Cough, Please

by Squeakypeep

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers Part 1/7

Chris's Ranch Sunday 6.45am

'Vin was on form yesterday. Seems tired though.' Mary and Chris were cuddled up in Chris's bed. Billy had finally fallen asleep on the couch and Chris had put him in Adam's room, Vin was already in possession of the spare bedroom off the kitchen.

'He's been getting up before dawn to go watch the sunrise on the mountain.' Chris stopped, contemplating whether to continue. He decided to go ahead since he knew Mary wouldn't say anything and he needed to tell someone. 'He's met someone. He won't give me any details - says he's not ready but I guess he's smitten since he arrived back that morning looking like he'd been hit by lightening. I'm happy for him - I just hope it turns out like he wants.'

'Smitten? Chris what a word! Sounds like something my grandmother would have ….' Mary broke off as she was suddenly struck by a thought. It couldn't be. Snatches of several conversations came back to her….perfect for JD….sunrises….Chris live near…..getting up at dawn….met someone.

'Oh my God!'


'It's Angel.' Seeing the doubt on his face she went on 'I know you think I'm crazy but I saw Angel on Friday. She had a smug look and admitted she'd met someone - said she'd be spending the weekend admiring the sunrises and maybe sunsets.'

'Mary that doesn't mean it's her. This is a local girl. He met her riding. We think she may have moved into the Daniels place on the hill…. Why are you shaking your head?'

'Angel bought the Daniels place with her inheritance from Mum and Dad, she got it when she turned 21. She rides a white horse called Highho. Tell me now I'm not right.'

'They don't know.' Chris started to smile. This was too good to be true. They could sit back and watch while the two danced around each other and he could get revenge for both his humiliation at being caught naked by Angel and for all the practical jokes Vin pulled. Perfect.

'Should we tell them?'

'No, we'll let them find out and watch them squirm as they figure out how to tell us.' They smiled at each other and cuddled back under the blankets.

Warehouse District - November Wednesday 8pm

The buyers were getting antsy. Edgar Seavers was trying to placate them.

'Gentlemen. I suggest we bring our transaction to a mutually satisfactory conclusion and retire to warmer climes. I will sincerely pray never to partake of another Colorado Winter. Who selected this draughty mausoleum as a rendezvous anyway?' The Southern drawl was heavily pronounced and everyone seemed to relax slightly at the thinly veiled disgust in the fancy dressed man's voice. It was only November. Soft southern wuss.

After checking with his assistant, Gomez stepped forward and handed the briefcase to the mustasched bodyguard. 'We are satisfied that the weapons are present in both quality and quantity. Thank you for your time Mr Seavers.' To his own bodyguards 'Boys.' They began to withdraw into their vehicles.

'Pleasure to be of service to you Mr Gomez.' At the signal chaos erupted.


'What the…' Buck and Ezra were already diving for cover as the arms dealer turned to them. 'You fucking asshole you sold me out. I'll kill you.' Raising his gun toward the undercover agent Gomez's finger tightened on the trigger just as the top of his head disintegrated. He fell to the floor in a heap but not before getting off a shot.

'EZ, EZ, speak to me.'

Gomez's goons were already laying down their arms and being subdued by the rest of Team 7.


'What… would you… like me… to say… Mr Tanner?'

'Dammit Ezra. Why didn't you answer?' This from an irate Larabee.

'I was shot in the chest Mr Larabee and my eloquence escaped hand in hand with my ability to respirate. However I am once more able to benefit my colleagues with my extended vocabulary and dulcet tones. SHIT BUCK THAT HURT.'

'You hit? Ezra?' Nathan.

'S'OK Nate he was wearing a vest.' Buck

EZ was wearing a vest? Rolling onto his back, Tanner breathed again. Thank God. He'd got the shooter only to see the dead man's hand tighten on his weapon. He couldn't have done anything else, or perhaps he could have been quicker? He was assailed with self-doubt as he heard Chris telling him to get back to the ground.

Team 3 came in to clean up as 7 made their way wearily to the vehicles. It had been a stop, go, stop, go scenario for 3 weeks and they were wrung out.

