed, yanking the scarves of her harem girl costume around her. Chris tossed her a withering gaze - who did she think he was, Bruce Willis? Sighing and making sure he was not visible to any of the gunmen, he pulled out his cell phone and started pushing buttons...

Vin and Ezra both felt the movement at the smalls of their backs at the same time, and they grabbed for their phones. They glanced at their companions as the Travises crouched with them under the table where they'd all taken cover when the shooting started.

"Good thing Chris reminded us to put'em on vibrate, stead'a turnin' em off like we was s'posed ta," Vin whispered, grinning at Orrin' s bewildered expression. He glanced at the text message on his display. "S.O.S. - no shit, Larabee."

Ezra quirked his lips as he followed Vin's example and entered in the code that would hook his phone into 'chat' mode with the other seven, and offered up a quick thanks that JD had been able to convert the phones in such a manner.

[E on]

[V on]

"Mister Mayor, if you would be so kind as to take a cell phone from one of your people and place a call to the governor's cell phone?" the bad guy was saying, loud enough to ensure the entire room could hear him. He appeared to be getting off on the power of holding several hundred people hostage.

[B on]

"And just what am I supposed to tell him?" the mayor asked nervously.

[J on]

[D on]

[N on]

"Tell him we want Markus Cavanaugh, Jesus Ramirez and Benito de Conselus taken from their cells at the Colorado Super Max and driven to a location which I will provide only to their driver. They are then to be released and the driver will be aloud to leave unharmed."

[C= thawts?]

[B= D wr r u]

[D= by b rms Bhnd curtains]

[N= dj]

[V= V/E n of W exits]

[C= d flr cntr E side]

[J= bar]

[B= E side ctr Btw exits]

[C= thawts?]

The messaging paused as likely everyone was considering their positions, the positions of the gunmen, and their options.

"If our friends are followed, or if anyone remains in the area to watch them after they have been released, I will start shooting people."

[N= hw many?]

[C= c 12 plus ldr]

[D= 13 ttl]

[J= 13]

"However, if my requests are followed precisely, no one will be harmed this evening. I do not have any desire to commit murder, Mister Mayor. I only wish to see my friends released." The ballroom was filled with the murmurs of the hostages as they commented to each other their captor's demands. The mayor was nodding nervously as someone handed him a phone.

[E= got idea]

Vin glanced at his friend, frowning. Ezra cocked his head at Travis, and Vin's eyes followed. He studied the man, looked back at Ezra and frowned again. Ezra sighed and pointed to the longbow at the A.D.'s side.

Vin grinned.

Ezra pointed upward, and Vin followed the finger to take note of the Regency Balcony above the governor's dais at the north end of the ballroom.

[C= WELL?]

[E= V to balc *snipe]

[C= V has gun?]

[E= bow arrow]

The mayor was talking quietly on the phone, keeping his eyes on the Wolfman at all times.

[C= ?WHAT?]

Vin grinned at the impish twinkle in Ezra's eye.

[V= later exp]

[C= count on it]

The Wolfman seemed pleased with the mayor's compliance, as well as the general atmosphere among his captives.

Ezra glanced around and assessed the twelve cohorts who accompanied their criminal mastermind. He frowned as he thought. Vin simply waited, then watched as Ezra began tapping his phone again.

[E= N cre8 distr?]

[N= kind?]

[E= dj make loud?]

[N= no prb sy wn]

[E= will let u know]

[E= all have wep?]

There was a long pause while everyone took stock of their belongings. The ballroom continued to buzz in quiet anxious murmurs around them.

[C= y]

[N= loaded]

[D= will make do]

[B= will make do]

[J= will make do]

"What does 'will make do' mean?" Evie whispered, having read the message over Vin's shoulder. Vin winked at his boss's wife.

"Means they ain't got a weapon at the moment, but they'll improvise, ma'am."

"Dear god, we're all doomed," Orrin muttered darkly, which earned him a small whap on the head from his wife.

"Hush dear, and give Vin your long bow and arrows." Orrin sighed, removed the quiver from his back and handed it to the sharpshooter from Team Seven. "Do you need some sort of distraction for whatever you're going to do?"

"No ma'am, you jist sit tight," Vin replied soberly. He glanced at Ezra, who was nibbling on his lip as he considered their position. They could crawl unnoticed under the tables to a certain point, but there was about eight feet of open space between the last table and the small exit door that led to the stairway to the balcony. A door which, while not wired for an alarm, would be locked. Ezra would be able to pick it, no doubt in a minute or less, but during that time he'd be out in the open, visible and vulnerable to the single gunman who stood on the dais corner nearby.

