Warning: mild slash content
Vin/Ezra (implied, non-explicit), The Seven, and several townspeople
Summary: There's been a bit of a snowfall in town and the kids can't resist drawing The Seven and some of the other adults into the fun.
Hearing a commotion from the street, friends Inez and Ezra walked over to the door to see what was going on. It was only children playing in the little sparkling fall of snow they'd gotten overnight.
"Let's join in, Ezra!" beamed Inez, grabbing her coat and colorful scarf.
"My inherent sense of dignity does not allow me to engage in such unbecoming practices of tomfoolery."
"Oh, come on," laughed Inez, plucking the whiskey glass from Ezra's fingers. "You only live once, my friend!"
A glint came into Ezra's eyes and Inez could tell his competitive spirit had just set some wheels to spinning in his devious mind. "Then again, there is a certain amount of pleasure to be derived from handing someone a richly deserved comeuppance somewhere along the line, I will reluctantly admit."
Stretching up a little to look along the man's sightline, she could see Vin Tanner laughingly brushing snow off his fringed buckskin as some of the children begged him to join in their sport, dragging him by the hand to where they were about to choose sides. So that was who the comment was directed toward, she thought, amused at the burgeoning love she'd seen, however improbably, between the two very different men.
JD and Casey, walking arm in arm along the sidewalk were called over to join in as well, as Nathan and Josiah wandered over to watch with amusement but were quickly drawn in by the enthusiasm of the children. With a little two-footed bounce off the walk, Buck strode over to join the fun, rubbing his hands gleefully together with a shining grin usually reserved for the ladies.
"Let's go so we're not the last ones chosen!" Inez laughed, tucking Ezra's scarf, which Maude had unaccountably sent him, about his neck and pulling him along in her wake.
+ + + + + + +
Somehow Judge Travis had been coerced into becoming the official referee and so he found himself in the middle of a chattering nest of magpies from the smallest children to the very peacekeepers he'd hired to protect the town. He wasn't sure looking ridiculous helped any of their reputations but, what the heck, it was only one day out of many and the children seemed so happy.
"Quiet!" he shouted when less loud calls for them all to take their places were ignored or unheard.
The roar died down and he had all eyes on him.
Nodding in appreciation, he put his hands on his hips. "Now. The rules are simple. Whomever overcomes and captures one of the enemy forts can draw the losing fort into their team to take on the others. No hitting in the face and no weapons other than snow in the form of balls. Good luck!" He paused a moment, holding up one hand, while the teams tensed, ready to run to their respective "forts". Letting the anticipation hang, he enjoyed himself a moment and then yelled, "GO!"
Children and adults alike scattered to the four corners of the town, hiding behind anything large enough to conceal a person. Wisely, the judge retreated to the newspaper office to watch from a safe distance through the glass windows.
Billy stood on tiptoes beside him. "What are they doing, Grandpa?"
"Having a snowball fight. Why don't you join in? Buck Wilmington's team is a man short. They could use you."
Mary spoke up. "I think that might not be a good idea."
Seeing Billy about to protest, Judge Travis frowned and started to give his own opinion to the contrary when Mary grinned and he grew puzzled. What on earth was she up to?
Kneeling down to Billy, she pulled his coat on him and suggested, "What would you think about you and I being free agents? We could surprise them all that way and maybe even win our own fort through the element of surprise."
Giggling, Billy agreed.
+ + + + + + +
"Join us!" Buck yelled from his team's fort as he saw Mary and Billy come from the newspaper office.
With what appeared to be horror, Mary shook her head in the negative, then bustled around the corner, herding her son in front of her.
"Wouldn't hurt the woman any to have some fun with that boy," muttered Buck.
Mary pulled Billy back against the building and when they next saw her and her son run from there back to the doorway of the newspaper office, she had an apron full of round white balls. Mrs. Potter ran over to join her with her two children and a similar apron full of snowballs and the monumental fight began, involving just about everyone in the whole town.
+ + + + + + +
Everyone but Chris Larabee who had returned to town last night after a week drunk. He had a headache like a mule kick, a dry mouth, and trembling hands. The last thing he needed as he headed from the boarding house to seek some hair of the dog what bit him, was a noisy, boisterous herd of idiots, of which this town seemed to inordinately contain many more than any other place he'd ever been. With only one goal in mind, that drink that awaited him, he strode toward the saloon.
The snowball hit square in the middle of the shoulder blades covered by the black duster.
The look on Larabee's face as he turned his head to look over his shoulder could make most men lose control of their bodily functions. JD dropped the other snowball in his other hand as Chris rapidly stalked, spurs jangling toward the youngest of the seven.