Chris caught up with Vin by the van. 'Wasn't your fault Vin, He'd moved behind the car. No planning can foresee temporary obstacles. Ez is fine. Can you believe him? He never wears that 'unsightly garment'. No wonder we never beat him at poker, he has the luck of the Irish.'

Vin smiled at him, partly mollified. Chris grinned back.

Out tonight?

Maybe. Gotta call.

How's it going?

Oh Yeah.

'Those conversations are getting way too interesting. Who do you think she is?' Nathan and Josiah were watching the boss and the sharpshooter from the front seat of Nathan's Cherokee.

'I don't know Brother but she seems good for him.'

The Boys had finally witnessed enough silent exchanges to know a woman was involved. The increasing frequency of the looks had annoyed Buck enough to joke they were probably talking about a woman and Vin's blush had given him away. It had taken Chris a morning of 'quiet words' to put a stop to the constant teasing. It still happened, but only for as much as the quiet man was able to take. Chris had been concerned that someone might get shot and he did not want that kind of headache.

You call?

Nah. Think I'll surprise her.

Might backfire.

She's cool.

They arrived back at the ATF building and they all split up and headed home. Celebratory drinks for a successful sting would be Friday.

Angel's Cabin 9.30pm

He shut off the motor on the Harley as he cruised up the driveway in silence. Pulling up he quietly let himself in with his key. Treading softly towards the living area he marvelled anew at the soft wood, gold and copper tones that was all the furnishings. Arabian Tribal rugs covered the floor and a huge footstool and battered brown sofa faced the picture windows along the outside wall. Somewhere he could hear a stereo playing the first few notes of 'Desperado'. It felt homey.

Noting that the only source of light was the unattended fireplace he scanned the empty room. She couldn't have gone far. Turning to retrace his steps he found himself facing the business end of a .45. Vin thought his heart might have stopped.

'Jesus Vin. Warn me will you? I could have shot you!' The hand holding the gun fell to her side.

'Where the fuck did ya get that?'

He was furious and Angel took a step back. What was this about?

He snatched the gun from her hands and she let it go. 'Didn't anyone tell ya not to have a gun unless ya know how to use it? Are ya crazy? Don't scare me like that.' He grabbed her round the waist and pulled her to him in a fierce hug.

'Were you worried about me, Vin?' He didn't let go. 'Vin? Vin, what happened?'

'Today… today... I nearly lost a friend, a brother, because of a handgun. Sorry. Seeing ya with that was just… Sorry. I shouldn'ta thought ya didn't know how….' He looked at the gun over her shoulder as he spoke and suddenly started yelling again. 'The fuckin' safety's on! Angel, aintcha got any sense? I could'a shot ya myself before you'da gotten a round in the chamber.' He raked his hand through his hair and went back to the living room expertly removing the cartridge from the handle and making the weapon safe without even looking at it. Angel watched as he dropped onto the couch.


'Don't. Just don't. Oh Shit. Angel, I know ya hate to talk about work but I gotta tell ya, I'm an ATF Agent and I see people shot, my friends shot, all the time. Hell I even get shot myself occasionally. I know how much it hurts and I don't want ta see ya go through that. Please don't ever mess with the gun again OK? Promise me.'

Angel was stunned speechless. She'd watched him dismantle the gun and wondered if perhaps he was a cop. They'd never spoken about their work since she'd brought him home from their rock. But ATF? She was going to have to ask him to take his clothes off in her office. She nearly swallowed her tongue.

'Angel? Promise me.'

'I can't.' It came out as a whisper as she sank onto his lap. Putting her arms around him she braced herself for the anticipated explosion. Vin opened his mouth to berate her again but stopped when she looked up and her eyes turned a shade of moss green as they filled. 'Vin I want to but I can't. Don't look at me like that. I'm ATF too. It's part of my job. I can tell you that I rarely carry it. I spend most of my time at HQ and only take it for undercover…'

'Shit ya go undercover?' Then, 'How come I've never seen ya at the office?'