"Buck?" Vin asked Ezra softly. Ezra glanced in the direction of where Buck had indicated he was, then nodded. They didn't want Nate drawing attention to himself until they needed their BIG diversion, and Josiah was currently concealed and likely unknown. If either one of them created a diversion, they might end up out of position when the time came. JD was also concealed, and Chris was too centralized to get the attention far enough away from them. It had to be Buck.

[E= B need div]

[B= not N?]

[E= not N, u]

[E= need gmen 2 lk ur way]

[B= when hw lg]

[E= will say 2 3 min]

[B= ok ready]

Ezra looked at Vin, who had removed his long satin vampire cape and strapped on his newly acquired arsenal. "Alright, let's move."

"Ladies, could I get you to assist me a moment?"

"Sure, Buck, what do you need?"

"Could be a little dangerous..."

"You'll protect us, won't you?"

Buck grinned at Laura's coy pout, hoping she really understood. "I'll do my best, darlin'. Now, here's what I need..."

Vin followed Ezra as he snaked on his belly and elbows around the crowd of seated attendees. Luckily most of them were too terrified to take their eyes off the gunmen to notice two men crawling by, and those who did notice seemed to understand the prudence of remaining silent. They got to the end table and surveyed the distance between them and the door they needed to get through. One glance over their shoulder determined where the nearest guard stood - on the edge of the governor's dinner dais.

Now, all they needed was to keep him or either of the other two guards within visual range of the door from looking their way for a few minutes.

[E= go Bdiv]

Buck glanced at the trio beside him and winked. "Showtime, ladies."

From his position in the corner, JD had been able to spot Buck at a table by the doors to the veranda. So when he heard the commotion from that direction, it didn't take long for him to find his friend in the midst of the crowd.

"What's going on?" the leader of the bad guys shouted sharply. "Speak up before I start talking with my gun."

"She's fainted," a girl in a hot pink poodle skirt whimpered desperately. "She's got a heart condition; the stress of this must be too much for her."

"Is anybody a doctor?" a second girl begged the crowd, pushing off her cashmere sweater to reveal the spaghetti straps of her own frilly dress. "Please, someone needs to help her!"

"I'm a doctor," a man at a table near the buffet announced, standing on shaky legs. He looked to the criminal for permission to cross the room. The criminal seemed to be considering the situation.

"Come on, buddy, you said you didn't want any deaths, right?" JD heard Buck's voice pipe up from among the crowd hovering over the downed girl. "Let the doc help her."

"Fine," Wolfman spat. "Move it, Doc." The doctor nodded and scurried around the room to join the crowd. Soon there was only some low murmuring as the doctor obviously consulted with his patient's friends and cared for his charge.

Ezra hesitated only a moment at the first sound of their distraction, long enough to check that the gunmen with line of site to the door had been properly distracted. He then led Vin in a fast, low dash to the door, the bobby pin he'd secured from Evie already in hand. He could feel himself sweating slightly - it had been a very long time since he'd used a simple bobby pin to work a sophisticated lock and his skills were likely to be a little rusty. Vin had brought his black vampire cloak with them and draped it around them, hopefully assisting the corner's shadows in disguising their presence.

Ezra also took a second to pray that the door was still properly oiled as was required by the museum's specifications, and that the lights in the hallway beyond were off as he anticipated they would be at this time of night. A noise from the door or the sudden light from the other side could quickly foil their entire plan.

"Got it," he hissed, feeling the lock release. Doubling his prayer, he turned the knob and pushed the door open.

Silently into the darkness.

He felt his heart start beating again as he and Vin quickly slipped through and closed the door behind them.

Chris grinned as he saw his screen change.

[V= wr out hold 4 balc]

"What's happening?" Mary whispered.

Chris shook his head. Damn woman was more nosy than was good for her. Reminded him of Lois Lane sometimes. And he was hardly Superman. "Waiting for Ez's signal. You stay low and try to keep the rest of these people from panicking."

The hardness of his eyes had Mary nodding. Despite her usual instincts to jump in with both feet, she did know better than to disobey when Chris was in 'Team Leader' mode.

Though she was dying to ask what Ezra's signal would be.

Nathan hadn't been able to move too much in his position without attracting attention, but he had been able to pull Rain into his arms in the appearance of comforting her. With her just in front of him turned into his shoulder, her body had affectively concealed his actions with his phone from the gunmen who stood about fifteen feet away on either side of him.

Now it allowed him to cast a guarded glance over to the terrified disc jockey a few feet away. He just had to get the man's attention...

"Lipstick?" he whispered into Rain's ear. She turned confused brown eyes up at him, but nodded ever so slightly. Moving slowly, she dipped her hand into the Indian handbag she wore slung along her waist and drew out a long thin lip pencil. Nathan kissed her forehead tenderly. "When I tell you, hit the floor, okay?" She nodded into his shoulder.