Everyone helplessly came from their hiding places to watch whatever tragedy was about to unfold.
A hard hand curled around the scruff of JD's neck and Chris pulled the boy close. "You, you little weasel."
There was the sound of the whole town sucking in a collective breath.
"I want you on my side!"
Dipping down, Chris grabbed a handful of snow in one hand and dragged JD behind a wagon with the other. The other competitors scattered behind any shelter they could find while they piled up projectiles.
Once again, snowballs arced through the air and laughter rang out as different forts were attempting to over-run the others.
Part Two: Overwhelming Force
Having just fought off an onslaught from the Josiah/Nathan team, Ezra ducked behind the barrier panting. Inez and the children on their team all had red cheeks and bright eyes which made him glad to be on this side, but they needed a strategy.
"I think a ruse is in order before the next attack is mounted against us," he suggested.
Blank stares met his gaze.
"I suggest we put our hats on these pieces of firewood here, send out a scouting party holding them, and pretend that we have de-camped to a different location."
"Oh!" laughed Peggy White, the smartest student in Mary's new schoolhouse. "Trick them into thinking we're somewhere else!"
"Precisely!" the children all cried, in perfect time and in imitation of their fearless leader.
Raising one eyebrow but grinning, Ezra nodded in pleased agreement. "You children are wonders!"
It was determined that two of their group's six children would carry all their hats perched on branches and move, popping up their "heads" along the way, over to a nearby porch. Once there, they would prop up the wooden "hat stands" and race back, making sure to not be seen. In theory it was the perfect plan.
In practice, it did not take into account that Vin and his team were on the roof of the adjoining house and watched the entire plan unfold.
"Kids," their tracker/leader drawled with a wink. "It appears someone is trying to take us all for fools."
His four little co-conspirators all grinned back, the mischief in their eyes exactly matching that in the man's.
+ + + + + + +
JD saw the hats bobbing their way over to an unused shelter and started to stand. "Let's go get them before they have a chance to settle!"
"Sit down," warned Chris, pulling the young man back down. "That's Ezra's fort. He's got to be up to something."
"I'm with JD," protested Casey loyally. "I say we go take them over before they have a chance to settle in. It's our best chance to overrun another fort!"
Larabee shook his head again, raising his head just far enough to take a peek over at Buck's fort from where they could hear giggling coming. "I think our best bet is Buck's place."
A grin spread across JD's face. "That does sound tempting!"
+ + + + + + +
Harnessing the idea of a rope swing, Vin had a sudden inspiration. If they tied lengths of rope to the eaves of this house, they could lower themselves right into Ezra's fort, easily taking it over. The three boys and one girl with him agreed it was a wonderful strategy so they slid down the back of the roof to collect some rope as quickly as possible and meet back to launch their attack on the unsuspecting Ezra and Inez team.
+ + + + + + +
Mary, Mrs. Potter, and their children had their minds set on overtaking the easiest mark: Buck's fort, where the initial team's children had all run off to other teams when they realized that Buck's attention was more on "snowing" the three young ladies there in the fort than on making snowballs. The women had also chosen that fort because it was in a much more protected area than their current hiding place.
Aprons full of snowballs, the five charged Buck's fort at the exact same moment Chris, JD, Casey and their four kids broke cover and ran the same direction. Too late for any of them to change plans, they instead made a split second decision to band together into one large, charging, yelling force.
Amazingly enough, Buck and the ladies were so busy flirting, they did not even hear the roar of approaching fort-taker-overs running toward them. Completely shocked and overwhelmed, Buck and the ladies sheepishly raised their hands in surrender.
The new largest team in the field congratulated one another on their obviously superior strategy before hunkering down to come up with a new one.
+ + + + + + +
Nathan, Josiah, and their five grinning little urchins had been discussing which fort to make a new move on when they heard the Charge Of The Chris and Mary Brigade. Peeking over the top of their barrier, they began to despair when they saw the successful takeover of Buck's fort. How would they be able to go up against that many?
"There's nothing to do about that," Nathan frowned. "We'll just need to come up with something good."
"Let's try Ezra's new fort!" enthused Johnny White. "They won't expect that so soon!"
Ruffling the boy's hair, Josiah raised his eyebrows at Nathan. "It could work."
Nathan grinned and they all put their hands together. "All for one!"
"And one for all," chorused back the others.