'I don't go under often, usually when they need an unknown dumb blonde to play somebody's girlfriend. I'm normally so scantily clad that there's nowhere to hide the damn gun anyway.' Vin's eyes widened at this admission. ATF? Undercover? Scantily clad? Scantily clad. 'Ya strut around with traffickers and dealers half dressed? I s'pose every Agent in the city's seen ya in that black Band-Aid ya wore last Saturday?'

Unsure at the unexpected direction of the conversation Angel looked into his eyes and sighed. 'I thought you liked that dress?'

'I'm a man Angel, course I liked it. When I'm with ya. When everyone kin see yer with me. Not...not... flauntin' it fer some other guy.'

'It doesn't mean anything Vin. Hell, I played a Lingerie model on a catwalk once. No-one knew where to put the wire. But I never have to take an assignment, they are all purely optional since I'm technically stationed in the office. I haven't done any undercover work since coming to Denver. And I won't if it makes you uncomfortable.'

'No I'm sorry. I have no right to ask ya to give up part of your job just 'cause I'm having a problem with all the guys I work with droolin' over m' girl. What kinda comments do ya get after? Judging by my team ya'd never have a minute's peace.'

'Actually that's the beauty of the real part of my job. It only takes one public set down and all the others fall into line.' She waited and he rose to the bait.


'I'm the MD. No one is willing to upset the one woman who has held every male Agent's most precious jewels and told him to cough!'

Vin's mouth fell open. 'I can't believe ya said that. Wait a minute. Does that mean that you… that I… Aw Hell!' Vin could FEEL the blush spreading across his cheeks.

'Don't panic Vin, I can always ask the nurse to take over in special circumstances. Course you'd have to make it worth my while… Who knows, by the time your Phys comes round perhaps you'll be resigned to the idea.' She wiggled her eyebrows at him in a parody of the look he usually shot at her.

This sounded promising. They'd spent a lot of down time together but mostly talked and gone riding. It had been three months and he hadn't got past first base.

'Angel.' His voice was low and he brushed his lips on hers. Hmmm. Nice. Angel was enjoying the calloused hand creeping up under her sweater until something else occurred to her.

'Which team?'


'Get a grip hotshot, which team?'


Shit. 'I've met your boss. Larabee right? In fact, last time I saw him I saw more than I needed to!'

'Ya KNOW Chris?'

'I'm Mary's sister.'

The penny dropped. Oh God. 'Ya reckon they know?' She thought for a bit. 'Probably.'

'I'm gonna shoot him. Ya told her much?'

'Not really. Chris?'

'No specifics. What did ya mean when ya said 'more than ya needed to?'

She told him about meeting Chris and he laughed till he cried. No wonder Chris had been embarrassed when they asked him about Mary's sister. At least he didn't know they were on to them. This could be useful. 'We have ta work on an angle.'

'Did you come on the bike?' At his nod, 'we have plenty of time then. It's snowing. You'll have to stay and drive in with me in the morning, we can stop at your place on the way.'

'Ya askin' me to spend the night with ya?' He met her eyes.

'I'll fix you some food. I know you're always hungry. While you eat I'll make up the spare. No trouble.' She added before he could use that argument.

Disappointment and resignation warred in his eyes. 'Angel, why? I mean, aside from ya bein' a lady an' all and ya know I'll never push ya into anythin', but... Why?' It wasn't exactly a coherent sentence but she knew what he was asking.

She looked into the blue eyes and saw no pressure, just questions. Loose hair fell over her face as she debated what to say. Finally, 'Vin, what we have is special and I don't want to mess that up.' Vin looked at her.

'Why would ya think...'

Taking a deep breath she rushed out… 'This is the first time I've ever really wanted to… I mean… I'm not… I don't… I haven't… Shit, never mind.' At the amazed look on his face she escaped toward the kitchen and started banging pots and pans.

24 and she'd never…. Vin was speechless. And smug.

A few minutes later Vin followed her into the kitchen. He slouched against the door jamb and watched her for a minute, her back toward him and a telltale colour across the cheek he could see.

'Better now?' She nodded, mute, seemingly engrossed in the eggs.