He turned her as if to move her closer, which made it possible to step closer to the musician's table. Reaching out slowly, he snagged the napkin that was next to the man's snack plate. The movement drew the man's attention, and Nathan caught the man's eye with a heated look. He cocked his head slightly toward the napkin, showing the pencil in his hand, and the dj took a step closer. Nathan noted the fear in the man's eyes and hoped to God he would keep it together long enough to pull this off.

He scribbled with the pencil on the napkin.

Do you have something cued up in your player?

The man read the note and nodded slightly. Nathan let his eyes sweep around the room, checking his closest enemies, then turned back to the disc jockey.

When I tell you, crank it loud as you can and hit play. Then hit the deck.

The dj studied the medic carefully, obviously trying to decide whether Nathan was a lunatic or not. Nathan smiled slightly and added to his scribble:

I'm a Fed. My partners have plan.

The dj smiled and nodded. Nathan watched nervously as the man's hands ghosted over a few knobs. For a brief moment he wasn't sure the man had understood that they weren't ready yet, but eventually the man stopped moving things and made the 'okay' gesture with his fingers. Nathan smiled, then turned away to wait for Ezra's signal.

Vin tossed aside his black cloak as he and Ezra took the stairs up to the balcony two at a time. It took another long moment for Ezra to manipulate the lock on the balcony entryway, but soon enough they were scrambling inside, making sure to keep low and out of the line of anyone's vision from the ballroom floor. They moved to the balcony's edge and peeped over, checking the positions of their adversaries carefully.

"Thirteen to seven," Vin murmured. "Just our kinda odds. Not even."

"Child's play," Ezra chuckled. "The mythic number for evil verses the mythic number for good. How very apropos."

"What's the plan?"

"How good do you think you're aim will be with that thing?" Ezra asked. He'd known Vin would be able to adapt to the weapon - the sharpshooter was nothing if not versatile - but he didn't want to take chances at hitting hostages if Vin didn't think he could trust his speed and accuracy.

"Like lickin' butter off a knife," Vin grinned. "Use'ta go bow huntin' with one'a my army buddies. Got damn good at it. Arm'll be sore in the mornin', but I kin pick the sequins off'a Buck's costume and leave him still decent if ya want."

"Excellent," Ezra smiled. "I suggest you take out the gentleman at the north side of the veranda door first, then the one north of the south veranda door, then the man at the northwest corner of the dance floor. We shall instruct Buck to take the man at the south side of the north veranda door, have JD disperse with our villain on the east side of the dais, and leave the four men at the furthest south to Josiah and Nathan if they believe they can address them."

"And Chris gets the leader?"

"I doubt he would agree to anything else. But he will also have to subdue the other man by the dance floor."

"What about that guy and that one?" Vin asked, pointing to the men at the north side of the western great exit and on the west end of the dais.

"They are mine," Ezra said simply.

Vin frowned. "Ya gonna go back down through that door again?"

"Nonsense," Ezra smiled wickedly. He gestured to the plush velvet curtains that decorated the pillar decorating the corner of the balcony from floor to ceiling. "I simply intend to make a grand entrance. After all, I am Zorro."

Vin's frown deepened. "Ya be careful, Ez. I ain't gonna like pickin' up pieces of ya later."

Ezra's smile softened, and the man reached out a gloved hand to touch Vin's cheek lightly. Vin jumped slightly at the touch, blue eyes widening in surprise, then felt himself leaning in slightly to the caress.

"My dear Mister Tanner, I wouldn't dream of denying myself the pleasure of your future company." The statement was fairly straightforward, but there was an air behind it that made Vin shiver with anticipation. Their eyes held for a brief moment, and then Ezra grinned and turned to his phone.

[E= in pstn]

JD studied his phone display warily. The time of reckoning was at hand; he only hoped he could do his part.

[E= asgn as flws]

[E= V gets ne of ne exit]

[E= V gets ne of se exit]

[E= V gets nw dnc flr crnr]

There was a pause, and JD noted which men Vin would apparently be 'sniping'. Three down.

[E= B gets se of ne exit]

Four down.

[E= D gets ne dias]

JD nodded to himself. His quarry was barely five feet from his hiding spot. Now all he had to do was figure out what he was going to do to get the man...

[E = J can get 2 mst sw?]

JD watched nervously as a long pause ensued. He assumed Josiah was calculating whether he could take both men Ezra was asking him to handle. Finally, the screen blinked.

[J= got w of s exit &]

[J= s of w exit]

JD released the breath he hadn't realized he was holding. Seven down... six to go.

[E= N 2 se crnr?]

[N= easy]

Nine down.

[E= C gets wlf & ne dnc crnr?]