+ + + + + + +
While congratulations were going on in the big fort, Vin and his little spiders were tying their ropes tight, the man making double- sure they would all hold. Checking to make sure they all had their mittens on so their hands wouldn't be injured, Vin grinned at them. Huddled around him so he could talk softly, the children looked up at him for last minute instructions. "Now, these slings we've made to carry the snowballs should swing right around from your backs to your sides right quick once you land. Don't spare any of them. We can make more when we get down to the ground. Ready?"
Nods all around got them to their feet and ready to go.
+ + + + + + +
"Charge!" shouted Nathan as their team broke from cover and headed toward Ezra's new fort.
As Ezra and his team looked up over their barrier to laugh at the others charging a fort manned by two branches and a variety of hats, spiders on threads of rope slid down to launch their own silent attack. Noticing some odd movement from the corner of his eye, Ezra turned, just in time for one of the children on a rope to lose control of his swing, his small boot fitting wondrously well into Ezra's eye socket.
Howling with pain, Ezra slapped his hand over his eye while everyone else struggled to figure out what had happened to the poor man.
+ + + + + + +
Unhappily discovering they'd wasted about half of their store of snowballs on a few blankly staring hats on sticks, the Nathan/Josiah team stood disheartened until shouts of "Nathan! Nathan!" rang out.
Warily, in case it was a trick, Nathan looked over at Ezra's fort and broke into a run when he saw Vin waving him over. Cautiously, the others from the large, consolidated fort came out too, murmuring and wondering what had happened that necessitated a healer being shouted for.
Judge Travis hurried from the Clarion office, hoping none of the children had been hurt in the innocent fun.
+ + + + + + +
"Don't fuss so and just let me get a look at it," Nathan sighed in exasperation, trying to peel Ezra's hand from it's place.
"I am telling you, I'm not letting go until I can ascertain that my eyeball is not about to drip onto the snow with a gory plop."
"Eeewww," squealed some of the children but with just that edge of interest in their eyes which gave away their fascination with the intriguing concept.
"Don't be a baby, Ezra," scolded Vin. "It was just a little boy- foot."
"You can say that as your eyes are both intact."
"I don't see no blood seeping out between your fingers." Nathan did not seem impressed by the supposed injury.
Slowly, Ezra brought his hand away from his face and there was a collective gasp from the crowd.
"What?" Ezra appeared to be on the edge of panic. "What is it?"
Vin leaned closer, squinting, then moved back with an impressed whistle. "That sure will be awful pretty!"
Ezra's voice was low and laced with fear. "Nathan. I can't see out of that eye. Not at all. I've been blinded! Forever maimed!"
Not very gently slapping a soft snowball over Ezra's eye, Chris Larabee drawled, "You'll live." Then he walked away.
Grinning, Nathan shrugged. "That will help the swelling go down so you can see again, Ezra."
"And his ministrations were so gentle and caring too," mocked Ezra sarcastically.
Patting Ezra's shoulder in sympathy, Inez smilingly announced. "Everyone come over to the tavern and warm up!"
As the crowd broke up and headed over to the tavern as instructed, Vin tipped his hat to Ezra. "Sorry, Pard. It seemed like a good idea."
"So you're to blame for this?" Ezra rolled his eyes, though only one was visible, and shook his head as if in despair. "I should have known."
"Miss Recillos," nodded Vin, obviously not at all contrite as he walked away.
Part Three: To The Victors Go The Spoils
"Sweet, hot cider for the children and," Inez winked, "something a little stronger for the gentlemen."
The men grinned appreciatively as the drinks were handed around.
Coming over to sit beside Ezra to look more closely at the lovely shiner the gambler had gotten, Vin couldn't help grinning. "That's a whole beautiful rainbow there on your face, Ezra."
Shoving the smirking tracker away, Ezra put the cloth with the chunk of ice back against his face. "Your amusement is unwelcome, Mr. Tanner."
Slapping Ezra's back, Vin leaned down so only Ezra would hear, "You mighta lost the snowball fight, but you won my heart." Pretending to look closely at the colorful injury, Vin affectionately rubbed his nose against Ezra's, gave the surprised man a cat-quick peck on the mouth, then pulled away and winked, promising, "Tussle with ya tonight, southern man."
Heart beating rapidly, Ezra watched Vin walk away over to the bar where he gave Chris's shoulder blade a little friendly flat-palmed tap and Chris turned and grinned, sliding a shot glass over to Vin. A little chill of jealousy shot through Ezra but all he had to do was remember those hot words and the feel of that warm mouth with the slightly chapped lips burning into his memory.
Falling in love with that man was such a trial but he wouldn't give it up for anything in the world.