'I never woulda guessed a woman who could threaten ta bust the balls of the whole ATF in one breath could get so embarrassed in the next.' He walked up to where she stood at the stove and wrapped his arms around her from behind. Hugging her against his chest as she tossed his omelette he pressed a kiss against her ear and whispered. 'No-one's ever given me a gift as precious as that Angel-eyes, remind me to thank ya when the time comes.' She snorted and he grinned into her hair. 'Don't fight it Sweetheart it's inevitable, but I kin wait. Just holler when yer ready.'

Angel pushed him over to the table and set the fluffy omelette down, still mute and still not looking at him. Turning away to fix his room she heard him murmur, 'hear they always got spaces at the nuthouse for anyone driven completely over the edge.' Grinning she smoothed down the sheets.

Early December Monday 8.30am

'JD, my office.' Chris strode through the Bullpen ignoring the garlands, snowpeople, plastic santas and fake snow that adorned every surface. With the exception of Ezra's area, which displayed a token Bavarian nutcracker (there was a message there), the entire office had been 'Vinned' during the weekend. Dodging the paper snowballs flying through the air he unlocked the door to his haven. At least it had been a haven when he left on Friday. Today it was Santa's Grotto complete with life sized blow-up women in Elf costumes. He'd kill Tanner. Was nothing sacred?


'Here Chris. Wow! Do I get to sit on your knee and make a wish?'

'No JD. I get to choose the wish I'm going to grant you and here it is. You get first crack at the new MD. You have an appointment with Dr MacCoole at 11am for your annual medical. No excuses.'

'Holy Shit. Buck's going to have a cow.' Chris smiled at the youngsters' enthusiasm. 'You won't let him 'escort' me there will you?' Chris shook his head and smiled. The kid had Buck's number.

JD left calling 'Buck you're not going to believe this, Santa came early!'

Moving to the doorway Chris watched his team as the news was delivered. Buck's reaction was just as JD had anticipated and he growled when Chris shook his head. Nathan and Josiah both asked to have a full report on their desks on his return, complete with photos. Ezra wasn't in yet and Vin, leaning in the doorway of the break room, nursing his coffee, just smiled. Angel had warned him while they decorated the office. 'Way to go JD. Maybe you can win the pot.'

'Who can win the pot, how, and why didn't I know about it?' Ezra, immaculate as usual, stopped short, ankle deep in fake snow. 'What is this and to whom should I apply for recompense for my shoes?'

'JD's got to see the MD. You weren't here. Snow. Vin.' Buck answered all the questions.

Shooting the mischievous sharpshooter a speaking look Ezra pointed out, 'he has to arrange an assignation first, and attend it.'

'From what I hear anyone getting a date would have to be dead NOT to keep it.'

'Ah, but young Mr Dunne would be forced to dissimulate to the fair Miss Casey and I do not think he would be willing to perjure himself. Mr Dunne?'

'Maybe she wouldn't know….'

'JD they always know, they're women.' Nathan.

'Well Buck sometimes…'

'Don't take that road Brother Dunne, it is built on the wretched souls of the misleaders.'

By the time JD's appointment arrived he was wound tight. Chris had noticed that Vin reacted completely in character, with quiet comments and support. He still didn't know.

Chris called Mary to tell her. They had begun to think, judging by the embarrassing details they had been force to listen to over the past 3 weeks, that they were being wound up. She insisted it was time both Vin and Angel were given a 'sex and morality' talk and he was badgered into agreeing. Birds and bees with Vin. Oh, Joy.

When JD returned he seemed to have recovered his equilibrium. He did give Vin a long look and a nod but that could have been thanks for his support. JD was regaling his partner on the beauty that was the new MD and Chris moved out to listen, joining the crowd in the break room. During a lull in the interrogation JD glanced at his watch and said, 'Lunchtime. Vin you want to shop with me? Still a few things I need to get.' Vin nodded and picked up his jacket. The two left to cries of 'spoilsport' and 'did you at least get her number?'