[C= y]

Eleven. Two to go.

JD frowned. But, that only left Ezra to take anyone, and he was in the balcony. JD was sure the southerner wasn't wearing a gun tonight, so how...

[B= E? 2 lft]

[E= mine]

JD glanced at the remaining unassigned gunmen and then at his phone screen.

[C= how?]

[J= E?]

[N= u brk nEthg!]

JD choked down the giggle that desperately wanted to erupt. Only Nathan could still nag via text messaging shorthand.

[V= Es ok will work]

[E= trust me]

JD bit his lip to keep from laughing. He could hear Chris now...

"Trust him!" Chris gasped, only remembering at the last minute not to shout at the top of his lungs. "Trust him. Coming from Standish, those are the two scariest words in the English language."

"Do you have another option?" Mary whispered pointedly. Chris glared at her, and she stared back unnerved.

He really needed to find a different girlfriend. One that wasn' t so nosy. One that wasn't so immune to his glare. One who didn' t have a thieving gray psycho-kitty.

Maybe Louise in accounting...

[C= ok ready?]

Ezra's face showed surprise as well as satisfaction. "Well, that was less fuss than I expected."

"He'll ream you out later."

"He'll be too busy getting congratulated by the governor."

"We hope."

"Positive thoughts, Mister Tanner."

"Ez... could ya call me Vin?"

Ezra glanced up from his phone into clear liquid pools of soft azure. He could drown in those pools... He felt his face melt into a purely honest smile in spite of himself, and he let his lips savor the sound as he said it in a husky whisper: "Vin."

Vin's face lit up at the sound. They held each other's gaze for a fraction of a moment, conveying all sorts of unspoken promises, until Ezra pulled himself away. Time to do or... well, just do.

"Ready, M... Vin?"

"Ready, Ez."

Buck glanced at his group. The doctor had recovered quickly from the shock of his 'unconscious' heart patient stifling a giggle as he touched her throat to check her pulse. A quick whisper in his ear had covered his role: "It's a distraction: fake it. I'm a cop." Now Buck was preparing for his own move, calculating the distance between himself and his target. Weapon, he needed a weapon...

He glanced at his waist... hmm...

It had been a few years since he'd tried anything like this, and he hoped he still had the touch. Josiah had quickly figured which of his two targets was more likely to hesitate when the chaos erupted, and had his plan of attack. He just hoped he'd picked the RIGHT plan...

Nathan's hand closed on the Richards conversion that Rain had managed to subtly slip out of his shoulder holster at his request. He carefully tucked it into the front of his pants, slipping off the safety. He'd already clicked off the safety of the Remington at his hip, but he couldn't draw it until his hand was free of the phone. He watched nervously, waiting, until finally the screen blinked.

[E= N, ready?]

He hesitated only a moment before entered his response.

[N= y]

[E= ct dn fr20 thn go]

"Take this," Nathan whispered to Rain, pushing the phone at her. As he counted in his head, his hands found his guns... "Here we go..."

20, 19, 18...

Josiah counted in his head as he stuffed his phone into his jacket pocket. Weapons at the ready, he waited...

17, 16, 15...

JD had to remind himself not to count too fast as he stuffed his phone in his pants. Every time they'd practiced this drill, he' d always ended several seconds ahead of everyone else. Not that it would be bad today, since he wouldn't make his move until Nathan had blasted the music anyway, but it would be nice if just once he could count the same speed as everyone else...

14, 13, 12...

Buck tucked his phone back into his boot and steadied himself. The people around him has already been briefed to hit the floor the second he jumped up.

He just hoped they'd actually do it...

11, 10, 9...

Nathan clutched the gun in each hand as Rain moved just a fraction of an inch away from him - enough that when he shouted she could dive without worrying if she'd be in his way. He checked his targets out of the corners of his eyes like a baseball pitcher checks his runners, then glanced at the disc jockey. The man looked terrified, but his finger was poised oh-so-casually over the green button on his consol just waiting for the signal.

Nathan prayed this all worked out.

8, 7, 6...

Chris' fingers coiled around the leather in his hand as he reminded himself of his order: corner first, then Wolfman. He was positive that the lead criminal would take a moment to check his men before he opened fire. It would be just enough time to hit the other guy first.

Chris reminded himself that he would have to thank Buck for that summer in Nevada after this was all over.

...damn it...

5, 4...

"Luck, Ez."

"Luck, Vin."

The two men smiled as Ezra reached out for the velvet tapestry to his right...




"Now!" Nathan hissed. Rain dropped to the floor and rolled away. The dj's finger jerked, hitting it's target. And the speakers began blaring...

...big band music?

Twack! Vin's first arrow hit its target square in the stomach. The man fell with a yell.

Chris waited to see the leader whirl toward the bandstand before leaping from his seat and sending his whip lashing out at his target. The tip curled around the man's wrist and Chris pulled, sending man and gun flying in separate directions. Chris recoiled his weapon and turned.

Ezra let out a wildman's yell as he slid down the velvet curtain. The man directly below him looked up, stunned to see Zorro descending on him, sword at the ready. He hadn't even blinked when the golden pommel connected with his cranium.

Josiah let fly the heavy silver shrimp tray at his more distant foe with perfect form. The tray sailed gracefully just over the heads of the various seated ball attendees to connect with a sickening crunch against the skull of his target. The man dropped like a stone.

Twack! Vin's second arrow pierced the shoulder of his furthest target. The man yelled, dropping his gun as he grabbed at his wound. Several men nearby jumped at him and wrestled him to the floor without difficulty.

JD leapt forward and dropped the crook of Casey's Bo Peep staff over the head of his assigned bad guy. A hearty yank dragged the man into the wall head-first. JD grinned as the man hit the floor with a dull thud.

"ATF!" Nathan yelled, training his guns on his targets, one on either side. "Drop it, fools!" One man, obviously thinking the tall medic couldn't focus to fire at both his targets at the same time, moved to take aim. Too bad for him that Nathan had set his aim before calling his warning, and could take his shots with his eyes closed at that moment. Spotting the idiot's movement out the corner of his eye, he sank a bullet into the man's shoulder without even turning his head. Said idiot dropped his gun as his friend on Nathan's other side quickly raised his hands in surrender, and two men from the crowd shoved him to the floor as they stripped him of his weapon.

Nathan grinned. "Damn. Should'a come as Shaft."

Buck let out a war whoop as he jumped up on the chair next to him. One good swing wrapped the cord of his prop microphone around the neck the bandit five feet from him, and with a solid tug the man was yanked over the table to the tall man in black velvet. Buck landed a solid punch to the guy's face, and that was the end of it. The people around him broke out in applause, and Buck grinned widely. "Thank you," he drawled, taking a slight bow as he pushed back his sunglasses.. "Thank you very much."

Twack! Arrow number three sang from the bow, following Vin's impeccable aim to the thigh of his target. The man fell to the dance floor with a screech and was promptly walloped into submission by a witch's broomstick.

Josiah turned to his second foe; this man was closer, but not close enough to engage directly. And he had a gun. Then again, Josiah had a seltzer bottle and he knew how to use it. And while the guy was blinded and dripping, Josiah stepped over and punched his lights out.

Ezra didn't waste any time checking his first target before he was leaping over the tables toward his second. The villain nearly recovered in time, lifting his gun as he realized he was being attacked. The flat of Ezra's sword came down on the man's wrist just as he fired, sending the bullet harmlessly into the floor, and a pommel to the temple had the man dead to the world.

Chris stood in the center of the dance floor to face that last man standing. Wolfman had been whirling in shock as each of his well-armed men was quickly neutralized by essentially unarmed men in costumes. Furious, he turned to train his gun on the man who stood to challenge him.

"Drop it," Chris growled, snapping his whip as a warning.

"I can shoot you before you can take me with that," Wolfman sneered, training his gun on the blond.

Chris grinned wickedly. "Yeah, you probably could," he shrugged. "But my man behind you will put a bullet in your brain if you try, and the guy on the balcony sounds like he's having a lot of fun with that bow and arrow." Chris noted that Buck had stepped closer to the dance floor to make his presence known. Wolfman glanced behind him to see Nathan's two guns trained on him, and the hulking figure of Josiah closing in from the other side.

"I would sincerely suggest you reconsider your options," Ezra drawled, hopping off his table and strolling through the crowd as he tucked his sword into his scabbard. "While it is entirely possible you could cause one man considerable damage, I assure you the consequences would not be to your liking."

The criminal wilted quickly at the realization that he was being surrounded, and allowed Ezra to pluck the gun from his hand as Josiah pulled the man's hands behind him. Someone produced a pair of handcuffs - albeit hot pink and fuzzy, but workable nonetheless - and when the police arrived the man was still muttering about being thwarted by cartoon characters, Elvis and Indiana Jones.

The party, amazingly, picked up again almost as if it had never been interrupted. After all, everyone in attendance had to give a statement and that was over five hundred people the cops needed to talk to. So with the exception of a ban on further alcoholic beverages for the duration, the food was replenished and the music restarted (at a much more reasonable decibel level). The dj found it amusing to play a medley of "Wild, Wild West", "Whip It" and "My Fist in Your Face", then dedicating a sing-along of "We Are the Champions" to their seven heroes. ATF Team Seven had the grace to not make fun of the bad singers.