Sitting in Vin's jeep JD started to laugh. 'God Vin you're a dark horse. Evil too. When Chris finds out what you're up to… and Buck…' He laughed again. They had agreed to tell the team members individually, slowly letting them in on the torment they were dealing out to Chris and Mary. 'Am I the first to know?'

'Nah, Ez and Nathan both know and Josiah keeps hinting. He'll be next. She tell ya what happened when she met Chris?' JD nearly wet himself he laughed so hard. 'Yeah, right when she told me to cough. I was laughing so much I couldn't but she said she had enough…' catching Vin's look JD stopped. 'Sorry Vin, no disrespect. She's a nice lady.'

'S'OK Kid, she is a Doctor, though I gotta tell ya it took some gettin' used ta…' They exchanged smiles.

'So, what's the plan?' They headed into MacDonalds as Vin filled him in.

Angel's Cabin December 20 10.45pm

It had been a tough day. Not a single bad guy in sight, just mountains of end-of-year paperwork. Vin loathed the annual shutdown, which required a review of their cases prior to performance assessments in January. He'd spent the better part of the week moaning about it to anyone unlucky enough to come within whining distance. As usual with administrative tasks he'd been the last to finish and had finally stormed out of the office at 10pm. He'd flung his completed report on Chris's desk in a final gesture of defiance before hitting the lights and heading out.

The ride up to the cabin had done something towards restoring his humor and he felt the familiar thrum of anticipation in his chest as he pulled into Angel's driveway. Fingering the box in his jeans pocket, he leapt out of the jeep and headed into the warm living room. He stopped dead at the sight that greeted him.

There must have been close to a hundred white church candles casting a flickering light over every surface. The wooden floor gleamed and the fat snowflakes drifting down outside the window appeared to dance to the soft strains of the Christmas music coming from the stereo in the corner. But what held Vin's attention was the slumbering form stretched out on the rug in front of the fire.

She was gift-wrapped.

He must have stood motionless for a full five minutes as he took in every detail. She was loosely cocooned in an enormous white sheet, turned slightly on her side with her left arm bare and draped over a wide red ribbon tied into a floppy bow on her belly. Her blonde hair was unbound and pooled around her head, while a few stray tendrils over her face moved up and down with the rhythm of her breathing. The planes of her face were softened in sleep but her lips turned up at each corner and he wondered what she was dreaming about. Finally his eyes settled on the large white luggage tag slightly hidden under the bow.

Discarding his jacket and toeing off his boots, he knelt down beside the still form and eased out the label turning it over to read the words.

To my Cowboy, Hero, Hot Shot and Personal Pain in the Ass,

I love you.

He looked up to find her watching him shyly. 'I wanted to surprise you' her voice was husky with the traces of sleep. He swallowed. 'Ya did that Angel-eyes.' He gazed at her. 'Say it'

She didn't pretend not to understand. 'I love you, Vin Tanner.'

He pulled her into his arms, crushing the carefully tied bow and whispered against her lips. 'I love ya more, Sweetheart.'

Minutes later Vin was reaching for the ends of the bow just as she said 'This is going to sound like a cliché, Cowboy, but just what have you got in your pocket?'

Vin froze. He'd forgotten in the heat of the moment. 'Aw, well, ya see… I wanted to surprise y'n'all.'

Setting her down he fumbled in the pocket of his jeans. Sitting back on his knees he withdrew a small black box and flipped open the lid. Nestled in the padded interior was a beautiful square-cut emerald ring. Angel gasped and looked up at the blushing sharpshooter. He squirmed uncomfortably.

'Reminded me o'your eyes but iffen ya don't like it we can change it for a diamond, I checked. 'Course ya gotta say 'yes' first.' He stared down at the ring, rubbing the stone with a calloused forefinger, not daring to look for the answer in her eyes.

There was silence for a minute and finally she put her free hand under his chin to lift his gaze. 'I didn't hear a question, Vin.'

'Aw hell.' Taking a deep breath he rushed out 'I love ya, Angel-eyes, will ya marry me?'

She grinned at his discomfiture. 'That wasn't so hard now was it?'