It was several hours later, after the wounded criminals had been tended and carted away and the politicians had gotten a chance to make their sound-bites for the eleven o'clock news, that Orrin Travis was able to take a breath again. He'd listened to nearly every rendition of his team's collective and independent actions and while he was relieved that the bad guys had been apprehended without a single wounded agent or innocent bystander, he was still certain there were seven men in the world sworn to driving him nuts.

At the request of the mayor, he corralled the five team members that he could find into the private offices off the main ballroom, leaving their dates to continue thrilling about their gallant warriors in chatty gossip session over coffee. No one was terribly surprised to find Ezra and Vin having already picked the locks to the room and helping themselves each to a sizable double-scotch-neat from the museum's premium reserve stock in defiance of the police chief' s 'no more alcohol' ruling. Orrin simply sighed and said nothing... he'd only get snide witticisms in return anyway.

"The mayor and governor want to thank you boys for your courageous actions," a tall scrawny beanpole of a political yes-man sniffed imperiously as the group settled into the comfortable sofas and chairs. "I have been authorized to notify you that you should anticipate a suitable reward for your efforts."

"How about a raise?" Ezra drawled lazily. "And certainly they can pick up the dry cleaning bill for this lovely evening." He brushed at the sleeve of his shirt as several of his teammates sent him puzzled looks. "Do you have any idea how impossible it is to get blood out of good quality satin?"

"More vacation time," Nathan said wryly. "And maybe a paid vacation to Hawaii."

"Bermuda," Josiah countered.

"Barbados," JD piped up.

"Gentlemen, please," Ezra sniffed. "If anywhere, the Italian Riviera..."

"I got a better idea," Chris interrupted, smiling conspiratorially at his friends. "How about we never have to attend one of these damn things ever again?"

"YES!" six voices cheered instantly.

Orrin buried his head in his hands. "Deal," he declared, to the beanpole's surprise. Orrin caught the man's eye with a no-nonsense glare. "Tell His Honor it's raises, vacation time and paid trips all around, and they never have to be social again." The beanpole nodded stiffly and hustled out of the room, leaving Orrin Travis with his agents. All of whom knew they'd likely never seen page one of their requested 'reward'.

"You boys are out to give me a coronary, aren't you?" the A.D. scowled at his men. "Sliding down curtains, taking down armed bad guys with bullwhips and sheep crooks... and seltzer?" He shook his head as if trying to make the whole thing go away. "Next time, can't you just bring your guns?"

"Wouldn't work with my costume," Buck grinned. "Would'a spoiled the lines." Vin rolled his eyes.

"What about you, Indy?" Orrin asked Chris. "Why didn't you just shoot that bastard, instead of taking chances with that damn whip? Hell, that's what he does in the movie..."

Chris flushed slightly. "Well, uh..." He smiled sheepishly. "My gun isn't loaded."


"Hey, it was a costume party!" Chris declared in his defense. "How should I have known someone was going to try to hold the entire ballroom hostage?"

"Meanwhile, our most pacifistic member is packing more lead than an army platoon," Josiah chuckled. "Although I think the best part of the evening was when that one guy realized he'd been knocked out by The Cat in the Hat."

"Oh, I don't know," JD grinned. "Seeing the leader realize he'd been duped by three blonde chicks and a Velvet Elvis was pretty funny."

"I liked Ezra's show, myself," Buck chimed in. "Damn if the man don't know how to make an entrance."

"Yeah, what on god's earth were you thinking?" Nathan asked Standish pointedly. "Leaping off balconies, swinging like Tarzan, jumpin' on tables like they was rocks in a lily pond. You got a death wish?"

"This from the man who got the dj to distract them with The Brian Seltzer Orchestra?" Ezra laughed. "Did he think they'd be too busy doing the Charleston to shoot straight?"

"It was what was in the player at the time," Nathan retorted. "Like I had a choice what he played? And it worked didn't it?"

"Be thankful it wasn't 'A Hard Day's Night,'" JD added. "Now THAT would have been poetic justice."'

"Or 'Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting,'" Buck said.

"Hey, at least that would have made more sense," Vin pointed out. The group laughed together at the idea.

"All right boys, I'm done in," Orrin sighed. He hauled himself to his feet. "Feel free to take Monday off. Please. I need at least a few days of peace and quiet before I'm ready to try coping with whatever lunacy occurs in your presence again."

"Sir, I do take affront..."

"Can it, Standish. You may not actually cause the problems, but they sure as hell seem to flock to the seven of you like children to an ice cream truck in July. Tuesday. Nine a.m. Not a minute before. My blood pressure can't take it." The group remained silent as the older man strode out mumbling his calculations on how long before he could retire.