'What Vin?' She had to chuckle at his exasperation but decided she'd tortured him enough. 'Yes Cowboy, I'll marry you and it's perfect.'

Grinning, he slipped the ring onto her finger and threw the empty box over his shoulder. Time to open his present. He reached for the end of the ribbon and pulled.

December 21st - Metropolitan Hotel Ballroom 10.50pm

Vin tugged again at the uncomfortable Tux. God he hated Agency events, even for Christmas. He glanced around team 7's table, checking on his family.

Nathan and Rain sat directly across from him, heads together, discussing some new medical procedure. Ezra was chatting to his date, Eliza, as he refilled her glass. Josiah and his escort had their chairs turned round and were deep into some philosophical discussion with the next table's profiler although Vin did catch the words 'Swing' and 'Hole' over the general crowd noises. JD and Casey's chairs were empty. They had set off for the dance floor and were pounding up and down while the other dancers tried to stay out of their way. Buck was necking a buxom redhead whose name Vin couldn't remember. He wondered if Buck could.

The other three chairs were also empty. Searching the room he found Chris and Mary chatting by the bar with AD Travis. As he watched they took their leave and started back to their seats. The last chair had been assigned to his partner and had remained vacant. He'd seen Mary and Chris exchange a look even as he'd listened to Buck's lament on his lack of skill in acquiring a date.

JD and Casey arrived back breathless, hot on the heels of Chris and Mary. Vin tugged again at the collar of the tux. Ezra noticed his friend's discomfort and receiving an almost imperceptible nod said loudly to the table in general 'Well Ladies, Gentlemen, now we are all together again I think it's time for some announcements.' Everyone looked at him expectantly but he only raised his eyebrow and stood. 'If you will excuse me,' He lifted Eliza's hand and, bowing, kissed her knuckles. Making his way to the MC's podium he signalled the DJ for quiet.

It took a couple of attempts but he finally gained everyone's attention.

'Ladies and Gentlemen, I have an announcement to make. But first let me wish you all a Happy and ER free Christmas.' This was met by cheers and a cry of 'your team spends more time there than anyone else!'

Ezra frowned at the heckler and continued, 'Thank you for that Mr Kelly. As you are all aware, I have, over the past few months, been in possession of a 'book'', more murmurs growing louder, Ezra raised his hand for quiet, 'the current value of which is, taking into account $20 per wager and a list of 57 participants, $1,140.' Whistles and catcalls met this announcement with many looks being cast in the direction of the Medical Department table.

'I have been given permission to divulge the nature of the wager for the benefit of anyone not acquainted with the details. They are as follows; The winner of the pot is deemed to be the Agent who provides confirmation of a romantic assignation with our esteemed new physician, Agent MacCoole.'

At table 7 Mary's mouth dropped open as she turned and glared at Chris, 'did you know about this?' He, in turn, had the grace to look chastened. 'It wasn't malicious, Mary and Angel knew…' Mary gave him a 'I'll speak to you later' look and turned back toward the podium. Vin fought to keep his face straight.

Angel for her part ignored the looks she was getting and kept her eyes fixed on Ezra. 'Gentlemen, the bounty has been claimed,' (uproar) 'with confirmation provided by the lady herself.' This was shouted over the din as everyone turned to look at the MD table. Angel didn't move. 'Agent MacCoole, as befitting a gentle lady, has determined not to 'kiss and tell' and, as a Gentleman, I have agreed to hold my own counsel.' Aside in a lower voice, 'I can, however, be found at table 7 for the remainder of the evening and my pocketbook is always open to donations….' Laughter. Ezra winked at Angel who smiled back and mouthed 'I trust you!'

Chris and Mary were looking at Vin who returned the look with an innocent one of his own and a shrug. 'Don't look at me Pard, I ain't been introduced ta the new MD. Buck? Ya holdin' out on us?'

Buck was spluttering. 'I didn't even get a shot, hell, if that little lady had just had a whiff of my animal magnetism…'

Ezra was also fielding a good deal of questions as he made his way from the microphone. He was stopped at the bottom of the podium stairs by the MC who handed him a piece of paper. Glancing at it he turned and climbed back to his position behind the console. Tapping the microphone to gain attention, he cleared his throat.