"Well boys, it's been a fun-filled evenin' but I'm ready to call it a night," Buck sighed, clapping his hands on his knees. "Oh, hey, Josiah, heard ya took out one guy with a shrimp plate?"

"Yeah, I saw the security tapes," JD exclaimed. "Very cool! How' d you learn to throw like that?"

"Daytona May Day Frisbee champ, three years running," Josiah beamed. "It's been a few years, but I guess you never forget a skill like that."

"How'd you learn to use a whip like that, cowboy?"

"Buck's fault," Chris shrugged. "Couple years back he dragged me off to a dude ranch in Nevada for a week playing cowboy. Talked me into taking lessons on how to use a real bullwhip."

"Boy can also rope a steer in under ten seconds," Buck grinned. "Hey, them lasso lessons came in handy for me, if ya didn't notice. Never thought I'd be using a microphone though."

"How come you had a corded mic for a prop, Buck?" Nathan asked. "Wouldn't it have been easier to use a cordless?"

Buck stared at Nathan in shock. "The King didn't use a cordless, Nate. Woulda been sacrilege." And that was the end of that.

The men started to filter out. As he followed four of his teammates, Chris glanced back at Ezra and Vin who were still comfortably sprawled on the couches with their drinks. "Lock up behind yourselves, will ya boys?"

"Mr. Larabee, whatever makes you think we have a key?" Standish asked, the picture of innocence.

Chris just laughed. "Who says you ever need one?" He saluted and left the room, closing the door behind him.

Silence fell for a few moments, until Vin hauled himself up and headed to the bar. "Ya want another, Ez?"

"Hm," Ezra hummed lightly, climbing out of his chair and moving up next to Vin. "I have something else in mind."

The shorter man whirled Vin around suddenly, grasping the sharpshooter around his waist and the back of his neck, and dipped him low. The kiss that accompanied that dip made Vin's brain go numb - lips coaxed, tongues probed, teeth were counted. After an eternity and an instant, Ezra withdrew, lifting Vin gently back to his own two wobbly feet.

"Always wanted to do that," Ezra muttered softly. Green eyes met blue for a moment, the blue eyes slightly confused.

"Ez?" Vin gasped breathlessly, his hands clutching the man's shoulders tightly. "Wha... what'd ya do that fer?" he managed to whisper in a husky, dazed voice.

Ezra smiled softly, one hand stroking along Vin's jaw line. "Because I wanted to. Because I adore you and I heard this rumor that you were equally enamored."

"Uh-huh," Vin breathed, raising a shaky hand to touch Ezra's cheek, as though not entirely convinced he was living in reality. "Enamored... that's a good word for it. Ya've had me all belly-quiverin' for a while now." He sighed as Ezra's hand kneaded his neck lightly. "Guess I never thought you'd look my way twice."

"Vin," Ezra murmured gently, his tone thick with emotion. "Always you."

Vin found the green eyes radiated love, and swallowed hard. "Ya sure?" Ezra's finger continued to trace the lines of Vin's facial features, causing Vin to close his eyes in rapture. He felt a kiss ghosting across his cheek, and then a breathy voice whispered in his ear:

"I must confess that it wasn't for the ladies that I dressed you so decadently. I seem to have a slightly masochistic side."

Vin saw Ezra's devilish smile, and a matching one spread smoothly over Dracula's lips. Hands clutching at Ezra's back, Vin returned the kiss - softer this time, lingering over every taste, savoring, remembering... "So... 'bout that dippin' thingy..."

Ezra merely chuckled. "I am Zorro, after all. Doesn't he always get to kiss his love interest after the bad guys are defeated?"

Vin pulled back slightly, grinning wickedly. "Funny, I always thought Zorro movies were a little tame, myself."

"Oh?" Ezra leaned in to nibble lightly on Vin's ear, making the Texan shiver. "And just what kind of movie did you have in mind, Vincent?"

"Well," Vin said breathlessly, moving his arms tighter around his beloved. "Ya know in the vampire movies, the vamp's always sneaking into somebody's bed to bite 'em..."

"Hm, you do have a point, Mister Tanner. Did you have a particular bed in mind?" Ezra's tongue lapped deliciously at Vin's earlobe.

"Uh-huh..." Vin muttered, his fingers moving down Ezra's back, across the man's waist and hips, trailing across the tight leather with enough pressure to make their presence known. "Know this gorgeous little condo over on Naper, got this king-sized bed... hear the owner near always got satin sheets on it..."

"Sounds... delightful..." Ezra grunted as Vin's hands raked over his ass, seeking purchase. "Do you think... this owner might... oh, yes... allow us the use of this lovely abode? Oh, my..."

Vin chuckled, pressing himself harder against the man of his dreams. "We kin always pick the lock."

"Meet you there in ten minutes?"

"Five if we use the lights and sirens."

For some strange reason, they forgot to lock.


From the "In case you were interested" department: Translation of the Team's 'chat' short-hand (in case you need it):

[E on] Ezra signing on
[V on] Vin signing on
[B on] Buck signing on
[J on] Josiah signing on
[D on] JD signing on
[N on] Nathan signing on
[C= thawts?] Chris: Thoughts on the situation? [B= D wr r u] Buck: JD, where are you?
[D= by b rms Bhnd curtains] JD: By the bathrooms, behind the curtains [N= dj] Nathan: I'm by the dj table
[V= V/E n of W exits] Vin: Vin and Ezra are just north of the west exit doors [C= d flr cntr E side] Chris: I'm at the dance floor, the center of the eastern side [J= bar] Josiah: I'm by the bar
[B= E side ctr Btw exits] Buck: I'm on the east side of the room near the center, between the exit doors [C= thawts?] Chris: Again, any thoughts? [N= hw many?] Nathan: How many are there? [C= c 12 plus ldr] Chris: I see 12 plus the leader [D= 13 ttl] JD: I see 13 total.
[J= 13] Josiah: Agreed, 13
[E= got idea] Ezra: I've got an idea
[C= WELL?] Chris: so what is it already [E= V to balc *snipe] Ezra: Vin will go the balcony as a sniper [C= V has gun?] Chris: Vin has a gun to snipe with? [E= bow arrow] Ezra: He has a bow and arrow [C= ?WHAT?] Chris: You're kidding me, right? How the hell...? [V= later exp] Vin: We'll explain later. [C= count on it] Chris: You better believe it. [E= N cre8 distr?] Ezra: Nathan, can you create a distraction? [N= kind?] Nathan: What kind of distraction? [E= dj make loud?] Ezra: Can the dj make some sort of sudden loud noise? [N= no prb sy wn] Nathan: No problem. Just say when. [E= will let u know] Ezra: I'll give you the signal when we're ready. [E= all have wep?] Ezra: Does everybody have a weapon of some type? [C= y] Chris: Yes
[N= loaded] Nathan: Hell yes.
[D= will make do] JD: No, will improvise [B= will make do] Buck: No, will improvise [J= will make do] Josiah: No, will improvise

[E= B need div] Ezra: Buck, I need a diversion. [B= not N?] Buck: From me? Not Nate?
[E= not N, u] Ezra: Not Nate, you.
[E= need gmen 2 lk ur way] Ezra: I need the gunmen to look your way. [B= when hw lg] Buck: When and for how long? [E= will say 2 3 min] Ezra: I'll signal you. Need two-to-three minutes. [B= ok ready] Buck: I'll be ready.

[E= go Bdiv] Ezra: Buck, do it now.

[V= wr out hold 4 balc] Vin: We're out of the ballroom, hold on for us to get to the balcony.

[E= in pstn] Ezra: We're in position.
[E= asgn as flws] Ezra: You're assigned targets are as follows: [E= V gets ne of ne exit] Ezra: Vin gets the guy at the northeast side of the northeast exit. [E= V gets ne of se exit] Ezra: Vin also gets the guy at the northeast side of the southeast exit. [E= V gets nw dnc flr crnr] Ezra: Vin also gets the guy at the northwest corner of the dance floor. [E= B gets se of ne exit] Ezra: Buck gets the guy on the southeast side of the northeast exit. [E= D gets ne dais] Ezra: JD gets the guy at the northeast side of the dais. [E= J can get 2 mst sw?] Ezra: Josiah, can you take out the two nearest the southwest corner? [J= got w of s exit &] Josiah: Got em: west of the southern exit, and... [J= s of w exit] Josiah: south of the west exit. [E= N 2 se crnr?] Ezra: Nathan, can you take the two near the southeast corner? [N= easy] Nathan: Easily done.
[E= C gets wlf & ne dnc crnr?] Ezra: Chris gets the Wolfman and the guy at the northeast corner of the dance floor [C= y] Chris : Yes.
[B= E? 2 lft] Buck: Ezra, there are two left unassigned... [E= mine] Ezra: I've got them.
[C= how?] Chris: How? You're in the balcony. [J= E?] Josiah: ditto
[N= u brk nEthg!] Nathan: Ezra, you hurt yourself and I'm gonna kill you myself. [V= Es ok will work] Vin: Don't worry guys, I know what he's planning. It'll work. [E= trust me] Ezra: Trust me. [big evil grin] [C= ok ready?] Chris: Not a chance, but we'll discuss this later. Are we ready?

[E= N, ready?] Ezra: Nathan, are you ready? [N= y] Nathan: ready
[E= ct dn fr20 thn go] Ezra: Count down from twenty, then go.

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