'Ladies and Gentlemen, I have the honour of being selected to promulgate another joyous revelation.'


'Mr Sanchez?'

Josiah stood. 'He's got another announcement to make.' Josiah sat down as everyone laughed.

'Hell, Standish, speak English!' From somewhere in the audience.

Flashing his gold tooth, 'It seems that two of our fellow Agents became engaged last night.' Cheers. 'If I may request you all ensure you have your glasses filled in preparation for a toast to the happy couple.' He paused, signalling to the bar for a glass. At a sign from the Maitre'D waiters dashed from table to table, replenishing drinks.

At table 7 speculation was growing as to the identity of the Agents in question. JD got his camera out and switched it to standby. Nathan was whispering to Rain who started to laugh. Vin looked bored and pulled at his tie. Mary was berating Chris about the wagering on her sister. 'But Mary, I couldn't have stopped it, and it would have looked strange if I tried. You did say she could handle herself…'

'Is everyone in possession of a full glass?' Ezra glanced around the room. 'Excellent.' 'If I may then prevail upon the groom's best friend and the bride's sister to come to the podium to make the toast…'

'Mr Larabee? Mrs Travis?'

Chris suddenly resembled a landed fish gasping for air and Mary looked ready to faint. JD flashed his camera to capture the moment and Team 7's table roared with laughter at their stunned expressions.

'You all KNEW about this?' Chris was on his feet glaring individually at each of his 'boys'. Nearly everyone nodded except…

Buck's 'What? Who? NO WAY! JUNIOR?' Led to another round of hysterical laughter and another click of the camera.

Vin was killing himself but managed to gasp, 'Gotcha good this time Cowboy!' Chris turned his glare on him. 'Will ya be m'Best man?' Chris reached over and squeezed the back of Vi

's neck, hard. 'You are a dead man, Tanner! It would be my pleasure.'


Yep. You OK with this?

YEP. Congratulations Cowboy.

'Mr Larabee? Mrs Travis?' Ezra called them again.

'Mary?' He held out his arm and with Mary giving Vin a smile they threaded their way to the stage, the Groom inconspicuously made his way across to collect his fiancee.

Chris and Mary took over from Ezra who made his way back to the table as Chris spoke.

Seeing Vin nearing the MD table, Chris raised his glass to the Audience, 'Ladies and Gentlemen, To the Bride and Groom, Angelina MacCoole and Vin Tanner!'

The response from the crowd in the ballroom was varied. Everyone raised their glasses repeating the toast almost automatically, but there was also gasps and wails from more than one female ATF employee.

Vin and Angel came hand in hand to stand with Chris and Mary, exchanging kisses and receiving words of congratulations from the older couple. At least it looked that way. Mary was saying 'I have some choice words to share with you, little brother,' to Vin and as Chris kissed Angel's cheek he murmured 'Payback's a bitch, Doc, watch yourself.' Angel just grinned at him.

The comments behind them were getting more ribald and personal. Vin winked at Angel and she looked at him questioningly. Moving to the microphone he called for quiet.

'If any o' you boys feel like givin' me 'n' ma girl a hard time about this just remember y'all will be in her office eventually. Y'all just think about yer comments when she says them two important words.'

He made as if to leave when someone voiced the question everyone was thinking, 'What words?'

Vin grinned and held his hand out to Angel who approached the microphone.

'Cough Please.'

There was a moment of stunned silence followed by lots of laughter, groans and creaking of chairs as many of the men squirmed in their seats.

With that parting shot the members of 'The Magnificent Seven', each escorting a beautiful woman, swept out of the banqueting hall into the night.


Chris's Ranch - Labor Day Weekend, Saturday 10pm

From his position in the overstuffed armchair, Chris surveyed the bodies languishing all over his living room. JD, Casey and Buck were sprawled on the floor watching Ezra and Nettie Welles battling their ninjas on the playstation hooked up to the big screen TV. Nettie was winning, to the amusement of everyone but Ezra. Nathan and Rain were cuddled up on one end of the couch with Josiah taking up the other end.

Vin was moving the old rocker he was sitting in by pushing his bare foot against the coffee table. He held a beer in one hand and was stroking Angel's back with the other as she lay curled up asleep against his chest. Chris could hear Mary moving around in the kitchen. His family were all accounted for and he was content.

Nettie killed Ezra's ninja just as Mary came back with more snacks. Everyone seemed to come to life and the prettily arranged hors d'oeuvres soon resembled the remnants of a kid's birthday party.

'Hey let's tell jokes, everyone has to have a turn. I'll go first.'

'No JD, please, have mercy.'

'Come on it's a good one. There was this three legged dog….'

Things went rapidly downhill. Finally it was Angel's turn.

'I don't know any jokes.'

'Come now Mrs Tanner, you must surely know one humorous story?'

She sat for a moment fingering the hair at the back of Vin's neck, making him shiver. 'OK but it's really not funny.'

There was a chorus of 'We'll laugh anyway' and 'Come on, you're never lost for words'

'OK, if you insist. What do you get if you cross a Lady with a Cowboy?'

'A not so easy rider?'


'I must congratulate you on that inspired amalgamation Mr Dunne.'

Chris gazed at the wife of his best friend for a minute and then said quietly, 'Why don't we let Angel tell us in her own words?' Catching his look, Angel saw the gleam of understanding. She returned the gentle smile and looked up at her husband of four months.

'A boy or a girl.'

There was a silence as Vin looked steadily into eyes he knew as well as his own. 'You're right. If that's a joke it ain't funny. Angel? Ya tryin' ta tell me somethin'?'

At the shy nod he let out a yell and started raining little kisses all over her face.

The others took this as a sign to move in and started crowding around congratulating the young couple.

Mary went over to Chris and sank down on the arm of his chair. There were tears in her eyes and Chris took her hand in his, turning it and kissing the inside of her wrist. Getting up and moving to the kitchen he returned with four bottles of champagne. At the questioning look from his sharpshooter he announced he'd been keeping them handy since he was never caught out twice.

Correctly assuming this was a reference to the Christmas surprise engagement, Vin pointed out that he'd been caught out more than once before and relayed again the scene in Mary's apartment for everyone's enjoyment. Chris grinned sheepishly at the teasing and Mary blushed scarlet, her eyes promising retribution to her loose-tongued sister.

Vin deftly removed the champagne glass from Angel's hand and replaced it with a soda. 'VIN!'

'Ya can't drink. It ain't good fer the baby.'

'I've unleashed a demon. Who's the Doctor here MISTER Tanner?'

'Nate? Back me up here pard.'

'No way, Vin, I don't do domestic disputes. Josiah?'

'Thank you for that hot potato, Brother Nathan. Only fools rush in where agents fear to tread.'

'A cleverly manipulated misquote Mr Sanchez, but I think we all comprehended your meaning. You are on your own Mr Tanner.'

'Come on fellas. What happened ta brotherhood and back up?'

'None of us are going to shoot your wife Vin. How about you allow her half a glass now and fight it out between you later?'

'ALLOW me…' Angel spluttered.

'Good thinkin' Cowboy. Just a sip Sweetheart, please, fer me?'

'Have you been taking puppy dog lessons from JD husband? OK I'll let you dictate this once but only if you promise to come to the Obs clinic with me on Wednesday and listen to the instructions from the ObGyn. Deal?'

'A women's clinic? Aw hell, Angel!' Seeing the grinning faces of his brothers, all standing round waiting to make a toast, he relented, if only to get away from the subject. He had three days to get out of it. 'OK fine. Ya have ta stick ta sodas though.'

Angel wasn't letting go. 'Deal?' She held out her hand and sighing he took it in his calloused one and shook. No escape, but he was a trained professional killer, he could handle it.

Chris raised his champagne flute, 'And then there were eight.' Everyone raised their glasses. 'Eight.'

Vin hugged his wife and she whispered, 'unless it's twins' and laughed at his expression of horror. Life was good.

The End.

...To Part 2: Fight Night

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